Columbus Marathon Race Report

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Near mile 18 at the Ohio State stadium.

Jeannie and I looked around the expo a bit more, resisting the urge to blow a lot of money on the many running accessories there.  I thought, “We’ll get a good idea of what’s available by looking here, then if we really want it we’ll find it online for less money.   We’ll also resist impulse buying.”  We left there with only spending $5 or so.  We returned to the car, and by this time it was late enough to check into our hotel.  We carried all our suitcases to the room, unpacked a bit, then went to the Easton Center.  We always go to the Easton Center when we’re in Columbus.  We had an early, lighter dinner there.  I carb-loaded with pasta.  Even though Coach Matt says carb-loading is a myth, I like loading with carbs.  When else do you have a really good excuse for eating spaghetti?  It’s a fun myth, and running is all about having fun, right?

Upon returning to our room, we decided what we were going to wear the next morning.  The initial plan was for me to wear a sleeveless shirt.  When we arrived in Columbus however, the temperatures were in the upper 40s with pouring rain.  We had to walk from the parking lot to the expo center, and it was very cold for a light shirt and jacket.  So I started obsessing for the next few hours about what to wear for the race.  Clear skies were in the forecast, so there would be no rain.  That was nice.  The temperature however, was going to be a chilly 37 degrees at 7:30 a.m.  The temps would move through the 40s, possibly hitting 50 by noon.  Jeannie just took it all in stride thinking, “Whatever.  My husband just does this sort of thing.”  At first I thought I could wear the sleeveless shirt with arm warmers, and have a throwaway sweatshirt to shed when I was warm enough to do so.  I’d never done any training with arm warmers though, so I was reluctant.  The long-sleeved compression shirt I had brought would definitely keep me warm enough, but would I get hot and regret having worn it halfway through the race?  I made an initial decision to go with the sleeveless shirt and arm warmers.  I didn’t feel at peace with that choice however, so I changed my mind later and went with the long-sleeved compression top and a throwaway sweatshirt.  Jeannie had decided already on wearing a short sleeved shirt, but then she too changed her mind and went with a long sleeved shirt.  We both brought gloves with us, and there was no question we would need them.  We both agreed after the race that I was right in going with the long sleeved shirt option.  I love it when she says I am right, because usually she is right.  This time however, I definitely made a good call and all the deliberation over making sure I wore warm enough clothing paid off.  Of course, we both wore shorts – it has be very cold for either one of us to do a race in running tights.  It wasn’t that cold.

We went to bed around 10:00 p.m., and both slept well.  I set my alarm for 4:45 a.m., a few minutes before our scheduled wake-up call of 5:00 a.m.  I wanted to make sure I had some coffee and a light breakfast, and allowed sufficient time for bathroom necessities before leaving for the starting corrals.  I also spent time reading Scripture and writing in my prayer journal.  I always do that before running in the morning – it is just part of my routine, and gets me in the right mindset for the rest of the day.  Of course, we prayed together before leaving the room.  We always pray before a big race.  We had to be in the corrals by 7:00 a.m. at the latest, and we were there by 6:30 a.m. or so.

In case you have no idea what a corral is, the larger races split the starters into a number of corrals based on their estimated paces.  Columbus this year had 18,000 runners and walkers, so corrals were definitely needed.  The fastest runners are assigned to corral A, the next fastest to corral B, and so forth.  Columbus had four corrals, A through D.  I was assigned to B, but decided I would start with a slower pace and dropped back to C.  Jeannie was in D, so I kissed her goodbye and we went to our respective areas.  We had to be in the corrals by 7:00 a.m., for security reasons (everything racing-wise has changed since the Boston bombing).  The race didn’t start until 7:30 a.m.  That meant that we all had to stand in our places for a half an hour in 37 degree pre-dawn darkness with a light breeze blowing.  The portable potties were all on the outside of the corral, so that was a problem.  As the race began however, the first corral would start running, and the second corral would walk forward to take their place.  A few minutes later they would start.  By the time my corral reached the starting line, there were port-a-potties just inside the corral barriers.  I was relieved in more ways than one, as were many other runners in my group.  A minute after I stepped out of the port-a-potty, we were told we could start running.

