Warning: This is long. Clark
So, I thought I would offer a report on my very first marathon. (First presumes there will be another, but we’ll see how that goes).
Over my training/racing season I was learning the ropes of distance running and weighing my marathon options. I’d geared my schedule to culminate on October 18th providing me the option to choose either Detroit Free Press or the Grand Rapids marathon.
Honestly, I wanted to do GR from the get go. I used to spend a lot of time in GR. I knew that the downtown course would be interesting and running through parks and woods would be more my speed. But logic would have me do Detroit. It’s closer (thereby saving hotel $) and my family could potentially see me at the end. But I perceived that the advantages ended there. More and more people told me stuff – I wouldn’t like - about Detroit, and more and more I was convinced that GR would be a better choice.
Nonetheless, I staved off my decision until late in the season. I was, admittedly, worried about injuries. By the time I did commit I was already dealing with IT band issues, but I posted my $ and signed up. I figured having skin in the game would motivate me to work on my issues harder. I worked doctors, physical therapists and massage to make things better and I was ready for race day.
As I tapered I was watching the weather like a hawk. I was ridiculous about it. Extended forecasts announced cold, and it only seemed to get colder the closer we got – a huge span like 31o-58o. I hadn’t planned on this. I had some arm warmers and my custom-made Clark the Road Shark tech shirt. That’s what I was hoping would get me through but the temperatures said ‘that ain’t gonna do it.’
I had some Icebreaker Merino briefs and Nike Terra Kiger tights I could wear but I knew by mid-race that combination would be too hot. So I did what anyone would do. Started buying stuff; I added an Icebreaker Merino buff and then started agonizing over a windbreaker. I started with a bid on eBay but a nice Arc’teryx jacket quickly climbed out of range – esp. since I hadn’t even seen it in person. Shopped REI, Moosejaw and Amazon. Found the Arc’teryx at REI and after trying it on I was glad I didn’t buy it. I also tried a beautiful (and $$$) Pearl Izumi Run Fly Softshell Hoody at Moosejaw, but it was too warm. I finally scored a Salomon FastWing on Amazon for about half price. On Amazon, it said the jacket was packable in its own pocket; but I found upon delivery that just wasn’t true. It could be stuffed into its breast pocket but it didn’t zip properly and there was no hand strap or anything to attach it to a belt. Oops.
So enroute to the race expo I stopped at the GR Gazelle Sports and found a small Amphipod water bottle with a neoprene handhold. If I removed the bottle I could potentially shove the jacket in and hang it from my Spibelt. That bottle and holder cost nearly half the price of the jacket! It wasn’t perfect but it would have to do.
The race expo was nicely organized but it was actually smaller than the Brooksie expo. I picked up some throwaway gloves because I didn’t really want to use – and maybe throwaway - the gloves I brought. Otherwise the expo was a little bit of a letdown. I will say the GR YMCA is amazing though. It is a huge building with tons of stuff to do inside.
So then I was off to the hotel and figure out dinner plans. I had a bunch of different ideas, but I settled on Olive Garden for a traditional pasta dinner. I had the Cucina Mia rigatoni with Five Cheese Marinara, two breadsticks and minestrone soup. A near perfect pre-race meal.
The bigger issue was going to be breakfast the next day. The hotel didn’t start breakfast until 7 am so that wouldn’t work. Then I checked the McDonalds next to the hotel. They didn’t open til 6 am, also too late for me. I wanted to eat early enough to get my stomach going and go to the bathroom before leaving the hotel. But as I checked the McDonald’s hours I realized my answer was already there. All day breakfast, a new option, was available. I bought some hotcakes and took them back to the room. I ate one that night and saved two with syrup for the morning. I had a fridge and microwave in the room. Perfect.
I laid out my clothes and reviewed my plans. Then I watched a bit too much TV and finally went to bed around 10:15 pm. I planned on waking up at 5 am. I don’t know how long I slept, probably until 1 am. But something woke me up and I wasn’t getting much of any sleep the rest of the night. Of course I started worrying about not having enough sleep which only caused me to not sleep some more. This is extremely rare for me. But given I was running my first (and maybe last?) marathon that day it was completely understandable. Getting up at 5 am, I felt I was already behind the power curve, without enough sleep to get me through. This was complicated by the fact that I KNEW I had a 2.5 hr drive home awaiting me AFTER running 26.2 miles. Oh joy.
Anyway. I hit the hotel coffee bar, got some relatively old and cold coffee and retired back to the room to prepare. The coffee and the hotcakes did the trick and I was really happy to do my business and then take a shower. Of course I would have to go 2 more times before race time – once right before I left the hotel and once at the Y. The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray. Lovely. Good thing I brought baby wipes too.
So I geared up and got out the door. The car had a cover of frost on it. Oh boy. I was still checking temps but there was not much left to do about it. It was around 28o with windchill down to 19o at 7 am. I took the short drive to the YMCA start/finish and chilled in the car listening to music. The SUV parked in front of me had a 26.2 sticker in the rear window. Perfect motivation. I waited until around 7:20 am when I decided I would need one last potty stop. I couldn’t imagine a freezing trip to the porta potty at that moment so I took advantage of the YMCA facilities.
