In January, running partner Kevin Krause decided to try and qualify for Boston at the Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City in the spring. I was working through an Achilles injury from our December trail marathon and being naturally slow to begin with, knew Boston was not in the cards for me. It is very likely that it never will be. So, I decided to conquer a state that Kevin had already done so we were one more marathon closer to being on the same schedule in our quest for 50 marathons in 50 states. This then became the Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tennessee which was also on my 45th birthday, April 28th.
I tentatively resumed regular running in January. Back with my regular running partners, regular routes and the whole routine. But after a couple weeks of that, the Achilles flared up again in mid-January. Up for the challenge, I joined the Anytime Fitness gym in Traverse City and committed myself to just the elliptical machine and treadmill running. The commitment was not hard to make as I also avoided outdoor winter weather at the same time! A new gym, Anytime Fitness is a small but quality facility sitting on a ridge above the city. It has large open windows facing to the east. This allows for great views and some awesome sunrises making for a great indoor workout.
I went as high as 17 miles on the treadmill. The elliptical machine was new but a great workout that is virtually stress-free to the Achilles. Gradually the Achilles improved. Although I could not honestly say it was 100% until just before the marathon, I was able to resume outdoor running in late February. I still mixed in some indoor work just to give the leg a break as I paid the $95 registration in March. Now, I had money involved and certainly wasn’t going to forfeit my entry fee!
For the first time, I mixed in some weight training into the marathon schedule. I had lifted weights years ago before I started running but hadn’t taken the time since running my first marathon in 2003. I had read an article on weight training and how it could complement a runner’s goals. I have to say that I really think it helped, especially in the days following the marathon. My post marathon recovery time in May would be the easiest of the 5 marathons I had run thus far.
With all the training preparation behind me, I hit the grocery store on Wednesday, April 25th. I spent about $30 on pop tarts, granola bars, oranges, bananas, apples, pasta salad, yogurt, crab meat and two bags of Gardetto’s snack mix. I tossed in some water, Gatorade, Snickers Marathon bars, bagels and peanut butter from the pantry at home to complete the food stock for the journey. Aside from soda, I would only purchase one meal and a post race large Frosty ice cream treat at Wendy’s. There was also a carbonated bottle of strawberry flavored water that I found under the seat in the car. It was a bit hot but it really helped to settle my stomach on the return trip home.
Packed and ready to go on Thursday, the trip became a solo event. Mary had planned on coming along but I didn’t think she really wanted to. We got in a bit of an argument on Wednesday evening over Collette’s activities (track, soccer and play practice) and how our oldest son, Zach, was going to get her from one place to the other each day. It was one of those times when my brain said, “shut up and let her do it her way” but my mouth started talking way too long. Thursday morning, Mary was in no mood to go and I assumed it was because she didn’t want to go in the first place. So, I wrote an apologetic note and left alone. She called me about an hour or so later. We worked it out over the phone but I didn’t turn around to go get her, mistake number two. With 1400 miles of driving ahead, it certainly was the wrong time for both of us to get bullheaded especially since I didn’t love driving that much to begin with. Nevertheless, I was headed south solo with just my big mouth for company.
The Thursday drive was in the rain off and on most of the day. I stopped for a lunch of crab meat and pasta about 40 miles north of Fort Wayne, Indiana. Following Mapquest directions religiously (but not well enough), I got in the wrong lane in Indianapolis and got off course briefly. Studying how to get back on track at a stop light, I bumped into a van being driven by an older Asian gentlemen. It was a very minor tap as I prepared to make a u-turn while traffic was going the other way. He stepped out of his vehicle but I had committed to the turn and did not want to have a conversation amidst rush hour traffic to begin with. So, I punched it and looked for him to follow me to the next on ramp but he did not follow. I was back on track albeit in bumper to bumper traffic. A short time later, I was up to full speed, feeling a bit guilty while checking my mirror for an enraged commuter. When I check my bumper later, I didn’t find any damage so I know I didn’t hurt his either.
A message board along the interstate in southern Indiana indicated long delays ahead due to an accident so I pulled over for the night in Jefferson, Indiana. The Motel 6 was almost like home as there were cats outside and cats inside a couple rooms as I walked by. The $40 price was right though. Supper was comprised of crab meat, one yogurt, an apple, a banana and one Gatorade.
I slept in a bit and after a breakfast of water, two yogurts, an apple, a banana and a marathon bar, I was on the road at 7:38 am. About 8 am, I was in the morning rush hour of Louisville, Kentucky ($%#&). This was a straight shot on Interstate 65 so I didn’t have to worry about what lane to be in. It was about 20 miles of semi “white knuckle” driving then I broke out into the beautiful rural hills of Kentucky. The grass was green and the spring leaves had sprung open. I crossed into Tennessee about 10:30 am and arrived at the race expo in the downtown area at the Nashville convention center at 11:15 am.
