So that’s what the wall feels like…
This was the first time I hit the wall in a race. I did not enjoy the experience. But I learned from it, so I suppose there’s some value there.
Wineglass was one of two big goal races this year. I wanted to do this race because of its proximity in Western New York and because of its popularity. As a Fall point-to-point race that features a net downhill, the race is famous enough to be featured on many lists of destination races around the country. It sells out every year, and it seemed the perfect opportunity to compare how far I’ve come from my first road marathon last September.
Going in to Wineglass, I felt strong. My training runs were fast, and I was convinced a 3 hour 45 minute finish was not out of the question, crushing my PR (from my only other road marathon) of 4:30. I had some realistic other goals, however. If things didn’t work out as planned, I still wanted to break the 4:00 mark. And then, of course, there’s the ever-present goal of just finishing. Running 26 miles is never easy, after all.
My routine was broken for this race. I stayed in a hotel near Corning, NY, instead of sleeping in my own bed. The hotel’s coffee was mostly gritty grounds and hot water, so I was running on the least amount of caffeine that I can remember. And instead of eating a peanut butter sandwich and going to bed early, I met up with some other runners the night before the race and drank a few beers and ate Pad Thai. None of these things felt like they had an impact on my race; I slept ok, was awake despite next to no caffeine, and my stomach was fine. But it may have been a factor.
Conditioning may have been a factor too. I was trying to train casually, not getting stuck on numbers and relying on my established base. A recent 20-mile training run felt easy and fast, so I thought I was ready. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be fast (for me), and that 3:45 goal was looming large. Nerves became a factor. Who was I trying to impress? Just myself, I guess.
The morning of the race was cold (about 35 degrees F) and featured thick, dense fog. I meandered through traffic to get a parking spot and was on my way to the bus lines, bundled in all the warm clothes that I planned to leave in my drop bag at the starting line. I checked my pocket for the plastic drop bag, and it was gone! Running back the way I came, I found it by the parking garage exit, thankfully. I couldn’t tell if that was a good sign or a bad one, but I made the shuttle in plenty of time.
It’s a 30-minute bus ride to Bath and the starting line, and the fog meant you couldn’t see much of the course you were about to run through in the other direction. At the start, one large tent kept runners warm, and those that didn’t fit clustered in a bus barn that at least kept us out of the wind. I talked with some friends and kept the nerves at bay before finally shucking my warm-weather gear and getting into the crowd. It was a cold 10 or so minutes of listening to the speakers before they finally let us start.
I felt good…like really good. I hung in the cluster of people behind the 3:45 pacer through Bath, and the sun broke through the clouds, warming us up at last. Running in a pace group kind of stinks, as you have to watch every step or risk kicking another runner or being kicked, so eventually, as we left the town, I passed the group and hung out in the relatively open area in front of them.
The sun disappeared again, and it got cold and damp. But I still felt good and was running strong. I caught up to the 3:40 cluster and ran with them for a few miles, finally passing them going up the long (but gentle) incline at mile 6. The race tracking app kept telling me my mile splits over my headphones, and I was averaging about an 8:15 pace. A few miles were just over 8 minute miles.
Perhaps I went out too fast. If I stayed behind the 3:45 pacer, I might have preserved some energy. But on the other hand, you can’t finish ahead of schedule if you don’t push the pace. And I really did feel good!
Tiredness started to set in by the time we got to the halfway point in Campbell, where the half marathon had started a while ago. But you’re supposed to be tired when running, and I wasn’t letting that get me down. I gulped some water, and I was starting to realize that my energy was flagging. I wasn’t taking enough energy back in, and the water or Gatorade wasn’t going to cut it.
Usually when I run long races, I subsist on Tailwind, which has electrolytes and calories. In trail races, I pack some powder to refill my bottles a few times at aid stations, and I did the same thing with stashed water bottles during my training run. But this time, I had just my handheld from the beginning, and it was empty by the midway point.
By mile 15, I was tired. My body was fading, and when I walked through a water station, the 3:40 group passed by. I ran on to mile 17, and I acknowledged I was struggling. Another walk through a water stop had the 3:45 group pass me.
I tried to pick it up again. I didn’t know if I really was nearing that proverbial wall or if I was just tired and letting my brain hold me back. I wanted to push through, to find that internal strength. But such was not to be.
By mile 18, I was spent. My legs were hurting now, and I started to take short walk breaks. By mile 20, my legs were cramping everywhere, and I had to stop to stretch them out. I knew I had little left. It was a few minutes of painful jogging, a minute or so of painful walking, my pace degenerating to 10 or even 11 minutes per mile.
Those last six miles of a marathon are always hard, but when every muscle in your legs are cramping, those miles are excruciating. It’s a shame, too, because running through the town of Painted Post was really beautiful. The sun was warming things up (without it getting too hot), and people were everywhere cheering on the runners. We ran through parks and around quiet neighborhoods, over little bridges, always nearing Corning. I wish I appreciated my surroundings more.
But at that point, I was racing the clock. As we came into Corning, you turn the corner on to Market Street, and you see the Finish several blocks in the distance. My legs were spasming, and I was gritting my teeth in discomfort. One of the volunteers was shouting out that the 4:00 pacer was behind us, and I pushed a little faster. That Finish line didn’t seem to get any closer.
Finally I could see the clock. It was nearing 3:59, and I struggled to move my legs even faster. I wasn’t going to lose out on 4 hours by just seconds! I heard someone shout my name, but my head was down, my jaw was clenched, and I used the last of my energy to cross the finish in 3:59:23, beating my secondary goal of 4 hours and setting a new PR by at least 30 minutes.
The finish line was amazing, cruising down the main street in this quaint New York town with thousands of people cheering you on! Volunteers were quick with space blankets (I wasn’t that cold), water, and food lines with plenty of goodies. There were even plenty of seats, although sitting was a bad idea for me at that point.
Some of my friends came down from Rochester to cheer me on, and my parents were there, and the enthusiasm for being done and setting an under-4 hour time managed to overcome my disappointment in not hitting my primary goal. I keep reminding myself that marathons are hard, and a lot of people were struggling. It wasn’t too hot or too humid, and the course was not hard at all. But I didn’t consume enough calories for sure. Next time, I’ll travel the course ahead of time and stash Tailwind a few places. I think that would have made all the difference.
A few post-race thoughts:
- Wineglass is run like a well-oiled machine. The volunteers are amazing, everything went off without a hitch, and the swag is pretty great! The medal is made from glass (and it should be, with the Corning Museum of Glass right there!), and you get a nice three-quarter zip, a wine glass (duh!), and a small bottle of champagne with which to celebrate. Sweet!
- Don’t believe people who tell you this course is all downhill. There are a few uphill sections, especially the long one at mile 6, but they’re all pretty easy. Only once did I actually feel like I was going downhill. Mostly, it felt very flat.
- I hoped for a more scenic course through rural New York. But the thick fog for the first hour obscured much of the area, and once I started struggling, I wasn’t really paying much attention. That being said, Painted Post was really fun to run through, and every small town you run through had big crowds of people to cheer us on. That made it fun!
- I’m still fairly new to running. This was only my second road marathon. So it’s good to learn from these experiences. Although I prefer trails, I wouldn’t mind doing a different road marathon each year. The experience is significantly different, and I did have a good time!