Monday, April 28, 2014

Monday, April 28th: 4:18:32

My journey is complete. I have run a marathon.

Warning: Since this is my ultimate entry, it's extremely long. I know not everyone can read through the whole thing, but I hope you'll read as much as you can and let me know what you think!

I have a lot of emotions right now, almost a day later. It's going to take some time to sort them out. I'm obviously proud of what I accomplished. I'm relieved that I can start getting my life back to some semblance of normal. I'm just so incredibly touched by everyone who helped me along the way -- especially my wife, Jackie. I am wondering what, if anything, I could have done better along the way. And I am wondering if this feeling of void is going to go away after I get back into a normal life routine.

As you have probably noticed, I've been lying low of late. I decided a few days into the taper that it wasn't really worth blogging about. There was really just nothing to say about those shorter, easier runs. And I kind of wanted to use that time to try to dial back my emotions and excitement, to save them for the race.

But before I really get into the emotional stuff, let me tell you about race weekend.

I took Friday and today off from work, so that I'd have an extra day to get myself ready, and so I'd have a day to recover. On Friday, I made my way down to the race expo to pick up my race packet and check out the scene. It was somewhat small, but I did enjoy myself -- especially when I sat in a fantastic massage chair, then used another machine that gave me an awesome foot massage. I also added a shot glass to my burgeoning collection. And I took the opportunity to check out the scene, so I would have a sense of where things would be in the morning.
$370 will get one of these bad boys
I bought one, not all of these

That is a lot of porta-johns!

Saturday morning, I went out on my short shakeout run -- 2 miles, just to limber up. I also made sure
Couldn't get the whole thing in the pic
I had all my gear together and made myself one last pasta dinner. Jackie and I had to run a few things over to my parents' house, and on the way home, we saw a horizon-to-horizon rainbow. It was much brighter on one end, but it went all the way across the sky. I thought of it as a symbol, that even if I faded a bit at the end, I would make it all the way through the race.

Sunday morning started early: 4:30 a.m. I had bought a ticket for the special New Jersey Marathon express train, so that I wouldn't have to worry about traffic, which I'd heard could be a bear. It arrived at my train station at 5:50 a.m. So I got up and moving, got my race gear on, put on some warmer throwaway clothes, and headed out.
Here I am, all set to go. (courtesy Jackie Richter)
I looked like a homeless guy! (courtesy Jackie Richter)

Some sleepy runners waiting for the train.
The train got to Monmouth Park, in Oceanport, a little bit after 6:00, so that the half-marathoners could get there in time for their race, which went off earlier than the full. That's why I'd geared up in my homeless garb. I had a newspaper to read -- though I couldn't much focus -- and a black garbage bag to sit on so my butt wouldn't get wet while I was waiting. I wound up using those porta-johns three times in the course of an hour and a half. And I made sure to be one of the first into the corrals.

Those are the people in the three corrals ahead of mine.
I wanted to be at the front of the corral for a specific reason. When I signed up for the race back in August, I had no idea of my expected finishing time, so I left it blank. That got me into the last corral, with all of the people who were expecting to do 4:30 or slower. I was concerned that I would spend the first few miles of the race weaving in and out of traffic, and use up valuable energy in the process. But as it turned out, that didn't matter a bit. When the horn blew, more than a dozen people flew by me almost immediately, and the group stretched out before we'd even hit a quarter mile.

Now, my race plan was to start out slow and work my way up to race pace. So when all those people started beating feet out of the gate, I said to myself, "Good. Let them go. Run your own race. You know what you're doing." Of course, that didn't stop me from running a sub-9:00 first mile, even trying to keep my pace in check.

After I got by the 4:25 pace group -- which actually started in the corral ahead of mine -- I settled into an easy pace. I talked to a few people who were shooting for that time, but had gotten out ahead of their group a bit. And just as planned, I eschewed the first two hydration stations, knowing that I had plenty in the tank that early on, and I didn't want to have to hit a porta-john on the course.

Jackie, our kids and her mother were waiting to see me right around mile five -- my first real pick-me-up of the day. The race was still in Oceanport, actually -- right down the street from Jackie's school, which made it a great place to look for her. I stopped off, handed off my headband and gloves (which I'd hung onto as much for sentimental reasons as anything), got a quick kiss and was back out on my way. Right after that was the only significant climb of the race, on the bridge into Long Branch. And honestly, even that wasn't much of a climb compared to the hills I'm used to. At this point, I was feeling really good.

