A target race for more than four months was finally at hand. I had focused on this race in hopes of running my second sub four marathon. I understood that less than 25% of all marathon runners run a sub four race and I wanted to get to that hallowed ground again. Arriving at the race site, the day and my outlook was bright. The thought of another four hour finished shined bright in my mind like a Las Vegas neon sign.
This race contrary to some marathons I’ve run where Mother Nature pitted herself against me started off with near perfect conditions. I met up with the four hour pacers and from the opening gun fell right in line. Right from the start my pace and spirits were spot on. The early sections of a marathon may not win you the race but you can lose it there. Passing the midway point and getting to the double digits, my goal like the powerful search lights from a lighthouse was showing me the way.
Miles 15 and 16 clicked off with nearly a negative thought. At this point in the day I believed my goal was achievable and my fitness was unquestioned. I truly believed the prize was all but in my hand as the spring sun began to rise high in the sky. My leg turnover was quick and light as the miles passed. Compared to the other runners, a few had dropped and some were struggling with their breathing, my effort was easy and up to this point un-labored. Although the temperature had begun to rise my skin felt cool with the slight breeze passing over my arms. My only concern was getting to the turn for home at the 20 mile marker. My strategy for the race was to cruise with the pace group until the 20th mile then I would intensify the pace and go for a PR. When I looked around at the collection of folks whom I had been running with all day I thought to myself I must have been the strongest runner of the pack.
The distance to the mileage marker and the turnaround point began to feel long and in the span of a single stride my legs felt heavy. Mentally I questioned if the previous mile marker had somehow been marked incorrectly or worse did they forget to put out the 20th mile marker. Stubbornly I refused to even acknowledge a kink in my race day armor. I reasoned it must have been an error by the race organizer. At this time I also noticed I had fallen a few strides off the pace group I had so loyally followed for the preceding three hours. With a little extra push forward I was able to keep up with the pace group. With each successive stride I began to acknowledge that the heaviness in my legs was just a sign of things to come. The ray of success which shined so brightly all day now grew a bit faded, a bit distant and worse a bit dark.
Over a slight hill on the course the 20 mile marker finally made an appearance. As welcome as that sign was it also marked doom for my marathon goals.
Somewhere between mile 20 and 21 my leg turn over could no longer keep me in contact with the group. My mind was willing but my body just could not produce the needed motion in a rapid enough fashion to keep up. Mentally I held on and although trailing about 25 to 30 seconds somehow I made the 21st mile in respectable time. Dumping some cold water on my head and taking a refreshing drink, I believed I could continue the fight and gain from a second wind which surly was right around the corner. Returning to as near a race pace as I could, the heavy sensation in my legs bore a sinking feeling that I was no longer up on my stride. Where miles before each stride climaxed in a push off which propelled me forward now my stride had fallen off into a shuffle which continue forward motion but at a much reduced momentum. As I reached the white banner with “22” emblazoned on it my will broke. Gasping for breath I held internal court, “I’ll walk a few extra yards past the aid station” I thought darkly to myself. “This may aid in my second wind,” I further reasoned.
Running again I made the 23rd mile under power but losing the battle slowly. I walked a bit farther again past the aid station. A rock which I had picked up around mile 13 finally had to be dealt with. Its effects had caused me to alter my stride and the resulting foot pain sent me to a bench along the course. Bending over to remove the rock the labor was unpleasant, getting back up and moving again was crushing. Back on my feet again I tried to run but a cramping sensation in my left hamstring had another idea. I was forced to walk some more. This time I walked against my will. Upset and angry I power walked 50 yards then forced my body to run again. I made the 24rd mile as darkness set in on my running spirit. My energy levels were collapsing, my spirit was fighting but my running life was growing dim and murky.
The push for home covered some rolling hills, the only hilly part on an otherwise flat and fast course. At this point in the day I had no fight left, I made the best pace I could up the hills and ran although at a reduced rate the flats and downhills. I made mile 25 and gave it everything I had. I would like to say I ran that 1.2 miles but it was much more of a jog, slog, and a shuffle. At this point my day reached its darkest hue. I saw my wife as I headed for the final .2 miles home. Seeing her was great but the words I had mentioned to her earlier in the day came back to haunt me in the most disappointing way.
“If I don’t see you again in under four hours, something has gone terribly wrong.”
I noticed the clock at the finish line just 25 yards in front of me 4:14:00…something had gone wrong. For whatever reason my light went out. Did I not train hard enough? Did I do something wrong in preparation or did the sinus infection from two days prior set me up for failure?
Whatever the cause something went wrong and I hit the wall hard.