Any of you who have been following my blog at Operation Jack know my wife, Tiffany, ran her first marathon Sunday and that I ran it with her. I was going to write a race report about the race as my blog for today, but my friend Erin Ruff suggested Tiff write the race report. I’m going to get the best of both worlds with a he said/she said take on the race.
Long Beach has always been a pretty good course for me. I ran a 17-minute PR my first time there, I ran my first Boston qualifier the next year, and ran a 3:06 last year with a bad hamstring. Three races, all were great. I was hopeful that Tiff could have a good experience out there, too.
She really wanted to run a 3:40 and qualify for Boston. That’s kind of an ambitious goal for a marathon debut, but I thought it was on the edge of what was possible. She ran a 1:45 half marathon in January, and has battled injuries since then, but I think she’s a little bit faster than she was back then. Tiff’s spring was filled with great long runs. She ramped up the distance and held sub-9 paces on long, hilly runs stretching to 20 miles — a great job for somebody looking for a 3:40.
But she got hurt, battled issues with inflammation in her right leg and missed her first shot at a marathon — San Diego Rock N Roll on May 31. The inflammation was off and on over the summer, but the speed was there. She ran a hilly 17-miler in late July at an 8:42 pace, a decent run.
Heading into Sunday’s race, I was concerned about her inflammation and her endurance. Her longest run was 20, which she had done only once, and that was six months ago. We went out for a 20 two weeks ago, but we cut it short to 10 because her inflammation was bothering her. She told me it was something she thought she could run through, but she didn’t think it was worth aggravating. I thought we’d go in, I’d keep her in range for 16-18 miles, and then we’d see how her cardio held up. I planned on monitoring her effort and heart rate, doing the math on the time in my head, and making a decision somewhere after 20 on when to turn it up.
When the race started, she seemed right on the edge of her 3:40 goal, but once we settled in, I knew by about 5 or 6 miles in that she was going to probably on the outside looking in. Still, I thought she would probably have a good chance at running a 3:45, which would a) be one heck of a marathon debut, and b) qualify her for Boston 2011 (she’ll be 35 for that one). Maybe not the time she was looking for, but she’d be flat-out in for the Boston Marathon in 2011. Can’t argue with that.
She was complaining that I was running her too slow, but I tried over and over to explain that if 3:45 was the best she could do and she tried to run a 3:40, she’d blow up, fatigue early and run 30 minutes slow. I’ve run 26 marathons now, so I’ve made plenty of mistakes that she doesn’t need to repeat! She kept ticking the miles off perfectly. She wasn’t too talkative, but that was OK. We weren’t out there for conversation — we were out there to rip through a marathon.
And then, it started. The inflammation flared up, somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 or so. I thought she’d fight through it, and she told me a few minutes later that it was starting to feel better. But then about a mile or two later, the inflammation kicked in for good, and the downhill spiral began. I didn’t let her worry about her time — I just tried to keep her rolling. I know how important her time was to her, so I was just trying to push her in any way possible.
She slowed down a little, but then she slowed down a lot. Her slow run turned into a shuffle, then some walking and it was obvious she was in a lot of pain. I didn’t know what to say or do to try to motivate her. I ran out of buttons to push, and I was wondering if she was in pain or if she was going soft. I don’t care what time she runs, but I want her to look back on her effort fondly. Only she would know if she was really going all-out, and I thought she probably was. But I just wasn’t sure, and I’ve never been involved a breakdown this epic or a race this slow. I really didn’t know what to do out there, so I just stayed with her and tried to keep her rolling. I’ll be honest — I got a little frustrated with her and I let her know that. I just wanted her to give it her all. In hindsight, I hope I wasn’t being too much of a jerk.
She picked it up a little bit over the last 1.25 miles, but despite having a reasonable chance at 3:45 at around 17 or 18, she finished in 4:22:41. At least she beat my time on Sunday by one second! Apparently, I ran a 4:22:42! The way she struggled yesterday, I don’t think she’ll ever run another marathon. But I know she toughed it out through a lot of pain. I’m proud of her effort. Her training was tough and her race was tough. I just hope she realizes what she did is incredibly difficult. Even though they look like they come pretty easy to me, every time I run them, I think to myself about how difficult they really are. They’re hard. They’re challenging. And really, out of my 26, I’d say that maybe three have gone the way I want them to.
So yeah, I’m proud of her. That’s my take.
On the morning of the marathon I was more excited than nervous because I felt so blessed that I even was able to make it to the starting line! Honestly, I thought that I would have a fair crack at the 3:40 goal. I told myself I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t get that time but I’d still be happy if I finished sub-4. At the starting line, I was a little nervous, but not that much. Still, I was just happy to be standing there. I told myself that if I just stayed calm and relaxed, that would help me during my run. I guess some of it’s psychological. I told myself that I was just gonna go out there and run two half-marathons … that made me feel better than thinking it was a full!
As soon as the gun went off, me, Sam and our friend Ben were fired up to go. Sam told me to tell him every few minutes or so what my heart rate was and that if it went above 175, to let him know so we could slow down. He didn’t want me to overdo my cardio early into the race because then I’d burn out fast. My heart rate stayed a touch higher than I wanted it to. For about 16 miles it ranged mostly around the 173-177 area. At around 12 miles I was starting to think that my chances of my 3:40 were slim-to-none. Once I saw the 3:40 pace drift out of sight at around mile 15, I knew that I needed to shoot for a sub 4 goal.
At around mile 17, my inflammation started hurting a lot. I felt a lot of sharp shooting pains in my ankle, achilles and right off my shin. Sam warned me not to stop and walk even for a few steps because if I did, my legs would stiffen up and it would be hard to start running after that. Well, that’s easier said than done. The pain was unbearable in my ankle and I had to walk. What a huge mistake that was! Right after the first walk is when I spiraled downhill. My whole body was in pain. I could barely lift my feet up off the ground to run again. My jogging turned into a shuffle that turned into a walk again. From that point on, it was shuffling, walking, shuffling, walking (with some whimpering as well).
I couldn’t believe that I was in the same body I had started the race in. I felt like I was in a body that had never run before. Everything for about eight miles was a complete blur/nightmare. I wanted to practice mind-over-matter but was unsuccessful. All I wanted to do was get to the finish line, then go home and lay down.
Once I crossed the finish line, I thought to myself, NEVER AGAIN! From now on, I’ll just work on half marathons. I was disappointed in myself as well. I thought, “how did this happen when my training runs were so promising?” I realized then that maybe, probably, I would’ve run a better race if not for the inflammation. I know it sounds like I’m making excuses, but I think that had something to do with it. And I should’ve never started walking!
After swearing to never doing it again, the next morning I woke up thinking to myself that I should train for another one next year … probably the Long Beach one since I really enjoyed the course. Surprisingly enough, it’s not my time that upset me the most. What upset me the most is the fact that after putting in so much time and effort in training, it wasn’t fair that I was left with such a miserable memory of my marathon. Next year, I’m going to make sure I go into the race completely healthy. I know marathons aren’t supposed to be easy, but they should at least be fun, in a weird sort of way.
Thanks for reading!