“Instead of spanks, I got kilometers” – Terry Higgins on running a marathon (42.2 kilometers) on his 42nd birthday
I wasn’t sure what to expect for the Inaugural 2013 Darlington Marathon. The 2 things that I really knew was that is was a Venue Race (meaning there was a significant location for the finish line) and that it would be on my birthday. When it was announced that it would be run on my birthday, I was thinking that I had never run a race on my birthday and how cool would it be to do it. I had ran Big South Fork 17.5 mile Trail Race a couple of times around my birthday because it falls around my birthday weekend, but had never done it.
The marathon would be run in Darlington, SC with the finish inside the Darlington Raceway. Darlington, SC is located about an hour away from My Lovely and Talented Wife’s hometown of Loris, SC making it somewhat convenient on the traveling aspect. And as it happened, the marathon was one part of our trip to South Carolina. We drove to Loris on Thursday and then backtracked to Darlington on Friday afternoon. The Boys decided to stay in Loris (we did offer a choice) so they could spend time with their cousins.
It turned out that we would be able to see my long time friend “Like the color” Gray, who was the person to introduce me to running races way back in 1998. We figured out that it had been a very unacceptable 7 years since we had seen each other at his wedding. Not by choice, but circumstances, we had been unable to meet up. His boy was 22 months old for crying out loud! But he was willing to bring Son of Gray with him on a 2 hr road trip (start’em early) to hang out with us. Not only was it incredibly good to see him and meet Son of Gray, but someone recognized him in the lobby of the hotel from his home area. This person turned out to be my transportation to Race Start, allowing Jen to sleep in and not haul me off to the Raceway early in the morning.
After a delightful dinner, we headed back to the hotel and I got all my pre-race stuff out and lined up for the morning. I pre-pinned my GUs that I had accumulated from previous races onto my shorts. I used Rock Tape on both my hamstrings and quads. 2 weeks prior, I had done something which made my right hamstring really tight. I lost a lot of flexibility (not that I much to begin with) and even chose not to run my last long runs because I didn’t want to perpetuate the injury. Thankfully, earlier in the week, my leg had beginning to feel better and I had even ran on it on Wednesday without any issue. However, I wanted the extra precaution and taped my quads.
Waking up early, to assure that I wouldn’t oversleep, I finished getting the rest of my gear on and listened to some music while cutting pre-race apples to eat. With food in my belly, I grabbed my 2 water bottles that I would carry during the race and headed down to catch my ride. I’m thankful for Jamie for bringing me to race start even if the GPS wasn’t all that helpful, we figured it out. She kept apologizing for getting turned around, but it was all good. Darlington isn’t that big enough to get lost, the raceway was a huge blazing beacon in the predawn morning and I have been late to races before (walking to a start line during the National Anthem – Yes, I’m a unAmerican bastard for doing that; Starting another race 26 minutes after actual race start because I was setting up the course).
We made it, with loads of time to spare. I headed up to packet pick up to discover that I was actually a 42 year old Female! Clerical error, trust me. They marked down that I was indeed a Male and promised they would fix it later. Again, not worried. I didn’t see anyone that I personally recognized in the half hour or so leading up to race start. I did managed to find the Marathon Maniacs and made it to the pre-race group photo. One of the Maniacs, Steve Hughes, was running his 300th Marathon at the Darlington Marathon and not only gave him the #300 bib, but to celebrate his achievement, there was a 10 foot x 20 foot, yes, I said “foot”, banner with his picture hanging from a fire truck boom at race start.
Frequent bathroom trips are a good sign that you are well hydrated. In the 30-40 minutes arriving at the Raceway and the actual race start, I had to use the bathroom twice. The Race Start was across the street from the Raceway and because there were 4 different race distances (Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k, and 5k) we were segregated into 2 groups with the Full and Half starting first.
The National Anthem was played and then a prayer before they fired the gun to start the race. The entire race was run on Darlington roads, except for the last approximately 2 miles which was in the Raceway. Thankfully, the Darlington course is flat except for right when you enter the Raceway, the tunnel has a short but steep hill to it.
