Haven’t you done enough half marathons? Are you ever going to do a full? If so, when? Seven (one each in Detroit, Marquette, Porcupine Mountains, and two apiece in Green Bay and Madison) of the 17 half marathons I have had the good fortune of participating in so far since 2013 had featured a full marathon as part of their festivities. The course for many of these seven aforementioned half marathons had partly, if not entirely, overlapped with that of the corresponding full marathon. The often interesting and inspiring but always entertaining and hilarious signs that people held along the side for the marathoners, as such, were quite hard to miss. And so were the aforementioned questions that many a friend, in and outside of my community, frequently and caringly put forth over the past many months to put me outside of my comfort zone, and in turn, make me better — a whole lot better.
So, when Persia was dust, all cried, “To Acropolis!
Run, Pheidippides, one race more! the meed is thy due!
Athens is saved, thank Pan, go shout!” He flung down his shield
Ran like fire once more: and the space ‘twixt the fennel-field
And Athens was stubble again, a field which a fire runs through,
Till in he broke: “Rejoice, we conquer!” Like wine through clay,
Joy in his blood bursting his heart, – the bliss!So, to this day, when friend meets friend, the word of salute
Is still “Rejoice!” — his word which brought rejoicing indeed.
So is Pheidippides happy forever, — the noble strong man
Who could race like a god, bear the face of a god, whom a god loved so well,
He saw the land saved he had helped to save, and was suffered to tell
Such tidings, yet never decline, but, gloriously as he began,
So to end gloriously — once to shout, thereafter be mute:
“Athens is saved!” — Pheidippides dies in the shout for his meed.
And, there was/is this indelible association with the Greek soldier/messenger, Pheidippides: the man, the myth and the legend of 490 BC — who apparently had run about 300 miles from Athens to Sparta to Athens (to see if the Spartans would lend a helping hand to the Athenians in the First Persian War) before running another 25 or so from Marathon (the site of The Battle of Marathon) to Athens to deliver the news of Greek victory, and died upon the delivery of such message. Apparently, the aforementioned poem — Pheidippides by Robert Browning in 1879 — [there is even a peer-reviewed (?) article published nearly 100 years later in the British Journal of Sports Medicine] inspired the founders of the modern Olympic Games to include a running race called the marathon — starting out at 24.85 miles in 1896, fluctuating for a while amidst heated discussions and (dis)agreements before settling down at 26.22 miles from 1924 and beyond.
So, why do a full marathon? The biggest influences were/are my friends that have done one or more of these marathons and (half) Ironman triathlons, the books I read or listened to (Racing Weight, Lore of Running, Born To Run, Unbroken), and the televised races and movies/documentaries I watched that had some or much to do with running (Boston and New York City marathons, Iron Man and other triathlons, Leadville Race Series, Western States Endurance Run, Badwater, The Imitation Game, Desert Runners, Unbreakable: The Western States 100, 100: Head/Heart/Feet). A personal
desire need to be not just half crazy as many such signs had indicated, be more like my aforementioned friends and test the semi-empirical relationship: played a large role. And so did the desire to not have to answer the same aforementioned questions and be alive to tell the story. The maiden opportunity — albeit a comical one — to be a Kenyan in someone’s mind (and a Greek in my heart — along with being a Chinese, an Ethiopian, a Mexican, a Nordic/Scandinavian whose family spent 20+ years in India before recently returning to the US, a Yooper, a trolling hobo … depending on who is answering the question) for about three and one half hours was the last to complete the line up.
So, why Marquette? There aren’t too many races in the Yoop that offer the full marathon option. Of the few I could find, Whitefish Point Marathon in June would have been a bit too soon with far fewer training miles. Ignorance removed North Country Trail Run in August as a very doable option (and due to laziness, it is no longer an option in 2016). Probably Grand Island Trail Marathon in July and certainly Porcupine Mountains Trail Marathon in September would have fit the bill as far as the training miles were concerned, but to say that the race director/race director’s spouse combination (of Great Lakes Endurance) is not very pleasant to deal with is a very polite understatement. Maybe there are some maturity issues I need to work through to get better and grow up, but that’s not on the menu till 2016 running season.
So, then why not some fancy destination race? Long story short, I am high maintenance, and I know it. Short story long, it has been a habit so far to keep as many of the new distance races — at least my first attempt at them — in the Yoop. Thus, relatively closer proximity of Marquette, and familiarity with one half the course (I had done the half marathon in 2014) — fast, mostly downhill, USA Track & Field certified Boston-qualifier course along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail with a good portion of it on hard-packed trail to make it easy on the joints — made it an easier choice to pick this event to be my first of the marathon kind.
