Tuesday, June 08, 2004

I went to San Diego this weekend to run the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll Marathon. This was my fifth marathon and the second time I had run this particular race. For the first time, however, I was trying to run it fast enough to qualify for a spot in the Boston Marathon. At my advanced age, I needed a time of 3 hours, 15 minutes and 59 seconds to qualify. That's a tough goal for me, about 11 minutes faster than my best, but I was motivated and felt well-trained. I'm committed to qualifying for Boston sometime this year, so if I could do it in San Diego, then I don't have to run another damn marathon this year. Here's my trip report.

Flew into San Diego on Saturday afternoon and checked into my swanklicious hotel. This hotel is much fancier than most hotels I've visited in my life, so I was looking forward to a luxurious stay. Of course, being a dork, the first luxury I tried was their "High-speed" (quotes used to indicate irony) Internet service.

The first indication that this was going to be a less than stellar experience should have been the fact that there was no mouse, pointing device, turn signals, divining rod, or any other device used to indicate direction. Unfortunately I didn't notice this until I had already plopped down my $9.95. As it turns out, that was really the least of my problems. To best describe this experience would really require all sorts of angry hand gestures, so I'll just let it suffice to say that I tried to blog from there, but I gave up after one sentence.

Anyway, the rest of Saturday went ok. Visited the marathon Expo, ate my required pasta dinner, and drank lots of water. Aside from a little more walking than I had hoped, Saturday went well as a pre-race day. I didn't sleep super well (because, well, you know, I'm itchy), but I never do before a big race.

Popped out of bed at 5:00am on Sunday and did all my pre-race prep. When the gun went off at 6:45am, I was ready.

The San Diego Rock 'n' Roll marathon is a pretty fun one, as far as marathons go. Although the course isn't particularly scenic (quite a few miles of it run on highways), there are about 30 bands along the way and a similar number of cheerleading squads. Music and cheerleaders are GREAT distractions. If you're smart, and I was, you write your name somehow on your clothes or body so that the spectators can read it. That way you get treated to many folks yelling "GO MIKE!", or "LOOKING GREAT, MIKE!". I can assure you that cheerleaders never yelled such things to me during high school.

The first half of the race went right according to my schedule. I was a little ahead of pace, but not too much. I was slowly banking time that would enable me to slow down my pace a bit, if needed, in the second half. Two things disturbed me though:

1) At the water stops you get handed a paper cup with water or gatorade. After drinking it, you can either drop it on the ground or throw it away. For obvious safety reasons, the garbage cans are located off to the side. So, as a minor form of entertainment (and during a marathon, anything other than pain qualifies as entertainment), I try to lob my empty cups into the garbage cans. Last year I was unstoppable. I was the Michael Jordan of the marathon. Shot after shot, SWISH! Close shots, far shots, even a fabulous hook shot. This year, however, no such luck. Now, I'm not a superstitious man, but the shots weren't falling! That's a omen!

2) Around the 10 mile mark I noticed the need to have a bowel movement. This is kind of unusual for me during a race, but not unheard of. The need, however, just got more and more intense. By mile 15, I was occasionally running with my butt-cheeks clenched. Now, in general, my running form is very poor. I am routinely mocked by my running club for running in a heavy-stepped, pigeon-toed, arms-flailing style. The last person who attempted to analyze my gait was stumped and eventually just referred to me as "a freak of nature!". Butt-clenching, however, was never really one of my issues.

My pace started to slow shortly thereafter. I was slowly eating into the time I had saved in the first half. I knew this would happen, but I thought it would happen later in the race.

By mile 20, I started eating into my saved-time more quickly. The whole way I'm computing and recomputing my pace. It soon became obvious to me that I was going to miss my qualifying time by a minute or two. Meanwhile, I still REALLY had to go to the bathroom. There were occasionally port-a-potties alongside the way, but I didn't want to take the time. I spent a couple miles considering if it was worthwhile to just take a dump while running. I decided that having my shorts, legs, and shoes covered in feces was just a little too nasty.

So, at mile 23 (23 FREAKING MILES!!!), I gave in and ducked into a port-a-potty. It appeared that its prior occupant was a male who was uninterested in taking the time to either lift the seat or bother aiming. So, I got to spend a bit of time, wiping down the seat. Then, I did my dirty business and cleaned up. Of course my exhausted legs cramped up a bit during this brief sitting spell, so I had to spend a little time stretching my quadriceps. Three minutes after entering the port-a-potty, I was back running. Three minutes. That's an eternity. Although I felt much better, some quick computations soon revealed that it was pretty much impossible for me to qualify for Boston at this point. My pace was still slower than it needed to be. The last few miles were hard and I had pretty much lost my motivation now that my goal was unattainable.

I crossed the finish line about 5 minutes behind schedule. Gak.

I take solace in a few things though:

1) This was about 5 minutes faster than I had ever run a marathon before.
2) I beat more than 97% of the finishers overall, and more than 95% of the runners in my age/gender group.
3) I beat a Starfleet Ensign, and a Starfleet Captain and a former All-Star NFL running back. Starfleet's finest, indeed! Hah!
4) My goal was to qualify for Boston sometime this year. I still have time. I'll probably try to run Chicago. It's a very flat course.

So, what does a smart runner do after a marathon? They take an ice bath! It's hell getting in, and I scream like a little girl, but there's nothing better for sore, battered, and inflamed legs. When I got back to my hotel, I hobbled around the floor looking for an ice machine. There was none to be found. I limped my way down to the front desk. The very polite hotel employee ignored my appearance and stench.

I leaned in conspiratorially and said, "If I were an ice machine, where would I be?"

She leaned back slightly and said, "Not in this hotel, sir."

I was stunned. A nice hotel with no ice?!?!? Before I could summon the energy to look shocked, she continued, "But I can send up room service with some ice, if you wish."

"That would be great!" I exclaimed, "but I need A LOT of ice."

I staggered off while I heard her phone the room service folks. She asked them to send "a lot of ice" to my room. Five minutes later, room service arrived. This poor bloke dragged a giant metal bucket filled with ice into my room and said, "Someone ordered A LOT of ice? Where do you want this??"

I showed him to the tub, and he was on his way (appropriately compensated for the effort). Then the ice-bath-induced squealing began. It's hell, but it helps. I hobbled much less the rest of the day. I'm still hobbling though, and it's two days later.

So, that's it. No running for me the rest of the week. Hopefully I can summon the energy to train all over again for Chicago. Boston or bust, baby.

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