Monday, February 27, 2012

Cowtown Marathon 2012 - My First Marathon Done !

Well, to say I'm totally THRILLED with my experience and the result (which I'm still more than a bit shocked by) would be a serious understatement. But I won't get ahead of myself, and just tell you how it went down. (WARNING: This is a LONG skip to the bottom if you just want the "bottom line").

At the urging of my wife, so that I wouldn't have to make the little over an hour drive to Fort Worth that morning, I got a room at the Sheraton in downtown Fort Worth and checked in about 4:45 on Saturday afternoon. It was a nice room, and gave me space to get everything laid out and prepped for the next day. I had a nice chicken and pasta dinner at Shula's grill, which is a part of the hotel, and turned in about 7:45. I can't say I went right to sleep, since I found myself going over the course in my head and all kinds of other things. About 8:30 my right instep (and right knee of all things) started hurting so I got up and put some tiger balm on them and after a while that seemed to soothe them. I was probably asleep around 10:00.

I had the alarms set for 3:00 (I know, too early probably but that is just me). I got everything together, checked out of the hotel, and drove down the mostly deserted streets to the race location just easing down the road looking around. Instead of parking where I had planned to park just past the final turn to the finish line, I parked in a covered and lighted parking lot right at the start line, and got there about 4:00. I ate some yogurt, blueberries, and a Cliff bar for breakfast, and over the course of the next hour or so drank about 20 ounces of Gatorade. I had the van with me, with lots of room to spread out in the back (the middle seats were down), and it was windy and pretty cool out, so I just chilled out there, taking a very short nap and listening to the radio.

The day started out about 48 degrees, with a south wind at about 10 mph and a clear sky. As the race went on, it eventually got up to the upper 50's (at least around the time I got done), and at times the wind was blowing at about 20 mph, which made some parts nice and cool, and others a bit "interesting" (a challenge even).

About 6:45 I put on my fuel belt and an old hooded sweatshirt (that I ditched just prior to my corral starting) and headed out to the starting line. I lined up in Corral 3, which was the 9:21 - 10:00 min per mile group. The way they released us, this was the fourth group to leave. The elites started right at 7:00, and they had Army National Guard troops at the head of each corral, holding them in place. Once a corral would depart, they would let the next group come up to the line, wait about a minute or two making some announcements and giving out thank yous, then blow the starting air horn for that group, releasing them. This put some space between each corral start, and was very well done.

I have done all my long runs (and the two half-marathons I've run) with a fanny pack that holds my phone and keys, GU, S!Caps, and a couple of Advil. This time I also had my sun glasses in a case with me. I had three 10 ounce water bottles filled with Gatorade clipped to the belt, and an extra one in the fanny pack (the pack part is in the front). All this may sound more like an Everest expedition than a race, but it is the way I trained, so it is the way I run. :-)  I had probably only gone about 1/10th of a mile when someone caught up to me and handed me one of the bottles that had somehow popped off and fell (I didn't even feel it)...that was so nice of him. He just laughed, and said that he didn't want to chase me for the next 26 miles with it. If they aren't really "snapped" in, they will hold for a while and then fall off. A bit annoying, but things like that happen (and it will happen later as well).

Even with the large crowd, it was easy to move through people when necessary, and the first mile was right at 9:33, so my pace was right where I wanted it to be. My first mile is normally a bit slower than that, but everything felt good. The running felt easy, and since there aren't many long or really steep hills on the front part (with the exception of one right after the 4 mile mark), I just got into a flow. My breathing felt "right" and so did the overall effort. At mile 2 I was under 9:00, and commented to myself that I was going a bit too fast (it was the same pace I've been doing daily runs at for about the last month), but I thought it would settle. When the next 3 miles were also under 9:00, I was a bit concerned...but instead of slowing down, I resolved to just keep running in a "feel good" zone, adjusting as I needed to, and take the "crash / wall" when it happened.

Click the image for some history on "Zombie Land" as I called it. (Actually, click this text)

Mile 6 took us down the brick streets of the Fort Worth Stock Yards area, and past what I call Zombie Land (which is a group of post-apocalyptic looking buildings in an overgrown field just a bit before the 7 mile mark that are abandoned meat packing plants). I found myself being VERY glad that the whole run wasn't on brick roads...I'm not a fan of that. It was also at this point that I noticed that I really needed a "nature break" incredibly inconvenient. I saw one guy head off into some bushes at one point to take one, and thought that beat waiting in a line for a port-a-potty, but didn't want to stop.

