Why do another marathon?

When I finished the Philadelphia Marathon last weekend I said that I would most likely not do another. This lead to many people saying that you never decide immediately after, and to give it a week and you’ll be planning your next.

While I understood that you may change your mind I maintained that the best time to make the decision was right there and then – after all, that’s when you can best remember what you felt like afterwards (and during those last few miles).

Of course, as time has passed, as expected, I find myself thinking that maybe I should do another. I’m still thinking it will not be next year, but my mind is definitely coming round to the idea. However, should I stick with my initial assessment?

I’ve compiled a list of reasons that, I believe, lead you to think about going through it again, in no particular order (feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments):

  1. Seeing the race photos. This, in particular, seems to trick your mind into remembering only the good parts. In my finish line photos I actually look happy. I don’t really recall it quite that way, but pictures don’t lie do they? Admittedly, they also got a few shots of me near the end where things weren’t going so well, but that’s only a couple of photos, and that finish line one was soon after that, so it couldn’t have been that bad.
    Don't I look happy there?

    Don’t I look happy there?

    That's definitely a grimace as my calf muscle tightens again.

    That’s definitely a grimace as my calf muscle tightens again.

  2. Simply missing going out for a run in the recovery period. With all that extra time where you’re not running, you start thinking about running things. Those running things somehow seem to include marathon running.
  3. After all the hard work that went into training for that one event, you begin to think about how you could have done it better, and along with that, you realize that you would have to do another to see if you are correct. In my case, it’s how to stop the cramps (if it wasn’t for the calf cramping the marathon would have been easy).
  4. Other people will tell you that you will do another one. This is hard to ignore. Everyone is saying it. Stop it and let me make up my own mind.
  5. There’s always going to be a new time goal. This is true at any race distance so why shouldn’t you want to beat your previous time in this too. My only consolation here is that I’m already pretty old, so I may start slowing down before I get a chance to actually beat my time.
  6. “The childbirth effect” – someone likened running a marathon to childbirth in terms of the hard work and beating your body takes, along with the positive outcome (before anyone gets annoyed, I, and they, were not implying that a marathon is as painful as childbirth). In the moment you may vow to never go through that again, but all the negativity is somehow wiped out by some sort of psychological process.
  7. We’re runners. This is just what we do. We’re always on the lookout for a new challenge.

Going back and reading the start of this blog post I stopped to consider the first sentence. I may not have actually said “last weekend I said that I would most likely not do another”; what I think I really said was “last weekend I said that I would never do another”. Apparently it’s impossible to resist that pull back to try again.

Philadelphia – my first marathon

This has the potential to be a long post, so I’m going to do my best to keep it as succinct as possible while detailing what happened.

We decided to make this a weekend get away, so headed to Philly on Friday evening. Perhaps it was a good omen that we were put in a room on the 26th floor of the hotel (although it might have been better to have room 2620 or 2602). The room overlooked the race start area so on Saturday morning we were able to watch the 8k get underway.

8k  start

8k start

After breakfast we took the kids to the Please Touch Museum which was a lot of fun for them, but a lot of work for us. By the time we were done there it was mid afternoon and we headed over to the convention center for packet pickup. There was a kids zone which provided loads of great activities for the kids (face painting, balloon modelling, headband decorating, and a large inflatable) while I grabbed my number and looked around. We were exhausted by the time we were done and decided to grab an early dinner down the street before walking back to the hotel.

By 8:30pm I was definitely ready for bed but despite this it was tough to get to sleep – I managed a few hours before being woken up by activity in the hotel. Someone was up very, very early and then at 4am the couple in the room next door also woke up and were talking loudly enough to make sure I definitely wasn’t getting any more sleep.

Despite being advised to get to the start around 5am due to enhanced security, I decided 6am was probably going to be alright. It was pretty warm but cold enough that I decided I was still going to wear some throw-away clothes to the start line. Security did not add any time at all in getting to the start area – we really just walked straight through so there was a bit of time to kill, but everyone was so friendly it was easy to find people to talk to.