By the time I got out it was nearly race time. Sunlight was starting to creep across the horizon. As we entered the start chute I ran into two of my National Guard soldiers. It was cool to see them right before race time, but I knew they would be posting much better times than me. One was 7 years younger, the other 13 years younger. We all reveled in the fact that this was our first marathon and wished one another luck. They moved further and further forward as I fell in next to the 4:29 Team Oprah group. Grand Rapids pacers go off of celebrity marathon times (e.g. Will Ferrell 3:56, P Diddy 4:14, Al Gore 4:58). I had it in mind to definitely beat Ms. Winfrey but I wanted to start slow so I would keep near them for the first couple miles.
We saw a drone overhead filming. It’s a different world. And then the starting gun. This was a relatively small race. I think about 5000 total – another reason I chose it over Detroit – for the half and the full. There were no corrals that I saw. But people self organized pretty well. In this respect it was much better than Brooksie, which I thought was poorly handled.
We were off. I planned on running the first 3-6 miles at a slower than 10 pace. By just past mile 2 I was ready to dump my throwaway track pants. That was more difficult than it needed to be but I finally got them off and dropped them at an aid station. About the same time I realized I had lost 2 of my 6 Gus on my belt. Oops, I’d have to use some course-provided Clif Shots.
Because I made a timed special playlist, I started with music almost from the beginning. I probably missed some fun things along the way because of my tunes but it was still a good decision in the end.
At mile 6 we were out of the city and headed into Butterworth Park. Not long after we were already seeing the half marathon frontrunners turned around and headed home. This was NOT entirely motivating!
The beginning of this park was open with tall ‘sea grass’ on the sides. Temps were still cool but I was warming up almost too much. By mile 7 I was taking off, packing and stowing the Salomon windbreaker. It was damp inside but it had breathed pretty good. It served its purpose quite well. It was a struggle to keep running and shove it into the bottle holder/expedient pocket. I saw a coworker in the crowd who was supporting his wife. If I had seen him even a few seconds earlier I might have asked him to keep the jacket and pocket. As it was I would have this thing bouncing off my leg instead. Oh well, it was still better than freezing for 6 miles, and I still had it on me if I ran into wind or a dip in temps (this is something that people in Detroit were suffering through on Belle Isle).
Short of 9, I tried a vanilla Clif Shot and did not like the texture at all – Vanilla Bean Gu is better – but I guessed that I would have to have at least one more to make up for the Gus I dropped. The race split off between half and full and I commiserated with another full runner. We still had a long way to go.
So far my knee had been holding up well. I felt some twinges at 4 and uphill climbs were not fun but I was working with it. I also learned to avoid the manhole covers early in the course. Most of the course was asphalt, but I was really wishing these park routes were like Paint Creek trail. Instead it was all asphalt. At one point, shy of 10, there was a switchback on grass between two paths. The change in gait really torqued my knee, but I was back in a rhythm again quickly. On the whole Millenium Park was nice but I was looking forward to seeing my friends at mile 15.
Ah, the friends, my secret weapon. Five days before the race another Guard officer had to back out of meeting me at mile 20 and running the final 10K. Unfortunately, he had to go to Fort Bliss TX to support a unit going over to Dubai. There was just no avoiding that. Fortunately, the same day another Guard officer texted and asked if I was still running in GR. He and his wife volunteered to come support me and run the final 5 miles. That was awesome. At first they said they’d be there at 21, but I asked them to show up in time for 15 so I could possibly dump some gear.
I kept seeing my civilian coworker as he biked around the course to be there for his wife and I saw some other Guard people I knew participating in the relay legs. It was always great to see people I knew, and I was really wishing my family could have been there. I was surprised at what a powerful and emotional effect the race was having on me. While I was definitely racing for myself I was also racing to lead a better, healthier life and be there for my wife and kids. I’d lost well over 20 lbs in the 6 months of training and preparations.
So we crossed another bridge across the river and made a hard right turn onto Indian Mounds Rd for a long out-and-back stretch. I’d been pacing ahead of my timetable and I was worried I had made it there too early. I was looking everywhere for my friends as people cheered. As I left the main group of supporters I said “Shit,” really loud. I thought I missed them. I passed through an aid station and grabbed some water thinking I would have this pouch bouncing on my leg the rest of the way. Then I realized this was the station with the famous pickle juice as I blew by. I said something like “Oh I missed the pickle juice.” One support crew girl started to run after me but I waved her off as someone else said I could get it on the way back. Thankfully, a few seconds later I saw my friends at roadside. I asked them if I could dump my belt with jacket and buff with them. What was left of my gus were in my pocket and I kept the sandwich bag with baby wipes just in case.
Steve told me I was right on schedule and asked how I was doing. I told him my left hip hurt, my right knee hurt and my right foot hurt. He replied, just as I would have, “Suck it up.”
