My Fifth and Final Marathon (at least for a while)

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A week ago was the one-year anniversary of my first ever marathon, and my fifth completed in the past year. The Sacramento marathon will always be a bit of a turning point for me, I felt like if I could run it last year–then run a few more during the year–and then run Sac again one year later, then I’d have hit some significant milestone. Though, now that it’s done, I’m not sure I feel that way. You’d think your 5th marathon would be your easiest, but last Sunday’s race was really tough for me–and nearly an hour slower than I’d run the Chicago marathon just six weeks before. Super humbling, though I had a few physical issues going on that contributed to making this one a bit more difficult. But, here goes.

Following are a few things I learned about myself over the past five marathons, more general tips than practical ones I’ve written about before, or other running stories about how I never thought I could do it, then I said screw it I’m doing it, and a few in between and one more here:

1. I hate the cold. I’m now a California weather wimp, and I now know I can get very Wangry. Do know the definition of angry ? Perfect. Now, know the term “hangry”? That’s anger induced by hunger. Therefore, “wangry”, is anger induced by cold weather. After this last weeks run (was 20’s during most of it) I never want to run long distances in cold weather again.

20's in the 2013 Sacramento CIM Marathon. Way. Too. Cold.
20’s in the 2013 Sacramento CIM Marathon. Way. Too. Cold.

2. If you want to run a marathon…Just put some steps forward and make it happen. Pick a race (like, literally this week–pick a race for sometime late Spring or early Summer). Sign up. Develop a training plan. Start running. Just. Get. Going.

3. Training is part of the gift. It’s also a pain because it’s so time consuming. If you don’t train, and this is pretty straightforward,  you will be in a lot of pain during your marathon. Like you might find yourself in a port-a-pottie at mile 23 crying from the pain. Hypothetically. And you run the risk of not finishing. Plus, while you learn a lot about yourself from the run itself, you also learn a lot throughout training.

4. Pick a marathon song. A soulful one. I have a song for every marathon. And it’s not a “power song” like in a Nike-sense where you need something to amp  you up. It’s more significant than that. It’s, well, soulful…and I can’t really explain it further. Every marathon of mine has a different one, which is usually scattered several times throughout my marathon playlist. Of course it gets plenty of use during my training runs as well. And whilst blogging. This past race’s song was “Pieces” by Andrew Belle. It’s pretty amazing.

5. Stretch your ass off. Especially if you’re over 30. If you don’t stretch pre and post running,you’re a ticking time bomb. Especially if you have accumulated injuries from previous sports or, maybe, you’re just getting old(er). An Ortho once told me those with greatest risk of ligament and tendon tears are guys in mid 30’s who forego stretching and still do the weekend warrior thing and then…Stretching stinks. I hate it. But you have to do it.

6. Only listen to half of what your doctors tell you. Years back a doc told me I shouldn’t run. So I quit. Then I started running anyways. I’ve kept doc advice about running to pretty much zero ever since. But seven days before this past marathon I had to ask my doc about a little medical thing going on (fixed now, and I do not mean that literally) and I asked her whether I could run the marathon to which she basically said “Ummmm, no. This is probably a bad idea.” Days later I decided to ignore her advice, because I realized  she translated my question as “do you think this is a good idea?” rather than “could something really really bad happen?” Don’t let other people talk you out of something you really want. If I had, I wouldn’t have started running, nor completed last weeks race.

7. Keep your head up. The most epic line I heard from a spectator this past race will forever be burned in my memory. As I’m at mile 24 there were still stretches with very few spectators. At this point I’d taken my headphones off and I’m just trying to run one step at a time while looking right in front of me.

Suddenly, I hear a lady standing around the 2 o’clock position on the sidelines yell out to me in a booming voice “GET YOUR HEAD UP HONEY! AIN’T NO DOLLAR BILLS DOWN THERE! NOW GET YOUR HEAD UP AND LOOK TO THE FINISH LINE!” I kept my head up the final 2.2. miles.

8. And keep your eyes open.

Joyce's First Marathon! Great job!
Joyce’s First Marathon! Great job!

Because you’ll be inspired. And this is what I love most about marathon running.

Watching my friend Joyce finish Chicago–her first marathon–was inspiring to me. So was the guy I saw at the same marathon running WITH brain cancer, who was having serious brain surgery the following day. That story is here,. And then there was the guy with muscular dystrophy, in the same race, who 17 hours later crossed the finish line. Or, simply, during this last Sacramento marathon, when I saw this guy cross the finish line completing his first marathon–and when his eyes met his girlfriend they were both crying. That stuff’s inspiring to me.

I LOVE watching people finish things they thought might be out of their reach. It’s a milestone towards their destiny. And it’s one of the greatest gifts I’ve received from running five marathons this past year, though completing them have also given me a bit of confidence moving forward.

But, despite all the fun I had, I’m not doing five again next year. Most people suggest two is the optimal number, so that’s what I’m sticking with.

Probably.

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Sometimes You Have to Say “Screw It” (My First Marathon)

Sacramento Marathon, 5am Bus Pick Up

Today, I ran–and finished–my first marathon.

Yesterday’s post basically covered up to this morning. I’d committed to finishing, and then to achieve what was a very difficult (for me) stretch goal of completing under four hours.

