Sunday, January 3, 2016

26.2 Miles....A Long-Lost Friend

Has it really been that long? Twelve long years since I last ran a full marathon - 26.2 miles. Somewhere along the way in my running "career," I had decided that it was becoming too hard to train for and do full marathons so I switched to doing half marathons. It's a much more manageable distance, those 13.1 miles, especially when work, then retirement, gets in the way of the arduous training requirements.

But here I am, twelve years and 85 half marathons later, wondering what it would be like to do a full marathon again. A few years ago I qualified for and joined Half Fanatics, an organization specifically for half marathon runners who have met the minimum requirements to join. Those requirements entail doing a certain number of half marathons within so many weeks.

Its sister organization, Marathon Maniacs, seemed out of reach for me, since I was no longer doing that race distance.  But then the club founders instituted Double Agent status for those runners who qualify for and join both the Maniacs and the Fanatics. Well, crud.  That would be kinda cool to be a Double Agent.   I knew that some full marathons had been relaxing their completion time limits a bit and other new full marathons were popping up with extremely relaxed rules including "no runner left behind."

So I had to ask myself: Is becoming a Maniac and Double Agent a new goal?

A race just up the road in Kingwood is one of several races that have very relaxed completion time limits. It's a very laid-back, small race event and would be the perfect venue to test my mettle, see if I have it in me to complete a full marathon again after all these years and to begin qualifying for Maniac status. It's the Texas Metalsaw Marathon and it's held on New Year's Day.

To prepare, I added 3 miles to my distance when I did the Route 66 Half Marathon in November and 6 miles to my distance when I did the Rock and Roll San Antonio Half Marathon in early December. The mileage bump-ups fell perfectly on the training calendar for an early January full marathon. But they would be the only two distances I would have covered that were greater than 13.1 miles in over 12 years. Will it be enough?

I learned that a running friend of mine was coming in from Florida to do this little race so I offered to host her at my house, pick her up and drop her off at the airport, and get her to the race venue with me. She made her travel plans and on Wednesday before New Years Day, I picked her up at the airport. I put a pot roast in the crockpot earlier that day, and made sure I had a stocked fridge with fruit, vegetables, snack foods, and makings for breakfasts.

We both got up at 5 AM on New Year's Day - race day - and were out of the house by 6:30 AM to make the 40 minute drive up to Kingwood to the race. We still had to pick up our race packets and there were several others from our 50 States running club who were there as well and wanted to get a group photo before the race started.

Several fellow 50 States club members

It was cold, windy and overcast, and threat of rain in the first couple of hours of the race was fairly high.  The race organizers had cordoned off an area near the start line where we could place drop bags, easily accessible from the race course as we do our turn-around for each of the four 6.5 mile loops. I packed an extra pair of socks, a pullover fleece, headband (in case my ears got cold), and sandals and long pants to put on after the race. I also had extra race gels, granola bars, a banana, and some Glide in case my feet got wet and started to chafe.

I was dressed for all possible contingencies:  long sleeve shirt, half-zip fleece pullover, windbreaker. My thinking was that I could shed either or both layers as weather dictated. I was ready!

This is the race I helped another running friend do last year. I was her support person, getting her at the airport, driving her to the race, hanging around while she ran the full marathon, and doing the last 6.5 mile loop with her to keep her motivated. So I knew what to expect this year. It may be a small race - 700 runner cap - but it's a very well-done event. Lots of attention to detail. Excellent out-and-back four loop route, very-well-placed support stations with enthusiastic volunteers. We were given a very good quality duffel bag, a nice long-sleeve shirt, nice technical fabric hat and the promise of one of the largest, if not the largest, finisher medals on the race circuit. All this plus a cute squeezy toy. This year's squeezy toy is a cute little bug-eyed frog.

I knew I'd have no trouble with the first two loops, equivalent to a half marathon. I do at least one, often two of these a month. I was somewhat sure I wouldn't have much of a problem with the third 6.5 mile loop either. It was the last loop I was worried about.

