Saturday, November 13, 2010

Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - Race Report

I suppose I deserve to be humbled. Was it foolish to think I could qualify for Boston on my first marathon attempt? I don't think so, but it's hard to argue with the results.

After a long, cold wait in line for the port-o-lets I just barely managed to get back to my car, put on my Garmin and jog over to the starting line. With only a few minutes to spare I spoke to the 3:20 pacer and told him of my intent to stay with him for at least the first few miles. He said his plan was execute even splits the entire race. I also was fortunate to spy Logan and Gordon. We didn't get to chat long, but Logan and I did spend some quality time grimacing at one another out on the course.

The cannon went off and around Barnhardt Circle we went. I tried staying with the pacer, but he was jogging at about a 8:30/mile pace. After only a quarter mile I'd abandoned my plan and decided to stretch it out a bit. Despite that sounding like a bad idea, I thought I managed to keep myself under control, taking my time ramping it up to my marathon pace of 7:30/mile.

As you can see from my splits I was a little too quick miles 3-5. I kept a close eye on my Garmin as my average pace dropped down into the range I was looking for, but I should have spread that out over a few more miles. I'm not sure it hurt me in the long run, but this marks lesson # 1.

I'm most happy, of course, with miles 6-17. As much as I've struggled with my pace runs during this training program it's nice to see how consistent I was. The only real mistake I made during this time was at mile 11 when I missed a turn where the half and full split off. I got distracted at the water stand and had to double back when course workers started shouting at me. I think I lost maybe 10-15 seconds.

At around the 18-mile mark you can see where I started to slow a little. All of a sudden I started to notice twinges in my legs if I didn't land just so. It was a gradual uphill section of the course, so I didn't give it much thought figuring I'd make up time on the other side.

I had just crossed the 19-mile mark and was coming up on an intersection full of spectators. Out of nowhere my left hamstring cramped and I had to immediately stop to ward off a charlie horse. I stretched it for about a minute and then tried to run on it again, but was forced to the side one more time. Muttering and cursing I stretched it some more and then somehow got going again.

It surprises me to look at miles 21-23 and see that my pace was in the high 8s, low 9s. I was in a world of hurt and moving just to make it to the next water station. When I got to the first one I took a cup of water, and that's when I realized how little was actually in it. That's right, damn it. The cup was half empty. I'm intentionally being a pessimist here purely for your amusement.

The last three miles were excruciating. At the last water station I came to a stop and took two cups of Powerade and a cup of water. I was praying it would get me through the last few miles, but it wasn't enough. My calves were seizing up, my toes were curling in my shoes and I was actually trying to kick in front of me on each stride in an attempt to keep the hams from clenching again.

Me at 26.15 miles
At the 24-mile mark I stopped to walk again and was assisted by an on-course aid. She offered a bottle of Gatorade and some salt tabs, and told me twice that a bus was just around the corner if I wanted a ride back. I told her I'd rather crawl, but fortunately it didn't come to that. She never could find the salt tab in her bag, so I limped on as best I could.

Miles 25 and 26 I alternated between walking and running. Being acquainted with the course I knew I was almost home and made sure to jog the last quarter mile. True to her word, I couldn't miss Hilary. I rounded the corner to the last straightaway and there she was holding a huge sign with my name on it. I somehow managed a smile, though it probably looked like a smirk. Out of the corner of my eye I could see her sprinting across the field to set up for a photo. To the left you'll see one she took that's easily better than 99% of the professional race photos I've seen. You almost can't tell that I'm about to collapse.

I crossed the finish line and was greeted by Dave with a hug. For a myriad of reasons I had to pull away from him and just collapse on the nearby curb. After a couple of minutes I composed myself and looked up to see Hilary, Kym, Dave, Barb and Justin around me. They offered comfort and a few bottles of water, which was all I needed at that point. I was still in a stupor, but it was nice to be surrounded by such good friends. You know, the kind that will stand there patiently waiting for you to say something. Anything. We took a few photos and then slowly split up as I went looking for food.

In the end I finished with a chip time of 3:45:36 and gun time of 3:45:41. I placed 84th out of 502 finishers, and 18th out of 72 in my age group. I didn't achieve my goal, but will take lessons away from the race and make another attempt. When, I'm not yet sure.

Speaking of lessons. You've heard of oxygen debt? Well, if the term hydration debt hasn't been coined yet, I'm taking credit for it. Even though I took water at every station, I should have taken more. At some stations the cups were barely half full, and I believe not getting enough water was ultimately responsible for my breakdown. By the time I realized it I couldn't get water in me fast enough to compensate for all I'd lost, and never was able to recover. Lesson # 2. Walk through each station and make sure to get at least one full cup of water. If it's not full, get another. Sure, I might lose 5-10 seconds every couple of miles, but that's a lot better than losing 5-10 minutes.

Finally, lesson # 3 is to strengthen my calves and quads more. I think I took my strength routine a little too lightly in these departments, and could do a better job conditioning them.

In closing, I think I was capable of meeting my goal today had it not been for the dehydration. I never felt like I'd hit "the wall," and believe that even though my pace might have slowed I still would have come in under 3:20. I suppose there's only one way to find out.


  1. Drew, to finish the race under those conditions is a testament to your fortitude and commitment, and you should be very proud not just of completing your first marathon, but of your high finish and great time. Yes, it wasn't quite your goal but I don't think anyone knows what to expect in their first marathon. Perhaps salt tabs may play a key role for you in future races, but regardless, you should take some time to enjoy what you have achieved through your diligent training and pure heart out on that course today. Hope you recover well!

  2. Drew,
    It is amazing how much similar your experience was to mine in the Marine Corps even though your pacing goal was much faster than mine. I felt so good in the early miles that I did not take enough water and when I did take the aid station cups they just did not contain enough to supply what I needed. I too cramped in the late miles and I believe it was from dehydration. Your will to keep moving and finish was amazing. I am proud of your effort. You will definitely BQ in the very near future and post some astounding marathon finishes.

  3. You should be very happy with this first marathon, Drew, especially since you'll have many more in your future and can look back on this one as a great learning experience. My bet is that you'll BQ in your next one. Bottom line is that you finished 18/72 in your age group with a very respectable time. And you finished strong :-)

  4. Drew, you did great. That you cramped up is no indication of your form or fitness. It happens.

  5. Great race and great report Drew! I agree with the others. Your goal in your first marathon is just to finish and enjoy the experience. BQs and PRs will come shortly for you I'm sure. Your tips/lessons on hydration is very keen and insightful. Despite the cramps and hydration issues, you did fantastic and should be very proud!

  6. Thanks a lot for the comments and support, guys. I'll definitely be taking lessons from this race and applying them to another. Now, if only the soreness would go away so I could get back out there. :)

  7. Amazingly familiar story except for your obviously speedy pace. You didn't deserve to be humbled. You trained well and were as ready as anyone could be. Now, back on the have work to do!

    By the way, your Lesson #2 worked very well for me yesterday.

  8. It looks like we both trained well and both went out a bit too hard for very similar results. Your "fast" was a bit faster than mine, and your "slow" was a bit slower than mine, but the results were very similar. I learned a lot, too.

    That said, especially for your first outing, this was a fantastic result. My first marathon time was 4:26 something. Great run.

  9. @John: Work to do, indeed. Thanks for the comment, and I'm glad lesson # 2 was of benefit to you.

    @Brian: Thanks to you, as well. I'll definitely be more conscientious next time.