I had decided to wear my older pair of Merrell Trail Glove 2 shoes – these have well over 400 miles on them now but I decided they were my best option (my new pair only has about 50 miles on them). I had my packs of shot bloks stashed away in my belt (and one in my pocket) and felt ready to go.

I was in the black corral which was intended for those running between 3:10 and 3:30. Although I would have loved to get 3:30, I thought 3:40 to 3:50 was more realistic but decided to stay where I was rather than dropping back a corral.

Marathon start

Marathon start from up in the hotel room – maybe I’m down there in that crowd somewhere.

The elite race was started and after a few minutes our wave moved forwards and then it was time to go. The early pace was about right and the atmosphere was great. I think I was smiling a lot and made a point to read as many signs as I could. I was apparently on the wrong side of the road at the first mile point to be seen by the RVRR cheer squad but they saw me at their next stop which was shortly after the 10k point. The atmosphere as you run through the center of Philly is amazing and made that early part of the race seem very easy. The crowds thinned out a lot soon after and things seemed to be harder at that point. The first turnaround of the course was at the Please Touch Museum so it was nice to have a point of reference from the day before.

As we got to the halfway mark (where those running the half marathon pealed off and thinned the field a bit) I was surprised that I didn’t think I felt as good at that distance as I had in my half marathon races this year. I wonder if that was my body forcing me to keep the pace down. I had maintained a 7:57/mile pace for the first half (with my 10k and half splits both being at that pace).

At the halfway point

At the halfway point (picture by Bob Tona)

I didn’t do a bad job of keeping the pace up to the 30k mark with only a slight slip, although it was fairly tough going by then and seemingly uphill. My only consolation was that maybe it would all be downhill to the finish on the way back.

It was around the 30k mark (or maybe earlier – I have a feeling it was maybe in mile 17) when I felt the first twinges in my right calf muscle. It didn’t happen very often but it was disconcerting considering how far I still had to go. It got more frequent by about mile 20. At that point I was stopping to drink at each water stop thinking that maybe taking on more fluids would help (okay, so it wasn’t all water stops – there was a beer stop too – admittedly it was only Miller Lite, so not sure if it really counts).

The twinges/cramps were getting much more frequent and sometimes it would disappear, but at other times it lingered and I would have to walk or on several occasions stop and stretch a bit. I was determined to keep the speed up, so in between those stops/walking breaks I would run as fast as I could so I wouldn’t lose too much time, but at this point I was just determined to finish – seeing others drop out made me think about how precarious the situation could be. I really didn’t want my calf muscle to let me down so much that I couldn’t finish.

Mile 24 and still smiling through the pain

Mile 24 and still smiling through the pain – I was shouting “Go RVRR” at this point which is probably why that guy is looking at me. (Picture by Mahesha Chayapathi)

For the last 6 miles I was definitely buoyed by the crowd. It was during this section where the most people were shouting my name, and also where I heard all the comments about my skirt (“nice skirt”, “way to rock that skirt” etc.).

With about 2 miles to go I started talking to a guy who had had similar cramp problems, but worse. He had completed the first half in about 1:35 but here we were after mile 24 at the same point and keeping each other going (he eventually got ahead when I had another cramping episode where I had to slow again).

As I got close to the line Santa caught up with me. I had to finish with Santa, so I told him that and he took hold of my hand and we crossed the line hands raised together (looking forward to the photo of that one).

phillyfinish

After crossing the line I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew I couldn’t stop moving but there also seemed to be a line to get the food. Someone kindly offered to let me back in the line if I wanted to wander, so I did before coming back and getting a banana and chicken broth and a bag of other snacks. The line for the massage tent was long and because I felt I needed to keep moving there wasn’t much point in waiting, so I wandered up 20th Street to where I had arranged to meet my wife and kids – we arrived at about the same time.

