Cold. Really, really cold. Cold and snowy at the Expo on Saturday. Car encased in ice at 4:45AM when trying to head to the starting line. Huddling in the Metro station at the Pentagon with hundreds of my closest friends all trying to avoid the inevitable escalator into the 25 degrees and wind outdoors. Icy walk to the runner’s village and on to the starting corrals. My wife’s youngest sister was running the race too, so we made the chilly adventure together before the race. Although it sounds bad, it was all pretty funny.
Knowing you’re just one of thousands getting your cold on makes it a lot less painful. Some pre-race stretching, music blasting, paratroopers landing about 30 feet from us (very cool), quick words from Drew Carey, and off we go.
My goal for this race was a 3:34, so I fell in with the 3:35 pace group right from the start. The pace was fast and the space was tight. Quite a jump from a 2,000 runner race to a 35,000 runner race. I truly felt like I was racing and pushing, rather than simply running. I thought the number of people would mean a slow first couple miles, but I was wrong. The first roughly 9 miles of this course are hilly, and we were taking full advantage of the downhills. I glanced at my Garmin a couple time during the first few miles and we were running well under 8:00/mile pace for several stretches. Mile 4 was the fastest of the race, with a 7:35 pace. It was one of 7 miles run under an 8:00/mile pace.
|Miles 1-10 .... faster and hillier than I expected|
My left calf/shin felt pretty rough for the first couple miles in the cold, but settled into a dull ache around the 2 mile mark. I ran without music partly because I wanted to soak in the crowd and the atmosphere, but also because the pack was so tight I needed to concentrate pretty hard to not trip someone or be tripped. Found that for the first half of the race I didn’t really miss the music. By about a mile in the cold wasn’t even noticeable anymore.
Spectator support along the course was outstanding, which was impressive considering how cold it was. Lots of funny signs, and lots of cowbell. For the first 10 miles I was feeling good – holding pace, hydrating properly, and finding relatively few aches and pains. My family, my wife’s parents, and my wife’s sister’s family were waiting for us around the 10 mile mark.
|Feeling strong at mile 10 ... apparently stiff-arming an imaginary tackler|
Always an energy boost to spot my family. Normally I swap out Fuel Belt bottles with them around the halfway mark, but today was just running by and waving. I knew I would need every minute to have a shot at my goal.
|Miles 10-17 - still feeling strong, until ....|
Miles 10-17 were fairly uneventful. I generally felt good, but I was feeling the pace. I hadn’t gone more than 12 miles at my goal pace before, and my legs could tell. One of my best childhood friends, and the best man from my wedding, was meeting me somewhere around miles 18-19 with a fresh set of Fuel Belt bottles, so at mile 17 I ate a Chocolate Gu and chased it with the last of my water. Seemed like a good idea at the time. Within about 5 minutes of eating the Gu my stomach decided to do a backflip. I’ve never had any trouble with gels or Gu in the past, but for some reason my stomach wanted nothing to do with that Gu.
My friend joined me around mile 18, and by that time I was feeling like puking was inevitable. I was already getting pretty tired, and my guts going nuts was killing my confidence. The rest of the race was a struggle with my stomach. I had to stop and walk around mile 20 for the first time to either settle my stomach or make myself puke. I’d end up walking 2 or 3 more times over the next few miles thanks to my guts. I didn’t end up throwing up, but might have been better off if I did. My friend was a HUGE help keeping me going during this stretch. Haven’t seen the pictures yet, but I’m imagining I was a few different shades of green. Mile 20 was run/walked at a 9:08 pace. I was never able to get back to my target pace from that point forward.
|Miles 17-26.2 ... Houston, we have a problem|
With my stomach jacked up, I couldn’t get any more gels down, and was having trouble getting any liquids down as well. With no gels and very little fluids for the last 9 miles of the race I knew what might be coming, and sure enough around mile 24 my right quad seized up for the first time. I ran through it as best I could, but when it balled up the second time I had to stop and stretch it out. I had to do this 3 more times over the last 2.2 miles. I’ve never had any issues with cramping before, so this was new territory for me. Again, my friend was a huge help since he gave me something to hold onto while I tried to get my leg loose. At this point 3:34 was a lost cause, since I had lost the 3:35 pace group when I first had to walk around mile 19. 3:45 still seemed like a possibility, so that became my new ad-hoc goal.
|The final climb to Iwo Jima|
The finish of the race is a long gradual uphill, followed by an abrupt steep uphill as you approach the finish and the Iwo Jima Memorial. My buddy peeled off the course just as we hit the steep part, giving me one last psych-up speech and letting me enjoy the finish on my own. I pushed as much as my quad would let me, and happily crossed the finish. Official finish time: 3:45:26.
|Yards from the finish - my pacer friend Brandon peeling off in all blue|
The Marines don’t mess around with post-race organization. We were quickly shuffled through medals, space-blankets, post-race photo at the Iwo Jima memorial, bag of food/drink, and on to the crazy long walk to the bag drop area. I’m not sure how far the walk actually was, but it felt like another half-marathon. Stepping down off the curb onto the street my quad cramped again. When I got my drop bag I sat on some stairs to change into some warm clothes. Trying to pull on my compression socks my quad cramped again. Pulling on the other sock my foot cramped. I was so tired at this point I just had to laugh. Despite the cramping, I was done, life was good. My stomach was still a trainwreck, but I managed to drink half a bottle of Gatorade, which I desperately needed. Aside from my quad being sore/tight, and my calf/shin issue from before the race screaming at me, my legs felt pretty good. IT Bands were ok, and no hip issues.
My stomach never really recovered on Sunday, so the celebration dinner of burgers and beers became half a burger and most of one beer. I made up for it the following night, however. Looking back at the race I’m happy with my time, and really enjoyed the ‘big race’ experience. I’ll always wonder what I might have been able to do without the stomach and cramp issues, but I’m pleased with myself for pushing through those issues. I was right on pace through mile 19, with mile 19 run at 8:09. The worst of the miles was 22 when I fell to a 10:09 pace and desperately needed/wanted to throw up. Mile 23 I was able to push back to an 8:41 pace, but when my quad started cramping during mile 24 the pace dropped again. Despite the cramping and stretch breaks miles 24, 25, and 26 were 9:22, 9:58, and 9:53. My Garmin distance showed 26.57 miles for the race, and the last .57 miles were at a painful 8:54 pace. There was definitely nothing left in the tank once I crossed the line.
A week later all of the race-related soreness is gone, and my legs feel pretty good. The calf/shin issue is still lingering, however. I’m planning to do no running for 3 weeks total, and start some light cycling at the 2 week mark to see how my leg feels. If things aren’t responding at 3 weeks I’ll be paying another visit to my orthopedist. Would really like to get through one of these without visiting a physical therapist. I’m not sure what’s next for me in 2012, but there will definitely be something going on the calendar. For now I’m just focused on healing, and rehydrating …. one beer at a time.