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It’s Only Once That You Run Your First Marathon

Ran my first marathon over a week ago and I’m yet to write a post about it, so I definitely must fix that now. Meant to do so yesterday, but helped dad with some work in the kitchen and also started reading Songs in the Year of the Cat, so decided to just keep reading, and also take a little nap in the evening, since by then it was highly unlikely that I’d finish the post and I therefore risked neither posting nor reading as much as I wanted to. And since this paragraph ends up being about yesterday, should also mention that I have one more ban to add to the list, this time from a smaller local freecycling group, after writing a very brief surprised comment in reply to an even harsher one written by someone else, both of us reacting to the fact that the administrator had started a contest with some small item as the prize for one member drawn out of those who invite at least 200 new people in the group. Utterly shocking requirement there, and when you also add the fact that she told me, after I sent a message asking about the ban, that members who write mean messages about the active ones are not needed, I think she has no idea what she’ll get as a result of such a request to spam people with invites and bring anyone and everyone in…

Now I’ll pick up from where I left off, at 6:45 AM on race day, when I woke up, one of the first thoughts being that it sure was weird to wake up while it was still dark outside. Had actually intended to set the alarm for 7 AM, but then saw that I had set it for 6:45 AM in May and still barely managed to leave at 8:15 AM, and since the plan was to leave at the same time, I definitely couldn’t wake even later. I mean, I just keep being slower, and this was proven now as well, since I only managed to leave at 8:25 AM, and again without managing to, shall we say, empty myself first. What’s more, only tried to do so once, while in May I tried twice, though it can be said that most of those ten minutes were in fact lost while trying to check the weather and whether there were any more announcements posted using dad’s mobile Internet, which barely loaded anything. Also lost a little time trying to put some tape on my nipples, since I remembered reading that men’s bleeding nipples, I guess due to rubbing against the t-shirt, are maybe the most common thing marathon first aid teams have to deal with, but couldn’t do that either due to the hair, so just gave up and hoped it won’t be a problem, and it wasn’t. In spite of all of this, I was at the metro station at 8:31 AM, so less than ten minutes later than back in May, though dad drove me there both times, and at Constitution Square at 8:52 AM, so just three minutes later than then.
Didn’t mean to waste time though, so first went straight inside to buy another energy bar from the Isostar stand there, to still have one to eat just before the start since there was nothing of the sort in the race kit, then also quite boldly grabbed an apple from those offering them and also a cup of water from those offered in another area, drinking part of it and using the rest to wash the apple before eating that as well. Also headed for the area where those offering radlers and taking pictures this time as well were, having a bottle offered to me as soon as I approached and also being invited to have my picture taken, so I took the bottle but said I’ll have the picture after the race, not before. Then left my bag in the wardrobe tent, giving up on the idea of changing into the shorts which I also had with me, grabbed a couple of peanuts and crackers offered by those from the NGO I had chosen to support, went to pee, pretty much just needing to walk along the row of toilets until I found a free one, not needing to wait in line, and made my way to the start. Since I was starting from the last sector, not having any previous time for this distance, finding the right sector wasn’t an issue, so I just made my way to the front of it and ate that energy bar rather in a rush, since the race was just starting. I guess I started my stopwatch and also marked the moment when I crossed the start line a second late, since I had the correct start time, 3:57, but was a second behind for the official time.

There was little chance to find a way through at first, so I mostly walked to the start line along with those around me, then kept finding myself behind others which were running slower than I wanted to. Yes, I could have found my way through faster in plenty of cases, but that’d have required a lot of weaving and some sprints, which would have tired me at a time when I definitely couldn’t afford that, so I just did my best and was quite content to see that I had indeed managed to catch up to the 4:00 pacemakers after about four and a half kilometers, which was pretty much exactly as planned. However, I was already behind the plan in terms of actual time, as that involved six minutes for the first kilometer, 5:30 for the next 24, then six for the next five, seven for the next five, eight for the next five, and 20 minutes for those final 2.2 km, allowing for seven minutes as start time. Did mean to take it as ten minutes per kilometer at the end, so 22 minutes there, which would have allowed for five minutes as start time, but I rather discarded those final meters, being sure I won’t slow down quite so much to need to be so exact. And with a start time of just under four minutes, it didn’t really matter anyway. What did matter, on the other hand, was that I just couldn’t manage that pace of 5:30 / km because of all the slower runners around me.
