ENDURrun Stage 7: The Marathon

The runner’s greatest asset, apart from essential fitness of body, is a cool and calculating brain allied to confidence and courage. – Franz Stampfl

Today’s stage is the last stage of the ENDURrun. The Marathon is a significantly difficult event in it’s own right, humbling even the most prepared athletes. To attempt to run a marathon in mid-August, after already running 118km in the previous 7 days seems foolhardy. Yet that is what I prepared to do. After running flats, hills, even larger hills, time trials, and ski hills, after beating my leg muscles to a pulp, the last event would prove to be the most grueling running distance of all (outside ultra marathons, of course, don’t want to offend the REAL crazies out there!)

To say I was nervous was an understatement. I was in FEAR of this stage. Not more than Chicopee, that one was scary. This stage is the only one of the 7 that I was familiar of, the distance at least. The course was also familiar in that it ran on part of the Waterloo Half Marathon route which I biked on as a sherpa in the spring. What was freaking me out was running on sore and tired… no… DEAD tired legs. Would they cramp up? Would I be able to finish? Would I have to walk it and come in over 6 hours later? Would my stomach hold up to all that Gatorade and gummi bears in this heat? Trying to qualify for Boston at this stage was totally out of the question. That was not the focus. In the back of my mind I’d thought about it but reality was that I was just too tired, and hadn’t done enough training for this event to start with, so to think I would pull off some “miracle” was silly. The marathon doesn’t do miracles.

The course laid out by the ENDURrun race director was two loops of 21.1km, starting and ending in RIM Park in Waterloo. This was the same place that the half marathon I ran exactly a week ago started, although the course was different. The benefit of the two loops was that spectators could see everyone come through twice, once at the half, and once at the finish. The downside is the mental part. Once you come through the finish line, you then have to do the exact same loop all over again. I found the loop aspect of this stage (and the other stages) to be difficult. As one runner put it, it’s just a half marathon… you just have to run it twice.

We arrived at the start line at 6:30am. The race was starting at 7:30am, due to the heat and length of the event. We did the usual pre-race routines of bathroom, minimal stretching, and chatting. Everyone was in a pretty good mood. Inside, though, I was very freaked out, very nervous. I’d gone for a little jog in the morning to go get the car from the parking lot, and found my legs to still be sore and achy. Great. No marathon PB today.

When the time came, we lined up, got our last minute instructions, and with a “Mark, Set, GO!” we were off and running. The first few kilometres are always tough for me; it seems to take me until 5km to get warmed up and into a comfortable pace. I wasn’t sure I’d ever hit anything remotely close to “comfort” today. It didn’t help that at the 2km mark there was a sign that said 120km, our total distance for the whole event so far. More mental games, I thought. Just relax and run nice and easy. I started off at a 5:00min/km pace, which quickly moved into a 4:30min/km. I was honestly surprised that I could do that, even for a little bit, on such tired wrecked legs.

My race strategy was basically to just run around the 5:00min/km pace, with stops at the water stations to walk for 1 minute. That meant that I was going to be running 15 minutes, before walking 1 minute. The normal 10-1 strategy went out the window; I’d been doing the water station walks all week, so I thought I’d try it out here as well. The temperatures at the start time were actually cool, albeit humid, and quite comfortable, which was surprising.

Up until about the 10th km, I was rocking and rolling at 4:45-5:00 pace. Steve, who I was trash-talking earlier about who was going to beat whom, was behind me somewhere. I totally expected him to catch me at some point, typically at the point where I burned out. He also has the prior experience of running the event the last two years, so he knows what to expect. But where was he? I looked back, and he wasn’t anywhere in sight. Here I was, running on this long stretch of incredibly hot asphalt, all by myself. I wished him well, and hoped he’d not had something happen, like an injury, or upset stomach, and kept plodding along.

At this point, things started to get difficult. My legs were just dying; they had no strength left in them. Any slight incline up was met with much resistance. It’s at this point that I started to walk some of the larger steeper inclines, and there were quite a few on the course. My pace dropped to around 5:15min/km, and my head started casting doubts on finishing, and other very negative thoughts. At one point, I found myself “turtling”; running so slow, and hunched over, that I was like a turtle retreating into its shell. I told my self: “SUCK IT UP, PRINCESS!” and started running again.

As I ran down the long stretches of road, I came across quite a bit of roadkill; raccoons, skunks, and even a snake. I wonder if the race director was trying to make a point about something…

The turtling continued through the rest of this loop. The heat was climbing; the sun was blazing, and it was HOT! I was drinking a cup of Gatorade and a cup of water at every water station (conveniently located every 3km). As I came through the finish line of the first loop, I saw Juli cheering me from the side lines! Talk about a sight for sore eyes! My friend Craig and his girlfriend Ivy was there as well, also cheering. Craig held up a sign which I briefly read; I think it said “Go Paul Go” or something like that, it was wicked! They high fived me as I ran by. I kept them in my mind for a good part of the second loop, so it’s good they were there.

The second loop was awful to start. I was tired, super-hot, and my legs were aching badly. I couldn’t imagine running ANOTHER 21.1km! I was barely able to run the 3km between each water station. I started walking any slight incline to give my legs a break, as well as going back to my 10-1 strategy, as well as walking the water stations. Doesn’t leave a whole lot of running in there, now does it? The volunteers at the stations were awesome, ever ready with water, Gatorade, and cold wet sponges. They also cheered me on by name, which was amazing.

This whole loop just got worse and worse, and slower and slower. I was barely making a 5:30min/km pace at this point, and walking almost more than running. Every forward step was pain in my quads and calves. It was all I could do to keep going forward. I walked almost every upward incline, as well as a few unscheduled points of the course. I was saying things like “Just get to the end of that curb, then walk for a bit” or “Just get to the 5th telephone pole” which reminded me of my first marathon. I felt like I was getting delirious with the heat and humidity.

After walking a good half to 34 of the loop, I finally saw the 40km mark! Up University Avenue I trudged, got a last shot of sugar at the last water station in the form of flat coke (hey, if the elites can do it, I sure as heck can as well!) and hunkered down to run the last 2km in. I made it about 1km, then walked for about 500m, to the driveway leading to the finish. As I rounded the corner and could see the finish line, I started crying, mostly with relief that this hell run was finally over. From somewhere, I managed to find enough energy to start sprinting into the finish. I broke the tape at 4:06, and was promptly assaulted by volunteers with spray bottles, sponges, Gatorade, and water bottles. The race director himself ran over and dumped 2 or 3 sponges worth of water down my back and over my head, in an attempt to cool me off. Everyone around was clapping and cheering for me that I’d finished. I was so relieved to be done, words cannot begin to describe it. Juli ran over and gave me a kiss (she didn’t want to touch me as I was soaking wet and very salty and sweaty), and we made our way to the food tent to get cleaned up, sit in the ice bucket, and eat some food. I was very happy with my time, considering all the factors involved (heat, exhaustion, leg muscles refusing to work anymore, etc.)

  • Total Distance: 42.2km
  • Total Time: 4:06:00 (unofficial)

Official results: http://results.runwaterloo.com/event/2009/endurrun/marathon/

Right now, I need some beer, and some sleep.