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Portland Marathon Race Report: Stage fright and a small dose of redemption

Posted Oct 06 2009 10:00pm

So what happened? That's the big question that everybody has, right? I mean, how did 55 miles/week of training and 8 runs over 20 miles equal a 4:03 marathon on a flat course and in temperatures that were 25 to 30 degrees cooler than I normally trained in?

How did my Portland marathon turn out 10 minutes slower than my Cowtown Marathon even though I was much more fit going into Portland?

You got questions? I've got answers.

1) I got stage fright.I totally freaked. I mean, in the beginning, my legs felt tight and they weren't firing right. The more I worried, the worse I felt. I was stressing so bad, man. I worried that my legs didn't feel right. I worried about when I should use the port-a-potty. I worried that my left shoe wasn't tied tight enough. And I worried that I wasn't sweating enough.

And you know how they say stress can impair the central nervous system? That's what was happening to me. I was having this weird brain-body connection. The timing between my brain and my legs was just off for much of the run. I know it doesn't make sense, but that's how it felt. My right leg would hit the ground and it just felt like my brain was just a split second slow in sending the signals for my left leg to fire.

You know how it feels when you step off a short curb that you didn't know was there? You feel startled, right, like you are going to fall but you catch yourself? That's how I felt. And as the miles ticked by, I was more worried about not falling off the curb than running. I was trying to keep from falling with each step instead of just running, that's how stressed out I was. It got so bad that sometimes I'd stop, and literally say to myself, 'Just put one foot in front of the other, dude.' I mean, I would switch my running form, or I'd stop and start again, trying to do anything to shake myself out of the doldrums.

2) Nutrition, hydration? Not sure if this was the problem. If anything, I over-ate and over drank during the week leading up to the marathon. And if I had to guess, I'd say i was overhydrated. I carried a water bottle with me during the first four miles so I wouldn't have to stop and fight the crowds so early in the race. I took a gel and had a salt packet 20 minutes before the race. I had another gel at Mile 4 and Mile 9. These were the same gels i took in training. After Mile 4, I took one or two cups of water at the water stops.

But the funny thing is, the more I drank or the more gels/salt tablets I ate, the worse I felt physically - and this was aside from the "step off the curb" feeling I had. I had to go to the port-a-potty five or six times (to do No. 1) and each time, my bladder emptied clear urine. It took me a while to figure out what was going on, that I probably began the race super-hydrated and since I wasn't running anywhere near marathon pace, I wasn't thirsty at all, and drinking water made me feel worse.

By Mile 21, I had had it with gels and water and decided I'd run the last five miles without taking any more gels and only water if I was thirsty. To hell with a formula! How did that work for me? I was one-minute faster per mile from Mile 21 to 26.2 than i was from Mile 13.1 to Mile 20. And my last two miles of the race (7:59 on Mile 24, 7:21 on Mile 25 and 6:35 pace for the last two-tenths of a mile) were much faster than my first few miles of the race.

That's it, people. I just freaked out and probably drank too much water. I didn't get cramps like I usually do, which is a good thing. But I was so scared that I thought the tightness I was feeling in my legs was the precursor to cramps. I ran scared. At one point, around Mile 11, I told the guy pacing me to go ahead and run because I knew I was cooked. He didn't think it was a good idea to leave me and insisted that he at least make sure that I finish. I promised him that I could finish the race and he took off.

I swear to God, when he took off I honestly thought about quitting. All I had to do was find a medic who'd take me to a hotel. i could pack, get on the plane to Phoenix where I was to start my training for a new job, and not have to face my Team Rogue teammates. But I'd have to face myself. And so I just said I'd run as slow as I could run and try to recover and get myself together and when I would feel good, I'd try to run hard. My paces from Mile 12 to 18 reflected this meek strategy on my part. My min/mile paces during this portion of the race ranged from 7:42 to 12:00. I was literally all over the place. I couldn't get any inconsistency and when I found myself running at a pretty decent clip, I'd freak out waiting for cramps that would never come. Then I'd slow down.

Finally, at around Mile 24, I just got mad. I figured I hadn't done enough to use up my glycogen levels and so there was no wall to worry about. So I just took off. I figured I was too close to the finish line to stop. I was either going to cramp up or I was going to finish strong and regain a sliver of dignity. A tenth of a mile turned into a quarter mile and so on and so on and I kept passing people, at least 100, maybe more, and my legs finally started feeling like themselves and my lungs were grateful that I was making them burn a little bit.

I told you earlier how I was able to run sub 8s during the last 2 plus miles of the race. If there is anything to take from this disaster it is that last fact: I did not cramp and ran strong over the last few miles. I ran like someone was chasing me with my arms extended as I crossed the finish line and will probably wind up with the best marathon finish photo of any I've had. I'll build on that and I'll run another marathon. But I won't say when and I won't set a goal for time. I'm just going to run for the enjoyment of running and let the fast times come naturally.

I'm going to get this thing down one day.

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