Rock 'n' Roll Savannah Marathon (Savannah, GA)
Marathon #1, State #1
Finish time – 3:57:06
I am a MARATHONER!!!!!!!
Okay, I just wanted to get that out of the way up front. Yes, I am a marathoner. Now let's talk about what it took for me to be able to say that.
Training for my first marathon went perfectly. I can count the number of runs on one hand that I missed for one reason or another, and none of them were my key runs. Because I have two small children and a wife at home, they get first bids on my free time; therefore, most of my training runs took place in the wee hours of the morning... far before any sane people actually rise out of their beds. On a positive note, consistently running an hour or two before the crack of dawn allowed me to experience the city in a way that I never have before. Atlanta, particularly downtown, is really active, even at 5am. But no matter how much I tried to cater my running schedule around the hours when my family is sleeping, my marathon training was bound to start to cut into their time and would inevitably result in my entire household having to adjust to daddy's new found passion for long-distance running. And on that note, I'll go ahead and take my first thank you break.
Thank you break #1 - Thank you to my wonderful wife and children. You have made a tremendous sacrifice to allow me the time that I needed to complete this marathon. My wife accepted all of the additional responsibilities and extra days of waking the kids up or putting them down by herself while I was out logging miles. So thank you Keisha, Corey, and Sean... each of you bought into my mission 100%. And by the time marathon day came, we all had skin in the game. Not only did you allow me the time I needed to train for this marathon, you've accepted that running is now a part of my lifestyle - which means running is now a part of OUR lifestyle. So thank you for your support, words of encouragement, specially prepared meals, and unyielding willingness to make concessions for my passion. I love you guys!
Okay, so back to training. The first 15 of my 18 weeks of training went perfectly. I followed Hal Higdon's Intermediate Plan #2, which called for 3 weeks of increasing distance on long runs with a step back week every fourth week. I followed his plan almost to the tee, though I did have to switch things around a bit to accommodate the Hotlanta Half Marathon. The plan called for three 20 mile runs. At the last minute, I decided to change one of the 20 milers into a 22 miler based on the advice of several experienced marathoners in my circle of influence. That decision proved to be one of the best decisions that I made during training, and it was a huge confidence booster heading into the marathon. However, around the 18 mile mark of my last 20 mile run, I tweaked my right foot. I remember looking over at Ed (who was running with me) and telling him that my foot felt off. I would have stopped but I was only two miles away, and I needed to get back to my car anyway. Speaking of Ed...
Thank you break #2 - I remember having a concern about finding someone to support me during the longer runs on my training schedule. What I soon realized was that it's almost impossible to run solo these days... The Atlanta running community is just too tight knit. Literally, every time I went on a long run I bumped into someone I knew, and I ended up running some of my miles with them. Sometimes, it'd be Margo or Jason Williams or Randy... but far more often than not, it was Ed. I think Ed ran with me for some portion of each of my 19+ mile runs. There'd be times when Ed didn't even tell me he was going to meet me but sure enough at some point during the run, there'd he be running up to me yelling a BMR battle cry. So, thank you, Atlanta running community, particularly Ed, for running so many miles with me along the way.
So, back to my injury. I felt pain that seemed to be moving throughout my right foot. It escalated from a dull pain to a limp-inducing sharp pain that made me fear having a stress fracture. At one point, I thought my marathon hopes were over. I was ready to cancel my hotel reservations and call it quits. But everyone around me kept my hopes up. My wife kept telling me that I'd be fine, and she prayed over my foot. Maurya coached me through a one-week rehab plan. She literally gave me a rehab schedule, tips, pictures of how to prepare ice baths for my foot. Also, she and Booker constantly checked in on me to see how I was progressing. Thanks Maurya and Booker! Fortunately, I was pain-free with about a week to spare before my marathon. It was on!
The drive to Savannah was uneventful and we arrived in good time to check into the hotel and hit up the Expo!
Once I got to the Expo, I knew it was real. This was going to happen. What I wasn't prepared for was the Expo line... I mean WHOA!!
Fortunately, the line progressed pretty quickly. Overall, I was impressed with the Expo. There were lots of vendors and pretty good prices (not much free stuff though). I managed to make my way through the process with two purchases - a pair of $2 running gloves and something else which I'll discuss later. The most important thing that I left with was my bib - 5001
At the expo, I bumped into Robert (Twenty Twenty Club), Roy and Kiva, Nicholas (Captain of BMR Atlanta), Tes (Running Nerds), Marcus and Janae (my neighbors), and Pete (Twenty Twenty Club)... Apparently, not only is the Atlanta running community tight knit, we are also mobile!
