Friday, February 17, 2012

My First Marathon Experience

I took a while to sit down and type a little out about the marathon I just finished on the 12th; The Standard Chartered Bangkok Marathon 2011. School has been busy, of course, and Pae has been home. I tend to spend less time in front of a computer when we have time to be together.

Another reason I have delayed my writing, a quick and incomplete summary of our race, is because it turned out to be a little anti-climactic for me. I want to type a positive version of the marathon and our experience, but there are also a lot of negative points. I want this to be a factual representation and not some sugar coated happy ending story.

I've had a few days to relax, post marathon, and just ask myself how I feel. I guess I am comparing my feelings about our marathon performance to what I had envisioned prior to running the race. The picture of the race I had imagined while putting in the miles and miles of training the two months leading up to the race was a lot different!

We met at Eric's house at 1:00 AM and headed straight over to the start/finish line, really close to Wat Prakaew here in Bangkok, a major tourist attraction. We brought with us a bunch of bananas, bottles of water and some coconut waters to drink right before the race. I had eaten some white sauce spaghetti and lots of corn the evening before the race. I also downed a can of baked beans...mistake. I was going for the slow release carbohydrates of the CAMPBELL'S BAKED BEANS!!! Yeah, hindsight, don't eat baked beans before a 4-5 hour running activity. Lesson learned.

Eric was in bad shape from the moment I picked him up in the taxi. He had been fighting the flu for a week and was just getting over it. Still weak, dehydrated from vomitting for several days and hadn't been able to eat or keep things down for the days leading up to the marathon. Another thing that was affected by his illness was his motivation/confidence, very important emotional things that you must not forget to pack on your way to the race! We both knew that we were in for a very long day. We had known for several days that it wasn't going to be the marathon that we wanted to run, but the day was upon us and we had to run it. I had mentioned to him that it was cool if he did what was best for his health, and just not even start the race, but he probably never considered that (we paid for the thing dangit) and decided to start despite being in absolutely no condition to be out of bed much less run 42.195 kilometers!

I think that, although our spoken goal of this race was "just to finish", we both knew realistically that we would be finishing closer to four hours than five. Maybe between 4:15 and 4:30 for our first marathon, but we made a conscious effort of not letting ourselves get pulled into the race against the clock, and just trying to get through this one, both of us, our first marathon. Another agreement we had from when we first started training and got a feel for each others' ability level, was that we would run the race together, start to finish, regardless and finish together. This was key for our marathon.

We got to the start line early and were in the second row back, Kenyans and Ethiopians actually behind us. These folks would be finishing the marathon right around the time that we were approaching 21 kilometers, the half way point! After a lot of introductions of sponsors and "grand marshalls", it was time for the start. It was 3:00 AM minus twenty seconds, and I had sweat running down my back and off of my face already from the stuffy humidity. Three in the morning!! The race has to be run early here as daytime temperatures are not suitable for a healthy race.

Eric and I shook hands as the countdown reached ten, nine, eight, seven...We didn't exchange excited or anxious looks, but looks knowing that something bad was about to happen. We had prepared well and now it was just down to trying to beat the intermediate time cutoffs and to finish (alive) in less than 6:00 hours. Runners are actually pulled off of the road if they do not reach an intermediate checkpoint in the allotted amount of time.

The intermediate time cutoffs were put in place because the police closed the roads for the race, but have to open them at a reasonable time for big city traffic. Less than normal early in the morning on a weekend, but still, Bangkok is huge and there is always traffic. Probably another reason for the three AM start time also. When training we always made sure that we were faster than the cutoff times. They seemed very ominous when we first started working up to distance and were a source of stress, but as we became more seasoned with our long runs and running in general, we knew that we would breeze through each checkpoint with plenty of time to spare...if healthy.

Here are the published intermediate time limits.

