I made a solid return to marathon yesterday. Last time I ran a marathon was December of 2008. I remember limping in the last 5 miles and feeling terrible after the race. My brother had to help me to the car and back to the hotel room. I could barely walk for 4 days after and my IT band still bothers me to this day. Yesterday's race was much of the same but it felt a little sweeter.
I managed to run over 10 minutes faster than I did 15 months ago. I can attribute it to consistent training, running up and down mountains at high elevation, and more experience with running longer distances.
I questioned even running this race because my right knee was bothering me. I planned on hanging with the leaders for the first half and keeping an eye on the knee. I did exactly that. The first place guy set a solid pace, 5:40's, so I tucked in about 100 meters behind him. To be honest, I felt the pace was a bit hot and I didn't think I could maintain it.
My knee had noticeable discomfort through miles 7 or 8 at which point I seriously contemplated stopping or at least backing off the pace. I had been overstriding with my legs trying to make up the ground between myself and 1st place. I wasn't focusing on my body but instead on him. I was constantly questioning my ability to beat him and monitoring his stride for any signs of weakness. The beautiful thing about the marathon is that you can make adjustments on the go. I made a mental effort at this point to shorten and quicken my stride with the hopes of reducing the stress on my knee. It worked.
By halfway point, I caught the leader and any thought of knee pain was thrown out the window. I was just competing. I just wanted to blow the doors off the second half and run as fast I could.
We ran together through 19 miles where I created seperation on a long uphill. At this point, we had joined the half marathoners and would share the course with them for the rest of the race. They were an enthuiastic bunch who pretty much cheered for me the entire way to the finish.
At mile 20, I made an effort to push the pace and get away because I surely didn't want it to come down to a final sprint. I ran a mile 20 to 21 in 5:16 and literally never looked back. By mile 23, I was feeling it bad but still managed to run in the 5:30-5:40's range for the final 3 miles. As I turned the 90 degree corner at mile 26, I looked up to see the entire course lined with spectators. I think I slowed down noticably as I pumped my fist and raised my hands in the air. I was as excited as one could be after running a hard 26 miles. It was an awesome experience, one that I will never forget.
To put it all together on race day feels awesome and justifies the hours of time I spend pursuing this silly and seemingly meaningless pastime.