After the expo, I went back to the hotel, took an Epsom salt bath, laid out my race day gear, ate some pizza, and got to bed at a decent hour. I laid in bed and went over the goal that I had set for myself (and publicly declared on Facebook). As a reminder, my goal was to finish the race in good health and on two feet in less than four hours flat (3:59:59 or better).
I slept pretty well through the night, though I did wake up briefly a few times. I woke up early the next morning and enjoyed a bite to eat in the lobby of the hotel - blueberry muffin and coffee. Then I went back to the hotel room to help my wife get the boys up and over to the start line. This is what I saw when I got back...
Yeah, my boys can sleep! LOL! So anyway, Wifey (rocking her new pink BMR shirt) and I get them ready and then we wait in the super long line to get on the ferry boat that will take us to the start line. I get to the start line at around 7:10am... precisely the start time of my wave - Wave 5. I figured since I was already a little late, I might as well take a quick bathroom break with the hopes that I wouldn't have to go during the race. I got back in time to start with wave 8 (I think). With barely enough time to say a short prayer the announcer called out our wave, the crowds cheered, and we were off!
Miles 0-3.1 (9:23/mile pace average)
So here I was running my first marathon. The crowds were deep, and I was in a slower corral than originally planned. But I was okay with that since I wanted to start out slow anyway. The other good thing about starting a little late was that less than a half mile into the race I get tapped on my shoulder and turn around to see this guy...
Nic and I ran the first several miles together. It was great running with him because it helped me control my starting pace, and the conversation helped the early miles fly by. I can't remember exactly when we split (probably around mile 4 or so), but at some point the crowds thinned out and I was able to find my race pace and get on schedule for my planned sub-4. The good thing about runners is that explanations are not needed when it's time for us each to run our own race. There was no planned split... one minute we were running together, the next we weren't. Simple as that.
Miles 3.1-6 (8:52/mile pace average)
My fourth mile was my first sub-9 minute mile. It was around this time that the crowds thinned out, and I started to execute my plan. After what happened to me at the Hotlanta Half Marathon, I knew that I was going to take liquid at every single station, which happened to be about every 2 miles or so. And starting at mile 6 I was going to take a gel every 3 miles. I'm happy to say that I stuck to this plan and didn't pass by a single aid station without fueling. Also, this was my first race where I didn't carry my own hydration. I was able to successfully drink from the course-provided cups - And I actually got all of the fluid in my mouth instead of splashing it all over my face. My drinking on the run skills are top notch if I may say so myself.
Miles 6-10 (8:54/mile pace average)
The first several miles took us through some blighted areas of Savannah, and I don't mean that in an offensive way. But it was a clear reminder of the relatively narrow band that separates the haves and the have-nots in most of our big cities... Savannah is no different. The thing is, the crowd support throughout ALL of the Savannah neighborhoods was great. Some neighborhoods featured 4-story homes with people out front holding mimosas. Other neighborhoods featured small shotgun style houses with people out front in folding chairs. But what they all had in common was (1) an enthusiasm for those in the race and (2) that classic southern hospitality. All that said, miles 6-10 were mostly back in the downtown area of Savannah. The crowds here were some of the deepest and loudest. At this point, I'm still feeling great. And at an 8:54/mile pace average, I'm still well on target to meet my goal.
Miles 10-20 (8:42/mile pace average)
The half marathoners and full marathoners split somewhere around mile 11. The half marathoners continue straight towards the finish line, and the full marathoners make a sharp left onto the highway. Now all throughout the race, the race sponsors did a great job of having live bands scattered every mile or so... and they were ALL good. One of the perks of not wearing headphones is that I was really able to soak in the sounds of the city and the amazing bands. The highway was another story all together. I guess they couldn't talk a band into setting up in the middle of a highway, so they had a DJ playing music over speakers that were spread throughout the highway. It was cool, but not as cool as the live bands. The highway stretch was from miles 11.5 - 13.5, but they easily felt twice as long. It was shortly before exiting the highway that I saw the leaders coming at me in the other direction. Miles 11.5 -13.5 headed outbound on the highway for me were miles 22.5 - 24.5 for them. Two thoughts cross my mind - (1) Man they are fast! and (2) Man they look beat!
After the long and boring miles on the highway, runners are rewarded with several miles through Savannah State University. I honestly can't express clearly enough how amazing the students at SSU were! I mean they were incredible! These were easily (without a shred of doubt) my favorite miles of the entire race. These kids were live and the bands were rocking! I remember passing by this one gospel band and all I heard was "Jesus, Jesus" and I was a millisecond away from losing it. I could feel all the flood gates at the edge of my eyes about to burst open and then I had to block the music out for a few seconds to make sure I didn't lose all composure. Sorry Jesus, but I had to hum a little 2 Chainz just to get back right. I'm not sure where all the emotion came from but I was about to start a river out there. Fortunately, this almost emotional outburst only lasted for about 5 seconds, then I was back focused.
