The training is completed, nutrition is what it should be, mentally I was ready, I was lucky and got enough sleep. All of these things led up to the climax of doing my first full marathon, and everything was in place when I woke the morning of December 6th, 2009. My alarm went off at 4:15 and I was out of bed ready to run, after eating breakfast, cleaning up to look pretty for pictures, and driving 20 minutes to West Palm Beach.
It was a cool morning, for South Florida, at around 65 degrees. Perfect running weather. I was a little nervous, but overall felt OK…until I arrived at the parking garage and saw all of the other runners getting ready for the big race. That is when I actually felt the butterflies in my stomach, and had to force myself to calm down. It was still dark, yet there were hundreds of people around and you could feel the excitement in the air. There were long lines at the port-o-potties, and some small lines at the baggage check station. On the loud speaker they were announcing the beginning of the bike race as I started to do my pre-race stretching.
The race start was uneventfully with two columns of runners lined up with their respective pace groups, waiting for the “GO” signal. I was lined up between the 4:00 and 4:15 pace groups, still not 100% sure of which one I would run with. I decided that I would run the first mile or two and then inventory how I felt prior to making the commitment. Many were talking amongst themselves to relieve some of the tension as we waited.
When the countdown and “GO” signal finally sounded I suddenly felt all stress leave my body. It was a HUGE weight that simply vanished. Now it was time to be free, and do what I had trained for during the past 18 weeks. The first mile past and I was feeling pretty good. The second mile came and I decided that running was easy today, so I would follow the 4:00 pace group and increased my pace to creep up on the 4:00 group that was about 20 yards ahead of me. Then suddenly the girl that was holding the 4:00 pace group banner stopped and ran to the sideline with a troubled look on her face, leaving everyone to fend for themselves. (It was at this moment that I wished I had brought my new Garmin to help me keep pace. It was sitting at home in the box, waiting to be opened on Christmas morning as a present from my son.) Those of us that were left in the 4:00 pace group decided to do the best we could and try to stick to the pace.
At mile 9.5 I started looking for my wife and son, who were supposed to come out and cheer for me, and spotted them on the other side of an intersection having just arrived. I waved my arms and my son saw me and shouted, “DAD!”, as they ran across the street to get closer. It was then I saw a friend who got me interested in running a marathon in the first place, Scott Huitt, was running behind them all geared up for a long run with his CamelBak, etc. (I figured out that he must be on a training run for the 2009 Ironhorse 100 that I may run with him in February, and decided to add this stop on his route. It was pure coincidence he chose the same spot I had my wife go to.) They got to the ropes beside the course just as I ran by. We all shouted “Hi” to each other and I told them that I would be back in 2 miles as my son ran down the sidewalk with me for about 50 yards. (The 9.5 and 12 mile markers pass the same corner.)
On the way back to the 12 mile marker the 4:15 pace group passed us going the opposite direction and it was then that I realized we had slowed down enough that it would be hard to make 4:00 because we were only 1 mile ahead of them. The small group that I was with decided to increase the pace a little and see if we could get back on track, so we stepped it up a bit.
My son was waiting for me where he had stopped running before. When he saw me he started shouting and running as he called my wife on the mobile phone to tell her I was coming, so get the camera ready. As I approached my wife she snapped a couple of pics, like the one above, and we exchanged a quick “what happened so far” conversation as I ran. Scott was still there also to hear the tale of the dropped out pace girl.
From 12 to 19 miles was a VERY LONG stretch of straight road, and seemed to take a long time. However, it was very flat and there were lots of people cheering along the way. One person had set up a table around mile 15 and was handing out orange slices. They were awesome and really helped freshen the mouth after water, Gatorade, and Hammer gel. One negative remark about this area would be that I had to weave in and out of walking half marathoners because they were merged back in with the full marathoners at this point. At times they were even 3 and 4 abreast and almost blocked the entire road. (They need to rethink this for next years course.)
Also around mile 17 (I think) there was the infamous “Hula Boys” water stop where there were about 10 guys in hula skirts and coconut bras doing hula to various inspirational songs as others handed out water and Gatorade, and followed by them was a local band playing live rock on the side. I think they called it water stop 10.
We rounded a corner where you could actually see the 20 mile marker and were struck in the face by a blast of HOT air. It was a huge shock and everyone simply sighed as they realized the cool front had passed just in time for the last 6.2 miles. (Some say that the last 6.2 miles is actually the last half of the race, because it is the most difficult.) Even more troubling was that the blast of air did not stop, and continued to push on us for the next 3 miles relentlessly. I simply ran along the best I could and kept wondering when I would hit “the wall” that is supposed to be so terrible after 20 miles.
At 22 miles I started to fade a little, but was still able to push through it as the course zig-zagged in and out of three small side streets. (This seemed a bit disconnected, and mentally beat me up with all of the twists and turns that must have been necessary to add distance.) There were patches of cheering people and as they cheered I would smile and thank them for coming out as I continued to pass other runners who obviously had hit the wall harder than I had. A few of the cheering people said, “Oh, he is still smiling. He is doing great!”. However, this all passed at mile 24
At mile 24 my legs started feeling like jello and my feet were pleading for me to stop beating them on the street. It was mile 25 that I could no longer feel my legs, but was glad that they kept moving. I really wanted to stop, and my subconscious was really pushing me to walk as I continued to push. It was only a mile left to go, and there was no way I was gonna walk now.
At mile 26 the crowds started to cheer, and I heard them announce my name as the next runner approaching the finish line. From nowhere I suddenly felt a boost of energy and was running like it was mile 20 again. I finished strongly at 04:10:25 with everyone around the finish line cheering my name. IT WA S GREAT ! ! !
I received my finishers medal, took some pics in front of the backdrop by myself and with others who tried to keep the 4:00 pace with me, and drank some water. As I ate some bananas, yoghurt, chocolate milk, and bagels I finally sat down and gave my feet the break they had been crying for.
OK “marathon”, see you again in Miami…8 weeks. 🙂