Thursday, December 6, 2007

Lessons Learned... Looking Ahead...

Well, the marathon is done. Normally by this point I'm going through training withdrawal because the goal I have been planning my life around for 6 months has come and gone. This time, however, I feel great. I'm already looking forward to my next marathon, my next 10K, my next 5K, and my next PR.

I've had plenty of time to think about why I ran a 3:46 (not a bad time at all) instead of a 3:30. I think the reason is pretty damn simple, actually:

I'm dumb.

Allow me to clarify. The entire reason I was in Vegas was to run a marathon. All of the fun that exists to be had in that city was just a bonus for me. The problem I ran into was that I got very caught up in showing my little brother and the rest of my family all the cool stuff that Vegas has. The first day we were there, I'd guess that my brother and I walked about 6 miles. The day before the marathon, I probably walked another 6-8 miles.

When I went to bed Saturday night, my legs were sore and stiff from all of the walking. I knew I had screwed up, but I took some Ibuprofen, stretched out, and went to sleep.

I got up Sunday morning REALLY pumped up to go. I went through my rituals and got dressed for the race. My brother came up to my room and I pumped him up as best I could. My legs were still sore from all the walking, but the adrenaline was overriding the soreness at this point.

We made our way down to the starting line with my girlfriend and my parents. The weather was PERFECT, and the atmosphere was charged. Thousands of runners were crowding through the hotel to get to their corrals. I gave my brother a pat on the back and left him to head farther up the pack. A few minutes later, the gun went off and the race was on.

My strategy was to try and run the first 10 miles as easily and smoothly as possible. The ridiculous sights and sounds of Vegas made this a pretty simple task. I averaged a little bit slower than an 8:00/mile during this time.

At mile 10 I realized I wasn't going to run a 3:30. I didn't have any major problems, I just felt a slight stiffness to my legs. I knew, from past marathons, that even a tiny little ache in the early miles will just amplify and become huge by the end of a marathon. Mile 10 was WAAAAY too early to be feeling any discomfort. So, just like that, one silly mistake cost me time.

I had already made peace with the fact that a 3:30 would only happen for me under optimum conditions, so I was surprisingly OK with accepting a slower time. I just told myself to keep running at a pace that felt comfortable until I got to 16 miles.

I still managed to keep my pace in the 8:00-8:10 range through the 'teens. My legs started to feel like they might cramp up, and THAT scared me. I knew that I could keep moving as long as I didn't cramp. At mile 20, I took a 10 second walk break, and then kept moving. I told myself that I HAD to keep moving. Walking was fine, stopping was not. During the entire race, I did not stop moving forward one single time.

The last 6 miles were rough. I probably averaged a 9:30 or so. I would walk for 20-30 seconds at the start of each mile to keep my legs from cramping, and then tough it out until the next water station. It was painful, but seeing the hotels come back into view was enough motivation to keep the legs moving up and down.

I realized that I was going to kill my PR, and at that point it was enough for me. I knew that I had trashed my 3:30 attempt by using my legs too much the 2 days before the race, and I just wanted to run the best race I could given that fact.

I ran across the finish line in 3:46. My legs immediately made it clear to me that I'd be in pain later, but for now I was just ecstatic to be done and to have a new, very respectable PR.

I learned a bunch of lessons this time around, and I'm already plotting and scheming my next move. I'll be taking it easy this week, and next week I'll start doing some cross-training and weights to keep my fitness up. As you can see, I've changed the subtitle of the blog to reflect my new, over-arching goal. Maybe it's a bit premature to aim for qualifying considering I didn't even hit my 3:30, but I have a feeling it might take a while to hit 3:10... so I'll just throw it out there and see what happens.

On to the next race!

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