2008 Dallas White Rock Marathon


My first marathon turned out to be a relative disaster. All of the elements that I did not want to occur came together creating the perfect storm. What began as a day of excitement and a race for time quickly turned into a journey of survival. Despite the challenges, I finished the race and completed my first marathon.

When I woke in the morning, I went to the kitchen to get some kind of fuel in me before the race. I ate a small Cliff bar that was given to me along with my registration packet. That went down pretty well. Next, I tried to have half of a graham cracker with some peanut butter. That did not go down very well. For whatever reason, I immediately began to feel slight nausea in my stomach. I was unable to finish half of a graham cracker - not a good sign. With that, I took a few swigs of water to clean myself out before heading on foot to the American Airlines Center in Victory Park.

It took 15-20 minutes for me to walk to the race start from my apartment. There was a lot of energy in Victory Park with more and more people piling in by the minute. I sat outside for a while going over my race plan and praying to God for strength and support. With the wind picking up, I decided to move into the American Airlines center to try and keep my muscles relatively warm. I think it actually may have been colder inside. With approximately 45 minutes before the start of the race, I headed outside to begin my warm-up. I jogged for about ten minutes and then stretched for fifteen minutes. At 7:40 AM, a pre-race worship service started which consisted of a pastor praying for all of the runners. I listened intently to that and appreciated the words he spoke. Then, at around 7:45 AM, we were all called to find our corrals in preparation for the race start. There were three corrals (A, B, C) which corresponded to projected finish times. My projections had me in corral A, the fastest of the three. Getting into the corral proved rather difficult. With 17,000 people trying to fit in the same narrow area at the same time, relative chaos ensued. I was pushed and shoved and ended up tripping on a curb as a result and hurting my knee - not the start I wanted. People were jammed all around and we had to stay that way for fifteen minutes waiting for the official race to begin. The national anthem was sung and two fighter jets flew over ahead. It was a powerful experience. Finally, slightly after 8:00 AM, it was time to begin the marathon. Below is the course map.
RUN: 26.2 miles

Going into the marathon, I was aiming for an average pace of 8:00 min./mile which would hav given me a finish time of just under 3:30. Judging by my ability a few weeks ago to run 20 miles at an average pace of 7:56 min./mile with an average heart rate in the 160's, this seemed like a very realistic projection. Unfortunately, things did not go as I had hoped.

Miles 1-10
The start of the race felt like pandemonium. It was impossible to start out running at my desired pace. Bodies were everywhere. It took great concentration to prevent tripping over legs and curbs. I would say it took about a mile and a half before I felt like I was able to begin to run at my own stride. The first ten miles felt great. My pace was a bit more aggressive than I expected. I told myself to slow it down. I told myself this is a marathon and not a sprint, literally. For some reason, I just could not summon my legs to slow. I was caught up in the excitement of the race and the movement of people around me. What was most alarming is that my heart rate was in the 180's. My mind flashed back to the 20 mile run I did before Thanksgiving at which I maintained a similar pace with a heart rate about 20 beats/minute lower. There was no way my body could hold a heart rate in the 180's for a full marathon. But I did not yield. I pressed onward.

Miles 10-13
Once I hit White Rock Lake after mile ten or so, I began to feel somewhat tired. It was the first instance during the course of the race that I began to notice any kind of fatigue in my body. That was when my pace began to drop a bit. Soon enough I found myself at mile 13, the halfway point. I crossed this marker slightly faster than I thought I would. At the same time, I thought to myself, "How on earth am I going to finish this race at this or any pace near it?" I was feeling lousy and I was only halfway there. Halfway in a marathon isn't that far along. Shortly after, I was passed my the 3:30 pace group. Before I ran the race, I had heard that there were pace groups you could tag on to, but I was unable to find mine amidst the chaos at the starting line. So there I was, just over half way through the marathon, being passed by pace group and hurting big time. Things did not get any better.

