The marathon

Well, it’s done. Emily and I completed the Twin Cities Marathon a week ago today. I shall attempt to recall the details of the race and the last weeks of training — for the record, and because I am nearly certain to attempt another marathon in the near future.

Trying to stay warm outside the Metrodome-replacing U.S. Bank Stadium.

I completed the race in 4:57:08 (chip time). That was about an hour slower than my stretch goal of getting a 3:__:__ finish time. There were a few reasons for that.

I started the race with a sore right knee. This was an injury that started a year ago during my first half marathon. It’s some sort of swelling inside that did not look bad on an MRI and did not concern the surgeon a couple of months ago when he looked at it. Skiing last winter seemed to help it, and so did getting better running shoes early in my TCM training schedule. What aggravated it was running the hilly Quilcene Oyster Run half marathon pretty aggressively two weeks before the TCM.

Quilcene’s fast, steep downhill on asphalt seemed to make it worse, and I spent the two weeks between the half and the full heating my knee with a rice bag and popping turmeric-and-pepper pills. The final two weeks of my taper involved almost no running. I was hoping it would improve enough to run the TCM and read a lot of unsubstantiated online advice saying rest would be better for me than trying to push ahead with the scheduled tapering runs.

The knee improved, but even my two-mile easy run two days before the TCM made it worse. Early in the marathon, I assumed I would be dropping out before five miles or so. I could feel the familiar swelling, weak, locked-up feeling. However, I knew from previous runs that it seemed to loosen as I ran longer, so I periodically stopped, stretched my knee to free it up, then continued. The first time I had to stretch it was around mile 5.5 at the first sighting of our family cheering section.

The expertly navigating cheering section.
We were always quite happy to see them, except at their last stop before the finish when I was falling apart and could manage only a couple of high-fives as I ran by.

The knee did improve along the way, but as it faded my legs started to cramp. Stretching the knee left my hamstring and calf loose, and they began to cramp horribly whenever I did that. That was manageable by alternately stretching the front and back of my right leg, but the cramping got worse and also affected my left leg.

I had experienced this on long training runs, but those were fueled by Gu packets and very occasional water. I assumed that the ready access to electrolyte drinks during the TCM would eliminate it as an issue, but I assumed incorrectly. I don’t know where I failed on nutrition, because I ate three Gu Roctane packets, drank a cup of Powerade and a cup of water at each water station and also had a Clif energy gel when they were offered mid race. But I definitely failed. I slowed as my legs refused to flex in a normal stride without cramping.

Note the early stretching episodes several miles apart. The cramping started after three hours, and note the long stop and subsequent walking after around four hours.

Around mile 23.5, I stumbled to the curb again, this time aiming for some grass instead of a nice stretching post. My hands, wrists and tongue were numb and stiff — maybe my toes and feet, too, but I can’t quite recall. My legs cramped painfully if I attempted to flex them. I awkwardly lowered myself to the grass and began attempting to stretch one band of muscles without slackening the opposing ones so those cramped. That was pretty impossible, and I began to think of dropping out. But the finish line was so close, and I knew from texts that Emily was close to the finish line. No fucking way are you going to do this again, said I, so no fucking way are you not crossing that finish line. To stay in front of the drop-out bus and get an official finish, I had about 100 minutes left to move myself something less than three miles. I could have crawled and made it, so off I went.

Emily pulled away from me when my cramps got bad, but we passed each other and ran together a few times earlier in the race.

I tried to jog, but the legs wouldn’t do it. Part of that was something physical, but part of it was mental, because I was able to start jogging when I saw the cathedral, heard its bells ringing and saw the giant flag suspended between opposing St. Paul FD and Minneapolis FD tower ladders two blocks before the finish line. Shuffling somewhat awkwardly, I’m sure, I managed to keep running through the finish line.

Couldn’t really avoid finishing once I got this far. Passed that lady, too, I did.

Between the 18.6-mile timing loop and the end, 2012 finishers passed me; I passed only 29 other runners. I fell from 4596th place to 6717th place out of the 8556 eventual finishers. (Another three thousand registered for the race, maybe started it but didn’t finish within the six-hour limit.) Emily did much better, well within the range of when she wanted to finish and about half an hour faster than me.

We both made it! No more marathons necessary (but not really).

The medal was obtained. I scarfed down a cup of soup broth and a couple of packs of Old Dutch chips close to the finish line. A banana, too, I think. I let the phone sit for a minute, strapped to my arm, because I didn’t have a free hand or free energy to text. Eventually I retrieved my warm starting-line clothes from the UPS truck, claimed my finisher’s t-shirt and left the runner’s area to meet Emily and the family. We left pretty quickly in search of beer and food.

With Grandpa Dean, the preeminent and tireless supporter of family athletes.

We ate, we drank, we didn’t throw up — somewhat surprisingly for me, because my longest runs have been followed by a few hours of intense discomfort. Perhaps the water stations were an improvement after all. Now I just need to fix the cramping issue and try it again — as soon as my left foot starts to feel better from its stress fracture or whatever is going on in there.

Or maybe an ultra would be more my speed. They let you stop and eat, and apparently I just need some soup broth and Old Dutch once in a while. Until then, I’m pretty happy with my now complete list of running records in Garmin Connect: