This was, to many people's surprise, my first attempt at the Columbus Marathon. I was supposed to run the half last year, but woke up that morning feeling like I had a stack of weights on my chest and face. My untimely illness provided the straw that broke the camels back, since there were lots of other reasons I didn't particularly want to run that day. With that no-show, I was going into this one with very little prior knowledge of the course, even though I have been a Columbus resident for nearly four years.
I never know what to expect of myself when it comes to racing... I seem to have a natural ability that defies proper training. Despite my surprising successes in running, I have been let down by overconfidence on multiple occasions this year. I had put in lots of low mileage runs over the past two months, getting as fast as I have ever been for distances under 10 miles, but I also forewent most of my scheduled long runs. The longest training run I went on was a disastrous 17-miler, where my stomach revolted against my efforts, producing a lackluster finishing time, but assuring me that my legs could pull off some miracles if I needed them to.
Lots of my friends and cohorts were set to participate in this race, so I had been back and forth between considering making it strictly a fun training run with a slower group of buddies and attempting a PR. My good friends Alex and Elise were in town for the event, and Elise was running this as her inaugural marathon. I did much of my last minute race preparations with her and Alex, which was a pleasant experience. We went on a nice 8:00/mi paced 3-miler the day before and I think it helped us both loosen up a bit for the big day ahead. I for once ate and hydrated properly in the days leading up to Sunday and even though I only got 5 hours of sleep on Saturday night, I don't remember ever feeling so rested before a race. Alex drove Elise and I to the start that was all too typical of a marathon starting line. Crowds of people, chilly air, and a slight feeling of nervousness coupled with euphoria.
When the gun start was signaled, Elise and I were near the 4:00 pace group, which would have been my target finish for the strictly training run mentality. When we started running, I felt loose and comfortable, so when Elise turned her iPod on I felt compelled to pick up my pace to find some conversation elsewhere. I didn't want to go out of the gate too fast to catch up to the faster pace groups, so I tried to hold onto the idea that if I just ran my own race I would eventually catch up to the 3:40 guys. After 5 miles I had reached them and kept stride for a mile or two till I got it in my head that this was my chance to run a really great marathon and I felt good enough to do it. Picking up the pace again, I decided to catch the 3:30 group. It took less than an hour, so at the 10 mile mark I was running on an 8:00/mi pace with the group projected to finish 12 minutes ahead of my previous PR. Shortly after I joined them, a recent acquaintance from over the Summer, Tad Inboden, came along side me. Tad was also running his first marathon. We were both in one of our good friend's weddings back in August and the man was simply hilarious and a great guy all around. The conversation and light heartedness of our marathon encounter made for a really great on-course experience. I think both of us resigned to the fact that we could help one another if we stayed together for at least a bit, so we made it a point to keep pace off of each other. I deck myself out for every race as if it were an ultra, so I had two bottles of water, a ton of gels, and a variety pack of magic pills (ibuprofen, endurolytes, antacids, etc.), which I was more than willing to share with Tad. The aid stations for marathons are something I am not particularly fond of, they usually are limited to water and Gatorade, with one gel station somewhere about 3/4 through the course, and always cause a pace slowing traffic jam between people who don't want anything and those trying to make a mad dash for the paper cups that once used become a traction hazard. With two 20 oz. water bottles and all the other junk I had on me, Tad and I only used the stations to supplement our needs. After passing through Bexley and German Village, we began a began a nice jaunt up High St through downtown, the Short North, and into the Ohio State campus. I carried my phone on me during the race, mostly to make post race meet-ups more coordinated, but it proved useful in alerting my brother Tyler and my roommate Johnny that we would be passing by our apartments just a few miles after the halfway point. Johnny hooked me up with some electrolyte tablets that I was running low on, which was awesome. On campus, and really throughout the whole course I probably saw a dozen people I knew along the street, which was great... one of the many benefits of running a race where you live.
