Monday, November 03, 2008

No More Ghosts

If you haven't already, you really should run the New York City marathon. I think this is my 12th marathon, and I can say without hesitation that the race and the city are unforgettable.

With this being said, enjoying this race was the absolutely the furthest thing from my mind as I crouched in the porta-john at mile 14. This was the third time I'd done the knee-knocking sprint to the side of the road during the past 5 miles, so by now I was good at throwing the door open and getting on with it. "I'm sh**ting my race away", I shouted at the brown door in front of me. I stayed in longer this time than the last two abrupt trips, as I desperately wanted this to be the last time. A PR was by all accounts slipping away, my stomach felt like hell and I couldn't keep any calories down.

The pre-race fesitivities started with a scare when the announcement sounded that the race had closed the first wave corrals and was now staging the second wave. We were handing our bags to the UPS truck at the time, which was at least a quarter mile from where we needed to be, and the follow-up announcement made it clear that we were now relegated to the second wave. I'd seen this movie before last October when I was stuck in wave 2 at Twin Cities, and there was no way I was going to go through that nightmare again. Unfortunately, there were probably 1000 people milling about in the space between us (Lucas was with me) and the staging area, so we were forced to bump our way through what seemed like half of the race's participants en route to the tail end of our corral. Thankfully when we showed our bibs to the guards at the gate they waved us in. From there we worked to the front and ran into Ian, which was a nice surprise.

Staring ahead at the supports for the Verrazano-Narrows bridge and feeling the cold headwind blowing into the field gave me chills, and I couldn't wait to get started. I was going to get down to business quick, with my effort-based split plan in hand (actually it was glued to my Garmin thanks to Kiera's scrap-book talents). My planned 6:27 was 6:27 for mile 1, my planned 5:38 (big downhill) was a 5:37 for 2, and the 5:49 and 5:42 came in at 5:39 and 5:48. I was on it. I didn't feel great, and the headwind was really pushing against me, but the crowds and the atmosphere made up for it. It was going to be hard work, but I was going to make it my day.

Unfortunately, the stomach started to give me trouble the next mile, and while I kept hitting the splits, I put off the gel at mile 7 until mile 8. When I took it, I knew it was a mistake. Unfortunately the G.I. distress I'd had since Thursday afternoon hadn't disappeared yet, and the pepto caplets I took Saturday night had kept me from my usual pre-race,(ahem), ritual Sunday morning. In hindsight I should have waited until Sunday morning to take the pepto, but I was worried by then it would be too late to do any good. Suddenly the problem was urgent, and it was very close to being very ugly.

One quick side-trip to the john is no big deal, so I did what I had to do and made sure to not look at my split for that mile in an effort to stay positive and to keep thinking one mile at a time. Unfortunately, a sip of gatorade at mile 9 rubbed me the wrong way, and the cycle repeated itself.

Two trips to the john is in fact a big deal. I was now starting to panic and I could feel the heart rate creeping up with the same effort. Just like the first time, I tried to claw back just a few seconds a quarter or so, slowly dialing down the pace as I went to try to get back on schedule. Things again settled down a bit, and a glance at the big clock showed 1:18:15 or so at the half, though now we were on our way up yet another bridge. Maybe I'll just take another sip of gatorade... The next thing I know I'm at mile 14 where this post begins, shouting at the door of the porta-john.

As I sprint back out on the course and hear the door snap shut behind me, I make the plan: Forget micro-managing the splits, don't even look at them until you reach the tape. No more liquid, as it's just putting me on the toilet. Forget the gels. Push it to the red-line and hold the gear, and do what you're trained to do.

The moment of truth came on the Queensborough bridge. This comes at mile 16, and it's a steady, uphill grind run in silence (no spectators allowed). I'm generally good on hills, and thankfully the angle of the bridge took us out of the headwind. I was rolling by runners like they were standing still, all the while thinking about Mystery Coach's advice to keep an even keel until mile 16. Somehow tossing out the split collecting and focusing solely on effort made things feel easier, even though I could tell by my stride and cadence that I was on pace.

Just as the bridge finally tilts downward, runners are funneled down a quick 180 degree turn onto 5th Avenue and the lights come on...

It's a wall of people, screaming their hearts out for every runner. I instinctively give a little wave and the eruption doubles. This roar continues for miles, and I'm just rolling now. 5:53, 5:56, 5:53, 6:01, 5:52. I hit the park and dig in on the uphill mile 23 for a 5:52, and the calf muscles start to give. All of the sudden I can't drive quite as far forward with the knees because of this, but I make do. 6:11, 6:04, 6:03, then a mad dash for the last .2 for a 2:37:08. It's a meager PR, but I'm proud of myself for making the right decision at the right time, and for making the best of a bad situation. I gave it my absolute best. No ghosts.

Special thanks to Mystery Coach for the plan that made it all possible.

28 comments:

Anonymous said...

Finishing a marathon so strongly under those conditions is truly impressive. Imagine if everything had gone to plan! You showed real inner fortitude(pun intended)!

Us guys around 3 hours in the marathon were already impressed by your training and racing. The hard work and effort it takes to run at such a high level is not lost on us.

