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Cramps, wind, and a pr: White Rock Marathon Race Report

Posted Dec 20 2008 5:38pm
During the weekend of the 2008 White Rock Marathon, it was more appropriate to sail a boat or fly a kite than to run 26.2 miles into Cat 2 hurricane winds. Street signs were wobbling and pacers couldn't carry their pacer signs because they were being blown out of their hands. Combine that with the heat, mid 60s at the start, mid 70s and sun at the finish and I'd have to say it was one of the worst weather days I've ever run in.
To be sure, I've run when its been hotter. Anybody that knows anything about Texas summers _ when I did most of my marathon training _ knows that the morning low is usually hotter than mid 70s. Its just that when you've spent the last six weeks running some mornings with a hat and gloves and long-sleeve shirt, a day like Sunday is, how can I say it, startling.

But I survived and have a (really) long race report to prove it. (By the way, the race video is still being made and I'll have it for you later in the week). I'll list the numbers first for those who don't have time to go through my drivel.

Official time: 4:08:34
Overall place: 1,185 out of 3,878 (4:34:04 was time for average finisher)
Gender: 900 out of 2,426
First half: 1:49:52
Second half: 2:18:42 (A negative split? Hah. It was negative in a different kind of way.)

Saturday, Dec. 13. Wind and swag: The day before the marathon, I ran a short little two-miler before going to the expo. The run was a sign of things to come. On an out and back course, I struggled to run the last mile under 8:45 against a 20 mph headwind. I had trained to run an 8:00 m/m the whole way. So that kind of shook my confidence a little.
Nevertheless, I shook it off and picked up one of my running friends (Tamara - little did I know how big a role she'd play in my marathon) and we headed to the expo at the Dallas Convention Center.
I had heard there were big crowds there Friday, but those crowds had mostly streamed out by the time we got there. I got my bib, a shirt and we walked around for a little bit. Saw running guru Bart Yasso at a table signing autographs for his new book and sheepishly took a picture of him with my cellphone camera. I sampled a few foodie items from the vendors and then we left. I had a plain baked potato stuffed with chopped beef for lunch and a Pottbelly's A-wreck sandwich (no cheese), cookie, and juice for dinner. I pinned my bib to my singlet, got all my gus together, filed down my toenails, washed my socks and running shorts, charged my garmin and I was in bed by 10 p.m.

Sunday, Dec. 14: Marathon morning: I had this dream that I missed the start of the race and popped up to look at the clock. 2:53. Shit. I went back to bed and let the 4 a.m. alarm wake me.
I don't normally eat much before a long run and this day would be no different. A piece of toast with honey and a glass of orange juice was all I was having. I got dressed and met a few other runners behind the Lukes Locker on University Drive by 5:15. Most of them had already run their marathon (San Antonio Rock N Roll in November) but were running a leg of the relay Sunday so I gladly accepted a ride with David, knowing how sore I'd be afterwards. Michael, a co-worker, rode with us as well and we made the 30 minute ride from Fort Worth to Dallas without one delay. (A far cry from 2007 when I got to the race with just enough time to pee, pin my bib, and sync up my garmin).
Another runner, Phyllis, had booked a hotel room at the swank W Hotel but couldnt run the relays because she hurt her knee in San Antonio. But she kept her reservation and about a dozen of us camped out in Room 303 during the final few hours before the start. The room overlooked the start line, and you could clearly see them putting everything in place, getting the balloons together, testing out the smoke machine, laying down the timing mats.
Inside Room 303, I took off my shoes and laid on one of the couches to relax. When I needed to go to the bathroom, I went downstairs in the lobby bathrooms. (Hey, we are close friends, but not that close).
At about 7:30, we were getting antsy and made our way to the start line, where I met up with Andrea, who was going to follow me around on the course with a video camera. "Shoot anything you want Andrea," I told her. "Don't just shoot me when I look happy, shoot the bad stuff as well."

