Marathon: The Aftermath

Posted: April 24, 2013 in Marathoning, Texas

The starting line.

The starting line.

As my ol’ pal G-Dub once said, “Mission Accomplished.”  I did it.  The unthinkable.  I finished a marathon.  A part of the reason this feat is so remarkable is simple: you are talking about me, of all people, running 26.2 miles.  The second reason this feat is so remarkable, however, is a little more complicated.

When I made the public announcement of my intentions back on February 24th, I was giving myself just eight weeks to be ready for a 26.2 mile race; crazy, but not out of reach.  I had been doing regular Army physical fitness training (“PT,” for short) five days a week for nearly two-and-a-half years up to that point.  Granted, PT is only one hour a day and pales in comparison to a marathon but I was not quite a Day 1 “Biggest Loser” contestant, either.

On top of the already condensed training schedule, the last distance-run I actually completed using Nike+, at the time of race day (April 21st), came on April 2nd, when I had to stop at 4.83 miles of a planned 18 because the pain in my knees was far too excruciating to continue.  I refrained from running anymore after that to allow my knees time to heel to be able to pass my Army Physical Fitness Tests (APFT) on April 11th and 16th, both of which required a 2-mile run.  When the race finally arrived I had not ran farther than two miles in the previous 19 days.   In fact, I actually only completed 10 total “training runs” prior to the marathon, outside of required PT, and my longest run was just 14 miles, 12.2 short of what I would ultimately have to travel.

Now if it sounds like I am bragging, I am not…really.  I am mainly trying to paint a picture of the level of uncertainty I had in me being able to go the distance when race day came around.  Where it may sound like I am bragging stems from the fact that I had very little confidence in my ability on the day of the race, let alone to come in with the time that I did and do so with such little training and seemingly many complications.  Simply, it is one of the few times I can actually say I am proud of something I accomplished.

I officially crossed the finish line at 4:39:47, which was a slow but respectable time.  If you had asked me what my goal was prior to I would have told you two things: finish and not die.  Realistically, though, in the back of my mind I thought I could finish if my knees held up and IF they did, I really wanted to break the 4:30:00 mark.  Coming in at 9 minutes, 47 seconds shy of that was oddly bittersweet.  I was thrilled to survive and come in well under five hours but I surpassed my expectations and actually had a shot at 4:30:00 then fell just short, which was somewhat frustrating.  Better luck next time, right? I guess that is how they keep you coming back for more, which is exactly what I intend to do.  The atmosphere was both positive and infectious.  You heard nothing but words of encouragement before and during the race and nothing but congratulatory greetings after, all from perfect strangers.

Throughout the race my strategy was simple: take what my legs would give me.  I wanted to run the entire distance and only stop at the water stations but not advance forward in any way while I was stopped, both of which I accomplished.  I typically slowed down when there were not any spectators around and sped up when there were people lining the streets or crowding the water stations simply because the adrenaline spike from all of the cheers helped me pick up the pace.  Plus, I could not appear to be struggling when there were potential ladies in the crowd who did not yet know they were big fans of this American hero.

The Finish Line.

The Finish Line. (The crowd was MUCH bigger up until about the 5:00:00-5:15:00 mark, I was just late getting back to cheer.)

Of course, as I crossed the finish line and collected my medal I did my best Barry Sanders impression and dodged all of the fruit and electrolytes laid out for us and went straight for the beer garden. How else is a Mowery supposed to celebrate a marathon?  Like I said that day, I was not drinking…I was carbo-loading.

What was my official time?  Miller Time

What was my official time? Miller Time.

There was definitely a party-like atmosphere at the finish line and it certainly felt good to celebrate.  There was a live band and a number of vendors set up and it was fun cheering on the rest of the finishers once I had my legs and my wits about me again.

While the festivities and the spectacle surrounding the race were motivating, all the motivation I needed came way back when I signed up — I just did not say much about it to many.  The marathon’s theme was “We Run With Heroes” and when I signed up I was given the opportunity to enter the name of someone who was in the military, past or present, that I wanted to run in honor of or in memory of and their name would appear on “The Wall of Heroes.”  The choice was simple:  I was going to run in honor of my grandfather, one of my personal heroes.

An excerpt compiled from: Remembering Our Heroes (Click for larger view.)

An excerpt compiled from: Remembering Our Heroes (Click for larger view.)

My maternal grandfather retired USAF TSgt James Tucker, otherwise known as Papaw to many a family member and neighborhood kid, is definitely very near and dear to me.  He is one of the biggest reasons I joined the military and he is one of the biggest reasons I attended the University of Kentucky and was a Wildcat fan long before college came around.  I was more than thrilled to run in honor of him and it was really the only motivation I needed.  (He is also the reason my middle name is James.)

Alas, I had a lot more fun than I thought I would and felt better physically throughout, so much so that I really hope to run another marathon sometime and will certainly run a few more shorter races in the meantime.  Since the race, I have been dealing with some moderate leg, foot, and ankle pain but just general soreness and all well worth it.

I will leave you with a few observations and lessons learned from my first of hopefully many marathons:

  • I am horrible at stretching. — I really need to improve on this and maybe I would not be so damn sore today.  I have a good excuse, though, as it was like 48 degrees at the starting line before the race and that is far too cold to do anything but huddle in a corner and wait.  Most know my disdain for cold weather.
  • Pee before the race. — I had to pee by the 1-mile mark.  Do you know how embarrassing it is to have to pull up after one mile?
  • Stop at every water station. — The Army constantly tells you to hydrate early and often, if you wait until you are thirsty it is too late.  So what do I do?  Blow by the first 2-3 water stations with a stone-cold look of indignation for the mere mortals needing to stop for water.  By the fifth mile I probably would have drank toilet water.
  • Electrolyte gels are disgusting. — Seriously, who comes up with these recipes?  I will take my chances surviving a race on just water and Gatorade.  Call me old school.
  • Pack deodorant in my post-race backpack. — I smelled like ass.  I really apologize for the choice of verbiage but there is really no other way to describe the situation at the finish line and properly do it justice.
  • Stay away from the Little Ceasar’s pizza. — I cashed two 16-ounce Miller Lites after the race in equally respectable time and felt fine.  Halfway through a slice of Little Ceasar’s pepperoni and I had the worst case of Italian-flavored heartburn of all time.  Once again, beer wins.

Finally, the biggest observation or lesson learned is to simply just have fun.  It is a positive experience of pushing your body to the limits and accomplishing something great all in the name of personal fitness, so enjoy it!  I may not have had a blistering time, after all “Mowery” is not a Kenyan surname that I am aware of, but at the end of the day I will forever and always be a “Marathoner.”

And nobody can take that away from me.

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