[167] Shamrock Marathon race report

“It is the journey that matters, in the end.”  – Ursula K. LeGuin

And, in the end, this has been a spectacular journey for me, even though the destination ended up being a lesson in suffering and humility. What started last January as a second beginning to my athletic life – my journey to triathlon – ended today at a place I couldn’t have imagined when this blog began: the finish line of the Shamrock Marathon.

Because my time of 3:23:26 fell more than 13 minutes shy of my goal, there will be some negative aspects to this report. It was a tough race. But I want you to know up front how proud I am of what I did today, and of my journey to get to this place. And even though I didn’t achieve my goal of qualifying for Boston (just toss me onto the mountain of runners that have fallen short of that goal), I did set a new PR at the marathon distance by more than 44 minutes. (And, come on, a 3:23 marathon isn’t that bad, right?)

Race day: The day dawned with nearly perfect weather – 54 degrees and overcast. It was a bit windy but otherwise a great morning for a race. Since my race didn’t start until 8:30 I had time to sit in the hotel room and enjoy the sunrise over the ocean. I took care of the race-morning rituals and arrived at the starting line about five minutes before the race (the luxury of having a hotel just a few blocks from the start).

Opening miles: One of my biggest worries was going out too fast. So I made sure to control the pace even as people shot out of the starting gate. After a first mile at 7:23 I locked onto race pace (about 7:10-7:14) and stayed there, with a couple minor blips, through Mile 10. I was feeling very steady and smooth, even chatting with fellow racers. This was the honeymoon period. At about Mile 7 a group of us realized we had been together for a while and decided we would be the 3:10 pace group in the absence of an official pacer. I led the group through a military installation and was feeling so good that I was high-fiving the cheering servicemen who lined the roadway. The wind was steady from the northeast and we definitely could feel it in places, but most of the early part of the course was either protected or running with the wind. The last major hill of the course – re-crossing the Rudee Bridge – was at the end of Mile 10, and once it was behind me I allowed myself to think that the most challenging part of the course was behind me. I was horribly wrong.

Descent into darkness: I had so badly wanted to feel good at the halfway point of this race. I told myself that if I was still feeling strong at Mile 13 I had a fighting chance to hit my goal time of 3:10. But even at Mile 10 today I felt something was off. It’s really hard to explain – I wasn’t tired and nothing was hurting, but I just wasn’t feeling right. Then we made the left turn onto the concrete Boardwalk at the beginning of Mile 11, where we would run directly into the wind for the next 2 miles. As many runners know, concrete is one of the most unforgiving surfaces on which to run – add the stiff wind and the conditions started to take their toll.

I knew coming in that the course would likely be windy, and I had pinned hope on the ability to find a group to draft with. But as I’ve gotten a bit faster over the past year I’ve started to realize that there are a lot fewer people around as you get closer to the front of the pack. There were maybe 10 people spread out in single file in my general area, and the only drafting that was taking place was a diminutive woman who had obviously placed herself behind my left shoulder for that very purpose. I thought back to the huge crowds of racers that I had seen on the out-and-back near the front of the course (the folks who had been going out at mile 5 while I was coming back in at mile 6.5) and wondered if they would even notice the wind because of the sheer size of the group.

I fell slightly off the pace in these 2 miles – 7:17 and 7:19 – and my 3:10 compatriots started to pull ahead. But a feeling in my gut started to grow, and even when we turned off the Boardwalk and out of the direct wind at the end of Mile 12 I had a hard time regaining my pace and my mental strength. This, sadly, is when the wheels started to fall off.

Miles 13 and 14 passed in 7:27 and 7:26 – more than 10 seconds off goal pace. It doesn’t sound like much, but, between the growing stomach discomfort, the wind (which, although slightly diminished, would continue non-stop through Mile 16) and that not-quite-right feeling, my mind started to take over with unpleasant thoughts.

I’m sugar-coating this. At Mile 14 I was in misery. I just wanted to stop. I gave serious thought to just stepping off the side of the course and trying to find a phone to call my wife. I had crossed the halfway point at 1:36:09, a minute and a half slower than goal pace. Again, it doesn’t sound like much when I write it now, but at the time I was coming to grips with the realization that I wasn’t going to hit 3:10. I was slowing quickly and all I wanted to do was vomit to relieve the tension in my gut. And I was mentally hobbled by the fact I was feeling this poorly so early in the race. This had been the point in my long training runs where I was just getting into the groove and picking up speed. Today it seemed to be the opposite.

I thought of how I would explain a DNF to people, but part of me just didn’t care. I was done, or so I thought. In a moment of clarity my mind retreated and I became aware of my legs – they were still going and they were feeling strong. The trouble was in my mind and in my gut. I told myself I would keep going until my legs would no longer carry me.

I took my first short walk break around Mile 15.7 when I just couldn’t handle the wind for another step. I shoved my fingers into my diaphragm hoping to jostle something loose and maybe even to bring something up. Sorry to be explicit, but my gut was so unsettled that I thought just vomiting would help me feel a lot better. But I never did. At this point the 3:15 pace group came by so I jumped in with them for a while, hoping to salvage a decent time. I hung for about a half-mile until the course turned left – out of the wind, thankfully, but onto a shallow but steady incline that would last for the next 3.5 miles.