Miles 1 – 2
It didn’t take long for the runners to space out enough to not be congested which was nice. This way we could get into a rhythm for the race. My mile 1 split time was 9:23 which seemed to feel okay. It wasn’t too much off my original pace of a sub-4 (9:10 min/mile) or even the adjusted pace of a PR time. I could live with this pace, if my body could. I had estimated before the race, so Jen would know when to meet me, that I would finish somewhere between 4:30 and 5:00. I wasn’t sure how the lack of training would affect my performance in combination with the forecast of no clouds.
The first 24 miles of the course itself was shaped like a racetrack. It was one big, loop. We were now on what would be called the back straightaway and it was pretty straight and ‘away’ from civilization. I had run countless races on the back roads of East Tennessee, so the back roads of South Carolina was fine with me. There was lots and lots of cotton. Darlington is not a race with lots of cheering spectators. The back roads had encouraging volunteers at the couple of water stops and the police monitors were encouraging. One of them was even asking where people were from which was something new to me.
Because the weather forecast was calling for NO clouds, with a high around 79F, I decided to carry 2 water bottles with me. I use recycled 24oz Gatorade bottles that have the ergonomic grip. Not only could you throw it like a grenade, but it holds a good amount of water and has a twist opening spout making it easy to drink while running. In all 4 of my marathons in 2012, I had one of these bottles, but today I brought 2. My intention was to toss the first one when it was empty and then hang on to other one for the rest of the race. This turned out to me a good plan for me. It wasn’t too awkward to carry to bottles as they balance each other, but carrying that extra water does give the arms extra exercise.
The back straightaway had large patches of shade that we could run in as the sun had not yet risen high in the sky yet. The temperature wasn’t too warm, it had been around 64ish at Race Start, but the cool temp, the shade and calm wind wouldn’t last forever.
Just after the turn off the back straightaway, one runner commented that it must be more difficult to carry the water bottle the entire distance. I told her that being able to have water at my disposal in the latter part of the race was well worth it. We started talking and turns out that she was a Graduate student from Florida State majoring in Nutrition. We talked for almost 3 miles about this and that. We passed an ambulance who was helping a fellow runner, not sure what was the problem, but the runner was upright and moving, so hopefully nothing serious.
At the water stop near Mile 15, I was back to running alone. What was different for a smaller race, there were runners always not too far away from me. Sometimes at smaller races there might be times you are all alone, perhaps this was because stretches of the race course was straight, so you could see well ahead of you.
Somewhere around Mile 16, I was passed by a Marathon Maniac, and shouted an encouraging word to my running brethren. We started talking and turns out that it was Edward Broadneaux, a 10 star (Titanium level) Maniac. Click here to see the requirements for the Maniacs, I’m just a 1 star (I haven’t been able to schedule marathons in a way to get more stars – I might just have to make my own Race Series, hmmmm). So, in two races this year, I have ran with Titanium level Maniacs, the first being at the 2013 Knoxville Marathon where I ran the Half Marathon with the 6:00 pacer Wayne “The Manimal” Sherman.
Mile 17 – 24ish
At the Water Stop around Mile 17, they had food, glorious food. By now, the sun had been beating down on me for sometime and not only was I thirsty but also hungry. Eyeballing the buffet, I grabbed a banana, an orange slice, some Life Savor gummies and some Circus Peanuts. I could not shove the Life Saver gummies in my mouth fast enough. The Circus Peanuts were a new food to me, or rather, they were a new “Sugar Delivery Matrix” for me and was thankful for the extra energy.
Mentally, I never hit “The Wall”, my longest run had been 18 miles on Aug 22nd and at Mile 18 in the race, I was still okay. I was still thinking on how I could manage the race with the fastest time possible. I was estimating that would finish well before 5 hours and much closer to the 4:30 hour finishing time. I had abandoned the 4:15 finishing time that I had been on pace for at the first part of the race.
