Hey guess what I did yesterday. You know the drill, no more writing until you guess!
Guess damn it!
That's right boys and girls (mostly girls), Willie ran a marathon. 26.2 miles of wonderfully painful foot pounding joy!
You wouldn't know it because I haven't written a meaningful word on this blog for some time but I was REALLY looking forward to this weekend. I was extremely worried that I would get sick again or I'd hurt some crucial leg part or the world would come to an end or something along those lines but nothing happened! Things may just be turning a corner for (not so) old Willie.
I had planned to go up to Tulsa on Saturday afternoon to hit the expo, drop my children's college funds on meaningless running junk, and grab some dinner. Things didn't turn out that way, however, and I never made it to Tulsa on Saturday. I had a good friend pick up my packet at the expo for me and we arranged to meet before the start so I could actually have a bib and a chip. Those are important things to have.
My truck is technically a vehicle in that it has 4 tires and an engine but, while that engine has 8 cylinders, it is currently running on somewhere between 4 and 6 of them depending on the weather. This left me with the options of either running a 123 mile warm up or begging someone for a ride to the race. Luckily I have wonderful friends and I got to ride up to the race with one of the best. I even got a pre-race meal of oatmeal and yogurt which is now my staple diet and absolutely the greatest combination of foods ever assembled! Heaven in a bowl! Oh and coffee. Always coffee. We listened to Christmas music the entire way to Tulsa because we are both complete Christmas freaks and a wonderful station here in OKC has already started playing constant Christmas music. It was, by far, the best pre-race drive I've ever had! So much fun.
We made it to the race and the nerves started reminding me just how far 26.2 miles actually is. I'm a big enough man to say that I was scared. Really scared. All those horrible thoughts of failure and pain jumped from their beds where they'd been sleeping and were like a 2 year old at Christmas. So very excited to let me know how thoroughly unprepared I was for this marathon. I concentrated on getting all my gear together and finding the rest of our friends to keep those thoughts from dominating.
I was also very excited because I was going to meet Sarah The Queen. I met her and her wonderful husband a few minutes before the race and I recognized them immediately. The pictures on her blog don't do her justice! Folks she is beautiful! The funny thing was that I felt like I knew her husband just as well as her because I'd read so much about him! It was like meeting an old friend for the first time if that makes any sense at all. They are a fabulous couple and I'm blessed to have met them. I can't say enough how fabulous it is to meet blog friends. Every one I've ever met has been GREAT!
Since I really didn't have a race strategy and I hadn't run any long runs I decided to use this race as a training run and just get the miles in. This was the first time that I can honestly say I lined up at the start with no preconceived time goals in mind. I was just out for a long run with a few thousand of my best friends. As I was standing in the corral waiting to start that thought hit me and I felt a wave of relaxation come over me. All the nerves were gone and I was really happy which is something I haven't been able to say for a long time.
The start was really crowded but I was able to get near the 4:15 pace group which is where Sarah said she was going to be. I wanted to run with her for the first 15 miles so we could chat and I could feel out my legs. I didn't see her at the start but figured I'd find her once the pack thinned out over the first few miles. I took off at an easy pace and spent the first 2 miles looking around for Sarah. I slowed up a bit to let her pass me figuring she had been unable to work her way up from the back of the crowded start. More than once I totally embarrassed myself when I thought I saw her and ran up next to some girl and looked them in the face only to discover it wasn't Sarah and that young girls don't like old, bald guys running next to them and looking them in the face.
So mile 4 came and went and I still hadn't found her. I passed a row of porta-potties and had a wonderful idea to try and kill two birds with one stone (or bodily function as it were). So I waited in line at the porta-potties and watched as hundreds of runners passed me. Still no Sarah. After I took care of some business I was well behind the 4:30 pace group and totally convinced that I now would be able to find her. I took off at a good sub-8 minute pace working my way through the crowds and looking at every young girl I thought looked like Sarah. Again with the embarrassing moments. There may be a wanted poster somewhere in Tulsa with my picture on it. "Wanted for harassing young runners".
I caught the 4:30 pace group and the 4:15 pace group and still had not found Sarah. It was now getting on about 7 miles and I had to figure out what I was going to do with this race. I rested for awhile and then decided to just run my original strategy of easy running to 15 then see what I had left from there on in. I wanted negative splits to get that extra work on my legs once they were good and tired. So I settled into a nice 8:30 pace and started enjoying the beautiful day and the wonderful sights of Tulsa. Guess what happened. Go on guess!
That's right! I caught Sarah! Turns out she entered the starting corral from the front and got caught way up front. She was well ahead of her 4:15 pace group the whole time! I love little twists like that. I changed my strategy once and again and decided to run with her to mile 15 like I'd originally planned. After all it's not everyday that you get to meet a blogging friend and I was afraid I wouldn't have any time after the race to chat so this was my only opportunity to talk with her. We chatted about everything and it was wonderful. I can't describe to you how much I was really enjoying this race. It was just a great day and I was just trying to take advantage of all it had to offer me.
Unfortunately, Sarah wasn't running anywhere near her best and she started getting dizzy. If you've read her blog you know she suffers from a heart condition that causes her to pass out sometimes. I was very concerned for her and completely scared at the same time. I'm completely inadequate at helping people when they have medical problems. I am really good at being that crazy-panicky guy who runs around screaming wildly though so that was my plan if she happened to have any problems. She assured me that she wasn't going to pass out and she was being really smart and taking it easy when needed so I relaxed a bit. I also noticed many, many medical personnel on the course which added to my relief.
Mile 15 rolled around and I thought really hard about just staying with her but I was also concerned that I was making things worse by putting pressure on her to keep going. I can also be a bit annoying sometimes and was worried I may be driving this poor girl crazy at a time when she wanted to be alone. After some more assurance from her that she would be OK, I took off at a little faster pace. We had run the half in 2:06 and I was curious to see if I could run fast enough in the second half to still break 4 hours.
I ran right around 8 minute pace for the next few miles and it felt WONDERFUL! My legs were striding out and eating up the pavement. My breathing was controlled and my back was straight and relaxed. A great running feeling!
I was able to keep an 8 to 8:30 pace until about mile 21. At that point my knees started to feel tight and my back was tired. I slowed a little but kept running. I knew this condition was all due to a lack of long runs. I just didn't have the endurance in my knees and back to make the distance. They weren't used to this much time on my feet. It's funny that I didn't get down at that thought though. I almost expected it to happen so when it did I just accepted it.
I struggled through the last few miles and finished in 4:04. I strode proudly across the finish with my head up and a smile on my face. I was happy. Happy with a 4:04. Maybe I'm starting over, maybe I'm getting older, or maybe I'm just accepting what life is giving me with a smile now instead of fighting it. I'll get back to the 3:32 I ran at this race last year but it may take awhile and who knows, I may enjoy the journey more the second time around.
Thanks for listening