Today, I ran the third marathon in the Day of the Dead Series. It was the first time since early July that I ran marathons on three straight days. On that occasion, I walked 10 of the last 11 miles of the third race and barely broke six hours. Today, I would have been happy to do something similar.
After yesterday’s race, I had discomfort in my right leg getting into the car. It didn’t bother me getting in and out of bed, but I was noticing similar discomfort in my left leg. I got to bed early and got eight hours sleep. When I woke up, I was stiff, but after a hot bath and some stretching, I felt OK. Neither leg felt perfect, but I felt better than I thought I would after running marathons the previous two days.
The first two races of this series were on the weekend, so they had higher attendance. Knowing today’s race would be smaller, I didn’t arrive as early. I knew the parking lot wouldn’t get full. After I arrived, I realized I forgot to bring a running hat. I might have had time to drive back to the hotel and get one, but it seemed like I’d be cutting it too close. I decided to run without a hat. I had sunglasses, so I didn’t need the hat to keep the sun out of my eyes. Mostly, I wanted it to keep sweat from my forehead from dripping into my eyes.
I also forgot sunblock. They had some at the first aid table, so I was able to apply some just before the race. I applied extra sunblock to the back of my neck, where I was feeling the sun yesterday.
When I was ready for my final bathroom stop, I noticed the port-o-potties were missing. Apparently someone stole them during the night. Who steals port-o-potties? Clint was able to get another one delivered, but anyone who needed to go before the race had to find a bush.
Today’s weather was a little bit warmer than yesterday’s. It was in the 40s at the start and warmed into the 70s by noon. Instead of wearing tights, I wore shorts, but I started the race wearing the wind pants that I normally use for warm-ups. Unlike tights, I could easily remove the wind pants to run in shorts once it got warm enough. Also, instead of wearing arm warmers, I started the race with a Tyvek jacket.
I didn’t notice it until yesterday, but there was an area to leave drop bags. Today, I brought a bag, so I wouldn’t have to return to the car when I removed my jacket and wind pants.
At this time of year, the time of sunrise changes noticeably from day to day. We’ve been starting each race at 6:00, which has been just after dawn. Today, it was still dark as Clint was doing his pre-race announcements. About a minute before the start, suddenly there was light. I’ve never noticed how abruptly dawn arrives. Tomorrow, we may be starting in the dark, but not for long.
As I started running, I expected my legs to be stiff, like they were yesterday. They weren’t. My stride was smooth from the beginning. That was a pleasant surprise. I had another surprise. I found myself in the lead. In the first two races, at least 10 people started ahead of me. Apparently the field for today’s race was not only smaller, but slower.
I wondered if I was starting fast. At the end of my first lap, I checked my watch. I started at the same pace as yesterday. I felt surprisingly good in the early laps. I continued to hold the lead. Runners going the other direction all commented how much better my stride looked today. Unfortunately, that didn’t last. As early as my third lap, I started to notice soreness in my right leg.
Without a hat, I felt colder in the early laps, but I warmed up quickly. I took off my gloves after three laps. After my fourth lap, I took off my jacket and tied it around my waist.
By my fifth lap, the discomfort in my right leg was forcing me to slow down. For four laps, the lead woman, Jacquie, was always right behind me. As I slowed down, Jacquie passed me. Before long, she was out of my sight.
During that lap, I noticed my legs were getting hot. I discovered wind pants are warmer than tights. I was tempted to take them off, but I knew my legs would be cold without them. I waited until the halfway point.
I drank Gatorade after every lap, but I wasn’t paying attention to any of the solid food. Then I smelled something cooking. Norm was making red chili chicken burritos. They smelled really good. When I finished my fifth lap, I asked Norm for a burrito. He wrapped it in wax paper, but said he wasn’t responsible for leakage. I wasn’t too worried. I was wearing a bright orange T-shirt that wouldn’t show stains. I had to take a short walking break while I ate the burrito. Then I resumed running.
My time at the halfway mark was just nine seconds slower than yesterday. I attribute that to the time spent eating a burrito. I stopped to take off my wind pants. That was a big deal, because I had to sit down to get the pant legs off over my shoes. Then I stuffed the wind pants and my jacket into my gear bag and started the second half of the race.
After stopping, my legs were stiff. At first, I couldn’t run very fast. I worked hard to pick up my pace. I was able to loosen up, but I don’t know if I ever resumed my previous pace.
Yesterday, I ran seven laps and walked the last five. After seven laps, I tried to switch to walking. I couldn’t get into the same smooth stride I had yesterday. I also couldn’t generate enough heat walking to keep my legs warm. I needed to mix running with walking. I ran enough to keep my legs warm. When my right leg started to hurt, I took a walking break. It was an imperfect solution, but it allowed me to keep moving. Psychologically, a run/walk mixture was much easier than either running or walking alone.
By the time I finished my ninth lap, I was warm enough that I could have switched to walking for the rest of the race. I was motivated to continue mixing running and walking for two reasons. First, I was on pace to break 5:30. In two weeks, I’m doing a race with a time limit of 5:30. Breaking 5:30 today would help boost my confidence. I also wanted to compete. Jacquie was well ahead of me, but I was still in second place overall. More importantly, I was still ahead of all the men. If I kept up my pace, I would be first place male.
The path we were using is also sometimes used by the army for PT tests. They have a two mile out-and-back course, with every quarter mile marked. I paid attention to those markers. I got into the habit of running a half mile and then walking a quarter mile. I found I could run a half mile without pain by altering my stride. I took short rapid steps. In the past, I’ve found this same adjustment helpful for coping with a pulled hamstring.
As I neared the finish of my tenth lap, I shouted ahead to Norm. I asked him if he could make me another burrito. He said it would take a minute. While I waited, I drank two cups of Gatorade. Then I started walking while eating the burrito. When I was done eating, I walked to the next marker and then continued running.
As I started my last lap, I checked my watch. To break 5:30, I needed to run that lap in 33 minutes. If I walked the whole thing, it would take me at least 34. Mixing running with walking, I had been consistently running 30 minute laps. I knew I could do one more.
On the way out, I did more running than usual. As I was a half mile into the lap, I saw Jacquie coming in. I told her she was a half mile from a first place finish. I don’t know if she’s ever won a race before, so I wanted to cheer her in. I reached the turnaround in just over 14 minutes. That gave me almost 19 minutes to come back. I knew I could do that walking, but I didn’t take any chances. On the way back, I did roughly equal amounts of running and walking.
I finished in 5:26:26. I immediately told Norm that was a PR. It’s the fastest I’ve run a marathon while eating two burritos. I was also the first place male. This is the second time I’ve been the male winner in a race where the overall winner was female. This race doesn’t have awards for the top finishers, but races that do generally have separate awards for men and women. Bearing that in mind, I consider this a win. With that caveat, I now have wins in seven different states.
Just like on day one, I had my choice of finisher medals. They had a wide assortment of medals with different Day of the Dead artwork. Today, I chose this one.
During the race, the burritos were my only solid food. Now that the race was over, I checked to see what else they had at the food table. In addition to some chocolate milk, I had to try one of these candy corn cupcakes.
I’m concerned about my right leg, but I have no regrets about pushing for a sub 5:30 finish. It’s a big confidence boost to know I can still break 5:30 on a day when I’m hurting and have the cumulative fatigue of marathons on three consecutive days. I worry about tomorrow, but I’m sure I’ll manage.
I do have one other small concern. When I got back to the hotel and looked in the mirror, I noticed sunburn on forehead. When I wear a hat, I don’t need sunblock there. I took care of my ears, nose and cheeks, but not my forehead.