Click here for Part 1: Pre Race Adventures
Race Day always begins early for me. I fell asleep quickly after a day featuring much walking and a great carb-loaded dinner. Wanting nutrition for what would be my longest run ever, I set the alarm for 3:00 am, ate a peanut butter sandwich and drank some delicious orange Gatorade, and went back to bed. From that point, I followed the routine I'd set for the Philly Half, where I like to get to the starting line about an hour early, and I typically get up about two hours before that. The marathon start time was set at 8:00.
In this case, I had more to do to prepare since I needed to try to manage my knee issues. I'd set the alarm at 5:00, got up, did my physical therapy stretches and foam rolling, liberally applied SPF 80 sunscreen, and then psyched myself with my traditional punk rock concert via the Shuffle. I didn't want to try anything that I hadn't before, so I wore my white Brooks sleeveless running shirt and a pair of Nike running shorts that I'd worn many times before. No fun green running clothes for me.
Chris and I left the hotel room just a few minutes after 7:00. It truly seemed like a miserable, with gusty winds and temperatures in the 30s. I love running in the cold, and the 30s are right where I was hoping for, but the wind really seemed like it would be a challenge. There was not a cloud in the sky, and we walked along the boardwalk to see the beautiful sunrise and the statue of Neptune, the Roman god of Dumb Ideas, that adorns the boardwalk at a point very close to the finish line.
I dress for the end of the race, not the beginning. I like to be cold at the start in hopes that I won't be too hot as the race goes on. The weather played havoc with my plans. The temperature was right where I wanted, but a sunny, cloudless day would increase my chances of feeling overheated, but with the winds as strong as they were, I was just too cold to go without my jacket at the start of the race.
We walked up Atlantic Avenue to the starting area, and tried to find a spot out of the wind to wait, but there was none -- it whipped around the buildings and there was no escape. We soon learned that the start was delayed by 15 minutes to avoid congestion with the half marathon, the course for which was the second of the marathon course. I was super-nervous and just wanted to get started (in order to get it over with, one way or another!) and those 15 minutes seemed like an eternity when they were announced. However, it passed more quickly than I thought and I headed into the starting area, waiting around the 4:30 pace group.
There were not officially corrals, but there was a waved start, and I started with wave 4. As my group walked up to the starting line (I never waste energy by running before the race has even started!), the sun seemed to really begin shining brightly, and I looked for Chris to hand my jacket off to. In hindsight, though, I was glad to have had it for the first few miles.
The race started southbound on Atlantic Avenue, so I was running by familiar sights from the day before. A weird combination of euphoria and terror had set in: "Holy crap, I'm running a marathon!"
I continued southbound for the first five miles before a turnaround point at about 5.5. I'd taken off the jacket at about mile 3, shortly after running up the bridge that is race's only steep hill, and still felt great -- as I should have, being still well within my comfort zone. The terrifying, unknown miles were still miles away themselves at this point.
At about mile 6 I started running with and talking with another first-time marathoner, who I chatted with for most of the next 7 miles. He'd started running just 6 months ago, and although he's already got his sights on Boston and even ultra distances, he had very similar goals to me for this one: finish, hopefully come in around 4:30, and run the whole thing.
During miles 8 and 9 we passed through Camp Pendleton, a military facility which appears upon further reading to be primarily used by the Virginia National Guard. This part of the course was amazing, and I couldn't believe how many military personnel came out to cheer the runners. I cheered back for them and thanked them for their service. They're the heroes, I'm just some jerk running a race.
We passed back over the bridge after mile 9, and were back in the oceanfront area of Virginia Beach. Most of miles 10 and 11 were on the boardwalk, which was very enjoyable. The weather was terrific at this point -- the wind that I'd hated so much kept me cool, but it was a gorgeous sunny day and I was at the beach. Even if I was running, how could I not enjoy that? Frustratingly, this part of the course approached the Neptune statue -- and finish line, but from the wrong direction. You could see the god of the sea's statue looming in the distance, but had to turn away as the bulk of the race was still ahead. At this point I was right where I wanted to be in terms of pace, and I felt better than I usually feel at this distance. At this point, I knew I was going to finish. This wasn't as hard as I thought!
We continued up Atlantic Avenue to the halfway point, where Chris waited and shouted encouragement, and beyond. I still felt great as the miles rolled by. Somewhere just past mile 15, spectators offered runners small cups of beer. Not wanting to ruin a good thing, I declined.
