Diary Of A Marathon

Preparation is everything.  My preparation for the 2009 Illinois Marathon was not to be desired.  Because of my injury I had run only a handful of miles in the past 3 weeks.  Then with about 1.5 weeks prior to the marathon I came down with a sinus infection.  There is the theory of tapering but this was just plain losing fitness.  I came to realize during the marathon that no matter how long it takes you to gain fitness it takes significantly less time to lose your fitness.

Dan and I departed Springfield around 14:30 on Friday afternoon and headed to Champaign.  We arrived at the Expo and luckily found a close parking spot.  It was interesting seeing how campus has grown up since we were students at UIUC.  The Expo and number pick up was smooth and well-organized.  However, I was a little disappointed at the variety of exhibits.  But expectations can’t be too high for an inaugural event.

Pre Race/Expo

We left the Expo and headed to Monticello to meet my sister and her family for a pasta dinner at a local restaurant.  Although Dan was contemplating running the half-marathon he still made me jealous by ordering a beer at dinner.  Damn him!  I have been dry for almost 2 weeks and I wasn’t about to start now.  Tomorrow night will be my day to imbibe.  Dan got a taste of small town dining when he was shocked to learn the restaurant did not take plastic.  You still owe me $20, Danoh.

We then headed back to my sister’s house where we would spend the night.  At Lisa’s house we hung out, talked with my family, and watched the Master’s.  Normally the night before a marathon Dan and I spend the evening pinning numbers, tying chips, getting our fuel ready, and discussing our plans.  This night was different as Dan was stress-free (still debating the half) and I was left to prepare alone.

Sometime during our conversations I went to go get my bag of swag.  I wanted to check out the propaganda, size up the race shirt, and prepare my bib number and timing chip.  What a shock I got when I pulled 2 left shoes out of my transition bag.  My stomach immediately ascended to my throat and I felt my blood pressure rise.  What am I going to do?  I freaked out and Dan and my family thought it was hysterical.  Their unsympathetic comic relief actually calmed my nerves a bit.  The options were spinning in my head.  Dan then pointed out that I was wearing trail shoes and I could wear them for the race.  With a sigh I agreed.

Pre Race/Expo
To add salt to the to wound half of my Cytomax powder had spilled out of my water bottle into my suitcase.  For future reference, powder can escape a water bottle when the tip is open.  Who knew?  I would have to drink diluted Cytomax for pre-race hydration.  Upon inspecting the swag bag I noticed that I didn’t have a zip tie for my timing chip.  Could things possible go more wrong?  I was, however, able to tie it onto my shoe with the shoestrings.  (I found out afterwards that the timing chip was a “commemorative chip”.  So no need to remove it after your finish.)

My sister does not drink coffee so we got coffee from the only place in town open at 06:30, McDonalds.  We arrived at the race around 07:00 in plenty of time.  A good parking spot was found.  I had trouble gagging down the oatmeal I prepared because my stomach was already upset.  I decided to go the bathroom then come back and finish the oatmeal.  I didn’t see any port-o-potties but I did see a bunch of people heading to the Assembly Hall.  So I decided these were the bathrooms.  It was 07:30.  To my amazement there were only 2 bathrooms available and the lines were looooong.  There is no way I could wait in line, make it back to the truck, then to the start line in time.

So I headed back to the truck with progressive urgency.  There I finished my oatmeal and got fully prepared.  Then headed back to the Assembly Hall.  Thankfully there was no line.  However, as I sat on the porcelain I noticed it was 10 till 08:00.  I was bordering on missing the start.  I ran up as the National Anthem was ending. 

The start line area was jammed packed.  There was no where to enter the sea of people.  I craned my neck to look for pace signs and found 03:20.  That is what I wanted but I could’nt figure out how to get there.  I eventually started the race in the grass then butted my way into the crowd onto pavement.  The pre-race preparations and start of the race were extremely stressful.  Not the most ideal conditions.

