Okay, so that’s over with… I had 3 goals that I wanted to reach. First, I wanted to finish; secondly, I wanted to beat 4 hours and lastly, I wanted to reach 3:30:00. I guess when you are trying to overcome the challenge that is a marathon, reaching at least one of your goals is most important. I FINISHED! I was slower than some, faster than most, but I did not beat 4 hours. At 4:13:35, I was the 665th finisher of the 2,420 that started the race. 612 runners did not finish and I did beat about 60 marathon relay teams! The average time of the finishers was 4:30:15, so I was faster than average. I never walked and the only time I cried was when I had a moment alone after I finished. All in all, a great day!
I got to sleep around 11:00pm on Friday night after the big pasta feed. We heard from the first woman to ever officially run the Boston Marathon back in 1967. She even greeted almost everyone when they came across the finish line. I was supposed to get up at 5 to make the pancakes, but I was so excited that I woke up at 4 to get eth breakfast rolling. Weather had just come through and I was a little unsure of how to dress for the race, so I just took the long sleeve tech shirt they gave us at the registration (probably not the best idea for my approach, but hey I made a number of mistakes during the day). Anyway, I got to the race at about 6:30 (an hour before schedule) feeling very pumped up. I cranked up my iPod while I stretched and then checked it in with the rest of my stuff (I wanted to run “Old School”, with no tunes) at about 7:10 and then I walked up to where my 4 hour pace group was standing. We all did a little chatting and waited for the race to start.
The gun went off at about 7:40 and since the Half Marathoners were starting with us, it took about a minute and a half to actually cross the start line. At about the 1 mile mark, it seemed that the race was going to settle into a good rhythm. I saw an old friend from over 20 years ago; which was amazing in its own right. With over 10,000 runners starting out, I guess the odds of seeing him were 1 in 10,000! We were both shooting for the same time so we ran together as best we could. Now I am at the 2 mile point in the race and I realize that the long sleeve shirt is not the right call. I am sweating like crazy because of the humidity and that means a lot more use of the water and Gatorade tables. It does help to cool me off when the wind blows, but I probably got fatigued more quickly than I otherwise would have. By checking my watch, I am clicking of the miles at about a 9 minute pace, which is just where I want to be. At 55:28 for the first 10 K, everything is feeling pretty good and now we have already gone the furthest East on the course. On to the next 6.9 miles to the half-way point!
Mile 9 and weaves through Meadowbrook Park and there are a couple of good bands playing (one rock and roll on the way into the park and a dixieland band on the way out). I see the first severe casualty on the course. One guy experienced the terrible too’s (too fast, too hot, too soon) and passed out, He was put on the crash board and had oxygen strapped to him and was being driven out of the park by EMT’s. To have that happen so early in the race was a wake up call for me; especially since I’m already over dressed for the weather. We come out of the park and get our first hand out of energy gels. At this station, they had strawberry banana and vanilla bean. Let me say one thing… STAY AWAY FROM VANILLA BEAN ENERGY GU GELS WHEN IT IS HOT OUT UNLESS YOU WANT TO PUKE ON THE ROAD! It was just not a good thing for me. Now we head back north into town and we have been the furthest south on the course and I am still feeling pretty good. At mile 11.5, we lose the half-marathoners as they head back into the Stadium and we (about a third of what we had) head back to Green Street, through campus again. The half marathon timing spot comes up before I thought it would, so I feel really good about that; especially since I am at the half-way point in 1:59:01. Everything is still looking pretty good for a good pace. Now, off to “no-man’s land” – miles 15-20.
Downtown Champaign is moving along and the Elvis impersonator is doing his thing, a little behind the tempo for “Hound Dog”, but nice, nonetheless. Coming up to West Side Park, I see the 4:00:00 pace leader moving out from me and I appreciate the road shower to help cool down. There are a couple of these on the course and they are a God-send. Now this part of the course is one that I train on regularly and so I still feel pretty good. Get another Gel at Eisner Park, but I can start to feel my pace suffer a little bit. Coming back up University Avenue, with the field thinning out, the race starts its transformation to a group effort to a personal challenge, now. Mentally, I am a little down, but I also know that at this point, I will finish. I thought that Maynard Lake was going to be the worst spot, and it was from a pace standpoint, but I think the toughest spot for me mentally was John Street to Centennial Park. I was pacing with a guy who apparently had a lot of friends on the route because a lot of folks were cheering him on and I tell you, when people cheer for one and not others, it is definitely not a lift. I got over though when I started chasing a pair of French Braids in tight shorts. I thought when I hit 20 miles and only had 10K to go, that I would feel exhilarated, but no such luck. I get here in 3:06:14 and there still is a very outside chance that I beat 4 hours, but my last two miles are at or more than 10 minutes.
The rest of the run down in Southwest Champaign is fun. While pace is slow, the fans are good. Two tables along the way are offering beer to runners. I laugh, but am not tempted too much. It took a little while to get to Mile 23 and now I am back in my old training loops. Our version of “Heartbreak Hill” is along the north side of the Champaign Country Club and we start losing a lot of runners to walking. I WILL NOT WALK! I WILL NOT WALK! That is my mantra throughout the climb and when I finally make the turn at Hessel Boulevard, I know that it is almost over. I do not have the speed I hoped I would, but I pick up the pace by about 30 seconds per mile over the last 1.5-2.0 miles.
The crowd over the last 385 yards is great as they line the chute and cheer us on. I try to sprint once I get up the driveway to the stadium and onto the field. The Astroturf feels pretty good as I keep going to the final finish. The speaker from the Boston Marathon greets each finisher and that feels great. I get my medal and I am overcome with a rush of emotions. I find the folks and greet them and get some pictures.
I then go get a banana and my gear (I can’t believe they made us walk up the stadium steps to get to where the food was) and when I then I find a quiet space and I actually weep for about 20 seconds. I am fully spent, happy, disappointed with the time, but feel a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It is at this time that I see someone in dehydration tremors being carted out by EMT’s. I am incredibly thankful for the opportunity to run the marathon and for today, even maybe for a little while longer, I will feel like I am in a select group. It’s not everybody who can complete this challenge. I am pleased that I completed it and it gives me confidence to attack other things in life because I have been on Champaign’s Heartbreak Hill and I did not stop. When my pace started falling off, I did not stop just because I was not going to beat 4 hours; I adjusted my expectations and kept on going. I kept on going and I was able to show myself that when it got really tough that I could not and would not turn to anyone else. This day, this event, was about me. Nobody was going to help me when I felt like quitting. I feel great about it, all the training in the rain, sleet, snow, heat and incredible cold. I learned a lot about training and myself. I am looking forward to the Portland Marathon this October (running with some friends there) and I am pretty sure I will run this one again. Thanks for all of your good wishes and support.