I am a marathoner. Wait — what? Oh yes, I really AM a marathoner!
I did it!
After all those months of training and planning I actually did it!
I ran the Victoria Marathon this past Sunday. It was my first full marathon and it may be my last, but I did it.
Well, I may do it again sometime, but I’ll do it in a year that my age ends in a 0 or a 5 so I’ll be at the young end of my age group.
Six months ago when I registered, I made a totally wild-ass prediction of my time. I predicted I’d run it in 4:50:00. I ran it in 4:50:21. I’m entirely satisfied with that time!
With an 8:45 AM start, I was up at 4:30. I was a colossal bundle of nerves, but I managed to choke down two pieces of bread, a banana, and a cup of coffee. It was an absolutely perfect day, with hardly a cloud in the sky. Temperature at start time was probably in the high 40s, and it was probably close to 60 when I finished. I was concerned about getting overheated in the full sun, but a light breeze off the water kept it manageable most of the way.
As it was my first marathon, my fundamental goal was to simply finish. I was reasonably confident about that. My “that’ll do” time goal was to break five hours. I figured I’d need a really good day to break 4:50.
I’d pretty much planned to run this race as a large positive split. Having never run more than 21 miles before (and that only once), I figured I’d try to maintain a nice steady pace for as long as possible and then hope I had enough in reserve to keep putting one foot in front of the other until the finish. That’s exactly the way it played out. I ran the first dozen or so miles at a consistent 10:25 to 10:35 pace. I’d estimated I’d hit the 13.1 mile (halfway) mark at 2:18 to 2:20. I hit it at 2:17:55, dead on a 10:30 average pace.
The middle miles of the course (the part I hadn’t seen while running the Victoria half marathon twice before) were a little hillier than I expected or desired, but they were extremely beautiful — wrapping around Oak Bay, through upscale neighborhoods and a golf course. By mile 18 I was starting to get a little tired, but still feeling good.
I took my first walk break at mile 20, and this is where I screwed up a bit and lost some time. I was wearing a long-sleeved shirt (with the sleeves pushed up as far as they would go at this point) under a vest. I was getting a bit warm. I couldn’t remove the vest because I needed the pockets and because my race bib was pinned to it. So I tried to wriggle out of the long-sleeved shirt without removing the vest. This resulted in my right elbow being skewed in a full-on strait-jacket position, with no hope of getting my left arm out of the shirt. I struggled for nearly half a mile, then gave up and managed to shimmy my right arm back into its sleeve again. I got straight back to running but the damage had been done. I “ran” that mile in 14:10. Argh!
From the end of the shirt debacle at 20.5 miles, I ran to 22.2 miles. I hit that point at exactly four hours and realized that I could walk the last 4 miles and still finish in under five hours. So I decided that for the remaining miles I could walk a bit here and there, and that a 12:00 pace in the final miles would suit me just fine. My legs were still behaving remarkably well but the soles of my feet were getting extremely sore. The walk breaks felt really good.
I was still well-focused mentally, but from about mile 25 on I would catch myself sort of wanting to dissolve into tears. I was actually going to do this! The spectators were awesome (as they had been along the entire course). There was music and cheerleaders. There was a short downhill just before the final turn onto Belleville Street on the Inner Harbor waterfront, with the Parliament Building and the Empress Hotel ahead and walls of cheering spectators on both sides of the street.
When my watch read 26.0 miles I turned on every last remaining ounce of energy I had. At the finish line my watch read 26.40 miles, but races always seem to run long, so I wasn’t surprised about that. I was surprised that I ran that last 4/10ths of a mile in 4:02 — I managed to sprint the last bit to the finish at a 10:05 pace. On the finish line video I actually look like I am running! My 4:50:21 final time was almost exactly an 11:00 average pace. I’d have beaten my really good day goal by 2 minutes if the finish line had actually been at 26.2 miles.
I’m very proud of my accomplishment. I finished 31st out of 47 in my 55-59 age group. My age-graded time (this is a handicap scoring system which takes age into account — I believe it’s based on a reference age of about 30) of 3:39:10 put me 231st out of the 781 female finishers. What really blows my mind is that out of those 781 female finishers, only 39 (including myself) were my age (58) or older. I’m not a young marathoner — certainly not a young first-timer.
I managed to travel the entire distance without stopping — no pit stops! I took five walk breaks totaling about a mile and a half. As for nutrition, I sipped water generally at every other aid station (and by the end of the race I could actually drink while running without choking or getting water up my nose). I started attempting to eat at about the 10 mile mark. I managed to consume six pretzels and three Shot Bloks between there and the finish. My stomach handled that but could not have taken any more. I never felt that I hit THE WALL and wouldn’t be able to run another step, but from about mile 24 I was less interested in running and mostly focused on the fact that I would soon be done.
I was astonished afterwards that I had sore abdominal muscles — at some point I started using my core muscles to keep going. I had almost literally run the last few miles on guts. I think I’ll add some core strength training to my routine in the future!
As for the rest of me, I have sore leg muscles and tender feet, but my knees feel sound and strong. I’ll probably give myself two weeks off from running and then resume, gently, shorter and slower. Meanwhile I have some autumn hiking and bike riding to do.
I had a fabulous support crew in my friend CFL. He brought his bike and pre-plotted out the places that he’d be able to catch up to me. As it turned out, he was able to ride almost the entire course, on the sidewalk away from the runners. While “pacing” with a bicycle is strictly against the rules, no one complained about his discrete presence at a distance — and I certainly wasn’t focused on him! It was nice, though, to glance over occasionally and see him there. He took quite a few photos. Here I am being very relaxed, focused and cheerful, somewhere around mile 10.
And this is me at about mile 25. Running on guts? Yup.
So after the rest and recovery period, what’s next? A rocky, steep trail half marathon next April. CFL and I will do a metric century (62 mile) bike ride together sometime next year. And, to my astonishment, he was so impressed with the camaraderie that he saw out on the course that he’s thinking about walking a full marathon next year. Me? I think 13.1 miles will be plenty for me for a while. But I’ll always get to say that I AM A MARATHONER.
Who would have thought?
One step at a time!