There was a pounding in my head each time my shoe hit the asphalt.
I already knew that the wheels were coming off and as the 16th mile marker came into eyesight, my spirits slowly drained through the pores of my skin leaving me with the hollow feeling of defeat. My mile time hadn’t decreased yet, I was still on goal pace…….. but I KNEW.
19 weeks of training had been a great teacher. It had brought me closer to my body and understanding how it would react under just about any situation during the run. So although the times were still good, and a smile was still on my face for each photographer, under it ALL was the heart of a defeated man. The miles droned on and my mile 16 prediction of disaster began to show it’s true self as I passed mile 19.
It was a small crack in the armor but focus was disturbed. The effort to remain at pace went from “marathon uncomfortable hard” (which those that choose to run 138,336 feet have prepared for and already accepted), this was not the “beautiful pain” of the marathon, it was just wrong. I went deep inside for a little while, I played out every day of training, a cycle of training where I only had missed one run the entire 19 weeks. It wasn’t making sense, why was this so hard? This wasn’t my FIRST marathon, it was number 14 for goodness sakes. How could I still be this bad at running 26.2 miles? What did I do wrong this time?
My thoughts pounded in my head and became the harmony to the melodic sound my feet made as I continued on. But now the music had gone from a song with energy, to a slow jam that would have made Luther Vandross proud to sing over. I was rewinding back to mile 13 where it was simply a party in my head. Math was still coming easy at that time and I was laying out the game plan for how this run was going to end.
In my head……..
Mile 21 was going to be the jump off point, I was going to find a gear that was going to propel me to the finish line and straight to the pancake buffet, where my medal was sure to be admired by all
My 21 mile warm up was just a prelude to the real story of this race, the EPIC FINISH. None of this played out in that way, I passed the 21-mile marker and there was no gear to be found, in fact I down shifted to a gear that was both painful and sad
There is so much talk about THE WALL, but when you hit it and I mean really smack your face against it, you are instantly humbled. So here I was shuffling along, having those thoughts about how much I love 5K’s and how I loathe this race of 26.2 miles. I dug out my phone and turned it on to call my wife.
By mile 22, I should have already crossed the finish line and I did not want her staring down the road, wondering if the next person to turn the corner was going to be me, because I was not turning that corner. I was still fighting one difficult step after the next. So many thoughts rush through your delirious brain at the end of a marathon, but it is so hard to keep them in order so that they make sense.
Think of a word jumble, you see all the letters but you have to concentrate and search in order for the letters to form a word. Experience has taught me to just focus on something simple in order to just get me to the finish line. I chose to focus on my yellow shoes and the design they made in my blurred vision as I took each step. Over and over I watched my shoes until I started to realize something was different, I was sure it was a snake on my shoe, nope…….it was just untied. I slowed to a stop and just stared at the untied shoe, stared like a man who knew what needed to be done, but had no idea how it was going to get done. My foot was so far away and I was scared if I knelt to tie the shoe, because there was no way I could bend over and do it, that I wouldn’t get back up. So right there on the course, I performed some kind of Yoga maneuver, one we will call “Tall Bald Guy Shoe Tie” and tied my shoe, I high 5’d myself.
By mile 23.5, I shuffled on and a ball of energy headed right towards me. My son ran up to me and looked me in the eyes and told me that he was going to finish this run with me. I was excited, happy and revitalized. I showed all of this emotion with a really exaggerated nod of my head, and a grunt, maybe a smile.
We ran that last 2.5 miles together, he never stopped talking, he used sayings and slogans that I have yelled at him as he runs his Cross Country races, he talked to me about the highlights of his homecoming dance, and I am pretty sure we talked about how bad I was looking. The music had changed again, to a comforting melody that didn’t pump me up, but left me relaxed and resigned that I was going to finish, let’s call it a “smooth jazz finish”.
He left me just before the finish line, and I crossed with hands raised as I am sure the winner had done. My wife met me as I crumbled to the ground, reflecting on what I considered a failure, but she just looked at me and asked “What did you learn?” and promised that I was still getting pancakes.