With as much heads up I had given myself for this event, I should have been able to find and stick with a marathon training plan. Instead, I chose to train for each of the half marathons, triathlons and weekend festivals so far — San Francisco Half Marathon, Green Bay Half Marathon, Lake Trout Festival Half Marathon, Run The Keweenaw, Hancock Canal Run Half Marathon, Copperman Triathlon and Swedetown Trail Run 25k — not only as not-short runs but also as intermediate checkpoints (with their own goals) to measure my performance and progress, get the necessary feedback from friends and experts, and estimate the additional effort necessary to prepare for the marathon.
Perception, and as such reality (and in turn, personal definition) of quick, short, medium and long runs had to be revised by mid-February/early March: quick (under 10k), short (between 10k and a half marathon), medium (between a half marathon and 20 miles) and long (20+ miles). Though signing up and training for a triathlon since mid-April certainly came with the recommendation that running goals had to be rolled back a bit, it also went a long way in making me a better runner: biking improved the cadence and swimming (certainly from the lessons before and after the Copperman festivities) improved breathing and lung capacity (some evidence of it). Biking and swimming together reduced the overall fatigue keeping the legs fresher while serving as cross training activities. Learning to run after the swim and/or bike taught me to dig deeper to find motivation (or a reason) to finish what was started.
As the miles — slowly but ever so steadily — started to build up over the last few months, I am ever so grateful to every one of my friends that ever ran with me, let me run with them, served many a dose of reality, fed me slices of humble pie, listened to all my (sometimes delirious and incoherent) stories, shared stories and wisdom of their own marathon preparation, participation and recovery, and even paced me — be it for a mile or two or five or seven, or five and seven, or even fifteen — as part of my quick, short, medium and long training runs.
|Summary of training activities since the last race|
|#||Date and time||Activity details
Device, Distance, Time, Pace, Speed, Heart Rate, kCal, and Weather Notes (when applicable)
|01||2015-08-23 3:40 pm||Swim Assignment #02/02: Michigan Tech Indoor Pool
0.43 mi, 0:50:00, 116:17 min/mile, 0.52 mph, 594
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
|02||2015-08-24 6:00 am||Swim Lesson #03: Michigan Tech Indoor Pool
0.28 mi, 0:45:00, 160:43 min/mile, 0.37 mph, 534
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
|03||2015-08-25 4:52 pm||Hancock Quick Run
6.35 mi, 0:53:13, 8:23 min/mile, 7.16 mph, 167 bpm, 671
55 F, 18 mph WNW, felt like 55 F, 77% humidity; cloudy and chilly with gusting winds
|04||2015-08-25 6:00 pm||CCTC Weekly Workout 2015 #12
1.52 mi, 0:15:20, 10:05 min/mile, 5.95 mph, 154 bpm, 171
55 F, 13 mph WNW, felt like 55 F, 77% humidity; cloudy and chilly with gusting winds
|05||2015-08-26 5:43 pm||KRG Weekly Run 2015 #32
6.30 mi, 1:02:57, 9:60 min/mile, 6.00 mph, 157 bpm, 718
61 F, 9 mph W, felt like 61 F, 59% humidity; mostly sunny and beautiful
|06||2015-08-28 6:32 am||Houghton Quick Run
3.64 mi, 0:41:04, 11:17 min/mile, 5.32 mph, 137 bpm, 398
57 F, 3 mph SW, felt like 57 F, 88% humidity; mostly cloudy, warm and beautiful
|07||2015-08-29 3:40 pm||Houghton Quick Run
6.29 mi, 0:49:18, 7:50 min/mile, 7.66 mph, 170 bpm, 647
70 F, 14 mph W, felt like 70 F, 60% humidity; mostly sunny, warm, breezy and beautiful
|08||2015-08-30 8:24 am||Houghton Long Ride
90.86 mi, 7:37:08, 5:02 min/mile, 11.92 mph, 5051
61 F, 4 mph SW, felt like 61 F, 94% humidity; partly cloudy and breezy
|09||2015-08-31 7:15 pm||Swim Assignment #03/01: Michigan Tech Indoor Pool
0.34 mi, 0:40:00, 117:39 min/mile, 0.51 mph, 475
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
|10||2015-09-02 6:00 am||Swim Lesson #04: Michigan Tech Indoor Pool
0.17 mi, 0:35:00, 205:53 min/mile, 0.29 mph, 415
60 F, 0 mph, felt like 60 F, 60% humidity
|11||2015-09-02 5:36 pm||KRG Weekly Run 2015 #33
7.60 mi, 1:35:32, 12:34 min/mile, 4.77 mph, 146 bpm, 905
70 F, 3 mph ENE, felt like 70 F, 83% humidity; mostly sunny and humid
Just as I was starting to make travel plans for this event about a month ago (when to leave, where to stay, and so on), I received a Facebook message from Paul Mann — a gentleman that I had the good fortune of sharing the course in two events over the past ten months or so (Mt. Bohemia Trail Running Festival and The Muck Run) — that I could stay with him and his wife, Beverly, for this event. Given a choice, I would rather stay with friends, get to know them better, hang out and eat with them and earn an opportunity to reciprocate any day over staying by myself. So, it wasn’t difficult to accept the Mann’s kind offer to stay with them.