The course wends its way into Monmouth Beach from there, looping through residential neighborhoods before turning south. Someone -- not sure if it was the race organizers or someone else -- put up a gantlet of motivational signs along the road. One read, "You've done dumber things when you were drunk." My thought: "Yeah, like commit to doing a marathon."

South from Monmouth Beach, we were back in Long Branch. I would say that leg -- from roughly mile 8 to mile 11 -- is probably the lowlight of the race. It actually goes right past a sewerage treatment plant and through some pretty run-down neighborhoods. Fortunately, it's still fairly early in the race, so it wasn't the kind of downer it would have been if I were tired. It also was a good spot for me to put in a little faster mile, just to kind of get my overall pace closer to race pace.

Around mile 11.5, I befriended a woman who seemed to be struggling a bit. Turns out, her kids are in the Oceanport schools (but not yet in Jackie's school), and she's a teacher herself in Little Silver. She was definitely pacing slower than I was at that point, but I took the opportunity both to have some pleasant conversation about something other than running, and to slow my pace a little bit. We did about a mile and a half together, till close to the halfway point, when I moved on.

This is probably a good time to mention why I was being extra careful about my pace. The weather forecast was for northwest winds between 15 and 20 miles per hour, with higher gusts. That meant that the last 6 miles of the race would be directly into the wind. I knew by the halfway point that 4:00 was out of the question; I crossed the timing belt at 2:05:46 -- 9 minutes slower than my half-marathon in March. There would be no making that up into the wind, and I really wanted to leave something in the tank for late. I'd say I was still in good shape at this point.
Mile 14 (courtesy Mark Stalford)

Not long after that, my parents and Aunt Susan were along the road. My stepdad insisted that I not wave or anything, because he wanted to get some good action shots. But he didn't say anything about making sure to give Mom a kiss along the side of the road.

The three of them trailed me along that bottom half of the course, and I saw them again just a couple of miles later, right before the race moved into Asbury Park. I was getting a little tired, and it's always great to have a cheering section.

Convention Hall in Asbury (courtesy Christine McDevitt)
I got a nice surprise in Asbury. My friends Dan and Christine were there waiting for me. I knew they'd be somewhere along the course, but I didn't know if they were just going to the finish or what. And there honestly weren't a ton of spectators out in that area. It's not very residential at all, so anyone local would have had to walk a little ways. That meant that Dan and Christine were able to spot me easily, and I was able to spot them. Super-exciting! Got a couple of high fives, and then headed for Ocean Grove.

The turnaround for the race is at the very south end of Ocean Grove. I was both looking forward to it and dreading it. I was excited for the turn to come, because it was the last major milestone before the push for home. But I was dreading it because of the wind. You get only half as much push from a tailwind as you get against you from a headwind. And the turn is at 19, with a little jog to the east before we headed straight into it. By now, I was pretty tired. Not ridiculously tired, but as tired as you'd expect someone who'd run 19 miles to be.
Getting a little tired at this point (courtesy Mark Stalford)

So then there was the wind, for real. It was killer. It was, frankly, my undoing. I saw Dan and Christine around mile 20, and my parents around mile 21, and I'm sure they could see I was dragging. It was a total fight, and my legs were just really balking. I tried taking some extra fuel, but that just made things worse, as my stomach wasn't happy about all that GU all at once. It's where the race plan went out the window, and where things really became about just seeing the finish line.

Those guys in the gold shorts were just as bushed as I was (courtesy Mark Stalford)
And then, at mile 23, I decided I needed to walk some. The gusts of wind were just awful, and my legs were burning. I was able to walk at a good pace, not a trudge, and I was confident I would make it to the end -- it was just a question of how long it would take. I walked for a few tenths, and then I would run a bit. When I was running, I made sure not to get myself to the point where I couldn't go on at all -- like when I bonked on that training run -- so that the walking jags would actually help me recover a bit. And I kept this up basically through the last three miles of the race.

