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Marathon Confessions

February 7, 2013

marathon idiot2013 Tallahassee Marathon

February 3, 2013
Bib Number: 97
Overall Placement: 160/308 (52%)
Age Group Placement: 11/22 (50%)
Gender Placement: 47/117 (40%)
Chip Time: 4:06:41

As marathoners face race day, they control their training, the choice of the course they’ll race on, and, of course, their own execution of the race. But runners always know they’ll face some great unknown, unpredictable, and ultimately uncontrollable elements, chief among them weather conditions on race day. In Florida, the weather is always unpredictable, and the marathon in Tally had been run in the mid-70s in 2012. But, this year, a front moved through in the days before the race, and Little G and I woke up to the high 30s as we dressed for the race, and stepped into the starting area dressed in our shorts and high socks, with our top halves dressed very warmly. We each had on the racing singlets we’d trained on in the 70s, along with racing sleeves, a long-sleeve tech top, and a sweatshirt we planned to discard early on. Little G had on gloves; my sleeves covered my hands.

The Tallahassee Marathon and Half is a small race, totaling about a thousand runners, which made it unnecessary for us to arrive more than an hour before gun time. It was nice not to stand around shivering too long, and in the Florida sun, which was rising already since the race started at 7:30, temperatures were rising quickly–I wish I’d noted this more clearly. We shucked our sweatshirts before the gun went off. The first mile was a quirky loop around the FSU campus, and we lost our tech long-sleeve shirts at about the first mile marker. This, too, should have been an indication to me of how quickly I was warming up. The temperatures were still in the 40s, and I was already running in a single layer, after a single mile.

The course was a beautiful out-and-back. We ran a few miles through the city to make it to the flat, paved bike trail, where the scenery was beautiful–a tree-lined, constant view of pine trees and occasional ponds that kept us company through the many miles.

Little G and I are not in the habit of running our races together. Throughout the race, until I asked her to leave me in the last few miles, we regularly played chase-the-bunny. I can’t relate with precision at which mile markers we were together and when I was running alone, but in this race, we ran in close proximity for much of the first 20 miles. This is unusual for us, though we run at similar speed.

Miles 1-5: As I said, we passed the first mile marker hot, and discarded our first layer of long sleeves. Knowing temperatures would be in the 50s for the duration of the race, we thought it likely we’d keep our running sleeves on for the duration of the race, and I groan now at the foolishness of our own arrogance. The crowd is talkative and garrulous, but not Little G and I. We are focused and intense, though I know our pace is fast. I tell her we should slow. She moves on with dogged determination. 8:54, 8:31, 8:42, 8:40, 8:50.

Miles 6-10. The trail feels crowded, and the white-bibbed half marathoners are chatty. Little G and I are getting even warmer, and have decided to shuck our sleeves. We’re hopeful that her daughter, who is acting as our crew-slash-cheerleader, will be able to meet us at mile 7, but we can’t wait to take them off, so we peel them off at 6 and tuck them into our waistbands. I notice my entire backside is numb. I mention this to Little G, worried. She notes that if it’s numb, it won’t hurt. Just past the 10k point we celebrate the half marathon turn around–it means we just lost 70% of the runners, and we can breathe. Our crew and cheerleader meets us at 7 and takes our sleeves as she cheers us uproariously. We are energized and run on. We’re taking a gel and an Endurolyte, our electrolyte-replacement product of choice, every 4 miles. Our personal cheering section has become a volunteer at the water station at mile 10, and we get the most personal service possible. 8:34, 8:26, 8:39, 8:41, 8:46.

Miles 11-15. I know I’m running too fast. I slow for moments and my legs return to the sub-9 pace of their own accord. I find myself with a group whose Boston-qualifying time is 3:45, and I fear what my arrogance will cost me after mile 20. I know I trained at a pace a minute slower than this. Then, at mile 12, the first true crisis: a water station is missing, and there is no sign of it. It means three miles without water I know I need–my foot first cramped miles ago. I’ve been able to run on, but my stride is affected when the cramps hit, and if my leg compensates, it’s a long way to go on a tired leg. I try to dedicate my brain to the task of understanding which matching water station will be missing as I return on this out-and-back course. The turnaround is at mile 14, and our cheering station is back, encouraging us. 8:46, 8:43, 8:46, 8:38, 9:03.

