"Now if you are going to win any battle you have to do one thing. You have to make the mind run the body. Never let the body tell the mind what to do. The body will always give up. It is always tired in the morning, noon, and night. But the body is never tired if the mind is not tired.”

- George S. Patton, U.S. Army General, 1912 Olympian

Monday, September 6, 2010

Pocatello Marathon Recap: Experiencing Gratitude

First things first: The race organizers, staff and volunteers were absolutely top notch. All the trains ran on time, the aid stations were where they were supposed to be, carrying what they said they would be stocked with, volunteers at each station were enthusiastic and supportive and the finish line area was well organized and easy to navigate. And although I heard a few people gripe about non-runners, including family, friends and kids, not being allowed in the recovery area (where all of the food/drinks were), I contend this made a huge difference in being able to move (gingerly) through the area smoothly. Top to bottom, this is the most well-organized race I've participated in of any distance.

This is also the farthest I've traveled for a race and I must say I'm not really a fan. 800 miles/11 hours in the car Thursday (to take my little brother back to school) left me hanging out (and locked out of his apartment) with not much to do most of the day Friday. After the race, I returned to a cousin's house to shower and get a short nap in before driving 4 hours back to Boise where I saw some friends, watched some football and got a few hours of sleep before leaving at 4am Sunday for the final 7 hours back home. The race festivities were great, but the down time and the drive time made for a long four days.

The starting line...in the daytime
(courtesy of Vitit Kantabutra)
The 350 marathon participants boarded charter buses at the finish line at 5am and were taken up to the starting line. It was dark and we were in the middle of nowhere when the driver pulled over to the side of the road, opened the door and declared, "We're here, don't leave anything on the bus." The people immediately around me hadn't run this race before and so our general consensus was, "We're where?"

It was partly cloudy and the moon was covered. We were in the middle of the Idaho wilderness at 5:15am. It was dark. The driver told us there was road about 50 yards from us. Turn right, he said, and then take the first right until you see the UPS truck (which took our drop bags to the finish line) at the starting line.

The "starting line" was a farmer's driveway. The line of portable toilets lined a sheep-pen and many (including me) sat down against the barn until it was time to go. Not exactly what I had imagined, but interesting, nonetheless.

It was still dark when the race started at 6:15am. As a pack we made our way down the driveway and onto the road. The first 13 miles were downhill. All downhill. I wasn't prepared for that. After a while I started to look forward to something flat, or even uphill. Just something different. That would come, but not for a while.

The sun eventually came up and darkness gave way to a perfect morning. Not a whisper of wind could be felt and the temperature was perfect. Around mile 7 I turned my music off and talked to a lady from Philadelphia that I had been running with for a few miles. During a pause in the conversation, I noticed a strange sound: silence. Miles from anything, on a closed road in a canyon. Except for the sound of shoes hitting the ground, it was pure silence. I kept my music off for a while and just enjoyed the sound of nothing.

Being on the road, my diet wasn't as ideal as it could have been. I attended the pre-race pasta party and had some salad dressing and a little bit of alfredo sauce--more fat and oil than I usually consume prior to a long run or race (big mistake #1). I also inexplicably ate a banana as I drove to the bus pickup site on Saturday morning (big mistake #2). I don't know why. I know I get stomach cramps when I eat the morning of a run. And sure enough, in the first few miles, an annoying stomach cramp greeted me. Nothing debilitating, but definitely uncomfortable. It wouldn't ever go away and I ran the rest of the race feeling it.

As for my race strategy, I had every intention of running 8 minutes and walking 1. I had done this in my training runs, knew the benefits of walking early and was committed to doing so...right up until I got to the Mile 1 marker and knew I had been going for close to 8 minutes (it was too dark to see my watch). At this point I fought an internal battle: on one hand, I knew I needed to walk. I had committed to doing so and again, knew I would reap benefits later. On the other hand, nobody else was walking. We had only gone a mile. What would people think if I pulled off to the side so early? I even thought of faking an injury so I could justify walking, but I didn't want anyone else stopping to ask me if I was alright.

This was all so stupid. I wasn't there to win the race and I didn't know a single other soul running with me. Who cares what they thought? But I couldn't do it. I couldn't walk. So on I went (big mistake #3). I did walk through the aid stations in the third, sixth, ninth and tenth miles but that was it for the first half, which I finished in roughly 1:55.

At the Mile 13 marker I noticed a lady who was walking at every mile marker for 20-30 seconds. For a few miles I would pass her while she was walking and then she would catch up and pass me when she started running again. Two different strategies and yet we were essentially in the same position (until mile 16 when she pulled far enough ahead that I couldn't catch up during her walk breaks). I knew I had made a big mistake in not walking regularly like I had planned.

