Tuesday, September 27, 2011

My First Half Marathon Sufferfest!

I am having a terrible time writing this post.  I find that I want to be witty.  I want to reference earlier posts.  but sadly I just don't think I have it in me yet.  So, all I can do is write what I remember, as I remember it.  Hopefully, it turns out to be a decent post.

I slept rather poorly the night before the race.  I had been trying to make sure that I was well hydrated, so I had been drinking several liters of water for 2 days.  I had to get up to pee 2 or 3 times in the night.  Finally I was up for good about 4:15am, when I had to poop.  Sadly, I was happy to be getting a good morning poop out of the way.  There had been some thunder throughout the night, that had me nervous.  When we got into the car at 5:30am, It was cold outside and was starting to rain.  I debated a lot about what clothing I was going to wear,but as the rain cleared I settles on just shirt and shorts, no long sleeves.  That decision turned out just fine.  When we got to the starting area I went to the bathroom one more time, lubed up my nipples, and stretched out.  I was thankful to have Katie with me.  We had good conversation; it kept me feeling light hearted.  I went for a 2 minute warm-up jog, and I was feeling good.  I removed my sweatshirt, put on my iPod, kissed Katie goodbye, and headed for the starting area.

When I got in the corral, I was unsure where I should be lining up.  The pacer for the 1:45 half marathon was easy to pick out, she had a giant floral arrangement on her head.  But I knew I would want to stay ahead of her.  The next pacer I saw was the 3:25 full marathon pacer.  A little bit closer to my goal so I settled on staying with him.  I started a couple of conversations with nearby runners.  I met Brett who had the coolest little tool that I had seen in awhile.  He had a temporary tatoo that had all of the split times for his goal pace.  You can check out the product here.  Suddenly, a pacer showed up with a 1:40 half marathon time written on his sign.  That was the guy, Dominic, that I wanted to race with.  If I could keep him insight, I knew I would be able to achieve my goal.

I turned on my iPod and watched as all of the dignitaries made their speeches.  Bart Yasso was there and spoke, which was pretty cool, but I didn't care about the 4 mayors of the Quad Cities.  Finally it was time to go and the gun went off.  I moved out quickly, but not as quickly as some of the pacers.  I caught and passed the 3:25 full marathon pacer, then I came upon Dominic and his 1:40 sign.  I stuck next to him for a while, and probably should have stayed there or even further behind him.  Instead, I came up with the ill-advised plan of staying in front of Dominic.  My theory being that I would stay ahead of pace while running and then let Dominic catch up while I took a walking break and drank some Gatorade.  I had my stop pre-planned according to the map the website provided.  I would be stopping at about 5 miles for some Gatorade and again around 8 miles.  Anyway, I put Dominic behind me and hit my stride.  I knew I was moving fast, but I felt pretty good.  The race took onto Interstate 74 from Illinois, over the Mississippi River, and into Iowa.  I have driven over this exact bridge several times in my life, and not once did I ever consider the incline of the on-ramp or the bridge itself as it crosses the expanse of the river.  I will tell you now it's freaking steep!  I shortened my stride and brought my arms up as I think I read somewhere before.  The first incline went well and I descended into Iowa.

Immediately, the course exited the interstate turned onto Kimberly Road in Bettendorf, IA.  I had investigated the topography of this portion of the race, as I was unfamiliar with this area specifically.  I knew it was going to be uphill again.  At the bottom of the hill I hit the 2 mile mark at 15:08, a little fast but again I thought it would work into my plan of staying in front of Dominic.  As I began the ascent of Kimberly Road I again shortened my stride and brought my arms up.  It seemed to help for awhile, but I began to slow a bit as the incline seemed to last far too long.  I hit 3 miles at 22:40, still fast but I was feeling pretty good with my plan.  The other runners and I finally crested the hill and hit the first decline of the entire race.  It felt great to really stretch out my my legs.  Then I came across a real surprise.  A girl was standing on the side of the road holding a Gatorade sign.  It was the first refreshment support of the race and I was supposed to see that it had Gatorade; that was not what the map said it would be.  As this break came a little earlier than expected and was on the first downhill of the race, I decided to for go the nutrition in favor of the speed.  I was still planning on stopping around mile 5 for my first break.