Miles 13-18
Miles 13 through 18 were run directly into an absolutely brutal headwind. Wind gusts were screeching at over 50mph. Out on the lake, there was no protection from the elements. The only benefit of the wind is that it kept my body slightly cooler. Temperatures today got up near 80 degrees (in the middle of December!). The wind punished my body. At times, it felt as though I was just going backwards. It took enormous amounts of energy to push through the wind. I would later find out that the winner of the marathon finished in over 2:22, a very slow time for a professional. The wind punished everyone today. It was in this stretch that my game plan changed. I had to slow my pace dramatically so that my heart rate could begin to descend. Additionally, I would stop to grab fluids (water and Gatorade) at each aid station. My mental goal became to just run to one more aid station, then to another and so on. I also began taking the orange and banana slices being passed out thinking they would provide my body with the fuel it needed. This would all come back to haunt me.

Miles 18-21
After mile 18, I left the lake and entered the hills. These came at a really inconvenient time. I had just finished grinding my way through the wind. My body was dying. My mind was searching for a reason to quit, but my spirit would not give it one. At around mile 20, I saw two of my friends who were there to cheer me on. It gave me a much needed burst, even if only for a moment. After I moved beyond them, my game plan shifted again. I was feeling incredibly nauseous. It seemed as if any second I was going to puke my guts out. I found myself switching back and forth between running to the next aid station and then walking for two minutes with water or Gatorade in hand. My hands were grabbing two to three cups of fluids at each station. Unlike any competition I had done previously, this time I was over-hydrated. I was taking on too many liquids. Between that and the jostling around of my inner organs from the long run, this was a recipe for disaster.

Miles 22-26.2
Miles 22 to the end were agonizing. My stomach was nauseous. My right knee was in excruciating pain. My left hamstring and buttocks were killing me. Both of my ankles had shooting pain. My right forefoot was aching. I had a terrible cramp behind my left shoulder. The end was so near yet so far away. I began to walk a lot more. In fact, I think I walked almost all of mile 25. By the time I reached the last mile, my spirit summoned all that was left of me to run to the end. In my mind, I thought back to my days as a rower in which a familiar coxswain call was "10 to the end." This meant give everything you have for just ten more strokes at which point you'd cross the finish line. Of course, the coxswain always called that command at least 20 strokes before the end to push us that much more. So for that last mile, that was what I thought about. "Give it 10 to the end, Michael - 10 to the end." I kept repeating that over and over in my mind. With the finish line in sight, I emptied the tank that was now running only on fumes. At past 4:14:28, I crossed the line making my average pace 9:43 min./mile - a far cry from 8:00 min./mile pace and the 3:30 overall I was aiming for.

Time: 04:14:32
Distance: 26.6 miles
Average Heart Rate: 171
Max Heart Rate: 194
Average Pace: 9:36 min/mile
Max Pace: 4:23 min/mile
Average Speed: 6.3 mph
Max Speed: 14.3 mph
Ascent: 580 feet
KCal: 3244
Average Temperature: 77 degrees

Run Curve
The chart below depicts the distribution of pace, heart rate, speed and altitude throughout the duration of my run:
Lap Times & Markers
The chart below depicts my max hear rate, average heart rate and pace for each mile throughout the duration of my run:
The chart below depicts how much time I spent in a given heart range:
Shortly after crossing the finish line I went into a Port-O-John and puked my guts out. It was entirely water and Gatorade. I felt at least somewhat better once I was able to get that out of me, but I have had to take the rest of the day to rest in bed. Everything hurts all over. I want to be smart about my recovery so that I can get back to my training by next weekend at a minimum with no lasting injuries. I owe so much thanks and appreciation to two of my friends who met me at the finish line, got me water and drove me home. My game plan originally was to walk back to my apartment. Given how I was feeling, I never would have made it.

The event over all was a great one. I think they could have done a better job getting runners into the corrals at the start. Crowd support was phenomenal. I was very appreciative for the their support. The biggest miss was the failure to have water and food immediately after the finish line for the runners. This was the first event I have done that did not have that. I was never even able to find the water. I had to rely on my friends to get it for me.

Where there is great challenge lies great opportunity. This is my main takeaway from this marathon. Despite the enormous amounts of physical and mental pain, I am not about to quit on this. I want to train smarter next time so that I am better equipped. There are going to be those days that my knees, ankles and feet just don't want to cooperate. Some things I cannot control, but those things I can I want to attack with not only passion but also intelligence. I want to train and race smarter. This marathon has given me a lot to think about. My plan is to spend the Christmas and New Year's holidays re-thinking my training plan and nutritional habits. I am excited about the opportunity ahead.

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