It’s been a while since my last race report, and it’ll be a while until my next one because I haven’t signed up for anything yet. But race reports are so much fun. So here’s a retro one. This was originally an email to friends and family about 2-weeks after the run. I haven’t edited it at all. Enjoy:
It’s been years since I’ve gotten to share the first-person details of a race, and no other milestones in life ever seem worthy of the sort of narrative that a long race does. So here is my account of my first marathon:
Preparation: I followed Hal Higdon’s “Novice 1” marathon plan. Google it if you want details. It went well, I had one set back about 8 weeks out with pain in my left ankle which I suspect to be tendonitis. The pain was right around exam time so I just decided to take a week and a half off. When exams were over I picked up where I had stopped. The plan was good in that it prepared me to survive the distance adequately. I did recognise that it only prepared me to survive — there was not enough fitness accrued to feel “good” for the whole distance (though lets be honest, feeling good over a 42 km run might be more a function of brain damage than fitness). A half marathon distance felt fine, anything above about 24km and it began to feel like survival.
Pre-race race plan: Hold whatever feels like a comfortable pace, estimated to be between 4:30 and 5:00 per km. Eat a pack of gu-chomps (kinda like jujubes for sports) at 60, 90, 120, 150 minutes. After the first 30 minutes, drink every 15.
Pre-race I also made the decision to not use a belt system to carry fuel/water. The water stations on the course looked frequent enough to be safe, but there were only 2 Gu stations which would clearly not be enough. My plan called for carrying 4 packs of Gu-chomps, which I determined would fit in the butt-cheek pockets on my Sugoi shorts (2 per pocket).
M-Day -1: Took the day off of work. Got up ~7am, ate breakfast. Got bored, ate second breakfast. Did a pre-race weigh-in (91.2kg) Noticed in the mirror that I have unbalanced ribs — right side dips in, left side bows out. I can actually feel it. Whatever. I ran 20 miles a few weeks prior and it didn’t kill me, so I can probably run 26.2. Departed for Seattle around noon. I had a full nalgene with nuun tab and two packages of Sharkies for the drive.
Seattle traffic is the worst. The last 10 miles took us over 90 minutes — it is not lost to me that the next day I would be running faster than we were driving at that point. Checked in to the hotel around 4:30pm, dropped off our bags and headed out to pick up race packages. We got totally lost and it took us nearly an hour to travel what Google maps says should be ~3 miles. At this point we are now starving and haven’t eaten except for Sharkies since about 10am — ideal pre-marathon fuelling.
Finally arrive at the “Health and Fitness Expo” to pick up our race packages. I checked in and showed the number-pimp my drivers license. “Rushton ‘eh… you’re doing the full?” “Yup.” “Seattle will punish you. T-shirt pickup is around the corner” “Uh.. thanks” We moved down the assembly line to get our “free” race t-shirts. While doing so we over heard a late-middle-aged man lose his shit over getting the wrong size free shirt. He’s probably a lawyer or doctor but getting an XL instead of an L was the end of his world.
The health and fitness expo was essentially a trade show for fitness products: shoes, recovery products, GPS watches, energy food. We wandered around and ate every free sample we could get our hands on. Jelly Belly’s “Sport Beans” are the most amazing things ever. While at the Gu booth sampling every flavour of Gu chomps, we over heard the booth attendant say that a pack of Gu chomps is equivalent to 2 Gu’s. It is at this point that I realised that my pre-race plan has me eating the equivalent of 8 Gu’s — fuck it, I’m huge.
Fucked around with Seattle traffic again looking for parking to get to food. Finally end up at a Cheese Cake Factory. It played in perfectly to all our American stereo-types: the restaurant is enormous, the employees are massive and the servings are excessive. I get a 26 ounce beer and a “plate” (tray) of terriyaki chicken. FYI: banana fried in terriyaki sauce is amazing.
Afterwards went back to the hotel. Was in bed around 10pm.
Alarm at 4:30am. Actually conscious at ~4:45am. I set up the coffee maker to make hot water for oatmeal and get dressed. When the water is ready I mix quick-oats and raisins in a plastic cup with the hot water. Despite anticipating the hotel would have a coffee maker for hot water, I totally forgot they wouldn’t have a bowl or spoons available. While the quick oats are stewing I walk over to a gas station for a coffee. On the way back to the hotel room I steal a cutlery set from the hotel restaurant. Ate oatmeal, cliff bar, and coffee while watching CNN flip out about the Penn State pedo-coach.
~5:30am runners are starting to show up outside our window.
~6:00am I start getting ready. Body glide to delicate areas, number pinned to shirt, bandana in a style befitting the weather. Pack up everything to take to the car. Last chance for a real bathroom break — I don’t need it. I am The Zen Runner. Like my body, my colon is not nervous but is calmly prepared.
