At least I finished. That pretty much sums up my day. 3:03:20. My 2nd fastest marathon ever. My slowest completed marathon ever.
Last year I had run the Houston marathon in 2:47:24 and my goal was to go under 2:45 and hopefully under 2:43. My training really went well this year and I felt like I was in better shape than last year. I was running faster times on some of the hard workouts, I PR’d in a 10 mile race in November, and I felt a lot stronger on my long runs this year compared to last year. Based on my 10 mile time, one race calculator told me that I could run a 2:40, but I didn’t want to go for that and crash and miss out on breaking 2:45. My goal was to hit the halfway point at about 1:22 (~6:15 pace) and if things were going well, run a negative split and go under 1:21 (~6:10 pace) for the second half.
Unfortunately the weather forecast shifted a few days ahead of the race from being absolutely ideal to being on the warm side, but tolerable. Of course Sunday morning, it was even a few degrees warmer and the starting temp was about 60 degreees which is 10 – 15 degrees warmer than what I would consider ideal. I would rather it be in the upper 30’s or low 40’s than 60+, but you have to take what nature hands you. I contemplated being smart and dropping my first half pace to about 6:25/mile and then trying to pick it up to 6:10 pace in the 2nd half of the race which would still get me in about 2:45, but it would basically take a 2:43 out of play. As I sat on the toilet at 5:15 am contemplating my race strategy, I figured that the pace calculator said I could run a 2:40 marathon so I really was backing off a little from that so I didn’t need to slow my pace any more. Once you already have an answer in mind, it isn’t really that hard to come up with a reasonable justification. Mistake #1.
I got a good starting position and hit my first mile in 6:20 which is exactly where I wanted to be. I wore my garmin and heart rate monitor and I was a little concerned the first 4-5 miles how high my heartrate was. Last year it started off lower and then gradually built up. About mile 6 it finally dropped about 4 bpm back to a level I was a little more comfortable with and I decided it was probably early race nervousness and anxiety that was making it run high and I didn’t need to slow my pace down. Mistake #2. At mile 6, I was right at a 6:15 pace and not having any trouble knocking out 6:15 miles. I grabbed a bottle of Gatorade when I passed my wife at mile 7 and drank that over the next 3/4 of a mile. Since it was warm and I was worried about losing too much sodium and electrolytes, I was drinking more Gatorade than I usually would get on my training runs. At all the early aid stations, I was drinking mostly Gatorade and I was grabbing something at every aid station and I never drank that often during my training. Mistake #3. I didn’t want to get dehydrated and start cramping or run out of energy and bonk.
Just before the aid station at mile 10, I ate my first energy gel and grabbed 2 cups of water as I ran through the aid station to chase it down with. I was still feeling decent and hitting 6:15’s. I was with about 5 other guys and over the next couple miles we dropped a couple of them, but started slipping to 6:17 – 6:20/mile pace. I hit the halfway point at 1:22:10 and I felt like I still had a shot at hitting 2:45, but unless I got a second wind and was able to pick it up at the end, I was worried that my 2:43 goal was slipping away.
One of the biggest hills in the course is in mile 15 and one of the guys I was with pulled a little bit ahead. I let him go on the uphill because I was saving my energy for when I got to the top of the overpass and I figured I would catch him on the downhill. He kept pushing on the downhill and I never caught back up to him. I stayed just a few seconds behind him and was still running with another guy for the next mile or so. I saw my wife again a little before mile 17 and grabbed another bottle of Gatorade, a cap (to keep the sun out of my eyes) and another energy gel. I told her I thought I probably was going to miss my 2:45 by a minute or two because my legs were starting feel tired and I had slipped down to 6:20 – 6:25 pace at this point. I ate my energy gel and started chasing it with my Gatorade. Mistake #4. I would have preferred to have water to chase it with, but I didn’t have any right there and the next aid station wasn’t for another 2/3 of a mile. I made it about 1/4 of a mile past where I ate the gel and my stomach said no thanks. I stopped in the middle of the road and started puking. A couple guys who passed me while I stopped asked if I was ok and a police officer came over to check on me. I said I was fine and after about 4 nice heaves, my stomach was cleared out and I started running again. I still had about 1/2 of my bottle of Gatorade so I drank that to try to get some fluid back in me. I was pretty worried about getting dehydrated after I saw how much liquid had come back out of me. I lost about 40 seconds, but I got back to under 6:30 pace after I started running again. I felt ok through mile 19 and I thought I still might be able to get 2:45 at that point because I was convincing myself that I was still going to be able to pick it up the last few miles going back into downtown. I’ve run dozens of training runs and races over that finishing stretch and I was mentally prepared to finish strong.
