I still have a lot to figure out.
In the seven marathons I had previously run, I would say I was trained and prepared to do well in four of them. I just told you how ill prepared I was for the Marine Corps Marathon in 2006, and in my last two marathons (Las Vegas and San Diego), work and scheduling got in the way of training.
Out of the four I was fully trained for, I was able to improve my time in three of them. This time around, my training was pretty focused in improving my speed, and I had put in more mileage than usual. The course I was running also had less hills to climb, so I figured I was primed to set a new PR.
At the last minute, my friend Matt was going to be in town to support me during the marathon. The Facebook widget that I mentioned in an earlier post did not work, so he not only helped me, but he kept friends updated as well. And it was just great having him there.
Marathon morning started at 4:45 am. Unfortunately (once again) I had difficulty falling asleep the night before. After an hour and a half of reading or staring at the ceiling, I took a half dose of Tylenol PM. It made for a groggy morning. Matt and I made it to the start line at around 6:00, with plenty of time to check gear, stretch out, and hit the Porta-Pottie. As I exited the bathroom, Matt started clapping and shouting "That's my boy. Great job Sean. Way to focus and stay on pace." His 'supportive' gesture had the crowd of runners cracking up.
The gun went off at 7:05am, and our pacing group headed out together. I don't know how many were actually in the group, but it seemed large. The day was overcast and in the low 60's, but it was relatively humid so I was sweating pretty quickly. My heart rate also seemed higher than normal.
The first few miles were pretty relaxed, and I chatted with both our pace leader and other runners. I talked to a five-time Ironman, a first time marathoner, and a woman trying to qualify for Boston (at her second marathon). The route runs close to the water for much of the first ten miles, and the concrete path actually winds through the sand for a couple miles. We split from the half marathoners around mile 11, and the crowd thinned as we headed inland.
Our pace leader brought us to the halfway point a little ahead of pace. I was feeling OK at that point - not great, not bad. There were some smaller climbs over the next couple miles with the biggest hill around mile 17 as we did a loop through Cal State Long Beach. The group basically disintegrated on the hill as we took it at our own pace. There were several students out, and near the top of the hill there was loud, long line cheering us on. I was tired, and my heart rate was through the roof, but the students gave me a boost.
As I crested the hill, I found out that I was now a little behind pace, but there was no sign of the pace leader. He apparently had fallen behind on the hill, and I would not see him for the rest of the day. The only person I saw from our group was the woman shooting for Boston, who was ahead of me at that point. I tried to slowly reel her in on the downhill while getting my heart rate to come back down. I saw Matt toward the bottom of the hill, and that gave me another boost.
I caught up to the Boston gal, and we ran together for the next couple of miles. We were back on pace around mile 19, but it was clear she was running stronger than I was. I lost her at the water station at mile 21 and my pace started to slow. I would occasionally see her in the distance, but could no longer reel her in. I had hit the wall, and didn't have the energy to stay on pace.
The last few miles were a real struggle. I was out of gas, and I knew I wasn't going to hit my goal, but I pressed as hard as I could to limit the damage. Beyond the increasing fatigue and sore muscles, I felt a weight and tightness in my chest that grew with every mile. By the time I reached the finish line, I was dizzy, nauseous, and thought I was going to throw up. I'm not sure I want to see my finish line photo. I stumbled my way through the finish area trying to find something to lean against. I was really happy to find Matt.
I found a patch of grass to sit down on and Matt went to grab me a Coke. By the time he got back, I was shaking and shivering. I had clearly gone beyond what my body was prepared to do. The Coke helped tremendously, and I was eventually able to get up and walk around.
My finish time was 3:53:22, which is a little over a four minute improvement on my previous best. Even though it is the fastest I have ever run, I am still a little disappointed. The training program was aimed at a 3:50 finish, and I thought that the flatter course and overcast day might allow me to shave off a couple of additional minutes. But I am not disappointed in the effort I put forth on Sunday. I gave it everything I had on race day.
So now it is time for the post game analysis. I have a few theories about what went wrong, but of course it is only educated guess work. But I get a chance to test them out in a few months.