~6:30am Go down to car, drop off everything.
~6:40am Arrive at start corral. Massive lines at porta-potties. Lots of people with headphones. I am the Zen Runner. My bowels are immovable, my spirit is calm.
~6:55am US national anthem. I take off my 1970’s-esque head band and hold it by my crotch — some how this is more appropriate. I realise I feel uncomfortable hearing this song and not being able to look at pool records. Instead, I look around at the gear worn by everyone near me. The triathletes stick out like sore thumbs with their characteristic excess of gear.
~7:00am First wave of “elites” starts. People around me are visibly more nervous. I am Zen Runner, I am prepared: my pockets are full of Gu chomps and my bowels are full of terriyaki banana.
~7:06am My wave starts. After 3 steps I realise that 4 packs of Gu chomps and no draw string in my shorts is an imbalance. My shorts are half-way down my ass and I’m running with one hand holding them up. I consider 2 options: throw two packs away immediately, or move them some where else. I decide to carry one pack in each hand. Balance is restored to my pants — it will be 90 minutes until I’m no longer carrying tinfoil packages in my hands.
~7:12am How the fuck did all these fat slow people start before me? My Garmin tells me I’m holding ~4:40 pace while I’m passing almost everyone. Fuck it. It feels like a comfortable pace, just hold it and scold these heifers.
~7:15am Zen Run. No one is talking. Pocketta-pocketta-pocketta of thousands of pairs of shoes. Down town Seattle is beautiful. Like a larger version of Vancouver’s Gas Town. It is deserted save for the thousands of entranced runners. Pocketta-pocketta-pocketta.
~6kms I have my first H20 break. Grab a cup, chug it. Grab a cup, chug it. Good stuff.
~9kms The half marathoners and the marathoners split up. It feels isolating. We are running on the same path but on separate sides of a divider. My side of the path is quite empty, the half-side of the path looks like rush hour. I begin to feel a sense of loneliness as I realise most of the 20,000+ people that were at the start won’t actually be going through what I will.
~10kms Have first Gatorade break. Grab a cup, try to chug it. Realise that most of the sticky liquid did not go where I wanted it to. In training I’ve had a problem with hydrating enough, some times this was not getting enough water some times this was not absorbing enough water. Gatorade (salt) consumption should fix both problems. Made the decision to walk through Gatorade stations for the rest of the run in order to make sure the salty piss actually goes in my mouth.
~11kms Eat first pack of Gu chomps. Now only one hand is encumbered.
~15kms Look off to the distance and see the I-90 floating bridge. Fuck that looks far away. We run past the first of the two Gu stations. I don’t need one, but hey — free Gu! I take one from a volunteer and put it in my pocket. Thankfully, the weight of the free Gu isn’t enough to pull my shorts down.
~16kms Following a group of runners who are running like drunken morons. While I’m taking the tangents and following the shortest line of the path, they are running all over the place. I cannot understand why they insist on running farther than they need to. This is a tactic mostly foreign to swimming that I learned playing Mario Kart. I realise that playing this stupid game is actually keeping me mentally focussed on running well.
~18kms Running behind three guys. Middle guy looks insanely fit but older, perhaps a retired Olympian? Outsiders are clearly running “with” him, body guards? We are running on the “back” of an out-and-back. A girl running on the “out” of the out-and-back goes full-retard, trips over herself “Is that Dean Karnazes!?”. Ah, so that’s who it is — a world famous ultramarthoner and finisher of 50 marathons in 50 days. He is going slightly slower than the pace I’ve been comfortably holding, so I decide to pass him — what the hell does he know about running a marathon?
~20kms Our course joins up with the halfers again but we are segregated into our own lanes. They are very slow. Many of them are large and wearing triathlete amounts of gear. My mind wanders to how much I hate them as I munch on my second pack of Gu-chomps.
21.1kms While running along side the halfers we pass the halfway point for the full marathon course. I break stride and jauntily skip over the marker to rub it in for the trudging halfers.
~23kms Split off from the halfers again and enter the bridge. As I start the bridge, I see that just before ending it on the way back is the 20mile marker. I know from anecdotes that marathoners visit dark places in their psyche after ~20 miles. The bridge looks daunting and miserable already, so having that to look forward too is not encouraging. The bridge is brutal and exposed. The sun starts to come out and cook the white concrete. There is a runner perhaps every 10 meters, on either side of us are SUV’s doing 70mph. I feel isolated and lonely. I can see a long way but I can’t make out the next water break, I’m beginning to feel dehydrated. The novelty of running on the interstate wears off after about 7 steps.
~26kms Off the far side of the bridge. I’m convinced I will die out there on the way back. The highway is curving to the left, so berming to the right, and up hill. The scale of the interstate makes it hard to see that these gradients are actually happening. We enter a fucked up tunnel.
