I find running a marathon to be a lot like eating at Pizza Hut. Every so often I crave it. Midway through I realize what a terrible decision I made. I finish out of shear stubbornness. Afterwards I vow to never do it again.
The marathon is a harsh mistress. Of the six previous marathons I have completed I would say two were good, two were mediocre, two were awful, and all were painful. I hoped this year’s Illinois Marathon would be good. But we don’t always get what we want.
Last year I ran the Illinois Marathon and it didn’t exactly go according to plan. Six weeks later (and with a completely different outlook) I ran much better at the Rockford Marathon where I set my marathon PR of 3h09m. I then promptly spent most of the summer recovering from a knee injury. In August I reset and started over from scratch. I trained and raced well throughout the fall and winter, and by spring I was looking to run another marathon PR. My marathon training went very well. I was prepared.
The race day forecast called for rain (which didn’t particularly bother me) and relatively high temperatures (which did bother me). I awoke on race morning to wet roads, muggy air, overcast skies, and a temperature of 64˚F… which at 5:30 AM was already too hot for running a marathon.
When the race began at 7:30 AM the humidity was 93%. After one mile of easy running I was drenched with sweat. I looked at my watch at the one mile mark, expecting to see a heart rate in the low 140’s. It read 162. The good news was that my perceived exertion was pretty low. The bad news was that either my heart rate monitor wasn’t working or the extreme humidity was having the effect on me I knew in the back of my mind it would. I chose to believe my heart rate monitor was broken and I cruised on.
Aside from the massive sweating, the early miles were really very easy. I ran much of the way with the 3:10 pace group. I ate and drank reguarly. At no point was I running hard… I could comfortably breath through my nose the entire time (though I didn’t). The clouds disappeared, the sun came out, the temperature soared into the mid-to-upper-70’s. Now, not only was it ridiculously humid, the sun was beating me into submission. Around the halfway point I started to feel terrible. Really terrible.
I wasn’t dehydrated, I had been drinking frequently. I wasn’t lacking energy, I had been eating regularly. I wasn’t lacking fitness, my training went superbly and both my long and short runs had been right where they needed to be. I wasn’t tired, I stayed fairly disciplined in my 2-3 week taper prior to the race. I wasn’t running too fast, I was absolutely certain I could maintain the current 7:10-7:15 minute per mile pace for much longer than I had. I just felt terrible. The combination of the heat and humidity was simply more than I could handle.
I desperately wanted to quit. I’m still not exactly sure why I didn’t. As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I guess I just don’t like seeing a DNF next to my name in the results. Of maybe 150 or so races I’ve done in my life I can only think of one I didn’t finish, and that was a triathlon where I got two flat tires on the bike.
I slowed down to around 8 minutes per mile, knowing the slower pace would be the only way I could finish. Then at mile 17 I just started walking. I needed to collect myself. About a quarter of a mile later I began running again, just a little over 8 minute per mile pace. I stopped at each aid station (one every mile or two) and walked through it while I drank vast quantities of water and gatorade. Then after I gulped down the liquids I ran on to the next aid station.
After the 20 mile mark, where most runners (including me) typically fade away, I actually started to come back to life. I had already hit rock bottom and I had nowhere else to go but up. I still walked through the aid stations, but I was able to run slightly faster between them. Finally, after reaching the top of the hill on Armory street, less than two miles from the finish, on streets I have covered dozens of times before, I picked it up. I ran the final miles around 7:30 pace. It was the first time in the race when I actually felt like I was running hard. It hurt.
I finished in 3h28m, even slower than last year when I thought I had a bad race. But whatever, I finished marathon #7. Looking at the results today I noticed the average finishing times seemed to be around 15-20 minutes slower than last year. Talking to and hearing from many other runners, I don’t think anyone had a good race. The conditions were just too poor.
So now I’m sore all over, sunburned like crazy (I chose not to wear sunscreen due to the supposed likelihood of rain which somehow never materialized), and a bit disappointed. If this were last year I would vow to run another marathon to redeem myself. But this isn’t last year. And I’m not going to run another marathon to redeem myself. And I’m never going to eat at Pizza Hut again. Until I do.
Many thanks to my parents for watching Will while both Melissa and I ran the marathon.