2011 Frank Maier Juneau Marathon
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.
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.
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.)
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.)