My second marathon was disappointing. But it was definitely a learning experience.
I’d been working on some mental as well as pacing strategies for the Maple Leaf Indoor Marathon, which I completed in 5:31 back in 2014. Instead, given the chance to run with an experienced run/walker who beat me by 24 minutes last time — and whose personal best over 16 marathons is a 4:36 — I scrapped my plans and decided to see if I could get pulled to a faster finish than I could manage on my own.
It was watching April pull ahead of me last time — even though I jogged nonstop the whole way and she walked every third or fourth lap throughout — that got me interested in trying the run/walk strategy in the first place. She admitted she hadn’t trained much this time around, that she’d be relying on experience and mental stamina to make up for the fact she’d only gotten in one long run, a 15-miler, in the preceding weeks. I suppose that’s what made her willing to take a chance on me, with only one marathon and a 50K under my belt and virtually zero run/walk experience in a real race.
Trouble was, April is 15 years younger and several inches taller than me, and I wound up pushing too hard to keep up — much of it with her on an inside lane and me on the outside. By the time we got to the halfway point, I was struggling with nausea as well as fatigue. I fell back, just kind of trudging along in a jog 2 laps/walk 1 pattern, hoping I didn’t puke or dribble diarrhea all over the track. I could’ve taken a restroom break, but that would’ve required going up and down a set of stairs, which was pretty unappealing unless my discomfort moved into crisis mode. Luckily it never did, and eventually, around mile 20, I recovered somewhat.
By the 4:45 mark I wondered if I might be able to pull myself together enough to beat my previous time, if only by a minute. April rejoined me around this time, only with a 4-lap lead. She, too, was struggling — apparently paying the price for her lack of training and questionable judgment in taking me on as a running partner.
As the minutes passed, I realized I wasn’t going to make it. The Goshen College track is a bit longer than the YMCA where I’d been training, around 7 ½ laps to a mile rather than the 8 I was used to, and my guestimate on how quickly I could get through those remaining laps had been off. I finished in 5:37, six minutes slower than my first attempt in 2014.
April was also disappointed, finishing more than 20 minutes over her 2014 time. But as a former Marathon Maniac — she’d quit the group because she didn’t like the fact that they let kids get in on the marathon-collecting hobby — she doesn’t fret too much over her time in any one race, especially one in which she hasn’t invested much training.
This is the spirit that pervades the Maple Leaf Marathon, what makes it such a friendly environment for a slower runner like me. Because it’s designed for endurance freaks — one-third of the 33 entrants planned to complete three separate marathons in 24 hours — it’s expected that a few stragglers will still be circling the track pretty close to the 6-hour cutoff.
So what did I learn? I need to work on my pacing, so I have a better recognition of how fast I’m running at any given time. In the early excitement of the race, and in my desire to keep up, I actually pushed both April and myself faster than was desirable. We ran the first mile in 9:45 before settling into a running 4 laps/walking 1 pattern, and in my case at least, that not only wasn’t sustainable, it wasted valuable energy I could’ve used later.
I also spent way too much time fretting over whether my lap-counter was in sync with the computer screen. I should’ve just checked it every hour or so and adjusted it as needed then. This made me far too focused on how many laps remained, a mindset I’d tried to avoid during training.
The good news is, I was much less stiff and sore this time around. Running at all those different paces, along with the walk breaks, meant my muscles weren’t locked into automation mode for 5 ½ hours. By Sunday afternoon I was feeling pretty close to fine in terms of just walking around, though my legs would surely have complained had I tried to go for a run. (Bending over to pick things up off the ground was still a little ouchy, however.)