The planning for a marathon can run anywhere from four months to over a year, depending on your level of preparation, training and tendency to make stuff up as you go along. My buddy Steve in a fit of excitement at the finish line of last year's Seattle Rock n Roll Half Marathon, signed up to run his first full marathon at the same event a year later. The cheaper price and promise of a free jacket probably helped sway him.
I was not tempted to pull the trigger then, but a couple of months later, a Groupon came out to run the marathon for $60, just $5 more than if I had signed up still sweating at the finish line, and noticeably cheaper than what they normally charge. It turned out I had a 20% coupon sitting on the Groupon site, so my final bill was $48. With a jacket, it was almost like they were paying me to run this thing.
After running at least two marathons a year from 2008 - 2012, and four in 2012, I had only run one since, the wonderful Chicago Marathon experience in 2013. My main excuse was that the tax season schedule really messes with training for or running spring and fall marathons, but if I was as motivated as I used to be, I would have made it work. Running a couple of half marathons in 2015 sort of re-lit the spark, and a number of other friends signed up to run either the full or half marathon this June, so I was inspired to take on the challenge again.
When you sign up for these things, they often ask you for a predicted finish time. This helps them stage the runners in corrals by their pace, hopefully reducing congestion of runners weaving in and out of jams. Even if you have run a number of these things, it is still hard to know what kind of shape you will be in eight months down the road. If it is your first like it was for Steve, it is basically a wild-ass guess.
And then of course life intervenes in those months leading up to the race. Maybe work or family demands increase, maybe you get injured, maybe what seemed possible so far out, feels impossible as the deadline approaches. Several of the people that signed up either didn't make the start line due to injury, or had to change to a shorter race as a backup plan. My own training schedule was of course interrupted by taxes, and I was also trying to train for a couple of big bike rides around the marathon date. In trying to train for both running and biking, I didn't do a particularly good job at either.
Since this was Steve's first marathon, I tried to think of what I wished I had known going into the race. We of course talked a lot about training for the race in the early months, but I also ended up writing a few pages of thoughts about the week and hours leading up to the race, and then some tips on getting through the 26.2 miles. The exercise was a nice reminder for me of what the adventure entails. But of course, even with the best of plans, things can still go sideways.
Some marathons let you personalize your running bib with a short phrase. In the intervening eight months, I had of course forgotten what I wrote down. It turns out I was in a Douglas Adams sort of mood back then, but the phrase seemed appropriate now.
A gal at the start line asked if I had remembered my towel, clearly getting the reference to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which set me off with a smile.
Steve and I met up with a few of my other friends Tami, Jenica, Joseph, Wendy and John who were either running the 8k or half marathon. We shared some hugs, photos and nervous energy before setting off to our respective starting corrals.
I decided to go for a bit of stretch goal and set off with the 3:50 pace group. Though Steve and I had finished within a minute of each other at the half marathon the month before, he hadn't had a chance to get in the final long runs, and decided on a more conservative (and probably wiser) goal of 4:25. The route kicked off at Seattle Center, ran along the Viaduct for a bit before heading south though town and down to Lake Washington.
I stayed with or a bit ahead of the pace group for the first half of the race. After we looped around Seward Park and started heading back north, things started to turn. At the halfway point, new pacers took over the mantle and lead us on with fresh legs. Oh how I wish I had the same option. My hips tightened up at mile thirteen, and my right calf not long after, and it became twelve mile struggle described in the picture at the beginning of this post. I hung with the pacer until we climbed onto the I-90 bridge at mile seventeen, but slowly watched her slip away as the miles ticked by. My brain and determination chanted to push on, but the growing pain in my hips and legs eventually won out. The last three miles was a run/walk/stumble to the finish.
I crossed the finish in 3:58 flat. Absolutely nothing wrong with that time, but I just wish it hadn't hurt so bad to achieve it. I don't know if I had set off at a 4:00 pace if I would have finished in roughly the same time, but feeling strong. I had not had any hip pain leading up to the race, so who knows if starting more conservatively would have made a difference.
My friend (and biking buddy) Joe surprised me at the finish. His daughter had run the 8k and his son the half marathon, but he stuck around to watch me finish, even though he is one of the many who think running a marathon is crazy. He managed to catch a video of my just about to make the last turn to the finish. Thankfully the downhill slope aided my shuffle, but even then I swept over to get high-fives from strangers to push me on. Didn't even see Joe until he shouted my name.
Since there were two out and back loops on the course, I was able to see Steve twice heading the other direction. I saw him first when I was at mile 14 and he at mile 9. He was a bit behind his pacer, but looked great. I later found out the only reason he was behind was he had stopped to use the bathroom three times - clearly well hydrated. When I saw him again, we were on the I-90 bridge, me at mile 22 and him at about 17. He was now ahead of his pacer, and looking like he was feeling great. Given my head start, I was able to finish, grab some food and my drop bag and make it back to the finish line to see Steve cross. He ran a great race and finished strong in 4:20:15.
We met his girlfriend Tania and headed to the beer garden to have our free Michelob Ultra, a low-carb, beer-like substance, and swapped stories of struggle and victory. Steve thanked me for all the tips I had given him, but I was feeling more broken than marathon guru at that point. He swore that this would be his only marathon, checking off the bucket list item, but there was a gleam in his eye that tells me he will be back someday. I promised not to ask until the endorphins and soreness subsided. Or at least until I see him wearing his finisher jacket again.