Soon after this point, the route diverged from Atlantic Avenue and turned onto Shore drive, which contrary to its name ran through the woods. This portion of the course ran from about miles 16 through mile 19, and for me it was the beginning of the end. It was very remote with no crowds and it seemed like it was mostly uphill (not steep, but just never-ending), and though I still felt pretty good, my pace began to slip a little. I'd left the guy I'd been chatting with behind at about mile 15 when he fell back a little and I still felt great, and so this part of the race was very lonely. The 4:30 pace group, which I'd gone ahead of pretty early in the race because it felt slower than my most comfortable pace, passed me by. Confidence began to slip, but I still felt ok. This was farther than I'd ever run before.
I'd hoped to avoid the wall. Instead, I hit it dead-on past mile 21, inside Fort Story, and never really recovered. I wasn't really in pain consistently -- I just couldn't make my legs go anymore. Weird feeling. I took a three minute walking break, and started running again. Miles 21 through 25 still seemed like they were all slightly uphill -- I'm not sure if it was in my head or if it really was a long, gradual incline (which would explain why the northbound journey on Atlantic seemed so easy). When the course turned back onto Atlantic within mile 22, I hoped I'd get a boost from the crowd, but I was cooked. This was the worst idea ever. I would never run a marathon again. I wasn't going to finish this one, and my corpse would be swept off the course and dumped into the sea.
I ran as much as I could the next 3.5 (estimating miles), but more often I was alternating running and walking. I tried everything I could think of: more sports beans, more Gatorade, more water, stopping to stretch, even the beer I'd passed up at mile 15; my friend Ralph from miles 6-14 passed by and offered words of encouragement -- but nothing put the juice back in my legs. I walked most of mile 24 in hopes that I could run the last mile, and that did help me get through most of the last mile in the approximation of running.
The last half mile of the course turns back onto the boardwalk southbound toward the Neptune statue. The finish line is in sight and I was determined to run this stretch to preserve what dignity I had left. I'd been warned by my group's coach not to start sprinting at first sight of the statue -- it's farther than it looked -- but I didn't have a "sprint" gear at this point, there was just "walk" and "run". My legs had been complete jell-o for the last 4 miles and whether it was the walking breaks or the fact that "getting it over with" was finally in sight, I ran up the boardwalk, waved to Chris, and crossed the finish line.
The feeling I had at crossing the finish line was incredible, and I screamed some incomprehensible primal scream of relief/joy/exhaustion. In that moment, the misery of the last 4 miles was forgotten and all the training was worth it.
I grabbed my finisher's medal and hung it around my neck, got a banana and a cookie from some volunteers, and then collected my finisher's hat and shirt. I was just happy the ordeal was over.
I set down. Not really in pain, but exhausted and resolved to never run another marathon again. Security asked me to move along, I think so that people finishing now could have that bench closer to the finish line. But I just finished!! I found Chris and we found another bench, and I collected my strength and stumbled toward the post-race party. On the way, we took some pictures on the beach.
The post-race party, which was in a huge tent, was awesome! Amazingly, the Irish Stew sounded better than beer, and it was delicious. After eating, though, beer sounded really, really good. As predicted, no sip of beer has ever tasted better, and it's amazing how much better one feels immediately post-marathon after consuming two cups of Yuengling. The volunteers at the beer table I stopped at weren't my favorite people in Virginia Beach, but they were solidly in the top eight. I was in a great mood at this point -- I finished the marathon!
We returned to the room, where I cleaned up, and then we checked out and went in search of lunch. I broke all my Lenten resolutions (knowing I would this weekend) and got a delicious burger at CP Shucker's, and then we made the long drive back York, where I did enjoy two delicious donuts.
I thought I'd be disappointed with myself for walking. I thought I'd be disappointed in my 4:58. I'm not. I made some mistakes and I think I learned enough lessons on this attempt that a second one would be better, but it was still the best run I've ever had by quite a long margin and I'm satisfied that I did my best. I'll proudly affix the little 26.2 magnet to the back of the Neon and look back fondly at and focus on the 2/3 of the race that were really enjoyable.
Despite the misery of the last 6 miles, right now I think I want another chance...but that's a post for another day.
Thanks again Chris, I couldn't and wouldn't have wanted to do this without you, and thanks everyone for reading.