I toed the line at the Charlottesville Marathon (actually I toed a spot on the pavement somewhere in the middle of the pack) not really sure what to expect. I was confident that I could run the distance, as I had completed both a marathon and a 50K ultra within the past 6 months. And, I was reasonably familiar with the route, having run most of it at one time or another, and having driven the few miles that I hadn’t run, so there wouldn’t be any surprises in the terrain.
I fully expected that I would finish the race. I just wasn’t sure how ugly it was going to be – the hilly course, the warm weather forecast, a knee that had been giving me trouble, and a resulting lack of consistent training over the last month were all worrisome. But, Jennifer’s last words to me as left home at 5:30 a.m. (I don’t think she had slept any better than I had) were “remember it’s supposed to be fun.” I kept reminding myself of those wise words and before I knew it, we were off.
I forgot one other cause for worry – I had to go to the bathroom and you can’t run 26.2 miles with a full bladder. Of course, this realization arose too late for me to have any chance of making it into one of the portajohns before the race started. I knew that there would be ample opportunity to duck behind a bush or into the woods once the race got out of town and into the country, but I wasn’t sure I could wait that long. Fortunately, the course runs right past my church. So, right about the mile 1 marker, I veered 90 degrees off the road, through my church’s parking lot and into the building, and was able to get a much better perspective on life. Nature’s call answered, I ran out of the building (attracting quizzical looks from several passing runners) and merged back into the pack.
The next several miles passed without incident. We hit a big hill at mile 5, but I had run this part of the course a couple of weeks earlier so knew what to expect. We crested the hill, and before long were at the turnaround point for the half-marathon. The field thinned out considerably at this point, as a lot more runners had turned around and headed back for the second half of their 13.1 mile race than had kept going for the nearly 20 miles remaining in the marathon. As we passed the turnaround, the runner next to me pointed behind him and said “smart”, then pointed ahead of him in the direction we were going and said “stupid”. We both laughed, and continued on down the road along with another 500 “stupid” people.
The middle portion of the race went fairly smoothly. I settled into a nice rythyhm and plugged along, occasionally trading places with one of the same 20 or so runners that were running nearly identical paces. Every now and then I’d pass someone whose heavy breathing or shuffling feet showed signs of trouble. I passed a few others who looked like they could have been going a lot faster, including one guy who was in conversation with another and had just told him that he had run 58 marathons without a DNF. “It may not be pretty,” he said, “but I’ll finish.” Obviously impressed, the other guy said something about mental toughness, to which the vet said “well maybe, I guess, but it’s really because the finish is where my ride home is.” Gotta love it.
A couple of miles later we hit another big hill. Runners began to spread out at this point, as fatigue was starting to play a more significant role. We turned off the main road for an out-and-back stretch down a winding country road, and I tried to read the runners’ faces as they passed by in the other direction. Some were looking strong, a few even happy. Others were clearly having a hard time and I wondered if they were going to make it to the finish. Most, though, remained inscrutable – whether due to intense focus and concentration, or a brave front put up to guard against others seeing their internal struggle with pain and fatigue, or both, it was hard to tell. There was a bit of comic relief as the guy who had been talking with the 58-marathon vet suddenly yelled out to nobody in particular, “where the &*%! is that turnaround?!”
I hit mile 20 still feeling fairly strong, and was then treated to a long downhill – although it didn’t seem nearly as long going down at mile 21 as it had going up at mile 5. Then, at the bottom, I was greeted with the best surprise I could hope for – my own personal cheering section. Jennifer and the kids were camped out on the roadside with handmade “Go Daddy”, “Love You”, “You Rock”, and “Run Fast” signs. What wonderful support.
It’s just a shame they couldn’t have stayed with me over the next 5 miles. The wheels didn’t come completely off, but they wobbled quite a bit. At least it wasn’t just me – everyone around me seemed to be in similar shape. Time-wise, I was doing well, for me anyway – I was on track for beating my PR of 4:32 as long as I stayed under 12-minute miles. That was a good thing and a bad thing – a good thing because it meant I had been running well. A bad thing because “the voice” that tends to pop up in runner’s heads in the latter stages of long distance races did its best to urge me to take advantage of that cushion. It was a convincing voice, as the 4:15 that I had in my sights turned into a 4:20, and wound up being a 4:24.
Still, a good outing, especially considering the fact that I had told Jennifer to expect something between a 4:30 and a 5:30. Like I said, I wasn’t sure how I was going to do.
So what’s next? Probably one more marathon in the fall. In a couple of weeks I’ll be submitting my entry for the lottery to get into the Marine Corps Marathon on October 26. I’ve always thought there would be a satisfying “so there, take that” sort of irony in me running that race.
If I don’t get into the MCM (they get more applications than they can accept), I’ll find another (if you have any suggestions for a good mid-Atlantic September/October marathon, please leave a comment).
After that, the next step up the ladder – the JFK 50 Mile Race on November 22.
Many miles to go between now and then.