My best marathon!

All right, another marathon and another personal best. It is mostly due to some extreme luck I had on that day. I think I cannot run it again as fast as I ran it last Saturday. I did everything wrong – preparation, running pace, but this combination of negatives generated a big plus – a big improvement to my result. I finished this marathon in top 10% – on the 63th place out of 643 marathon runners.

It all started Friday night. Me and Michael were going to run on Saturday. I was going for a marathon, and he was going to run his first 10K. As I was trying to introduce him to the world of running, I mentioned that there is a custom of eating pasta on the eve of the running day. So we went to the nearest Italian restaurant and had some nice pasta. Then we went back home. I set up my alarm clock at 4AM, as the race was scheduled for 6AM. The following night was terrible – I could not fall asleep. This happened to me only a few times before. Apparently, I was anticipating this race too much, even though I was thinking to myself that this is just another marathon, and I did a few of them before. Anyway, I got up at 3:30 AM feeling pretty drowsy and in a rather unhappy mood.

The taxi came at 5AM and in another half of an hour we arrived to Nan-liao, a coastline area of Hsinchu. It was still dark, the sun rose at around 6AM. Still, there were already plenty of people. Apparently, this marathon is a rather popular event. After doing warm-up exercises I queued at the start/finish line closer to the beginning. I know that people tend to start slowly and then you can end up in a bottleneck and waste precious time. This time the start was smooth. The weather was perfect – around 20 centigrade, no wind, clear. But it was obvious that after a few hours the sun will start to burn us, so overheating was a concern in this race. Lots of drinking and pouring water onto yourself can ease this problem, though.

All the previous mental preparation was forgotten immediately. Before the race I was trying to convince myself that I should start the marathon at a slower pace and then try to accelerate toward the end. I started this marathon at a crazy pace. First 5km were done in 20 minutes, 10k in 45 minutes which means I was running at about 15km/h. It is a typical mistake of beginners – they start fast but their juice ends pretty soon. On the other hand, if you can sustain this pace for the whole duration of the marathon, you will end up with a sub-3 hour finish which is the speed of professional runners.

Because I was running so fast, after 1 hour I found myself surrounded by professional runners. They looked at me – wow, who are you, buddy? Apparently, they knew many people participating in this marathon because they greeted someone along the track every now and then. One guy talked to me and asked what target I was shooting today – 3 hours and 30 minutes, or maybe I was going to break 3 hour mark? I answered modestly that my goal was only to run in under 4 hour time. Haha, he said, this pace is way too fast. So we slowed down, as his goal was 3 hours and 30 minutes. Together we ran the next 20 km.

It was a big luck that I ran into this guy who helped me maintain the right pace throughout this marathon. Sometimes, he was slowing down, sometimes going faster. I copied his pace without thinking much how fast we were going. We arrived at 21km mark after 1 hour 45 minutes. A few years ago when I was running half-marathons, I could not do it faster than 1 hour 50 minutes, even though I tried very hard. So in this marathon I achieved my PB in half-marathons as well.

Then another guy joined our group. This guy had lots of muscles, I thought in his real life he is a special assignments officer or a professional wrestler. But this guy was running in such a light-weight manner. As we were progressing through the marathon the heat kicked in and the wind started to blow. It was very convenient to run right behind this guy as he was protecting me against the wind. We arrived at 30km mark in 2 hours and 30 minutes. Then I felt that I cannot maintain this pace anymore. I was going to stop. I was devastated. All my dreams of finishing with a good time were suddenly gone. If I walk the remaining 10 km in about 5km/h pace then I would end up with a 4:30:00 time, which is pretty miserable given all my previous efforts. I was walking along the way in a desperate mood.

Then suddenly I heard steps of a runner behind myself. He was running rather slowly, apparently he was also tired. And I thought to myself – try to hook up with this guy, maybe you can go in a slower pace. I tried – and to my greatest surprise it worked out! I still could run, even though pretty slowly. Suddenly, the hope appeared in my mind again, I started doing various kind of mathematical exercises – if I run this many kms at this pace, and then the rest with this kind of pace, can I still make it in under 4 hours?

Most of the time, my calculation was showing that I am going to finish in 4 hours and 5 minutes, which is pretty good, but this way I would not achieve my goal of breaking 4 hours. So I was still in a pretty gloomy mood. Eventually, we arrived at 35 km mark where I saw an electric clock (as usual, I ran without wrist watch) showing that the time was 3 hours and 10 minutes. So, I had to run 7 km in 50 minutes, which is an easy task if you are fresh, but in the end of the marathon this task is next to impossible.

But this electric clock gave me the final hope that I could break the 4 hours goal in this marathon. I thought to myself – I can do it, I should do it, go for it. The temperature was around 35 centigrade, there was a strong wind blowing into my face, and I was very tired. How could I run anymore? I don’t know. It was next to impossible. But I kept saying to myself: don’t stop, don’t stop, if you stop then you lost this race.

I was crawling like a zombie along the way. My legs were moving automatically, my body was half-bent because I was very tired. It was like in a dream. As we approached the last few kilometers more and more spectators greeted me cheering “Go! Go! Go!”. So I realized that I was going to end up with some nice result and these guys are just telling me to run faster in order to come in time.

And here is the last turn and the last kilometer. People around me are clapping their hands and cheering. Now I can see the finish line and the clock in some distance. My eyesight is not so good as to allow me to see the time. As I approach the finish line I realize that the clock was showing 3:40-something. I cannot believe my eyes. Suddenly I raise my hands and yell on top of my lungs. People burst in applause. I cross the finish line. People give me something to drink and put a medal around my neck. The race is over. I am alive.

Date October 29, 2011
Distance Marathon
Time (hh:mm) 03:46
Rating