Sunday, October 26, 2008

MCM 2008 (Or, “Take That, Engberg”)

I just got done running the 2008 Marine Corps Marathon. My entry in this event was so full of drama, it belongs in a figure skating vignette.

The whole thing started a little over a year ago. I’d taken a fairly long break from running, and had hit the magic weight I’d set for myself that meant I had to start again. I’m a moderately serious runner, having done it since high school. At around the same time I was starting up, my neighbor Steve was talking about starting an exercise program. I convinced him to come out with me, despite the fact that he had never really run regularly before, and certainly not seriously. It was selfish, really: a running partner a few doors down is a precious resource.

Over the next few months, we slowly built up the mileage, doing first six miles, then seven, then longer and longer runs. With each one, Steve would exclaim at how he couldn’t believe he’d just run ten or twelve or whatever miles, and at how the slightly shorter one we’d done last week now seemed like an easy distance. Major credit to Steve: he stayed with it, even when we were running through the January sleet at 6AM.

Cut to six years earlier. I’d just finished running Grandma’s Marathon in a fairly reasonable time of 3:33. My oldest friend, Rob Engberg, had run the race as well, in a very respectable 3:48. I did the marathon “just to do one”, and was feeling beat up enough at the end of it to comment to Rob that I’d run one again if he beat my time. Rob is faster than me all other things being equal, but he is a self-admitted slacker, and I figured he’d never get motivated enough to train to the point where he could take down my time.

As these things do, this one sort of took on a life of its own. The years slid by and Rob ran a few more marathons but never repeated even his old time, let alone mine. And as also so often happens, the years erased the memory of pain and I started to contemplate doing another one. Plus, I figured it wasn’t fair for Rob at 40 to be chasing a time that I ran when I was about 30. So I told him we’d reset the clock every five years. And to make it interesting, we made it more of a bet: the loser has to post a picture of himself on his blog wearing a t-shirt of the winner’s design. In a public place. (Design suggestions welcome, BTW.)

So now that we’re both between 35 and 40, we’re into the second round. Rob ran a 4:07:03 this year, and that became my time to beat. So I convinced neighbor Steve to run the Marine Corps Marathon with me (and more importantly, to train for it with me). We signed up, and started an 18-week training program that culminated with the race today. That’s where the drama comes in.

Steve and I were running well. We had a good program and we followed it faithfully. After working out a few kinks (hint: over about 13 miles, you need to eat during a run), we were even blasting through our long runs in excellent form. Then came the 18-miler.

Running the 18 miles itself was fine. We ran on Sunday morning, and I didn’t even need to take a nap like I did after some of the previous long runs. When I saw Steve across the courtyard the next day, we traded a round of, “How you feeling? Great!” Then that evening I sat down next to my daughter to read her a story, and when I got up five minutes later, I felt like someone had shoved a stack of coins under the ball of my left foot. It happened that suddenly. I immediately went online and ordered new shoes, which I’d been meaning to do anyway, and went to bed. The next day, it was just as bad if not worse, and there was some bruising on my foot. I took Tuesday off of running, but came back at it Wednesday.

And the same damn thing happened – I was fine after the run, and the next day, it suddenly started hurting again. Only this time it didn’t get better.

To make a long story slightly shorter, I wound up having to take about eight weeks off of running. Several (rather expensive) visits to the doctor later, we had a tentative diagnosis of metatarsal capsulitis, which is Latin for “you hurt your foot”. I hit the stationary bike faithfully five times a week for an hour or two at a time, trying to keep up with my running. But as the weeks rolled by and I still couldn’t walk in regular shoes without limping, my hopes for competing dwindled. Meanwhile, Steve was plowing through the training by himself, including three runs of 20 miles or longer.

Finally, finally, my foot started to feel better. Just in time, too: I was able to resume my training with about a month to go before the race. If it had taken any longer, I probably would have given up, as running 26.2 miles takes a certain amount of preparation. I was doubly glad of the timing, because I got better just in time to compete in the Army Ten-Miler, which Steve and I had signed up for as a sort of warm-up race/workout. In fact, it was going to be our first longish run together.

More drama. As I walked out to meet up with Steve at 6AM on race morning, he told me that he couldn’t compete. The reason? “Dude, it feels like someone shoved a stack of coins under the ball of my foot.” Injury! Maybe even the same one!

So now, as it were, the shoe was on the other foot. I was left training by myself, and Steve was left wondering if he was going to recover in time for the marathon. It sucks, by the way, to not know. Both of us experienced the thought that if someone could just tell us we couldn’t run, that would have been better than just not knowing one way or the other.

Fortunately, race day saw us both ready to run. Unfortunately, a major miscommunication before the start meant that we never linked up during the race. So after all that, we both wound up running separately! But even that may have been for the best, as Steve ran with another neighbor of ours, and I was able to run a bit faster than I might have if I’d run with him, important because the only reason I was running the race was to screw over by buddy Rob.

The race itself sort of sucked. The weather was perfect, and it’s cool that the marathon winds through the various monuments in Washington DC, but I have to say that the course was completely inadequate to the number of people running on it. I’m not sure who thought it was a good idea to route 30,000 runners down two-lane roads, but I spent the first ten miles dodging around and between other runners, or getting pissed at being boxed in for the fiftieth time. Fortunately, it opened up after about ten and I was able to run a bit faster, but for the first hour and a half, I was sure I wasn’t even going to beat Rob’s 4:07, let alone run the sub-4:00 marathon I wanted to. The Marine Corps Marathon gets a C-minus – definitely not recommended.

So after all that, what was my time? Three hours, fifty minutes, eight seconds (a pace of 8:47 per mile). Rob, who lives in New Zealand, is running his marathon in about two weeks. It sounds like he’s actually be training for this one, but that time is only two minutes short of his best ever, which he ran when we were barely 30, not nearly 40. So it should be interesting. Me? I’m hoping he runs a 3:50:09. Because it would add to the drama. :)


  1. Well done! Whatever the drama and the conditions, that's still a great time!

    My race is actually this coming weekend (2 Nov 2008). I'm also running with a friend who's doing a first marathon. He's been training hard, so I think we'll be able to run sub 3:50 pace together.

    I think I'll be writing splits for 3:45 down my arm, and motivating myself with thoughts of T-Shirt designs on those last few kilometers. ;-)

  2. I used one of these:

    Other than the fact that I ordered and was charged for three and they only sent me one, it worked really well.

  3. It’s the end of the year, and although I skipped 2007, it is my habit to take a look back here on matters