I look a lot better than I feel here (courtesy Christine McDevitt)
As I got past mile 25, I got a lot more encouragement, both from friends and total strangers. In Pier Village, Dan found me again and ran alongside me, slowing when I slowed and keeping my spirits up. We were even able to chat a bit about Rutgers football, which was good because it meant that my aeration was still OK, and I wasn't on the verge of collapse. It's one of my favorite memories of the race.

After my final walking jag, I took off in a dead sprint for the finish. I actually checked up maybe 50 feet short of the line, but it was still fun to be going balls-out with everyone -- including my family and friends -- cheering me on. I saw everyone -- I promise -- but I'll never forget my neighbor Julio, up on a bench, yelling louder than anyone in the crowd. What a rush!

As the title of this entry says, I finished in 4:18:32. I'm happy with that for a first try, but I'm not totally satisfied. I know you're never going to encounter totally perfect race conditions, but I am left wondering how much time that wind really cost me. My best guess is about 5 minutes. None of the people around me during those last few miles were able to run straight through -- everyone had to stop and walk some. So I know it wasn't just a matter of conditioning and running out of gas. And as I mentioned above, I was able to chat with Dan at the very end, so my cardio was good -- my legs were simply fatigued, and I have to believe it was from pushing against that wind.

After the race, because I had so many people pulling for me, rather than eat lunch at a restaurant, my parents hosted an afterparty at their house not far from the finish line. Some more friends were able to come out to that, even though they couldn't make it to the course to see me run. It's just really something to have all of these people who've been invested in this huge journey I've been on for eight months now. I can't adequately express how much that means to me. But I want to give one last shout-out to Dan, who brewed a beer especially for the occasion -- Marathon Man IPA -- and created a label with my image and the letters AR in marathon highlighted. It's really, really cool. And the beer tastes great, too!

I also want to thank my parents. They supported me last fall at my first
There's the frame, with my medal draped over the course map
half, and they saw me in four different spots on the course yesterday -- before rushing back to their house to be ready for more than 20 people to come celebrate. And my stepfather, just in the time between when I saw him at mile 24 and when I got to their house, created this great frame with a photo of me running and the course map. It's really just awesome.

And of course, I have to, have to, have to thank my incredible, beautiful and beyond patient wife, Jackie, for all of her support over these eight months. She's done many things for me over this time -- adjust her schedule around my running, nurse me back to health after long runs, deal with my ridiculous diet -- but most of all, she's listened. There have been times when all we've talked about for days has been running. She's offered wise counsel, she's been my rock when I need to let out my emotions, and she's simply understood how important all of this has been for me. She probably knows more about marathon running than any non-marathoner you'll ever meet. There is no way -- NO WAY -- I would have gotten to this point without her.

So as I said, this 100th blog post is the final entry in this blog. My journey is complete. I am a marathoner. It's a great feeling of accomplishment, but it's weird, too. I posted on Facebook last night that I was checking the weather forecast, and for the first time in forever, I wasn't worrying about overnight lows or when exactly the rain is going to start on Tuesday. I am no longer in marathon-training mode. And there's kind of a void there.

As I said, I'm just a ball of emotion right now, and I think it's going to take a little time to untangle.

I know I'm not done with fitness or running, and I imagine that at some point down the road, I'll do another marathon -- though not this year. But it's been all-encompassing for me for eight months now, and especially for the past four months. There's no more thinking about what I can do better, or mapping out my runs for the week. There's no need to read article after article after article about running stride, nutrition, interval training, tapering... And there's no more excited anticipation.

Anyone who's talked to me over the past eight months has talked about running. It's just kind of been who I am for a long time. And now that it's not who I need to be, who am I? What will fill that spot in my life? Will I feel normal in a couple days, or a week? Maybe once I stop being sore and my black toenails fall off, my psyche will start getting back to normal, too. Maybe in a couple days, I'll stop thinking about that wind, and having to walk.

4:18:32 is still a darn good time for someone who, 14 or 15 months ago, was 240 pounds and doing absolutely nothing to take care of himself. But 4:18:32, I think, is motivation to give it another go at some point.

So with that thought, I'm signing off. It's been an amazing journey, and I've learned and experienced more than I ever could have imagined. I hope you've been able to experience a little of it yourself by reading my posts. Thank you, thank you, thank you for every ounce of support you've given me.

Total miles since starting the blog: 650.6

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