I laughed miserably as I left them behind. “Buttercup” I thought. I also thought “Well you haven’t been running for 2.5 hrs” and a couple other things not PG-13 suitable.
He called back “See you in an hour.” Yep that was my next focal point, getting back to them.
Now I was down to the race gear I wanted to be running in from the outset. RoadID visor, t-shirt, Asics arm warmers, Nike Terra Kiger shorts, iPod nano, throwaway gloves/snot rag, Balega Hidden Contour socks and my prized Asics GT-2170 women’s shoes.
Yes, women’s shoes! I scored these new shoes on eBay not long before the race. Of course Asics hasn’t made GT-2170s in years but the ones I got were new with tags on them, and size 12 in D width for women equals size 10.5 in standard width for men. My size. They were all black, which was perfect, but I would have bought and worn them even if they were all pink. The only bad thing was, I only had about 20 miles on them before race day because I skipped a few runs nursing my knee. I had asked my physio whether it was better to go with over worn shoes that fit great or under-broken in ones. She answered with the under-broken in. I think she nailed it. Even though I felt hot spots and some pad pain during the race when I finally took the shoes off that night I was blister free.
I continued to lope along. Somewhere on that stretch I saw one of my soldiers heading back strong and smiling. At the turn around I was looking forward to meeting up with my friends at 21 again. I took a quick woodline whiz and got back moving. Each time I slowed at a water point it was getting harder to get going again. Nutrition was going well, I ended up taking 6 of the seven gels I anticipated and I wasn’t bonking by any means. But my knee was not happy and I was just getting tired.
I was focused on making it back to Steve and Tammy. When I got back to them they were dressed to run and they had stowed my gear. He told me again I was spot on time. This timing thing had me confused since I thought I was ahead of time. He asked me for another inventory, I told him I was about the same as before. But I had some newly inspired confidence.
As we got up to speed I announced “Pardon my French, but when we get to 23 or so I plan on making this course my bitch.” Tammy, who has run 3 marathons, was already lost in her music. Steve laughed as we commenced to running again.
I grabbed some pickle juice this time and instantly regretted it. I was hoping for dill pickle juice but it was some sort of kosher, maybe with garlic or peppers in it. It hit my stomach bad and I felt like throwing up for a bit. It was just a few minutes but I remembered again, “nothing new on race day.”
The rest of the race was just a slog. My friends really picked me up and offered encouragement. Each mile marker passed and Steve would offer up “only 3 miles to go!”
I would correct him “3.2” with a snarl.
I did not make the course my bitch. I struggled to go faster with a kick. But there wasn’t much left to kick. We did speed up and we did pass people into the finish and Steve reports no one passed me. I finished with arms upraised and a smile on my face. With a 4:20:11 finish I met or exceeded all my goals. My A goal was 4:25:30 finish and a 10 minute avg pace. My B goal was 4:40 finish with a negative split. My C goal was just plain finish no matter the time. I promised myself that I would never do that again.
Race director Don Kern was there shaking finishers’ hands at the end. I got my medal and we passed through the chute. Steve got me a mylar blanket which didn’t do much for me and I discarded it quickly. I got my medal and some water and chocolate milk. I tried to munch on a bagel bite but I had no interest in food. I just needed to keep moving. I felt a little dizzy. There were lots of festivities and beer and I think free Wendy’s chili. But we didn’t linger long; we bugged out pretty quickly to get lunch at a restaurant and then get back to their car. I had to drive home in time to make my daughter’s soccer game!
I still didn’t eat much at the restaurant. Just enough to stay in the game. Steve drove us back to his car and we parted company. Of course he had to chase me down to give me the belt and gear we almost forgot.
Other than some aid station strolls I didn't walk at all. I'm very proud of my effort, but I also recognize I couldn’t have finished as strong without Steve and Tammy. They did an awesome job pushing me in the end when I didn’t want to push much longer.
The race was extremely well run and organized. Great email updates leading up to the race. Great race package pick up at the expo. The package had a program in it, Wendy’s chili coupon, some Metrohealth information, New Holland beer coasters, and some branded GR Marathon socks. The race shirt is awesome. A dark grey long sleeved tech shirt with black panels under the arms. At race finish you could also pick up GR branded 13.1 and 26.2 stickers. The course was beautiful and well marked. The support along the race was top-notch too. I’m very glad to have run GR instead of Detroit, maybe next time. See I’m already thinking about next time….and a sub 4 finish.
Official time was 4:20:11, 9.55/mi
7m split was 1:09:39. 9:56/mi
Half split was predicted 2:10:27
20m split was 3:18:15 9:54/mi
My Polar M400 watch splits registered 4:19:56 and a 9:45 avg, but it autopaused at stops (like the pants drop and whiz break). Max pace was 8:42.
3) 10:01 Stopped to drop pants
16) 10:00 Stopped to drop belt
22) 10:10 Picked up friends
24) 10:00 Just damn tired
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