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Archive for July, 2011

There is No Step Two

Friday, July 8th, 2011

“Step one, start running. There is no step two.”

With that neatly-summed up tidbit of wisdom from Barney Stinson (of How I Met Your Mother fame) in my mind, the 42.2 km running tour of Ottawa began.

Now, I could run step-by-step through the marathon process, but that would take quite a while. I was out there for a little over three and a half hours, and there are a lot of specifics which I don’t really remember. I mostly just remember how much my legs hurt.

Anyway – the real goal of this post-post-marathon blog (which is by now several months stale) is to talk about the act of running a marathon – key word is running, rather than racing.

First of all, it should be no great surprise how I felt after finishing. Tired. Hungry. Relief. Wet. Sweaty. More tired. All of those things pretty accurately depict what crossing the finish line. Especially the hungry. I went out for lunch with parents, went home for a nap, ate a medium pizza, sat on the couch, and then ate a burger. It was delicious.

But after some reflection, I’ve come to the conclusion that at least for me, marathon running is a bit confusing.

I have to be honest, I have no idea where this picture was taken, but I don't think I was kicking ass

When I got to the 19 km mark, things were still going well. I had energy, I had enthusiasm, I was well under pace, and I had the delusional goal that I was going to put together a charge at some point in the final 10 km and catch my Dad.

Roughly 2 km later at the halfway mark, I still felt fairly enthusiastic, but the wind was coming out of my sails a little.

And then around 28 km, the realization that I had run further than I had ever raced before, and that there was a very real possibility that I wasn’t going to stop running for at least another hour and a half really hit home.

At that point, it quickly ceased to be a race. The guy pacing the 3:20 marathon went by with a big pack of runners. I kept my head down, and let them go. Running through some of Ottawa’s most diverse neighbourhoods with a bunch of friends and family making random appearances on the side of the road, I was hurting. At the 32 km mark, with just 10 km to go (which took me an hour and seven minutes to run, compared to the 46:16 which I ran the first 10 km in, yeah, I know), the course wound back to a point where you could see the finish – but you had to run out and back to get to it. This was the really painful part – where I realized that just getting to the finish was going to be a real challenge. (I also realized that looking a little bit closer at the course map would have been a good idea – why are there so many bridges on the Rideau Canal??)

That point where it stopped being a race really confused me. I’ve done some long workouts before, long hikes, long rollerskis, but the max I have ever raced in running shoes is 25 km, the max I have ever raced on skis in 30 km. Sure, I may not have done all that well (as mentioned before, I got killed by Graham Nishikawa by 10 minutes in the 30 km) but both were still races by the time I neared the end.

I always have a race plan in the back of my mind – it sometimes gets a little mixed up, but it’s always there. But at some point during the hellish middle 10 km, that kind of disappeared, as while my legs were rioting like Vancouver following the Stanley Cup, my brain decided to follow suit and close up shop.

With a little under 10 k left, I'm in shut-down mode.

But the last 2 km really sums up how I feel about marathons. With just over 2000 meters to go, I took a look behind me and saw the 3:30 pace guy slowly creeping up. With 1 km to go, he passed me with a horde of people who were gunning for a sub-3:30 time. Now, I don’t mean to brag, but if there is one thing that Kieran never lacks, it’s a finishing kick. If you want to beat me in a race, lose me before the last km, or else be prepared for a fight.

But in my marathon – and this is the absolute worst part about it – that fight was gone. My internal dialogue went something like this: “Oh, there’s the 3:30 pace guy. That’s what I hope to run. There’s only one km to go. I can stay with him.” Two steps later. “Nope, I can’t. Oh well. Guess it won’t be a 3:30 day for me.”

Realizing that you can’t come up with enough hustle with 1/42th of a marathon remaining is pretty demoralizing.

So when people come up to me and ask me how the marathon went, and I shrug, and say “It was okay, I ran a 3:30,” I’m being totally honest. It’s good, but I’m not ecstatic, because it wasn’t really a competition. And in any other race I’ve done where I have switched from competition mode to survival mode, it has not been a good thing.

So for my first marathon, it wasn’t a bad time. It was interesting, an experience, and I’m going to have to whitewash the memories of it for a few more months before I sign up for another, but basically, Barney Stinson really was right – there is no step two.

Brad and I mugging for a photo post-marathon, Brad looking surprisingly fresh for running his 30th consecutive Ottawa Marathon in a time of 3:15, or 15 minutes better than me

Up next in the blogosphere – when a Canadian and an American road trip to Maine via Montreal, stuff happens, including Bixi bikes, guns, and lobsters. Stay tuned!