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26.2: The Race

Race day for me begins at a relatively sane 6:45 a.m., when I get up to eat a light breakfast before the race. One of the benefits of running a "smaller" marathon like Vienna's is that the logistics are a little more manageable. I can eat breakfast with my family and take the normal public transportation to the start area just an hour before the race is scheduled to start. Veronika is also scheduled to run—her first race, a 1 km run—so we all head out the door around 7:40 a.m., I get well wishes from everyone and a thumbs up from Nikola at the subway station, and I am off.

Runners are converging on the train lines from every direction. Every nation in Europe seems to be represented in the packed subway car I ride in on and people are chatting nervously as we wait to arrive. I look around to see what kinds of people are crazy enough to run a marathon and how far they are willing to travel to do it. I start trying to mentally categorize everyone into first-timers, old pros, etc., but it's not always easy to tell with runners. The amount of money spent on apparel is not necessarily a good indicator of experience and the guy that doesn't look incredibly fit might surprise you and pass you somewhere north of three hours.

The weather forecast had called for a windy and rainy 48° F (9° C) for the start of the race but things are better on all fronts—slightly warmer, no rain and no wind. As I go through my normal warm-up and stretching routine at the start area, I think for the first of a hundred times, "Is this really happening? Am I dreaming?" I had done the same stretches three or four times a week for the past several months, often alone in the park on a cold, dark morning, and here I am doing the same thing among thousands of other runners, preparing to finally do what I had been training for. As the start draws closer, people hurriedly attend to their bathroom needs, at the chemical toilets where possible but resorting to walls, trees, bushes or basically anything that would provide a little cover when necessary (runners are animals!). I drop my bag of clothes off at the appropriate truck for delivery to the finish line and take a spot in my assigned starting area next to a small group of Austrians. A couple of guys ahead of me are wearing matched t-shirts, one that said "SER" and the other "VUS" (Servus being a traditional Viennese greeting). A few minutes later, the pack starts slowly edging forward and within a hundred meters we are jogging and crossing the start line.

KM 0 - 10 (Mile 0 - 6)

The pack is pretty thick for the first few kilometers but we are all running and at about the right pace. I had been warned not to start too fast, which is apparently an easy thing to do when the adrenaline is flowing, so I watch my time closely for the first five kilometers. I had thought that I was generally pretty good at finding and keeping my pace and my training times seemed to bear that out but running in a huge mass of people is a whole different story. There are a lot of people around me running at exactly the same speed, a lot running a little faster, and a lot running a little slower, and I don't know to which of those groups I belong. I end up relying mainly on my watch and settle into the right pace pretty quickly. For a while I'm distracted by a guy in his sixties running with a rosary and singing some prayers. I keep pace with him until he nearly empties the contents of his nose onto my leg with a farmer's blow and then I decide it's time to pass. Just before 10 km I eat my first of three gels and get my second cup of water. I am not good at running and drinking out of a hard plastic cup and spill half of it all over myself.

KM 11 (Mile 6 - 7)

I see Dinka and the kids around Karlsplatz and get high fives from everyone. It is a tremendous feeling and a great psychological boost to have people out there cheering you on, especially those that are close to you. If anyone you know is running a marathon in the city you live in, go out and support them! Even one strategically timed high-five will mean a lot to them.

High five!

KM 12 - 25 (Mile 7 - 15)

We leave the center of the city and make a big loop out to Schönbrunn and back. I know that there will be no one that I know along the route for a long time so I allow myself to turn on my 2005 iPod Shuffle. I have mixed feelings about tuning out my fellow runners and the crowd with headphones but I defend my decision as follows:

Between the boost I get from the music and the high that I normally get during this stage of my runs, I am absolutely flying, both emotionally and pace-wise. I don't realize it at the time but I'm actually running faster than my target pace for at least the whole middle third of the race. I breeze past the half-marathon mark where some of the runners are ending their races and feel like I could keep going all day.

KM 26 (Mile 16)

I was hoping to see Dinka and the kids here again but for a variety of reasons, one of which being that I was running ahead of schedule (!), it didn't work out. This is the downside to having a schedule of who you're going to see along the route and when, I guess—if it doesn't work out, you can't help but to be disappointed—but if you don't plan it out and your family shows up spontaneously, isn't it quite possible that you'll miss them?

