Race Report: The Five Stages of Race Day D.E.A.T.H.

With a tip of the hat to Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, I present to you the five stages of Race Day D.E.A.T.H. I experienced all of these stages, over a period of four hours, 17 minutes and 45 seconds on Sunday while running the 19th Annual Key Bank Vermont City Marathon.

D = Denial. “I’m just a little off my pace because of that last hill. That pain will go away.”

E = Exasperation. “Why can’t I make my legs go faster?! What on earth did I eat that’s making me feel this bad?”

A = Agony. “…potty. Ow. Ow. Ow. Where’s the porta potty? Ow. Ow. Ow. Where’s the…”

T = Tedium. “I’m jog-walking at mile 19. I wonder if there will be anyone at the finish line when I get there later this afternoon. Oh, look. It’s a downpour. Now I can walk seven miles in wet socks.”

H = Humiliation. “That fat woman up ahead is going to beat me.”

I suppose it could have been much worse. I was off my last marathon time by about 22 minutes, or about 50 seconds per mile. But it was just shocking how badly things started to go wrong starting at about mile 12. I’d kept to my 8:55 pace all the way, even though my stomach was bothering me.

But my legs started to really hurt at mile 12 (something that didn’t happen until mile 19 or so in the last marathon), and my pace began to drop off slightly over the next 6 miles, but I was struggling. Mile 19 was the the turning point, where I lost it physically and mentally. I also got the runner’s trots, which involved a stop of several minutes and feeling quite weak for the subsequent mile.

Like the last race, my thighs were in excruciating pain. But unlike the last race, I couldn’t keep running at a quick clip despite the pain. I just couldn’t make them go faster, and by mile 20 my pace dropped to 10:45. That was also when it began to pour rain, a downpour which lasted close to 20 minutes. By mile 22 I was walking/jogging at a pace of 12:52, looking and feeling like a drowned rat.

I rallied a bit (that’s being charitable) and managed to run miles 23-25 at well under 12 minute miles. But that was mostly because I just wanted to get the damned thing over with and get some food in me. The last 1.2 mile stretch was a cruel joke. My pace was around 13:30 and I began to suspect that they’d moved the finish line to Canada. I kept running by people screaming, “you’re almost there! Just around the corner!” but no finish line. When I finally crossed it, I was so disoriented (and relieved) that I forgot to turn off my watch, so didn’t get my time until last night.

Jonathan didn’t fare much better, having blown his goal time and suffered the same decay in performance as I did. The lessons I take from this experience are:

1. You can’t “coast” on the training for a marathon earlier in the season. I simply didn’t run enough miles, or do enough quality workouts, over the preceding two months (much of it due to recovering from a marathon and then a half marathon — and much of it just not having the time due to work commitments). I had enough conditioning to run a very strong half marathon in late April, and that was part of what was so dispiriting about Sunday’s race. My April half indicated a good marathon time (predicting 3 minutes faster than my March marathon time) — but you can’t “fake” a marathon. I’ll learn to trust my training history more than a time predictor next time.

2. A hard marathon in March, followed by a hard half in April, followed by another hard marathon in May is too much. If I do this again, I have to make one race the hard race and other two “fun” races, or “training runs with food at the finish.” 🙂

3. Don’t eat kung pao beef the night before a marathon. Too much fat, protein and fibre.

On the positive side, I was never really in serious trouble. I passed one runner being hauled away in an ambulance at mile 18 (he seemed lucid; I’ve a feeling it was a bad injury). And I saw another collapse at mile 25 — passed out cold. So I’m grateful that nothing like that happened to either of us.

And the people of South Burlington were kind, generous and full of good humor and encouragement. It boosted my spirits to run through neighborhoods where everyone came out — and stood in the pouring rain! — handing out bananas and orange slices and cheering us on. I even started high-fiving kids once I decided to accept my failure and try to enjoy other aspects of the experience.

Running along Lake Champlain was also quite an experience. Very beautiful, even in the pouring rain.

It’s a race I’d run again. Although since the More Marathon seems to be my big spring race goal for 2008, I might do the Vermont marathon as a fun run next time. They also give you a nice tee shirt, for the record. Simple design and technical fabric, so you can actually use it for running. And they have the heaviest race medal I’ve ever seen. It must be made of lead.

So that’s it for the spring marathons of 2007. I’ll focus on a full recovery from this one and then start building a base of 55-60 miles per week over the summer. I’ll probably run the inaugural East Hampton Marathon in September as a fun/training run, rather than race it.

The More 2008 race is 10 months away. Plenty of time prepare…