Since I’ve been incorporating a cup (or eight) of coffee into my pre-long run routine, I set the alarm a bit earlier to go head down the street to a lovely Royal Farms.
Naturally, I woke up before my earlier-than-normal 4:45 a.m. alarm with jitters and/or excitement. Once we stepped outside of the house, I could tell that the wind was going to play a larger role than I anticipated, as it made the conditions feel much colder than they probably were. I got some coffee– opting for hot instead of iced, due to the weather– and went back to the car to fill ‘er up, so we wouldn’t have to fuel up on the drive home.
With a full tank of gas, I drove back home, ready to have my traditional PBBJ sandwich before donning my running clothes and letting everything digest.
Once back at the house, though, I couldn’t find my phone and thought I left it at the Royal Farms gas pump. I checked back in the car and couldn’t find it. I checked all the seat cushions in the house and couldn’t find it. As I was about to have panic attack and rush back to the Royal Farms, I saw it in the cup holder of my car; I guess my brain doesn’t turn on until 5 a.m.
One minor crisis averted, it was time to gear up. For today’s race, I rocked the following:
- Saucony Kinvara 6 shoes
- Injinji low socks
- Janji Ethiopia 2-in-1 shorts
- Under Armour singlet
- Ciele FASTCap
- Some random iPhone armband that I picked up on Amazon the week before
- iPhone 6S
- Anear bluetooth headphones
- November Project buff
I put on my race clothes to the soundtrack of my marathon playlist. After running sans music during the Charleston Marathon, I decided to reincorporate music back into my plan because I wanted to make sure I didn’t have a cognitive bonk, like I felt I did in January.
The playlist was strategically engineered to keep me on my toes as it mixed EDM, rap, alternative, and post-rock together. For the final 45 minutes or so of the playlist, I went all in with epic soundtrack music, like Thomas Begersen’s “Final Frontier,” featured in the science fiction movie Interstellar. This type of music proved to be best at pushing me to the limits during training runs, so I figured I’d end with a block of epic in the event that I started to physically or mentally fall apart.
Next, I downed the sandwich, half of my coffee, and a glass of water, before letting nature take its course in the bathroom.
The two others in our trio prepared similarly and by around 5:45 a.m., we were in the car and on our way; all with our cell phones by our sides.Traffic was non-existent and we parked a few blocks from the finish line.
With about 45 minutes until the start of the race, we headed toward the start line, before taking a detour at a nearby hotel for a final bathroom break. We saw lots of runners coming out of the hotel, so we figured it’d be OK to use for our personal needs. With our bladders and bowels all race-ready, we then walked about a half-mile to the start line.
The marathon kicked off at 7 a.m., so I bid farewell to the other crew members– both of whom were running the half– with some fist-bumps and hugs.
Because I ignorantly decided to go with Plan A and aim for sub-3:30, I lined up in between the 3:25 and 3:30 pacers. If only I could find a marathon with a pacer for my goal time!
The race director may or may not have said a few words after the playing of a recording of the national anthem, and by around 7:02 a.m., we were off.
Miles No. 1-3 (7:23/7:32/7:32 minutes/mile)
Per usual, I ran quickly out of the gate. This was not a surprise, and instead of freaking out about my pace as we ran up Coastal Highway, I enjoyed it and took in the experience. For today, if I burned out, I burned out. I didn’t have a full training cycle under my belt, so I figured it was only a matter of time. Might as well go out in a fiery ball of epic, right?
About 0.5 miles in, my wireless headphones got loose and started to pop out of my ears. This was a common and frustrating occurrence. Instead of noting every time this happened, I’ll just have you assume it happened every five minutes, because that’s what it felt like. This drove me bonkers during the race. I had no technical difficulties during my 20-miler the week before, so I chalked it up to the wind. Oh well.
Mile No. 4 (7:43)
The course veered right as we merged onto the boardwalk. This was absolutely invigorating and the sight of the bright sun over the crisp blue Atlantic Ocean gave me goosebumps. OK, maybe the goosebumps were from the wind.Miles No. 5-9 (7:45/7:36/7:49/7:50/7:36)
The next handful of miles were equally enjoyable as we went back inland and around the marsh surrounding Gordon Pond. The change in terrain from boardwalk to dirt and tiny-stone trail woke my feet up and made me stay slightly more alert with each step. I didn’t love the feel of less traction, but it was probably worth it for the views, especially given that I didn’t fall.
According to plan, I had my first energy bite at Mile No. 7 and my first cup of water at the Mile No. 8 water station. Despite my inner animal screaming to keep running, I walked through the water break as I scheduled, because I didn’t want to spill all over myself.
Miles 10-12 (7:32/7:25/7:38)
This my absolute favorite stretch of running on the day as the course took a sharp right for an out-and-back. Normally, I hate out-and-backs, but because the race was pretty small, I found myself not too far off from the lead pack. I was able to give supportive head nods and say things like “Looking strong” and “Keep it up” to the top runners. Eventually, I made the turn, too, and my cheery attitude continued as I passed the runners across from me. Towards the end of this stretch, we encountered our first hill, which was a welcome element, given that the course was nearly pancake flat thus far.