The registration process had not opened up yet so I took a short walk around downtown Nashville. I found a Quiznos and had a tuna sub, chips and a mountain dew. After a failed attempt to get a smoothie at a shop in the 5th Third Center that advertised smoothies but just didn’t sell them, I went back to the convention center. The registration process was very well organized and went as well as any race I had done.
The expo was full of people and had a large selection of vendors. I spent less than an hour looking at stuff and checking out a few races for the future. Having time to kill, I decided to take in a couple of the afternoon speakers.
First up was John “Penguin” Bingham who writes a monthly column in Runners World magazine. He talked about the course and how runners could make good time saving energy on the up hill portions and letting natural momentum carry them faster on the down hills. True to his reputation, he mixed humor into his “enjoy the day” message. He caused a stir of concern in me when he talked about how a runner’s urine should NOT be clear but should look like lemonade as urine should. He stated that clear urine indicates a lack of electrolytes which are vital to a good running performance. My urine had been clear for the last two days and I had been going quite often.
Next was the penguin’s wife whose name I did not get as I was preoccupied with how in the heck I could get my urine to change colors in less than 24 hours. She talked about competing in eco-challenge events as well as marathons. She stressed that one should not mix energy gels and sports drinks as the dual combination would likely cause an upset stomach. She stated that if you were going to use gel then stick with just water to drink. I wish I would have taken that advice but again was worried about the color of my urine.
I checked into my room at a Nashville Motel 6 ($48, another bargain!) close to the start line around 2:30 pm. With a chance of rain in the forecast, I walked a mile or so to a WalMart and got some garbage bags to use at the starting line in the morning. Supper consisted of crab meat, pasta salad, a banana, marathon bar, an orange and 16 ounces of Cytomax carb/protein powder drink. The remainder of the evening was spent planning for and thinking about the race in between some television. I had trouble sleeping and probably didn’t get more than 4 hours rest all night long.
As luck would have it, I would be sleeping well when the 5 am wake up call came. For breakfast, I had two small bagels with peanut butter, a banana and another protein/carb drink. I then drove to LP Field, home of the NFL Titans, to catch a bus to the start line across town at Vanderbilt University. After a free light massage on a table under the dark morning sky, I ate a marathon bar, apple and an orange plus drank a Gatorade while waiting about an hour before the start of the race. I got in the porta-potty line for one last look at the all important color of my urine. It was pretty clear (too late now).
At Nashville, they release the groups in waves of approximately 1,000 based on estimated times of finish. My estimate was more than 4 hours which put me in the 11th wave of 32. Of the some 30,000 runners, 4,800 were marathoners and the rest of the runners were doing the half marathon. Prior to the start of the first wave, the loudspeakers were blaring the Dixie Chicks tune “Ready to Run”. At 8 am, the elite runners were released. With the waves being one to two minutes apart, I headed out onto the course at about 8:20 am.
It was a beautiful day with temperatures in the 70s and low 80s. The course is a series of mostly small but continuous hills. While someday I hope to go under 4 hours at a marathon, I didn’t know if today would be it or not. The plan was to moderate on the uphill and let the “front porch” momentum catch me up on the downhill. Country music bands dotted the course every mile and were a great boost each time one was passed. So, other than the hills, conditions were ripe for a great day of running.
I wanted to run just over 9 minute miles for the first half of the race at least. Mile one seemed to be very slow as I fought through the starting throngs of congested runners. It would end up being an 8:36 mile but it truly felt so much slower. I concentrated on slowing down and actually walked through most of the water stops during the first half. It was working as I was under two hours at the halfway point of the race.
The course drink was Accelerade. I had used it in my 20 mile training runs as every marathon training guide will tell you to do. Staying with personal tradition, I was also taking a Carbboom gel every hour. This was against the advice of the expert at the expo but heck, I had always done it. Well, I also knew that I got a bit of an upset stomach every time as well. In hindsight, I would have to agree that this was a pretty stupid move. I had tweaked my pre-race food but never considered the combination used during the race. This was about to be my undoing.
Up to mile 16, I was close to my 9 minute per mile goal pace having never been over 9:26 as yet. Mile 17, I really needed to throw up and tried hard with no luck. I went over the 10 minute mark on this mile and would not be under it the rest of the way. I switched to water but no longer had the stomach to eat anything. Mile 21 through 23 would be the proverbial marathon “wall” for me this race. Mentally cooked and physically drained, I wanted my wife, mother, treadmill and a flight home all at once. Memories of my high school football coach screaming in my ear no longer had the same motivational effect. I had my longest mile of the day at 23 going over the 14 minute mark. I recovered a bit at 25 and clocked an 11:53 mile. I shuffled across the finish line with a time of 4 hours 27 minutes and 18 seconds on my watch.
