Hooray, daylight savings time! With an extra hour of sleep, waking up for a marathon on Sunday morning wasn’t tough at all. I proceeded with my go-to race day motions that I’ve learned to follow through the years:
- Wake up to the tune of some epic song (e.g. Hans Zimmer’s “Flight”)
- Go to the bathroom and brush my teeth
- Get dressed
- Drink coffee
- Eat PBBJ sandwich
- Pace until it’s time to go
Knowing that the Raleigh-Durham area didn’t have a Royal Farms to which I could grab my usual 24 ounce dark coffee, we brought down a substitute that I had been toying with during my training schedule. Califa Farms’ Double Espresso Iced Coffee with Almond Milk seemed to do the trick, so down the hatch it went. I followed that with my usual PBBJ on sandwich thin and a glass of water with cherry limeade energy nuun. I was caffeinated, hydrated, and ready to go.
Eventually the rest of the team (Mrs. CR and our friends were running the 10k and half marathon distances) was ready to go and out the door we went. It was pretty chilly, probably about 40 degrees, but I knew it wasn’t going to be warm, so I was mentally prepared for it.
After a pretty quick drive downtown, Mrs. CR and I hopped out of the car right by the start line while the rest of the team looked to find a parking spot nearby. We quickly got in line for the bathrooms, which had not yet become crowded. After our first on-site bathroom break, we walked towards the start line and ran into some old November Project- Baltimore friends who now lived in North Carolina.
Naturally, we hugged, exchanged race strategies for the day, and took some pictures. Soon after, the rest of our team joined our huddle, which was helping to keep us a few degrees warmer.
A couple more pictures taken and one more bathroom break, and it was time to head to the start line. I bid farewell to the gang and found my place in front of the 3:30 pacers. The national anthem was played and we were off. Time to have some fun?
“Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast. Don’t start too fast. Oops.
Miles No. 1-3 (6:57/mile, 7:24, 7:24)
My A-Goal for the year was sub-3:30. That meant 3:29:59 would’ve been a huge success. In two other marathons in 2015, I went out too fast only to flame out somewhere along the second half. To try and prevent this, I had purchased and trained with the Garmin Forerunner235 GPS watch, which could be programmed to beep at you if you ran too fast and/or too slow based on customizable paces.
For this race, I set the beeps to occur at anything faster than 7:30 and anything slower than 7:50. The first three miles, which took runners east across NC State University’s campus and towards downtown Raleigh, were full of beeps.
Miles No. 4-9 (7:33, 7:28, 7:40, 7:35, 7:40, 7:41)
OK, I was getting into my groove. Perhaps it was because we faced a few 3-6% grade inclines over the next few miles or perhaps it was because I knew I couldn’t sustain my sub-7:30/mile pace, but I was clocking off pace miles as we turned west and ran through some quaint, but otherwise unmemorable, neighborhoods. I opened my first Clif shot gel at around mile No. 8, but because I struggled to rip it open, I didn’t end up consuming it until Mile No. 8.5 or 9.
Miles No. 10-11 (7:29, 7:27)
Eh, these miles were filed back into the too-fast bucket, but I just couldn’t help myself. We ran through the main entrance to Meredith College and continued northwest toward what I knew would be a debilitating second-half of the course.
Miles No. 12-15 (7:36, 7:41, 7:42, 7:35)
As we followed the course up the “out” of the approximately 14-mile out-and-back, we ran down a serious downhill that I knew would bite me in the butt on the return. Unlike a lot of other runners I know, I do not like downhill running; it’s still awkward for me and I feel like I’m constantly running out of form. I think I look like a rag doll, flailing its arms and legs all the way down the hill. Eventually, though, the downhill stopped. Somewhere during this stretch, I saw the lead pack of runners making their return trip back towards the finish. I’ll always get inspiration from those guys and girls who can run sub-3:00 marathons.
Miles No. 16-18 (7:41, 7:46, 7:54)
We continued running out before turning around at the 17.6ish mile-marker. I definitely felt gassed, but I wonder how much of it was from the mental torture of knowing we’d have to retrace our steps back home. Or, perhaps, it was because I knew the hills were coming.
Miles No. 19-22 (8:06, 7:46, 7:59, 8:23)
My first plus-8:00 mile was probably due to me getting incorrectly routed along the marathon relay exchange before quickly and frustratedly finding the right lane to continue on the course. It wasn’t a big mix-up, but it did result in me having to cross through a line of spectators and walk, if for only a moment, across some grass and curbs. My second plus-8:00 mile, though, was definitely because of the hills. You see, starting back at Mile No. 20 or so, we began to climb up one of the hills which I so awkwardly flung myself down on the way out. According to the official course map, it was a 3% incline, but I’d have to say it felt way worse because I had already run 20+ miles that morning.
Miles No. 23-25 (8:31, 9:24, 8:56)
Oh, jeez: were the wheels finally coming off the wagon? As we continued up a gradual, but still challenging hill, I knew the worst was not yet behind us: one more serious climb remained. I wanted to walk up the final hill– a 6% climb– so badly, but I wasn’t sure that if I did, I’d be able to regain any semblance of speed and run the remainder of the race. Thus, I slowly ran, more like briskly trudged, up the hill and panted my way to the top. I did manage to pass a few other marathon runners, who decided to opt for a walking break, so that was rewarding. Finally, I made it to the top of the hill and claimed a moral victory. It was literally all downhill/flat from here.
The inner celebration lasted only a moment, though, because as I began to pick up the pace again, my left calf and right and left quads started seizing up. It was cramp time. My muscles involuntarily began calling it quits and I was forced to stop in my tracks. I yelled out some combination of curse words and tried moving my feet again as if I was just restarting my computer whenever something goes wrong. Pretending nothing is wrong has proven to be the only way to get through a serious bout of muscle cramps at Mile No. 24.5 of a marathon.
Once I veered around what would’ve been a disastrous roadblock, I moved forward, though at a slower pace than before. My watch was beeping non-stop, but it felt like there was little I could do to silence it.
I started crunching the numbers in my head and gave way to the tiniest of smiles knowing that, if I really needed to, I could walk a bit and still manage a sub-3:30.
The Finish (8:46, 8:33)
I didn’t walk, but I did run more slowly. As the Independence Day theme song played through my ear buds, I marched towards the finish line. I knew Mrs. CR and co. would be stationed somewhere along the final stretch and right before crossing the line, I saw them and gave as enthusiastic a nod as I could given the circumstances. Crossing the finish line, the clock read 3:26:xx. VICTORY!
A volunteer handed me a medal that, like always, got stuck around my headphones, and then I grabbed a bottle of water. I kept moving a bit more as I saw the gang coming towards me to share congratulations. I couldn’t fight the urge to just sit any longer and gave in. It was worth it.
Eventually, I got back up again and I waddled with the group back to the car. We all showered and packed up and before Mrs. CR and I drove back north to Baltimore, we all enjoyed drinks and pizza at the fantasmical Ponysaurus Brewing Co.
On our drive back home, we passed by every Bojangles we saw. No biscuit-induced constipation this time around!