As we were turned loose onto the concrete paved trails that wind through the woods, past waterways and large homes, the mood was fun and light, like it is on group training runs. I was near the back of the pack and congestion was an issue until I could work my way past some of the slower folks.

When I got near to the end of the second loop, I had to fight a strong desire to quit and take the half marathon finish. I was surprised at this reaction.  Here I was, worrying about the end of the third loop at 19.5 miles, and did not even see this psychological reaction coming at 13.1 miles. As I worked to overcome this urge, I reminded myself about the goal ahead: Marathon Maniac status.

Somewhere along the race route.  Photo taken by the
race photographer
Once I made the turnaround and set out on that third 6.5 mile loop I was able to further analyze where that desire to stop at 13.1 was coming from. My subconscious was thinking about doing that 3rd loop, getting to 19.5 miles, and then being unable to continue to finish the full 26.2. It would have been devastating if that had happened. All that work for nothing. But I seemed to get a second wind as I got halfway through that 3rd loop. I slowed down to conserve energy and tried to find a "zone" mentally and stay there. As the faster runners finished, the trail became less crowded and it was easier to zone out a bit and put my body on autopilot.

Making that last turnaround to start the 4th and last loop instilled new resolve. I had slowed down quite a bit by this time, but I didn't care. I knew at that point that I was going to succeed at this. And when I made that last turnaround at the farthest point and was now on that three mile home stretch, I was euphoric. I knew that I had it at this point.  23 miles down, three more miles to go. I visualized this distance in my mind, thinking about the three mile loop I do at home all the time and where I'd be on that loop in one mile, two miles, three miles and turning onto my own street. This made those last three miles go by more easily.

Four out-and-back loops.  Data from my Garmin GPS watch.

As my Garmin watch vibrated, letting me know I'd passed the 26 mile mark, I could hear the people at the finish line, though it was still out of sight. Then I rounded a curve on the trail and could see it, could see the people, see the timing mats, see my friend waiting for me. And then it was over.
Crossing the finish line

A long-ago friend from our running club was handing me my finisher medal and my squeezy toy with my finisher place written on it, and my Florida friend, who'd finished the race a full hour ahead of me, was congratulating me and taking my photo. It was all a blur.
Receiving my finisher medal and squeezy frog from long-ago
running club friend Robbie Sabban

I was hungry but the pizza provided at the finish line didn't interest me. I was thirsty but my stomach was already revolting from all the water and Gatorade consumed on the course. I just wanted to gather my duffel bag and walk to the car so that I could sit down, take off my running shoes, put on my sandals.

It was done. The first of two full marathons I'd need to complete in less than 16 days to qualify for Maniacs. For me, that qualifying second marathon will be nine days later on Sunday, January 10 at First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL.

Boy, oh boy did it feel good to sit down in the car, turn on the heat, turn on the heated seats, head for home and a hot shower.  My shoulders hurt, my calves were tightening up, I was cold.  But I was happy!
Enormous finisher medal and very happy finisher

Close-up of the finisher medal.  It weighs 3.3 pounds!!

We had leftovers and celebratory beers in the fridge, hot showers waiting for us, but first...a 40 mile drive to get there.

Showered, relaxed, leftovers heated up, time to veg out in front of football on TV!

My goal: to qualify for Marathon Maniacs after First Light Marathon

Next week: drive to Mobile AL for First Light Marathon, where I hope to display this sign with pride.


  1. Great job on completing the marathon and good luck with the one on the 10th. You deserve to be a maniac!!

  2. Congrats Barb, The FULL MARATHON that you just completed was a major happening. You described the mental side beautifully and I could sense your fatique mixed with lots of relief and PRIDE. Physical and mental toughness is necessary along with "time and money" as you stated not too long ago.

    See you at the next RTE near Cincy.

    Larry aka grampawinger

    1. Definitely a Skyline Chili RTE on May 1 in our futures, Larry! Thanks for the supportive words.

  3. You're welcome, and Roger that Barb. I have it on my desktop calendar and the Streets & Trips route is still on file.