Literally hours after I posted yesterday these two commitments, I met this awesome marathon coach/trainer at the CIM Expo and was asking her advice on the run today, what products to take, what to eat for breakfast, and how to pace myself for a sub four hour marathon. She was so helpful and encouraging, yet when I told her about my goal pace she asked about my training distances and times to date (which I exaggerated slightly to try to help my cause). She looked at me  and said “look, I don’t want to discourage you–but there’s no way you’re going to be able to do that pace based on your previous runs and training, especially with the rain and wind tomorrow–it’s supposed to be brutal. Just try to finish this one, I want to make sure you can finish.”

Raz at 4am marathon day, pretty scary hair!

This morning I caught the 5am bus, and who sits next to me? An ultra marathoner, and one of the pacers for the Sacramento marathon today. So she asks my goal, and I tell her to finish and then my stretch is a sub-four. She asks me the same line of questioning as the marathon coach last night, and based on my responses says “I don’t want to see you discouraged, but you can’t get close to four hours based on your prep. Even if you had a chance, everyone today is going to be off their target pace considerably because of the weather, the winds are gusting up to 40 MPH. Just focus on finishing this one, do your next one for time.” She really was awesome and full of helpful advice and super encouraging, and she was just being realistic.

But sometimes I hate reality. And a lot of times you can bend it.

It was like I was getting taunted, especially after my affirmations yesterday. Two really experienced marathoners, both telling me getting anywhere close to my goal was impossible. This happens to all of us in everyday life. And it’s so so so easy to succumb. Sometimes the wisdom makes sense to heed. Today, for me, it didn’t.

And this is what I know about myself: sometimes I need people to say “Hey dude, I believe in you” and other times all I need is a person–or two–to tell me at “There is NO WAY you can pull this off!” (incidentally, thanks to those who read my post yesterday and sent me kind messages).

So, I said screw it. I’m trying anyways. First to finish, then for a sub four hour marathon.

And here goes my first mile: 

Starting line: wind howling, it’s raining sideways, I’m wearing a trash bag. It’s in the 50’s and I’m freezing. Soaking wet. And excited. Oh, and I’m sick with a head cold. 🙂

Rich Razgaitis Just off Bus (video at the starting line of some CRAZY wind and rain going on, gusts up to 40 MPH)

At 0.1 miles, I get pretty emotional–yes, the teary kind. Ridiculous, I know, but three years ago I had two failed marathon attempts, 18-months ago I couldn’t run due to this nagging tendonitis, and four months ago I was starting my Sacramento marathon training with three mile runs at an 11-12 minute pace. Today I KNEW I was finishing a marathon. It was a bit of emotional overload. Oh, and the National Anthem was playing. That always does it to me, too. I am so in love with America.

At 0.4 miles, I throw up.

At 0.75 miles, I have to pee. Already. And waited in line for 90-seconds to do so (these 90-seconds become critical later).

Jitters, anyone? I start to settle in after that first mile.

So I’m running about a 9:12 pace the first half of the race. A sub four hour marathon is a 9:09 pace. So I was tracking close, but it was also only the first half and I was still fresh.

The second half I pick it up a tad, but I’m getting fairly fatigued. At 20 miles my legs are bloody screaming. At this point it’s mostly mental. Your body is begging at you to stop, slow down, or keel over. Each step feels like knives in your legs. And I keep thinking, if I just get to 23 or 24 it’ll be easier. Actually, it doesn’t. The reverse is true, it gets massively harder for each mile beyond the high teens. At mile 23 I debate making another (my fifth or sixth!) potty break, and opt to take the 35-seconds to stop. It’s about this time that I also finally ditch wearing the trash bag, as the rain and wind finally subsided and the sun starts to peek out.

Miles 24 and 25 feel eternal. But it’s a strange feeling of excruciating pain coupled with elation, because I knew I was going to finish, and my pace was improving–I was running 8:30 miles at this point, but wasn’t sure this would be enough to get me below four hours.

Raz at Mile 25 of Sacramento Marathon

26.2 miles later, I cross the finish line and my NikePlus tells me I finished in four hours and four seconds. But I thought I’d started the NikePlus early, and that the chip would show a faster time. Alas, this afternoon I learned my chip time was four hours and 33 seconds, which is about a 9:10/mile pace. I needed a 9:09/mile pace to finish under four hours.

33-seconds over four-hours. So. Stinking. Close.

California Marathon Finish Line

I’m still thrilled. I finished and I chased a time-based goal that a lot of people told me I couldn’t come close to accomplishing today–and got pretty dang near to it in tough conditions. I had a blast. I learned a lot about myself in the process. I accomplished something that’s been evading me for years. And I was inspired by thousands of other runners in the process.

And I got a great reminder that at times you’ve just got to say “screw it” in the face of rational advice or things that seem to difficult. A lot of times you know in your heart what’s possible, and you’ve got to go for it, even when others tell you that it’s impossible.

Finally, I really want to express special thanks to all of those who have supported or encouraged me in the process of my first marathon, there were many of you along the way–from helping me pick the race and designing the training schedule, to various encouragement and checking in throughout, I’ll forever be grateful.

Raz Just Across Sac Marathon Finish Line

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