I convinced my twin, Annajean McMahon, to show up at my house at 5:45 am for the ride to Lowell. For things I really want to do, I like to get there early. For other things, such as work, I try to get there on time, but not early!
For 10 days I’d been checking the weather reports – which kept changing – trying to figure out what I’d be wearing for the Marathon. The night before it looked bad, so I packed just about everything I could think of. Annajean, my wife Jane, and I arrived at about 6:40 and hung out at the Tsongas Arena. (At least there was a warm, dry place before the race.) I made my final decision on running gear (hat with a brim, gortex jacket and pants – which I planned to shed at 3 miles, shorts underneath, and gloves), and we headed to the starting line. At that point it didn’t seem all that bad and I was hoping the weather people were wrong yet again. However, a few sprinkles of rain were just starting.
I was feeling pretty good, ready with a clear strategy for the race, and pretty confident that this time I would complete my first marathon. Through the first 10 miles things were going fairly well. I was shooting for about a 9:30 pace and monitoring myself on my Garmin. On my long runs I had practiced running 20 seconds faster each mile than my desired to pace which allows a 1:00 walk interval each mile. Therefore, I was trying to run 9:10 miles and do my walk intervals. I hit 10 miles at an overall pace of 9:34.
The conditions weren’t that bad during the first half of the race. (Nice day for a half marathon – hey, Frank?) I knew I’d be doing the Rourke to Tynsborough Bridge loop twice, and the first time around I kept thinking to myself – I hope I’m feeling this good the second time around!
Jane met me on the course several times to ask if I needed anything, but after stopping to shed my pants at mile 3 I didn’t want to stop again. Dry socks would have been nice, but they wouldn’t have stayed dry very long. I think dry gloves would have been really good, but by the time I needed them I don’t think my brain was working too well beyond, “put one foot in front of the other!”
Conditions gradually changed from not too bad, to really nasty. The sprinkles became steady rain, the water on the ground spread into big puddles, and my feet and hands kept getting wetter and colder. There was wind, too, but I wasn’t really focusing on it. I was really glad I had continued to wear my Gortex jacket.
I had another problem that steadily got worse. Somewhere early in the race I’d been getting twinges of pain on the top of my left foot. I’d periodically alter my stride, take my walk breaks, and it would go away. I thought it would disappear, but it did not. This was a completely new pain – my left foot was one of the few parts of my lower body that had given me no trouble throughout 4 months of training!
At 20 miles I had slowed to an overall pace of about 9:46. I was hoping to hold that to the finish, but things kept getting tougher. The pain in my foot was becoming fairly constant and it forced me to take more frequent walk breaks. During the first half of the race I was drinking water every few miles. During the second half I added some Gatorade every other time. I had planned on using gu, but I’ve had the experience of getting nausea at about 22 miles, so I kept putting it off and then never did use gu at all throughout the race.
Going over the Tynsborough Bridge at almost 18 miles I was focusing on saying really positive things to myself to keep going. I was looking forward to getting to the spot right before mile 22 where I had dropped out last year. I thought to myself, “I’m going to sail right by that spot!” (If I’d had a sail with me, I could have made use of it in some of those very large puddles!)
Unfortunately, I was slowing with each mile and by the time I passed 22 I was doing 12 minute miles, but I was determined to get to the finish. My feet and hands were cold and numb. I kept going pretty steadily and possibly the cold and numbness made my foot pain a little less noticeable – at this point I don’t remember that too clearly. A few people passed me, but there were others who looked in bad shape. I remember seeing one woman hopping on one foot somewhere in the last 2 miles.
Between a few races, and some training runs, the last part of the course was somewhat familiar and that helped me to kind of know how much more I had to do. I think I probably got my pace back down into the high 11s during the last 2 miles as I saw I was almost there.
I did have one unpleasant thought – which I didn’t dwell on, but which turned out to be accurate. It went something like this, “Even when you finish you’re still not going to feel that great for a while.”
So, I went over the finish line, and looked around and there was no one there to meet me. It was raining, and I was very cold and numb. Jane had gotten delayed getting back to the finish and didn’t show up with dry clothes for a long 10 minutes. I made it up the steps of the stadium and looked around and didn’t see anything that provided any shelter. I did see Fernando and talked with him very briefly before turning around hoping to locate Jane. Finally I saw her, she saw me, and she started coming towards me!
Jane helped me into some dry clothes, although, unfortunately, I did not have dry shoes. Also, I had to pull on pants over my wet shorts. Suddenly I felt faint and sick to my stomach. I told Jane I wanted to go to the medical tent. We started back down the stadium stairs (terrific!), but I had no clue where to go. Fortunately Jane aimed me under the stands and after a brief conversation with an EMT person I was led to a pretty wonderful place. It was a heated locker room where they were providing evaluation and treatment for those in need. I got a real blanket (the space one didn’t do a whole lot), my vitals checked (okay), and some nourishment which eventually included warm soup. (yah!) I started to feel a whole lot better. There were a few other people in there in a lot worse shape and one was so cold and shivering they sent her to the hospital.
At some point I did remember that we had not found Annajean (sorry Annajean!), and Jane went looking for her and had her paged. Later we found out she had finished the race about 20 minutes before I did and had gone on to claim her Grand Prix Iron Runner jacket at another location. (Congratulations, twin!)
After that, it all felt like coasting downhill, with a ride home, eating and drinking and relaxing for the rest of the day. My left foot was extremely sore and I was concerned I might have a stress fracture. However, it’s a lot better now (one week later), and my doctor thought it was most likely a tendon strain. Tomorrow I’m going to test it on the roads with an easy run.
It was definitely a memorable first marathon, but I really doubt I would run another one in weather conditions like that again. However, you never know what crazy running feat you might attempt!