I can look back now and the signs that my legs were starting to fail was around 14, but didn’t rear their ugly head until 15. And at 15.5, I flagged down one of the biker course support people to request Medical. However, the problem originated starting 2 days before the marathon gun was even fired.
“The marathons that I learned the most from, have been the ones where I have done the worst” – Terry Higgins Mile 4.5 of the 2009 Knoxville Marathon.
Everything seemed right on schedule on Race Morning. I was calm, collected and even early (technically a “little” late) to the race start. The pace group met in the Convention Center where we got our racing flags and last minute instructions. I had everything that I would need during the marathon, plus extra supplies in case I met a needy runner along the way. Needy as in “needs GU” or “needs Food”.
I didn’t have anyone in my group when the gun went off, but in about 0.5 miles, I had a guy who had been running for about 7-8 months and this was his second marathon. He had run St. Judes in December and had a 5:25 finishing time. I should have gotten his name as to try to see how he finished. My pace was slow at first and since we were pacing of guntime, I was about 4 minutes behind at Mile 1 (took me about 1:13 to get to the start line) and there was some congestion at the beginning.
I chatted with the guy for the first few miles and found out that he had “learned” from his first marathon and he was being smart this one. Unfortunately, he picked up the wrong pacer! He did have an athletic background, so the lack of a base (6-8 months running) and the fact that he was his second marathon with the intent to actually improve his running was something that I enjoyed. I was able to give him race tips and pointers that you can only get while running with me. By mile 5, I had found a very comfortable pace of 10:55 and had shortened the time that I was behind to just 4 minutes. Even the hills at that pace were easy.
We made it to the half, still with just a 2 minute deficit, something that would easily be filled in Miles 20-24 where the course was gentler on the runner. I had been having the sensation to use the bathroom off and on during the last few miles and so I had planned that when we passed the 1/2way mark, I would stop to use the bathroom. I had done a decent job of hydrating as I was still clear at Mile 14. But something wasn’t quite right.
I started back up and my shins were tight. They weren’t shin split tight, but they were something different. Not too much longer and my calves were starting to hurt. As much as I had enjoyed the slight rest at the porta-potty, I was beginning to crave a nice walk. Perhaps at the next water stop? That should be somewhere around here, somewhere soon. It also seemed that everywhere I turned there was another hill. And I know that the way they felt was magnified from what my eyes saw. “How could a hill that size be so hard to climb?”
And with a step or two, I could start to feel some twinges in my lower legs, primarily my calves. I thought to myself, “This isn’t good. I won’t even be able to keep this pace. I think I need to find aid.” Just before the water stop… somewhere around 15ish (I think), I found a wheeled course monitor. I told him my dilemma and what I thought might be the case, withholding that I thought that I would need to DNF at this point. He went off and I hit the water stop.
At this point, I think that I was just about 3 minutes behind on my pace, but it was more difficult to hold the pace without wanting or needing to walk. At one corner, my pace flag flew off the pole and I was relieved that I would have to STOP and go get it. I told the others that were in the group, just 3 to go along. Another runner brought me the flag and I walked while putting in on. It was “enough” time, that I could muster enough energy in the legs to get back on the pace and make sometime back.
If you have never had cramps (in the legs) they totally suck. They usually start with uniform ache and then, without warning, they give out. I have had them 2 or 3 times while playing soccer, and if you are running, you usually just crash to the ground because your legs can hold you up. They are too fatigued. Stretching them gets some of the lactic acid out, and they feel good, but this is short lasted and the more that you do this, the shorter the time. Thankfully, my legs never buckled under my weight while running. Close to mile 18, I saw that the 5:00 pacer was behind me, and I so I conceded that the part was over for me. I took off my singlet and lowered my flag, signaling surrender to Lactate Takeover and Poor Planning.
Just before 19, the Cyclist Course Monitor came back. He told me that he talked with the doctor and that I wouldn’t like the news. Given my condition and the cold due to the wind, I would be best to drop out of the race. My initial assumption had just been confirmed by one of the medical profession. I just had to make it to Mile 21 for the aide support to get back to the stadium to drop off my chip.
He did ask if I wanted any energy gels or anything like that. Basically, it was too late for that, the damage was really done over the last 2-3 days and eating a bunch of stuff now, would really only make my stomach sick and make the rest of run uncomfortable. The only thing that I really wanted was a banana with the Potassium that would help with the cramps. I crossed Mile 20, not exactly sure of my time, but not only was it picked up on the timing system, I did hit my watch. It felt like the longest mile making it to 21.
Since I was in survival mode, I did want I needed to do to make it to the aid station. On the course, I passed the 4:15 and the 4:30 pacer, the latter asking me about my condition (he finished in 4:28). I made it to the aid station and a Fire Department van was called for me. I got back to the stadium only to walk in the back entrance listening to the names of the finishers and seeing them in the mylar blankets with the medals around their necks. I took my chip back and turned it in, telling my story to the guy taking the chip. I declined all water and assistance as I was heading back to my car. In the tunnel, I met up with the 4:15 pacer (who is running Cincinnati in May) and then the 4:30 pacer who had a first timer finish in that 4:28 and told me about his DNF at Nashville on year.
Just as I was typing out my mobile message to Facebook and Planet3rry.com, I hear, “DADDY!!!” It was The Younger with Lola. My Lovely and Talented Wife was near the field with The Elder. I had placed my Race Recover Bag in her car, so it was right there for me, which had a much need sweatshirt and a ProMax Protein Bar. I had wanted to stay to see how the guy from Memphis did, but I didn’t want to see the people finish… so we left. Chalk on up for building Character, Learning a Lesson, and adding one to the “marathon story” list.
And today, I am reaffirmed that my plight out on the course was a problem of not enough to eat and improper carbo-loading before race day. My legs are fine today, except for my Quads, which are sore from what would be typical of a 20 mile training run with lots of hills. I think that someone is trying to tell me to stay off the course for the Marathon and volunteer else where. Out of 5 marathons, 2 of them I didn’t “Finish at the 50”, this year was a DNF and in 2005, it was a DNS (Did not Start) due to Pneumonia earlier in the month and I was a course monitor.