I gave everybody a hug and went off to find the pacer groups. 3:00. 3:10. 3:20. I got to the 3:30 pacer groups and, remembering Saturdays run thought, I'd better keep walking.
I settled on the 3:40 pace group. 15 minutes to go. The wind is really picking up now. Blowing my bib so hard I hold it because it feels like its going to rip away from the safety pins. 8 minutes to go. I hear this sound, like the tearing of cardboard. I turn around. The wind has ripped off half the sign being held by the 3:40 pacer. It now just says, "3:4" 4 minutes to go. National Anthem. Hand over my chest. Heart is beating way fast. I move my hand over my stomach. Its rumbling. 2 minutes to go. They do the standard military flyover after "....home of the brave." One of the fighter jets takes aim at the W Hotel. Then he swooshes over it. But the way we were looking at it, with the angle we had, it looks like he was going to smash right into the building. We all gasp. I hear somebody utter, "Man, I thought we were fenna have another 9/11 moment." Fenna. Good to be around Texans.

The gun goes off and the confetti whirls around and we are off. "Thank God - now comes the easy part," I remember thinking. I had made a promise to myself that I'd really try to enjoy the first part of the race, hold back and not worry so much about pace. I promised I would take in all the scenery. But folks, I got nothing for you. The first part of the run was non-descript. There was a guy with a wig. Another guy with the picture of his deceased love one on the back of his shirt. Two buys running the relay in a bikini. There were a few rolling hills and the crowd size was outstanding. There were so many of us that I spent most of the first five or six miles watching my step, making sure I didnt step on people or that no one stepped on me.
Near the end of Mile 5, I run into Andrea. She'd signed up to receive my tracking reports and thought she'd know where I was. But they never sent a report to her phone until the halfway point. So when I passed her, she was just standing there. "Andrea," I shouted. And she takes off running after me, I slowed a little so she could take some pictures and she shouts, "You are going to owe me big time." I laugh on keep going.

Mile 1: 8:47
Mile 2: 8:02
Mile 3: 8:18
Mile 4: 8:15
Mile 5: 8:25
Mile 6: 8:25

At Mile 6, we cross over Central Expressway and into the residential neighborhoods. I took two ecaps at this point. It is also the point where we split up with the half-marathoners. (In the half-marathon race, this guy had a 30 second lead on the pack and made a wrong turn with the marathoners at this point, running for 30 seconds before realizing he'd made a wrong turn. He wound up finishing sixth).
With the crowd (spectators and runners) thinning, I could settle into my pace and not worry about running into people, some of whom were already walking at this point. There is noooooo way I'd ever enter a marathon if I couldnt at least run the first part of the way. I took my first hammer chocolate gu and started feeling my stride, ripping off my two fastest miles at 8 & 9, which is right before we hit the lake in the White Rock Lake marathon. I kept up with the water at every aide station and still felt okay at this point. This would be my fastest stretch of the course and the last time I'd have the wind at my back.

Mile 7: 8:15
Mile 8: 7:59
Mile 9: 8:01
Mile 10: 8:15
Mile 11: 8:22
Mile 12: 8:13

Ok, this is where things got interesting. I passed the halfway point in reasonably good shape, right at 1:50 and I remember clapping my hands when I crossed the halfway marker. But I was feeling a little tired and decided to readjust my goals, from a 3:40 marathon to just getting in under 4 hours. I made the right turn around the lake and the winds are just howling. I felt like I was running in slow motion. It was worse, if you can imagine, when there were crosswinds off the lake. You were literally being blown sideways.
This is probably where I made my first tactical mistake. Remember the 8:45 mile against the wind the day before the marathon? On fresh legs? Well, instead of slowing down, preserving energy, I tried to keep my same pace. I mean, at one point I slowed and then people started passing me and instead of running my race, I tucked in behind them and tried to keep up. Thought i was drafting, but that wind was so stiff, so mean, I was back to running in slow motion.
It felt like I was in the middle of an old, grainy NFL Films video and the-late John Facenda or Howard Cosell was narrating. "And....there.....he......goes."
I sucked down another gu, my third to this point, and two more ecaps....I'd feel good for a little bit, then start dragging again. Around Mile 15, I felt that oh-so-familiar twinge in my right quad. Dammmmmmnnnnnnnnnit. I stopped and stretched and ran a little more. At 16, I ran into my co-worker, Michael, and another runner friend, Tara. They had already finished their leg of the relay when they saw me. I told them I was starting to cramp up and they ran with me for about a mile before turning off.
I knew the cramps were going to hit at some point in the race, but I was absolutely shocked at how early they came on Sunday. Ever since I started taking ecaps, I had never cramped during a long run. Never cramped. And during training, I went 20, 21, 21 and 22 on four of the last seven weekends before tapering. But here I was Sunday, right leg cramping, left leg about to give way. And another thing: My Brooks Adrenalines, which had been a Godsend during all my long runs, were causing me blisters on the inside of my right foot. They always say be prepared for something different to happen to your body during the marathon, but that was totally surprising. (When I got home, I took my socks off and realized I'd worn a hole in my right sock where a blister was forming. Never happened before. Never.)