The water stops on the last leg back to the Speedway were about every mile or so. My plan was to eat as often as I could, primarily fruit but an occasional Circus Peanut (didn’t want a sugar crash just a sugar boost) and fill up my bottle with water at every stop. Instead of running a prescribed run/walk interval as in the Galloway Method, I decided to run as long as I felt good, but then would walk for a minute regardless of how much I ran. I had one interval of 4 minute running and 1 minute walking but then there was another that was 8 minutes running and 1 minute walking. As I got closer to the Raceway, I was able to endure a little longer running.
A new challenge presented itself on this long straightaway back to the raceway… a headwind. As we headed back to the Raceway, there was a relentless headwind that was only around 5 miles per hour or so for me, but got stronger over the course of the day. I know that when I finished, it was probably closer to 8-10 miles per hour for those still on the course. So, not only was the sun beating down on us, but also a headwind.
Miles 24ish — Finish
Being able to see the Raceway was nice because you knew that you were getting closer to the finish line, the only problem that on a flat course, you see it for a long time. At this point, I figured that I could finish before 4:30 minutes, if my wheels didn’t come off. I was feeling pretty good, I was getting excited about being in the Raceway and I was excited about finishing. I was a little worried because I didn’t know how the finish line was configured, if and when I would be able to see Jen. Would she be up in the stands, far away or would she be closer? Each race has their own rules and some are stricter than other (usually because they have to).
Just outside of the Raceway was a “Happy Birthday Terry” sign that they had made for me. It pumped me up as I approached the tunnel to enter the Raceway. The tunnel dips down and then there is a fairly steep incline to come into the stadium. Cruel to have a hill that far in the marathon on a flat course, but I’m from East Tennessee… I love me some hills. “Pass the Milk, I’m eating this Hill for Breakfast!!”. I surged up the hill passing two runners. The visual is that at the bottom of the hill, you can’t see anything in the Raceway and you are in the shade, so as you start to crest the hill, a small portion of the Raceway is exposed and it gets a little brighter. Then as you crest, you see the entire Raceway in all its glory.
In my verbal recaps of the Darlington Marathon, you can tell that when I get to being inside the Raceway that I am giddy as a schoolboy. It was an awesome experience. You get to experience roughly 2 miles inside the Raceway with almost 1 mile of it On.The.Track! My only other comparison to finishing inside a venue is that of the Knoxville Marathon where you run into Neyland Stadium and have about 50 yards on the field to the Finish Line. Way cool, but not a lot of time to take in the atmosphere.
Now inside of the Raceway, I began to do my Finish Line procedure. I start to take inventory of how I feel, what I have left in my legs, my possible finishing time and I look to see the runners ahead of me and see if I might be able to pass them. There wasn’t a whole lot in my legs left, but mentally I was all business… I was going to finish in under 4:30 and I was going to pass people.
I decided that there were no more water stops and that my water bottle was essentially empty, I would toss it. I didn’t want to carry it to the finish line, I had plans for the finish line and I needed both hands free. In the infield of the Raceway, we turned to the right toward the finish line and I was able to see the finish line configuration. Still in the infield, we turned again to run parallel to track where I could scan the finish line. Low and behold, I saw Jen and yelled, “JEN, JEN!” to get her attention. She heard me over the music blaring in the Raceway and she managed to get a picture of me on another banner that the Race Crew had made for me!
We then turned around another corner which put us on Pit Road, again passing the finishline. As I passed Jen again, I gave her my finish line plan in a loud and obnoxious voice, “I feel pretty good and I’m GONNA COME IN HOT!”. Thankfully, she translated my fatigued speech of “I’m going to run fast at the end” as I head out onto the race way.
I lost track of the mile markers, so I have no idea of long it took me to run Mile 25, but I can tell you that I ran longer than a mile. Once on the track, I was wide-eyed and had a goofy grin on my face. I was on a race track where cars raced at high speed, bumping and grinding and here I was… racing on the same track. I imagined the stands filled with screaming fans, cheering on #42!
There were 2 runners right ahead of me, who had ran up part of the bank on Turns 1 and 2, and I thought to myself, I’m not going to miss the opportunity to experience the full glory of the Raceway. So I ran across the Raceway and I #TouchedTheWall of Turn 2! Wow, the bank on Raceway is pretty steep, I had just surged up the incline to touch the wall, but coming down I had to be careful not to fall over and roll down the track.
