My Second 26.2 Mile Meltdown

Thunder Road Bib
I needed this bib later when I felt like a baby

My second marathon took place in the QC on December 11, 2010. Charlotte really is a nice city to run through, and I was even more excited about this race because I felt like I had actually prepared for it. I had taken the Hal Higdon Intermediate Marathon plan and made it my own. I’d studied it, memorized it, and wallpapered my house with it. Okay, not the last one so much, but I’d stared at it enough that I felt like I had. To add to the fire of growing confidence, I had actually logged 42 more miles than the plan called for, and most of those had been on the Morehead Mountains that my sons’ XC team trains on. I was so confident, that my “if everything goes wrong and then my left leg falls off” time goal was 4:15, which would be quite an improvement over my marathon debut in Richmond a year earlier. Throw in the fact that I’d rocked all 3 of my 20 mile training runs, and I couldn’t imagine anything less.

Nehemiah and Chris. I hate them both.
Two friends of mine made their distance debuts in the Thunder Road races. Nehemiah ran in his first half, and Chris made the leap from half insane to fully insane. Nehemiah and Chris both started running quite a while after I did, so I’ve logged a lot more time and miles running than they have, but they’re both faster than me in races (which is why I hate both of them). Chris and I had done a number of training runs together, and I knew he was going to kill it, even though he had doubts headed into the race that a 4:15 was possible in his first marathon. As it turned out, he was right, but more on that later. I got up early on race day so that I could eat something and grab some joe before I picked Nehemiah up at 5:15 am so that we could get Chris around 6. That would get us into the starting areas by 6:30 and give us plenty of time in the stalls before the race kicked off at 7:45. We met up with some local running friends and got a group picture together, then it was time to throw down a gel and hit the corrals. Chris and I had decided to go out somewhat between the 4:15 and 4:30 pace groups and then decide how we felt at the halfway point. If we felt good, we’d pick it up a bit and then split somewhere after mile 20 if one of us felt better than the other.

Plan was to run the first 2 miles slower than the target pace of 9:44/mile, and with the crowd at the start line, that would be no problem, at least for the first mile. Second one was a bit quicker, but we were still doing fine. We had run preview runs of the course, and so we knew our first challenge would be the hill at mile 5, but we knocked it out no problem. If I had bothered to check my heart rate I’d have known I was in trouble. Still, I felt okay. Over the rest of the first half, we talked, checked our paces, and knew we were pretty much right on target. I wasn’t feeling as strong as I had in my training runs, and that was a bit concerning. I had gone into the race thinking that I would be the one taking off when we split, but Chris was running really strong and I had a bad feeling that we’d be splitting sooner than planned, and that he’d be leaving me. When we passed the halfway point just a tad under 2:04, I still had hope that I’d get a 4:15.

Miles 14 and 15 came in at 9:07 and 9:02, and that’s when the blister starting forming on the fourth toe on my left foot. It was just my foot’s way of saying “I hate you” and it really got in my head because I hadn’t had a single blister on any of my long runs in training, even the one that went 20.5 miles. I starting telling Chris about it, and somewhere around mile 16 or so I convinced him to go on. He really ran strong, and it was awesome to see him doing so well in his debut. Don’t misunderstand me, when I say awesome, I mean it in a “I want to kill him for doing so much better than me even though I ran a butt-load more miles than he did in training” kind of a way.

I held on to 2 hopes: one, that I would still get a 4:15 and, two, that Chris would have to walk the last 10 miles so I could beat him. When I crossed the 20 mile mark at 3:09:15, I thought “All I have to do is run the last 10k in 1:05.” Sounded easy in my mind since that’s a very easy 10k for me, but as I’m learning, the last 10k of a marathon is never a very easy 10k. I also wondered how Chris was doing and wished I’d picked a slower friend.

The next 6 miles were just like the last 6 miles of Richmond, only this time I performed my death march at a quicker pace (which makes sense, because you want to get a death march over as quickly as possible). My legs were cramping, my blister was throbbing, and I was looking for a Biggest Loser van to pick me up and drive me a couple miles closer to the finish. Then I would at least be able to beat Chris.

I finally rounded the last corner and groaned at the uphill finish. With my time goal long gone and Chris somewhere wrapped in aluminum foil already eating bananas, the only pleasure I had left was finding the jerk who designed an uphill finish and pummeling him with all my might, which at this point, wouldn’t have even bruised him. I starting walking, and as soon as I did two ladies ran past me and screamed, “COME ON! IT’S TWO TENTHS OF A MILE!” That got me running again, but only so I could catch them, which I did about 20 yards from the finish before they they passed me back when my left hamstring seized up on me less than 20 feet from the line.

I finished in 4:23:33. I missed my time goals, but took 25 minutes off my previous best, which is almost a minute a mile. Pretty dang impressive, if you ask me.

In other news, Chris finished his first marathon with a 4:05:33. Jerk.

Can I get a medic??

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Paul Jenkins

Paul Jenkins is lead pastor of The Gathering, a community church located in beautiful downtown Albemarle, North Carolina. He's the author of God is My Air Traffic Controller and My Name's Not Lou. Paul is passionate about his wife, his 3 children, running, reading, coaching, leading people who are following Jesus, Swedish Fish and the Carolina Panthers.


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