So, after three days of escape, hurdles knocked down by the race promoter, and a long road to the start line - here I was standing in Balboa Park again waiting for the gun to go off. I had no idea how the day would go, but I will say that this is the first time since my first marathon that I brought along money for cab fare or a trolley ride home in case I didn't finish. It was also the first marathon I have run without a friend. In seven marathons and six half marathons, only my first half marathon was run with out a friend participating as well. It was kind of a different feel at the start line. Still exciting, just different.
My first stop was to the "solutions tent" to grab my bib. I had brought along my receipt, confirmation, and the e-mail telling me it was OK to do this, but it turns out there were several people just like me picking up their bib at the last minute. It is obviously discouraged with over 25,000 runners, but I was glad that they make exceptions when necessary. They couldn't find my bib number, so they moved me to another line. There they gave me a different bib number and made a note to transfer it to my name. It made me a bit nervous that my time wouldn't be recorded, but it was done so quickly that Tami was able to follow my progress during the race.
Runners are lined up according to their predicted finish time. The faster the runner, the closer to the start line, and the bib numbers are handed out to match your starting position. My original bib number in the eight thousands put me in corral eight, and my new one put me in corral three. I had no intention of starting that far up, but I thought to myself "Man, it is going to be embarrassing to be wearing this elite bib number if I end up walking later." With the bib switch, I also didn't have the one I had personalized. If you sign up early enough, they will often print a line of text on your bib - your name, a catch phrase, etc. My original bib said "Lucky #7". Probably just as well I wasn't wearing that one either.
The weather was warm but overcast. It was in the low 60's at the start, which is still warm for me, but at least it wasn't predicted to get over 70 during the day. I intended to give it my best, but to enjoy the day as much as I could knowing that it would likely be a slower finish time. I brought along the iPod with a marathon music playlist queued up, as well as my new camera to take some pictures along the way.
The first few miles went well, though sweat was pouring down my face almost immediately. I made sure to take in my surroundings, encourage and thank the spectators and volunteers, and high-five the cheer squads along the way. I snapped photos of Balboa Park, Petco Park, the USS Midway, as well as the roof-top deck where we celebrated the 2007 marathon. At every water station I poured about as much water over my head as I drank.
The major climb of the route is along highway 163 at from miles 8 to 11. The other issue is the banked roadway which did in my IT bands last time I ran this route. But this time I was still feeling pretty good after the climb. I had passed the 4:00 pacer at around mile 2 and was trying to keep him in my rear-view-mirror. I wasn't watching my time too closely, but I knew I was setting a pretty good pace. I found out later that passed the half marathon marker at about 1:56, within 3 seconds of my first half time in Seattle where I set a PR.
The day was going so well, I entertained thoughts of breaking four hours if not making a new PR. I was all ready to write a best-selling book about the virtues of eating and drinking on a boat as a taper plan. The sun broke through the clouds around mile 11 but I maintained a decent pace until around mile 16. I started to slow down and run out of gas just a bit, and ended up walking up a hill between mile 16 and 17.
I have movie and tv audio clips intermixed with songs on my marathon playlist. By some strange coincidence, this clip started playing as I was walking and ended just at the top of the hill. It got me moving again, and with only one more short hill a half mile later, I was thinking I could actually take marathon home along the flatter paths of Mission Bay. As I crossed the I-5 overpass, I saw the finish line off in the distance. Of course it was still nine miles away, and there were several twists and turns to go, but it was encouraging.
I made the turn at the bottom of the hill and there was another cheer squad over on the right side of the shoulder. I went over to get some more high-fives, and started whooping it up to encourage both them and myself. And while I was focusing on shouting and slapping palms, I turned my ankle on some uneven patch of road. The same ankle I twisted less that 24 hours earlier. I hobbled off onto the grass and tried to walk it off. It seemed about as bad as the day before and it only slowed me down for a mile or so. But it was the start of a long slide.
Shortly after the ankle sprain, I felt tightness across my lower rib cage. It started on my right side, but soon spread to the left. I stopped at the mile 18 water station and took a moment to catch my breath, take in a gel, some more fluids, and a Tylenol for the ankle. I carried on, but it didn't get any better. It felt like someone had put a ratcheting tie-down around my chest, and with each partial mile they ratcheted it one click tighter. It made it hard to get a deep breath, and taking in food or fluids became unappealing.
I started doing the walk/run thing, but the running became progressively slower and the walk breaks more frequent. My pace dropped from somewhere under nine minutes a mile, to ten and half, then eleven and a half minute miles. Thoughts of a four hour finish were fading, though I hadn't seen the four hour pacer go by. I knew that if he passed me, I didn't have anything left to chase him, so I pressed it as much as I could. Then I started to do some math in my head and I realized I was well off that pace, and he must have passed me when I wasn't looking.
The four and a half mile loop around Fiesta Island seemed endless. One highlight was that I ran into Todd, someone I knew from Washington. He was there with his wife waiting on the sandy roadside for some other runner to come by. I was more than happy to stop and chat briefly at that point. So random.
I carried on, trying to just run through the duration of a single song. We were at the walking-wounded stage of the race, and those in slightly better shape were trying to encourage us along. "Hitting the wall", where your body runs out of simple carbs to burn, usually happens somewhere around mile 20. Coaches often say that energy waxes and wanes, and encourage runners to hang in there until your body switches gears. I tried to be patient, but when I tried to dig deeper I found nothing.
I continued my shuffle toward home. About a half mile from the finish my knee started to hurt from a tight IT band, but I was close enough that it didn't slow me down much more than I was already going. In previous marathons, I have been able to crank up the pace at the end, if only along the short finishing chute, but not this day. It wasn't for lack of support, as there was a wall of people cheering us on. I just had nothing in the tank.
Matt and Holly surprised me by meeting me later at the finish line festival. They had friends in town that were leaving the next day, so I encouraged them to skip out on marathon day. But they endured hassles and traffic to be there to congratulate me. We did get to see Big, Bad Voodoo Daddy at the post-race concert, which was cool. Holly knows a few of the band members and was able to get their attention while they were on stage, but we missed them on the way out so we didn't have a chance to meet them.
I finished in 4:14:35, which in hindsight is not a bad time considering what I brought (or didn't bring) race morning. I was just lulled into faster dreams by the first 2/3rds of the race. I am glad I ran the marathon, and look forward to next time where I will not only enjoy the day, but come prepared to do the best I can. I guess I did set a course PR, improving my 2007 time by about 25 minutes. And like my first marathon, I didn't need cab fare to get to the finish