Other runners were running down by the infield where it was flat. Again, I wasn’t going to miss running ON the speedway, so on the back straightaway, I made sure that I was right of the Yellow Line, and proceeded to pretend I was a race car. Passing the press box, I was in my own race making my own sound effects and everything (of course, I was the lead car in the final straightaway).
As I approached Turn 3 there was another runner down by the infield. Since I was up on the track, he was pretty far ahead of me and I wasn’t sure if I would be able to pass him but he was targeted. I made my plan, coming off Turn 3, I would cut Turn 4 a little short and aim back toward the Finish Line. I would give my legs on last walking break and start to increase speed preparing for the finish. Then at the start of the black on the Track where corporate logos were painted, I would go all out and give the Fast Finish Kick.
About 20 feet from the black, I started to pick up speed, but then disaster struck, first my left calf and then my right calf cramped.
“NO, NO, NO,” I said out loud to myself as panic started to set in. I could see the runner ahead of me, still running slowly moving away from me. I had to go back to walking so that I literally didn’t collapse on the Raceway. In what was probably 2 seconds, thought it felt like 10, I tried to think of what I could do? Stopping to stretch was the best idea, but would take the longest and while I would still probably finish under 4:30, I wouldn’t be able to catch that runner. Then, thinking quickly, I pulled out a pack of Clif Blox that I still had tucked in my shorts. I ripped the package open and shoved 3 of them in my mouth. This was going to have to do, there was no more time. There were 3 scenarios that could happen, 1. I would kick and beat the runner, 2. I would kick, the runner would hear me and accelerate thus staying ahead of me, 3. My legs would cramp again and I would go face first on the asphalt.
The third option would have been a story-teller, as it probably would have had Medical Crews to run out onto the track like in NASCAR wrecks. But it would turn out that #1 would make a great finish line video. Jen was able to capture my finish on video starting just before I hit the Black on the track. I’ve embedded the video to this post, Jen has some back story to taking the video which adds to the experience. From my point of view, once I hit the Black, it was all eyes on the checkerboards at the finish line. I didn’t feel any twinge in my calves as I was making my way to the finish line. I could hear Curtis, the race director, talking in the bull horn, but I wasn’t sure if I could beat that runner. I didn’t realize how close it was to the finish line when I actually passed him, maybe 10 feet. This was no fun run, it was a race… place mattered (to me).
In the last few steps of the race, I threw up my hands with the numbers 4 and 2, in hopes that a finish line photo might capture it. You can’t quite make it out in the video. I’ve had a wide range of finish line photos… Goofy (2006 Knoxville marathon) to Horrible (2012 Chickamauga Marathon) but wanted add to the 42 spirit of the day. Maybe from now on, I’ll throw up the number of that marathon, so this would mean that 2013 Flying Monkey Marathon will be #22 marathon and so the finish line hands would be the V for Victory… appropriate.
Thirsty and sore and so glad that Jen was right there, I wanted some water, some food and some place to sit. Unfortunately, the finishers of the other races ate a good portion of the food, but there were some potato chips that I could eat, plus Jen had brought some food with her. It is amazing at what you are willing to eat during and after a marathon, stuff you’d normal just push to the side. Jen was such big help at the finish line, she was able to get me to sit down so I could regroup. She had brought The Stick which was the saving grace to a fellow, first-time marathoner who was experiencing debilitating soreness.
I thought the race, especially for being the inaugural one, was well organized. The course was well supported and flat. There were few spectators out on the course, save the awesome volunteers providing food and drinks. Finishing in the Darlington Raceway and getting to experience running on the track itself was an amazing experience. The biggest problem was the weather, the cloudless sunny day and the wind. These things are out of control of the Race, so you get what you get. I’ve been asked if I would run it again, and my answer is “Yes!” If I had gotten in all of training and not have gotten injured twice during training, I would have PR’ed and may have even gotten sub 4 hours.
So with Darlington finished, the next race on the docket is the Flying Monkey Marathon, set for November 24th. This year’s theme is [cue Theme from Superman (Main Title)] “Faster than a Flying Banana”.