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2011 Frank Maier Juneau Marathon

10/15/2011

I wrote this race report during the summer but neglected to post it. Then I went back and read it, added in a few things at the end, and decided to hit publish. This post is long, poorly organized, and contains precisely zero photographs. Here goes:

I ran my second marathon at the end of July.

I’d had my eye on this one since the day I decided to move to Juneau, but after being injured for nearly two months and then spending my injury recovery months putzing around, I didn’t feel physically or mentally prepared for a marathon.

About a month before: I decided to go ahead and register, figuring to use it as a nice long run even though I wasn’t feeling particularly focused.

Three weeks before: I stayed up all night talking to a friend. When 7:00 am rolled around and I still hadn’t gone to bed, I decided I may as well get my run out of the way. Since I’d been awake for over 24 hours, my judgment was impaired and I concluded there was no compelling reason I couldn’t go run 21 miles that morning since I was already tired. So I went out and ran 21 miles, and that was my only true long run before the marathon. Then I staggered home to my apartment, hastily consumed several liters of orange juice, and attempted to watch Charlie St. Cloud with my roommates. It is a terrible movie and we all promptly fell asleep.

Two weeks before: my left butt cheek began spasming and collapsing spontaneously during my runs. I was irritated by it and didn’t know what was going on. It made me nervous. Was running a marathon on this a bad idea?

On marathon day: I woke up excited and jittery and anxious. I did not feel prepared. I was intensely worried about my crumpling butt. Should I start? Would I finish?

My goal for the marathon was to cross the line in under 4 hours. I figured I could comfortably finish somewhere in the 3:40s, but did not feel prepared for the effort, which left me in a petty mental limbo over what to attempt. For a fleeting moment, I wondered if I should cut loose and try to PR and break 3:30, but… the truth is, I shy away from dreaming big, so I shelved that idea pretty quickly. Even so, it was there.

I wore a tech vest for the run, and packed it with two Gus, two packs of Gushers, and my four-year-old iPod that won’t even let you switch to the next song unless you fast-forward scroll.

The marathon was right in my backyard. My apartment is at the two mile mark. And the 24 mile mark. A straight up out-and-back course. Eesh. So I brought the iPod along for insurance against boredom, but didn’t end up whipping it out until mile 21.

It was 49*F and cloudy when I arrived at the starting line. I spotted two serious-looking girls I’d never seen before — out-of-towners! — one in a blue shirt and another little one in a pink shirt, built like Shalane Flanagan. I decided that Pink Shirt was going to win the race. I also decided that she would not be worth chasing. Blue Shirt looked intimidating. I’d probably let her go too.

Then I mentally slapped myself. My goal for the day was not to accomplish anything groundbreaking or run a good time or beat Pink Shirt or Blue Shirt. My goal was to have a nice long run and not die at the end like last time.

Right?

That’s all.

Okay.

So, I smiled, jumped around, got ready to enjoy myself, and exchanged pleasantries with the other doofuses who were lined up on a Saturday morning for 26.2 miles of feeling gloriously and insultingly and agonizingly alive.

7am, and we were off.

The course begins with a slight uphill for about ¾ of a mile. I figured I’d take the first ten miles out at 8:30-8:40 pace, perhaps.

Mile 1: 8:06

I swore as I clocked this split and promised myself I’d slow down.

But then? Mile 2: 7:55. Mile 3: 8:01.

Whatever.

I reeled off 7:50-8:05 pace like a metronome for the first half of the race. Pink Shirt and Blue Shirt zipped off ahead. Jerks.

I clocked the half at about 1:45 and chided myself again to loosen the reins. Horrifying memories of the last four miles of my first marathon kept flashing into my consciousness, and I hoped that my regular consumption of water, Gatorade, Gu, and Gushers throughout the run would be enough to prevent another colossal hydration and fueling failure.

A wayward insect torpedoed himself into my eye and rudely tunneled through my optic nerve at mile 15, so I spent that stretch trying not to swerve into the road and perish. After about ten minutes of uninterrupted blinking and crying and swearing jihad on all arthropods everywhere, my eyeball finally ejected his dirty dipteran ass and the sun came out and bald eagles soared overhead and I felt really good.

I pushed up a few hills. My legs gobbled up the straightaways. I saw Blue Shirt in the distance.

A running friend hopscotched in his car to give encouragement at around mile 16. He told me to go get Blue Shirt, but I knew — could tell already — that I wouldn’t have to. I saw the tell-tale marathon shutdown limp in the distance, the one I’d sported myself my first time around. I could let her come to me.

I passed her at mile 20.

I passed more people who had been far in front of me for the first part of the race, people who had been reduced to wretched, grim, glassy-eyed shuffles. I felt bad for them. I remembered what that felt like and did not want it to happen to me. Would it yet? Or could I escape and get lucky this time around?

I pretty much said “hell” to worrying about my pace at this point. With 10K to go, it was time to check in with my backbone and see what I could do about squeezing down toward sub-3:30.

My mile splits dropped significantly.

At mile 21, I broke out my iPod and listened to “The Cave” by Mumford and Sons on repeat for the remainder of the race, mostly because I love the part at the end where the horns come in.

In fact, around mile 23 and on perhaps my 12th listen, I concluded that more bands should have a horn section. I spent the entire stretch fixated on an absurd mile-23-of-a-marathon epiphany that Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band feature horns too and that must be why I love them. I was then trying to think of other bands that had horns, but I couldn’t, probably because I was running faster and gradually creeping into the delusional hurt locker. I was ready for the run to be over but I was also in disbelief that it was almost over.