After wandering back to the hotel I knew I had to do everything I could to stop the cramps and having heard of ice baths before, but always thinking I would never, ever have one, I decided it was bad enough that I had to try, so I grabbed the ice bucket from the room and made a few trips back and forth between the ice machine and the bath. I topped up with cold water and got in. I survived a couple of minutes and got out, but then got back in again and survived a little longer the second time. It seemed to help as walking was a little easier after that.

Additional bonus: no chafing at all, no blisters (or any foot issues). Nothing. I’d been worried about the chafing in particular and had done everything I could think of (down to choice of clothes, and also buying some BodyGlide – that stuff seems to really work).

RVRR had booked a back room at a bar so I headed over there to join the celebrations and hear how others had done. The support of the club was definitely a big help in getting through this event and I really felt proud of how I had done in my first marathon.

It’s now about two and a half days since I finished and I was expecting the worst when it comes to recovery pain, but it hasn’t come. The only issues I have had are with tight calf muscles (mainly in that right leg which caused the problems during the race). Others report quad pain and I wonder whether the zero drop shoes and forefoot strike meant that I avoided that particular pain. Recovery has consisted of: walking as much as possible, using “The Stick” (although not as much as I should probably), taking some ibuprofen, and wearing compression socks/sleeves/tights as much as possible.

circle

I haven’t ruled out doing another marathon, but it was definitely tough for those last 6 miles. Perhaps if my training had been better for the last 6 weeks or so, or perhaps I just didn’t take on enough water earlier on (I suspect I didn’t have enough), but maybe I can be faster next time…

Having said that, I wouldn’t have been able to do this well, or have as much fun doing it, if it were not for the Raritan Valley Road Runners.

The day after - everything back to normal.

The day after – everything back to normal and heading back home to NJ.

 


Nervous yet?

This was a question posed to me by a friend (this friend) on my Facebook wall, in relation to the upcoming Philadelphia Marathon, my first attempt at the distance.

My response was as follows “Not yet. Weather looks like it will be fine (temperature wise anyway), I have no expectations for time which is helping (sort of helps that my training hasn’t been as planned for 2 months because I don’t feel that pressure to run fast – of course, I’d still like to). I just want to make sure I enjoy the experience. The Runner’s World weekend reminded me of how much fun it can be when there’s no pressure (from myself).”

My state of nerves hasn’t changed in the two days since I posted this. I think my main worry in the lead up to this race has been about what to wear – not wanting to be too cold – but with an overnight low currently forecast as being in the mid-40s everything should be perfect. I have some old clothes to discard at the start so that’s no longer worrying me.

I’m not even worried that the cold I had still has me with a runny nose and very minor sore throat, or even that the muscle issue I had which caused knee pain still appears to be there (although not as bad as it was). As my friend said when I posted my reply to his query “in other words, you are ready”.

I do keep having to tell myself not to worry about time though. The advice seems to be “your goal for your first marathon should just be to finish”, and I’m sort of there with respect to thinking that way. However… my main worry is selling myself short on how fast I can be. Why should I start off slower when maybe, just maybe, I should just push it, just a little bit, to see if I can achieve that ideal, perfect goal that I would have in my ideal marathon (you know, the goal I should be saving for my second, or, more likely, third marathon).

When I signed up I indicated a finish time of that absolute ideal time which has put me in the Black corral (at the back of it anyway). I should definitely start slower than that, but with thoughts of maybe picking up the pace later on (but not too early). As with anyone else in their first marathon, it’s difficult to know what will happen after 20 miles (if training runs are anything to go by, chances are that’s when I will slow down a lot and interestingly it didn’t seem to matter on those runs how fast I’d run up to that point) but hopefully it won’t be too bad.

Realistically I’m looking for a time around 3:40 I think and if I’m going to enjoy it I probably shouldn’t push for faster than that, but I can’t wait to find out what happens on the day.

