Sunday, May 16, 2010

Windermere Marathon Race Report

Everyone always says that your first marathon is special and you'll never forget it. With mine only one day removed, I don't have the benefit of weeks, months or years to reflect on it. But I already know that it will be special and memorable for many reasons.

After several months of focused training, I finally ran my first marathon. The Windermere Spokane Marathon started, ironically, in Post Falls, Idaho at 7:00 am on Saturday, May 15th, 2010. My wife brought me to the start 30 minutes prior to race time. Most of those minutes were spent standing in a much too long port-a-potty line. After the pit stop and a good-luck kiss from my wife, I lined up near the back of the pack, along with roughly 400 other marathoners. The skies were perfectly clear and it was cool enough to make my teeth chatter as I stood wearing my Brooks ID kit - a singlet and shorts that I wish were just a tad longer to cover more of my pasty-white chicken legs. Around my waist was my Brooks Aid Station belt, which held a 22-oz Nathan bottle full of Heed, and two 5 oz flasks containing Hammer Gel. I kept a handful of E-caps in a zipper pocket on the belt. After a 10-minute delay to make sure the chips for the full marathoners were synchronized with the chips for the half marathoners (who started at the same time, but 13.1 miles closer to the finish line), we were off. Led by a race official on a bike (more about this later) we made a large loop around a strip mall before being led onto the Centennial Trail, headed for downtown Spokane, Washington. The first three miles seemed to fly by in no time. I was just a tad ahead of my planned pace, averaging 8:25 per mile. My desire was to go out even slower than I felt I should, then increase my pace later in the race. But I felt fine at this point. In fact, the first 10k felt great, at a fairly slow 51 minutes. Here, I took my first hit of gel. The sun was beating down on my shoulders and the temperature was creeping up as I continued drinking every mile on the mile. My heart rate was higher than I had hoped, but I chalked it up to race nerves. At about mile 8, things weren't feeling quite as effortless, even though I threw in an 8:15 and 8:17 for miles 9 and 10. I reached the half at 1:50, where my wife was waiting, ready to swap a cold bottle of Heed with my now empty bottle. During the quick exchange, I told her "this is going to be tough". I was now feeling the heat, and my legs were already feeling some fatigue. I was surprised by how heavy the new, full bottle felt as it replaced my empty one on my belt. iPods weren't against the rules, but were discouraged. I decided against wearing mine for this and other reasons. So, without the distraction and/or motivation of music or podcasts, it was about this time that the mental games began. I kept thinking, "oh no - I didn't plan a 'mantra' ahead of time!" I quickly adopted whatever positive self-talk I could come up with. I started telling myself "You've got this. You're strong. You've done the training. Run steady, you've got this". As the miles clicked off, I was a bit frustrated with how difficult it was to fight the negative voices in my head, saying "My legs feel dead! My breathing is far too labored for this pace! There are still so many miles to go. It's too hot", etc. It became a pretty intense battle.

Through mile 15, I was still averaging 8:24 miles. Even though the whole course had a net elevation loss of 240 feet, there was an uphill portion from about mile 16 to mile 18. It may not have been terribly significant, but by now it seemed like a small mountain. This is when the walk breaks started. I was getting a slight cramp in my right calf. I was still able to run, though. I had begun taking my E-caps at about mile 6, then every few miles after that. I only took 8 during the race, which I thought was enough. At about mile 20, I started thinking that maybe it wasn't, as my right quad started cramping and having spasms. To make things more interesting, it seemed like my system quit processing the fuel I was taking in. I felt like I needed to continue drinking and taking gels, but my stomach was getting more and more bloated. By this point, the heat was a major factor, as more and more runners were resorting to walk breaks. The course continued to roll along, up and down, with just enough little hills to spur on more cramping in my quad and, now, both calves. I was down to averaging 8:35's at mile 20. I started doing some math. The dream of a 3:30 finish was gone a long time ago. I'd have to run a 49-minute final 10k to finish in 3:40. Normally not difficult, but at this point, there was no way I'd even get close to that. I walked the first two minutes of mile 21. Miles 21, 24 and 25 were the slowest - all a little over 10 minutes. My hopes went from a 3:40 finish, to a 3:45 finish, to thoughts of "okay, I just want to break four hours!" At about mile 24, there was an active train crossing. As I approached it, spectators were yelling "you can beat the train if you hurry!". I saw the flashing lights and the gate across the road, so I willed my aching legs to sprint. I and a couple other runners ran across the tracks seconds before the train came through. Wow.

