Atlanta Marathon Race Report

I finished the Atlanta Marathon in 5:11:01 making me second from last place for men 30-39 …but I finished; and finished strong.

Leave it to me to choose an Olympic Marathon course as my first marathon. The course was no joke. Tons of hills. The first 13 miles were almost entirely run on some flavor of uphill grade. Here is the breakdown of my near breakdown:

Pre-race: I woke up at 5:30 a.m. nervous and excited. The usual preparation ensued – coffee, water, carbs, throne time …etc.

The whole way to the race I must have looked like a freak – I was singing away – making up little songs about the marathon – and periodically screaming some random woo hoos! and hell yea!- type stuff. …partly out of excitement and partly to keep myself warm.

So, I get there and it’s my first marathon so I’m not too sure what to do. I wanted to just start running. I watched people apply Vaseline to chafe-prone areas, stuff down bananas and Gatorade and doctor themselves with all kinds of technical gadgets and running aids. I just stood there in my shorts and short-sleeve, micro-whatever NIKE shirt ready to run. …it was 39 degrees. …but expected to get to 65, so I figured it was better to be cold early as opposed to hot later.

The Race: The marathon portion of the Atlanta Marathon is very unique. Due to the Thanksgiving holiday and the difficulty of this particular 26.2 mile course, it’s a low-key race with only a small amount of marathon runners. (as opposed to the half-marathon which has thousands of runners)

I stood at the starting line very nervous. “Holy crap – 26.2 miles – that’s a looong way”, “I almost died at 21 miles in training, where will I find another 10K in me to finish this race?”

The race started out as well as could be expected. I ran slowly but I knew – or thought – that slow was the way-to-go and I certainly didn’t want to go out too fast. By the first mile marker I realized I was already back of the pack. {sigh}

Around mile 6, I started running with another first-timer, Vijay. I ended up running with Vijay up until mile 23. It was nice having someone to talk to through the early miles as it seemed to make time – and miles – rattle off more quickly. Nothing all that interesting happened through the first 13.5 miles. Vijay and I running, sharing training stories and enjoying the occasional roadside cheering section. The hills were difficult, but I felt good, ran slowly and didn’t really have any problems at all. That was then…

After mile 16, I noticed that although Vijay and I were still together our conversation had all but quit. Both of us were beginning to fatigue and I think we both started hurting – at least I did. We were running a 4:42:00 finish pace by mile 18 which was fine with me as I certainly wasn’t expecting anything in the way of time. I just wanted finish.

It was between miles 20 and 21 where I believe I started hitting the proverbial “wall”. I was so fatigued and my left calf was as tight as a violin string. Looking back, I believe I needed some additional electrolytes and sodium that I was just not getting from watered-down Powerade every five miles.

Then at mile 23 the worst happened – a bad cramp in my calf that seemed to reach down into my achilles and even my foot – It almost took me to the ground. I tried to walk it out but it seemed impossible. I was devastated and thought there was no way I would finish the race. Leaning against a pole, feeling demoralized, I contemplated quitting. The mental part of the marathon was trying to beat me and I was inches from crawling into a nearby Quizznos in downtown Atlanta and calling my wife to come get me. …but then I thought about my wife and stepson at the finish line waiting for me; and how my stepson wanted to cross the finish line with me. I wanted to show him the rewards of setting a goal and sticking with it. Then there was the cool posterboard that people at work made for me chock full of signatures and well-wishes. …how could I quit?

And then – I don’t know what happened but what I do know is that once I absolutely refused to give up, I was able to run. I obviously wasn’t 100%, but I was running stronger than I had for the last 13 miles. It’s like I got some boost of energy, some elation of some sort that washed over me and gave me life and masked a lot of my pain. …I guess religious people would attribute it to God, but being more of a science guy I’m sure there’s a physiological explanation that makes more sense.

During the last mile is a very steep hill called “capital punishment” that runs parallel to the Georgia Capital building. I charged up that hill, turned the corner and there was Turner Field, the start and finish of the race. I only had about .4 miles to go and I would be finished. I saw my stepson with .1 to go and he burst onto the course with me to cross the finish line in tandem.

I did it. It was the most difficult physical challenge I have ever endured – both mentally and physically – but I’m proud as hell.

What’s next? 50 miles. …and some hella training to get there.

What I learned in this race:

  • Running with someone makes the race more enjoyable – especially when there is very little fan support
  • I cannot survive on Powerade alone. Perhaps my muscle size is a contributor to this but I think I need more nourishment.
  • Most importantly I conquered the mental game – I learned that no matter how shitty I feel I can keep going. Can’t let negativity in at all or I’m doomed.
  • Race support is uplifting and loved-one support means the absolute world to a runner at the finish. I was never so happy to see my peeps.