The big day.
The alarm went off at 5:30am and as always I was already half awake. I had breakfast and took the shuttle bus with the other runners to Burlington.
I was at the starting line quite early and had plenty of time to warm up. The organization was nice: there were plenty enough restrooms and everything was easy to find and within a couple of steps.
To keep the excitement down, I stretched and ran for few minutes at an easy pace avoiding like hell finish and start line.
Not after long, they started suggesting getting at the start. One sees really any kind of people running marathons: from the weirdly dressed (we had Elvis running … quite a tall guy) to the funky dressed.
I saw the pacers, behind me the 4:30 and right in front of me the 3:30. Thinking of it now, I should have broken ice and talked to the guy, but as awkward as I am always I didn’t, thinking I could have simply followed him.
Minutes flew and people started to look excited, nervous or ‘I should have peed before’ and then the horn … race started.
The race started in thin rain. The first miles were of course easy: uphill on the very first mile and then downhill for 3~4 miles. The downhill, the excitement and the carrying wave of runners made me made the first big mistake on the race. I started too fast. Checking on my wristwatch I know I was running 30 seconds faster than my goal pace (8 min per mile or ~5 min per km) but I didn’t slow down as I should have and kept the pace for the first half of the marathon.
This first half was easy or felt easy. There was a long stretch along the Northern Connector, a divided highway running north of Burlington, which was mostly flat. It was an out and back run when one has the chance to see the leaders and cheer them while going. Back in Burlington was rolling hills till the half-mark. At that point it almost stopped to rain and I checked my watch: 1 hour and 40 minutes. Too fast. Darn if I didn’t tell me myself. One year ago I finished the Brooklyn Halfie in that time! But now I have 13.1 more miles to run …
The second half is when everything went downhill. The course in that part was nice, maybe too many turns in and out neighbors which I would have preferred not to.
Till mile 21 I was tired but was holding myself together. I noticed the pace dropping considerably from a 7:30 in the first half to a 8~8:30 in those 7 miles. I missed a couple of water station because of traffic: people were tired (oh hell I was tired) and acted erratically coming to a stop right at the water station forcing to jump out and miss it. Plus the weather was turning better, it was getting hotter but the soaked wet t-shirt I was wearing was keeping me cool so I wasn’t feeling thirsty. Because of it stupidly thinking I didn’t need much water or gathorade.
Between mile 21 and mile 22 on a slower pace I was passed by the 3:30 pacer which earlier in the race I didn’t manage to follow because I was feeling so well! (sarcasm intended)
I kept running trying not to think much about it.
At this point the race was continuing on a shaded bike path mostly, but not steeply, downhill. I lost track of time and miles. When I was the approaching mile marker I thought it was mile 24 (hoping deep inside to be mile 25) and when I saw it was mile 23 … well that was a psychological blow I wasn’t prepared to. I slowed even more trying to keep myself up and motivated, telling myself it’s only 3 miles! Back home you wouldn’t even considered it training! and so on.
I am so deeply sorry for the glare I was giving to the crowd who was cheering my bib. (Note to myself write my name on a t-shirt or on the bib next time!) They were so nice and I had all this evil look of mine. So bad!
After mile 24 it went rotten. I stopped, telling me to just walk for a little bit, but I didn’t manage to go back on the horse again. When I saw a wall, I leaned on it. (This actually happened and isn’t a metaphor of hitting the wall, though at that point I did hit the wall.) Someone must have seen since shortly after a volunteer came to me with a bottle of water. I didn’t see the volunteer, just the bottle, but I thought it doesn’t make sense a bottle walking freely to you. I was then helped to the water station where they checked vitals and gave me gels, gathorade and water. They mentioned something about a car and I was ready to drop. Probably thankfully the car didn’t get there until much later and after 30 minutes or so of resting on the grass and thinking of dropping out I thought that if I started I wanted to finish the darn thing too.
So I stood up. My legs were an unrecognizable clump of muscle cramps but after few steps I managed even though awkwardly to go back running.
And so I crossed the finish line after 4:01:42 since that horn now almost only a memory. And got my medal, which felt heavy as my disappointment.
I’m still a bit disappointed of course, but now I know what the dreaded wall is and hopefully I won’t make the same mistakes in New York this fall. But before that I will run the NYC Half-Marathon on August 16th … though now I’m just resting: I hadn’t run a single mile since the Marathon. Probably I will be back next week though I’ll see how my legs will hold together.