After five previous marathons of heartache, of cramps and low energy, of death walks the last 10 miles, I finally, finally, finally, ran a respectable marathon time. As my blogging buddy Billy put it, “We can build on this.”
Let me say this: Sunday’s White Rock Marathon was more about relief than redemption. After Portland, which came after the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, which came after the 2008 White Rock Marathon, I was beginning to wonder if I could ever put together a respectable marathon time.
But on Sunday, I finally put things together, finally cracked a real smile as a I ran across the finish line, finally felt proud in the post-race feeding, and even walked down the stairs at the American Airlines Center to drink a post-race beer.
Yet the fastest marathon of my life didn’t go the way I dreamed it would. I still had unexplainable cramps that brought back some old demons and made Miles 13 to 22 some of the hardest miles I’ve ever run. And yet, I fought through the pain and figured out how to keep going and wound up running 1:53 in the second half with no mile slower than 9:31, and the last mile in 7:43. What now? This was my third marathon of the year and I am totally burned out.. Tired of awaking at 4:30 AM to get in a 12 to 14-miler with Team Rogue. Tired of watching what I eat and when I eat. I may just take the rest of the month off – not one run. But I know I can do this marathon thing now, and I totally believe Boston is in my future. For now, though, I’m going to sit back and relax and enjoy my latest accomplishment.
First, some stats:
58 – number of runners I passed over the last 6.2 miles
38 – number of runners who passed me over the last 6.2 miles
2 – number of Hammer gels I took: at Miles 8 and 16.
30 – total ounces of fluid I had during the race. Six of those ounces were Gatorade
7:26 – time, in minutes/seconds, of my fastest mile (Mile 9)
9:31 – time, in minutes/seconds of my slowest mile (Mile 21)
1:43 – official time in hours/minutes of my first half (7:52 min/mile)
1:53 – official time in hours/minutes of my second half (8:38)
0 – number of miles it took me more than 9 minutes to complete from Mile 23 to the finish.
1- 8:12…………8 – 7:30…………….14 – 8:15………………21 – 9:31
2 – 7:37……….9 – 7:26……………..15 – 8:26………………22 – 9:03
3 – 7:30………10 – 7:34……………..16 – 8:15……………..23 – 8:39
4 – 7:45………11 – 7:41…………….17 – 7:57……………….24 – 8:17
5 – 7:41……….12 – 7:58……………18 – 9:05……………….25 – 8:44
6 – 7:32………..13 – 7:37……………19 – 8:00……………….26 – 8:15
7 – 7:40………..Half – 1:42:57………20 – 8:24………………27 – 7:43
The 2009 White Rock Lake Marathon… in words.
*Marathon eve: I met up with a former co-worker from the Star-Telegram, Tom J., and we went to the expo and drove the marathon course. It was interesting seeing the course from inside of a car, even though I’d run three previous White Rock Marathons. Later that evening, I met up with a bunch of my old friends from Fort Worth and we ate at Momo’s Italina Café on McKinney Avenue in Dallas. Knowing that I’ve had bad runs in the past when I eat pasta or red sauce, I ordered a pork chop and some roasted potatoes….and two glasses of wine. That’s right. I drank two glasses of wine the night before a marathon. My deal was I was gong to treat this run like any other long run, and since I drink red wine most every night, why pick this night to stop? Besides, as my other blogging friend, Victoria, reminded me over and over: “Have fun!”
*Marathon morning: I slept like a baby the night before the marathon and awoke without an alarm clock at 5:15 AM for the 8 am start. Since I didn’t eat the morning of any of my long runs after Portland, I treated this race the same way: Ok, I did drink a glass of grapefruit juice at 6 am. But that was it. I wanted to make sure my digestive system worked on this day the same way It worked on all my previous runs over 18 miles.
Of course, you can only control the things you can control, and so there was a little drama before the race. A group of us decided to take the hotel shuttle bus to the race. We assumed that since the hotel was downtown and the race start was downtown, the bus driver would take us through downtown streets. But, nooooo…. the driver gets on the highway with ALL THE OTHER CARS and we are stuck in a traffic jam. Do we panic? Nope. We make the woman pull over on the side of the highway, let us out, and we run the final half mile to the American Airlines Center where we make the final preparations for the race.