As Tad and I went through campus we started jetting ahead of the 3:30 pacers about 50 yards or so. The plan in my head was to stick close to them until about mile 20, and then if I felt good enough I would try to burn the last 10K. As we went by the Oval where they were setting up for the Barack Obama visit later in the day, I realized that mile 18 was fast approaching, where my personal "wall" usually awaits... alive and well in all of it's infamy. Approaching mile 18 I started to break down a bit, I knew it was my mental anticipation of mile 18, but I couldn't help it. Tad and I weren't saying much at this point, so I'm not sure what was going on his head. The only thing I told him out loud was, "My mind is in a dark and gloomy place right now man." As we passed mile 18, a port-a-john stop was to our right hand side, just before we got into the Upper Arlington portion of the course. I didn't need to stop, but I figured dropping some water weight and breaking my stride for 30-seconds might be a nice pick me up for the home stretch. I was wrong. I started back out, seeing the balloons with 3:30 written in black sharpie about 200 yd ahead of me, trying to pace myself to catch back up to Tad. I was gaining ground slowly as I rolled into Grandview where I saw Alex waiting for his wife to pass by. I gave him an on the go update on my struggle with mile 18, and kept going. Passing a checkpoint with a time clock, I saw that I was still on my way to a PR, with less than 50 min of running left if I could hold out. I couldn't. Not far from there, around mile 22, my left calf knotted up, bringing me to an awkward unnatural stride. Then came my left quad, then the right leg joined forces in the ultimate betrayal. In long distance races, it's all about forward progress. If you are having issues, stopping isn't likely to resolve anything, so you just need to maintain forward progress. Slowing down or even walking are much better ideas than stopping altogether. The remainder of Grandview I spent using the run/walk method, and popping any endurolytes I had left, trying to stretch as I went, hoping I would get loose enough to make a last full out effort. I was coming up Buttles Avenue alongside Goodale Park when I knew all I had left was a mile or so till the finish in the Arena District. As we turned onto Park Street, I resolved to run the last stretch despite cramping and pain. At this point my struggles had pushed me back behind the 3:40 group, with all the turns I wasn't sure where I was between the 3:40 and 3:50 groups, because I couldn't see either.
Every marathon I have run so far has ended in what is on it's way to becoming a tradition... shirtless and in a dead sprint. I took my bright yellow Brooks singlet off and ran Park Street in a pretty good amount of pain until I saw the 26 mile marker, anything I had left in my legs at this point was going to my hard finish. I picked up my pace to one as fast as any I could conjure up, and blazed a trail past about 20 runners to a solid finish. When I looked at the clock and saw 3:43:08 I was disappointed and upset. During the race I had gotten it into my head that I would PR, and up until mile 22 I was confident that I wouldn't just get a PR, but that I would also run my first sub-3:30 marathon. It didn't occur to me until after the race, that the time I saw was the gun start time, and that I hadn't crossed the start line until 2 minutes after the gun. So my official time was actually 3:40:58, good for a PR but not as dramatic of an improvement as I was on pace for.
After I crossed the finish line, I went through the standard routine of getting bagels, water, and chicken broth from the volunteers. Then of course I received the standard marathon bling and had my picture taken that they will try to sell me for some absurdly high price in a few weeks. The finish line was crowded and crazy with spectators and runners, and I knew a lot of my friends were still on the course, so I went to the Susan G. Komen tent instead of trying to find anyone just yet. I had some light conversation with some of the people there, inquired about how some of my teammates had done, and picked up my goody bag until Alex tracked me down. Elise wasn't as far behind me as I expected, running a really strong sub-4 hour marathon, just minutes from Boston Qualifying. After she finished, we met up with my brother again, ran into a few friends... including Tad who had finished with a jealousy inspiring time of 3:28:49.
By in large this was my favorite marathon of my still young running career, the course was beautifully laid out and familiar, there was no significant stretch that didn't have hundreds of people cheering all of us on, and running with a friend without sacrificing any part of my performance was a really awesome experience. I raised around $500 for breast cancer research in my effort, set a new PR, and gave myself a much needed surge of mettle heading into my next ultra marathon, which is now just weeks away.
I love running and I'm proud to be a resident of this city that has so many great friends.