Miles 16-20. Little G bore the burden of leading for much of the first half of the race, so I take point and try to hold the pace now. I remind her that an aid station is missing at mile 16, so we take our gel a little early, choking it down. We’re tired, and we think we need the energy. In this portion of the race, we’re trying to give ourselves mile markers, or things to change up and break the monotony of the distance. I plug an earbud in at mile 16 and start my playlist. I have ten miles to go; after this it’s a single-digit countdown. Our cheerleader extraordinaire meets us at the mile 17 aid station, and our hearts are lifted. But we are tired and hurting. We’re still moving, but we don’t remember ever racing this hard. Our brains are battling our legs at every moment. The beauty of the trail feels monotonous and tired now. The 5mph wind feels like a gale. The single-digit countdown is endless–the next water station is, literally, miles away. At the mile 20 water station I remind Little G we can lose our fuel belts. I take another gel and give our sweet crew the last few ounces of weight I can lose, and push on. 8:51, 8:55, 9:03, 8:56, 9:30.

Miles 21-25. We tell ourselves we can slow down, because we have to. I remind us that we’re crashing because all the blood is in our legs. Our brains cannot be trusted. We must keep running. A kind-hearted father and his little girl are offering orange sections and, though my stomach turns at the sight of them, I figure we need sugar. We stop to try to get some down, struggling to chew, and move on after muttering a heartfelt thank-you. At mile 22, we get to a street crossing on our way back to town, and as I make it to a light post, I’m paralyzed–my leg is cramped from hip to arch. The police officer stopping traffic asks if I need a medic and I know that if the medic gets ahold of me I’ll log a DNF. I call her off and tell Little G to go on without me. She hesitates, but she knows I’m right. She moves on, and I watch her as I struggle to return to my stride. There are no tears, but I know my sub-4 finish is melting in front of my eyes. Foolishly, I try a running stride, and am humbled to the ground for my efforts. I am gradually able to walk, and for the next few miles I return to walk-running, gradually discovering that I can run very slowly, but that the slightest change in incline or terrain will bring paralyzing cramps to both legs, thus reducing me, again, to a walking stride. I have lots of time to consider what arrogance in preparation, fueling, or early pacing brought me to this. In a big race, many would have passed me, but in a field of only 300, only a half-dozen do, and most ask if there is something they can do, though they know there isn’t. They know I will crawl to the finish if I have to. This is a marathon, and I am so close. At the last aid station, I tell the volunteer I will never run a marathon again, and he says, “I say that every time!” 9:31, 10:58, 12:14, 10:52, 11:01.

Mile 26-finish. As we return to town, the kindest, run-friendliest police officer ever is on the course, and he doesn’t tell us we have a mile to go–because we don’t. He says, “One-point-one miles to go. You’re going to finish this!” I will not cry, not because I am not frustrated–I am incensed at my own defeat–but because he is right. I am going to conquer this distance, and then I will never do this again. I cross the huge intersection, climbing the gigantic hill that wasn’t there on the outbound portion of the course, and head onto the Florida State campus, where the people lining the course refuse to cheer for anyone but their own runner. A passing runner, having finished her race, says, “You make it look easy!” I find the energy to tell her, “You should have seen me ten yards ago,” and she laughs. She knows. I make it onto the track, cross a mat, and the loudspeaker calls my name. “Now on the track, finishing the marathon, Karina Dulin, from Jupiter, Florida.” I’d give anything to quit, but have too much pride to do it in front of all the people gathered on the infield. I don’t have the energy for a sprint, but make a steady push for the finish line. I have finished the marathon, and I have left it all on the course. I could have run no faster. 10:46, 3:22 for the last .2.

Postrace. A kind volunteer drapes a medal over my neck, and I am thankful for its weight. Our crew extraordinaire is on me immediately, holding me up. I must look as badly as I feel, and I sound worse. “Do you want to sit down?” “Yes.” I make a move to the ground and realize immediately it’s a bad idea–“No.” I wander to the track wall and lean-sit against it. “Do you want your shoes off?” “Yes.” She starts untying them, and I realize if I take them off my foot will cramp irreversibly and I’ll be on the ground, writhing in pain. “No!”

Finally, with her support, I made it to Little G, who was on the infield, and I found a way to make it down to the grass. My lower half was in intense pain, and moving was agony. Postrace food was somewhat lacking, and I couldn’t get warm, probably because I was dehydrated. We stayed for the marathon awards, since Little G placed in her age group (woot! woot!) and got McDonald’s fries on the way home–they might just be the perfect postrace recovery food.

My 4:06 represents a 24-minute improvement from my first time at the distance, when I ran the 26 miles in a downpour and under the adage of “whatever you do, don’t run too fast.” I definitely raced this one, and I’m glad I did. Crossing the line in absolute agony was a victory in its own way.

As for my resolve to never run another 26.2? It might be flagging, just a little bit.

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