Mile 13: 8:31
Mile 14; 8:43
Mile 15: 8:50
Mile 16: 8:48
Mile 17: 9:21
Mile 18: 9:54

As we turned off the lake and into the neighborhoods to go back to downtown Dallas, I just had this sinking feeling. In every run where I've had cramps _ 2005 and 2007 marathons, 2008 El Scorcho 25k) I've never recovered. The cramps have been so debilitating, so crippling, that my pace would drop 3, 4 and sometimes 5 minutes.
Near the end of Mile 19, I hear this big ruckus. A guy on the loudspeakers. "Congratulations, you've run 19 miles. Way to go," he yells over and over into the now-70 degree air. There is this big line of Hooters waitresses giving out water and gatorade. All kinds of eye candy. I tried to run through this throng of silicone, but my legs wouldnt cooperate. Took two (D?) cups of water from a girl who looked like a Buffy or a Heather and kept going. We made a right turn and I realized that the Mile 19 sign was still a 50 yards away. No fair, I thought. The guy on the loudspeaker tricked us into thinking we were further along than we were. There was a lot of that Sunday, lots of people saying, "You are almost there," and "That was the last big hill." Seriously, I wish someone would be honest and say, "You look like shit and there is still a long way to go."
From near the end of Mile 19 to Mile 21 was where the Dolly Parton hills began (seriously, this is what they call them. No wonder Hooters sets up shop there), and my legs were noooooooo match for them. I was shuffling past this one house when both legs just gave way. Calves and hamstrings on both legs. I put my hands down to break my fall. A lady who owns the house saw the whole thing and offered me some water. I was so delirious at this point, head so fuzzy that I didn't realize that she had already opened the water bottle. I was gnawing on it with my teeth, trying to use my shirt to get the cap off when I realized it was already open and sucked it down. To the lady who owns the house on Tokalon Drive: "Thank you very much."
By now, I had taken the last of my ecaps and had one gu remaining and was kicking myself for not stuffing more in my fanny pouch before I left the house.
Sometime around Mile 21, I ran into Christa, another Lukes Locker runner who was just out helping run people in. Christa is a fast runner, having run 3:35 in San Antonio, though I'm usually faster than her in shorter races and shorter runs. She got beside me and started running, no, make that jogging, and I just couldnt keep up with her. As she got further and further away, she looked back and held out an imaginary string and said, "Kevin, you can keep up because I am pulling you on this string." I replied, "I hope your string is not elastic because if it is, it's going to break or snap you back here with me." As I finished Mile 21, I had no idea about the tragedy that had happened at this point some 5 minutes earlier, when a 29-year-old Austin woman collapsed and later died at a Dallas hospital.
As I crested the last big hill of the race, I remembered thinking that it would get easy at Mile 22 when we ran down Swiss Avenue. I also decided to change my running style. I had remembered reading somewhere that sometimes the cramps are because your spine isnt sending the right signals to the affected muscles. (Or at least thats what I remembered that i had remembered at the time). So, I squatted down, like I was sitting on a stool and ran like I was sitting on a jelly jar or the potty. I put one foot in front of the other and tried to make the best of it. And I was running and running and running and the cramps seemed to subside and I started passing people and it was probably the best feeling I had during the whole race. I ran by Andrea for the last time and managed to crack a smile. (Thats right, I thought, she won't get me on camera limping around).
With three miles to go, my garmin read 3:23. I did some quick math and thought a sub 4 hour marathon was totally doable. Then I laughed at myself because four hours ago, I thought four hours was in the bag. And anybody wearing garmins during marathons know that you will alwayyyyyyyyys run longer than 26.2 miles. Four hours was going to be a stretch, I thought.

