After months of training, including hundreds of miles and more hours on the road than I bothered counting, I traveled with my family down to Charlotte, NC for the Thunder Road Marathon.
After a day for packet pickup and settling in at my brother’s house, we made our way to the starting line on Saturday morning. While I was anxious, I was able to remain fairly calm in the corral and stayed focused on trying to run my race.
After the green flag was waived (Did I mention that the race had a NASCAR theme to it down in racing country?), I did my best to hold back and find a comfortable pace for the first half of the race. I managed to do a good job of this, and was holding a 10:40/mile pace through the first 14 miles of the race and feeling good, even after the half-marathon split off and the field thinned out significantly.
And then, in mile 15, the first cramp hit me. It caught me a bit off-guard, as I hadn’t had problems with cramping in any of my training, so I took a longer drag of Nuun from my hydration pack and tried to take in a little more water and some gatorade at the next water stop. The cramp loosened up, but was back less than two miles later. I managed to keep running past my family around 17.5 miles, but the cramps were spreading, and from about the 18-mile mark on I was reduced to switching back and forth between walking and running for the remainder of the race. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get looser.
I’ll admit that it was tough both physically and mentally. In that final 10k, I went through the gamut of disappointed, proud, despondent and determined. There were a few times when I was close to tears as I fought against my body and as I knew I could make it to the finish line, even if not quite how I had imagined it. It was much more of a mental toll than I had been anticipating.
And I did make it to the end. After 5 hours, 2 minutes and 9 seconds (a 11:31/mi average pace), I finally crossed the finish line and got the checkered flag. While I struggled to stay around a 13:00 mile pace late in the race, I kept on trucking. There was no way I was going to come all this way, complete all that training and not finish.
Hats off to the organizing team for the race. While a Saturday race seems to be a bit atypical, the race was well-organized, the course was enjoyable (with good cheering sections along the way) and there were plenty of options at the regular water stops (about every 2 miles) and post race. While the field was small (less than 1000 marathoners, with 2-3 times as many for the half), it had the feel and commitment of a much larger race. If you don’t mind some hills (and I live in Pittsburgh, where hills are a runner’s life), I’d recommend it if you’re looking for a late-season marathon.
At the end, it did take me a little time to recover and get re-hydrated and re-fueled, but I did manage to get at least one good pic with my boys by the official race car.
Was it worth it? Definitely. Will I run another marathon? Almost certainly. While it was a lot of time and energy to get ready, having actually completed something I never though possible until this year has been amazingly satisfying. But I also think I can do better, and would like to take at least another run at it.
That said, I’ve decided that in 2014, I would like to work on increasing my speed and will focus on shorter distances. But I will be back!