After last winter's Arrowhead race I knew that I needed to do more cross-training for skiing. It's too easy to bike during the summer and then when the snow falls get a few miles of skiing in in an attempt to get ready for the big dance (as Charlie would say). It's too little too late though. It's impossible to get those skiing muscles in shape in just a few weeks and expect to be able to gut out 135 miles. 70? Sure, that's do-able, but really I need to be doing more, different sorts of workouts all through the year. With that in mind I decided that I needed to run a marathon this summer.
I had been looking at doing Grandma's Marathon in Duluth (June 20th) or the Des Moines Marathon (October 18th), but when I heard about TIMTAM, a marathon in a park that I ride through literally every day and with no entry fee it was too good to pass up. The down side was that I only had a week and a half to prepare and was still recovering from a nasty bout of the flu.
How did I train with those constraints? I didn't. I rested. I knew that if I tried to run more than a couple of miles I risked blisters and soreness that would haunt me in the marathon. No, I needed to count on my base of biking miles and what little running I had done in the previous months. My last run had been a 5k about three weeks previous and my longest run had been about 7 miles. Not much to go on.
As I arrived to sign in on Sunday morning I was confident that I would finish. I have done tougher, longer events. Mentally I was prepared for the pain and tedium, but I wasn't confident that I would finish running, or with my knees intact. At 7am we were off. Five laps around a 5.25 mile course for the marathon. Some people were doing the 10.5 mile, two lap race, and many, if not most were doing the whole 50k, 6 lap race. I was hoping at the start to be able to do the 50k, but I had my doubts.
For the first lap and a half I was doing great. I found a pace that worked well for me and fell in with a group that included some runners from Grinnell and a man working on his second time around the 50 states. The experienced 5o stater said that we were on pace for a 4 hour finish. Faster than I had hoped, but I was still optimistic. About nine miles in though I had to fall back. Their pace remained steady while mine just wasn't up to the challenge.
The third lap I ran at a slow pace, with short steps to keep my knees from giving out. I was sore, but still felt that I would finsh running. I was on my own at this point. No one near me was going near the same pace. That suited me fine though, I've done many bike rides of 10 hours or more with only myself for company. It's easy to zone out and think about anything or nothing. The race leader passed by me and called out "Nice job, one fourty nine." 1:49, I thought, I'm halfway through and I'm still under two hours, maybe I can finish in a little over 4! It wasn't until a lap later that I realized my race number was 149.
About 18 miles in or 2 miles into the fourth lap my legs gave out on me. There was no way I could pretend to run anymore. I swallowed my pride and started walking. I would walk for a mile or so jog for half a mile, walk some more. I'd guess I walked about half of the fourth lap. I was considering quitting, but I knew I'd be disappointed in myself. Besides, I have walked 50 miles through the mountains with no food in less than 36 hours (long story). I knew I could always walk that last lap. Maybe it wouldn't make for a good story, but I'd have finished the marathon.
I formed a plan in my mind. The loop of the course was broken up into four sections by the aid stations along the way. If I walked two of them then I'd run the other two. I would end running. I started walking the last lap and didn't worry about what other people thought of this youngish skinny guy walking with a race number on. As I got to the first aid station I drank some Gatorade and started into a painful slow run. It hurt, but I didn't feel like I had to stop. When I got to the second aid station I slowed to a walk even though I felt like I could run a few more yards. It wouldn't be worth it in the long haul I thought. At the last aid station I started up running again. I was going to make it. As I got within sight of the finish line I started striding out, just a little, and finished in the slowest sprint I have ever been party to.
My finishing time was an unrespectable 5:41. A testament to my stubborness if nothing else. My knees and calves ached and the blisters on my heels had already popped. Feeling kind of ambivalent about my finish I thought about going out and walking another lap for the 50k, but I stopped myself. I wanted to do a 200 mile bike race in another three weeks and while I knew the sore muscles and blisters would heal in that time I wasn't sure about the knees.
Since then I've been walking stiff legged and going down stairs backwards because of the pain in my calves, but my knees seem to be getting better. I'll take it easy and spin on the bike for the next week to work my knees. Next time I'll train a little more diligently, but I'll have a better base for the Big Dance.