After my first marathon, I didn’t have any major goals but knew that it couldn’t be any more unpleasant than running on a cold day in Seattle. I chose to run a marathon in Olympia, Washington called the Capital City Marathon because it is in the capital of the State of Washington. It was in May of 1998, so I anticipated better weather. My goal was to just enjoy it. I had learned some things the hard way in the first marathon.
I had trained more for this one, and knew not to start the race too fast. Marathon running is all about energy management. It is like releasing time capsules of energy. If you release them too early you run out and you do hit the proverbial “wall.” I thought of it more like hitting a pool full of mud that you had to run through. Just very very difficult. So in this race with the fear instilled in me I started very slowly and decided to just chat with another runner. I don’t remember much about the person at this time except it was a female and we talked easily throughout the race. It was a breeze this time!
My parents, wife and kids had come to this race, so that was kind of fun. At around mile 20, I saw my parents on a corner and realized how good I felt. I decided to push it from there until the end. I did and it felt great. None of the misery of the first race. If you run a marathon as fast as you can, you will be in agony at the end. This one I did not, but I still took off 15 minutes from my first race and finished in 3:34.
“It’s at the borders of pain and suffering that the men are separated from the boys.” – Emil Zatopek
I had never dreamed at that time that I could qualify for the Boston Marathon, but I looked up the qualifying time for a 38 year old male. I needed to run below three hours and 20 minutes. It was another 14 minutes to chop off, but I thought I could at least try, so I set my site on the Portland Marathon in the Fall of 1999. If I somehow qualified I would run Boston in the year 2000!
I became a little more scientific for the Portland Marathon, which took place in my sister’s hometown. I stayed the night at her house and became very sick the day and night before. My wife and kids had come also. I was loaded up on Sudafed and other drugs but did not know if I would even make it to the starting line. I learned a lot through this race and others like it. One often gets sick before a marathon…at least I did. It is almost as if your body is making you rest completely. In my experience, being sick did not affect my performance nor did not sleeping the night before, which is also common. The weeks before a race, you do what is called, “” tapering,”” or reducing the amount of training quite dramatically. It is like you have a spring compressed and by resting it you release it all on race day. It does work.
You enter the race fresh and eager. This also creates a challenge because you can almost feel too good. You can actually get in trouble as soon as the first mile if you are not careful and go out too fast and go anaerobic due to the excitement. You are typically tightly packed with other runners so you also have to be very sure not to trip and fall. I always ran with my elbows wide at the beginning so I could feel runners getting close. The day before a race I liked to measure the first quarter and half mile, so I could gauge my pace at that time and make sure I was ok.
“The will to win means nothing without the will to prepare.”— Juma Ikangaa
The Portland race was going quite well and then a long freight train blocked the course for many runners. I made it past this without a problem. For this race, I had written my pace goals on both arms for every mile with a permanent marker. The trouble with that is that you get so tired you can’t read very effectively. I was flying on this day. I was almost 15 minutes ahead of pace by mile 20. If I did even half well the rest of the way I was going to qualify for Boston.
As in most races, something physically challenging happens. On this day around mile 20 on a downhill, which I liked to lean into and use my weight to go down faster, I felt the skin on my foot rip off. Literally. I learned later that almost half of the skin on the sole of one of my feet had ripped off in a giant, bloody blister. It was not uncommon to finish races with blood seeping out of one’s shoes. I had to wrap it later with a female panty liner. It was a huge wound.
One of my big motivators was that I knew that all of my cross country runners were knowing that I was running and would be curious about my results. I could not let them down. One of my runners, Amy told me, “ÿou can do anything for one mile. Just keep doing it over and over.”
I had many such mantras, but really you get to a point where the best thing you can do is breathe and count your steps. Your mind does not function well with lack of sugar. On this day, I remember looking and looking and looking for the finish and finally it was within sight . I pushed hard and crossed the finish in 3:07:22. I had taken 27 minutes off my second race time and qualified for Boston by almost 13 minutes!
I was hooked. What an amazing process. On the way home, we stopped at a rest area on Interstate 5 and I ran into Joanne Templeman, an accomplished female runner who had been trying to qualify for the Olympics. We talked a bit and I realized I had run faster than her. I felt like I might be a runner after all. I later took some runs with her. Great person and outstanding runner.
One of the great things about marathon running is you learn so much from each race, especially in your first five to 10. In this race, I learned a bit about pacing, about being able to overcome pain with mental strategies and that even if you are sick you can run fine. The next race would be only my fourth and that would be the Boston Marathon!