Mile 19: 9:37
Mile 20: 12:03
Mile 21: 11:15
Mile 22: 9;15
Mile 23: 9:47
Mile 24: 10:57

Near the end of Mile 23 I ran into Michael again and at Mile 24 we ran into Tamara, my friend from the expo, who had already finished up her relay leg. Just like Christa, Tamara looked at me and said lets go and took off and looked shocked that I couldnt keep up with her. In shorter races and runs, I am faster than Tamara (who ran 3:43 in San Antonio) and Michael.
But my legs WOULD. NOT. MOVE. And any attempt at anything under an 11-minute mile would make them revolt and cramp up on me. My lungs were fine. My heart was fine. But my legs were seizing and cramping. Yeah, that little trick I had used to get sub 10s out of my legs at Miles 22 and 23 was not working anymore. Something else was worrying me, too. I wasn't sweating. My face and arms were coated with salt, like I had walked through a windstorm in the desert. I figured that the wind was evaporating all the sweat, but for some reason, I knew this couldnt be a good thing.
I was back to running, stumbling from a cramp. Stretching. Walking. Thats how it ended. Run. Stumble. Stretch. Walk. Run. Repeat. The cramps would come on, mostly in my hamstrings, and I would just stop in the middle of the street and bend over. No sense in wasting any energy by running over to the side. So to anybody who nearly ran over me, or who had to put up with the site of my butt, i am sorry.
The race web site has this neat little gadget where you can input your name and itll tell you how many people you passed during the final 6.2 miles. I passed 42 people during the last 10k. Which means those people were hurting much worse than I was. But I was passed by 212 people. Yikes.
Michael, a really nice guy, was doing everything he could to coax me. I'd stop. He'd say, "keep going." I'd say I'm cramping. He'd say, "No, you're not." Id say the cramps are killing me. he'd say, "no theyre not." Finally, I said, "Michael, stop talking!" I felt bad for saying that, but it just seemed to be making things worse. (Actually, as I think back, its hard to say what I remember most during those final three miles. Michael talking or me hurting. And I guess that's a good thing. I emailed Michael later Sunday night and apologized for yelling at him. He is a great guy and without him and Tamara getting me through those last three miles, I dont know how much longer it would have taken me.
By now i was sucking down gatorades and trying to eat pretzels and just hoping I could squeeze enough electrolytes in my body so I could make it to the finish line. I was starting to feel a little nauseated. Somewhere in the middle of Mile 24, the 4 hour pacer guy passes me. Oh, well, I thought. From all the zig-zagging, I actually ended up running 26.75 miles and when my Garmin beeped at Mile 26, the time was 3:58. "hooray, I thought."
A few minutes later, I hit the official 26-mile marker sign and knew I was not going to get in under 4 hours and might not get under 4:10 if I didnt hurry. I was real confused about how many more tenths of a mile I had to go, so Id ask Tamara. Four-tenth. three-tenths. two-tenths. There's the finish line and I decided I'll at least run the last stretch in. There were throngs of people on both sides of the course. I was still running. Over all the yelling and screaming I hear somebody call my name. Its my dad. I veer over 20 yards to high five him. He yells out, "You dont look like you need me to run you in this time." (In 2005, my first marathon, my dad ran out on the course to run with me for a few yards before I finished). 100 yards from the finish. I realized I'd made a big mistake. I shouldnt have wasted that energy to run to my dad. My left leg started seizing real bad. Hamstring. inner quad. 50 yards away. Tried to run some more. 25 yards away. Couldnt run. Tamara and Michael were yelling at me to run. Couldnt run. I thought about stopping to stretch and as soon as the thought hit my head, I could see the finish-line cameramen taking aim at me, their shutters clicking at the runners in front of me.
I figured the only thing worse than me walking would be a photo of me bending over near the finish line. So I had no choice. I walked across the finish line swinging my arms wildly, hoping my histrionics would show up on film making it appear that i was running.

Mile 25: 11:26
Mile 26: 11:10

Final .75 miles: 9:48


After the marathon. Even though I didnt get my time, even though the last three miles was like a death march, I was very happy. This time is 1 hour, 12 minutes faster than last year and a personal best by 33 minutes. It capped off a year of me setting personal bests. I feel like the conditions were just terrible, but I believe I could have had a better time if I had run much slower in the beginning, particularly from miles 13 to 18. I know I'll get under four hours some day, and then I'll look to qualify for Boston once I do that. I've got to figure out this cramping thing and once I do that, I'll be fine.

I'd like to thank everyone who has stopped by this blog over the last few months and weeks to shout encouragement or wish me well. The running community in California and New York are especially good experts at this blogging, running stuff. Over the next few days and weeks and recover and start to think about which marathon is next. The journey is not ending, its just beginning.
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