Miles No. 13-15 (7:33/7:7:53/7:47)
Looking back at the race, I’d probably say the wheels started to slowly fall apart in this segment. Everything was feeling great, and I was reeling off of the positivity rush from the out-and-back, until I started to feel some tightness in my quadriceps.
It was far from unbearable, but the type of feeling that suggests the next half of the race might be troublesome.
There was also the second of the course’s two climbs, this one on Kings Highway. It wasn’t really a problem, though, and during the descent, I chomped down my second energy bite, followed by a water walking break at the Mile No. 15 marker.
Miles No. 16-19 (7:50/7:51/7:52/7:57)
It didn’t help my gradual slowdown that I was getting bored with the scenery of suburban neighborhoods and farmland. I used to run a good bit of my long runs out in Baltimore County and was often running through very similar scenes on my own. I didn’t love running through them again in the middle of a marathon. As you can see from the splits, I inched closer and closer to eight-minute miles. And due to the fact that my Strava likely over-recorded my distance, I eclipsed eights at this point.
My quads still felt like rocks and I noticed I was also breathing a bit harder and sweating a bit more. This was not a great sign.
Miles No. 20-22 (8:21/8:36/8:54)
It’s never fun when you hear your run tracker chime in with your first eight-minute-mile on the day, but at Mile No. 20, I heard it. I wasn’t freaking out, though, because I was kind of running on house money. My training schedule was all sorts of messed up from my tendinits, so any semblance of success from this point forward had to be marked as a victory.
At the Mile No. 20 aid station, my drinking strategy went from “one cup of water” to “ALL THE LIQUIDS” and I double-fisted some water and Gatorade as I walked through the entire break.
I followed suit at Miles No. 21 and 22. Looking back I’m just fortunate that they had so many water stops towards the end of the course.
Right around this point, I heard a lady in my earbuds interrupt my music to tell me that my headphone batteries were low. I figured it’d be close, but I’d manage to squeeze another 30 or 40 minutes of juice out of them and keep the music going until I finished.
This was not the case. Soon after the warning, the music stopped completely. I was on my own, right when I was expecting my epic personal soundtrack of movie scores.
Miles No. 23-26 (8:31/8:52/8:36/8:44)
With just the sound of my own panting, I was re-introduced to the Atlantic on the boardwalk. I didn’t appreciate the by-the-ocean running as much the second time around as by this point, it was pretty populated by bystanders and beach-goers. I found myself dodging tourists and brunchers a bit. Fortunately and unfortunately, we quickly veered right through some more of suburbia.
By this point, there were marathon runners, half-marathon runner/walkers, and 9K walkers on the course. When I wasn’t weaving between those at a slightly slower pace than me, I was fighting the urge to adopt their cadence and walk.
The voice in my head got louder and louder to walk, but I fought it as best I could. I might have succumbed to going slower, but I only had a few more miles to go, the least I could do was finish in stride.
The Finish (7:24)
At least one point along every marathon, I get to see my friends and/or family at a personal support station. On this day, it was right after the Mile No. 26 marker. I got a quick pep talk from my wife and both she and our friend started running alongside me. My wife dropped back to take some pictures, while my friend and I were zooming along the final stretch, passing other runners left and right. I had oh-so-little left in the tank, but it meant the world to me that someone was running more to help me.
As we rounded the final corner, he let me go and I pushed through the finish panting and making my usual “I have nothing left in me” grunts.
I collected my medal and chugged a bottle of water like a savage before meeting up with the crew in the post-race festival area. I switched out my singlet for a fresh shirt and replaced my shoes and socks with my go-to post-race sandals. I also spent a good bit of time in a porta potty as I uploaded my run to Strava.
It wasn’t pretty, but I set a 6-minute personal record and narrowly missed my A-goal. All things considered, I was thrilled.We hung out and redeemed our first of three beer tickets, though I couldn’t stomach more than a few gulps of the Belgian wheat brew. There was a splendid smorgasbord of food for all of the runners to enjoy, but I had absolutely no appetite for once. We hung out inside until our other friend finished the marathon.
Back outside on the beach, we took some pictures, ran into some November Project Philadelphia tribe members, before ultimately saying goodbye to the festival. The walk back to the car wasn’t awful and the drive back to the beach house was equally manageable, mostly because I sat in the backseat and stretch the heck out.
At the house, we showered, packed up, and were on the road and, despite some traffic getting out of Bethany, arrived at our much-anticipated lunch destination, Chick & Ruth’s for a feast. We all ordered and destroyed milkshakes and sandwiches, with sides of fries, soup, and pickles. By the time I got home, I was hungry again, though.
It should comes as no surprise, but I think I ate a half-box of cereal. Maybe more.