KM 27 - 35 (Mile 17 - 21)

Time to get serious. I start to feel a little fatigue in my legs that I hadn't really experienced in my training runs. I eat my third and final gel around km 30 and am grateful that the eating portion of the marathon has successfully concluded. The longest I had ever run in training was 32 km and when I cross that mark, I try to remind myself that there's only 10 km to go but it doesn't help much. After 30 km I also start walking while drinking water at the stations. My legs are grateful for a few seconds' reprieve and I can't afford to spill half of the water down my shirt anymore. My pace starts to drop slowly, first back down to my target pace and then slightly slower but still reasonable. Everyone seems to be passing me and I think I must be really be falling apart until I notice the slightly different numbers that they're wearing and realize that they're running the marathon relay (4-person teams doing a quarter-marathon each). These people have fresh legs and are full of smiles, flying by the rest of us while we run out of gas. I hate the marathon relay runners.


KM 36 - 42.195 (Mile 22 - 26.2)

Time slows to a crawl. My kilometer times are slowly getting worse but I am so tired that my pace is out of my hands. There is only one decision: keep going or stop, yes or no. I keep going. Nothing can give me a boost anymore, not music or the crowds cheering us on or even the thought of the finish line. I know that I will make it through somehow but I honestly do not know how.

I see some family members cheering me on at km 40 and Dinka and the kids are waiting just before the finish but all I can do is give a halfhearted wave and keep putting one foot in front of the other. There is no burst of energy, no wild celebration at the finish, just crossing the line and finally letting my legs stop moving.

195 meters away

The one thing that no one told me—either because they didn't want me worrying about it or because it didn't happen to them—is that after I stopped running my legs would stop working. I didn't fall on my face on the red carpet or anything but for the 45 minutes or so immediately after the race, I can't stand or walk for more than a few minutes without having to sit back down again. Get my medal, sit down. Stretch, sit down. Get some water and a finisher goody bag, sit down. In the finisher's bag I find a SanLucar clementine orange and it is the most delicious piece of fruit that I have ever eaten in my life. I briefly consider joining my fellow runners in a celebratory non-alcoholic Erdinger beer, just for the novelty of it, but my brain can't convince my body that it's a good idea. I still have some post-race tasks to get through and I'm starting to get really cold. It's colder at the finish line than at the start, the wind has picked up and is blowing through my wet clothes, and it has started to drizzle. I start shivering all over but know that the only way to get through is to drink some water and find my dry clothes so I continue on, sitting down every few minutes along the way. It takes me an hour to get through the 500 meters of the finish area, change clothes and recover enough to leave.

We had agreed to meet across the street after the race and I know they've been waiting for a long time. As I'm walking and thinking about them waiting for me, I start to tear up. When I finally see everyone, it's no use, the floodgates are open. I don't realize how much I had been carrying inside, how relieved and grateful and exhausted I am, until it all comes pouring out. We stop to take a quick picture but I still need to get my body temperature up so we head out in search of a warm subway car.

My fans, some voluntary, some coerced

At home, it is all celebration. Needing to clean up, warm up, and eat, I run a hot bath and bring a sandwich along to eat while I'm in there. After about an hour people start showing up with food. Dinka has planned a party and for the entire afternoon and evening, I am surrounded by my family and friends, eating and drinking and telling the tale of the race. I wear my medal. I am so happy.

How long am I allowed to wear this?
April 21, 2012 | Comments (1)

26.2: Go Time

Let's do this

During the 50 or so hours I spent running outside in the cold as part of my training program, I mentally wrote so many more posts than I've been able to post here or that probably deserve to see the light of day. I have a sentimental attachment to every piece of equipment pictured above that no one wants to hear about. To motivate myself during some of the tougher runs, I dreamed up several elaborate afterparty scenarios, including the music that would be played and the food and drink to be served (ok, real quick: 1) a rented-out restaurant in Vienna for everyone I know with pork prepared in dozens of unhealthy ways and an unending supply of good Zweigelt, 2) an all-star karaoke jam with my brother and I dropping hits from the Rhymesayers catalog, Dinka and I singing "Bring It On Home to Me" by Otis Redding and Carla Thomas and embarrassing our children, etc., and 3) Schubert's Deutsche Messe at Jesuitenkirche — I still know how to party!).

But time has run out for all of that. Tomorrow, I run.

Lucky number 7859
April 14, 2012

26.2: The Data

The long and winding road

If that last post left you wanting more data analysis, here are some additional charts and interesting data points. If not, please bear with me. Above is the full graph of my running history, which was seen in two parts in the announcement (click to enlarge).

