I have a bad history with marathons. I tend to avoid them. They HURT. I haven’t done any races where I thought I was doing well. They turn into death marches where my legs and feet turn into sticks of burning pain. They make me want to cry. Two of the three that I have done have been in ironmans, after 2.4 miles of swimming and 112 miles of biking, so I had an excuse for mere survival. The first stand alone marathon I did was a debacle that took over six and a half hours. I wanted a different outcome.
I was determined to actually race P.F. Chang’s. Somehow, a great half marathon race in 2009 gave me the delusion that I could actually do this. I perfectly executed the half marathon, keeping the same fast pace for ten miles, then speeding up for the last 5k. It felt awesome. Marathons are a different matter. A marathon is a snarling beast, that is difficult to tame.
It’s nice to have a goal and to see what I am capable of. I thought I could do better than I had in the past and that I could have a personal best, since my best time was an ironman marathon. They are always slower than a stand alone marathon. It seemed like a crazy, stupid idea but doable. Maybe I could exceed all my expectations of what I could do.
Training wasn’t all that difficult. I did a lot of running in the summer training for an ironman and it wasn’t that big a stretch to do it again. But then, I reached the magic fourteen mile run mark. My feet do not like running more than fourteen miles at one time. They complained bitterly and I ended up in moving a crippled hobble at the end. Making my long runs faster just made matters worse.
Ironically, running a lot makes you lazier. I would go out of my way to get a close parking spot so that I didn’t have to walk an extra twenty five yards. Any activity where I had to stand a lot was avoided. It was a good excuse not to do yard work.. Grocery shopping sucked because I shop at a large store that requires a lot of walking and my feet would ache non stop.
P.F. Chang’s is a big marathon that tends to be a hassle. But it’s in the middle of January, which is prime time for a long race, because I won’t die of heat exhaustion. This year we had the option to ride the light rail to the start line. That worked out much better than the buses that they had used in the past. Those were crowded and ran late. Too bad it was pitch dark outside, so I couldn’t see the scenery. Riding a train in Phoenix is still a novelty. For a long time political leaders didn’t see the need for more mass transit for a city in a county of over 3.8 million people.
At the start of the race, people are placed in corrals according to their projected running time. The word "corrals" evokes the image of cattle in my mind. So many people are there that the start has to be done in stages. It’s a slow walk to the beginning of the slaughter. I was supposed to be in corral eight because I thought I could finish under five hours, but not four. Corral eight did not exist, only six. Was I supposed to start behind the police cars? I guess if you weren’t in corrals one through six, you went wherever you could.
The bad thing about running in the desert in winter is that it is cold in the morning. I couldn’t dress warmly because I would get hot when I am running and I didn’t want to carry extra clothes. A lot of people just discarded their extra clothes in the street, like gloves and shirts. That wasn’t a option for me because I am cheap and it seems wasteful. I could have worn a garbage bag like some people did, but that just wasn’t cool. The same light rail that was our friend and got us there also delayed the start for half an hour, because a lot of runners going over the tracks tends to slow down the trains. I looked for people putting out a lot of heat.
Finally we started. Miles one through nine were bearable. I wasn’t hurting or breathing hard. I passed the 4:45 hour pace group, which was the time I wanted to finish in. The bands provided temporary distraction, but most of them were uninspiring. Locals schools put out cheer leading squads, but the only one I liked had a disco theme with sparkly costumes. They could cheer all they wanted, but I went into a moody misery. The route passed through the older part of town, which actually has some character, with stores, older homes and a canal. It’s the part of Phoenix that looks more like the midwest with the large green lawns and big trees.
The 4:45 pace group caught up with me, which probably wasn’t a good thing. I was slowing down. I ran with them a while. The pacer held up a sign the entire way that says "4:45". People followed him on the theory that they will be able to stay with him the entire race. That is, until the porta-potty calls.
I had tried to resist this call and I was determined not to waste time in this manner. My intestines had other ideas. They hated running as much as my feet did. At mile twenty, they threatened to erupt and I had no other choice but to use the blue box. How the hell do they find toilet paper this thin? I had to roll out long sheets just to get amounts at the molecular level.
Up to this point, I had a decent run. The saying is that a marathon begins at mile twenty. What this really means is all the mistakes that I made in the past twenty miles came back to haunt me. I didn’t drink enough water and eat enough of the vile phlegmy gels that I use. This resulted in hills becoming mountains and every step was a burning pain. It took a lot more energy just to do the same thing that I had been doing for four hours.
The mind is more powerful than the body most of the time, but sometimes they get into arguments. The brain says to keep going when the body tells me to stop. At this point it was a full blown fight. My body was screaming "stop!". My mind was saying "I am damned if I am going to have a five hour marathon!". It was frustrating to work so hard for so little speed.
A string of runners stretched out in front of me down the undulating road . Who knew Van Buren had all these hills? It seemed cruel to make us run over hills at mile twenty three in a marathon. I wasn’t going to give up and walk, though. People around me groaned. I thought, what the hell is your excuse? I have twenty years on you. Some rotund belly dancers in long, sparkling skirts provided some comic relief. I admired them for their confidence to expose and shake that much Rubinesque flesh.
I finally got to the Mill Avenue bridge over Tempe Town Lake. I could see all the white herons perched on the walls. They were probably wondering what all these idiots were doing. I was pretty cranky at that point because my feet hurt so bad. Hapless pedestrians crossed through the runners. I was ready to scream at them if they got in my way. They could die for all I cared. I passed the restaurant Montis on Rio Salado about mile 25.5 and they were playing "The Dog Days Are Over". I certainly hoped so. I loved this song and it gave me energy for a little while. I kept reminding myself that "pain is temporary, pride is forever". Giving up and not doing my best stays with me a lot longer than any momentary discomfort. But my feet weren’t buying this idea.
I picked up at the last mile, or tried to and my heart rate was sky high. In a normal race, this would have resulted in faster speed. This time it resulted in more discomfort. A lot of people at the finish line cheered, which was kind of cool, except I hurt so bad that I didn’t care. They could have been mutant aliens and I wouldn’t have noticed. I had a time of 4:54:39. It wasn’t my goal time of 4:45, but it was my best time in a marathon.
I like to test my physical limits in running and to have the feeling of control. Things don’t always go as planned, however. I learned from this experience that it takes a lot of effort to run slow in a marathon and it takes a lot MORE effort to not run even slower the last 10k. Despite my best efforts, the last 10k in a marathon always SUCKS. I can train all I want, but my feet and legs are going to hurt badly whether I run for five hours or six and a half. Lastly, I will NOT be able to avoid the porta-potties.
At least I didn’t feel like crying, unlike my other marathons. That is, until I had to walk back to my car