Mile 4 went by at 30:08, then mile 5 at 37:46.  No sign of the Gatorade station yet, but I was sure it was just around the corner.  Thankfully, the route had turned parallel to the river and was running relatively flat, but I knew I had been pushing hard and my "fuel" stores were running desperately low.  By mile 6, I was  full-on freaking out.  I had no water or caloric intake for 6 miles, and I had pushed my body much harder than I should have.  Finally, I saw the next refreshment station.  I was elated.  Then I was immediately heartbroken.  The station only had GU gels, but I was desperate so I grabbed one, vanilla bean, ripped it open, held my breath, and squirted less than a teaspoon full of gel into my mouth.  I was immediately overcome by the experience.  I had never had a GU gel before and was only taking one because I was in a bad situation.  However, it was a very bad decision.  The gel had the texture of thicker-than-normal toothpaste and while I am sure vanilla bean is a great disguise for regular ingredients, the sweetness of the flavor was overwhelming.  I immediately spit it out.

I crossed the 10K mark (6.2 miles) at 46:54.  I was averaging better than 7:35 per mile, but I was fading fast!  Finally near mile 7, I came across the Gatorade station that I had been waiting for.  I held up two fingers and yelled, "Two, please!"  I grabbed two cups and pulled off to the side to walk.  No sooner had I stepped to the side, than Dominic and the 1:40 pace group ran by me.  "SHIT!"  I caught my breath as best as I could, downed the two cups of Gatorade, and started off again.  By this point Dominic was about 200 yards ahead of me, yet it seemed as though he was pulling away rather than getting closer.

The next thing that happened was a great surprise.  As I am running along, I hear a runner say, "Fulton?!"  I turned and running next to me was Matt "Dawg" Davis.  Dawg has been one of my best friend in the whole world since I was 4 years old.  He has been present at some of the most stupid events of my life (which will remain unmentioned) and some of the best (he was a groomsman at my wedding).  Dawg is also one of those friends that I do not have to speak with for years, but the moment we see each other it is like we have never been apart.  Matt and I embraced in a rather uncomfortable hug.  Not because of any weirdness or the fact that it was two guys embracing, but because we were hugging while continuing to run at a pretty brisk pace with other runners around us.  We broke the hug after a few steps and I asked if he was running the full marathon, and he confirmed my suspicion.  I knew that Matt had taken up running in recent years, but I was amazed to know that he was already at the level of marathon.  Dawg introduced me to his running mate, Joe, and said how we had grown up together.  Dawg asked how I was doing.  I responded that I was struggling.  He said "Don't worry, you over half way there!"  I wished each other good luck and parted ways, as he and Joe were moving much faster than I at this point in the race.  Dawg would finish his first full marathon in 3:24, impressive by most any measure.

Very soon I turned off of the river path and back onto the roads.  But the speed and the lack of nutrition had taking its toll.  Even the small incline from the river to the streets of Rock Island had my legs burning.  I was nearing another bridge over the river to Arsenal Island, and before I could tackle another incline I had to stop and walk for a few meters.  I caught my breath, prepared for the next short incline and jogged up the hill to the arsenal bridge.  This bridge was terrible!  It was a metal grated bridge which organizers had laid a 3 foot wide carpet runner on.  I was shocked when I was finally able to grasp the entire situation.  Most people were able to stick to the carpeted path, but some were forced to the metal mesh in order to pass runners in front of them.  While running across the bridge, my energy level began to wain significantly, my run turned to more of a jog. My form was so sloppy that I was barely picking my feet up.  Suddenly, I stumbled on the carpet.  Not just a little slip, but a full-on flailing trip that nearly sent me to the surface of the bridge.  Thinking back, if I had gone down on the metal surface of that bridge it could have put me completely out of the race, OUCH!  Fortunately, I recovered before face planting, but my energy levels were almost fully depleted. 

A couple hundred meters after crossing the bridge to Arsenal Island I had to stop and walk again.  I had given up on my hopes of finishing sub-1:41.  Dominic was no longer in sight and I knew the clock was against me know. As my trip across Arsenal Island wore on, my condition became worse.  With each hill that I came across, I felt like Sisyphus pushing the boulder only to see it roll back down again.  My blood sugar levels were getting dangerously low, as well.  I remember coming across one station that was supposed to be water and Gatorade.  At the bottom of the hill was water, but the Gatorade was at the top and I remember feeling like some cruel joke was being played out.  How could the Gatorade that I needed so badly be at the top of another damn hill?!  As I got the Gatorade, I stopped and walked again, but as I finished my two cups I remember thinking "That is not enough; I am screwed."

