The official distance of a marathon is 26.2 miles, but for me, yesterday’s Austin marathon came down to just one foot.
It all started out well enough – my dad drove me downtown & I hung out at the VIP reception, where I met 4-hour pacers Doug & Colin. We traipsed over to the start under still-dark skies and the brightly lit Capitol building, and got going right at 7 am. I spent a lot of the first 4-5 miles dodging around other runners – the full and half share the course through roughly 10.8 miles, and it was packed the whole way.
We went down S Congress (which is, ironically, uphill the whole way) and back up 1st St (which is then downhill), and turned over onto Cesar Chavez where a huge number of spectators had gathered. After grabbing high-fives from the Livestrong crowd, I shed my long-sleeve tee and we headed over Mopac toward the full/half break off point.
Shortly thereafter is where everything went downhill (again, ironically, on the stretch of Exposition that is marked by the steepest uphills on the course). Early in the race, something went very wrong in my left foot. Under the ball and up into my 1st and 2nd toes, I developed a pain like I was running on a large, very tender bruise. It was manageable from miles 2-8, got much worse over miles 8-11, and finally I had to pull up to walk for the first time around the 11-mile marker. Full tale of woe after the jump.
I got back up to a run – it was less painful to run uphill, because I’d naturally strike farther back on the foot – but could only manage ~5-minute intervals before the pain would get too intense and I’d walk again. Downhills were excruciating. I hit the half mark (13.1 miles) and called my family, not sure I could keep going on.
By the time I saw my parents, Tim & Miles at the mile 18 marker, I was a mess. I was limping and crying (and I’m not one to shed tears easily), telling them I thought I’d have to pull off right there. I didn’t think I had another 8 miles in me, but I asked them to go to the mile 22 marker and I’d see how I did. And I got a great additional boost as I took off, when another spectator who’d overheard my meltdown called out, “That’s the way to get back in there, kid.” (I guess in Texas, a 36-year-old can be a kid)
I got to the magical mile 20 and decided I was going to DNF. I called my family and asked them to pick me up at 22. The pain was so bad that neither running nor walking made any difference. But my friend Jane, a physical therapist, happened to text me a quick “Yay, you’re more than halfway there” message. When I briefed her on the foot, she went into PT mode and tried to problem-solve for me. She suggested that I alter my left footstrike to hit the opposite, outer side; so I did that, and by mile 22 the pain has lessened substantially (I think my foot had started to go numb, too, just from all the pounding).
So, I called my family and said go ahead, I’d meet them at the finish.
The last 4 miles were surreal, in marathon terms – I was feeling less pain, and I was more able to run versus walk. Looking at my splits, my pace in the last 35 minutes was nearly 1:30/mile faster than the 2 hours preceding them.
I ran down the final hill, around the corner and across the finish where the guy handing me my medal said, “You worked pretty hard for this, huh?” And I said, “Yes, yes I did.”
My finishing time was 4:42 – the exact time it took me to run the PVD marathon in May. Apparently, the universe has decreed that I will only run marathons in 4:42. This was all the more frustrating because I felt well-fueled and relatively strong-legged, like I could have shaved time off my PR were it not for the foot problems. But I was really surprised that I wasn’t slower than in PVD; I really thought I’d pass the 5-hour mark, given how slow and despondent I was through miles 10-20.
So even though this was a disaster in terms of plan versus reality, this was also a great race. I met my fellow ambassadors over the weekend and saw several on race day: Michael passed me in mile 17, I saw Matt’s wife on the course in mile 21, and I met up with Matt and Alanna post-race. The whole thing was well-organized, and the spectator crowds were incredible (and musical, and weird, in true Austin fashion).
I’d definitely come back and run this one again (the half, I mean; enough with this 26.2 nonsense).