The late miles: At this point I was resigned to the fact that 3:10 was not happening, and I realized I was now going to be fighting for a sub-3:20. When I was running I was feeling good, but I walked through the water stops and drank lots of fluids. I was very thirsty and the liquids seemed to help my stomach, too. Then I would be off and running again. I laughed to myself as I approached Mile 19 – still going uphill – and wondered if this was “the wall,” right on schedule. It felt nice to walk for a few steps, but it didn’t feel bad to start running again. There was a group of about 10 runners at this point who were engaged in the same walk-run approach – we kept passing each other on the run and getting passed on the walk. It was actually very comforting to know that it wasn’t just me who was struggling.

Aside from an out-of-nowhere 7:20 on Mile 17, my pace slowed noticeably in the later stage of the race, dipping into the 8’s after Mile 20 and never coming back into the 7’s until the last half-mile. I finished up the top loop of the course at Mile 23 and re-joined the main road, where slower marathoners were heading out past Mile 15 to start the upper loop. I have never felt so sorry for another human as when I thought of what those people still had to go through. Of course they were probably fine, but I was projecting my own misery onto them and thinking of how horrible it would be for me to be only at Mile 15 at that point.

The death march: Before the race I had told myself that my training would be tested after Mile 22, since that was the distance of my longest training run. I also thought that I could thumb my nose at Mile 24 as I cruised by, since that was the point where I collapsed during my first marathon more than five years ago. But when I actually crossed these points during the race today, there was no celebrating. The last miles were pure misery. Mile 24 was the fastest of the last 6, at 8:18, but that pace doesn’t seem to tell the whole story (or maybe it does). I felt like I was crawling, fighting for every step. I felt anger toward the legions of cheering spectators as they told me I was almost there, because when you’re at Mile 24, those last 2.2 miles seem like they might as well be another marathon.

I walked a bit after the Mile 25 marker, and then tried to run the entire last mile. I had to take one more small walk break but then forced myself to keep running as the course wound back over to the Boardwalk. Once on the Boardwalk I looked for the Neptune statue that marked the finish line, and it was hazy in the distance. It was maybe a half-mile away, but it seemed like a mirage that could never be reached. Somehow I kept running, and, inexplicably, didn’t stop until I had crossed under the finish banner.

The walk through the finish chute was the longest, most agonizing few minutes I’ve experienced in recent memory. All I wanted to do was collapse in a heap. But volunteers made me keep walking, and kept handing me things – a medal, a hat, a bottle of water, a Gatorade, a banana, a sweatshirt, a granola bar. I could hardly lift my arms but people continued shoving things at me. What I needed was a wheelchair.

I finally found my wife at the end and could only rest my head on her shoulder as she patted my back, like a mother welcoming the return of her wayward son.

“I did it,” I said. “And I’m never doing it again.”

“Good.”

I learned a lot from this race, but also came away with lots of questions. To keep this entry from getting too long, I’ll address the lessons in my next post.

Bike: 0/334.5 miles
Run: 28.2/446.8 miles
This entry was posted in goals, marathon, progress, running. Bookmark the permalink.

18 Responses to [167] Shamrock Marathon race report

  1. I’ve seen so many similarities in our training goals and achievements the past year or so. I totally relate to this post. I looked back on my last marathon as I read this and thought about the moment when I realized a BQ was off the table. You handled it like a champion! Congrats again on a strong run at a merciless distance!

    • traintotri says:

      Thanks, Philip. We’ve definitely had some parallels between our training and racing experiences. I like your idea of stepping away from the road-racing scene in 2012 to focus on other athletic pursuits. It helps keep us fresh and I hope to do the same.

  2. runwiki says:

    You are amazing. I am so sorry it was not a great day for you. The time, although not the one you wanted, is so impressive, and even more impressive given you struggled so much toward the end. It was very windy and the direct sun at the end was torture. I hope this is not the end of the marathon for you. I would love to read a come back redemption story. I know you are expanding your family but, you are too talented to throw in the towel for good. You just had a rough day. The last five miles of a marathon are a mystery not matter how prepared you are.
    I felt like you were writing my exact story of this same race. I came in 13 minutes off the time I had wanted. I really have so much empathy. It was windy and hot.. It would have been nice if it had started an hour earlier, to beat that sun at the end. There are so many things you can not control on race day, and you overcame so many with an incredibly brave heart. Congratulations!

    • traintotri says:

      Thanks so much for your kind words, Lisa. I think we both came away with success (and you with a BQ) even though the day didn’t work out quite like we had planned. The marathon is so unpredictable – you’re right about those last 5 miles! You never know what the future holds, but I’ve got some other things to check off my running list before considering another marathon…

  3. Vera says:

    Congratulations, Jeremy–we are ALL surely proud of you!