I can’t say I was disappointed in the time as the course was far from flat and I had beaten my NYC marathon time by a couple minutes. However, I would say I was a dumb ass for not heeding the expert’s advice about mixing the energy drink with the energy gel. Too much sugar for the system crashed me right into the wall and all that was in my control but apparently not within the capacity of my brain!
There are a few highlights from the course that I will remember for awhile. While the crowds were a bit sparse, cowbells were in frequent use. The mantra for many runners was the phrase from a Will Ferrell Saturday Night Live musical skit during which he demands “a little more cowbell”. A spectator in a Virginia Tech t-shirt was receiving many high fives and words of encouragement as the race was just a short time after that disaster. My personal favorite was a lone man watching from a curb in a Brett Favre jersey within the shadows of Titan stadium. Then there was the feeling of total commitment at mile 11 when the half marathoners departed the marathon course. Those of us looking for mile 26.2 were separated and as alone as you can be in a group of almost 5,000 souls facing 2 plus hours or more of hill running.
Wrapped in the post-race tinfoil sheet, I shuffled to a table handing out free Spenco Insole plastic sandals. It hurt to bend over and take my shoes off but the sandals felt great on my feet. I sat down briefly and sipped on some water. I really wanted to eat something but nothing looked good. I was moving on to the car and happened by a table of Michelob Ultra in Dixie cup shot glasses. One tasted really good, so I sipped on another to the car.
At 1:30 pm, I poured myself into the car. I called Mary and my three running buddies to relay a short report of my day. No shower, no change of clothes, it was simply time to get back home and I was 700 miles away. I drove 80 miles sipping on that hot bottle of carbonated strawberry flavored water I had found under the seat. Spotting a Wendy’s, it didn’t take long to convince myself I deserved a treat. I pulled up, popped the trunk open, stripped off my shirt with race number still attached. Rummaging through my bag, I found a dry shirt and pair of shorts. Half dressed in the parking lot I slipped on the dry shirt hoping I hadn’t ruined anybody’s meal inside and slide the denim pants over my running shorts. Ice cream never tasted so good and will forever be part of my post race recovery as I felt great walking back to the car.
The return trip didn’t involve the frequent bathroom stops of just a day earlier so I made good time arriving in Columbus, Indiana at 5:40 pm some 253 miles later. My next stop would be at mile 411 for gas and more caffeinated soda. It would be dark just before I re-entered Michigan and my Mapquest route had me heading west to Grand Rapids and then north. For a time, I thought I was lost as I was a bit tired and had come down through Lansing on Thursday due to a stop on some personal business in Mount Pleasant. With a break for Mountain Dew and some studying of the map, I figured out where I had been and where I was going. The last 30 miles of the 700 were the very hardest because I was really tired, bloated on Mountain Dew and into the first hour of the next day.
I arrived home at 1 am on Sunday. By sheer coincidence or some sick form of premeditated torture, Andrew was having a bunch of boys sleep over for a late night video game extravaganza just has he was doing when I arrived home from my last marathon in Indiana. He had had exactly ZERO such parties in between but once again I was dead tired and having to fight the noise. But after a hot shower, it was just good to be home and back into the thick of my everyday life lying next to my best friend. I was in bed and marathon five was in the books.
Looking back, I always like to ask myself, “What did I learn this time?”
First and most important, when that little voice says “shut up” consider it an alarm that is going off for a reason, bite your tongue and take the advice.
Second, when someone who has ran multiple marathons and adventure races tells you what to mix or not mix, take the advice.
Third, when an expert says you can set a PR by going slow on the uphill and fast on the downhill, don’t take the advice as it’s just a pre-meditated, pre-race motivation ploy. My quads were the sorest part on my body the week after the marathon.
Fourth, run more downhills to strengthen the quads when preparing for a hilly marathon.
Fifth, weight training will help your running and recovery.
Sixth, take a Michelob Ultra to every marathon for a post race treat.
Seventh, Wendy’s is a must in the first 100 miles home!
Eighth, when driving 1400 miles over three days, never leave home without XM radio especially if it is baseball season and you are a dumb ass who can’t keep his mouth shut.
Tenth, use a good treadmill and elliptical for recovery from a lower leg injury. Only a dumb ass will try and run through an Achilles injury on the pavement.
Last, whenever you are running and someone takes the time to ring a cowbell, do your part and shout “A LITTLE MORE COWBELL”. It’s the best solo in Nashville that I know.
PS – For the number geeks like me
Cost of trip: Gas – $120
Hotels – $88
Race Registration – $95
Instant camera for in-race, on the run photos – $12
Expo parking – $8
Quiznos meal – $8
Mountain Dew on return trip – $5
Groceries – $30
Wendy’s Frosty – $3
Crossing the finish line after 26.2 miles at 45 years old —- worth it