From the Mile 7 marker to just after the Mile 9 marker is a long, straight stretch down Main street, which is by and large downhill (especially Mile 8 to Mile 9). At that point, there is about a 1/2 mile hill up over a bridge and into downtown. I shifted down into a hill climbing gear (:-)), and kept motoring. That mile ended up being 9:13, so I thought that this is where I would begin to slow down. But that wasn't case.

At the beginning of Mile 11, you have just climbed a good sized hill and are at it's crest. The first half of that mile is downhill, and I apparently really picked up speed at that point. I fell in with a very small group of Ultra runners here and I must have started pacing with them. At bottom of the hill there was a water stop, and they all stopped to drink, so I turned the corner to climb the hill (about a half mile) up Magnolia street to Mile 12. I remember thinking "lets knock this hill out" (I hadn't really been "powering" up the hills at that point, and this is the only hill I did that way). This ended up being my fastest mile split of the race at 8:15. When I saw that, I thought that they must have just had the mile markers wrong. I didn't pull out my phone and check it, I was just going by my watch (not a GPS watch) and their mile markers...which were placed prominently at every mile (I only missed seeing two of Mile 5, and Mile 22).

At about the 12.3 mile point, there was a small group of little kids with their hands out looking for a high five. I had just taken a drink from one of my bottles, and I veered over and gave them a high five...and dropped my water bottle. I stopped and ran back to get it, snapped it in good, and took off again. Thankfully, that was the last time I lost a bottle.

At about 14.5 miles I came upon a pacer holding a sign, and providing non-stop banter, encouragement, and instructions...not to mention tooting a harmonica as he went of all things. He was the 4:05 pacer and I was frankly stunned to think I had caught him this far in. I was just sure at this point that there was no way I could keep up with him, but he was interesting so I hung with him for about a mile. It seemed to me that he was slowing (although he probably wasn't), so I started a conversation with another runner and hung with him for a bit, leaving the pacer (although I could still hear his harmonica).

At nearly every other water stop there were several port-a-potties, but there was always a short line. Although it wasn't a drop-everything emergency, I was starting to lightly cramp in my lower abdomen, so at about 16.8 when I saw an opportunity to duck between two closely spaced garages and take a nature break, I did so. Sometimes, it is great to be a guy. :-). When I got back on the street, the 4:05 pacer with his harmonica was right there. Feeling much better already, I caught up, then slowly passed him.

It started to feel a little hard for me at about the 18 mile mark. I remembered reading that when running in the sunshine, having sunglasses on to cut the glare can help you relax, so I switched from my normal glassed to my sunglasses at this point...and it is probably just mental (it all is after 10 or 12 miles for me most of the time), but I DID start to feel more relaxed.  At about 18.8 miles you reach the southern most point, and start heading back to the finish. I remember looking at my watch and thinking "I just MIGHT be able to break 4 hours if I can just not fall apart". Almost immediately (as fate would have it) I started feeling a blister forming on my right foot...not good. I knew there wasn't a lot I'd be able to do about it if I stopped, so I just took an Advil and kept going.

I was able to push the pace a bit on miles 21 & 23...and ease a bit on 22 & 24. By this time, a look at my watch confirmed that unless I fell apart, I could probably break 4 hours, so I really pushed at this point. Mile 25 was 8:22, and I was passing quite a few people in this area. At the Mile 25 marker, I started to climb the hill to the finish. In this last 1.2 miles, there is about a 50 foot elevation climb. It isn't a lot really, but after that far you tend to feel it. I passed one guy who was in real agony with a diaphragm cramp and had to walk (to say he was bummed that he would probably not break 4 hours was an understatement). This mile was slower at 8:44, but the very last part (the .2) only rises 10 feet so I was able to pick up speed, and really cruise into the finish.

I went from the finish line (where they called me out by name, and commented on my time as a first timer over the loud speaker...too cool), to get a quick picture taken. Then a quick left to pick up a banana and my finisher T-Shirt (no waiting for either..very well laid out). From there, it was only a short walk back to the van, a quick change, and I was on the road towards home.

Throughout the run, I followed my normal nutrition and hydration plan.
  • GU at 4, 8, 12, 16, 20, and 23. 
  • One S!Cap (electrolyte capsule) at 6, 12, 18, and 22.
  • and between 4 and 6 ounces of Gatorade about every two miles starting at mile 4 (the last drink was at about 23 miles)
As far as the goals went, I did manage to run every step of the way, and even beat my A level goal..which is still hard to believe, as is my final time...what a wonderful experience. Once I got home and rested for a while, the lower part of my left leg (below the calf muscle and above the ankle) got really tight and sore. Putting my full weight on it was painful, and it was more than a bit of a challenge to walk yesterday (which I didn't do much of). This morning, it is a good bit better, although I won't be walking far today either (I planned today off from work thank goodness). I also have a pretty challenged toenail, but other than that, I'm just tired and sore.

