Second time’s a charm – A better marathon experience
My first marathon was no triumph, as you will glean from my last post, My First Marathon (warning: NOT a success story).
It left me with a bad taste in my mouth and an ache in my knee just thinking about it. So in the years immediately following it, I erased it from my memory, and kicked my running habit to the curb. We moved to London, England, smack dab in the middle of the city. Aside from a few magical predawn runs down Pall Mall, I found it generally too busy and smoggy to run, so I didn’t; I even had an opportunity to train with an amazingly multicultural, international running group, including some incredibly fit Kenyans, but I politely declined. A stupid mistake in retrospect, but at the time I had no interest. My running days were done, I thought.
Missing the sweet combination of ocean and mountains that we are spoiled by in Vancouver, we moved back and started a family. I was in various stage of pregnancy and post pregnancy for the next six years, so running took on new meaning: it was invaluable self time. I got to listen to music, think, and feel like the person I used to be before having tiny dependents affixed to my legs for the better part of most days (and nights). It was a welcome respite. I rekindled my romance with my former favorite pastime.
We took it slowly, flirting in the beginning with short, half hour runs, often with the baby jogger along as a third wheel. As our attraction mounted, we started dating Sunday mornings for longer runs. I found a 10 km training schedule in Impact magazine that coincided perfectly for the upcoming Vancouver Sun Run, and we were officially an item. I was back in love with running.
I was particularly pleased with a half marathon time I eventually posted, and the thought of training for another marathon crept into my mind. When I got home I immediately plugged my finishing time into one of those handy (yet for the most part useless) marathon calculators to see if I could possibly qualify for the Boston Marathon – if I was going to to do this again, I wanted to take it to the next level, and in my books running Boston was shooting for the stars. According to this very unscientific predictor, I would qualify easily. Ignoring the fact that I could not have run another step after that half, let alone another thirteen miles, I decided to give it a whirl.
I found a free training program online. It was boldly entitled “The Boston Qualifier Program”. That should work, I thought, and printed it off. It had one main problem: it wasn’t tailored for any particular age group, and used time instead of miles, so instead of calling for a six mile run, it said to run for an hour. But the qualifying time for a twenty year old man is drastically different from that of a fifty year old female, for instance, so the fact that we were all running the same amount of time for long runs puzzled me. However, it had promised success in the title, so I stuck with it.
I faithfully followed this program. Save for tweaking it in a few places to substitute spinning classes for those throw away runs – easy days to pad your mileage – I somewhat blindly did what it told me to do, hoping its creator knew what they were doing, and had not published it as a hoax.
There had been a few improvements registered in the running world since I had turned my nose up at it. The proliferation of GPS watches was a big one: I had a much better handle on my pacing and mileage thanks to this Christmas present. Gels and power bars were very much on the scene, and helped to sustain me better on long runs, as did water enhanced with electrolytes. And it was much easier to find physiotherapists and chiropractors with running expertise who could treat injuries. A new day had dawned since my first marathon, thirteen years earlier.
With technology on my side and scientifically improved nutrition, and the “Boston Qualifier” program in my back pocket, I felt ready to do battle with the marathon again. The Victoria Marathon – flat and beautiful – would be my testing ground.
Tight IT bands had been causing me knee pain in the run up to the race. My main worry was this would pose a problem for me, as it usually did after mile sixteen. The night before the race, as I restlessly paged through old Runner’s World magazines, I came across an article about preparing for your marathon. The tip that most resonated with me was to decide beforehand what type of pain would stop you in your tracks, and what pain you would run through. I’d been told by more than one medical professional that my IT bands would not snap if I continued to run even though pain was present. I decided to ignore any pain my knee might throw at me, and only stop if I felt discomfort that was alarmingly different.
My other worry about the race was that it would rain, but race day dawned sunny and beautiful, and a temperate 12 degrees Celsius – ideal running conditions. I drank a glass of water – instead of the two liters I had consumed before my last marathon – and headed to the starting line.
Things went swimmingly and according to plan up until the halfway mark when my right knee started hurting, four miles too early by my calculation. I tried to shake it out mid stride, the people around me throwing me strange looks, but I ignored them because it seemed to relieve it. I tried to change my stride a little, putting my right foot down gingerly, or kicking up my back heel more than usual. Just when I thought it was subsiding it would seize up again, and I would go through the motions to try to loosen it.
Otherwise I felt great. I was inspired when the out and back course afforded a view of the leaders, and they effortlessly strode past us. I repeatedly saw some spectators that held up a sign reading “My Grandma thinks you’re hot!” which cracked me up every time. I was well under my projected time by mile sixteen, and thought if I could run four miles with the pain, I could probably finish, and plugged on. The knee pain slowed me down a tad, but I tried to focus on the beautiful scenery and my fellow runners. I stubbornly ignored the pain as it came and went, and by mile twenty I decided there was no stopping me.
The last three miles are always a question mark – most of us don’t run that far for our long runs, so you wonder how you will possibly get through them. I didn’t feel great – my legs were shouting “enough!” – but I was still determined to finish this and meet the qualifying standard for Boston. The miles ticked down, one by one, until finally there was only one to go. There weren’t many spectators at this point, many choosing instead to line up on the final stretch, but someone had stuck posters to telephone poles that read “You’ve made it this far – you can’t quit now!” Quite right.
I savored the final stretch. People were cheering so loudly they managed to drown out the searing pain in my knee, and although it may have looked like I was hobbling, in my mind’s eye I was flying. This was the more like the ending I had been hoping for, thirteen years ago.
Better late than never.