That definitely didn’t improve after catching up to those pacemakers, because on top of my left knee starting to hurt at about that same time, which was something I needed to manage all the way to the end, I caught them just before the road, or more exactly the part of it we could run on, got narrower, and I was just completely stuck a little behind them until we turned on Parvan, and then I stayed around them quite a while longer because of the slopes on that part of the route, which didn’t allow me to push if I didn’t want to tire myself way too early. It was only at eight kilometers, as we were approaching Victory Square, that I could finally break free of them and start putting some distance, which I meant to keep doing all the way to 25 km, to be able to lose time after that and still stay ahead of them until 30 km or so. By then, I was almost a minute behind my target times and I quickly gave up on the thought of trying to recover it. Doubt I could have done so anyway, since I was still finding myself usually losing just a little bit compared to that 5:30 target, and therefore gaining very little compared to those pacemakers, their target pace being 5:41 / km, and having no chance to also catch the 2:00 half marathon group, which obviously had the same pace but had started farther ahead.
My situation got worse at the end of that small detour which I didn’t know to check when I walked the route, since it didn’t show up on the course map displayed on the site. The problem wasn’t just that I didn’t know that small area, but that it ended with a steep climb, which steep climb I wasn’t aware of until I reached it. It was short, but really steep, many just slowing to a walk, and I found myself asking out loud whether we had somehow ended up in a mountain running event. Of course, that made me lose even more time and allowed those pacemakers to get closer again, not that I was really aware of it… Until I slowed to a walk at the 15 km refreshment point and found them going past me almost right away. It is possible that they had been running faster for a while, trying to recover time lost before Victory Square, as I had I heard them say that they could even go to six minutes per kilometer when there are slopes, but I was also just starting to suffer the consequences of being unable to take a shit that morning. Even glanced at the toilets in that area, wondering whether I could try to solve the problem that way even though I hadn’t taken any tissues with me, but my best chance remained to just try to hold it in, eat some of the garlic I had with me when needed, and keep going, so I did just that.
It sure isn’t easy to run when you feel that you’re about to shit yourself, yet that’s exactly what I did, for some three more hours. There were cramps, there was gas, there was the need to make sure that just the gas was coming out, but I just had to deal with it the best way I could and not lose too much time because of it. Even tried to maintain that 5:30 target pace at first, hoping to get back ahead of those pacemakers, but by 17 kilometers they were a few more seconds ahead and I realized I was just pushing too much under those circumstances for too little benefit, so I settled into the pace my current condition allowed and recalculated the target times in order to still be able to afford to get to eight minutes per kilometer after 35. Also definitely still meant to stay ahead of the 4:15 pacemakers, which had a target pace of 6:02 / km, all the way to 35 km, failure to do so being something I could afford a whole lot less than starting to lose time to the 4:00 ones a whole lot earlier than planned.
As I approached the halfway point and those running the half marathon went straight ahead to the finish line while the rest of us went around it a second time, I wondered whether I could have even managed to stay under two hours as official time if I’d have only participated in the half marathon that day, since I think my time when I went past the finish line was 2:02:42 and I didn’t feel like I could have gained nearly three minutes before then. Also took it really easy just after passing that line, slowing to a walk, taking the energy bar I had out of my pocket and eating it while still walking, not pushing once I started running again either, having a look at the leaders as they went past on the other side of the road, approaching the finish… Covered that 22nd kilometer in some seven minutes, but that actually showed me that the target of finishing in less than 4:30 won’t be a problem as long as I’ll manage to finish at all. I mean, I had just covered a kilometer in about seven minutes while taking it easy and could almost afford to do that all the way to the end, pushing to be able to afford eight or more per kilometer later no longer seeming necessary.
