Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Tiberias Marathon 2012: Running On A Pulled Hamstring Can be Enjoyable

I did not set any personal records at this years Tiberias Marathon, but I think I enjoyed this one the most of any of the marathons I have run to date. Running on a pulled hamstring can do that to you.

While I can honestly say I never before pressured myself to run with any specific time goal in mind, I always did have certain expectations based on my training. There were runs where I did better than those expectations, and runs where I did not perform as well as I had expected. Either way, going into a run with either goals or expectations leaves one spending way too much time and energy in the marathon focused on the watch, paying attention to pace, trying to meet a goal.

Running with no expectations, on the other hand, lets one just enjoy the run.

I ran this Tiberias Marathon without any real expectations, let alone goals. I did not train efficiently or seriously. Most weeks in training I ran only two runs, and only a couple times did I run 3 times in a week. I only ran 3 times 30km+, and only 3 times in the mid-20s. I fell far short of the training schedule output expected by our running club.

As well,, the past 3 weeks or so I have been nursing a sore hamstring. I do not know when I hurt it, but it has been hurting me. I even considered dropping out of the marathon, considering it would be stupid to injure myself even worse. I decided not to considering that I had recently run the Eilat half-marathon on the pulled hamstring, and was mostly fine. I knew that if i could limit myself and only run as fast as the hamstring would allow me to, and not try to push it too much, I would be ok. Slow, but ok.

So, I went to Tiberias planning to run just fast enough that I would feel my hamstring would not allow me to run any harder than that. And when I would need to slow down more, I would do that. And hopefully I would not need to turn back after 4 or 5 km.

Running with no expectations meant I was not concentrating on my pace. I made a last minute decision to wear my GPS watch, but I don't think i looked at my pace even once during the entire race. I mostly used it to track my distance, and the time of day.

I was running a slow but steady run, with my hamstring letting me know how I was doing. At a certain point, somewhere at about 13km or so, a friend caught up with me and we ran together, as we were running a similar pace. We chatted, something I never really did in previous marathons, not wanting to waste energy, and I chatted with other runners as well.

The most interesting thing was proudly wearing my Bet Shemesh Running Club t-shirt prompted numerous quips and comments from other runners and bystanders, considering Bet Shemesh being prominent in the news the past few weeks for negative reasons.

So, I ran together with Meir. We came up to the halfway mark, and I saw that if i could keep it up I might even break the 4 hour mark for the finish. It was something I had not expected - I had been assuming I would finish closer to 4:30. I knew it still was not realistic, as the end is where I slow down a bit, and in Tiberias especially the last 7km is much more difficult than the previous 35 - and not just because it is the final 7km, but also because it goes through some ups and downs and there can be a strong wind off the lake. But seeing the time at 21km, made me wonder, curiously, if I could possibly still beat 4 - not make a PR mind you, but beat 4.

I also went into this marathon with a different gel strategy than used in previous marathons. Previously I was not a fan of the energy gels - they are difficult to consume, and I was skeptical how much they really help. In my first marathon I think I used two gels. The next marathon i used no gels and set a PR. After that I used 2 gels in Jerusalem marathon and no gels in the Tel Aviv marathon. I decided that i would max out on gels this time. I figured because of my hamstring and low-level training I would need the energy boost. Over the course of the marathon I took 5 gels. Did it help? I have no idea.

I continued running with Meir until 27km. At that point I badly needed a short bathroom break. Meir kept going, and I took a brief break in a porti-can. Continuing on my own, I kept wondering if I could catch up to Meir. he really wanted to break 4, and I did not think I would be able to. But I kept thinking he could not be too far ahead, as my break was very short.

Coming up to 29, 30 and 31 km markers I saw I was still on pace to break 4. The hard part of the marathon was still ahead. At 33km there is a short but steep uphill, and from there the course goes through ups and downs. That is also where it begins to dog you down, where the voices in your head need to be fought off.

At 33km I slowed down considerably. What had turned into an absolutely beautiful day for running, despite early storms, was starting to get cold and windy. I was starting to feel tired, and my hamstring area was cramping up at times forcing me to adjust. Somehow I found it in me to continue running. I did not stop for any breaks - not even those times where you do not really need to urinate but use it as an excuse to stop for a few moments - and pushed myself to trudge on. I kept going, reveling in the encouraging cheers of the onlookers. At about 39km I saw Meir a bit ahead of me struggling himself. I set him as my goal - I would catch up to Meir. I felt bad for him, as Meir really wanted to break 4. By this point it was clear 4 was not going to happen. After I passed Meir, and tried to encourage him a bit, I kept going. At some point I started to feel light-headed. i started telling myself that since I did not break 4 I might as well just walk the last 2 or 1 kilometers. That's when the crowds of onlookers starts to get larger, and I just kept pushing myself to continue. The old thoughts came back to me - only one run out to the satellites and back, 3 circuits around Dolev, 1 around Dolev, etc. I kept finding ways to tell myself that this was doable.

And then I passed the 42 km marker. At that point there is a slight rise in the course, and the finish line is on a slight decline, allowing for a nice string finish. I do not think I worked up the energy for a strong finish - I just trudged right through the finish line.

I must say that besides for a couple difficult points and the voices in my head late in the race, i really enjoyed this run. I chatted with people, I slapped and gave 5 to kids on the side cheering us on, and I really enjoyed the experience of running this race.

Running the marathon is always overcoming a challenge. Each person has their own challenges, and overcoming them in such a magnificent way is a life-changing experience, letting you know, reminding you, that you are inc trol, that you do not have to be limited.

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