After the seed was first planted about a year ago, everything finally came together so that I could run my first marathon. There have been lots of obstacles along the way, the biggest being a recurring calf injury that first struck a week before my first planned marathon attempt, back in May. I took three weeks off of running after that initial setback but it had come back to interrupt my training plans two or three more times since then, requiring one or two week gaps without being able to run, or several days of reduced mileage.
Besides the threat of injury, I also wanted to maintain my cycling proficiency and do my usual handful of races, several centuries, regular group rides, and my traditional big goal of the year, the Highlander Cycle tour.
There is no need to go into the day-by-day recount here, but I’ll summarize by saying my marathon training buildup and taper deviated significantly from what I planned. That said, I did get myself to the start line this past Sunday morning, ready to give it a go. Here’s how it played out:
We drove up to Corning on Saturday morning after I ran one last 2.2 miler to loosen up the legs. As I got my things together on Saturday night in preparation for race day, I decided to go for a 4 hr 15 min race goal, which is 9:44 pace. The Wineglass was offering pacing this year and I figured I would start out with the 9:44 group and see how I felt. If it was too much, I could drop back with the 10:18 pace group (4 hr 30 min marathon time). The weather report was calling for morning temperature of 39F, with 30% chance of showers, so I elected to start off wearing cap and gloves, three layers on top (short sleeve thin base, long sleeve base, sleeveless shirt with my number pinned on. Just the old regular running shorts, socks, and Nikes.
On race day, I got up at 5:00 AM, got dressed and had breakfast of oatmeal, banana, and coffee. Linda gave me a ride down to Main Street and dropped me off around 6:15. I hopped on one of the waiting school buses that were transporting runners from Corning to the race start in Bath. We were there in 30 minutes, plenty of time before the 8:00 AM start. I hydrated with a bottle of water, then a bottle of sports drink, visited the porta-potty, peeled off my sweats, dropped off my bag in the truck to take it back to Corning, and headed to the start area with about 10 minutes to spare. I was so happy to see Linda and the girls there! They drove over from Corning to see me start, and it really meant a lot to see them there. I found the 9:44 pace group, picked a spot in the crowd and waited to go.
We started off at 8:00 and there were the usual hesitations up to the start line before we could actually start running. I was relieved that the pace was very comfortable and I felt like I was off to a good start. After a couple of miles, I was warmed up and the early cold temperatures were no issue at all. By mile 4, we were at our second water station and headed up the first of two short hills on the course. I was making a point of grabbing a cup of water or Gatorade (or both) at every water station as the last thing I wanted was to dehydrate and cramp up. Our pacer advised that we would “fast walk” through the water stations so everyone would have a chance to hydrate and easily get back with the group. I saw Linda and the girls there and ditched my gloves.
The first few miles were going fast with the excitement of actually running my first marathon. The roads were very familiar since I’ve biked over most of them the many times we’ve visited family in Corning and Hammondsport. I think it was around mile 9 when we ran through a huge, enthusiastic crown in Savona. It was really a thrill! I saw Linda and the girls again and handed off my hat. The sun was out now and it was getting a bit warmer. Perfect temps for a long run. Still feeling very comfortable with the pace, no major complaints from my calf, I even carried the pace sign for a mile through some very quiet back roads.
As we approached the halfway point, our pacer found that we were 2 minutes ahead of our target, so she slowed up a bit. I felt good so I kept my pace. Myself, and a few others, drifted off the front. I figured I might as well keep it going while I felt good and that the pace group would certainly catch me back up later. By now, I was really warm and soaked with sweat, so I pulled off my middle long-sleeve layer, and dropped it off with Linda the next time I saw them.
By mile 19, I started feeling some fatigue in the legs and was realizing the farthest I’d ever run was 20 miles, and I was about the hit that point. This was also about the time the pace group caught up to me. This time, when I tried to hang on, it was a struggle. By the time mile 20 rolled by, I was a good 400 yards back from them and I knew the rest of the marathon I’d be on my own. Obviously 4:15 was not going to happen and I set my mind on the fact that I was in “new territory” and just needed to conserve energy to get to the finish. I passed runners in 1’s and 2’s, other runners passed me. Sometimes someone would come by me and a half-mile later I would come back by them as they stopped to walk.
I began to look for the mile markers, “Ok, 5 miles to go, I do that every morning before work, I can make it.” “Four miles to go, okay only another 40 minutes max.” “Three miles, less than a 5K.” And so on. The few spectators must know that the runners are struggling at this point and I constant heard “You’re almost there, you can make it!” My legs were so numb I had to consciously think about picking them up and putting them down. At mile 25, I turned the corner and saw the big glass Corning Incorporated building, and I knew I had it! I pushed as hard as I could but I’m sure that it was no more than a shuffle to anyone watching.
As I came over the footbridge for the final ¼ mile, I spotted my family, then the finish line. With relief, I stepped over it and heard the “chirp” of the electronic timer register my finish. My niece Mia was volunteering and she presented me with my finisher medal and gave me a hug. They handed me a bottle of water and wrapped me in a silver mylar blanket. It was done! Unbelievably, I made it! My legs were like jello, so we found a place to sit, and I forced down a little square of pizza, but I was too drained to eat. Riverside Park was a sea of silver mylar, blue glass discs, and Dri-fit. We sat for a while to soak it all in then slowly got up and made our way to head home for me to shower and have a celebratory lunch. My legs ached like never before but it just proved to myself that I had actually run a marathon.
It was an amazing day!