Timing of this event worked out well to my advantage: the tapering period (thank you, Chris, for explaining what tapering meant) coincided with last week of orientation and first week of classes at Michigan Tech. The busy-ness ensured that I didn’t really have time to dedicate multiple hours per day to workout and forced me into lighter activities. More than one of my good friends was quick yet kind enough to point that a 90 mile bike ride a week before a marathon wouldn’t necessarily count as tapering. But they were just as quick and kind enough to remind me that problems in my head would probably affect the my performance in this marathon more (in a negative way) than the aforementioned long bike ride.
The week leading up to the event was an unhurried one, and getting the latter half of Friday off from work (thank you, bossman) provided enough time to gather everything I needed for the weekend. The trip, however, didn’t begin as auspiciously as I had hoped. As I was locking the apartment door, I thought to myself: the next time I walk into this apartment, I would have completed a marathon. I hadn’t even gone past the Michigan Tech campus on US41 when I realized I forgot couple things I did need for this trip. So, I go back into the apartment, pick them up and I thought to myself as I lock the door: the next time I walk into this apartment, I would be a marathoner. And this time, I hadn’t even completed the Yooper loop when I realized that I forgot something else that I needed for this trip. So, I got back into the apartment yet again, picked it up and thought to myself as I locked the door: the next time I walk into this apartment, I will definitely have completed a marathon. I could easily have let this whole unpreparedness get into my head as a bad omen of some sort but the reminders from dear friends came in handy once again to keep such thoughts where they should — for once — outside of my head. It was lot easier to wrap it instead in the things don’t come easily blanket and continue on with the journey.
The drive to Marquette was smooth and uneventful but punctuated with a pit stop in Ishpeming — a pretty little historic town that is just east of dear friend Sarah‘s hometown — to scope out the starting area and the arrangements therein. While the stop was short it did come with running into two more dear friends — Kelsae and Michael — one of which would be running the marathon as well.
I met Paul in the Lakeview Arena for the pre-race expo and packet pickup. Once that was done and dropping much of the necessary belongings at the Mann residence, we (Beverly, Paul and myself) went to The Pasta Shop for dinner. A cute little place, introduced to me by dear friends Kate and Kris many many moons ago during the XTERRA Marquette Epic Triathlon, did not disappoint — the pesto genovese was quite tasty and filling. I didn’t stay awake for much too long past dinner, and for the first time in a handful of races, I promptly retired to sleep by 9:15 pm.
For the first time in just as many handful races, the race day morning came at a very comfortable pace and after a full eight hours of non-stop and refreshing sleep. It’s difficult to put into words the importance of avoiding distractions or minimizing freak shows before a race: Beverly was kind enough to wake up early on my count and drop me off at the Berry Events Center parking lot to catch the bus — saving me the trouble of driving myself, finding a parking spot and when the race was done, driving back in potentially delirious state. The last bus, scheduled to leave at 6:15 am, was full and a handful of us were left waiting a few minutes. While the lady in charge was making the necessary arrangements to get another bus, the others with me seemed a little antsy and worried (and Beverly patiently waited to make sure the bus indeed arrived and left with me in it). In the worst case, the bus would get me to the starting about 15 minutes later than the scheduled time and that, in turn, would mean 15 less minutes I would have for my pre-race freak show. When all said and done (bless the driver’s heart), the bus got us to the starting area with 35 minutes to spare.