~27kms We enter a tunnel, there is a DJ playing techno very loudly. The gradient and berm change directions to snake us into a gentle ‘S’ pattern. It’s difficult to see the slope of the road, but you feel like you’re running uphill on a camber. Your body is telling you that you’re running on two hills, but your eyes can’t see it. The only light is from the orange lamps in the tunnel walls. After coming out of the blinding sun, the lights totally mess with my perception. Colours don’t look right any more and I can’t focus my eyes. Desperate for something to mentally hold on to I check my pace on my Garmin, “–:–” there is no satellite signal in hell. People are walking. One runner is throwing up in what used to be the middle of a road. The techno reverberates off my chest cavity. I don’t want to die in this tunnel.
After escaping from the tunnel we continue along an on-ramp. No one looks good at this point. People are stopping at the water station and not re-starting quickly. There is a turn-around point at an ambulance. Back we go through the sensory hell of the tunnel. Gitmo must have a tunnel like this.
After the tunnel we are back on the floating bridge and I eat another pack of Gu-chomps for comfort. For 5kms I have been looking for a runner around my pace to commiserate with. I want to say “man, fuck that bridge” when we get off it. There is no one around me that looks like they are capable of language. I am alone.
At the end of the bridge, I run past a sheriff who gives me the same look I might give to someone with testicles the size of softballs — kind of impressive, but you should probably see a doctor ASAP.
~33kms We join back up with the stupid halfer’s. These people will be finishing a half-marathon in ~4:30 — we are a different species. I thank every god I’ve ever heard of that they are separated by a rope from me. Get the fuck out of my way you fat cheery fucks. My pace of ~4:42/km has slowed to ~5:00/km I focus all my mental energy on holding this pace knowing that I will still be under 3:30
~35kms The tendonitis in my ankle starts to complain. Duly noted, asshole.
~36kms I’ve adjusted my stride to minimise the pain in my ankle. I must look like a shuffling zombie at this point. Garmin tells me my shuffle is still worth 5:00/km so I don’t care how I look.
~37kms Over my shoulder I see the Space Needle — where the finish line is. It looks tiny and on the horizon. Fuck that stupid pointy building.
~38kms I descend a level deeper into misery as I realise that no matter how much I want water, Gatorade, Gu or sugar it probably won’t make a difference at this point. Although it will feel like forever, the last 6kms won’t really be long enough to absorb anything useful
~38.1kms — Fuck it. Remember I have the free Gu in my pocket, maybe it’s one with caffeine? I try to read the package but can’t focus my eyes. I eat it and spike the packet on the ground.
~39kms The halfers at this point are almost exactly half my speed. I hate them so much. They look like fat triathletes with ridiculous amounts of gear. They are wearing compression socks and race belts. There is a gatorade station where so much gatorade has been served that the concrete of the highway is sticky under my shuffling feet.
~41kms That fit looking fucker, Dean Karnases flies past me. God. Fucking. Damnit. I realise even if I can run fast now I won’t be able to beat him if I catch him. Break into a dead sprint. I may still be able be in the background of his finish line photos.
~41.5kms How fucking long is this last km? Fuck Dean Karanazissiz
~42kms I can see the finish. It’s beautiful. Dean K. finishes, the announcers chat with him. I finish, no one notices except myself.
Post race: finish area. Bottle of water, chocolate milk, banana. Grabbed a space blanket and wrapped myself with it because I saw Dean’r do it and I’ve now decided that he knows what he’s doing. Grab an extra bottle of water because I always have a plan.
Hobble over and meet Laurel. Express a strong desire to sit down. After sitting for a few minutes, my bowels express a strong desire to be empty. Hobble over to the hotel parking lot. We no longer have a room so I shower in the parking lot by pouring my second bottle of water over my body and drying off with a towel. Laurel takes pictures of me showering, I feel like Paris Hilton.
Hobble back to the race-festival area. Get ice for my left ankle and a gatorade from the medical tent. Sit for ~15 minutes. Decide it’s time to hobble to a porta-poty. Limp over to the first set, they are all out of service, see another set in the distance, hobble to them, they are all out of service. Remember a McDonalds by our hotel, hobble over there. It is the second most beautiful thing I’ve seen all day: a stall with TP. Sit down and unload my chicken terriyaki that I carried for far too long. Afterwards, I feel bad for McDonalds so I buy 3 cheese burgers and eat them on the hobble back. Wrap left ankle in tensor bandage. Hobble back to car.
Get delicious omelette at Portage Bay Cafe. Drive back home. Stop a couple times on drive, am very very stiff when we stop and get out.
M-day +3: Most of muscle soreness is gone
M-day +8: Ankle is still sore, still walking with a limp. Spending all day every day heating it and sitting inside. Will see a Physio on M-day +10