At mile 24, my legs began to cramp a bit. I was on Maximum Security Wall Watch at this point. WTF was that spasm? Am I doomed? (I should note, however, that my butt did not spasm at all during the entire race. In fact, it never collapsed again after the marathon. Did I imagine the entire thing? Bodies are a mystery.)

Anyway.

I dreaded the last two miles because I run these miles nearly every day and they are a long uphill, but astoundingly it soon happened that I only had one mile to go.

One more mile!

More “The Cave,” more horns, more “I’ll find strength in pain,” repeat repeat repeat. (I don’t know why I became so focused on this song during the final piece of the race; I like it okay in real life, but during the marathon I found myself locked into some curious repetitive cognitive feedback loop that made me want to hear it again each time it ended. I couldn’t get enough. No other song would do. So thanks, Mumford & Sons. Big fan for five miles.)

Suddenly the finish line was in view and I crossed it. Didn’t stumble or stagger across, didn’t brown out, didn’t have any of the theatrics or misery of marathon #1, when I was so dehydrated that I turned into a drunken wreck immediately after crossing the line. Goodness, what a difference fastidious hydration and fueling can make.

Anyway, Sparknotes of this rambling mess is that I once again underestimated my abilities and ended up clocking in at 3:24:50, so I was very happy. And even though I told myself it was just going to be a training run… well, it became clear fairly early on in the run that if I didn’t break 3:30, I’d be disappointed. Even when I claim not to have expectations, I have expectations… I may just choose not acknowledge them even to myself. Confession inspired by Angry Runner.

(PS., this was a standard Juneau race field size: there were only 23 women in the marathon event, so that puts my 2nd place finish in appropriate context. Actually, I’m still a little annoyed that I couldn’t find five minutes to beat the first place girl, who was 3:19:50. I believe I closed on her quite a bit in the last 10K. Oh well. Maybe next year.)

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17 Comments leave one →
  1. 10/15/2011 16:32

    Excellent race report & fabulous time! Congrats…I was laughing through the whole thing. God bless Mumford and the water stops….

    • 11/05/2011 13:45

      Thanks! Yes, the water stops were lifesavers and so was the song. Nearly every time it comes on my iPod now though, I skip it because I really overdid it in that race. Good thing they have other songs.

  2. 10/15/2011 18:07

    This? Sounds all, all too fucking familiar. I know some people who can jump in races and honestly treat them like training runs but I find it next to impossible. Even when you know you might not be at your best, there is always another milestone to aim for, right?

    Nice solid running. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the number one rule of the marathon is to NOT DO ANYTHING STUPID. Undertraining isn’t stupid as long as you follow rule number two: RESPECT THE DISTANCE. There is something about finishing strong while everyone else around you is…dying that is, dare I say it, FUN? Not to the expense of others, but over that long a distance, you need whatever energy you can get – and passing people is a great source.

    • 11/05/2011 13:43

      The first ten miles, your number one rule was my personal mantra.

      And yeah, passing people helped so much. I felt very sympathetic for them, because I’d been there, but at the same time, I was like, “Yes! I was smart and I got lucky and I didn’t mess it up this time!”

  3. 10/16/2011 03:48

    Great race. I would love to pull times like that out of nowhere!

  4. 10/16/2011 06:43

    You amaze me; what a rockstar race & time! Glad you finally posted your race recap. Second place female is awesome; Hope you got a cool prize. Also, I think I need to download this song you speak so highly of. Anything that propels you strongly through the last 5 miles of a marathon must be good. 🙂

    • 11/05/2011 13:40

      The sad part is, now I can’t even listen to that song because I’m so sick of it! Honestly, i have no idea why my brain fixated on that song. I guess it just fit the day.

  5. 10/16/2011 17:35

    What fun, totally casual but managing a fantastic outcome. Congratulations! And I love that song too as well as agree more bands should have a horn section.

  6. 10/16/2011 20:46

    Awesome race! I am so impressed that you can pull a time like that off with so little training!

    I loved the race report too, you had me laughing like crazy.

  7. 10/18/2011 19:57

    whoa — you lowered my expectations there, and then scored a sweet finishing time. I feel like you are the little giants, or the mighty ducks, or any other googly underdog who is just awesome in the end.

    I get the non-expectations yet still expectations thing. I think of it like this: if I have real, spoken expectations, the pressure would make me crack and I would fail. I convince myself that its NO BIG DEAL, and I really believe it. And then I usually get my non-expected goal.

    • 11/05/2011 13:38

      Yeah, same. Vocalizing my expectations brings things to a new level of self-pressure, and I have to remind myself it’s just running. It’s not my whole life. And thank goodness for that — I imagine the fun would be drained right out of it if that weren’t the case.

  8. 10/19/2011 02:35

    Glad you hit ‘publish’ on that one. Great report. I’m not marking your card but if I were, ‘huge potential’ comes to mind. That was some negative split — you’ll give pink shirt girl something to seriously worry about next year. And thanks for reminding me I don’t run marathons — I’m the classic “wretched, grim, glassy-eyed shuffler.”

    • 11/05/2011 13:36

      I was a classic glassy-eyed shuffler in my first one though, remember. And I don’t think it’ll be the last time, either. I stayed conservative and got lucky this time… there’s so much that can go wrong in a 26.2mi/42.2km race…

  9. 10/29/2011 08:36

    What I really need to know – what does Juneau give out as a second place prize? I imagine it is something that will help you survive a wildnerness run and possible animal attack.

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