After about mile 19, things really started going downhill. My legs really started feeling tired and my hamstrings were starting to tighten up on me and I felt like I was starting to get a little dehydrated. Between the sun beating down and throwing up, I felt like I was kind of fighting a losing battle on the hydration front. My left sock also got a little bunched up under the ball of my foot and was pretty uncomfortable. I knew my wife would be meeting me again between mile 21 and 22, so I kept pushing through the pain until I got to her. I was down to about 6:40 pace and any illusions of a 2:45 were gone by now and I was just hoping to get in below 2:50. My hamstrings were really hurting and part of me wanted to just throw in the towel at that point, but this was the 3rd marathon I had attempted and I didn’t want 2 DNF’s in 3 tries. I stopped for about 3 minutes to stretch out my hamstrings and adjust my sock and try to refocus. While I was sitting on the curb stretching, Bill, one of my running partners went by. It was his first marathon and he was shooting for a 2:49. I told my wife I had given up hitting a good time, but I was going to finish the race. I had one more energy gel so I took it and drank some Gatorade and started down the road again. My hamstrings were still killing me and I saw a medical tent about 1/2 a mile down the road so I stopped by to see if they could help me out. They massaged out my hamstrings and stretched me out for about 6 minutes. I saw a ton of people go by, but I wasn’t really concerned with time anymore and I just wanted to be able to finish without having to walk most of the last 4 miles. My legs weren’t really feeling too much better so they rubbed a bunch of icy hot on my hamstrings and that did the trick. The pain was gone and so I took off again and I figured with all the rest I had gotten in the past mile, I could probably knock out the last 4 miles in 25 – 26 minutes and pass a bunch of the people that had gone by me.
I passed mile 22 and made it about a 1/4 of a mile and then my stomach had other ideas. I started puking again and cleaned out my stomach. I didn’t have any energy gels left or Gatorade with me which was probably a good thing at this point. My hamstrings were feeling good so I started up again and made it to the next water stop at mile 23. I decided to drink mostly water and I would stop and walk through the water stop instead of running through since my time was shot. I really wasn’t even looking at my watch anymore at this point. I made it to the finish without any other issues and crossed the line in 3:03:20. I was 16 minutes off my time from last year and I was kind of disappointed I didn’t break three hours, but I was relieved to be finished. I figured that with throwing up a couple of times and having about 10 minutes worth of stops to deal with my tight and cramping hamstrings, I was ok with just finishing. I checked my Garmin after the race and I was able to stay under 7:00 pace the entire race where I was actually running and not stopped for some reason or another.
Here’s a few key things that I learned. I really need to back off on my goal pace when it is warm. I think my biggest problem was that I was drinking too much extra Gatorade because I was concerned about losing electrolytes. The Gatorade and energy gels didn’t agree with my stomach and it was all downhill from there. If I drank water instead of Gatorade at most of the water stops, I might have been ok. I think all of the sugar and electrolytes from the Gatorade and energy gels upset my stomach. I think I was getting too much fluid in my stomach. I don't think I would have cramped up or started getting dehydrated if I hadn't thrown up. During my training runs, I would go at least 3 miles between water stops and I was getting something every mile and a half. I think I am also going to try to experiment with the clif shot blocks instead of a gel on my training runs and see how that goes. I’ve never had stomach issues or problems on the shorter races. I’m running Boston in April so hopefully I will get things sorted out by then so I can challenge Ryan Hall for the title or at least go under 2:45.