The sight was a bit disheartening though. While I was on that narrow piece of road the second time, I heard two talking behind me, the man complaining that it was crowded again even after some 19 km and the woman telling him to wait and see how depressing it’ll be when it’ll be just us marathon runners left, and she sure was right. With more than two thirds of the participants only running the half marathon, when all of those peeled away, it wasn’t a nice sight… But at least from that point forward there was enough room to pass and be passed, so each could run at their own pace and I settled well enough into mine, both before hitting the wall, again around 25 km, and after. In fact, if you check my intermediate times in the official results, not counting the two which covered distances that were too short to be relevant, you’ll find that, even though the exact time per kilometer varied, with time lost on those with refreshment points or when I ate something, on average my pace was remarkably steady. Very similar times over the first part, then again very similar times, only about 1:10 / km slower, after hitting the wall, with the section between 20 and 26.5 km appearing in between since it included times from both before and after, and also that slow 22nd kilometer.
As I already mentioned, hit the wall at about 25 km, and from that point forward it was a matter of just taking it area by area, km by km, step by step, and just pushing through. Probably the hardest part was when I passed only hundreds of meters from home, running directly against the wind, which had been strong enough to be a problem in plenty of places before then as well, and thought to just peel away and give it up as a terrible idea, yet still kept going, all the way to the point where the route turned, at about 35.5 km, then passed by this spot again on the way back, thinking I still had kilometers to run and then will have to get back here once I’m done, even if most of the way by metro. Of course, certain pressing matters only got worse as time passed, I occasionally also felt a bit nauseous, and there was even a point, I think on the 28th kilometer, a bit before seeing a guy taking off his shoes and telling me when I asked that his feet hurt and he was going to try to run like that and see whether it helped, when I thought it wasn’t just gas that came out and was wondering whether it’ll end up being visible by the end. After getting back I found that it had been a wrong impression and I had managed to keep everything solid inside after all, but I didn’t know that then, so I tried to hold even gas in more and more after that point, which of course only made it even worse. The garlic really helped though, resorting to it when some relief was desperately needed; highly doubt I’d have managed without it.
Still, the times were all right, not according to the original plan but according to the new one, so I also felt at ease with my decision to change the moments when I meant to eat the energy bar and the two gels I had, from 15, 25 and 35 km at first to 21, 30 and 37, and then even delaying that last one a little longer and eating it after 38 km. It was hard, but it was manageable, somehow, the danger being only to crash completely or injure myself somehow, not to be too slow as long as I’d be able to keep going. And that was also proven when the 4:15 pacemakers went past me just as I slowed to a walk at that refreshment point that was just after that turn, at about 35.5 km, which meant that I could stay ahead of them until after 35 km, as planned. Yes, it wasn’t long after 35 km that they passed me, but that target had quite a safety margin, so those additional hundreds of meters actually meant I was very comfortably inside the target time, and that wind which had bothered me a fair bit until then was also going to come from behind all the way to the end. Was a whole lot slower than during my long practice run though, since back then I managed 35.2 km in 3:26:38 while the checkpoint which was apparently placed at exactly that same distance on the route of the marathon lists me as having a real time of 3:32:28.
The particularly slow kilometer was the 39th though. The last sponge point was just before the 38 km marker, so I slowed to a walk then, wet my face and neck, then kept walking as I took out that last gel and ate it, careful to get just about every last drop out, then also ate two pieces of garlic, which were a bit difficult to get out of what I had taken them in. Didn’t really get back to running properly after the garlic was in my mouth either, instead stopping a few times to let gas out, being very careful to make sure nothing else came out along with it. The first time I stopped for this reason during that kilometer, two people asked me whether I was all right, and the way I moved after I did it again probably didn’t look any better either. But I did what I had to do and couldn’t exactly explain it to others, so just said I was all right that first time and was relieved that nobody else asked when I did it again, especially since one of those who had asked the first time was still just behind me. In addition, while it may not seem entirely justified at a glance, was also relieved when I saw that I covered that kilometer in, if I remember correctly, 9:16. Pretty sure I didn’t even get to eight minutes over any other kilometer, and there were just a few over seven, I believe every single one a result of slowing to eat or drink, but I meant to be really slow on that one, getting ready for the end, and the target was ten minutes.
