Thursday, September 17, 2009

The saga of the first marathon

The “Saga of the First Marathon” actually starts back in 1995 when I decided I was going to run a marathon before I turned 30.  9 years later it dawned on me that if I was going to do it I better get off my ass because January ’05 was the last chance to run the Houston marathon before I turned 30 in June ‘05.  Starting in 1996 I was cycling year round and riding MS150s, so I was in pretty good shape in 2004.  In September ‘04 I decided I’d run the marathon and in October ’04 I rode in my 3rd MS150 that year and had ridden between 1000 and 1500 miles for the year.  I figured training up for a marathon (26.2 miles) wouldn’t be so bad having just ridden 150 miles in 2 days.


On my first run I couldn’t hardly make it to the end of the street.


I ran periodically starting in the beginning of October and pushed my distance up to about 8 miles, hating every step of it.  That’s actually when I started a running blog (now at  Eventually I’m going to migrate the early running posts over to the current running blog, but I’m in no real rush.


The short version of the ’05 recap is that I undertrained because I had no clue what I was getting myself into.  I thought I was in good enough shape to run a marathon because I was in good enough shape to ride my bike over the horizon and back.

I was wrong.  I thought I might be in trouble after 5 miles, but also thought I might be able to gut my way through.  After 9 miles, when every step was in uncharted territory, I knew I was REALLY in trouble.  When we passed the half way point, I was fading fast and my 10 minute miles were becoming 12 minute miles and fast approaching 14 minute miles.  I hit the Westpark Bridge with a vengeance, because on the bike I hit hills HARD and relax on the other side.  I NEVER let hills win—ever.


This hill won.  I knew there was no way I was going to finish unless I found some energy somewhere.  My wife tells me I looked drained and near death coming over that bridge.  It was about there that my left foot and knee, and right groin was beginning to hurt, too.


Everything was going wrong.


I staggered up Newcastle, down the feeder road, got passed by a cleaning crew truck, staggered around the corner to 610 and Richmond, I think, and one of the medics asked me if I was ok.  I was most definitely not ok.  I threw in the towel right around there.  I called the missus to tell her to meet me at GRB, I was finished.


I know the question because I get it a lot:  why didn’t you run a half marathon first?

Answer:  I knew I could run a half marathon.  I wasn’t sure I could run a marathon and riding across the horizon and back was getting easy.  I chose to do hard, and failed…  hard.


I licked my wounds, rode in the MS150 in May, and in July decided to run the 2006 marathon.  I considered joining a club, but decided against it because I don’t do scheduled runs very well and wasn’t going to run it based on someone else’s plan or program, this was going to have to be my own redemption.


While training in 2005 I realized that when you train for a marathon, really train for a marathon, the actual running of the marathon is just a technicality.  You’ve already run the thing so many times in your head that the sense of inevitability as the thing approaches is more profound than the nervousness or anything else.  Preparation trumps everything.  I’d driven the course, walked over that bridge a few times to remind myself of that sting (a sting I still feel today), basically everything short of running the actual marathon before race day.  Of course, I also maintained a very moderate running schedule because, as I’ve said before, I hated every step of the training. 


And in 2005 there was more of it to hate. 


Nonetheless, the week before the run, there was really nothing left to do except run the race, and I had to wait on the calendar for that.


So, race day came, I showed up to the corrals late (as usual) but still within the crowd before the start, and got to running.  From the 2005 marathon I remember very little except for the pain, exhaustion, and utter, profound feeling of defeat.  From the 2006 run, though, I remember everything.  The smells, the sights, the view of the sunrise from the viaduct, the pipers on Main, the communion offering and the sprinkling of holy water, getting passed in the Rice Military Village by some chick the announcer knew, the spring in my legs as I crested the Westpark Bridge and KNEW I was going to finish this thing, the look of relief on my wife’s face (I do this crap to impress her, you know) at the same place, cruising through Tanglewood with “Monica” (who’s family was cheering wildly every 3 or 4 miles) and realizing that I had 2 hours to cover a distance that should take me 1 to 1.5 hours to cover, getting passed by the guy who had a “50 years old, 50 states, 50 marathons” t-shirt on and just thinking “damn”, entering friendly territory through Memorial Park, running with THE Jon Walk for a few miles down Allen Parkway, hitting the “wall” where my pace dropped from a steady 11:30 to 14 or so, then getting some oranges and things moderating back to 12-ish.  [As for this “wall”, I didn’t know I was hitting it when I did, only when I looked back at the times did I realize my times had come to a near stand-still.]


The best part, though, is entering downtown.  The buildings are like a giant gateway that leads into a giant valley.  You can hear EVERYTHING.  The “March of the Centurions” plays on my own personal soundtrack at about this point with the music building to a dizzying crescendo only to be drown out by…  You enter the valley and it’s two turns and on to the home stretch.  The few remaining people (5 ½ hours in) are cheering like total lunatics (or, at least, that’s how the mind’s ear remembers it), what little fire is left in the engine burns a little hotter.  “Monica” was faltering, so I had to yell at her to not quit because it wouldn’t be right to beat a quitter to the line.  She kept running, but I beat her anyway.


It was very…  vindicating.  There is so much more to running a marathon that merely running.

And now it’s time to do it again.

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