Around mile 17, we got to run a lap around the SSU track. And let me tell you, after 17 miles of grinding it out on the street, those 400 meters around the track felt like a small slice of heaven. If they didn't have the way blocked off, I might have taken a second loop on that thing.
After leaving the track, the next few miles were long out and back through some nice looking suburbs and parks. Let's take a brief moment to discuss the abundance of long out and back stretches on this course - they suck! I mean it really got old looking at people running on the same street with you in the opposite direction, all the while knowing they are 2+ miles ahead of you. It took every bit of integrity in me not to just turn around and blend in with them. I know the race sponsors probably saves money with these out and backs by not having to close down additional streets, but come on! It's a bit deflating people.
Anyway, thanks in large part to the wonderful students at SSU, this was my fastest stretch of the marathon. I ran miles 10-20 at a 8:42/mile average pace.
Miles 20-26.2 (9:40/mile pace average)
And then came the last 10k. We stayed in the suburbs up until mile 22, where we got back on the highway. Mile 20 was the first mile that took over 9:00 since the beginning miles of the race. I didn't feel like I was going that slow so I said to myself "Okay Da'Rel. Let's pick it up... we've come to far too start slacking now." I refocused my energy, did a quick self-check, and pushed through mile 21 in 8:51. Better. Mile 22 was the first mile where I actually felt a bit tired. Not exhausted, but certainly a little fatigued. So I took off my gloves. Yes, I kept my throwaway gloves on for the first 22 miles. Hey, I liked them - they were surprisingly comfortable. So anyway, at mile 22, I threw away my gloves and said, "Okay Da'Rel, this is where it's supposed to hurt. Let's go!" And yes, I said that out loud. And then came the highway.
Oh Truman highway, how I loathe thee. The return trip on the highway was brutal. First of all, we are on a highway and there is NO SHADE. At this point, the temperatures have climbed to around the 60 degree mark and there are no more fans to cheer you on. No bands. Scarce course support. Just you and a long stretch of highway. And the highway won. Miles 23-25 were basically all highway and my splits were as follows - 9:30, 9:48, 9:48. So much for staying under 9 minute miles. I knew I was still on pace to meet my 4 hour goal, because I finished the first half well under 2 hours. So I had some time in the bank. But I knew I didn't have that much time to play with. After getting off of the highway, the last 1.5 miles were literally about survival. One foot in front of the other... past the people laid out on the side of the road; past the crying woman who looked 2 steps away from collapsing; past the half marathoners who I can vaguely hear commending us for running the full. I just needed to see that finish line. Just keep running is all I could think.
And then I see the promise land. A huge sign with the numbers "26" written boldly on the front for all to see. Shortly after passing the sign I make a quick left and I see it - The finish line! And then I hear a male voice call my name "DA'REL!!" That's weird I thought as I'm looking at some strange man I've never seen before. But then I look to his left and see my wife and children cheering me on! Clearly my wife got him to call my attention for her, LOL. They were a wonderful sight to see. But still I'm thinking... keep running, keep running. Who knew 0.2 miles could be so far. A few more steps and then I see my sister. Hey Sandra! But still I'm thinking... keep running, keep running. And then after what feels like an eternity, I cross the line.
The rest was a blur. I honestly don't even remember anyone putting a medal around my neck, but there it was. Someone is trying to stick a camera in my face, but all I can think of is getting them out of my way. No I don't want a picture, I don't want a banana, I just want to keep walking. I'm scared to stop because I'm thinking about Roy's cramping episode that he told me about. Oh, but I do see that chocolate milk over there, and yes, I do want that. My favorite recovery drink! So I gulp down the chocolate milk, bump into and say what's up to Malcolm and proceed to walk around in circles until I feel like it's safe to exit and stop walking. I see Ed waving the BMR flag. I feel like that is the only image of Ed that I have these days - him waving the flag. I (not so gracefully) sit down on the steps of someone's porch ...Still don't know whose steps we were on come to think of it.
Shortly after, my wife and kids arrive with all smiles. My sister and brother-in-law arrive (he ran the half marathon). More friends finish and we exchange war stories. I'll spare the details of the rest of the weekend, but it involved food, drinks, ice, Epsom salt baths, and sleep. Oh and how do I commemorate finishing the most rewarding and painful race of my life? I endure a little more pain to make the memory permanent.
I AM A MARATHONER! A Sub-4 Hour MARATHONER at that!!!
Now, one of the most frequent questions that I've been asked is whether or not I plan to run another marathon. That brings me back to my second purchase at the expo. Yes, I plan to run another marathon. In fact, I plan to run at least another 49. Next up, Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama. I've got some work to do (and some medal pegs to fill).
Until next time, It's been real Savannah!