The second half of the race consisted of some light rolling hills. Nothing too extreme except for a pretty good hill from mile 20 to 21, but the rolling hills seemed to roll "up" as we came back into Pocatello. I did walk for a minute or so every mile from miles 13-20 (the aid stations were almost a mile apart during this stage, so that make it a little easier to track), but the effect of running downhill for two hours without regular breaks caught up at mile 20. The hill to mile 21 finished me off, and the final 5 miles became a combination of walking and running, just trying to get to the finish line.

It's amazing to me how much my time suffers in the last 5 miles. It happened in both Seattle and Newport (well, in Newport it was more like that last 9 miles). I need to work on this.

As I passed the aid station at mile 24 I began to have a frank and open discussion with my internal coach. It was one-sided and went something like this (think drill sargent mode, without the profanity): "Why are you walking? You've walked plenty the last few miles. You're not here to walk, you're here to run. You've got two miles left and you WILL run them. So get it together right now, find something left in the tank, dig deep and finish this thing." And with that, I took off running as hard as I could.

I only lasted a minute or two at this pace, but that was fine. I was running again. When I couldn't do it any longer, I walked. My internal coach continued: "Good. See, you did have something left. Now do it again. Now!" And I took off running again.

With the finish line in view,
walking was unacceptable
Over and over again I would run as hard as I could and then walk for a few moments, each time resetting my mind and body with some positive, motivating self talk. Mile 25 passed and mile 26 approached. The final turn towards the finish was made around the 25.5 mark and I told myself there would be no more walking on the final stretch. As I fired up the engines one last time I made the turn and saw two runners in front of me who had passed me a few miles earlier. I was going to catch them.

With spectators on both sides of the road cheering us on, I passed mile 26 and briefly slowed to a walk for just a step before my internal coach screamed "NO! GO!" And so I went, on through the finish line.

I finished in 4:34:05. Slower than Seattle, but slightly faster than Newport. I felt good about it though. I know I've only run three, dozens less than some of the runners I spoke with during the weekend, but crossing the finish line never gets old. The emotions are always raw and the sense of accomplishment strong. Hours earlier, just before the gun went off, 350 of us had moved quietly as one pack towards the starting line in darkness. Looking around, there were runners of all shapes, sizes and attire. Each of us was about to embark on our own separate journey. We had all traveled separate paths to arrive at that moment, but we all had the same destination in mind. In our final few seconds together there was an unmistakable feeling of camaraderie. As a group, we were about to do something great.

To come together and see those same people in the runners-only recovery area afterwards, we knew we had done it. Our times weren't plastered on our foreheads and nobody knew if you had come in first or last. But you had a Pocatello Marathon finisher's medal around your neck, and that meant something. You had played a role and contributed to the greatness that had been achieved that day.

It doesn't matter where the race is, at what elevation it's run, what the grade of the slope is, or how long it took for everyone to finish, 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles. We all willingly paid money and spent time traveling to this one place so that we could have this experience. It's one to be remembered and cherished. For on this day, we were able to do something most people will never attempt or even desire to do. Maybe they don't think they physically can. Maybe they think it's too hard. Maybe the just don't want to.

Tired and a little beat up,
but still smiling
As I cross the finish line, as much pain and fatigue as I may be feeling, I think about how grateful I am to be able to do such a thing. How grateful I am to experience such a feeling. How grateful I am to be around people who are experiencing the same feelings and are equally grateful for them. I'm grateful that I didn't quit after my first week of running in June 2009, when running 2 miles on a track put me on the ground gasping for air. Or during the winter months, when day after day of rain, wind and darkness did it's best to beat me down. Or after Newport, when I wasn't sure I wanted to run ever again.

I ran my first marathon the first weekend of the summer. Now, 92 days later on the last weekend of the summer, I ran my third. It's been quite a summer. One in which I've come to realize I'm grateful for something that 14 months ago would have been unthinkable: I'm grateful I can run.

Time to find another race...


Travis C said...

Doing the unthinkable - that is awesome. Good job on the race. For your next race, have you thought about the California International Marathon? It is in Sacramento on December 5 and is a sea level flat run with a net downhill.

RAJ said...


I've chosen not to run (or train) on Sunday. It's a personal choice, one that vastly reduces the number of available marathons, but I knew that when I started. I've heard good things about the CA Int'l race though.

Thanks for reading! I'm enjoying following your progress as well.


The Marathon Snail said...

Awesome race report!