I got up about 3 hours before the 9am start and went down to have breakfast. To pass the time and to put me in the mood before the race, I read Kilian Jornet's book "Run or die" (I'll write a review on this when I finish it, but it hasn't been translated into English yet).
I managed to get a good slot up near the front of the 12,000 or so runners. It's a testament to the organization that I was not at all hindered at any point in the race in spite of there being a 10k race being run in parallel.
However, things didn't bode too well right from the start although, of course I knew there were plenty of kilometers left in which things could take a turn for the better. After only a kilometer I noticed the tendon on the top of my right foot was getting sore - probably related to the pre-race problems I had been having - and it didn't get better during the race. I don't think it had any material impact on my performance though. More seriously, I noticed that my pulse rate was higher than it had been only two weeks ago in Miguelturra, and at a slower pace. The kilometer markers came past at a depressing few seconds slower than the pace at which my Garmin GPS would have me believe I was running at.
I decided to take a slightly risky decision once it was clear that I was running below the necessary pace to beat the 3 hour mark. I allowed myself to run only 2 heart beats per minute faster than I had planned. I remembered that Jonathan had told me that I had some margin in the projected heart rate due to my relatively high anaerobic threshold. This was just enough to be able to cross the halfway mark at 30 seconds over my target of 1:30. I consoled myself by remembering how I had managed to run the second half much faster than the first last year.
The Marathon is a cruel and arrogant master. Just when I thought I was beginning to get it under control, it put me back in my place again, to remind me that anything can happen in a Marathon. I was still running well at the 32km mark where my family were waiting for me (and where the photo in the previous post was taken). But around the 35km mark where a guy was playing the drums next to a banner that said "Knock the wall down", I hit it. Not hard, but that kilometer took me 15 seconds off pace and the next, even more and so on. My pulse rate began to drop and my breathing became more laboured and my legs heavier and heavier. I started pumping my arms more. I ran for some stretches with my eyes closed. I started to get grumpy. A guy bumped into me at one of the water stops and told me not to stop: I angrily replied that I was not stopping. At least that much was true: I didn't stop, not once, and I didn't suffer any cramps. Only 4 or so kilometers before the end, a man rather unwisely decided to cross in front of me on his bike with his small children - who didn't know any better - in tow. I had to bark at them to avoid crashing into them.
As the finish line drew labouriosly closer, I realized that it was at least possible to beat my best time in the Marathon from last year. That was something. I also didn't want my kids to see me shuffling pathetically past. I administered myself an adrenalin injection by shouting obscenities at the Marathon in front of a cheering crowd and was able to surge forward if only for a couple of hundred meters. It was definitely worth it because, apart from being the boost I needed to get a personal best time, it made me feel some emotion even if it was mainly anger and frustration.
As I said in my previous post, I ended up doing the reverse of last year's Marathon: instead of a second half 7 minutes faster than the first, I did a second half 7 minutes slower. My wife asked me if I was disappointed with my time which, after all, was only 7 minutes slower than my target, and a best time at that. I said no, I wasn't, but I was very disappointed to have not been in control. I don't think a race in which you have to run through treacle randomly deposited somewhere along the course would catch on as much of a "fun" idea but this is what the Marathon is unless you can find a way to outsmart "el hombre del mazo" (the sledge hammer man). I wonder if this distance is for me. What I mean by this is - I wonder if I have to go through that frustrating torture of running ever more slowly in order to run to my best (which is a non-negotiable condition that I impose on myself). Or maybe I should just run Marathons well within my pace so as to enjoy them. The thing is, even then I am not sure I wouldn't hit the wall: you burn more or less the same calories per kilometer no matter what pace you run at (within reason). I'd almost be glad to come down with whatever my kids have got - at least then I'd have an explanation and a good reason to try again.
I tend to get a bit discouraged after a disappointment but I quickly bounce back. I'm thinking that you have good days and bad days and part of the art of training is to ensure that the day of the competition is one of those good days: maybe today it just wasn't so, as my slightly elevated pulse seemed to hint at. I think I will try running my next Marathon strictly below the prescribed pulse rate and see what result I get. Or I can avoid hitting the wall that is already an accomplishment; eventually I'll have a "good day" and get below that magic barrier of 3 hours.
Valencia is a wonderful city and it's a shame we didn't get a chance to enjoy it much between the Marathon and the kid's temperature. This afternoon has been a bit stressful with my wife having to rush off to Mali (where 7 people were kidnapped last week, by the way) while we have to wait several hours amongst screaming sickly children in the hospital. Still, the kids are being very good and claim to have enjoyed the weekend in spite of everything.
PS: You can watch my crossing the line (at 3:06:54) here. At least I looked in better shape than the guy being carried over the line in a stretcher.
PPS: I find that you can never put enough vaseline or there is always a bit you forget about. Remind me not to run in those shorts again for a Marathon (they were OK in the Ironman but then you expect to be saddle sore). I'm walking like John Wayne as a result.