15 km (9.3 mi.) = 2 hours
18 km (11.1 mi.) = 2 hours 20 minutes
28 km (17.3 mi.) = 3 hours 30 minutes
34 km (21.1 mi.) = 4 hours 20 minutes
42 km (26.2 mi.) = 6 hours

We started at the starting horn and felt the rush of 50-60 fast runners sprint past us towards the first turn out of the starting chute. We didn't get jostled around too much although we expected to be pushed around as we were content with just starting at our pace immediately and not straying too much from that. After two kilometers, we were drenched in sweat like 3:10AM!! We immediately left the center of town onto a bridge over the Chao Phaya River and onto an elevated freeway. Yeah, didn't train for any change in elevation, so this got us running a little harder to make up for what we felt was going to affect our time.

We were going at a pretty good pace and started finally passing water points at around 6-8 kilometers. The water went straight over the head, one cup poured on the head, another cup down the gullet! The odd thing is that the cups of ice were 3/4 full and had ice in them...I never imagined the water being iced during a race, I wonder how many people choked on medium size pieces of ice those first few water points!

Undistracted and feeling those baked beans starting to talk to me, I was happy to see a bus-turned-rolling-toilet at 10 kilometers. I ran in, no line, did my thing, and ran out and caught up with Eric really quickly. By this time Eric was starting to feel the flu and had to walk...the pace was high, granted, but he was just so pale and gaunt and it didn't look good for him. We walked several hundred meters and then started back up again.

For me, for both of us I'm sure, it wasn't fun hearing the footsteps behind us and then having a large group of runners pass us by. We couldn't do anything about it and if I could keep my mind off of the timed part of the race, or off of the positions overall and age category placements, then just jogging and walking the rest of the way would have been fine. I had to fight that emotionally the rest of the race, while walking and watching grannies pass us. Eric looked at me before 15 kilometers and told me to go ahead and run my own race, but I reminded that this "wasn't my race or his race, it's OUR race". When training, prior to the race, we reminded each other on several occasions that Marines and soldiers (we're both prior military) don't leave their fallen on the battlefield, no man left behind...and that was the way that we would approach our race. For a long time I thought it would be my knee that held us back, or something like that, but it was the flu that got us instead.

We chugged up to the first intermediate checkpoint at 15 kilometers in a quick 1 hour and 30 minutes, which was pretty perfect as far as the pace we expected to race. Eric was starting to struggle more and more, but he was determined not to be pulled off of the course by missing a time cutoff. So far we had a half hour in the bank and a good 50 minutes to reach the next checkpoint in a mere 3 kilometers. What we worried about the most was the checkpoint at 34 kilometers...that was the important one. After the 15 km check, Eric stated that if he could make it to the 34 km checkpoint in time and be safe from disqualification, he would be happy just to walk the rest of the way, in effort not to die along the route. Dude was really feeling it.

He told me that we passed 15 km in 1:30 hrs and I felt like turning up the pace a tiny bit to pass the half marathon point in an even 2 hours. I think I did push for a few steps and Eric was like "Dude, we gotta keep the pace down or I won't finish". Over the course of the race you kinda just start thinking about all kinds of things, and forget about the race strategy, hahaha, so I had to slap myself and pull it back a little. I was still feeling fine. We both prepared two Powerbar gels that I picked up in Hong Kong because I always see my sister Becca drops one at about 16km and 32km, so I was like, what the heck! We had never trained with them but we knew that we would need the extra energy source later, especially Eric. Yeah, would have been nice to know what to expect when sucking the thick goo out of the package...and nice to know to do it before the water point rather than after...the gooey Powerbar stuff was hard to swallow and there was no water to wash it down, so I felt like i had heartburn for the next two kilometers, until we made another liquid point.

We passed 20 km (no timing point oddly) and walked through the water and Gatorade. I'm pretty sure the electrolytes started at 18 or 20 kilometers. As soon as we started to jog again, Eric pulled off to the side of the freeway and vomitted a nice big puddle of liquid and oatmeal. I knew that it was coming and was actually glad to see him be able to relieve his stomach...I know it always feels better after puking. I stood a good 15 meters away as he was down on one knee going his deal.

