I’ve been waiting until I have something to write about before getting back to this blog and even though a marathon has nothing to do with Army or deployment life, it might be of interest to some people… or at least some of you runners. Since I have nowhere else to post it, I guess I’ll use this blog.
I’ve wanted to run a marathon for several years and with all of the running I did this past year in Afghanistan, this seemed to be a good time to do it. So, yesterday I ran the Tyler Rose Marathon in Tyler, TX. Here are some preparation and race notes:
To prepare for the marathon, I basically kept my normal running regimen (20-24 miles a week) but added a long run on the weekends. My first long run was running around Bagram back in July, which was about an 8 mile run. After that, I added 2 miles to each long run every other week – 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18 miles. I wanted to run a 20 mile run before the marathon but didn’t have the motivation so I ran 5 miles one morning and 16 miles that same evening which I felt was close enough.
My maximum weekly mileage was 34 miles, which is conservative by most marathon training plan standards. Sticking to a consistent plan was difficult after I got to my unit here at Fort Hood since I had mandatory physical training in the morning which may or may not include running on any given morning. I originally planned to run the Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon, but the long drive was a bridge too far so I looked for a closer one this same weekend. Tyler, TX is about 3 ½ hours from here and considering how much pain I was in after the marathon, I’m really happy I didn’t have to drive the 8 hours back from Wichita.
We drove up to Tyler, TX on Saturday afternoon and spent the night there in the Hyatt Place which was a great hotel (and totally booked with runners). The race started at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday. As we drove the 3 ½ hours on Saturday, it seemed like a long trip, but it occurred to me that I would be running for even longer than 3 ½ hours the next day. That thought made me nervous!
2010 was the inaugural Tyler Rose Marathon, so 2011 was only its second year. It’s called the Rose Marathon because it starts and ends in a beautiful huge rose garden. I guess Tyler, TX is famous for its roses and it supplies a large amount of roses to the US. One of the unique gifts to finishers is a potted rose plant. Compared to many of the big city marathons, the Tyler Rose is a small event. Apparently, 212 people registered/showed up/raced/finished the full marathon and I think there were around 1,000 finishers for the half marathon. There was also a 5k run and the day before (Saturday), there were several events for children.
We signed up Kailee & Sophia for a 50 yard dash “fun run”, not realizing that it was on Saturday instead of Sunday. When we arrived in Tyler on Saturday afternoon, a race worker gave us the bad news that we had missed it – it had already happened that morning. When the nice lady saw the disappointment on the girls’ faces (Kailee started crying), she saved the day by staging a 50 yard dash just for Kailee and Sophia. She even gave them finisher medals and kid’s t-shirts at the end – they loved it! I really can’t thank this lady enough… she could have just shrugged her shoulders and said, “Sorry kiddos, come back next year” but instead she really made it an event that the girls will remember for a long time. Thank you Mystery Lady!
I really had no idea of how I should run the race since I had not done any shorter distance races (except for the 2 mile run on the Army PT test) and had not run continuously past 18 miles in training. I can maintain a 7:30 min/mile pace fairly comfortably for 5 miles or so and I ran 8:15 min/miles for 12 miles on one of my training runs which felt comfortable. I debated starting out really slow and gradually speeding up after the halfway point. But then I read online that the best strategy is to just run the same pace the whole time, so I decided on that method. The only question was… which pace? A 3:40 (3 hour: 40 min) marathon equals to about 8:22 min/mile which seemed reasonable so I decided to attempt that.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned about expectation management, though, is that I should have a contingency plan. So, I made three goals. My first goal was simply to finish the marathon. My second goal was to finish under 4 hours. And my final go-for-the-stars goal was to finish around 3:40hrs.
First, I should mention a few things about the course. The Tyler Rose Marathon is set in the rolling hills of Eastern Texas. I’ve been running on hills here around my house around Fort Hood but hills around Tyler, Tx are bigger and non-stop. There were very few places along the route that were flat. After 26 miles, the hills really took a toll on me. Secondly, the starting temperature was in the low 70’s and had climbed into the low 80’s by the time I finished.
The internet is replete with warnings against starting a marathon too fast, so I deliberately tried to keep the pace slow for the first few miles. I felt like I was crawling along but was surprised when my watch kept recording miles at 8:00 min/miles, 8:10 min/miles, etc. I guess it was the race-day excitement and adrenaline. I felt great, but I knew that I had to slow down, so I fell in behind the 3:40hr pace group (this is a group that the race hires to run a specific pace to help people run their goal time). They were clicking off 8:15 min/miles like clockwork, so I ran with them until the 11 or 12 mile mark.
The first 10 miles or so generally followed winding hilly country roads which were scenic and made for a pleasant run. There were plenty of hills but I felt fine running up and down them. The sun and the wind were at our back. I checked my breathing every now and then and felt like I was breathing slow and easy with no problems. At mile 6, I heard someone say, “6 miles down, only 20 to go!” Man, that was discouraging. Still, I felt ok until around mile 10 where disaster struck and the hills finally started getting to me. Miles 10 through 15 turned onto a highway that was open to the elements. This stretch faced east, right into the ever hotter morning sun. There was no shade and the hills along this stretch were quite large and continuous. To add insult to injury, there was a moderate wind blowing directly against us. These miles became very painful and seemed to last forever.