  4. I’ve uttered those “never again” words before. It’s something you don’t want to settle for even though I know you have some life changes coming up. As for your race, I’m glad you didn’t intentionally DNF; that would have truly been quitting and that’s something you wouldn’t have wanted to live with. You had a hell of a race despite not hitting your goal, and you’ve had a tremendous training cycle. (I could say, hey, find another one 4-6 weeks from now and try again, but I won’t.) I didn’t realize that the return north ran on the Boardwalk – knowing that, it would have been good to train on that surface a bit more.

    I know I said this on dailymile, but from what I’ve read and seen from bloggers/dailymilers, qualifying for Boston is a 2-3 year process. Part of it is setting that goal, then plotting out marathons to get for it. You set out to try and qualify at this race, and that is highly admirable.

    Enjoy this bit of downtime, and don’t give up on the marathon just yet.

    • traintotri says:

      Thanks, David. That stretch around Mile 14 was difficult for me, and who knows how close I actually was to stepping out. You’re right – I would have never forgiven myself for that. The fact that I fought through is something that I’m proud of – that’s what marathoning is all about. As for running another one, you never know what the future will hold. But I’m sure it will be several years before I consider doing another one. It was great seeing you and your family this weekend – and congrats again on your PR!

  5. It’s interesting how I, as a way slower runner, can relate to the emotions/feelings/struggles you were having. That unexplainable “off” feeling, it just comes out of nowhere. I’d like to find a cure for it!
    Glad you didn’t DNF because the lessons you learned (that I can’t wait to read about), were worth the struggle. When you’re ready to return for your next stab at it, you’ll have this experience to help get you there.
    Congratulations on the FOURTY FOUR minute PR, that’s HUGE!

  6. Mark Bare says:

    Hi Jeremy,
    I’m sorry you didn’t make your goal of a BQ time, but a 44 minute PR and willing yourself to finish despite your physical and mental struggles are both something to be proud of.
    I didn’t realize, until I saw a photo of another friend on facebook, that the marathon ran north on the boardwalk. I doubt I would ever try the full marathon at Shamrock, because it’s so early in the season, but I think that cinches it for me. Concrete sucks, and I could feel definitely feel it on the half.
    I would encourage you to wait another week, then re-asses your decision on not running another marathon. If you feel you had the proper training under your belt, and Sunday was just an off day, then you might consider entering another in a month or so. Recover, build, race.
    Either way, you entered a marathon, and you finished a marathon, in a VERY good time, despite adversity. That’s what competing is all about. Be proud.

    • traintotri says:

      Thanks, Mark. Despite not hitting my goal, I can’t be disappointed with a 3:23. It’s faster than I would have even considered a year ago. I didn’t realize you were there this weekend, too! Great job on your 1:36 – that’s a very strong time. Is it a PR for you?

      • Mark Bare says:

        Yes, a PR by about 2 1/2 minutes. My goal was a 7:20 pace, and this was a 7:21, so pleased. Last year was a 7:37 and my first year was 7:59. For the half, the weather was about as good as it’s ever going to get at VA Beach.
        Good luck with whatever you decide, Jeremy. Hope to see you at a tri sometime. :)

  7. Koji Kawano says:

    A PR by more than 44 minutes!? I’d say that is a great job, and I’m glad to read that you gave it all and finished the race. I understand your time did not make you very happy, but I think it is a good quality in a competitor to set a high standard, be able to accept your shortcomings, and bounce right back (something tells me you will!). Enjoy your post-race break and I hope to read your next race report!

    • traintotri says:

      Thanks for the message! It was a big PR, but there was also a lot of time (more than 4 years) between marathons. I’m still proud of the effort this weekend, even though I didn’t hit my A goal. Looks like you have some big goals for Boston and beyond – best of luck in your training!

      • Koji Kawano says:

        I read ‘Advanced Marathoning’ by Pfitzinger & Douglas and am following their training program with some personalization. I found the book very useful in understanding why certain training makes sense while others don’t. I will see if the training works for me.

  8. ballerkids says:

    I think it’s amazing that you ran a marathon in 7:46 average pace! That said, I do think you are due for a huge breakthrough in the marathon, though it didn’t come on the right day. I had a similar experience in Nike women’s and forgetting about my time completely seemed to help me cope with the disappointing performance. Still, I think shaving off 44 minutes is a huge feat, and you should pat yourself on the back.
    I do hope you will keep training in some capacity, because I think you were probably just a few weeks short of your training adaptation.
    So glad to hear that you enjoyed the journey — I can’t always say that when I am bummed out about a race. Go get yourself a baby jogger and keep chasing that BQ — it is just around the corner!
    (I am commenting as my boys as something is wrong with my wordpress/gravatar acct.) — Rebecca

    • traintotri says:

      Thanks, Rebecca (and thanks for your tenacity in leaving a comment!). I’m definitely looking to ramp back up on the mileage soon, although I worry how I’ll stay motivated without a long-distance race in the near future. I’ll just have to set some different goals. As for Boston, I’m just going to have to live it vicariously through you this time around!

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