My knee had begun to hurt at 20km, so I used the time to stretch my left leg. Over the remainder of the race, I would stretch often as the knee tightened up. Had me worried for about a kilometer, but I adjusted my stride a little bit and added the stretching. The elevated freeway had a pretty serious tilt to it and running on the slant didn't help the outside left knee any at all. We tried to run where it seemed the flattest, but there was really no flat section of the road. The slope was visible, and even when you couldn't see it so clearly, your foot higher up the slope would scrape the ground and you'd have to adjust your form to compensate...odd and probably didn't help with knees or hips much.

25 kilometers and we had been walking through ever water point, longer walks each time. Eric stopped for another vomit, losing his cookies a second time. 33 kilometers another puddle of puke for fellow runners to avoid! I feel mean, but it was motivating to see him putting so much effort into the run, so much that he just couldn't hold down anything. Eventually he was just dry heaving on the side of the road. I know he must have felt like absolute crap at this point. But he knew that we were almost to our checkpoint at 34 kilometers and that it would be almost over.

We reached the 34km checkpoint right before 7AM or after 3:58 hours of running. On our ideal day, we should have been nearing the finish line by this time, but we'll save that challenge for the 2012 marathon in November! We had made the final intermediate checkpoint with 20 minutes to spare, again, not ideal, but in line with our goal of finishing a marathon!

At this point they started handing out banana halves and even had a watermelon stand giving out watermelon slices. I started drinking only Gatorade and using the water to pour over my head. The sun was starting to intensify by this time. Eric was wasted and for the final 8 kilometers of the marathon we walked. He tried several times, but eventually his calf cramped up so badly that it curled his toes up in his shoe and he could only walk. I did try to keep the pace high during the walk, so we could do about one kilometer per 10 minutes, to get us home in about five and a half hours. We would walk the final 8 kilometers, passing through historic Bangkok and even some less desireable parts as well.

This is the point where I would complain about the race organization, traffic, police, etc. but I'm gonna really try to leave a lot of that out. Suffice it to say that once we got off of the closed elevated freeway and were running (walking) on city roads, it wasn't perfect, the organization, but they did pull off the event, even after having to postpone it for several months due to the flood in late 2011. Kudos for that.

We rounded a large temple where we knew the finish line was, but it seemed to go on many walls did this square temple have? 4 presumably, being a square, but it seemed like every corner we turned it was just more wall! Earlier I had told Eric that no matter what, he was not walking over the finish line. He probably thought bad things silently to himself when I said that, but when we finally hit the final corner, and had a good 200 meters to the finish, we worked our walk up to a jog. We saw my friend and coworker T. Malcolm around the finish as he had ran and finished the 10K race earlier. Eric's wife was waiting at the finish line. We crossed and didn't even look at the timing clock off to the side of the finish line. Didn't care at that point, I just remember that Eric said something like 5:15 as we were approaching the line.

I would later email Eric and ask him if his wife had taken a photo of us crossing the finish line. He replied the following:
My wife took a video of us crossing the finish line, but I'm too embarrassed to share it with you because there are so many women, children, and elderly folks sprinting by us. She also took one photo of us after the race where I am sitting down asking myself why the hell I just did that and you and Malcolm are frolicking about like we're at a carnival.
Haha, crossing the finish line I did hear Eric's wife congratulate us...followed by "Is he okay?" After getting our finisher shirt and medal, we hopped into a taxi back to the area where my school is, home for the three of them and a mere bus or taxi ride 10km home for me. Eric left no mystery for any of us in the taxi as to how he felt, post marathon, as he started scrambling around for a plastic bag, into which he puked his guts out one last time for good measure. Again I smiled a motivated smile!