It was probably a bit late to eat that gel then, but I wanted to make sure I was going to get to the end in good shape, which I guess I did. Couldn’t quite just keep running after reaching the 39 km marker, both because I again slowed to a walk at the last refreshment point, around 40 km, and because I had to just about stop a few more times to make sure that just gas was coming out when I couldn’t hold it in anymore, but I did well enough until I reached the 41 km marker, and then did actually keep running all the way to the end. Can’t tell you what my time was on the 42nd kilometer or on those final meters, but I’m quite sure it was better than in had been in a long time, possibly even being the fastest since hitting the wall. And yes, those pressing matters still, well, pressed, but at that point I decided that if I was going to shit myself, I was just going to let it happen and still finish the marathon actually running, not stopping or slowing for anything anymore. And it’s just here at the end that I finally got ahead of my original plan. Seeing as the official time was 4:23:37 and the real time 4:19:40, if you consider the target real time to be 4:23, with 20 minutes on the final 2.2 km, then I likely only got ahead of it on the 42nd kilometer, while if you consider it as 4:25, with ten minutes per kilometer at the end, I probably got ahead of it at some point on the 41st.

Once past the line, I started to realize that I didn’t feel quite as bad as after that long practice run. May have just been an impression, because I knew what to expect, or perhaps the water and juice and apples from the refreshment points and the slower pace negated the effects of those seven more kilometers, not sure, but while I still felt like stopping and crying, it didn’t seem to hurt quite that much once it was over, the pain diminished faster, and I didn’t think that I won’t be able to get back from there. Admittedly, this last part may well have been a result of that previous experience, proving that I could still walk even in that state, but after drinking a glass of water and grabbing two bottles, I could even stop to peel a piece of an orange without fearing I’ll collapse with cramps. Also took another whole apple, that one just to take with me, not eating it there. Did eat something sweet offered at the stand of those making the almond milk which had been in the race kit, but I didn’t even see an actual name on the product, much less a list of ingredients, so while I’m thankful for the free tasty product, if it was an attempt to promote something, I’d say it failed. And those offering the radler and taking pictures also failed, because when I went to that tent again I found it largely empty, with just one guy cleaning up, who offered me another bottle of radler, which I took. Why did they take pictures of people before the race and left before most finished it is beyond me.
I still obviously needed to recover when I went to get my bag from the wardrobe tent, needing quite a few minutes to untie it from the bar I had tied it to, not quite having enough control or strength in my fingers and not quite being able to stand completely still without worrying that I’ll collapse with cramps, but I eventually managed it. Still sort of looked for someone offering massages, but didn’t spot anything like that and didn’t make use of the stretching area, since I feared I’d get too much attention if I’d do so, seeing it mostly empty, with just a guy taking off his shoes and checking his feet and another one having two trainers attend to him. So I eventually started to try to work up the courage to ask someone to take a picture of me, which ended up taking some 20 minutes. Did at first mean to ask those from the tent of the NGO I had chosen to support, but couldn’t manage it, so I went to the area that’s next to the finish straight and sort of wandered around, occasionally cheering a runner while glancing at people and trying to determine which one I could ask, eventually settling on a photographer and, probably several minutes later, finally managing to ask him to do so when there will be another break in the runners. And he agreed right away, taking four pictures, only one of them not being saved by the camera, and I kept two and selected one to post after getting back.

That finally done, I could leave, though I stopped one more time before exiting that area, to get my phone out and send dad a message to tell him my time and ask whether the Internet worked, also noticing at that time that I had two missed calls from the guy from the network, at 11:45 AM. Interestingly, a bit after that I got a message saying “I don’t know if the Internet works. Give me a sign when you get back to talk about how it was.” which I assumed to be from him, since it answered my message, without really looking at who the sender was, so I was quite surprised first to see a note from him on the kitchen table saying that the Internet did work and then to hear that evening that my mother had told him that she had sent me a message that I didn’t reply to. Still, even though I checked my phone a few more times on the metro, it was several days later, when I deleted some other messages as well, that I noticed that the message in question had actually been from her.