Going forward I believe you have found a winning formula for racing the marathon that works for you. Just add a bit to the intensity here and there in training and sub 2:35 really is doable.

Top 100 at NYC, just incredible!



Take care,

Mark>NE

Michael said...

Congratulations Mike, and well done on not having any regrets (sorry to hear about the GI distress). It must have been very liberating to run your race over the last ten miles, well played. I was thinking about you on Sunday afternoon as I was chatting to my new coach, he said that by far NY was his favourite marathon. It appears you agree. Thanks for sharing!

RICK'S RUNNING said...

thats one gutsy run Mike!

Andrew said...

Wow! Excellent performance Mike! You are a great runner.

John W said...

A strong finish when your racing the marathon is one of the best feelings in the world.

I could't even tell by your 5K splits that you were in deep sh**. Way to pull it together both mentally and physically for the second half of the race.

Superflake said...

Great run Mike. Impressive run after all your stomach hassles in the 1st half of the race.

ian said...

Awesome run, man. Your head and legs were strong, even if your bowels weren't. It was great to meet you on the start line and see you at the finish.

Marc said...

Stunning performance.

No ghosts. That is the true reward.

Congratulations!

Thomas said...

In my recent marathon I might have gotten a PR but missed my target like you, and I might have had stomach issues like you, but that's where the similarities end.

To PR in those circumstances, and on a tough course like NYC is extremely impressive, Mike. I'm in awe. And it bodes even better for your next race, when you can hopefully run unimpeded.

Chad in the Arizona Desert said...

No such thing as a meager PR - especially with all the challenges you had along the way. Awesome job listening to your body and making the right adjustments. Get some rest and recover well. Good job!

Anonymous said...

Kara Goucher had a similar race.

Good going Mike. You're a talented runner and writer.

Greg said...

Wind, tough course, and 3 bathroom breaks and still a 2:37? Be proud, man!

duncan said...

Kick ass, man. Well done.

Mark said...

Three potty break stops and a PR to boot! Totally Awesome and bodes well for the next one because you are there already! Congratulations!

Greg said...

Congrats Mike. Your determination through the adversity speaks volumes about your inner strength.

Nicely done.

Love2Run said...

WTG Mike! Great work thinking on your feet and making the best of the situation. Rest well.

Gregg said...

Good Job Mike... I hope to do NY in 2010. I think you did great having to battle those "pit-stops" all in the first 14 miles. Experience really shows, as you didn't panic and you weren't afraid to change the plan. Having a race plan is nice and all, but one must be flexible and be ready for change. Not too many, if any, will go as planned. Thanks for the update.
Gregg

by7 said...

2h37 with 3 stops and headwind...
very great performance. And really remarkable mental strength. A great race!!

Ewen said...

Thanks Mike - great report. You've fought for a well deserved PB, with promise of more to come.

I wonder what caused the upset stomach? I often have the same problems when away from home - all it takes is less than perfectly clean utensils, or poorly cooked food.

Anyway, enjoy the recovery weeks and plan with confidence for further improvement.

Joe said...

One town is very like another
when you're trapped inside of a toilet, brother.

I remember doing a little running the last time I was in NYC, but that was only because there were some pretty creepy dudes behind me. Next time, if you have to travel 26 miles in the big city, take a cab ...

Mike said...

Joe, is that a Murray Head "Chess" reference?

"One town is very like another when your head's down over your pieces, brother."

Maybe replace "pieces" with "feces"?

Thanks everyone for all the nice comments.

Grellan said...

When tracking your progress on Sunday I though 20 to 25k was a hilly section, not the inside of a porta-john. If the pre-race ritual doesn't happen you can count on trouble ahead.

Well done on beating the inner deamons and changing the mental strategy when you needed to most to pull off a fantastic PR in the face of such adversity. Just think how dangerous you'd have been with a full fuel tank.

Thomas Sørensen said...

Congratulations Mike.
Did you finish in the top 100? WOW!

Quinto Sol said...

Niiiceee! If you can make it [in NYC] you can make it anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Great writing Mike.
Thanks for sharing.
I just love reading you post. I learn much from them.

I'm inspired by your dedication and passion for running.

Thanks!
KEV

Ron said...

mike you are one tough runner. To mentally hold it together and PR with the issues going on, it's an amazing run.

Hope your next marathon is ran under better circumstances, but it sounds like nothing can hold you back.

top 100 too, nice job

Dusty said...

WOW - now THAT is a PR... when you think of the bathroom trips that were not scheduled in your plan to hit that finish time - you totally kicked butt!

I've been duking it out with finding fuel that works while pacing Bob next weekend. Tried a ginger tab today and no issues with a new fuel. I'm going to try those with future tummy issues.

I can't get over how you did on that race. Did you really go without any liquid.. even water? Your race report was great, I was clentching my fists and pushing on the ground with my feet trying to help you go faster as I read along. :)

Love John W's "I could't even tell by your 5K splits that you were in deep sh**." HAHA! I agree!!

Phil said...

This is a fabulous race report Mike. I'm always amazed at your times (even with two potty breaks).