San Diego, CA. June 1, 2008. 26.2 miles. Chip time: 3 hours, 40 minutes, 5 seconds.
I ran a marathon. I am a marathoner.
Those are words I never thought I’d be able to say (or even thought I’d want to say). Just 6 months ago, the notion seemed insane. On Sunday, June 1, 2008 I ran my first marathon — the Rock ’n Roll Marathon in San Diego — and it was an experience I’ll never forget. After finishing the race after those intense 26.2 miles, I felt on top of the world. I’m still riding the high 4 days later, and probably will be for some time to come.
Here’s a great clip Jen got of me at mile 8 — talk about enthusiasm, eh?
Happy and I did a 2-mile run this evening — my first post-marathon run — and I was still reliving the marathon experience, though my legs are just a tad on the sore side.
Now don’t get me wrong: Running a marathon was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, physically and mentally. But it was an amazing experience that’s hard to describe. Pretty much everything you’ve ever heard about a marathon is true: It’s more mental than physical; it pushes your body beyond what you think is possible.
And I’m also here to say that a marathon is a whole other ball game than a half-marathon. In fact, I bettered my Nashville half time in San Diego by 3 minutes and 38 seconds — then I ran another 13.1 miles.
The first half of the race — and probably through mile 17 or 18 — felt incredible. I felt really strong and as though I could run all day. I was running a low 7-minute pace the first several miles. My 10k (6.2-mile) split was 45:49 (a 7:22 pace).
And then came mile 19 and the hill leading to mile 20. Our Team in Training coach, Dan, had told us that no matter who you are — an elite runner or a first-time marathoner — the first half of the marathon is the first 20 miles and the second half is the final 6.2 miles. He was right (though I was too tired to tell him so when he ran with me a bit in the final miles to see how I was doing). Pushing through that final stretch was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. It was a psychological battle not to stop running. I just kept telling my body to keep on going. The San Diego sun was blistering by then — a stark contrast from the cool, overcast morning we had with the race’s 6:30am start time — which didn’t help matters. With every step, I wanted to stop running, but I didn’t. I kept going, slowing only at fueling stations to pour cups of water on my head and pound 2 cups of Accelerade in those final miles. I kept telling myself: “You’ve made it this far. Don’t stop now. Get to that finish line!” The pain I experienced in those final miles is best captured in these two photos:
But the pain was worth the glory (is that too dramatic?). Crossing that finish line was incredible. The race ended inside a U.S. Marines base where the crowds were gathered. Running past hundreds of cheering spectators as I scanned the crowd for Jen and my Mom gave me the chills. A Team in Training coach from Anchorage joined me in the final stretch leading up to the finish line to talk me through it and to make sure I was still coherent (she didn’t say that, but I’m sure that’s why TnT does that, which is really cool of them). I picked up the pace leading into mile 26 and forgot about those extra 0.2 miles (though at the time I said to her: “Damn! Forgot about the last 0.1 mile!”). Earlier in the morning, Jen witnessed someone collapse in exhaustion right before the finish line.
With the finish line in my sight, I told the TnT coach who had joined me that I was going to turn it on. And turn it on I did. I ran my heart out, reaching deep down to pull out my inner sprinter from my high school and college days. I flew past everyone else finishing around the time I did. I was delirious, had my iPod cranking, and may have imagined it, but I swear I heard someone in the audience yell, “Wow! Look at that guy go!” Whether or not someone actually said it, that’s what I heard as I bolted across the finish line, my feet burning from the heat and my legs nearly collapsing under me. I headed right for the ice water, draped an ice cold towel over my head, and sat on a pile of ice bags while calling my wife, my parents, and my brother to tell them, “I did it!”
My official chip time was 3:40:05 (8:24 pace). My overall place was 1,158 out of 16,731. My division (30- to 35-year-old men) place was 158 out of 1,358.
I knew my chip time — which accurately measures when you cross the start line and each of your split times through the finish — was about a minute behind the clock time. In the home stretch of the race, when the finish line and finish clock came into sight, I saw that it was approaching 3:41. I sprinted as fast as I possibly could to try to get there before the clock hit 3:41 (my very aggressive goal going into the race was 3:30 — double my Nashville half-marathon time — so I really wanted to at least try to land in the 3:30 range). Officially, the clock was 3:41:04 when I finished, but in the below video, you’ll see me cross at about 3:41:02. But remember, it’s the chip time that matters. Mine was 3:40:05, so I only missed my goal by 10 minutes.
Look for me sprinting on the far left side when the race clock is at 3:40:59 — that’s when you’ll first see me come into view. I’m in the purple tank top and white hat, and rip off my hat in a botched attempt to hold it up for my photo. I was sprinting so fast, my hat flew right off my head at the finish line and I didn’t bother going back for it. It seems somehow symbolic to have left my hat at the finish line.
Running as part of Team in Training was also a great experience. Unlike in the Nashville half, where mostly strangers lined the course, seeing so many cheering TnT supporters on the course made it feel like I had friends the entire way. There were countless supporters showing the purple pride, giving me five as I ran by and encouraging me on. I waved to nearly every TnT group I passed and really felt like a celebrity that day (and the night before with the amazing welcome we all received at the TnT pasta dinner). It was also moving to see at least one cancer survivor showing his support along the course. It was somewhere between miles 10 and 13.1, after exiting the freeway (yup, we ran a stretch along a closed section of freeway in San Diego), where I ran past a man whose shirt declared him a survivor. It was a cool reminder about the good that all our hard work in fundraising does for people.
Special thanks to my incredibly supportive wife for making the long trip to San Diego to be with me for the momentous weekend and sticking with me every step of the journey — from the 3:30am wake-up on Sunday to securing viewing positions at mile 8 and the finish line. And a big thanks to my Mom, too, for coming to support me in the race.
Thanks to all of you for being so supportive of this effort the past 6 months, and for the emails this week asking when I was going to post a blog entry about it. And thank you once again to all of you who helped me surpass my Team in Training fundraising goal!
Last but not least, congrats to Alex for also running a great first marathon!
Other memories from the marathon weekend:
- Walking into the Team in Training pasta dinner Saturday night past the cheering crowds of supporters
- Getting watermelon, orange slice, banana from neighbors out to support
- Seeing all the purple TnT supporters throughout the race — like having friends throughout the course
- Dumping water on my head
- Having a TnT coach from Anchorage run with me the last 1/2 mile or so to see how I was doing
- Sprinting to the finish line with all my heart
- Losing my hat at the finish line in an attempt to rip it off & hold it up for my photo (I was running so fast, it fell right off)
- Sitting on a stack of ice with an ice cloth on my head to cool down
- Eating oranges had never tasted so good in my life
- Seeing Jen and my Mom waiting for me outside the recovery area after the race, and giving them each a big hug
And yes, I’d do it all again! In fact, now that my bro and I each have one marathon under our belts, we’re eying the California International Marathon 2008 in our hometown of Sacramento this December. Note that my little bro ran his marathon about 2.5 minutes faster than I ran mine, so I sense the next challenge in the air… or at least one that involves both of us crossing the finish line together with even more kick-ass times! Any bets on how many minutes we can shave off our times?
Lots more CA trip and photos to come… we had a rockin’ good time in San Diego, then I went on to SF and Sac for 2 nights only.