Thick fog with warm and humid conditions made the starting area more reminiscent of a scene from some eerie movie. The usual exchange of pleasantries with fellow racers and many a dear friends led to a couple servings of humble pie (Frank Bartocci, #327, attempting his 680th full marathon, and Bill Sved, #5, attempting his 254th) and a beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner. It was awesome to see dear friend, Adam, drive all the way from Houghton just to be at the start!
The event started on time, and sticking with the plan (read: combined wisdom bestowed upon by friends), I started out with 9:00 min/mile pace. The first five miles went by in a hurry and I felt pretty good — thanks to a chat about our areas of research interests with Kevin Flaherty (#21, a faculty in The University of Michigan) and his daughter, Melanie (#22, a student in Northern Michigan University). But humidity and increasing temperature had drenched me (and almost everyone else too) from head to toe. For one of the first times that I can remember, I made a sensible decision in a race: instead of picking up the pace and making up some time, I chose to stick with the same 9:00 min/mile pace for five more miles and then reconsider the pace change decision. Five more miles went by rather quickly as well and punctuated with a short discussion with Kumar Rao (#196; I had run into him at the expo — he hails from Bangalore with much of his family coming from areas of Mysore that I was/am very familiar with), a high five with Sarah Olson (#143; I had met her a couple times before in 2013 — Copperman Triathlon in Copper Harbor and XTERRA Epic Triathlon in Marquette), a super quick stop to hug the guy that was doing his 680th full marathon, and yet another Adam Griffis sighting.
|Time||Temp (F)||Humidity (%)||Wind (mph)||Temp (F)||Humidity (%)||Wind (mph)||Temp (F)||Humidity (%)||Wind (mph)|
|9:00||66||95||0||64||98||4 WSW||67||93||2 S|
|10:00||68||93||0||65||95||5 WSW||69||90||3 S|
|11:00||74||65||2 SE||69||86||7 WSW||72||85||3 WSW|
|noon||79||60||0||63||100||3.5 SW||76||76||1 SSE|
Temperature had increased even more and with sun glaring straight down the Iron County Heritage Trail, I chose once more to not pick up the pace but stay at 9:00 min/mile pace for couple more miles and then reconsider the decision. Chatting with an elderly gentleman, Peter Wertanen (#37) from Negaunee, about the importance of willingly seeking direction from the wise and providing the same to the ones that could use it when the time is right made the next couple miles go by really quickly.
Presque Isle were marred by the rigged up roads and fist-sized rocks that had the potential to roll/break the ankles. I did choose to do the slightly extended walks through the remaining aid stations and did walk less than a handful of times outside of them as well.
A comical relief, if it could be called that, came just before the last uphill push towards the finish line. Having run this part of the course a year before, I was taking a few steps to rest the body briefly and collect my thoughts for the last Big Push. A younger looking but strongly built friendly guy (Ryan Lusardi, #361) comes running from behind and encourages me to start running: Dude, we can’t be walking. We got this. Let’s push and run to the finish. I believed in his words more than he probably did and I was willing to let him carry me a few steps further than I might have been able to go on my own at that point in the race. And I started running with him. No sooner had we made that left turn onto 3rd Street, than the young man proclaimed upon sighting the barely visible finish chute: $#%& this hill. I am going to walk for a bit. So, the comical relief had quickly turned into a teachable moment: it was time for role reversal and my turn to pick up that guy … maybe make him believe in himself that he could indeed run up the hill. And he did, and it was neat to see him do so a few strides ahead of me.
|Personal goals for the event (in order of importance)|
|01||Finish the marathon||Yes|
|02||No walking except through aid stations||No, walked between miles 24 and 26|
|03||Finish under 3:45:00 (8:35 min/mile, 6.99 mph), 4:00:00 (9:10 min/mile, 6.55 mph)||No, 4:06:16 (9:24 min/mile, 6.38 mph)|
|04||5 @ 0:40:00, 10 @ 1:20:00, 15 @ 2:00:00, 20 @ 2:40:00, 25 @ 3:20:00 (± 0:05:00)||No|
|05||Keep the last 1.20 miles under 9:00 min/mile pace||No|
With four of the five goals I had for this event gone by the wayside well before I made that left turn onto the 3rd Street, I started picking some pace for a potential 400-600m sprint to the finish. While the time might not show that it was a sprint, it for sure felt like it — especially when compared to the pace for last 4-5 miles. I remember getting somewhat overwhelmed as the finish line got closer. I was later told by a dear friend, Kara, that I didn’t look like I had ridden the struggle bus up the 3rd Street — so, the form must not have been too bad. It was very memorable to see as many people and dear friends — Adam Griffis, Amy Madsen, Ann Hoover, Beverly Mann (with a dry towel and fresh pair of my clothes in a bag), Bri Drake, Federica Lanza, Joshua Myles, Kara Graci, Lauren Scheafer, Paul Mann, Rich Johnson, Sam Graci, Sue Perry, Tyler Barton (and many more tracking my progress from afar) — being present in scorching sunshine and heat just past the finish line.