I gotta take my hat off to Eric, the dude finished a marathon in that condition. It's hard enough already! While walking the last 8 kilometers he had told me that this was certainly his first, only and final marathon. I responded with a taunt, "There's no way you're gonna be happy with a personal best of 5+ hours". At the time he was like "Whatever!" He has since seen the truth in my taunt and is looking forward to something more like a 4 hour 15 minutes marathon in November!! Good stuff!

For me, I feel like I ran a 20 mile race (32ish kilometers) and cooled down with a 6 mile (10 kilometer) walk. I know that sounds negative, but when envisioning the running of a marathon, I saw a physical challenge, I saw pain and suffering, I imagined hitting and busting through "the wall". This was none of those, but it did present it's unique challenges, and both of us dealt with them as they came, even if it wasn't the way we had drawn it up. We had a goal to finish and we finished, regardless of time. Oh! Our finishing time was 5:17:16...stats and other observations below.

This post is way too long to have any type of flow to it, so I'm just gonna keep putting whatever thoughts that come to me below the previous thought, rather than go back to form the perfectly constructed paragraph or story ;)

At one point around 34 kilometers, Eric lamented, "Dude, I think we're last." Haha, great quote, but it did actually feel like that at times.

Eric: Finish time = 5:17:16
Age/Sex category: Male 18-39
Category finish: 164th of 228 finishers
Overall finish: 692nd of 1106 runners

Finish time = 5:17:16
Age/Sex category: Male 40up
Category finish: 456th of 721 finishers
Overall finish: 691st of 1106 runners

So there were only 1100 total marathoners. I think the event lost a lot of international runners and even Thai runners when it was postponed after the floods.

Old people made up the majority of the runners!! The 40++ runners made up the majority of the field, amazing!

We saw a big formation of about 20-25 African runners pass by the 20 kilometer point (they had doubled back on the freeway) at a little over 1 hour!!! The Kenyans and Ethiopians are Amazing!! I believe the winning time was just over 2 hours 18 minutes.

I'm looking forward not only to running the same event later this year, but also to training for it as well. Let's see if we can convince some other people to run it! One week until the First Annual Bangkok Half Marathon...Eric asked if we were running it! The man is a glutton for punishment! My shins hurt, not sure if I can run again any time soon!


Naomi Hanks said...

I am blown away that the 40+ age division held most of the runners! That is unheard of! I guess all you oldies were the only ones tough enough and experienced enough to drag out your training for a few extra months:)

As for your non-excitement, I totally understand. When I ran my first half marathon, I was with my friend Jennie who ended up getting really bad heat exhaustion. We had promised to run together so I ended up walking more than my body needed or wanted to. We came in a half hour later than my training runs and I was really disappointed. It was definitely a mental challenge that I didn't expect.

That being said, Eric is an ANIMAL!!! I can NOT believe that he ran it at all and I really can't believe he ran it in 5:17. At my current pace, on a non-sick day, I still wouldn't pull off that time running the WHOLE way. Props to him and his character for sticking that sucker out. I'm excited to see what you two can pull off when you are not busted or sick :)

Anyway, good job on the marathon brother. It might not have been perfect, but it was a great warm-up for November!

mardenheyjude said...

What an unforgetable experience you had and you are a wonderful friend to Eric. I am proud to be your Auntie. This certainly was an experience of a lifetime for both of you. Love always, Auntie

Pae and Guy said...

Fat fingers trying to publish by iPhone sometimes results in accidentally pushing "delete" instead of the intended "publish". I accidentally deleted your comment Tau...but recovered it from my email notification...

Tau: "Way to go brotha! I can't imagine what that must feel like. What a sense of accomplishment."

Thanks Tau, Nomers and Auntie! Cant' wait for Novemeber ;)

Kevin Hanks said...

Duuuuuuuuuuuuuude! I was wicked impressed before I ever read this! You guys are animals.

