I mentioned in an earlier post that I was expecting less than ideal conditions for the marathon, and boy was I right.
Actually, conditions were different than expected, but still bad. When we arrived (Beth, her mom and myself) in Erie the bank signs all read 79 degrees - at 6:30 in the morning. Besides that, it was 85% humidity. So I knew it would be rough. If I only I had realized just how rough it would be...
The traffic getting into Presque Isle was bad, so by the time I had gotten my race packet I only had about 15 minutes to go the bathroom and warmup before the race started. I was still in line for the bathroom when they made the call announcing it was five minutes before the race starts.
Fortunately, I made it out of the bathroom in time to get in the large crowd of people at the start line. By then I had decided that my race strategy would be to shoot for a 9:30 mile pace, which would give me about a 4:09 finish time. Not as great as I would hope, but still decent, especially considering conditions.
The race started and I finished the first mile in about 10 minutes. No problem, it was mostly due to all the people traffic on the course. Once I get by all the slowpokes I can get myself into a nice little rhythm. By mile three I was feeling the effects of the heat - I was already drenched in sweat, but feeling good. I overheard a couple "50 state marathon club" members discussing their past marathons:
"What did you do for Virginia?"
"That was a double weekend for me, Richmond on Saturday and then Outer Banks on Sunday..."
Whoa, two marathons in one weekend!
Around mile five I handed my drenched shirt off to Beth, choosing to do the rest of the race shirtless. I reached the 10K point in 58:32 - under my planned 9:30 pace. I was still feeling strong at around mile 10, but was beginning to have my doubts about my ability to maintain this pace. My shorts were soaked with sweat and I tied and retied the drawstring several times to makes sure the extra weight didn't pull them down. Somewhere in the 12th mile I began to feel some rumbling in my guts and stopped at a bathroom. It cost me a couple minutes, but the comfort gained was immeasurable.
I reached halfway at 2:07:16, slower than my halfway time in Harrisburg but I thought the time was probably recoverable. How I felt was altogether different. At mile fifteen I began to falter. My fifteenth mile took me about 10 minutes. Mile 16 was about the same. I started thinking "maybe I can still pull this off in less than 4:30." Mile 17 took eleven minutes. Around mile 18 I began considering a DNF.
Once I made it to the mile 20 checkpoint (in 3:29:32), I figured I could finish. I might have felt awful, but I still felt good enough to pull another 10K out of me. So I trudged onward. I noticed my sweat producing a white film on my legs. I'm not totally sure what it was, but I think it was the detergent getting rinsed out of my shorts from all the sweat. At least I was still sweating - I wasn't totally dehydrated.
It took me just under an hour and a half to finish the final 10K, but I made it to the finish line in 4:59:00. 59 minutes slower than my original goal pace. Had the weather been thirty degrees cooler, I think I probably would have had a shot at four hours, but I just didn't know how to handle the excess heat and humidity.
After the race I chugged a bottle of lukewarm water and went for a dip in Lake Erie to lower my body temperature. It felt great. On the way home we swung by a Taco Bell and Beth's mom treated me to a 44-ounce Pepsi. It was delicious. (That would replace about 550 of the 3200 or so calories I had burned.) Back a the house, Beth's dad prepared a delicious salmon dinner just in time for me to recover my appetite. If only every post race meal could be so good!
What I learned:
When it's hot out, I need to treat races the way I treat my training runs and slow way down. Sometimes I think I'm going at a sustainable pace, but really I'm not. In the heat the effect is magnified, so it's not just a case of tired legs slowing me down, but also an stomach issues, mental fuzziness, and in some cases shortness of breath or cramps. (I managed to avoid only the cramps on Sunday - although my right calf threatened many times.)
It's okay to go out there and just have fun. Or, throw away your goals if conditions dictate. This might have gone very differently if I hadn't worried about pace, personal records or milestone times. If I had taken more and/or longer walk breaks earlier I might have stood a chance to finish at around 4:30-4:40 instead of 4:59. And probably would have felt a lot better, too. Instead, for the first 15 miles I walked only when drinking water (at about every mile marker) and I think that cost my legs and lungs a much needed break in the action.
Recumbant bikes are just plain dorky. The marathon course was essentially a giant loop around Presque Isle State Park and the inside lane was closed to traffic during the race. So traffic had only one lane in which to operate. At one point a cyclist (I use the term loosely here) had traffic backed up adjacent to the race course. He must not have realized (or chose to ignore) that there was a bike path that also loops around the park that he could have used. And he just looked goofy, waving cars past him with his big blinking light on the back of his lounge chair with wheels.