The day before the race was cold and miserable, with rain and wind and just about everything else you don't want to run in. But by 4 am on race day (when I woke up), however, it was clear skies and warmer temperatures. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day.
My original race goal was to finish under 4 hours. I've been chasing that time ever since my first marathon back in 2000 when I finished at 4:08. Subsequent marathons have not been so kind, often seeing me finish well after 5 hours. But those past races, I thought, were run with little training. This time I was well prepared.
As I lined up with the other runners at my speed, I sipped the last drops out of my bottle. "If I can hydrate early," I thought, "then maybe I won't lose everything half way through." The gun went off, and I tossed my empty bottle of Hot Squirrel into the trash bin as I trotted over the starting line.
Mile 2 saw me at 21 minutes, which is about where I wanted to be: 10.5 minute miles; taking it slow and warming up. I stopped at the port-o-let to relieve myself. "Excellent--kidneys are working and I'm processing my water." It was as valid concern. If I couldn't pee it meant my body wasn't doing anything with the liquids. Actually, this was pretty much my only concern.
Between mile 2 and mile 10 I was cranking out sub 9-minute miles and feeling fantastic. Sarah met me at the 10-mile mark to take my warm-weather clothing and give me a huge emotional boost. (Thanks, Sarah!)
The next 7 miles were all uphill, and I was feeling the ache by mile 18, when the course finally changed to a long descent. I stopped again, thankfully, at a bathroom, for a much-needed break. Then it was downhill all along Colfax, into the football stadium, and back along Cherry Creek heading towards downtown Denver. And I was thirsty the entire way.
I felt desperate for fluids, and at each aid station (placed 2 miles apart), I guzzled down cups of water and sports drink. Each mile got a bit slower: 9:30 pace . . . 10:15 pace . . . and when I met the volunteers at mile 22 it happened. I bonked. I was out. I couldn't keep running. Hell, I could barely move forward. I felt like I was wearing shoes filled with sand, and my vision wobbled. The horizon before me seemed to sway as though I were on a boat. There were 4 miles left. I had run for 3 hours and 40 minutes. If I could run a 10 minute-mile to the end, I'd meet my goal.
Those last four miles would take over an hour.
As I walked, hobbled, stopped, collapsed, and walked along the now-sunny streets of Denver, I had two thoughts repeat in my head: keep moving forward, and don't puke! I would do both, but the latter only until I crossed the finish line at 4 hours and 45 minutes. Sarah met me there and helped me from one shady tree to the next where I exuberantly expelled the contents of my stomach. Just like my training runs, my body seemed to have stopped processing liquids, instead deciding it was a good idea to just keep them in my belly--you know, for later.
But that didn't stop me from drinking my victory beer. No matter that I got to see that victory beer again very soon after.