Friday, November 25, 2011

Marathon closure

Well, it happened.  I finished the marathon, a couple weeks back.  My final time was 4:04:27, nine minutes slower than last time, and four minutes under the stark boundary of the four-hour line.  It was a very intense experience, in some ways more difficult than last time.  Due to the demands of work and family I really pulled back on the training in the last couple months, basically abandoning my mid-week runs and focusing solely on the Saturday long runs, which generally went well through the entire program.  As a result I knew I was taking a gamble on marathon day; the question was, did I train enough?

Well, yes and no.  I trained enough so that I felt pretty darn good the day after the marathon - no injuries, no sprains, no lingering effects.  Unfortunately, though, I did feel like I ran out of steam during the final third of the race.  I was breathing fine, my legs felt great, but I just felt tapped out.  I was fantasizing about icy glasses of Coke; my mouth would actually tingle with anticipation as I ran.  I felt that if I let my eyes close, I would fall asleep mid-stride.  During the run I had to go to the bathroom four times, which never, ever, ever happens.  And I took the chance to talk to L, Alice, and my folks for a minute the three times I saw them, for three reasons: to make sure Alice understood that I was there, to reassure everyone that I was okay, and to make the whole endeavor a little more worthwhile of their time.

Running the New York marathon for a second time was surprisingly similar to the first.  I was sorry to realize it, but it felt like a diminishing return.  The great parts were great.  The tough parts were really tough.  And there were no real surprises.  The crowds were supportive when they yelled out my name, unless I was walking in pain, at which point they felt taunting.  This time around I tried hard to high-five all the little kids in Brooklyn, when I felt great and invincible.  During the final miles, when Central Park seemed absolutely alien to me through my fog of exhaustion, I couldn't stop myself from walking.  I was more generous with breaks than I have ever been before.  I tried not to hold myself to an impossible standard, but I couldn't, so I wasn't pleased with things.

After the race I staggered through the finishers staging area in desperate need of a porta-potty.  I rehydrated too quickly and ended up vomiting over a fence in the park, a few dozen yards away from Central Park West.  After we reunited, as I walked with my family searching for a cab, they peppered me with questions about the run, and I just said, "Can we please not talk about it yet."  At home I vomited again, took an ice bath, took a shower, fell asleep.  Two hours later I was awake and ravenous.  I ate heartily, drank a lot of Coke, and told everyone about the day's adventure.  I was fine, I was a champion.

I don't mean to sound negative about the experience, but I think this was my last New York marathon for a while.  Now I'm thinking about next year's Marine Corps Marathon in DC, not to break any speed records, but to give myself a challenge and a goal.  Ultimately what I learned is that my modified training schedule actually worked pretty darn well, given the demands on my time and the fact that I'm four years older than the last time around.  (As my mom pointed out, I'm also heavier than I was last time.  As I looked at her, agog, she added, "Well, we all said it!")  And most importantly, I did the race and I'm not injured.  Last time I ran it was six months before I laced up my running shoes again.  The training process had exhausted me and given me knee pain that lasted for weeks.  Yet I've already been running since this marathon, and I'm very deliberate about starting a new chapter in my running life right away.  I may not have triumphed on marathon day the way I hoped to, but I endured in a way that I didn't quite expect.  And that kind of sneaky lesson is what the marathon is all about.

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