Well, it's over. Unfortunately, not a happy ending. I started the Charleston Marathon, and I looked great through 13 miles, good through 16, not too bad through 19, and by 20 knew that my hopes of a decent time were long gone. I ended with a DNF (Did Not Finish), which I am not sure if I have ever done in a race before. To be honest, I am still not 100% sure how I feel about that. I definitely could have walked/shuffled the last 6 miles and finished the race, but I gave up.
That sounds really bad. But it's not like I bailed out as soon as it became obvious that my hoped-for time of 3:59 was going to be 4:01. I was physically toast, and it was going to be upwards of 4:20 before I limped in. Had I never completed a marathon before, or even if I could have salvaged a 4:11 and claimed an "age adjusted" sub-4, I would have soldiered on. But I already have a marathon finish. Indeed, I already have a marathon failure. Looking at another 70+ minutes of agony to produce an identical twin of my previous disaster was just more than I was willing to do.
When I raced the USMC marathon in 1996, I was 27, but I really did not train adequately. I thought I had this time. However, in every training run over 16 miles, I suffered. Even when I completed training runs of 19 and 20 miles at a good average time, that average ALWAYS was including everything past 16 being a death march. I told myself that this was probably a nutrition issue; I never took in enough calories or fluids while training. But on race day, with Gatorade every 2 miles and carbohydrate gels every 5, I thought it would be better.
In the end, it wasn't. At least I was consistent. I can honestly say I have had the exact same outcome of every run over 16 miles in my life. The weather was perfect, my pacing was good, I took in fluids and gel at every stop, without even breaking stride. Yet I crashed anyway. People talk about hitting the wall in marathon running, and pushing through it. Somehow, I never have been able to. I don't know if what I feel at mile 17 is the same as everybody else and I am just mentally weaker, or if physically I crash worse than the next guy. That's the thing that hurts worst of all.
Several folks have asked two good questions: "Do you think your time goal was too ambitious? Will you try another one?" Those two are related. Regarding the first, maybe. Had I run my goal pace, I would have been top-20 in my age group (out of 72 finishers). Maybe that's a little over my head. I feel very confident that if I "ran" slower, took walk breaks, and set out to just finish, I could do so. But like I said earlier, I already knew that I could do that. I finished in 1996. But I wanted to see if I could run under 4 hours. Apparently, the answer to that is no. And that being the case, I currently am not at all interested in doing this sort of training again to chase a lower goal than that.
That may sound pretty defeatist. But I really did not/do not enjoy marathon-style training. I think after this race, it's safe to say that my body is cut out for something else. I am in great shape; my resting pulse rate was 49 this morning. I can run 5k, 10k, and even half-marathon races and enjoy them more than this. So, for now, I am done with the marathon. However, several years ago, I took about three years totally off from racing after being disgusted that my aging body could no longer cash the checks my brain wrote. Eventually, I mellowed, and have come back with a different attitude. I won't rule out the possibility that I may one day find a way to toe the line in a marathon and take pride in just finishing. But not yet. And not soon.
I will carve out one little exception to my "no more long stuff" resolution. I will continue to crew for my brother-in-law, Adam, as he runs ultramarathons. I actually am beginning to understand better why he enjoys them, and although I don't care to actually run them like he does, I don't mind putting in 30-40 non-consecutive miles in a weekend if it's part of one of those.
Thanks to everyone who has wished me well throughout this 5 month process. I do wish it had ended more successfully, but I am very, very glad it's over.