We did it! Meg and I actually finished the 2015 Bend Marathon. It took 5 hours and 12 minutes - about 13 minutes longer than we were hoping, but it’s hard to care about that when we’ve just run a freaking marathon.
I’m pretty sure this wasn’t just your usual marathon, either. The course was pure insanity: steep hills in the beginning, a long gradual uphill slog in the middle, and even an uphill finish. Add to that the fact that I usually train at sea level - and the race started at 3500 feet - and I’m psyched I didn’t pass out from lack of oxygen.
I didn’t post much about marathon training, so this is my wrap-up of training-related and race-related thoughts. I’m guessing Meg will have a lot to add!
Training was actually really fun. It was a mix of shorter weekday runs, ranging from 3 to 10 miles, and longer weekend runs ranging from 7 to 21 miles. The weekday runs were mostly during work, resulting in some pretty long lunches. Fortunately, I have a supportive boss who is all about “I don’t care how long you’re gone as long as your work gets done.” This was hugely valuable, because I really don’t think I would have been quite so consistent with my training if I had had to run at 5am or 8pm.
I had some “bad” long runs (I’m looking at you, 16-miler) and some surprisingly good ones. Fueling during runs was the most important thing - I learned that I need to eat about every 30-40 minutes if I’m going to be out there for more than 90 minutes or so. Starting out hydrated was key, so by the last few weeks I was chugging water on Saturday mornings. Most important on the weekends was the support of my awesome wife, who handled a lot of solo toddler duty and didn’t raise an eyebrow at the quantity of potatoes I consumed before each long run.
It was awesome getting to do this with my sister. Meg often said she wouldn’t be doing this if it weren’t for me - I did have to convince her to join me in this craziness - but she totally committed, joined a training group, and really helped keep me on track. Neither of us wanted to fall too far behind the other, which I think made it easy to stick with the plan. Also, the few training runs we got to do together (the half marathon, the 19 miler in March) were SO FUN. It’s amazing how much faster long runs fly by when you’re chatting the whole time.
“Racing” is a funny way to put this, because I wasn’t trying to beat anyone. I hadn’t done a marathon before, so I didn’t even have a PR to beat, but we were trying to make it in 4:59:59. About halfway in, I figured out we probably wouldn’t make it. I wasn’t looking at our pace, but I knew I felt like garbage. I had prepared for the long uphill slog (and back down) from mile 11 to 20, but I didn’t expect to have to tackle so many hills in the first 10 miles, and went into the slog already feeling pretty weak. Then, like a little evil gift, the course presented us with another steep hill at mile 20. Fun times. Somewhere on yet another hill around mile 22, a nice person had written “this is the last hill” in sidewalk chalk. I got a boost from that and was psyched to let gravity take over. Well, that person LIED - or simply didn’t bother walking over to mile 22.5 or so. By that time, Meg and I had acknowledged we weren’t going to beat 5 hours, so we relaxed a bit and just concentrated on finishing.
Despite the many hill sessions I did in training, nothing prepared me for running these hills at elevation and so relentlessly. We went out too fast (of course), but that didn’t last long, and I don’t think that slowing down the first few miles would have made much of a difference at the end.
One scary moment came at about mile 25 when we ran past a local running store. The store had staff outside cheering us on, and I got a little teary-eyed knowing that the end was near and that we’d survived. Feeling choked up was apparently enough to knock me out of whatever breathing rhythm I had settled into, and I found myself literally gasping for air for about 10 seconds - an eternity - before getting back in control. For the next mile, I just had to convince myself not to cry at the finish - mainly because I figured I wouldn’t get to drink my post-race beer if I got carted off in an ambulance.
My adorable family was waiting when we got there, and Meg and I got to finish surrounded by our kiddos, spouses, and parents. Perfect!
Things I learned along the way:
- I was hungry nonstop during marathon training. Fortunately, I burned calories like crazy, so I got away with eating like a professional football player. Despite my hunger, it was easy to forget to eat during runs, and that was my kryptonite.
- My wife is the most supportive, awesome partner a gal could have. I’m the luckiest person in the world.
- It’s true what they say about setting healthy examples for our kids. My 2.5 year old often said he wanted to “run with momma,” which makes me so happy. We may get him into a kids’ fun run this summer.
- I miss doing other activities - dancing, swimming, especially hiking - but I really do love running. I can’t wait to plan my next marathon - this time at sea level!
- Despite feeling terrible during the last few miles of the race, I recovered extremely quickly compared to what I’d heard I should expect. I was stiff and loopy for the rest of marathon day (pretty sure Meg and I were about to get cut off by the bartender after one glass of wine that evening), and a bit sore the next day, but 3 days later I’m ready to run again and feeling good.
- I have apparently and inadvertently trained by body to crave IPA when I finish a long run. I can’t eat any real food for a while, but I immediately want a beer. The fact that there’s always beer at the end of a race tells me this is totally normal.
Perhaps the most important - and obvious - lesson from this experience is that goals that seem impossible and crazy are often totally possible and absolutely attainable. Running 26.2 miles in a row seemed like a lot in the beginning, but by the time I reached the starting line, I had built up to a 21-mile long run, commuted to work by running several times, and averaged more than 30 miles of running a week. Looking back, these were reasonable, incremental steps - but looking forward, they seemed like giant leaps. I plan to remember that when I set out to tackle other seemingly impossible goals.
That’s all folks! I’m just really grateful to have done it. I’m actually a little sad it’s over, but glad I can check the box on this life goal. I’m psyched I got to do this big thing with my sister - even though we live in different towns and both have crazy lives, we managed to make it happen. I was sure glad to have my sister there during some of those really hard moments toward the end of the race - normal people stop running when they feel like they’re going to puke or cry or pass out, but having my race buddy/BFF/sister along with me kept me going.
Now I just have to decide what to do next. Somehow, I don’t think Meg will join me for an ultramarathon...