One of my pet peaves is when slow runners or walkers are at the front of the start line.  This happened at the Illinois Marathon.  I actually ran around some walkers who were nesteled between the 03:30 pace group and the 03:20 pace group.  Come on!  You’re just making it difficult for everyone behind you.  This is where the race went all wrong.

I made it to the 03:20 pace group around mile 1.  In retrospect I should have started in the 03:30 or 03:40 pace group as my fitness was not what I thought it was.  However, my leg was feeling good and I quickly settled into a good rhythm.

Sometime around mile 4 or 5 there was a water stop and I kind of just ran away from the pace group.  I didn’t try to it just sort of happened.  As my pace increased I actually bridged up to the 03:15 group on this little bike path in a park.  I think it was around mile 6.  While this group was making me work I didn’t feel pressed.  So I decided to stick with them.


Then it hit me.  All those days of no training that is.  I started to feel bad and there were a lot of miles left.  I thought if I took a nature break I would feel better.  But that didn’t help.  Shortly after mile 9 the 03:20 pace group caught me and I decided to hang on for as long as possible.  This was when we hit Green street again.  My focus re-appeared when a couple of HardyBreeds yelled encouragement out to me….Thanks!

The elastic snapped in downtown Champaign.  I lost contact with the pace group and tried to gain my own rhythm.  Hoping to gain some momentum I discarded my jacket and was down to race attire.  This helped briefly.   Crossing the half way area the announcer informed the crowd that the girl I was running with was in the top 10.  I thought to myself that maybe I wasn’t doing that bad after all.

As I rounded the corner for mile 14 the eventual winner rounded the corner for mile 19.  He was 5 miles in front of me, amazing.  Watching the front runners took my mind off the pain for a while.  Shortly after though the intermittent walking began.  My calves were cramping and I had to stop and stretch periodically.  Somewhere around mile 19 Kim passed me while I was walking.  She asked if I needed some beans and I was too exhausted to answer.

A mile or 2 later the 03:40 group came and went.  I was happy for Kim to be ahead of her projected 03:40 goal but my dejection and agaony was worsening.  Did I mention the wind?  It seems that I ran 3/4 of the marathon into the wind.  Every time I thought I couldn’t get slower I would round the corner into a blanket of wind.  This only added to the misery.  Thanks to Paul M. and a HardyBreed girl that yelled for me between miles 18 and 20.  You actually gave me some relief.  Thanks.

Seeing the Assembly Hall was encouraging but having Dan yell out “only 5K to go” was discouraging.  Normally 5K is no problem but after 23 miles it’s a long way.  Normally it would take 20 minutes but if I was lucky it would take 30 minutes today.

With about 2 miles to ago another of the 100’s of runners that passed me in the course of the marathon ran by.  As I looked up I noticed a familiar face.  It was Leah, my 06:00 training partner.  For some reason that encouraged me to pick up my pace.  I ran behind her or next to her for the final 1.5 miles.  I wanted to encourage her or pace her for a good time but I could barely keep up with her.  She actually dropped me just before the entrance to Assembly Hall.

The finish was pretty cool but the surface was rather difficult.  The crowd was amazing and the announcer encouraging.  I wished I would have looked at myself on the jumbotron.  I stopped the clock (and the bleeding) at 03:47.   Dan found me collapsed in the endzone and captured the agony on film.


Speaking of the crowd.  There was not an empty section of the course.  The citizens of Champaign-Urbanawere awesome.  The course was deafening in spots but not a block didn’t have a spectator yelling out encoragement.  I had to actually use a port-0-potty on the course because there were no bushes without spectators.

Am I happy with my result?  I guess……..  4 weeks ago I wanted to do 03:15.  But since my illnesses and injuries the marathon was an unknown entity.  I had hoped my fitness was there but it wasn’t.  I guess I am happy I finished and under 4 hours.

It was actually quite liberating to finish.  One ,I was happy it was over and two, now I can concentrate on the rest of the season.  For the past 4 months my only focus has been the marathon.  Now I can swim more and get back on the bike.  I can concentrate on other things.  I’m excited about the upcoming triathlon season.