Sunday, January 11, 2009

Marathon season is over

The marathon.

Wednesday night we have a pasta dinner. Gotta load up on those carbs before the run. It was an interesting experience. The room was extremely colorful with over a thousand people from all over Israel, and from various other countries including Kenya and Ethiopia.
People are just walking over to other people, saying hi, asking how many times you have run this before, what your goal time is, etc. The atmosphere is surreal.

With nothing really to do except sit around and shoot the breeze, I went to sleep early. I was tired, and had to get up early anyway, and I needed to be fully rested for the marathon.

We wake up early, make a minyan, have breakfast. Everybody is neurotic, myself included. We keep asking Coach Chaim how we should be running, what times and paces, with or without pacers, how often to take gels, etc.

We go upstairs to relax and get changed and geared up for the big run. Suddenly we hear on the news that a number of Katyushas have been shot from Lebanon into northern Israel. The katyushas were not near us, but it would not matter if northern front war broke out. People are talking what will be - if Israel responds, if Hizballah shoots more katyushas - will the marathon be canceled at the last minute? will falling rockets just spur us to run a bit faster?

We go down, take the group picture, and head out to the starting line.

My adrenaline was pumping, but I calmed myself. I was planning on running, at least for a while, with the 4 hour pacer.

5,4,3,2,1 the starting shot is sounded, and we are off.

I ran a few kilometers with the 4 hour pacer, but then decided I wanted to be alone. People in the group were talking too much about themselves and I did not care what they were talking about - I found it disturbing. Even worse, instead of the pacer motivating the runners and encouraging, he was either silent, talking to a friend running with him, or making fun of other runners who had stopped to urinate on the side of the road. That bothered me and I decided I did not want to spend my marathon listening to that.

So I sped up by a few steps, and ran the next 28km a few feet in front of the pacer, instead of with him. I was not afraid of running alone, as almost all the long runs during training over the past 18 weeks I have run completely alone, because of my slower speed compared to the other runners in our group. I could easily run 4+ hours without chatting with someone else. It would have been nice to have the encouragement a pacer is meant to offer, but I could make do without.

So, there I am running, enjoying the marathon at a relatively even pace. I am watching the sites, enjoying the colors and personalities of the other runners around me.

One guy was running with an Israeli flag draped like a cape over his shoulders. Another guy was wearing a very appropriate shirt from the days of the disengagement that said "The eternal people are not afraid a long road". Men, women, old, young, overweight, skinny, tall, short, colorful, bland - the full cornucopia of humanity was out in full force running like we had somewhere to go.

The route was from Tiberias south, around the bottom of the Kinneret, up to the town of Ein Gev (21.1km) and back.

Along the route are people cheering on the runners generally or specific runners they came out to see. There were schoolkids whopping it up.

As I hit about kilometer 15 or so, I finally see the first runners coming back from the other direction - I counted the first 25 or so runners were Kenyans/Ethiopians, before I saw the first white guy. After that there were still a few more before the next white guys... They must train really well, as they are extremely powerful and fast.

While running, there are suddenly a number of Air Force helicopters flying around the north, including near us. We had no idea if anything had happened regarding the earlier katyusha attack. Were we at war in the north? Did we respond? Did they shoot more rockets at us?

I get to Ein Gev, and make the turn.

Running back, suddenly there is a large boom. Was that another rocket, landing closer than the ones in the morning? Just a sonic boom? Us bombing them? No idea, but we were a bit on edge.

Around 26 kilometers, I started to feel a bit of soreness in my right knee, and that slowed my pace down a bit. It was not really any pain, but a low level soreness. 28km, 30km. Will this run ever end???? Now my inner thighs are getting sore and my hips as well, and I am slowing down a little more.

From kilometer number 32 it became very tough. I don't know why, but it just got hard. I have run further than that a few times already, so it was not the distance. Maybe the emotions, maybe just the reality of being in the marathon rather than a training session, maybe the route.

I then realize that my initial estimates of a 4 hour marathon (I was expecting between 4 and 4:10) were off. I would not make it at that pace. I did some calculations in my head and realized that I had based my estimate on my half marathon pace. I ran the half at 1:51, so doubling that and adding 10-20 minutes gave me an expected time of 4 - 4:10. But based on my current pace I would probably hit 4:15-4:20.

By now the 4 hour pacer and his dwindling group had long passed me and were nowhere to be seen.

I happily retook my official position as the last runner in our group, as I had been throughout the training season.