Since I mentioned the metro, it sure was uncomfortable after switching. I had just missed one at Izvor but the next one came quickly enough, yet when I switched at Dristor I saw the whole station full of people and no trains waiting, the screen saying nine minutes until the next one will leave, so being on a normal weekend schedule even though, on top of a good part of the city being closed due to the marathon, the national team’s match was about to start at 4 PM, those going there getting off at the next stop after Dristor as well. There was an old woman with two large bags who just squeezed inside and kept asking what’s going on, why is it so crowded, having no clue about either event, and that train didn’t even leave at the listed time, the doors opening again after attempting to close and some people holding them open to also squeeze themselves inside, after which point they were left open for a while longer, allowing another large group, likely the result of another train arriving at the connected station, to somehow squeeze inside.

If I’d have cared to walk, I’d have likely gotten back sooner on foot. Still, I was here at 3:50 PM, so in time to catch the start of the match, though definitely too late to go take that shit first too. Then again, it wasn’t such a pressing matter anymore, my body settling down after I stopped running, so I ordered the pizza as soon as I got on the computer, even though there was a chance it won’t arrive by the end of the first half, which wouldn’t have allowed me to go at half time either, since I’d have had to wait for the delivery guy. Still, that seemed to not be a problem when they told me that, just because of the marathon and match, they have many orders and it may take one hour. However, while indeed it wasn’t a problem, that wasn’t because it arrived during the second half, but because it arrived before the end of the first, after some 30 minutes, again faster than estimated. Whether they moved my order ahead in the queue because I mentioned that I was just coming from the marathon too or, seeing as it came faster when I ordered from them before as well, they just add a big safety margin to their estimates to be absolutely sure the delivery won’t be late, I don’t know, but it’s quite nice.
So I was able to quickly go and finally empty myself at half time, then took some three and a half hours to eat that large pizza and two pieces of pie which had been brought by dad before. I think it was apple pie, probably also with cinnamon and maybe also raisins. Really felt like I had stuffed myself, couldn’t quite fit the last bits, but managed, and then stuffed myself some more at night too, though I did eat less then than I normally would at night. Also drank one of those radlers that night, since it had no alcohol and I was getting very thirsty and couldn’t wait to make more tea and have it cool enough, and the fact that I didn’t need to wake up to pee until the next afternoon showed that I sure needed to drink.
Other than that, I was feeling better than expected. Yes, my left knee was a problem, hurting enough to even wake me at least twice that morning, my right heel looked and felt like it was about to crack, and I also found that I was a little sunburned, in the middle of October and on a day with a high in the low 20s, but I feared much worse and even those issues went away well enough over the following days. Can sure say that the shoes really did their job, since with the old ones I sometimes ended up with bruises under my toenails even after ten kilometers while with these I ran a marathon and had no problem. Or, all right, there was that heel, but it didn’t quite crack, and there was nothing other than that… Nothing the shoes could help with, at least, since the problem that bothered me the most was something I didn’t expect, that being how chapped my lips were. Probably in good part because of running against that wind, but they just cracked if I just opened my mouth enough to eat or speak, taking days to recover even if I tried to use some moisturizing cream eventually. There was a moment that evening when I saw myself in the bathroom mirror and wondered why was I dirty on my upper lip, before realizing it was dried blood due to it cracking like that.

What’s next? Not entirely sure. I mean, now that I got just finishing one out of the way, I definitely want to run a marathon in less than four hours, but I’m not sure I’ll be able to do that next year. In fact, I really doubt it, and since even much older people can get good times over such distances, I don’t feel like I’m running out of time for that. On the other hand, while otherwise a half marathon is almost becoming routine, I may be running out of time if I want to make it not be routine anymore and aim to get under 1:45, so there may be a reason to sign up for that again next year and leave another marathon for 2020. Could try both again next year too, sure, but at this point I don’t want to… And now that I checked the site in order to put the link, I saw that there’s a very early registration option available for the half marathon, only until October 31, though if you click through it says November 30, so I don’t know which is right. Does mean I need to decide quickly though, both whether I want to sign up and whether I want my medal engraved, which I never did so far but which may be something if I will manage to get under 1:45. Will just be a source of embarrassment, as well as a complete waste of money, if I won’t though.


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