As the finish line came closer, the clock was ticking ever so slowly. It felt like time was moving at a snail’s pace, but maybe that was only me. The worst part was that the clock once again read 2:15. For the third time I ran within 9 seconds of 2:15. But that is not what I was thinking about. I had run a fantastic 35km, setting myself up for a great run. Then something happened I have never experience before while running. With only 4 miles to go, I felt my legs completely shutdown.
– – –
Starting (or finishing) a road race on a track is something that does not happen often in the United States, but I feel like it is a fairly common practice in Japan. Running nearly a mile on the track was actually quite fun. There were plenty of fans in the stadium to cheer and the field size was limited. We also ran the first 400m very fast. I glanced at my watch and saw 70 seconds, and the top group was already gapping me! With that knowledge I slowed down and began to look for the second group of pacers. By 1km they had caught up to me, and I tucked in behind them. From there I maintained contact with that group, even though they were running faster than they were prescribed. The pacers were supposed to go through half marathon in 65:15, which is right around 3:05 kilometers. But the pacers were running much faster than that. Through 15km we were on 2:09 pace, and we went through half in 64:50. Besides the fast pace, the pacers were not very consistent. Speeding up too much after they slowed down, because they had sped up too much, etc. While this was not the worst pacing, it was frustrating. I tried to stay relaxed and not yoyo too much, only gradually making up the ground if they gapped me.
After half, two of the pacers dropped out and the one that was left slowed down even more, so I went around him and continued on. Unfortunately the wind had picked up and we were running into a head wind. I was content to lead for a while, with the hope that someone from the group behind would help me in a few kilometers. So after nearly two miles of leading, I pulled to the side and waved the guy behind me to help me out. He firmly stayed put. Since I was in a good rhythm, I did not want to slow down at all, I continued to lead and after another kilometer or so I did it again, with the results staying the same. Finally a kilometer later, I pulled to the side and slowed down, forcing the guy to lead, but he slowed down even more. This made me a bit upset so I surged and gapped the group (that was the 3:02 and 3:04 at 27-8km).
Over the next few kilometers I was reeling in a competitor who had fallen off the main pack. As I pulled up next to him, I saw it was Yuki Kawauchi. For those who do not know, he is a bit of a folk hero in running. He works full time for the civil service in Japan and races all the time, often running very fast. I gave a word of encouragement, and he tucked in behind me. I lead for a bit, then unlike before he went to the lead and helped. Eventually we picked up another runner and maintained for a few kilometers. Around 32 kilometers (20 miles), I was starting to get tired, but was still feeling relaxed and smooth. I began to fall off of Yuki, but I focused on being relaxed and was able to close the gap.
Sometime after 35 kilometers, I experienced something that I have never had before in a marathon. I went from running fast and smooth, to not being able to run fast at all. In my two previous marathons I gradually slowed over the last 6-7 miles, but here I went from running 5 minute pace to over 6 minute pace. Aerobically I felt fine, just my muscles did not want to move. Every step was felt like I was running through quicksand. I do not know what happened. I guess that is what it truly “hit the wall.” From there I could do nothing as people sped around me. I was on a slow march to the finish line. I could not even use the energy of the crowd to will me to the finish.
– – –
Headed into this race I felt that I was the fittest I have ever been. Even with the stress fracture this spring, I took the patient approach and gradually built fitness over the summer and fall. Every race this fall was a notch or two better than the previous. Also in the last four weeks, workouts were going the best they have in any prior marathon build up. Everything was clicking and I was confident. I carried that into the race.
Maybe my hubris got the better of me, and I was just over my head and crashed and burned at 35km. Maybe things would have been different if the pacers would have run 65:15. I could have closed the last 10km like I wanted, but that is not what happened and I do have some good that came from it.
Even though I did not finish the race as I wanted, I did gain some significant insights into racing a marathon. I made it over 35km faster than I ever had before. At the Trials and NYC the wheels began to come off well before, only I did not slow down nearly as much. I feel that this bodes well for future races. The more experienced marathoner I become, the better I will get. The marathon is one of those that the more veterans tend to run best at (just look at the top 10 at the USA Marathon Champs from CIM).
Also the experience of running in Japan was amazing. As a culture, they understand and respect distance running. They came out in droves to watch the race. There was hardly a spot on the course without a spectator. Even in NYC, where 300,000 people come out to watch the race that does not happen.
From here Pete and I will be figuring out what races I am going to do next, and what changes can be made to my training so I can finish strong in the last few miles of the marathon. That probably means that I will be taking another crack this spring!
|5||6:03 – 15:17||30||6:12 – 1:32:29 (2:10:00 pace)|
|10||6:07 – 30:30||35||3:12 – 1:48:18 (2:10:35 pace)|
|15||6:10 – 45:48||40|
|20||3:13 – 1:01:20|
|21||3:10 – 64:50 1/2||– Began to lead|
|25||3:06 – 1:17:03|