I am starting over, for the 16th time. I have a dream and the number of times I have failed is fueling this desire to succeed instead of diminishing it and allowing me to quit. I have run 15 marathons and still have yet to get it right. There have been some….better than others – my 2nd marathon still remains the only one that I completed with a negative split. Now this next statement may not seem to make sense, although my marathon times have gotten faster but my performance has gotten worse. I have become intimate with the “wall” and proficient at the “final 2-mile shuffle”. So here I am, coming off of two of my worst performances in the marathon and WHY DO I HAVE SUCH HOPE? Because each time I fail, I am challenged to improve the areas I am really bad at (on race day).
Here are some of my most classic finishes:
2013 Chicago Marathon – I was crushing it, I remember distinctly crossing the 18-mile mark and thinking how awesome it was that I was on BQ pace. What seemed like seconds later, right after the 23 mile sign you could find me sitting on the curb looking like I was fighting with an invisible alien, otherwise known as full body cramps. I finished that day in 3:44, the goal was 3:20.
2014 Portland Marathon – My goal this day was to simply PR and at that time it was 3:42. I ran with my good friend Devon who is very fast and she was pacing me. We were all good and well ahead of pace until I threw in a 10:39 at mile 24 and finished that day at 3:43.
2015 MO Cowbell Marathon (The PR race) – This race had all the makings of greatness. I cruised through the miles with little or no stress and as I hit mile 21 not one cramp or negative thought had dared entered my mind. As I approached mile 23, I had to double check to make sure somehow I hadn’t left the course and found quicksand to run through, because the pace had slowed and I was forced shuffle home. I was ecstatic to have broken 3:40 but discouraged with my late race performance. Goal was 3:30, my finish time 3:37:42 (current PR)
2016 MO Cowbell & Marine Corps Marathon – Both races started with such promise and slowly spiraled into sadness. In fact, at that The Marine Corps Marathon, I actually had to have a frank discussion with a Medic just to let me finish…which I did with my arms raised.
What can we take away from these examples? It is clear that I have a problem finishing marathons at my designed goal pace. It is even clearer, that I have serious fueling issues, as almost every race has included a point in which the power immediately goes out. When that power goes out, it is one of the worst feelings you can have as a runner, because there is no real way to get it back and you are often so close to your goal, it literally hurts your soul. The one thing that you read though, was that I finished each of those races, often against my own wanting to finish. I had serious discussions with myself with all the reasons of why I should just sit down and wallow in my self-pity, but it was other runners that encouraged me, pushing me to the finish line.
So what am I doing about it? This summer before starting my training for the last two marathons, I admitted to myself that I didn’t know what I was doing and went searching for help. I found it in a knowledgeable, at times snarky, but always supportive running coach. And all though the last two marathons were disasters by the clock, I was able to eliminate the things that I was doing right and feel confident in knowing that my fueling was the key. But now the challenge remains…………how do I fix it?
The running calculators that are accessible have simply not worked for a large “Clydesdale” like me. I apparently don’t process glucose and fat as effectively as I need to. In fact, there is very little information out there for runners that are on the larger size (I am 6’3” and 205lbs) that want to run sub 3:30’s. Sure there are those runners that are just naturally gifted – but I am not that guy. I need help with this fueling issue, I am going to keep trying until I crack the code and when I do, I am going to spread that information to the running world. There are many of us “Clydesdales” that want to run fast, but the calculators are not designed for us. Often the generic calorie calculators end with the range of 180lbs and up, that is very general for what is needed to effectively fuel for a race. When you finally find a calculator that includes over 200lbs and all it tells you that you are going to have to take in 10 gel packets during your race, you make a funny face and do it. But when it doesn’t work, you go back to the drawing board. Here I am, drawing up a new plan, looking to “crack the code” of my fueling. I am excited to be starting over for the 16th time.
