Anatomy of a Disaster
October 9th, my Birthday, also the date of the Steamtown marathon. The marathon, of which I had committed a good chunk of my blood, sweat and time to over the last 6 months Suffice to say it was a disaster. Not only did I not approach the low end of my projected time. I wasn't even close. In fact, I was slower than my time from 6 months ago. The 2011 LA marathon that had the worst conditions(drenching rain and runners with hypothermia) also on a course significantly harder.
The conditions this day were as close to perfect as it gets. The Steamtown Marathon course was mostly downhill and in perfect shape. I was also in significantly better shape. The perfect mixture for a stellar day! I would love to have an excuse about being sick or injured, but that wasn't the case. So what happened? Just a few minor things, when pieced together led to this tragedy...well that is a bit melodramatic, but certainly this is how I felt shortly after the race.
The first in this chain of events started 4 weeks ago. I tweaked my back during some construction and inflamed my sciatica nerve. This slightly impacted the hamstring in the left leg. Nothing major, but there was enough concern to take an extra few days off causing the taper to start harder and earlier than normal. This set in motion that feeling of things not being quite right. The leg was still slightly tight on the run 4 days before the marathon, but certainly manageable.
The day before the race I went to get my shoes out of the bag and lo and behold...no shoes. As of this writing, their whereabouts is still unknown. Most likely I dropped the towel on them after my shower and missed them on the check of the room we were staying at in NYC. Bottom line, I had no shoes. Buying new shoes the day before a race is never a good option. I picked up a new pair at the expo then went back to the house to get a short run in. Now I really wasn't happy. I am a very quiet runner and each step with the new shoes was a noisy slap on the ground. My hamstring didn't have pain but was still slightly tight. Here I made my first in a series of errors by not following my gut and getting yet another pair of shoes.
So race day arrives. I am feeling pretty good. Hamstring is ever so slightly tight, but I felt once the race gets going I think it should be fine. The shoes felt less than stellar, but I could not see them having that much of a negative impact. The first miles are easy, No effort at all. By Mile 6, I think I knew I was in trouble. I had a hard time getting into an easy rhythm. I kept backing off the pace but still could not relax. My "noisy" shoes were a source of irritation. At mile 8, I knew I was going to be in for a long day. By mile 13, knew I was already borderline of getting into trouble. I was still on target pace for a 3:15 at the half and I still felt ok. but certainly not good. By mile 14, I realized my opposite leg was now getting compromised. I ran 14 miles a month before on a hard course in a workout and felt great. But on this day in a race, on an easy course, I felt like hell. By mile 16, I knew the race was over for me. I knew any chance at a good run was out the window. In fact for the first time I seriously considered ending the run. But I also knew there were a sizable crowd from my wife's family there to support me. Plus It really isn't in my nature to quit. So I suffered for the last ten miles. Every step became a struggle, and by mile 19, I certainly questioned whether or not I ever wanted to do this again. For once, at the end of the race, I didn't feel as if my suffering was either heroic or commendable. For the first time, I just felt utterly defeated. Lets be clear. I know what is like to struggle and and suffer. It is all part of the process. This one was different.
In retrospect seemingly small issues can have a major impact. Between the reduced training, the shoes and the minor hamstring problem, I should have expected a drop between 5 and 10 percent of my projected time. My major mistake was my unwillingness to readjust my goals prior to the race. Instead of going out at my ideal target pace through ten miles, I should of consciously slowed my pace by 20-30 secs per mile in the early stages of the race. Simply put, if I had run 5 minutes slower for the half marathon I would have been at least ten to 20 minutes faster at the finish.
Once you get into real trouble in a marathon, there is the snowball effect. Slowing down decreases your running efficiency which causes you to use more energy per mile, which causes you to feel even worse. Which in turn slows you down even further. I recognized I was in trouble early on. I did keep adjusting my pace downward, but never enough to make a material difference. So I really paid the price for this failure.
So what does this "failure" really mean?
Well absolutely nothing really. To my family and friends,just finishing is an inspiring act unto itself. Even more so when there was such an obvious struggle involved. Probably less than one tenth of one percent of the population would understand why finishing a marathon plus or minus 25 minutes matters. So yes it matters....to me. But life goes on, and I will take these lessons and build on it.