Thursday, September 20, 2012

Air Force Marathon: THE RACE

Alright, so this is going to be a long post with lots of pictures. Consider yourself warned.

And if you missed part 1, you can check that out here.

I fell asleep pretty easily, and only woke up a couple times during the night, but it was still way too early when my alarm went off at 5. As quietly as I could (so that Jen and B could get as much sleep as possible), I got up and started getting ready.

Aside from being tired, I felt good. I think the anxiety had finally worn off -- it was now time to get to work.

Laying everything out the night before was such a good idea! I was able to get ready in the dark without much trouble.

Our goal was to leave around 5:45am since they recommended that everyone arrive 1.5 to 2 hours prior to the start of the race to get through security and everything. We made it out the door right on time.

(Look at that beautiful screenshot... I LOVE my Galaxy S3!) 

On the drive in, we really didn't hit much traffic considering how there were 15,000+ people all going to the same place. The organization was everything I expected it to be.

And since we got there really early, we stayed in the car for a while to keep warm before heading to the start line.

It. was. cold!

If only I knew back over the summer that it would be less than 50 degrees outside at the start of the race, I definitely wouldn't have been so adamant about "preparing my body" for the heat and humidity!

When we finally decided it was time, we had about a mile walk to the start. Although it was cold, it was nice to get an opportunity to warm up and stretch my legs a bit. And nothing beats a beautiful sunrise.

On the way in I grabbed a few quick pictures of the finish chute; it was lined with various planes. Definitely one of the coolest ways to finish a race!

It's somewhat difficult to make out, but that's the finish banner right in the center of the picture:

Here we are just before the marathoners and 10K-ers took off at 7:30am. Mom was doing the half, so she had another hour to kill before they started at 8:30am.

I gave B my fancy new shirt since he was cold.

And of course, my beautiful wife and motivation:

Just before the gun went off, the featured plane this year -- the B2 Spirit Stealth Bomber -- did a flyover.

It was insanely cool, and a big part of why I chose to do this race, but it was almost too tranquil for what was about to happen. It was flying so stealthily that it barely made any noise, and it was flying so slow it really seemed to just be hanging there.

Here's the video I took of it:

I think if I could have had it my way, I'd rather have a plane come ripping by at mach-whatever with afterburners on and really get the crowd pumped up!

Oh well, it was still awesome. After the B2 disappeared a cannon went off and we were gone.

I knew from looking at the map and the posted elevation chart that there was a pretty nasty hill from pretty much the start of the race until mile 2.

So I knew it was especially important for me to hold myself back in the beginning.

My plan was to start around a 9:30/mile pace and gradually build my way up to an 8:30/mile or higher pace. I needed to average under 9 minutes per mile to hit my 4 hour goal, but I wanted to negative split it -- mostly just to make sure I didn't burn myself out too early.

Hills, like the one you can kinda see in the distance in the next pic, were okay to walk if needed.

I was also planning on walking through each water stop. That was something I did during the mini this year where I had my best race ever.

The first couple of miles were absolutely perfect. There were some hills, but nothing bad. Jennifer was yelling at me because I was tweeting and taking pictures, but I was doing it to slow myself down -- and it worked perfectly. Here are my first three splits:

I really sped up during mile 3, probably because I was catching the downhills and I knew the worst of the hills were behind me. But I reminded myself to slow down and ran the next few miles right on pace:

I wasn't walking the water stops like I had planned, though -- mostly because of how good I felt, but also because I had my handheld water bottle with me and didn't need to stop. I wasn't too concerned about it since I was keeping my pace under control.

As I headed into Fairborn around mile 9, I passed by Jennifer and B. They were able to catch a bus at the start line right after the race started which worked out really well.

You can tell how good I felt, too -- just look at that smile!

They made me some really awesome signs that they kept secret, too!

I ran over and grabbed a quick kiss and hug before continuing on my way.

