If you’ve been reading my post, you’ll see that I had a rough fall leading into the 2009 Manchester City Marathon. Repeated foot injuries kept the mileage down and left me less than ready for a great race. Heading into the marathon I spent 3 weeks fighting the last foot injury and wasn’t fully recovered by race morning. The Monday before the race I tested my foot by going for a 10 mile run. The foot felt ok, but was still painful when I stepped on it wrong or stepped on acorns, rocks, etc. But, after the 10 mile run was over, I felt confident that even though it would be slow, I could complete a marathon and so signed up to do Manchester.
So, the evening before the race I arrived in Manchester, NH about an hour before the race expo and packet pick-up closed. Unfortunately, even though it was supposed to go another hour the expo, except for 2 vendors who were still packing up, had shut down. Packet pick-up was still going and the volunteers were busy stuffing t-shirts into the race packets.
I checked in, got my packet and was informed that they only had small and medium shirts left, even though I’d ordered a large. I looked at all of the packets of people that were unlikely to show up yet that night, even though there was supposedly no packet pick-up in the morning, that had shirts already stuffed in them and couldn’t help wondering if any of them had larges. After all, I made it to pick-up on time, shouldn’t I be the one to get my size?
Anyway, gathered my stuff together, gave it a quick check to make sure everything was in there and headed off to check into my hotel. The rest of the evening was relatively uneventful. I was at the race alone, but had a number of people there for the race strike up conversations with me because they were curious about the VFF’s I was wearing while walking around.
Race morning arrived and I got up about 3 ½ hours before the race. I ate the leftover pasta and chicken wings from my dinner the night before and started getting my stuff ready for the race. I went back and forth between wearing my more traditional running clothes or switching to my tri gear. I finally put on my running clothes, strapped on my chip, my number belt, loaded my gear bag and headed out. I made it about 3 blocks before I turned back and went to change into my tri kit, which I’d found to be more comfortable for the longer runs.
Finally dressed in the clothes I would race in, I again started the .4 mile walk to the start area. It was a beautiful, sunny, cool, crisp fall morning. It was absolutely perfect weather for a marathon. Too cool to just be sitting around in race gear, but once the race started it would be perfect.
When I got to the start area, I stripped off my warmer clothes and stuffed them into my bag. Loaded my pockets with my packets of accel gel, my container of electrolyte tablets and checked my bag into the bag check. To keep warm I went for a very easy mile jog and then headed to the hotel by the start to use the restroom. On my way I ran into @Oblinkin and stopped to chat with him for a bit. While we were talking @Luau came over to talk to him as well. @Oblinkin was getting ready to run his 2nd marathon in 3 weeks and @Luau his first ever marathon and he was running it in VFF’s (Vibram Five Fingers).
We all chatted for a bit and then separated to take care of our last few things before the start of the race. I saw them both again in the starting area and chatted a bit more. Moments later we were underway.
The first miles were pretty uneventful. I ran behind @luau for about a mile before dropping back and got passed by @Oblinkin about a mile later. This would be the last I saw of either of them during the race. My goal had been to run 8 min/mi pace as long as I could and then go into damage control and just find a way to finish. I went through the first mile at 7min pace and then settled into a 7:30 pace. I tried slowing to an 8min pace, but somehow stayed at 7:30pace anyway.
I felt real comfortable through the first 10 miles and then my lack of training started to come through. I managed to hold pace through 13.1 miles before slowing, but it became more of an effort. By mile 18 I was just about done. I was still on an average pace for a 3:30 marathon, but slowing quickly. I actually started walking somewhere between mile 18 and 19 and finished the marathon alternating between walking and jogging. I never walked more than 100yards at a time or ran less than ½ mile, but it was a struggle the rest of the way. Just before the 25 mile mark there was a bridge with a sharp zig-zag in the path we were running and the base of the downhill side. I don’t know what cruel, sadistic SOB put that in there, but my legs almost gave out trying to make the turns (heard many complaints about that section after the race). I walked briefly at the next aid station and with the 25 mile marker in sight I started my final run which I carried through to the end. No matter how badly I felt in the closing miles of a marathon (done more than 20) I have always run the last 1.2 miles and that includes in my 3 Ironman triathlons.
I did manage to pass @luau somewhere in the final 4 miles, but never saw him. I spent the closing miles focusing on keeping moving and getting to the finish. I’ve run over 800 races in my life and I don’t have a single DNF which is a huge motivator when I’m really struggling. I also like to use fans, volunteers and other racers to help keep me going. Instead of focusing on how miserable I feel I start to become an entertainer, cracking jokes with everyone along the way. During the closing miles I had a running joke (yes, pun intended, groan and get over it) going with another runner who was dressed in a hockey outfit (shorts, jersey, pads, helmet, gloves, mini stick…) that really helped keep my mind off of my body. It also helped push me because there was NO WAY I was letting someone who was wearing all of that through the whole marathon beat me.
After the race was over (yes, I beat hockey guy), I wandered the finish area getting rehydrated, eating and chatting with other finishers. After a while I came across @Oblinkin and sat down to talk with him for a while and do some gentle stretching. I turned out that we had a lot in common beyond running and we talked for a quite a while. @luau stopped by briefly and chatted as well. He told me he saw me pass in the last 4 miles, but evidently I was very focused and never saw him
After the race I did my usual self analysis of my performance. I was happy with my time and effort, but puzzled over how I had felt. The first 8+ miles felt great, but somewhere between there and the half way point things didn’t feel quite normal. I started noticing muscles I’d never really had problems with in marathons. This coincided with when I started focusing more on my form. I was pretty sure that I was running with my usual heel strike through the first part of the race (confirmed by @Oblinkin’s video around 10k mark and official race photos). However, sometime after the 8 mile mark I tried to focus on running with more of a forefoot landing, which is very difficult to do in my current running shoes. The further the race progressed the more successful I felt I was in doing so based on the way it felt like my feet were hitting and the way the different muscles were starting to feel. Official race photos, though inconclusive, do seem to lend some support to my success in this area. I did however in the closing 1.2 miles revert back in a final effort to reach the line.
This leaves me wondering whether I’d have done better sticking with my normal heel strike or whether by changing my form and how I used my muscles did I allow myself to maintain my pace longer. @Oblinkin has lots of data yet to sift, but I’m hoping that when he gets to video from the 20mile mark of the race I can get a better idea if I truly changed my form like I believe I did. Regardless, I won’t know whether the switch helped or hurt me, but if I was successful it gets me a step closer to becoming a forefoot/barefoot runner.