It seemed too sudden. I'd just run the LA marathon seven weeks ago, yet here I was awaiting the start of another marathon. It was a little after 5 a.m. on May 6 and I was all set for the OC Marathon. Physically, I was set. Mentally, I was staring down the barrel of a loaded gun.
This is the OC Death March.
Scheduled to start at 5:30 a.m., we were delayed briefly but all that did was give me a few more minutes to try and re-group mentally. I knew what was before me. I had prepared for this as much as possible, having run 20 miles by myself not three weeks prior. Ultimately, I'd put faith in my plan and decided to follow it closely. My plan: run a 10:30ish pace for the first 4-5 miles, gradually pick it up and finish strong. Would that translate into a PR?
PR? Heck, I just don't want a PW!
I'd settled for a goal of a sub-4:30, a respectable finish within sight of my PR of 4:23:12 set in LA.
Delay was over, and off we went. I wasn't dreading the race at this point. I was all smiles now. This was, after all, something I could do. I never doubted myself in that I would finish. I felt deep down inside that I would finish. I was convinced of it. This marathon, I'd also decided thenight before, would be run in honor of a friend, Tasha, who has been hospitalized for nearly two weeks now for a mysterious ailment that threatened her life. She is a fellow Loper and we'd each just run LA not too long ago, and I wanted to draw inspiration from her battle.
That whole situation helped me gain some perspective. Shooting for a PR was not important to me this time around, and that seemed to help settle me once the race was finally underway.
I started slow and, outside of running for a solid mile at a sub-10 pace thanks to my friend and speedster Dean, I kept the pace there for the early stages. The course took us near the beach and my slow pace meant I could enjoy the scenery more and would be able to soak up the atmosphere.
Around Mile 3, I felt the urge to use the bathroom. Now, stopping for a bathroom break was something I'd never done before, not in any of my other five marathons or any of my eight half marathons. For a few moments, I contemplated pushing through it. However, I'd felt discomfort at the end of LA and I knew it was because I'd not used the bathroom when I'd needed to then, around Mile 22.
Now, I had no choice.
Shortly after crossing the Mile 4 marker, I spotted porta-potties and in line I got. About two minutes later, I was walking out of the porta-potty and felt much better. Once out on the course, I felt that I'd been destined to take that break, just to ensure that I would have been on track with my goal. Up ahead I saw who I thought were the 4:30 pacers so I figured that my plan was working. I got closer though and realized that they were the 4:40 pacers. Here I was, close to five miles and I was on pace for a 4:40 finish.
That's not necessarily a bad thing - my first marathon was 4:42:26. But I knew that I could challenge for a sub-4:30 and it was a bit of a sting. However, this was indeed part of my plan. Starting slow meant keeping such a pace early on and increasing it. All I needed was to figure out when to increase the pace.
Now's the time.
I asked for more from my legs and they gave me more. I did not want to sprint or anything but I was running at a faster clip here. It took me a mile or so but I got comfortable and settled into a good rhythm.
And there's the 4:30 pacers.
The skies were cloudy and hid the sun well, and I wasn't about to complain. I had opted for a sleeveless shirt despite the overcast mid-60s forecast. Not once did I regret my decision. It wasn't cold at all. The air was still, not cool and not warm, all in all ideal conditions for me to run.
We'd gone away from the beach and were headed through some scenic neighborhoods, with enthusiastic and energetic supporters along the course. We'd also been met by the half marathoners, at least the fast ones. A few at first raced by and then a trickle followed. Eventually, there was a steady stream of fast runners whizzing by me. I saw the 1:30, 1:40 and 1:45 pace groups.
That's the only way you'll get ahead of them, with a head start.
I'd taken GU at Mile 4 (just after the bathroom break) and Mile 9, each time giving myself ample enough notice and gave myself something to look forward to. The next big thing was music. I'd tried to hold off on my music until the course split off and left us marathoners to fend for ourselves. But at Mile 11, I decided to throw on some tunes. One mile later, the half marathoners went off to finish their own 13.1 quest.
And then things got boring. Industrial properties greeted us with the same verocity as a yawn. Crowd support had thinned out too.
Glad I got my tunes.
The only thing that hadn't changed was my pace. I'd kept it hovering around a 10-minute pace. While I wasn't glued staring at my Garmin, when I looked it was usually in the low 10s or the high 9s. This was good. I felt in a rhythm, felt solid at that pace and felt strong.
At the halfway mark I was at 2:14:43. I knew my goal time was within reach, but I also felt that I could go either way. I could stay strong, finish strong and get way under 4:30 or I could fade and be well over 4:30.
I kept my nose the grindstone.
The course eventually got better an livelier. I ran past and around the Segerstrom Performing Arts Center (one of the most prominent theaters in the county), through Segerstrom High School (which had a wealth of supporters cheering on the runners) and past the South Coast Plaza (a prominent mall in the area). The neighborhoods we ran past were also out in force, cheering us on, hadning out water and oranges and other goodies to runners.
The mile markers were flying by. Mile 15 came and went, Mile 19 was suddenly before me, I reached up and slapped the Mile 20 marker, I was excited at Mile 22 and celebrated the occasion by taking my fifth GU, an island-flavored Roctane that was rather quenching. Then at Mile 23... at Mile 23...
Damn, we've got to be close to Mile 23 by now.
I glanced down at my Garmin. It read 23.14. So I'd missed a mile marker. That's fine. I felt no worse because of it. In fact, it invigorated me. I knew I had only three miles remaining and I felt like I had energy to burn. I had a bounce in my step, had a kick inside of me and knew I was going to reach my goal.
More importantly, I was together mentally. I did not feel like I had an eternity to complete, did not come to a sudden stop for no reason, did not second-guess my decision to run the race. On the contrary, I was beaming.
To see just how strong I was doing, all I had to do was to look at others around me. Some were walking, others were running slow and taking forced steps and shuffling ahead in the process. I passed up runners whom I'd seen very early on and then had gotten ahead of me. Very few runners passed me at this stage. Others were gassed while I was stepping on my gas.
Here we go. This is living!
At Mile 25, my song came on. Orion by Metallica is hands down my favorite running song and here it was now, streaming through my headphones, fueling my late surge. A wide smile eclipsed my face.
Mile 25 of a marathon, I feel strong and Orion is playing? Can life get any better?
I'd been strong which also meant I'd stayed composed. Often during marathons tears have welled in my eyes and my throat was gotten tight. This time, I was strong and happy, but the tears caught up to me at Mile 26. I'd seen the last mile marker, had seen the finish line around the corner and it hit me.
You're about finish your sixth marathon!!!
I wanted to scream with all of my lungs that I was about to finish a marathon once more, but simultaneously I felt like collapsing in a bed of tears. My face contorted by smiles and tears but my legs kept pushing. I saw the finish line and joy had won out. I'd finished my sixth marathon in 4:27:54, more than two minutes under my goal.
As I crossed the finish line, I was happy, ecstatic, thrilled, pumped, jazzed, excited and downright overjoyed at what I had done. I pumped my fist in the air, shouted "Yes!!" to no one in particular and collected my medal.
You nailed it!