You can tell I was showing off for Jen by the little dip in my splits:

As we left Fairborn we crossed back over into the base. This was going to be the toughest part of the race. The road we were running on was really flat, which was nice, but there wasn't much to look at. And it would be like that for about the next 10 miles.

It really worried Jen, too -- she wouldn't see me again until the finish. For the next 16 miles or so, she was just stuck waiting.

Zig-zagging down the road leading into the base, I noticed my ankles were getting a little tight. I don't think I've ever had trouble with my ankles while running, so I shrugged it off, thinking it was just from my lack of training over the last few weeks.

Before I hit mile 12, though, my left knee started hurting, and a couple times it felt like it was going to give out.


I recognized the area that was hurting as my Patella tendon -- I've had trouble with it on both sides over the last couple years, and I know it only gets worse as you go.


I know I didn't stick to my training program as well as I should have, and I didn't cross-train at all, but I did TWO 20 mile runs with NO TROUBLE not that long ago.

I was frustrated.

I tried walking it out to see if I could shake it, but as soon as I would start to run again, it came right back. The feeling of it about to give out is what scared me the most -- it was way too early in the race to tear a ligament or tendon or whatever.

Maybe it's good I've had trouble with it in the past, otherwise I wouldn't have known about this little gem:

This thing is amazing. It can literally make the difference between finishing a race and not.

The only problem was I left mine back home since I haven't needed it at all this year.

So I started looking around for something that would do the same thing. I thought about tearing the sleeve off a shirt somebody tossed, but I think those get donated to charity, so I decided not to.

Then I looked at my handheld water bottle. It had a strap on the outside that allows you to cinch it tight around your hand, and the opening seemed like it would be big enough, so I decided to try it...

It wasn't great, but it was better than nothing.

Jen convinced me to stop by medical to see if they had anything, so I did at the next water stop. They set me up with an ace bandage that worked out much better than my bottle holder.

Although I still couldn't really run.

I was trying to keep up a good pace while still taking it easy on my knee, since I was only about halfway done with the race, but I found myself having to walk a lot.

Just look at how my pace changed:

 (I'm not sure what happened to my Garmin, but I don't have the pace data from the start of the race until close to 8 miles in.)

At mile 16 I knew I wouldn't hit my goal. My knee wouldn't let up, and there was just way too much time to make up at that point. Jen was rallying support for me, which was awesome, so I tweeted back:

I was bummed, and frustrated, and hurting, but I went into this thing knowing I wouldn't quit until I was a marathoner.

And since it was my first, and my only real goal was to finish, I was still in pretty good spirits. I was just happy to be out there. I didn't care if I had to walk the rest of the way -- I was going to finish.

The back side of the base was the toughest part, just like I thought it would be. It was just so flat, there wasn't much to look at, and the road really seemed to go on forever.

It was somewhat reassuring to see others hurting, too. I was definitely out there running my own race, but it was helpful to find others who seemed to be in a similar state.

I tried to distract myself by keeping up with certain people. When they would start running again, or when they would get too far ahead, I would run again to make sure I stayed up there with them.

It was definitely more of a mental battle since I was hurting. If I could have ran more, the miles would have gone by faster. I might have even been able to keep up with a pace team.

But since I was walking, the miles were much further apart.

Looking back, it's all kind of a blur now.

During the race, these miles were pretty horrible. It was hot. I was sure I had huge blisters on my feet. I was sure I would never do this again.

Just look at how my pace fell:

Even though spectators weren't allowed on this part of the course, the Air Force did a good job of having plenty of volunteers at each water stop, which were about every mile. They were encouraging, and they were fully stocked with water, Gatorade, gels, and wet sponges. These were some of the best water stops I've seen in a race.

Prior to this race, my longest run ever was 20.25 miles that I did on the treadmill.

My longest run outside was 20.09 miles.

So after mile 20, I tweeted:

In a way, it was a lot of fun to be able to text and tweet during the race. It gave me something to do, and it was nice to let Jennifer know where I was and how I was doing.

