Preface: This account is nearly as long as the race itself, so I will forgive anyone who decides not to read it in its entirety. I could not edit any of it out because it all is part of the experience for me.
Longest run in training was 30 km. That was in late March, I think. Running went well in April and May but the North Carolina trip in June cut into my running routine. I tried to make up for it in July with a flurry of runs and cycling. I did lots of running, but there is more to a marathon than just running.
A work colleague gave me a marathon training program. It said that you should work on your nutrition program during your longer runs. I had never really considered that.
In my first half marathon (Sep 2012) I ate gels, drank water and suffered.
In my second half marathon (Mar 2013) I ate nothing, drank nothing and did awesome.
Since then, whenever I have run to or from work I have avoided drinking anything during the run and have usually eaten very little. Usually, I take little bites from a hot dog bun throughout the run. You probably think that's funny.
The day before the race we drove from Pocatello, ID to Highland, UT. We walked around in 100 degree heat at Thanksgiving Point before I downed a super-sized brownie sundae with hot fudge and cookie dough ice cream. This is clever race prep.
I ate a delicious carb dinner (Thanks Jamie!) and headed off to bed early.
Only 3 hours sleep. Woke up before my 2:45 am alarm feeling a bit ill. It could have been nerves, but that sick feeling stayed with me the whole morning.
The starting point was the high school. The other 100 runners were milling around in the dark, with their headlamps bobbing along as they adjusted their reflective vests and glow-in-the-dark wristbands. I munched on a small PBJ sandwich (on a hot dog bun, of course) and took a few last gulps of water as we assembled near the starting line.
My plan was to take it pretty easy on the way up the canyon and pick it up on the descent. I figured that I could do a 5:50/km pace on the way up and a 4:40/km pace on the way down to hit the target 3h40min mark. The first 10km was pretty flat so I ran a bit faster than the plan, thinking the uphill would be a bit slower.
That first hour was the best part of the whole race. I was running about 5:00/km and just cruising along through the dark. The moon was high above the mountains and the Timpanogos Temple glowed bright white above the rooftops. There was no wind and everything was perfectly still except for the sound of running feet.
And then I got sprayed in the face with a sprinkler.
Eventually, the flat terrain in town gave way to the greater incline of American Fork Canyon, so I dialed back the speed and turned on my audiobook in preparation for the long grind. The book was "Dad is Fat", the parenting experiences of stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan. It was pretty entertaining and I soon found myself nearing the turnaround point at Tibble Fork just before dawn.
This is Tibble Fork in the daylight
I finished the first half of the marathon in 1h54min, which was just ahead of my target pace and good enough to be #3 in my age group. I felt great as I cruised past the crowd of half-marathoners gathering near their starting point. I let out an enthusiastic whoop before handing in my headlamp and tearing off back down the canyon. That next km was the fastest I ran the whole morning, as the downhill grade gave me a boost in speed.
However, my literal decline represented a figurative decline which would last for the next few hours. I found it difficult to keep a quick pace with the steady downhill, which seemed relentless and punishing. A few people began to trickle past me and I started looking forward to the aid stations so that I could slow to a walk to drink some powerade. After a few km I ducked into the restroom because I felt really uncomfortable.
I slowed to a walk at one point near the base of the canyon, but I was able to pick it up again before the mouth of the canyon, where I ran past an ambulance that was taking care of someone. Until then it hadn't occurred to me that I might need to be removed from the race by ambulance, but the thought seemed almost comforting.
By this point the sun was up and I could clearly see the surroundings. It was somewhat depressing to notice landmarks from the golf course and think about how much worse I felt going past them this time around. I slowed to a walk again. A lady in her late 60s passed me wearing really high pink socks. I was still ahead of the half-marathoners, but they were going to catch me very soon at this rate.
I was just coming out of a porta-john at mile 22 when the fastest half-marthoners passed by. They didn't take any of the orange wedges that were being handed out either.
The audiobook was still nattering away about babies and diapers and finally I couldn't take it anymore. I mashed on the stop button and almost said aloud, "STOP TALKING TO ME!" The kind voice in my running program still came on my headphones every 500 meteres and reported my progress, although I think even that voice began to show signs of distress... or pity.
I was suffering pretty badly, and struggled to keep my walk at a strong pace. Twice I paused because I thought I might vomit, but I wasn't so lucky. Large groups of half marathoners streamed past me, many of them saying words of encouragement. I had worn my red marathon t-shirt for the race because I thought it would help people identify me as a marathon runner and take some pity on me. As they passed, the other runners would say, "Way to go, full marathon." I would then remove one hand from my waist and give them a wave and a pained, apologetic smile.
My headphones beeped for an incoming call. Instead of the robotic voice, I heard my brother Joel come on the line. I had suggested that they all call me in the morning before rushing out the door at 7am in case I was way off the target pace.
"How's it going?" Asked Joel.
"Man, it's not going very well. I'm really struggling to run right now." My body felt horrible all over, but mostly I felt bad that everyone one was going to wake up so early in the morning just to wait around at the finish line while I strolled along the race course. Joel gave me some words of encouragement and reassured me that they wouldn't rush too quickly to the finish line. I felt better.
At one point I was running east towards the mountains and could see the racers ahead of me had turned back westward and were just to my right, across a field. I started plotting how to cut across the field unnoticed. There were some trees further ahead that I thought might hide my shortcut. Then I considered just hiding in the trees and calling Joel to come rescue me. I thought about just sitting on the ground and weeping.
I had just 3 miles to go. Just 5km. This would be an easy jog on any other day, had I not already come so far. Finally I rounded the corner and started heading eastward. I still couldn't run because it made me sick. Even a brisk walking pace made me feel I was going to retch. Finally, I thought to myself, "why don't I just get this over with?"
I accelerated my walking pace until I was forced to double over on the side of the track to spew blue powerade over the grass. I took a few steps more and heaved again, squeezing every blue drop of liquid from my stomach.
Those passing by shouted more words of encouragement. "I'm right there with you, full marathon!" I was kind of glad that people were there to witness this.
I felt like a weight dropped from me. I broke into a slow run, finding a speed that was barely sustainable. At least I wasn't walking anymore. I felt so much better knowing that I would get to the finish line that much sooner.
I had a big group of fans waiting for me near the finish, and when I finally crossed the line I came face to face with a large cow mascot from Chik-Fil-A which was high-fiving the finishers. I threw my arms around the cow and hugged it. I hugged it for a good long time, swaying back and forth a bit -- until it was probably awkward.
Instead of the endorphinated "runner's high" I was feeling a triptophanic marathoner's low. I felt so humbled, and hugged everyone who had shown up to cheer me on, telling each one, "I love you so much. Thanks for coming to watch me finish." My brain had been been chemically repressing my will to live for over an hour and when I finally stopped I was so relieved to be done and was ready to surrender my running shoes forever (a feeling that later gave way to determination to do it all again and improve my time).
After lying in the grass for a while I was ready to limp to the car and go home. There I laid on a deck chair, wrapped in a blanket, sipping orange juice for an hour until I could finally eat a few bites of breakfast. After a short nap and some lunch I was feeling a lot better -- with only a sore knee as the lingering reminder of the morning's travails.
I will run again.