So, back to 32km. The run is getting tougher and tougher. As I slow down a bit more over the next few kilometers, I am dropping into an area of other runners that were having a similar level of difficulty as I was having.

My training must have been really top notch, because I was still doing much better than many of them, even though we were running at similar paces. Over the next few kilometers, I started to see many people stop running, take breaks to walk, etc.

I kept going. It was starting to hurt, but I kept going. I kept saying to myself that it is only 1km to the next sign. Only 10km to the end which is a short run. Only 8km to the end. Only... I kept myself going by looking at shorter distances and smaller numbers.

35-36 kilometers was make it or break it for many, I think. Suddenly I am seeing more people walking, more stopping, I saw one guy fall over (hope he is ok), etc. I keep going. I am at that point running at a similar pace to a woman nearby me. As we are running fairly even for a bit, I start to hear her moaning slightly. Then it increases and she moans more and more. After a while it became moaning interlaced with cries of pain. She sounded like she was either going to give birth or die. I told her that I have an extra energy gel she can have if she wants it. She thanked me and said no. She just needed water. She said ,"It hurts so much. I have cramps. It hurts so much. I need water. It hurts so much." Me not really knowing anything that I could use to give her advice, I told her to breathe deeply through her mouth, and we have a water station coming up soon.

I then sped up a tiny bit just to get away from her. I could not imagine running the next 6km having to listen to that the whole time. I have no idea what happened to her.

Finally 38-40km. More people are walking, sitting down and taking breaks. I knew if I stopped to rest, that would be the end of me. I know that when I stop my muscles tighten up and it hurts even more to run afterwards, so I was better off suffering through the pain as it was then, rather than resting and having even more pain.

Later, someone told me they saw a woman holding up a sign saying "You are running a marathon, but you are still a piece of sh*t!" I did not see that sign - the target of the sign must have been running faster than me..

Suddenly there are people on the sides of the road, as we get closer to the end, who are encouraging us. People are reminding us that we are near the end. One woman was screaming out "You are almost done. Only 2km to go! You have run hundreds of kilometers over the past few months training. only 2 left! Keep Running! Even slowly, but don't walk! Run! This is what you have trained for! Only 2 left!"

I am sure some people found the strength to continue because of her screaming. And there were others with encouraging words as well. Just 2km to go. Almost done.

41km. I feel like I am going to collapse and die right there. But I keep going. I say only 1km left. I can do that.

Finally I see the 200meter sign coming up. I decide I did not want to go out limping and crashing, so I found some reserve energy that was hiding somewhere, and sprinted the last 200meters. I passed a number of people and crossed the finish line strongly with my arms raised in victory! I felt glorious having completed the most unnatural of achievements!

I sweatily collapsed into my wifes hug, and a friend handed me a drink. I have no idea what it was - it could have been gasoline for all I know. My body was just craving calories and I would have downed anything without noticing the taste.

The most confounding thing that happened was a short while later, as I am sitting on the side, soaking in some sun to keep warm, trying to stretch out my sore legs, a woman comes over to me and asks me if I am the Running Rabbi with the blog. I was a bit stunned, as there are over 12 runners milling about, plus probably an equal number of spectators in the area. And she picked me out. I said yes, and she introduced herself and congratulated me. It was her first run as well, and I congratulated her back.

It took a while to settle down. I could not sit, or stand, still. I had to move around, and I could not get comfortable.

After a while I went and showered and changed. We went down for a group lunch, before splitting up and going home. I took food, but I hardly had an appetite. I left a lot of the food on my plate. I was mostly thirsty. I kept drinking and drinking. Even later that night, I went to a wedding, and kept drinking, but could hardly touch my food.

Afterwards I looked at the details of my run and I saw that my initial estimates of time were incorrect. I had overestimated. I ended up running a pace exactly equal to that off all my previous really long runs. the medium runs were a bit faster as was my half marathon, but the really long runs were all between 5:55 and 6:05, and I ran the marathon at 5:56/km overall. So I did not run slower than usual - just my initial estimate was off.

It was a tremendous feeling of accomplishment, and my soreness has finally mostly worn away.

Marathon season is finally over.


Neil Harris said...

But did you dance at the wedding?

Rafi G said...

if you call the circle shuffle we frum people do "dancing" then I danced (at least a few steps!)

Shmuel @ Go Golan said...

Wow Rafi, what a story... you're a real inspiration - I hope one day to run the whole course.