And very happy.

The official results (the Pace is based on 26.2...not the 26.47 my GPS listed for me)

I placed 335th out of 1421 total finishers (top 23.57%).
Out of 922 male marathoner finishers, I came in at 279 (top 30.26%).
There were 114 men in the 50-54 age group that finished, and I placed 30th there (top 26.31%) .

The average finishing time for men overall was 4:03:00 according to the website.

A chart of my mile splits, with the average for each six mile increment.

Happy Running Everyone !


  1. Awesome pacing!

    The really interesting thing is that after all that ABCDE stuff your subconscious knew what your fore-brain would not admit...that you could go way way faster than 4:15.

    You got yourself some talent there! If you can go that fast on your first outing you probably improve to a 3:40 and get a BQ when you hit 54 (qualifying to run the age 55). Maybe you can speed up 30 min and hit a 3:30! Anyway, food for thought.

    Glad you had such a great first marathon!

  2. What a great race! You sounded like you stayed mentally strong and you didn't let your pre-set idea of how the race would go limit you at all!

  3. That was great. Very happy for you. Just remember that your performance was no accident. All of your training and hard work paid off!

  4. Great race and loved the report. You should send this to the race director to be used to promote their race. Your report makes me want to run it! Heal up quick & Congrats!

  5. Fantastic job! Glad your first marathon was such a good experience!

  6. This is amazing! That is absolutely wonderful that you beat your A goal. It sounds like such a great race! Guess you need to just bump up the confidence in yourself after killing your first marathon. I hope you enjoyed celebrating!

  7. Holy cow Michael you crushed it! What an amazing first marathon. Congrats! I foresee a very bright running future for you!

  8. Awesome recap! You paced yourself really well. Congrats on a job well done!
    I hope to do just as good at my first marathon this year.

  9. Wow! You absolutely ROCKED this marathon! Congratulations!!!!! I can only imagine running those speed demon times! I can't wait to hear what comes next ;)

  10. Awesome Job, Michael. Congratulations on your first marathon!

  11. Hi! I came over from Paul's blog to read your race report :)

    Nice job breaking 4 hours and executing your race! You did a great job running by feel and knowing that at a certain point you are probably able to turn up the heat without fear.

    Hope the toenail isn't bothering you too much. I waited a long time after my last marathon to drill a hole in the top to drain it, but then I was relieved to have the pressure off. (and I could run again after that!) That's a nice introduction, eh?

    Congrats again!

  12. WOw!!!!! You did great! I can't believe your pace. That is super for your first!! I bet you do another!! Congrats!! YOu are now a marathoner!!! YAY!

  13. What a fantastic first marathon!!! Congratulations -- that was so great.

  14. Thank you everyone for the encouragement before the race, and all the congratulations is definitely the icing on the cake of a great experience.

    Now (two days later) I'm still pretty stiff in my left leg, but it is getting much better each day and I'm motoring around pretty good. I plan to take it slow for the next few days, so I don't set up an overuse injury thing. Hopefully, I'll be able to start going again in a few days with some easy runs.

    I don't know what's next...I had my sights so set on this one that I'll have to think about it and see what's going on around me. :-)

  15. well done, really CRUSHED it! Your recap made me feel like I was right there with you, experiencing what must have been a terrific feeling as you realized you were exceeding your previously-held "limitations" and truly achieving something magical. All I can say is "WOW"!

  16. Congratulations! You must feel amazing after such an accomplishment!

    Great time!

  17. I enjoyed reading your race recap and am always glad to see there are other runners besides myself that have OCD when it comes to running. I also stayed in Ft. Worth that night and woke up around 2:30, but not by choice. I wish we would've met up for dinner. Anyway, I am still amazed and impressed that you were able to maintain that pace the entire race and not crash. I am sure you are like me and have relived the experience over and over throughout the week. Just a great accomplishment for you. Congrats again Michael!

  18. Marathon tshirt

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  19. Wow, wow, wow! Great job, Michael! You really crushed your goal. :)

  20. Hi Michael, after reading your very sweet comments on my blog, I headed on over to see yours. What an awesome job you did on describing the marathon details and on your race results overall. I'm so impressed with your splits! It says a lot that you were able to complete the entire race without walking any. Being still on a high from my first marathon too, I really loved and appreciated reading the details of another marathon newbie's experience. Thanks for sharing, and Long May You Run!!