I was hoping to break a 4 hour finish time in this marathon, but knew it would be a challenge to do so.  The Pittsburgh Marathon in the spring was done in 4:45 – the hills of Pittsburgh killed me because all my training had been on the flats.  Surely I could do significantly better on the Columbus course, which is much flatter.  The first mile of this race was slower than I would have liked, because there were just so many people and the streets were crowded with so many spectators.  By mile 2 I was able to speed up to the conservative pace I wanted to keep for the first 10 miles.  I was thinking of Coach Matt’s mantra, “Easy start, strong finish.”  Well, I’m not sure it’s possible to finish a marathon strong, but at least I’d have enough gas to run across the finish line rather than to stagger across it or not to finish at all.  Between miles 2 and 3 I saw a middle-aged runner sidelined by a severe cramp in his leg.  It looked like he wouldn’t be able to continue — I felt badly for him.  By mile 3 I was able to feel my feet again – everything else was warm, but my feet had gotten numb with cold waiting for the race to begin.

At mile 4 or so I stopped to remove my throwaway sweatshirt.  Jeannie and I learned that Goodwill would be going along the race course collecting the sweatshirts that had been dropped by runners, so it was a donation to a good cause.  I thought it might be a good idea to try doing the whole marathon as a progressive run, with each mile being a little faster than the last.  I had done a progressive 20 in training, so it was a remote possibility.  Around mile 6 however, I stopped to use my first gel at a water aid station, and it took longer than it should have to open the gel, eat it, then wash it down with the water.  I tried to make up the time when I started running again, but wasn’t able to keep the progressive going – I took too long refueling.  There were no real problems with the first 10 miles – it was just steady running, with a pace between 9 and 9:30 minutes per mile.

When I passed the mile 10 mark, I decided to increase the pace a bit since I was now in double digit mileage.  I was hitting mostly sub-9 splits, and felt good doing so.  The weather was cool, and there was no fighting heat and humidity as there had been in the summer training.  By mile 19 I was hoping I might be able to catch the 4 hour pace group, but it later occurred to me they had started in a corral that was before mine, so that wasn’t going to happen.  When we entered the Ohio State football stadium, the crowd inside was rather quiet, and one of the runners said, “We need to hear some noise!”  I waved my arms for them to cheer, and they started doing so.  I needed the cheering as well, for my legs were now growing tired.

Miles 18-20 are the toughest miles of the Columbus route because they have the greatest elevation change.  It’s like someone decided to throw a significant hill into what is otherwise a fairly flat course.  I “hit the wall” between miles 19 and 20, feeling like the zip in my legs was gone.  It was a soft wall – I didn’t really crash into it, but something changed at that point.  By mile 21 I stopped at an aid station to take another gel with some water, and had trouble getting started running again.  For the next couple of miles it would be a mental struggle to keep running.  I walked about 1/10 of mile at the beginning of miles 21 and 22, then thought, “I just want this thing to be over, and if I walk it will just take longer.”  So I started running again – I had made it through the wall.  I was also focused on how my splits would look on my Garmin log, and I didn’t want any undesirable 11 or 12 minutes splits in the mix.  In addition to the fatigue, my left hamstring was starting to cramp.  Moving the wrong way or running too fast would set it off.  I popped a couple of Tylenol I had with me to deal with the spasms and overall aching.  I also took my first salt pill of the race – I had them with me, but thought it was so cool I wouldn’t need them.  Lesson learned.

By mile 23 I was running steadily again, but at a much slower pace.  I stopped for a few seconds trying to stretch the hamstring so I could run a little easier, but it didn’t really help.  I just had to baby the thing the rest of the race.  The last three miles were definitely run from my heart, my gut, my craziness for running or wherever the strength happened to originate.  I also prayed, “Lord, just help me to keep running and to finish this thing.”  So my strength ultimately came from Him.  I crossed the finish line running, and enjoyed all the attention of the medal, the photographs, the food, etc.  The official finish time was 4 hours, 11 minutes.

This race was the climax of a long, very successful season that started back in January with a training program for my first marathon in Pittsburgh.  I completed my first marathon there in May.  After a short recovery break I started training for the Charleston Distance Run and the Columbus Marathon.  I ran the Parkersburg Half Marathon as a training event during that period, and did very well with the time.  I completed the CDR despite the heat and humidity of Labor Day weekend, the first time ever I have run the full course.  I also survived the beating that a full summer of training inflicts, another first.  I’d tried twice previously to train in the summer, only to be sidelined with injury.  I’m very thankful for all the good things I’ve experienced this year.

I don’t know about running a third marathon – perhaps if I was confident I could better my time or performance, I’d do one somewhere.  Right now I’m focused on recovery and strength building for the remainder of the year.  I’ll likely do two or three 5K races between now and December 31, just for the fun of them.  Over the past three years of running and being sidelined twice with injury, my running verse has become Isaiah 40:31:  “But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.”

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