Without it, she never would have known about this:

I started getting excited. Only about 6 miles separated me from the finish line. After 20, that was nothing!

I tried to start running more, until we hit some hills that I had forgotten about.

The hill around mile 21 was the worst (it was an overpass that we had to cross to get back over to Wright State University and Area B of the base), so I just walked it.

Even that was hard.

There were a few more hills after that, but as we got closer to mile 23 I found myself getting more and more excited.

I tried not to walk.

I wanted to be done.

I wanted to see Jennifer.

My pace started coming back down:

Turning the corner to come back into the base was awesome.

It was so close, and yet so far.

I wanted to run, but I knew I couldn't run the whole way.

It was a little deceiving how we had to loop around before heading for the finish, so even though it looked so close, we still had about 3/4 of a mile to go.

My knee was really hurting at this point, but I didn't care.

I wanted to run.

I wanted to finish strong.

Jennifer had a great spot along the finish line.

I really tried to open it up as I turned the final corner at mile 26 and ran past them.

I felt like I was running at a decent speed considering how my knee felt, but looking at the video Jen took, I feel like I look sooooo slow.

It took me over an hour longer than I was hoping it would, but I had done it.

I was a marathoner.

I wanted to lay down as soon as I crossed the finish line, but I had a couple things that were more important.

I wanted my medal, and I wanted my wife.

It was really cool having an Air Force official award me my medal.

It was even cooler seeing my pregnant wife running to me.

I was out of it, but I felt good. It's hard to explain, but look at these pics:

I was exhausted, but in a way I felt completely fine.

Jen kept asking if I needed anything, but I just wanted to enjoy the moment.

And lay down.

It was hot and I was sick of the sun, and I don't think my legs have ever been that stiff, but none of that mattered in that moment.

I had done it.

She offered to go get the car, but I didn't want her walking all that way by herself, so I insisted that we all walk back together. Yep, another mile to stretch the legs (although it was more of a hobble than a walk).

Back at the hotel I did an ice bath and enjoyed my victory beers.

Then I sat in bed and enjoyed some homemade chicken noodle soup John had made for me while looking at pictures with Jen.

It was the best soup I think I've ever had.

The medal was a big reason I wanted to do this race.

I first saw the huge medals at the miniMarathon expo last year. I told Jen right there that if I were to ever do a marathon, that would be it.

A lot of people have asked me if I'll ever do another.

On Saturday, I probably would have said no. But now, I definitely think I'll do another marathon at some point.

Partly because I feel like I should have been able to do better.

If it weren't for my knee, I know I could have pushed my body further than what I did.

And that's frustrating.

But really, I'm just happy I finished.


  1. I've never been so proud, excited, nervous and happy for you! It was an emotionally exhausting day for me as well. You did it babe!

  2. *applause* Loved all the tweets during the race. :-)

  3. What a fantastic report! Way better then my blog, good job!! I felt every mile with you. You finished about 15 mins ahead of me (I was off by 30 mins from my goal) and I didn't have the knee issue. Good for you to figure out a solution and keep it strong! Congtrats on your first (OF MANY) marathons! AFter my first one, I thought, wow... no way again. The USAFM was my 7th and I have my goals set for 10. Just turned 60 so I have plenty of time :)

  4. It was really great to read about your marathon experience and I felt like I was right along with you the entire way. Similarly, I've trained up to 20 miles and know that once I pass the 20 mile mark on the course it's going to be a huge mental game to get to 26. I'm also worried that my knee will start to become painful even before the halfway mark and I will need to walk. There's also a part on the marine corps marathon course that is called "beat the bridge" which is around mile 17 and runners need at least a 14-min mile pace to not get picked up by a bus!! (seriously, can you imagine??) It's so great to read your blog and to know that others out there have been able to finish 26.2 in pain and with a knee injury. Not that I would wish that you on, but it certainly gives me some relief and hope for this weekend! :) Congratulations on reaching your goal - such a huge accomplishment!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...