So I have now completed my first marathon. It was a very interesting (and painful) experience, but I learned a lot of lessons, and you can bet you will be seeing me at the starting line again, soon.
To start out with, the Marathon was scheduled to start at 7am, the website wasn’t all that clear on how to get down to the starting line, they just made reference to the roads being closed down at 6am. I decided I didn’t want any stress in getting there and finding out where I needed to be etc, so I had my friend Paul drop me off down by the stadium at 5am. They already had closed down most of the roads and we drove around a bunch of road closed signs to get there. I may have gotten there a touch early though, I am pretty sure I was the very first runner there by about 15-20 minutes (and there were about 19,000 runners). However, next year for the Cleveland Marathon, you can bet I will probably show up at 5am once again. I had no stress running around, had time to relax and focus on what I needed to do that day, and I got to talk to quite a few people.
The beginning of the marathon was interesting, I am a very new runner, and I have never run with anyone else before. The beginning of the marathon (and by beginning, I mean like 9 miles) could best be described as a stampede, it was shoulder to shoulder runners for at least the first 5-6 miles. I spent a lot of energy trying to keep up with the pace group I signed up for (a group led by veteran runners with a goal of finishing in 3 hours and 50 minutes), there were so many people, my group kept getting ahead of me, and I would have to run side to side to try and find a hole I could move ahead some. It also was a bit unnerving because I couldn’t see the road very well and I need to be careful of what I step on in my Vibrams.
By the 9th mile I knew I couldn’t keep fighting the crowd or maintain that pace, so I decided to leave my pace group and just run what felt natural, that was probably my best decision in the marathon, the next 7 miles flew by. Also as soon as we rounded about 12 miles the half marathon runners split off to head back to the finish line, at that point it was no longer crowded and I could really just focus on me running.
Mile 15, I started feeling a twinge just above my left knee in one of my quads, it felt like a bit of a knot, it seemed odd as I hadn’t had any issues with cramping in my training, I just kind of hoped it would go away.
Mile 16, My left leg totally cramped up, I was running down Martin Luther King Jr Blvd and my leg totally cramped, I almost fell over in the street, I couldn’t walk, I wasn’t really all that sure what I should do. I just stood there and stretched as much as I could until I could move to the side of the road. I spent probably 5 minutes or so doing basic stretches until I could walk again, I then walked for probably 200 feet before I started running again.
The next two or three miles I ran until my legs would lock, and then I would stretch until I could walk again, I was in pretty bad shape, I ended up being able to recognize when my legs where going to lock and start walking right before that, so I would run a quarter mile, walk a 100 feet or so, then back to running, I did this through the end of the marathon. My running was not looking so good at this point, I had lost a good bit of range of motion from the cramping so it was a very stiff slow run.
In the end I ended up running the full marathon in 5 hours 2 minutes, I lost an hour to the cramping as my time at the half marathon distance was 2 hours. I was kind of disappointed I wasn’t able to do it in 4 hours, but my main goal for this, my first marathon, was just to finish, which I did.
During the race my wife Meagan and two of my good friends Paul and Jess spent their time fighting the Cleveland public transit to try and get ahead of me and cheer me on, I had worked out a route beforehand that would allow them to see me at 5 places max if everything went as planned, I ended up seeing them at 3 of the places. It was an unbelievable boost each time I saw them, and it really was a driving factor when I was out there knowing that we had a checkpoint ahead where they may be.
Almost everyone has wanted to know how it was running the marathon in my Vibrams. Well, in the end my feet hurt less than most of the rest of me, I feel that the Vibrams really rocked out there. I never found myself thinking I was an idiot for attempting to run such a distance in a “barefoot” shoe. The question of what I thought of running in my Vibram’s is really an invalid question though as I was never able to run distance until I changed over to them, so I can’t compare running a marathon in running shoes VS the Vibrams. Also for those interested, I was running in the Vibram KSO’s, I spent awhile trying to decide between my KSO’s and my KSO TrekSport’s, the difference is that the TrekSports have twice as thick of soles which offer more protection. However, I am very glad I choose to run in the thinner KSO’s. Having the extra contact with the ground makes you run softer and saves your feet for later in the race.
As for the cramping, I spent some time researching when I got home, I believe the cramping was due to two things: #1 Salt deficiency, #2 lack of training. I have a very low salt diet as Meagan and I prepare almost all our own food from scratch, so we are not getting all the heavily salted prepackaged stuff many people do, and when we cook, we use very little salt. As for the training, I lost 2 weeks in the middle of my training plan which made it hard to catch back up on my long runs, then at the very end I wasn’t able to run for 3 weeks leading up to the marathon because of my work schedule. I started really cramping at mile 16, right up until then I still felt great, I wasn’t tired at all, which is why I think it was a combination of the lack of training and salt, I think if either of those had not been present I probably would have been fine.
As of Wednesday morning, I am feeling mostly better, I was really sore on Monday, Tuesday was quite a bit better, and today I am almost totally out of pain. I am planning to start back running this week, I will be starting off slow as it will take several weeks for my body to totally recover, but I should be able to do a few miles here and there. I am following Hal Higdon’s post marathon 4 week plan for recovery (I followed his training program leading up to the marathon as well).
I am already planning the next couple marathons, I am planning to run the Drake Well marathon in the middle of August, it is a tiny marathon back where I grew up (Last year about 80 people ran it). I am not going to push my training, I am going to do what is comfortable, and just try and log a lot of miles between now and then. I will of course be posting my progress here as I go.