I thought as I read this how memorable this race will probably be for you! I mean, come on... first marathon ever,delayed for a couple months by massive city flooding, starting the process at 1:00 AM, fighting through knee problems, getting to take care of your bean issues in a bus, running with a sick buddy tossing his cookies, etc. Talk about an adventure.

You're a stud man, way to go!

Pae and Guy said...

689 and 690, looks like a couple more runners have been disqualified, sad for them. It would suck to put in all of that work only to be disqualified.

Beccarigg said...

I also had the goal of 4:15-4:30 for my first marathon, and thought I could easily reach it after running my 20 miler in 3 hours and 5 minutes. But on marathon day I was fighting IT band syndrome and the weather was about 30 degrees hotter than what I was used to running in, (85 degrees to a girl who trained through a Minnesota winter is hot ; ) So yeah, I ended up finishing in 4:37 which at first bummed me out a little but after I had some time to think about it I was like, "dude, I just freaking finished a MARATHON! I ROCK!' And honestly I'm 100% positive that I wouldn't have finished in under 5 hours if Kevin hadn't been by my side pushing me along. My friend who runs MUCH faster than me couldn't break 5 hours that day because the heat was too much for her. So I guess my point it 1) you just freaking finished a marathon, in some serious heat and humidity! YOU ROCK! and 2) You helped your friend cross that finish line even though he was sicker than a dog and that is pretty dang awesome too. I love that you tapped into your Marine background and let no man fall behind : ) I'm kind of obsessed with the Biggest Loser right now and in season 10 there's an episode where they take the contestants to camp Pendleton and let them train with the marines for a week. I was in awe watching the Marines and kept thinking of you the whole time. I was so impressed with their discipline and work ethic and loved their sense of unity and oneness. Anyway, that was kind of a tangent but I just think it's really cool that you stayed with Eric to the end.

Even if you felt like your experience was anti-climatic I am proud of you! Finishing a marathon is no small feat, and even with all your set backs you guys still had a very respectable finishing time. Can't wait to see what you do in November! Keep running strong brotha!

p.s. That is so funny that you took a gel during the race without practicing! haha! Yeah I learned pretty quick that you gotta chug those things with at least 6 oz of water. lol! Next time... ; )

Pae and Guy said...

Yes Kev and Becs, Beans and gels sans water...lessons learned.

Becs, yeah, as the days go by and I step back and remember the uncertainty (whether I would even be able to race the race) I realize that I always thought it would be Eric having to slow up to wait for me, my knee. We sat and hydrated after many training runs talking about how nice it was to be running with someone and talking about how no matter what, on the day, we would be finishing together. Part of that was that we didn't want to make our training together "competetive" and the other reason reaches back to our military experience. That being said, one of these days we're gonna go for it and just individually get a lock on what our actual personal best is. I think that would involve running together for the first 30km or so and then just chugging along from there at our own pace, whatever we have left for that final 12km. We'll see in November!

For those who have never run a marathon or think that it's impossible, it's not, it is possible. It just takes a lot of work and dedication to get to the point where your body is ready for the challenge.

You may read all of the runners in the family's blogs and think that Kevin, Taber and Becca make the marathon look like a stroll in the park...;) To some degree it is made easier due to their training. And boy do they train!! But I think everytime they strap up the running shoes and toe the starting line, they are just as nervous and filled with just as much excitement (and a touch of masochism) as when they ran their first one!

Knowing that many of us have similar interests is also something that makes running fun for me. I like to look at your blogs and read about your runs and walks, long or short, or see your updates on FB concerning your training.

I like seeing my sisters and auntie cheering for me from half way around the world...cheering for the 40++ guy who wants to be healthy so he can have more time on this Earth to spend with his 20++ cutie wife ;) hahaha!

Thanks for the support and words of encouragement. Just so you know, I'm not really "disappointed" in my marathon experience, I guess it reminded me that sometimes you just have to adapt to certain situations, especially unexpected ones, and overcome...

Happy running and walking to you all. Love from Bangkok.

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