At mile 12, after the third huge hill right in a row, my pace slacked off a bit. I decided to be conservative and when I reached the top of the hill I walked through the water station and stopped by the port-a-john. When I started back running, I felt a little better and I hit the halfway point (13.1 miles) almost exactly on my goal time – 1:52. It was starting to hurt by that point, though, and I knew that there was no way I could run the same pace for another 13.1 miles.
For the final 13 miles, the pain just grew steadily worse. My mile splits became more and more erratic and depended heavily on the hills. By mile 17, I could barely drag myself up even the smallest hills and every step shot fire through my legs. It was around this point that the 4:00hr pace group passed me and my goal changed from running a sub-4 hour marathon to just finishing. I adopted the strategy of walking for 30-60 seconds and running for 3 or 4 minutes. This whole experience, by the way, exactly mirrors what every marathon book and website predicts and warns against… oh well, I guess every novice has to find out the hard way.
At mile 18, my entire body felt like someone had just beat me with a baseball bat. It was discouraging knowing that I had never run further than 18 miles before and I still had 8 miles to go. I ran the 18th mile in 9:30 and it was the last mile in which I ran under 10 minutes. Instead of clicking merrily past, each mile now felt like it would never end. Nearly everybody I saw was using the run/walk strategy at this point.
I should mention that with only 200+ runners, much or most of the last 13 miles was spent running by myself. There were long stretches of time when I couldn’t even see any other runners ahead or behind me. Since it was a small event, there were occasional small groups of 4 or 5 people cheering us on every now and then, but it did not have the flavor or excitement of some larger marathons. Around mile 20, I passed a guy who was bent over double, grimacing, and weaving back and forth across the road. He said he had really bad leg cramps but he said he didn’t need medical help when I asked him. I told the people at the next water stop that he was coming and probably needed help. I later saw him cross the finish line at a near sprint and collapse upon crossing the line… whereupon he was taken away by the medics.
The last 10 miles were set in historic neighborhoods with huge trees and cobblestone roads. It was really a beautiful route and it helped somewhat take my mind off the pain occasionally. This part was also hilly. Did I mention the hills? Around mile 23, the pain in my legs was bringing tears to my eyes. I passed one guy who was laying flat on his back in somebody’s yard & I was tempted to join him except I didn’t think I could get back up. It seemed like I ran miles 24 and 25 in some kind of drug-induced haze, in 13:15 and 12:08, respectively. I’m not sure how accurate this is, but this is the elevation data that my running watch recorded to give you an idea of the hills (the numbers on the bottom are the miles):
When I saw the 25th mile marker and knew I only had 1 mile left, I didn’t care anymore. I painfully walked past the marker. I was on the 100 strides of walking / 100 strides of running plan at this point. I ran/walked the 26th mile in 11:33. The last mile was particularly insidious because it had 2 hills, one of which was at the very end.
When I reached the last quarter mile, I could hear the announcer at the end and there were people cheering us on in the last 100 meters or so. The last 50 meters was springy astro-turf which felt great after 26 miles of pavement. I ran through the finish line with a time of 4:21:59 and the race people handed me a finisher’s medal and a potted rose. I finished 57th overall (out of 212) and 7th in my age group (out of I-don’t-know how many).
Mary, Kailee, and Sophia met me at the finish line and it felt wonderful to see them and to finally stop running. Mary and the girls were great supporters and the thought of seeing them at the finish line carried me through a lot of the harder miles. Thanks Mary, Kailee and Sophia!
It may not have been a pretty performance, but I did feel a nice sense of accomplishment and I’m happy to be able to say that I’ve run a marathon. For the next few hours after finishing, it was hard to walk around without hobbling and groaning but I was walking more or less normally by that evening. After our 3 ½ hour trip home, we were all exhausted (Mary having spent the whole day outdoors with the girls while being sick with pregnancy). We were really happy that we hadn’t decided to drive 8 hours to Wichita and back for the marathon there, even though it would have been fun to see everyone.
Other than being sore, I felt surprisingly well the next few days and I don’t have any injuries. I ran another 12 miles throughout this past week and felt kind of banged up, but not too bad. I didn’t have any problems with blisters or chafing or torn muscles or anything. I guess my training did at least help me get through it injury-free.
Here are a few lessons I learned that I will use if I ever run another marathon:
- Start off slower no matter how great I feel at the beginning
- Drink more water, especially if it’s a hot day
- I think I will stick with Gatorade next time instead of energy gels
- Put on sunscreen, even if it’s supposed to be overcast
- Train with several longer runs (at least several 20+ milers)
- Train on similar terrain as the race – although I ran on hills here in the Fort Hood area, I was not prepared for the amount and size of the hills in Tyler. In fact, my longest training run (18 miles) was run in Wichita, KS which is flat as a pancake.
Overall, running this marathon was a great experience. It was a beautiful course (except for miles 10 – 15) and the people who ran it were extremely friendly. The small-town atmosphere made it a lot of fun. Running a marathon was challenging, painful, and rewarding. The Tyler Rose Marathon might not be considered a great “first timers” marathon course because of the hills and small size but I felt that just added to the challenge, pain, and reward. It also makes it more likely that I’ll beat my time if I ever run an easier course. Really, though, I imagine that there really isn’t such a thing as an easy marathon which is what makes it so much fun.
Thanks again, Mary, for putting up with all this running & for supporting me through this marathon just as much as you always have through other bigger things (like deployments). If this report gives someone the motivation to go out and accomplish one of their goals, great! But after reading what I just wrote, it kind of makes me want to go take a nap. Which is exactly what I think I’ll do.