As we got into downtown Spokane, my leg cramps were intensifying. I felt like I was dragging my right leg, as I had little power in my quad, and my calf wasn't allowing much push-off from my foot. As I ran past the Gonzaga University campus, toward Riverfront Park, volunteer on bicycles rode toward us every few minutes, asking, "are you trying to qualify for Boston?" Of course, I kept answering "no", but wondered why they were asking this. As I began crossing the bridge over the Spokane River to run the final stretch toward the finish, my sister appeared, frantically telling me that I needed to turn around and run more if I wanted to run a full marathon. By now, I was experiencing a bit of brain fog and thought, "okay, this is NOT a funny joke, Andrea". But she kept explaining as I ran by and, given the BQ questions from the bike people, I realized that something was wrong. I didn't mention it before, but every mile marker in the race was quite a bit off. They were coming far too early, according to my Garmin (and everyone else's around me). When I reached the finish line, the announcer was telling everyone that they needed to turn around and run another point-something miles if they want to run a full marathon. Either he didn't say the exact amount as I was finishing, or I just didn't hear it. Not thinking, I ran across the timing mat and said to the volunteer, "I want to run the full distance. What do I do?" She gave me a confusing answer, so I just followed another runner that was doing the same thing. When she turned back around, so did I, crossing the finish line for a second time. I don't know the whole story, but the official on the bike that I mentioned earlier apparently didn't take us on a big enough loop at the beginning of the race, so we were short of the full distance. Oops. In an otherwise well-organized event, this was disappointing and frustrating. Those of you who have finished a marathon know how ready you are to finish when you cross that line; how your brain and body are ready give up the battle. It was disheartening to have to turn around and run even a short distance further. After I finished for good, I received my medal, met my wife, two daughters, dad, step-mom and sister, who escorted me to a chair, where I promptly collapsed, dizzy and nauseous. Twice they tried to get me to stand up, but it wasn't going to happen, as I turned pale and nearly blacked out. After some chocolate milk and several orange wedges (the only food that sounded good), I finally made my way to the bathroom with my dad's help, then to our vehicle for the ride back to my folks' house for an ice bath and, eventually, some solid food.

I can't say I was disappointed in my performance, but I know I can do better. When I ran my first half marathon 7 months ago, it was the hardest thing I had done at that point. Now, this marathon takes that distinction. I still have some work to do, but I'm excited to move forward and shoot for a faster finish in the future. After the soreness dissipates, of course!

Here are the numbers:

Chip time: 3:46:20 (when I accidentally crossed the mat the first time)
Actual finish time: 3:49:32
Avg. pace: 8:45
Overall place: 67/344
Gender: 54/180
Age Group: 12/32

To all those who I've had the privilege to share this journey with either in person or online: thanks again for the tremendous encouragement, support, advice and friendship. The journey doesn't end here. It's just getting started!

Photos to come...


  1. Good job!

    Cheers from HK,

    "XTB" Xavi.

  2. Thanx for the race report - can imagine the disappointment when finishing and having to run the extra loop. But well done - first marathon sub-4 hours is a-okay!

  3. Wow, can't imagine how it would feel to have to tack a bit extra onto the end of the marathon - and to have to have beaten a train across the tracks. Well done on your first marathon Colin, an impressive result with all that you were fighting through.

  4. Congratulations! Great time for your first marathon! Very nice report and a cool medal. Pity about the distance but we take it as it comes. You should be very proud.

  5. Great post, Colin. I've been thinking so much lately about how hard my first half-marathon was and knowing that finishing my first marathon will feel equally (or perhaps even more so?) difficult. Finishing 13.1 for the first time felt like an impossibility and I spent those final couple of miles with so many negative thoughts crowding my mind. So good to hear that you've been through something similar.
    Congratulations on getting this race done!

  6. The irony is that had you done the proper distance at the start you wouldn't have beaten the train.

    Had I crossed the line and be told to keep going I would have just sat down and cried. Well, well done. And weather-wise you picked a tough one.

    Hope to speak to you on Wednesday about this and the lessons learned.

  7. Thanks Joe. Looking forward to the RRT. I don't think we're that far apart on the topic, actually. I'll send a current bio soon.

  8. You never know what will happen on race day, but you took it all in stride. It's amazing how each race I run seems harder than the last, every time I finish I say THAT was the hardest one I've ever ran :) Congrats on your first marathon!

  9. Colin - Congratulations on an excellent first Marathon! Everyone's first marathon sole goal should be to finish while having a great experience - and in your case you also had a good time (a sub 4-hour first marathon is a HUGE! With more favorable temperatures in your future marathon races, and having the benefit of contemplating and adjusting from your lessons learned, you'll naturally improve further in the future. Most important is to keep having fun!

  10. Congrats to you Colin! I think that you did a great job on your first marathon:) I loved reading your race report! I hope that you are taking some time for rest and deserve it!

  11. Hi Colin,
    I really enjoyed your race report, it was so well written that I found myself saying "oh no" & "wow" out loud. The ending fiasco was a trip. And yes, relax and enjoy.... no Garmin allowed on your next few runs.

  12. Marathons are tough, and in the heat, too...MUCH tougher. Very good marathon debut. :)

  13. nice work! Sub 4 hour marathon is VERY nice. You know what they say: If it were easy, everyone would do it.

    that is SOOOOO shitty that the race wasn't the right length. race director needs to get his shit together (or maybe the biker)

  14. Thanks everyone. I appreciate the comments!
    Adam, you're right. And they knew about the problem early on, so they could have added a detour before the end of the course. There's a pretty big uproar about it online. Oh well...just makes me want to run another one soon. Probably September.

  15. Congrats on your first marathon! And quite a respectable time, at that!

  16. Thanks Dale! It was a tough day, and I know I've got a faster time in me, but for a first marathon, I'll take it!

  17. First of all, CONGRATULATIONS on finishing your first marathon!!!!

    A train crossing in a marathon? And then beating a train in a marathon? Wow! and interesting ...

    I'm sure there were a lot of people pissed off by the accidental biking loop and needing to make up some mileage at the end of the race. That is the absolute worst time for something like that to happen, at the end of a marathon when all you can think about is crossing the finish line.

    That's a pretty rough introduction to the marathon. But I guess it all evens out. There is always something which is tough about each 26.2 mile race.

    Great job Colin!