Monday, 20 August 2012

ENDURrun Stage 7: The Marathon

The key to running a good marathon is to not listen to anyone’s advice the last week before the race. That’s when people tend to do stupid things that disrupt all the input and training of the previous months.
- Don Kardong

So. It is the eighth day since the ENDURrun began. I have run 117.8km over seven days, in various distances. I have battled various injuries; illotibital (IT) band pain, Achilles tendon soreness, and a weird pain in the sole of my right foot (plantar fasciitis?) as well as a weird rash on my back that is super-itchy and painful to the touch. My GI system has been out of whack, and I haven't had a good night's sleep the whole time I've been here. As much as I have enjoyed the week of running and community with the other ENDURrunners, it's time for the event to end. But, there's still some work left to be done. The Marathon.

After what we've all run this week, the marathon seems (and I hate to say it) deceptively simple. No mountains to climb, no time trials to run, no trails to traverse. A simple two loop road race through the beautiful countryside of north Waterloo and Conestogo. I can visualize all stages of the race in my mind. It's part rolling hills, a net downward course to the half-way mark of the loop, then some steep uphills on the way back to the start. Then you do it all over again.

The night before, I dutifully rolled my left leg along the foam roller, took my customary Advil, and rubbed cream on my leg; praying to the running gods to give me a respite from the pain I had that morning during the 10km. I was also worried about the other ailments, but the IT band was the focus. My plan for the marathon was to run between a 6:00 and 6:30min/km pace. That would put me to finish anywhere between 4:00 and 4:12. With the walks through the water stations and the odd walk up the steep hills, I figured I would be able to finish around the 4:30 minute mark; not too shabby for a marathon on a good day; never mind after all the mileage I had on my legs already. No heroics, just play it smart. For nutrition, I'd take water at every station, Gatorade at every 2nd, and gels every 45 minutes or so on the course. 

In tha past, I've always run this stage alone. Sure, we all start out the same, and I usually end up running with some people who are around my speed. But by the 5 or 6 km mark, they are gone, and I am alone with my thoughts. Last year I tried to run with music. It was okay, but I found it distracting. I also had the advantage of having my friend Craig and his lady friend biking along side me on the course. What would happen this time? How would it be running alone and dealing with these aches, pains, and injuries?

Fortunately, there was an answer. One of my fellow ENDURrunners, Susan, who was running in front of me in the pack all week, asked me what my plans were. When I explained them, she asked if it were alright if we ran together. At first I was a little hesitant simply because of my injuries; I didn't want to hold anyone back if I had to walk more than normal. I didn't really know how I would hold up on the course. She said that was okay, that she'd walk or run with me and follow the plan. She wasn't looking for anything other than finishing, although later she confided that she wanted to come in under 4:30. Fine by me, we'd give it our best shot.

Sunday morning came pretty quickly; for this event we started earlier than usual (7:30am instead of 8:00am). Some of the slower runners had started even earlier, at 6:30am and 7:00am. We arrived at the start line later than normal, because of packing the car and leaving the dorm rooms. I think my roommate Duff was starting to freak out about it. But, we made it. I took my customary pre-race swing on the park swing set, went to the bathroom one more time, got my gels ready on the table at the half way mark, and after some chit-chat with the other runners, lined up at the start. Lloyd did his customary send-off, and we were running.

The first 3km were painful; both my leg and foot were bothering me, although I didn't really let it show (or thought I didn't). Susan and I forced ourselves to not get swept up with the faster runners, and just run our plan. We both kept each other honest; monitoring our GPS watches, and slowing down if we ended up running too fast. It was also refreshing to chat with her about our families, jobs, the week, the ENDURrun, running in general, and other topics. It kept our minds off the task at hand.

After the 4km mark, the IT band pain dulled down to a low throb, which was more than manageable. As for my right foot, it also was not really an issue. I have no idea why; perhaps it was the rolling, stretching, and Advil that helped. In any case we progressed through the first half of the marathon almost bang-on our pace and plan. I was very happy.

Starting the second loop is depressing; I always think that we've just done 2+ hours of running, and now we have to do it all over again. This is the point where anxiety usually hits me, and I start to walk more, or wimp out on the course. It's also when my right quad started to fall asleep. A very weird sensation. When I walked through the first water station on the second loop, it woke up, but after running again, it would fall asleep. As long as it didn't start to hurt bad, I just left it alone.

The temperature to start the marathon was perfect; 15 degrees, with some cloud cover. It helped to cool off the race. We also experienced some wind and breezes periodically, great for a cool-off. Susan's husband Andrew parked himself at various parts of the course, playing his banjo, and filming some video of Susan and I as we came by. I was amazed at how good I felt, and Susan said the same thing. We were smiling and laughing, yet still running between 5:30 and 6:00 kms. Crazy!

Soon it was time for the final approach, the final km. After walking up the last steep hill, we put on the jets and ran into the finish. I looked at my watch at one point and saw 4:48min/km, but didn't say anything to Susan. We motored through, grabbed each other's hand and raised them in victory as we broke the tape (yes, every runner gets to break the tape to finish the marathon; yet another little detail that makes the ENDURrun the best running event EVER!). I had done it! I was, for the fourth time, ONE TOUGH RUNNER!

Our time was 4:25:35, well within our goal, and only 2 minutes slower than last year. Incredible! After running so many kms I still had strength enough to complete a decent marathon!

After I finished, I had a quick massage on my IT and Achilles, had some of the fantastic spread that awaited the ENDURrunners, and signed the posters that made up some of the swag we received for finishing the event. 

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