A pair of Brooks running shoes: $105.
Race registration: $90.
One small Bodyglide anti-chaffing stick: $6.
Being cheered on by my wife and kids at miles ten and twenty-six: priceless.
It’s been three days since I participated in the Air Force Marathon, and my feelings about the event continue to evolve. I don’t regret running at all; I’m glad I did. The evolution, rather, pertains to whether I consider my finish a victory or a defeat.
No matter how many races I run, I still get race day jitters. I have come to learn that this is a physical reaction stemming from the body’s anticipation of the demands about to be placed upon it. The marathon is a race unlike a 5K or 10K road race, and the jitters for the marathon began the day before the race. I took the day off from work and went with my wife and two youngest children (Jamie, 4, and Michael, 2) to the sports expo, where I was to pick up my bib. We treated it as something of a dry run, ensuring that Amy would know where to drop me off the following morning and how to get to the spectator areas in Fairborn and at the Air Force Museum.
We prepared as much as we could the night before, because on race day, we were up at 4:30 am for a 5:00 am departure. I ate a light breakfast (half a bagel with peanut butter) and sipped some coffee. It was a cool morning, and I wore a zippered hoodie over the short-sleeved t-shirt that I planned to run in. I know that the running purists would probably scoff at my clothing selection, but I knew that the temperature wouldn’t provoke excessive sweating, and I really wanted to wear my Hilgefort t-shirt.
For thirty minutes before the 7:30 start, I sipped on a Gatorade, and fifteen minutes before the start I took a gel pack and discarded my hoodie. The Air Force band sang the national anthem, a B-2 stealth bomber flew over, and we were off. I have to admit that I was a little emotional.
I tried to settle into a slow, but comfortable pace, and as we crested the first hill at about 1.5 miles, I settled into position with the 3:35 pace group, where I would remain for the next twenty or so miles.
I executed my strategy, taking mainly electrolytes (i.e., Gatorade) at every other hydration station and grabbing gel packs where they were available at around miles eight and sixteen. The gels were ones that I had tried before: available from our local Wal-Mart. They were thick and hard to swallow, but they did the job.
Most of the race was run within the boundaries of Wright Patterson Air Force Base, but there was a section around mile ten that was routed through Fairborn, and that section was filled with cheering crowds. It was inspirational, and that was the first chance that my family had to see me running. After that, we re-entered the base and saw only military personnel and the occasional roadside band for the next ten miles.
Mile twenty came and went, and I could feel myself growing fatigued. After all, we’d been running for nearly three hours! I could feel the dreaded “wall” looming ominously ahead, somewhere in the last six miles.
I encountered it at mile twenty-one. My shoulders grew tight, and my quads started burning. I had never experienced anything quite like it in my training runs. I walked through the next water stop, and watched the 3:35 pace group disappear into the distance.
For the last five miles, I had to walk through the water stations and up the hills. It would take a supreme effort for me to resume running after cresting each hill, and by the end, I was also walking parts of the flats. I did at least manage to make my walk a brisk one, passing other walkers on those segments. I still clung to the hope that I might meet my time goal of 3:45, so it was with great disappointment that I watched the 3:45 pace group pass me in the last two miles. I was simply unable to fall in with them.
I managed to run the last stretch and cross the finish line with a chip time of 3:48:52. I had to stop and take a knee, and a volunteer came over and asked if I was all right. I waved her off and stumbled my way through the runners’ tent, grabbing a bottle of water on the way, which I sipped. There were slices of pizza available for runners, but I simply had no appetite for any food. I passed through the tent to search for my family, which I found a short while later. I wanted nothing so much as to sit down, but not on the pavement. I sat in a chair for a short while, then claimed my free beer (which, although cold, did not taste nearly as good as I thought it should have), and started the long, long, walk to the van.
Recovery-wise, the first few hours after the marathon were the worst. I fell asleep for most of the ride home (thank God Amy was driving!), and we all slept for about an hour after arriving home (remember, we’d gotten up at 4:30). By early evening, I was moving a little more freely, though still with sore muscles. Sunday morning came, and I rolled out of bed stiffly, but most of that dissipated within about 15 minutes. By Monday, I felt well enough to go to the YMCA, where I ran a few miles and lifted some weights. I don’t have time for a long recovery; I have to defend my super-heavyweight title in the Minster Oktoberfest 10K on October 7.
So why the vacillation between considering my performance a victory or a defeat? I should be happy that I completed a marathon (some would add, in under four hours). That’s true, I suppose. I’ve accomplished something that few others have. And I did it in spite of a hamstring injury nine weeks out that interrupted my training for three weeks.
But I failed to meet my goal to come in under 3:45. Granted, it was an arbitrary time, based on the fact that George W. Bush ran a 3:44. And I failed to run the whole thing, succumbing to weakness with a mere five miles left (Weakness? I’d already run 21 friggin’ miles!). I failed under weather conditions that I can’t imagine being any more ideal. Maybe if I’d worn proper running attire or carried more gel packs with me, I wouldn’t have fatigued as quickly. Maybe if that darn hamstring hadn’t caused me to miss my 17, 18, and one of my 20 mile training runs, I would have been more prepared for “the wall.” And the ultimate recrimination: maybe if I’d only shown a little more mental toughness and determination at mile 21, I could have continued by force of will alone.
Whether a defeat or a victory, the question turns into whether or not I try it again. Right now, I have no plans to register for another marathon. I definitely want to incorporate the weekend training runs into my regular routine, but two hours early on Saturday morning, such that I’m home by the time the rest of the family starts waking, is about all that I’m willing to commit to.
On the other hand, by the time spring rolls around and I’ve spent the winter running circles at the YMCA, I’ll be looking for some new mountain to conquer, and President Bush’s 3:44 will still be there, mocking me.