Monday, October 16, 2006

A Miserable Failure

Yep, that's me. And yep, that's also an apt description of my effort at yesterday's Columbus Marathon. From this, you might conclude that I either a) didn't finish, or b) ran much slower than I thought I should. But you'd be wrong on the first account, and mostly wrong on the second. Here's the sad story.

Training partner Dave G. and I arrived in Columbus Saturday afternoon in time to register and hit the expo. I had pre-registered, so of course I had to wait in some extremely long lines to a) pick up my number, and b) pick up my chip. Heaven forbid they do this with one line. When I asked about this, I was told that there were too many errors the other way. Dave, who had to register there, breezed right through. About 20 minutes later, whilst we were exploring the expo, we heard an announcement: registration for the marathon is CLOSED. Even people who were in line at that point (the short line) would be turned away. Dave had only just made it in. Lesson learnt. Maybe... After the expo we headed to Dave's friends Jason and Becky's place to watch the Buckeyes (yes, there are a few Buckeye fans in Columbus), and to watch their sports-minded little ones play basketball, golf and hockey in the living room, and to eat carry out Buca Di Beppo.

Now it was Sunday morning at 4:30. Dave will be sleeping for another 80 minutes, but I need to get out of bed and do something. I grab my book and head down to the lobby to read. I hadn't slept well. You'd think that after 80-something of these, that it would be no big deal by now.

I had had a very good year, with 3 sub-40 minute 10Ks, a 10 and a 9 miler at a very solid 6:20 or so pace, a PR at the Avon 30K, a 1:26+ half, and a solid effort for a 3:09 Boston. This is not to mention several age group awards and good standing in the Ohio Challenge Series. I had been starting to think that I was finally back, after ten years, in sub-3 shape. Impossible at my ripe old age, you say. Not so, I say, exhibit A being my hero, Joe Salwan. But of course there was an extenuating circumstance: my knee. Having messed it up about a month ago, I'd cut my mileage in half trying to nurse it back. And it was better at times, and my training runs were still pretty solid, even though they were fewer in number. So what with these ups and downs, I was going to go for it, along with Dave. So yes, this one *was* still a big deal to me.

Before going back to the room, I stick my head out the door. It was supposed to be in the mid to upper 30s, and brrrr - it sure feels like it. It's also supposed to be clear, with a high in the mid-50s later in the day. Absolutely perfect PR weather. My only worry is the wind.

We get oatmeal at the hotel restaurant for $2.50 each. A half-pint container of milk to put over the oatmeal is another $1.50. If our math skills are still in working order, this means that the milk is $24 per gallon. I'm a bit worried about eating too much, because I had also had a powerbar when I awoke. But my tummy seems to feel ok. The next worry is what to wear. 30s for the start sounds like it's way too cold for shorts and a singlet, but I know that it'll warm up as soon as we get going, so that's what I'd go with. Dave opts for a bit more skin coverage. And then we wondered how the drop bag situation would work; there hadn't been too much information about it. I decided to bring a black trash bag and an old space blanket, but nothing to drop off. Yes, I am a slave to fashion.

With about 7,000 runners in both the half and the full marathons this year, I had been concerned about it being too crowded at the start. As the gun goes off, however, it doesn't seem bad at all. Broad street has once again earned it's name. Things get a bit more crowded as the road becomes narrower in a mile or two, and then narrower still turning into the scenic Bexley neighborhood, past the governor himself. After we see Mr. Taft waving to us from a street corner, we see a state patrol car nearby. I wonder out loud if the governor gets protection from state troopers the way the president does from the secret service. "*HE* should", answered another runner who was between Dave and me at the time. After about 7:30 for the first mile (one of my critical success factors being an easy start), we were now getting splits in the 6:50's. It doesn't feel so cold now that the sun is getting higher in the sky.

At mile 5, the half-marathoners peel off, and the streets suddenly feel spacious again. Now it was just us marathoners. I foolishly think that it would be this way for the rest of the race. But noooo. At mile 8 or so, who should rejoin us, but the half-marathoners again! They had taken a short-cut, and we were now running along with half marathoners who were a mile behind us, and who were running at a slower pace. We were also beginning to pass large numbers of walkers, who had started an hour earlier. It is extremely distracting to have to run around all these people so far into the race. I'm sure it's wasting valuable energy. I am handed a Clif-Shot energy gel and pop it in my mouth. It has the consistency of Really THICK Vaseline. I cough and choke and nearly vomit. Somehow I recover after a half-mile of this.

But there's a bigger problem. My knee, which had felt fine up until now, was beginning to make itself known to me. No pain yet, just some mutterings such as "I'm down here, and I can make or break you - ignore me at your peril", and things like that. So now I was having trouble running in a straight line with all the slower runners and walkers, and every slight turn was bringing more and more threatening comments from below: "if you step right or left to get around those people, you're gonna pay!".