I was supposed to meet a few other friends at 7:30 under one of the big screen televisions at Victory Park. But, and I didn’t know this before we made plans, there were three big screen televisions and there literally thousands of people waiting around these televisions, so I never met up those friends. So, I took one last pit stop, synced up my Garmin, and stuffed myself into the throng of runners, 20,000-strong, and waited for the start. (Of the 20,000, about 5,000 were running the marathon, with the others running the half marathon or the marathon relay).
The weather was perfect: mid 40s, little wind, a little fog. So it was weird to see the New York City Rockettes, who were in town, doing a pre-race dance for the runners inside the television station that was adjacent to Victory Park. “It’s too cold for the Rockettes out here, so they are dancing inside,” the public address announcer said. Too cold, I thought. Don’t they perform in that New York weather all the time? Oh well.
And we’re off: I was the most calm for this race than I have been for any other race, short or long. I didn’t have a nervous stomach, not even one goosebump. I lined up about 15 rows behind the 3:30 pace group and when the gun went off, it took me more than three minutes to get to the start line. That meant I spent the first five miles running around walkers or 13-minute-milers. But I didn’t stress out about it. I passed people when I could, and when I couldn’t, I didn’t.
As you can see by my splits, the sub 8s were coming fast and furious. And really, I was doing my best not to go faster than that. The crowd at the beginning made it easy, but sometimes, I’d get going on a good flow and look at my watch and notice I was doing sub 7:30, so I’d slow down and literally change my stride to almost a slow jog to preserve energy.
Around mile 5, I caught up with some of the group I’d been on the bus with and wound up running about three or four miles with Yolanda, who was sticking with the 3:30 pace group. I was feeling so strong, though, that even when I slowed my stride, my pace was faster than 8 minute mile, so I just let my legs go and left Yolanda and the 3:30 pace people around Mile 8, just before we got to the lake. I took a chocolate hammer gel at this point, a few swigs of water, and I was off. I wasn’t breathing hard and was feeling good.
Here we go again?: I get to Mile 10 in 1:16, right at a pace of 7:36 min/mile. My mood was great. At this point, I saw two 20-something, thin, pretty women wearing orange and yellow with the words, “Boston Bound” on their backside. As they passed me, I said to them, “Great job.” They told me I was doing great as well and they motored by. Just then, I caught another friend whom I was supposed to meet before the race, Mandy, and we ran together for a few miles. She had a frown on her face, like she was not feeling so good. But that’s how Mandy runs. She is strong and I knew she still had a lot left.
At Mile 12, I started feeling stiffness in my legs. In training runs, when I felt stiff, I’d pick up the pace, loosen the legs up. I did that at Mile 13, and ripped off a 7:37, but the stiffness didn’t go away, and it was a little disheartening. I mean, I got to the halfway point in 1:43, which is seven minutes slower than my half marathon PR; I was feeling good lung and heart wise, but the cramping was here again, just like it was in all my other marathons.
I had no choice but to slow down and stretch after every mile for the next few miles of this race. And everytime I stopped, someone I knew passed me.. There went Mandy.. There went Yolanda.. And the 3:30 pace group.. My heart was sinking, and I’d be lying if I didn’t say to myself: “Here I go again.”
Miles 14 through 17 of this race are on a slight, and I mean slight, uphill tint. I’d trained on hills all summer in Austin, so this was supposed to be easy. Well, it wasn’t so easy. Still, unlike other races, I didn’t panic. I didn’t load myself down with water, which, I knew, would make things worse. I took another hammer gel at Mile 16 and just concentrated on running, getting through this portion of the race. I got a little boost from the gel, and popped a 7:58 on Mile 17, but the stiffness was becoming even worse now, and when I stopped to stretch, I could feel the spasms in my calves, hamstrings, and even my hips. Oh boy, I thought, this is going to be fun.