Coldest run: 10° F (-12° C), 13.1 miles on February 4, 2012 (first half-marathon ever), Vienna
Hottest run: 90° F (32° C), 3.1 miles on July 6, 2010, downtown Danbury, CT
Number of races: 5
Pairs of shoes: 6, all Brooks
Miles to date: 2,222.7374
Miles with Digby: I wish I had kept better records of this. Most mentions of Digby in the running log are frustrated comments about his unwillingness to run. That being said, he did run with me on almost every outdoor run during our six years in Connecticut and on a few runs in Wisconsin. I ran a total of 986 miles outdoors in CT, so excluding days when it was too warm, too cold, too windy, too rainy or otherwise generally displeasing to Digby, I'm going to guess that he ran at least 850 miles with me.

Here's a breakdown of my various crosstraining activities over the years. During the marathon training my only crosstraining was basketball, which is not recommended, I know, but it was just too fun to give up.

Mmm, pie

And finally, a chart of all of the places that I've run since 2004. By my count, there are three countries and seven U.S. states listed here (click to enlarge).

April 11, 2012

26.2: The Announcement

And we're not even going to be running on this street!

I've been waiting for over seven years to make this announcement. In two weeks, I will be running my first marathon. Since the thrill of finishing my first race in 2004 I've dreamed of running a marathon and even attempted several times to build up my weekly mileage toward that goal, only to be thwarted every time by a hobbling case of shin splints in my left leg. Looking back at my running log—kept meticulously in a MySQL database by a small PHP page that I wrote back when I had the time and motivation for that kind of thing—I can count at least four times when I had to halt my training, wait for my leg to heal, and start again. After a few rounds of that, I resigned myself to being a ten-miles-per-week runner to maintain a basic level of fitness.

6+ years of frustration

After last year's marathon in Vienna in April, I started wondering if enough time had passed for me to give it another shot. Trying to avoid another round of disappointment, I set myself a modest goal: a 10k in August. If I didn't make it past that, I would cut back again and pretend that I had never dared to dream of the marathon again. But then a funny thing happened. The 10k went fine and I continued building my mileage through the fall to the point where I could meet the prerequisites of a marathon training program. My leg was fine, though I could scarcely believe it and didn't dare mention it to anyone. Still healthy, I started the beloved Hal Higdon Novice 1 training program just before Christmas and tentatively followed it through the winter. Minor injuries came and went along the way but I treated them and stuck to the course and none of them ever became serious enough to shut down my plans. No one could have been more surprised than I was when I finished my longest training run last weekend and stood only three weeks of comparatively easy mileage from the actual event.

In the last several months I have often wondered why everything that seemed so impossible before is suddenly working so well now. I'll never know for sure, I guess, but in case it helps anyone out there, here are all of the things that could have contributed to helping me overcome my injuries and prepare for a marathon. It worked for me!

I first started running to prove to myself that I could (and because it was the easiest, most time-efficient and cheapest way to get some regular exercise). Along the way I found that I could do it and in fact began to enjoy it. The idea of the marathon started out the same way—if I could turn myself into a person that runs three times a week through pure determination, could I push myself to a more extreme accomplishment by the same means? And while it's tempting now to spin this as a "Just keep trying and you can accomplish anything!" type of story, I don't think that the happy ending to this story was in any way a given, no matter how strong my will. In fact, that's the aspect of this experience that has been most valuable to me, learning that there are some goals that can't be met by pure will. There may be other factors outside your control that complicate things. Success might look a lot different than you imagined it. And most importantly, sometimes repeated failure is not just a part of the process but something that you never overcome but just learn to deal with. Over the last several years of my life, I have begun to learn, sometimes painfully, to take a longer view of things and to allow my expectations to mature and adapt. Running has been a very good teacher in that respect.

While I'll obviously be happier if the marathon goes really well, I already feel that getting through the training has been a reward in itself. It might not be true that you can accomplish absolutely anything that you set your mind to but you certainly don't know what you're capable of until you've tried (and failed, and tried, etc.). In doing so, you will also learn something about yourself that you could not have otherwise known. My longest run prior to my marathon training was 6.8 miles in Charleston, SC, which was only supposed to be 6 but I took a wrong turn by some industrial docks and it took me longer than expected to get back. I set a new personal best for my longest run ten times along the way and each time was a victory. I had no idea that I could run that far before!

The victories along the way

The marathon will be another point on the chart above but regardless of what happens on that day, it's not going to change what I've already been able to do and learn. So when Dinka mentioned an article wondering whether it was possible to run a marathon without training this morning, the only thing I could think was, "What would be the point?"

April 01, 2012 | Comments (2)