At about mile 10.5, I was struggling mightily.  I found that I could only run about 100 to 200 yards before my legs would start cramping up, and I would have to slow to a walk.  Other runners were very encouraging, cheering me on to "keep it up" or "you're almost there", but I was cooked.  Finally, I heard somebody from the crowd say to a runner right behind me, " I love your hat!"  I knew it was the 1:45 pacer.  And thank goodness it was.  That woman was wonderful.  I told her that I hoped I would not see her the entire race.  She was full of encouragement and energy.  She asked me to run with her for a little while and I did for a very little while, but I was forced to say to her that I could not keep up.  She told me how great I looked, that my hands were relaxed (I knew it was because I did not have the energy to close them), and to keep moving forward.  She was great!

I had finally resigned to running when I could and walking when I had to.  I knew my condition was becoming a crisis because my vision began to deteriorate and I started seeing "stars" for lack of a better term.  There were lines of glowing geometric shapes twinkling on the periphery of my vision.  I was starting to get pretty worried.  My worry or condition must have been showing through, because a volunteer looked at me and asked if I was okay; I must have looked bad.  I told him that I needed sugar, and he said it was up (another freaking hill!) and around the corner.  That little jaunt felt like a mile and a half, but eventually I came to the station that he spoke of.  They were giving out oranges and bananas.  What a great idea!  I grabbed 3 orange sections and grasped for a banana but it slipped out of my hands.  The oranges were terrible and fibrous, but I sucked the juice out of those things like it was my life's blood.  Shortly after I heard sirens, but was pretty sure they were real and not some delusion.  It was the escort for the first marathoners.  I was just completing my twelfth mile and these guys were clipping past mile 19 for them.  Those athletes are absolutely amazing! 

Finally I came to the last bridge.  My energy had picked up a little from the oranges and I decided to run to the crest of the bridge.  I walked for a bit at the top, and finally decided that it was time to finish the race running.  The exit ramp of the bridge was steep enough that I felt as though my legs would give out and I would just rill down, but again I made it.  I turned the corner, saw the finish line and attempted to push with all I had left, but it wasn't much.  My wife,parents, and kids were on the sidelines.  I saw them cheering me on.  I knew I had failed at my goal, but nothing can make you feel more like a winner than your kids holding signs, smiling and cheering you on, no matter if you were in first or last place.  That was probably the best feeling of the race.

 I crossed the finish line, 1:50:44.  Ten minutes over my goal, but when I finished I screamed like a wounded warrior anyway!  I had done it, completed my first half marathon.  Immediately afterwards I would have told you that I would never run another half again.  The pain and the suffering were just too great.  But even now a couple of days later and I am estimating when I can run another one, how I could do it better, and accomplishing my goal.

When I looked a the stats later, I began to feel a bit better about my performance.  I finished 338 of 1638 runners and 36 of 100 male runners between the ages of 30-34.  Those are pretty good looking stats if I do say so myself.  And probably motivation enough for me to keep trying these races.

I did learn a few things:

1.  I overestimated my physical fitness.  I went entirely too fast out of the gates, and should have slowed down a bit at the beginning.  Additionally, I would have been better off if I was a few pounds lighter.

2.  I underestimated the terrain.  I knew this area was hilly and I knew that the first bridge and Kimberly Road were very steep, but I had no idea how steep nor how much it would take out of  me to climb them.  I need to work more hill training into my normal routine.

3.  I need to wok on better in-race nutrition and I never should have passed that first Gatorade station.

But what is the use of learning anything if you don't get the chance to use your knowledge?  So, I guess I will have to try another one of these things.  I sure hope it goes at least a little better.


  1. Great recount of your first half Brian! Sounds like my first half, I died around mile 10 also and had to alternate between walking and running. But my second half I ran the entire time and smoked my first time! I'm sure you'll do the same.
    Now you can try playing around with your foods, I always carry a pack of cliff bar shot blocks with me bc they're easy to transport, and I have 3 every 4-6 miles along with the water provided. They're more like candy than goop. I'd also play with salts, I have friends that have had success with salt pills although I haven't had to try them. So proud of you and your time is still so awesome with those tough hills!

  2. Fult, very proud of you buddy. Your recap is almost as fantastic as your mustache/mohawk. Congratulations!