For anyone interested, my bib number is 2524 and this is likely what I’ll be wearing:

Haven't decided whether to go with a cap or beanie yet.

Haven’t decided whether to go with a cap or beanie yet.

The best way I can think to describe what this run will be like is “my longest run where there happen to be thousands of other runners, and people cheering us on”.

The Good and The Bad

The only reason I’m blogging today is because all other plans went out of the window when I got hit by this cold. The aches and blocked nose have interrupted sleep and has led me to being forced to rest (it’s a shame because the weather is perfect and we were planning a trip to a food festival today). The good thing I suppose is that we’re still two weeks from the Philadelphia Marathon so I expect I should be well and truly over it by then.

The last month and a half of my marathon training have not been what I expected. The last time I ran 20 miles was September 14th, and only one run since then has come anywhere near close to that distance (17.25 miles this past Monday in a last ditch attempt to do a long run, which I made harder by foolishly running way too fast – I averaged about 7:42/mile on that one). I wonder how this lack of miles in the last 5 or 6 weeks will impact me during the race.

On the positive side, I know my general fitness is pretty good. Since that 20 mile run in mid-September I have managed to PR in both 10k (EBRR)  and half marathon (Newport Liberty) races, and I felt strong running the hat trick at the Runner’s World Festival. I also worked out why I had some knee issues, and that issue appears to have been sorted out.

All in all, everything should work out reasonably well. It’s my first marathon so I shouldn’t worry too much about time. It’s just about finishing (got to keep repeating this because I still have that goal in mind – you know, the one I should be keeping for my second marathon – who knows when that will be – it’s probably a topic for another post – it’s a tough thing to keep running and family life balanced to everyone’s satisfaction when you have young kids).

 

Beer Fest 5k

I was lucky enough to get a free entry into the Beer Fest 5k and Lawn Games Tournament this past weekend, through the Active Advantage Membership program (random free entries come up for grabs every now and then). The timing for this giveaway was perfect as I had just found out some friends from RVRR had signed up.

The event is billed as a 5k with beer stations, and lawn games, hot dogs and beer after the “race” – I put race in quotes because no times are posted, although there is a clock if you want to know your time.

With only 3 weeks until the Philadelphia Marathon I maybe should have been doing a final long run instead, so to compensate I decided to cycle the (almost) 13 miles to get there – the thought process also included the fact there would be lots of beer and therefore it was probably best not to drive. I knew I could get a train back too if necessary.

Beer was available in advance of the 5k (which was scheduled to start at 11am) so a quick one before heading to the start was in order. As usual I wasn’t planning on going fast, but of course, when other people are, you just can’t help yourself (or at least I can’t). However, by the time the first beer station came around at just under a mile, I did stop and have a beer before continuing the run.

The course was basically 3 laps of the park, so at about mile 2 you passed the beer station again. I decided not to bother again (partly because I wasn’t sure my stomach could handle it, but also because I thought it would be better to make it to the finish as quickly as possible to get to the craft beers at the finish).

Crossing the line in under 21 minutes including the stop for beer.

Crossing the line in under 21 minutes including the stop for beer.

Being one of the early ones back there was no line for beer so that was a bonus, but as people started coming in the lines got longer but moved reasonably fast.

It was still busy when the lawn games started. This part seemed a little disorganized at first (mainly because announcements were easy to miss), but it seemed to settle down, although at one point we think we must have missed a change over because we had done all the games when they announced it was over. It’s not like we were in contention for any prizes or anything, but we do go over to play the final game anyway.

Beer was still flowing (although with fewer options) and the crowd was thinning out, so I took advantage of that. When it came time I decided to cycle home and not take the train – it was a pleasant ride in, so I thought it would be nice to ride back.

Unfortunately what I hadn’t realized is how strong the wind was by now, and the ride home was into the wind. Also, I had failed to realize that my ride to the race was largely downhill. That, combined with the alcohol, made it a tough ride. I was exhausted by the time I got home.