Are you a runner that has “cracked the code” of your fueling? Whether you are a “Clydesdale” or not, I would love to hear how you figured it out. Send me an email with your story. firstname.lastname@example.org
It was an evening run with no headphones, I needed to concentrate. I looked at the path winding away from me and took a long slow breath before setting off. The air was muggy and heavy, but the sun was sinking slowly behind the trees, and cooling off of the evening had begun. I started down the path to do my warm up before tackling the scheduled 8x600meter speed-work. I did not have the luxury of a well-marked track to run on, so I marked the path with big rocks and branches, this marked where the interval ended and the joy of the recovery run began. I know that I could have glanced down at my Garmin to let me know when each part began and ended, but in the midst of speed-work, I cannot do math, I cannot figure out anything with decimals and a big rock that signifies STOP, works better than numbers….so BIG rocks and branches is what was used. I ran my warmup out and turned and ran back to my vehicle where I had a towel and water stashed ready to help me recover after each set of 2 intervals. (Out and back) I will post the splits below, but there was something I found funny, and although I was in pain, I could be seen laughing as I ran.
Like I stated before, I was doing and out and back, 600 meters is roughly .37 miles and my recovery was .25 miles which equals .62 miles. (I can do math now, I am sitting on an airplane writing this….and I have the calculator on my phone right next me) As I began my first interval out, I passed a young couple on bicycles, with little people strapped in seats behind them. They were barely moving, frankly I don’t know how they were staying upright and I blazed right passed them. I crushed that first interval, passed that big rock that said slow down and completed my recovery. I then turned around and started interval #2. There was a blind corner on this path and I was at a full gallop when I turned that corner. I used the skills of a ninja and Jell-O to miss the same family on the bikes. They had stopped to smell the flowers, or look at the sunset, or something, but what they almost received was me wrapped around the spokes. I gave a wave to the little kids, never missing a stride and continued to the pile of sticks that told me to slow down. I found my water, took a breath, and toed the line for intervals #3 & #4. Now dusk was setting in and sweat was in my eyes, but I was ready this time and when I saw the happy little family, I was ready. This time the kids must have wanted to change which parent they were riding with and this full scale procedure was happening right in front of me. I made a choice to go right and commit to it, just like Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder, I put the throttle down and trusted that everyone would clear by the time I got there, and they did. Yes, they cleared, but it involved me finding my inner hurdler. The interval was done, the rock said “slow down” and recovery was underway. By this time, I think they thought I was stalking them and they moved on to find other areas to explore, but my speed-work continued.
#5 and #6 were done without any major incidents, except for me getting lost in thought and almost missing the big rock, it was a BIG rock. I toweled the sweat from eyes and told myself that I had only one more set to do. I complain a lot about speed-work, I think about it during the day, I construct amazing excuses of why I should maybe just make it an easy run, or better yet, stay in the hotel room and watch TV. Then, just as clichéd as it sounds, I fight through the exhaustion and pain, I count down the miles till the light at the end of the tunnel changes from a train coming right at me, to the Finish Line that is welcoming me to cross it. This night was no different, and now I pounded down the path, intent on crushing these last two intervals. #7 was a total victory, I slowed at the rocks, hit my split time and felt strong. Taking a deep breath at the turn around, I cruised to the pace that was called for and rounded the blind turn and I WAS FLYING, when there next to the path, tail in the air, and from what I could gather in that millisecond, in a bad mood….SKUNK. Now, basically this is how this goes, if you look at the graph of my speed from this workout, there is no doubt you could find the exact moment that I passed Pepe’ Le Pew. I once was told that every runner has 6-8 seconds of acceleration in them, no matter their level of exhaustion. I used all 8 seconds, and Usain Bolt had nothing on me for that brief span of time.
Intervals were over, the cool down had been completed and I sat on the ground drinking my water and chocolate milk, all the while keeping an eye out for Pepe’. I sat there with a sense of satisfaction that only runners really understand. No one made me go out there and run. The Hanson Brothers were not sitting in Michigan, wondering if a guy named Reist was going to live up to his obligation he had written down on a piece of paper months ago. I was compelled to go a push myself, because I am runner. I find strength in my exhaustion, satisfaction in my accomplishments, and my level of determination rises with each run I finish. I am on a quest for an epic run, I will find that run when I bury the excuses and embrace the work. – Reist Mummau
Location – Murfreesboro, TN
Date – June 16, 2015
Warm Up – 1.51 miles 8:58 pace
Interval – 5.03 miles (400 meter recovery included)