Only by about mile 11 or so do the crowds thin out again. Heading back downtown again after German Village, we pass the half-way point in 1:30:45 or so. This couldn't be more perfect. It's *exactly according to plan. Now all we have to do is run a 1:29 half marathon. Piece of cake. There's more good news: my knee has now quieted down some. Columbus doesn't have many hills, but there are some small uphill grades at mile 14 and mile 17. Even though the pace has been right on, I am now concerned that I may have worked too hard to get to this point. Going up those hills is much more difficult than it should be, and I slow down, getting well behind Dave and the other sub-3 hopefuls. I do manage to catch back up on the level and downhill grades however.

After that harder-than-it-should've-been hill at 17, we finally turn off High street and hit a nice downhill for mile 18. I pick it back up and run my last sub-7 minute mile for the day. I know this as it's happening because I realize that I'm working too hard even on this easy downhill portion of the race. It's just too bad that although my body is hurting, by brain is functioning at capacity, because I fully understand that without all or most of the rest of the miles at sub-7 pace, I won't make it in under 3 hours. It doesn’t matter. I absolutely have to slow down. My brain tells me not to worry; if I can at least do relatively pedestrian 7:30 to 8 minute miles the rest of the way, I’d still have a solid 3:05 or so. I tell my brain to stop being so rational.

I am slowly approaching the 20-mile marker. I think I can make it in about 2:20 – still a 7-minute pace by the way – but I hit a porta-john just before the mile-marker. Good idea, I think. I should be revived after this short stop. Only one minor problem: when I emerge from the booth, I can’t run. My knee has given out completely. My attempt brings tremendous pain, along with the cracking and popping of things that shouldn’t be cracking and popping. It must have been some combination of two miles of shuffling, stopping and standing for 30 seconds, and then trying to get going again. This isn’t a problem, I think; I’ll just walk past the 20-mile marker and then begin running again as the course turned right. I try to run again. More pain and cracking and popping. I walk for a while more. I try to run again. More pain. I walk some more and begin to get very worried. It seemed like only moments ago that I was considering lowering my expectations from sub-3 hours to 3:05, and now all of sudden I feel like I probably won’t make it at all.

What to do? Walk for 6 miles? It would probably take an hour and a half, so maybe I could still make it under 4 hours. Or should I DNF, and just accept that this was not my day. The DNF sounds like the wiser decision, because it has the added benefits of getting me out of my pain sooner (it is even hard to walk), and of possibly doing less long-term damage. Now I wonder: how does one DNF? There had been an aid station at the 20-mile mark, and I could just walk a half-mile back there and turn myself in. Or I could continue to move forward to the next aid station, which would most likely come in a mile or so at mile 21 or 22 at the latest. Although it makes much more sense to go back, I can’t bring myself to do it. What if a miracle occurs and I can suddenly run again. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to find out if I turned back. If I keep going, I can try to run one last time before I quit for good.

I keep going, and I continue to consider the ramifications of this upcoming second-ever DNF. The first one was easy. Too easy. Erie had been made up of 2 13.1-mile loops, and when I saw Debbie, who was about to head over to breakfast, at that half-way point, I simply stepped off the course and went with her. Columbus is different. Even after I find someone and tell him or her I want to quite, what would become of me? I don’t think they have an ambulance at each aid station waiting for people like me. I might have to sit (if such a thing would be possible – there were no body positions that seem possible at the moment, with this knee the way it is) and wait for a long time. How long? Which would take longer, walking or waiting for a ride? And what about Dave? We were supposed to meet at the massage parlor after the finish, and he’d be worried. Now I’m starting to think that DNFing would be worse than walking it in.

This is the miserable failure part of the story. I can’t even DNF!!

I’m getting closer to mile 21 and I try to run again. I CAN DO IT! It’s an extremely slow shuffle, and people are passing me like crazy, but I’m running! I get past the 21 mile marker, past aid stations, past the 22 mile marker, and I’m still running. Folks are still passing me, including a huge bunch attached to the 3:10 pace group. Along the way I take a couple gel’s. I had been thinking, what’s the point, but now I’m glad I did so. I’m actually picking up the pace. Now not so many people are passing me. Somewhere around mile 24, the 3:20 pace group is approaching from the rear. I take my last gel, and I say NO. No one else shall pass. My last 2 miles are 8:13 and 7:40 or so. I sprint it in, feeling like I am breaking 3 hours.

The clock says something like 3:18. Is this good or bad? Depends on my expectations, and they had been in a state of flux for the entire morning. Sub-3 hours to 3:05 to DNF to sub-4 hours to maybe 3:30 (when I had begun shuffling again).

I’ll have to take it. Beats the alternative. It was nice running a good part of the way with Dave. It was also good to see Lloyd and Dan F out there spectating.

1 comment:

Walker Evans said...

Congrats! I could never run for that long! ha! ;)

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