Wednesday, April 23, 2008

I woke up this morning in a quiet, sterile room in Glenmont, NY after sleeping for about 10 hours. It was hard to believe that any of the last five days had happened: the suffocation of midtown Manhattan in rush hour, the clang of the 7 line in Queens, the screaming crowds at Boston or my dropping out of the Boston Marathon. I certainly didn't anticipate dropping out at any point in the 11 months I spent planning this trip, but it happened, and I have no idea why.

My plan (though everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face) was to get through the first 5k in around 21 minutes (about 6:50/mile), run the next few 5ks in around 20:30 (6:35/mile) before getting to the uphills at 25k, where I'd do my best to maintain the pace, and then give it everything I had on the final downhills. I was hoping to run somewhere around a 2:52 if this plan worked perfectly.

I got through the first mile in 7:20, which was predictable given the crowds, and the second mile was pretty good in 6:59 considering that I stopped to tie my shoe (now there's a bad omen). The next few miles were pretty slow in around 7:00-7:20, and I hit 5k in 21:56 by my watch. That was a minute slower than planned, but it was no big deal. I hit 10k faster in 43:12, which gave me a 21:16 split, and that was better. I gathered more steam and hit 15k in 64:13 (21:56, 21:12, 21:01). I was fine through 11 miles too (76 minutes), where I was on a slow but comfortable 3-hour pace.

Around 11 miles I began to worry that I was going too fast for the hills, and did what I thought was not speeding up anymore, but it was slowing down. I hit 20k in 1:26, which meant I'd run the last 5k in 22 minutes, definitely not a good sign. I hit the half in 1:30 feeling uneasy about the whole thing, and I think I was trying to just jog it in before I hit 14 miles. It's all pretty hazy now. At 15, I was doubting whether I'd finish. I have no idea what the mile splits were here, but they were probably over 8:00.

Eventually I had to walk at a water station, I started again, but stopped within 100 metres. I knew by now that I probably wasn't going to finish this race, and if I did, it would probably be in close to 4 hours. I happened to do this in front of a guy in a lawn chair with a cooler. He had the Red Sox game on. I was grimacing in front of him with my hands on my knees, and he was looking at me as though I had a second head. "What's the score?" I asked. "Are you okay? Do you want some water?" he replied. I took the water, thanked him, drank it, ran a little more, but knew I was done.

I walked off the course right at a volunteer who asked if I was okay. I really wanted to run backwards, but I wanted more to get away from that city and that race as fast as I could, so I asked whether it was quicker to jog a 10-minute mile or to wait for some sort of bus. She pointed me to the medical tent down the road, where I walked on the sidewalk, scowling past puzzled spectators. I had even more trouble talking to the woman at the medical tent, and when they asked if they could check my pulse (103)and blood pressure (136/97), I couldn't stop crying, so they did it anyway.

If you're wondering why any of this happened, your guess is as good as mine. I have absolutely no idea, none whatsoever, why I could only manage a 1:30 first half and then was reduced to a quivering mess. I felt great all weekend and all morning, and thought I was going to run a powerful second half as late as 11 miles. Still, worse things have happened to better people, even when talking strictly about running. I still feel terrible that I couldn't have run a better race for the friends who came to watch me run, but their wonderful support makes it possible to move on. I'm not that sore today after 13 moderately hard miles yesterday. This weekend is a little too soon for another marathon, but the one after is not. I'm leaning towards the Long Island Marathon, where any time that starts with a 2 will be fine. Thank you for your support before, during and after the race. You might not believe how much it means.

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