Sunday, October 17, 2010

My first 26.2!

So, I ran The North Face Endurance Challenge marathon-distance trail race on Saturday. My first marathon was an AMAZING experience! AMAZING.

However, so many things went wrong! So many things, though, that I had to laugh at the end of the day. Alternate titles for this post could be:

(a) Why You Should Invest in Trail Shoes for a Trail Marathon
(b) Why I Can't Seem To Do Anything the Easy Way

Let's start with (b) Why I Can't Seem to Do Anything the Easy Way. Running 26.2 miles is no easy feat for most people. In fact, it's estimated that only 1% of Americans finish a marathon in their lifetime. It's a long race, both in terms of distance and time. It's a race for which one trains really hard, and, most of the time, one trains by running on streets, which is the surface on which most marathons are run.

So, what on earth possessed me to think, "Hey, I think I can run 26.2 miles--how about I try to do it for the first time on single-track hiking trails?" I don't know. I just don't know. I did a half-Ironman for my first triathlon and a trail race for my first marathon. I just can't seem to do anything the easy way!

I guess I initially thought that there wouldn't be too much of a difference between running on a trail and running on the road except for the surface composition. WRONG! This marathon wasn't on a running trail; it was on a hiking trail! That means it was almost all ascents and descents (4796' total elevation change), and there were parts that were just NOT runnable--you know, like parts where you're climbing over boulders.

Check out the elevation chart from the runner's guide:

Needless to say, this was no easy race! Let me start at the beginning.

First, I had a minor disaster with my Zipcar, which I took to the race. Zipcar is a (usually) awesome car-sharing service. I reserved the Zipcar for the whole day, but when I went to pick it up at it's location, it wasn't there! I was already late at this point and starting to panic. I very angrily called the Zipcar people, and they put me in another car immediately, but the other car was parked about a mile down the road. Grumble, grumble. I walked to the other location and started heading to the race. Thankfully I made it on time!

I had just enough time to pick up my packet, stretch, jog a bit, and prep all my gear.

By the way, I don't have any pictures to document what I'm about to say, but I need you to believe me. If you are wondering what sport has, by far, the HOTTEST male athletes, it's trail running. No other sport even comes close. Rugged, ripped, tattooed, and rough around the edges. Wow.

Anyway, a few minutes before 9:00 AM, we had a pre-race pep talk from Dean Karnazes, which was really cool! I mean, it was cool that he was there. The pep talk freaked me out! It started like this:

Dean Karnazes: For how many of you is this your first trail race?
(I and some others raise our hands.)
Dean Karnazes: For how many of you is this your first marathon-distance race?
(I and some others raise our hands.)
Dean Karnazes: [Laughs hysterically.] You guys are insane!

That was my first cue that this was going to be a rough one. I didn't pay attention to much after that. I just started silently panicking.

The race started promptly at 9:00 AM. I stuck to the back, knowing that I would be one of the slowest. It took awhile for everyone to settle into the single track in the proper order, so I actually had to stop and wait a minute at the trailhead.

Let me take this opportunity to discuss (a) Why You Should Invest in Trail Shoes for a Trail Marathon. Trail shoes have thicker soles and much more traction than road shoes, making it easier to stay stable on all kinds of terrain. They also usually have reinforces toe boxes so that you don't damage your toes when you repeatedly kick things sticking out of the ground.

I really should have got some!

First, I stubbed my toes on roots and rocks approximately 25,000,000 times. My toes hurt SO BAD by the end of the race! Worse than that though, the lack of traction on my Nike LunarGlides caused me to take a nasty spill around mile 3.5 while I was running on a rocky stretch, disguised by a layer of pine straw. My right knee took the brunt of the fall. I walked off the pain for a minute and then got up and kept running. It wasn't really bothering me at all after a bit, but I knew it looked nasty.

When I hit the first aid station at mile 5.6, they sent me to the medical tent to get it cleaned. I hadn't noticed, but it was pretty much gushing blood. Oops! They cleaned it and tried to bandage it, but it was too big for their bandaids. No big deal. The only issue I had with all of this cleaning/bandaging nonense was that I was losing time! Unfortunately, a lot of the med checks were not optional, as I would learn.

This is what my knee looks like now.

It's cleaning up pretty well.

After leaving the first aid station, I hit an awesome runner's high and ran well and strong for a couple miles. The trail became wider and packed, and the hills were shorter and shallower than they had been previously. I started loving it! I thought, "Wow. Trail running is the best ever! I want to do this everyday!" And then, in my endophin-induced daze, I tripped and fell around mile 8.7. Damnit.

When I hit the second aid station at mile 10.5, I had a bloody elbow and hand, and they sent me to the med tent again. I just couldn't win! They kept asking me simple questions and feeding me Gu Brew while they cleaned me. I told them that I wasn't falling because I was dehydrated and woozy--I'm just a clutz without trail shoes! They weren't listening. Boo. More time taken away from me.

Here are my elbow and hand now.

They don't look bad at all, do they? I'm still mad about getting stuck at that med tent.

Leaving the aid station after mile 10.5, I felt great again! I started dragging about mile 12. I hit another high around mile 13. I started dragging again around mile 15. So it continued for the rest of the race. My walk-run ratio started getting higher and higher, and by mile 20 I was just about tapped out. I would have brief bursts of energy and start running again, but it wouldn't last more than a few tenths of a mile.

It was tough mentally. I wanted so much to run--and I did when I would hit the brief stretches of flat trail--but having enough energy to run is not the same as having enough energy to scramble up hills, hop over roots, and dance around rocks. I had trained to RUN 26.2 miles, and I knew I could do it. However, I just wasn't able to run 26.2 miles of trail, and that was hard to take, especially at mile 20, knowing I had 6.2 more to go. I wanted to cry. I wanted to quit. But more than that, I wanted to finish.

It was brutal, but I did it!

Crossing the finish line was all I wanted, and I got it! I'M A MARATHONER!

I still can't believe it. I ran my first mile back in February. I ran my first 5K race in April. 5K in April, then 42K in October! Running is a serious addiction.

I'm already registered for a regular road marathon here in Atlanta in March, and I know that it's going to be a totally different experience. I can't wait!