We got off the lake, finally, and headed toward the Dolly Parton hills at Miles 20 and 21. Last year, on this same course, it took me more than 12 minutes to complete Mile 20, and 17 minutes – THAT’S RIGHT, 17 MINUTES – to complete Mile 20 in 2007.. As I headed toward Mile 20 on this day, I drew some confidence in the fact that I was feeling much better now than in 2007 and 2008. And so I fought off cramps and finished Mile 20 in 8:24. I could just feel the spasms in my calves, like they were going to rip right off the bone, so I stopped and stretched again, a really good stretch, I mean leaning up against somebody’s car and giving it the best stretch I could give it.
In the middle of stretching, I hear somebody from behind shout, “Kevin” It was one of my old Fort Worth running buddies, Nicholas. It was weird that he was behind me because this guy is fast, I mean, sub 3:10 fast. At the 2009 Cowtown Marathon, he ran the 50k and still had a faster time than my marathon time. But today, he was running with tendinitis in his shins and you could tell he was hurting.. Still, this gave me an emotional lift, that I was running as faster than a guy as fast as Nicholas was, even though he should not have been running.
Me and Nicholas ran together for a few miles, and when we hit Swiss Avenue, on Mile 22, my spirits soared because I knew it mostly downhill from this point.
At this point, Nicholas and I were running with this black guy who looked like he was in really bad shape. He was leaning to the left, like he had had a stroke or something, and he was running sideways, and yet he was running as fast as me. I told him good luck. He told me good luck, and that he was, “cramping every-friggin-where.” The thing is though, when he ran, was as fast, if not faster than me. But he had to stop every two or three blocks to stretch out a cramp. Finally, halfway down Swiss Avenue, he stopped to stretch and I never saw him again.
A few blocks later, Nicholas stopped and said to me, “Ok, that’s it. I gotta stop. Go get ’em Kevin.”
Those words were like the wind at my back. By this point, I had cooked up this running stride where I was landing and pushing off from my midfoot to stop the calf cramps.. I had slight spasms in my hamstrings, but nothing too severe. (Hey, if there is anybody who knows how to run with cramps, its me).
By this time, I was…..TIRED! Hooray. I was hitting the wall and, oddly, felt good about that. I mean, in previous marathons, I was cramping so bad that I never really never had any cardiovascular stress. But when my lungs got heavy Sunday, I knew I was doing something, like I was alive, and in a weird way, it gave me even more confidence to get through the race.
At Mile 23, I pass one of the those girls who was wearing the “Boston Bound” shirts. Remember, from Mile 10? Folks, let me tell you something, when you pass people in the final few miles of a marathon, your confidence soars. When I passed this woman – who looked like marathoners look, skinny, long legs; who passed me some 10 miles earlier – there was no doubt I was going to finish this race strong. I saw two or three people I knew who were running the other way to run in their friends or their wives.. They’d look at me and say, “You are looking strong, Kevin. You got this!”
For the first time, I started thinking about a time goal. I hit Mile 23 at 3:05. I knew my Garmin was going to read the White Rock Course somewhere between 26.75 to 27 miles. I did quick math. I knew if I couldn’t run faster than a 9-minute mile for each of the last three to four miles, I could get under 3:40. And so that became my goal. No more 9-minute miles. I ripped off 8:39 on Mile 23; 8:17 on Mile 24.. And then I got another confidence boost when I passed my good friend, Roberto, who has a sub 3;20 marathon under his belt.
But, just as I passed him, I had a massive calf cramp that forced me to stop. I gave my calves a good 15-second stretching and swore I would not stop again. Half a mile later, I passed Roberto again and knew I was on my way.
The last mile of the marathon, from 25.2 to 26.2, there are people all along the course telling you that you are almost there, that there are no more hills, that the finish line is just around the bend. When I heard these chants Sunday, my heart soared. I put my head down, threw all my cares about my cramping calves and heavy lungs out the door, and ran as fast as I could down Houston Street. I could feel my calves and hamstrings rippling, like the meat was ripping off my bones (imagine the Forrest Gump scene when Forrest is running from those hoods and his leg braces start exploding and popping off his legs – that’s how my muscles felt in that last quarter mile).
Despite pain that was now the worst it had been during the entire race, I passed two or three more people on the final stretch and could hear the PA announcer call my name, “Kevin Lyons from Austin Texas).. I got closer and closer and started looking for the cameras.
I threw my hands up, smiled, and crossed the finish line.