Post-race festivities included consuming some food (water, chocolate milk and bananas), a massage (apparently, I had and still have one too many knots in my legs — first of its kind after a race), a shower and watching a disappointing Penn State loss to Temple at the Mann residence, dinner (pasta with roasted peppers and garlic) with the Manns in The Pasta Shop, and a few choice beverages (Mondo Beardo Imperial Stout, Nordskye Session IPA and a sip of Wasabi Ginger Pale Ale) in Blackrocks Brewery with the Manns and Vertins (Melissa and Joel) before succumbing to the call of sleep.
Yet another full night of sleep at the Mann residence and a quick breakfast in Third Street Bagel made way for an uneventful drive back to Houghton. While happy to have had the good fortune of training for, participating in and completing a marathon (with Amy, Josh, Kelsae and Marine; it was a maiden effort for the latter two as well), the drive and rest of the next many hours were spent in reflecting upon and analyzing the performance, and finding the potential areas for improvement:
- Had I listened to my friends (those in Keweenaw Running Group), this day could have come a year or two earlier. Had I taken up on dear friend Lena‘s offer to train with her, it could have come five years earlier. Either one would have made me far better athlete than I am today.
- The need to learn to worry less about things that are beyond my control (for e.g., weather, terrain, etc.) but to create the opportunity to mimic such entities as part of training.
- Sticking with the plan, following the directions of friends and not doing monkey see, monkey do business prevented an early burnout and saved me from getting a potential DNF against my name. Also, taking and following directions and unconditionally yielding to the collective wisdom of friends is a lot easier said than done but is indeed a lot easier said than done if I put my ego aside and believe that my friends do have my best interest in their mind.
Remembering mile by mile or chunk by chunk in such a long distance run proved to be quite difficult. As the table above clearly demonstrates (numbers rarely lie), my recollection the run-time performance borders along vaguery more so than it does on reality. Looking back, I thought I had little more energy left in me past the finish line to be run a mile or two more — a clear indication of pacing issues between miles 22.36 and 26.20 arising out of inexperience. Should I be fortunate enough to train for and participate in one more marathon (I sure hope so), these miles will no longer be an uncharted territory. Maybe some more experiments are in order: treat the marathon as if it was some combination of 5/10 milers and 5k/10k. With enough practice, I should do a better job of pacing the last several miles and remember how I felt throughout the course.
Barring the few moments of being overwhelmed on either side of the finish line, I didn’t (and still don’t quite) feel like I accomplished anything just yet. But I do appreciate all that my friends did/are doing to explain what I did, and helping me comprehend and appreciate it. Maybe it’s the peril of treating my life like a series of science experiments: while one datum shows that the experiment can be successfully done, it doesn’t necessarily prove repeatability or reproducibility. Without additional data points, there isn’t a trend to predict subsequent behavior.
The book I am currently reading about a very pragmatic and wise personality (and few others I have read in the past year) drove home some of these points — the value in paying attention to minutiae of everyday activities — I had recently been discussing with a few friends and mentors, and will serve as a frequent reminder in pursuit of a sub 4:00:00 finish hopefully before the curtain comes down on 2015 running season:
Some may think these trifling matters not worth minding, but they should remember that human felicity is produced by little advantages that occur everyday.
Thanks be to
the rejections and opportunities life has brought my way, event folks (organizers, sponsors, volunteers, timers, law enforcement officials, photographers, fellow participants and spectators), and the family of good friends in and outside of my community for all the unexpected, undeserved and unrewarded acts of constant encouragement as well as offerings of constructive criticism to improve myself as an athlete and a person. I am eternally grateful to all those who let me train with them, who shared their invaluable tips with me, who helped keep my mind, body and soul in good health, who helped me stay the course during the training cycle, who continued to teach me the value of work-life balance, and who cheered me on from home or along the course.