Rock ‘n’ Roll USA Marathon Race Report
Well, I made it! My first full marathon is in the books. (Do they still have books for that? At least it’s in the online results…how about that?) Although running 26.2 miles is never going to be easy, I’m pretty happy with how the day went.
Managing diabetes (on race days in particular) is a lot like balancing a bank account. You have to balance the credits of things that raise your blood sugar (like food, nerves, adrenaline) with the debits of things that lower it (like insulin and running -lots and lots of running). I can craft a pretty mean Excel formula, but in this case all I could do was develop a plan and stick to it as closely as possible.
My wife’s brother and his family live just outside of DC, so we stayed with them the nights before and after the race. This was great…not only because we like them and it was free, but it also allowed me to control things more going into Saturday morning. I cooked a trusted shrimp pasta dish for dinner Friday night, and since I’d eaten that many times before, I had a pretty good idea how my blood sugars would react. (As noted previously, I don’t like starting out a long run with crappy high blood sugar.) I also had my traditional (boring) pre-run breakfast of plain toast, so as far as food goes; I was able to avoid the unknown variables that would normally accompany an out-of-town race.
The other unknown variable was how the race-day nerves & anxiety would affect my blood sugar. I’ve dealt with this before, but never on the scale of “holy crap I’m in a strange city with 30,000 other runners trying to run 6.2 miles longer than I’ve ever run in my life”. Thankfully the anxiety wasn’t a huge problem…my blood sugar hovered around 200 most of the morning before the start – higher than I’d prefer, but not so high that I felt bad. I waited until about 30 minutes before the start to lower my basal rate (while waiting in the ridiculously long porta-potty line), which as I realized later was probably a little too late.
About 3 miles in, my Dexcom showed that unfriendly straight down arrow indicator, which just reinforced the feeling that I was dropping like a rock. I normally plan to have a GU gel every 3-4 miles, so I had to bump that plan up a little and had I think about 3 gels by mile 5. Around mile 6 or 7, things finally leveled off at around 85 mg/dl. The weird thing is, I stayed within 3 points of that the entire rest of the race. Normally there’s a gentle wave in the Dexcom graph between energy gels, but this time it was completely flat…almost to the point that I was worried something was wrong with my sensor. I really wanted to be over 100, so I had Gatorade at every water stop and ate GU packets as often as I could tolerate them, but nothing seemed to budge. I finally consoled myself that 85 would work, as long as it didn’t go lower than that. Aside from that minor struggle and the fact that I felt like Batman with so much crap strapped to my belt, diabetes was a relatively minor factor in the race.
Running-wise, I felt really good. I was hoping to finish in around 4 ½ hours, but I was a little nervous about being able to keep my pace consistent enough to reach that goal. The race had arranged pace groups for 4:25 and 4:40 goals, which I was afraid were a little too fast or slow, respectively, for my fitness. After the first few miles I decided I felt pretty comfortable tucked in behind the 4:25 group, and I surprised myself by hanging with them for the first 20 miles…I even managed a half marathon PR along the way!
To the casual observer, the 20 mile mark would seem like a seemingly insignificant part of the race. I had read and heard a lot about how the race changes at that point, but it was a completely different thing to actually experience it. I had heard conflicting perspectives about the remainder of the race from marathon running friends…one told me that “it’s only a 10k from that point”, and the other said “the last 6 miles feel like Vietnam”. Turns out they were both right – it’s only a 10k. It’s also THE HARDEST 10K OF YOUR LIFE. If 10Ks were all like that, no one would ever do them. It’s amazing how you can see the difference in people before and after that point in the race. For the first 20 miles, most people are enjoying themselves and having friendly chats back and forth. After 20 miles, there’s a significant shift…people are still talking to each other, but conversation is mostly focused on 1) how much this sucks 2) where the next freaking mile marker is, and 3) reasons that you can’t give up. I remember being happy whenever I reached a new mile marker, but aside from that, I don’t remember much about miles 20-25. I think the organizers expected this, as they ran that part of the course through the least interesting sections of our nation’s capitol.
After mile marker 25, the finish was in sight, so I knew I could make it. I had been taking occasional walk breaks since mile 20, but I really wanted to finish the last 1.2 miles without having to walk…I made it about ¾ of a mile to that goal, and just couldn’t do it. I walked for probably 30 seconds, and then inspired by the growing crowd noise, slugged my way to the finish. I was lucky enough to see my wife, daughter, and brother-in-law on the final turn, so that gave me enough steam to make it to the finish line (they were also about to catch me at 2 other points along the route, which was awesome). I crossed the finish line in 4:32:29…not quite at my (admittedly arbitrary and untested) goal, but a performance I’m very happy with.
I’m very happy to have finally accomplished this goal that’s been on my list for several years, and of course I’ve already had several people ask if I’ll do another one. To save you all the effort…Yes…however, I’d like to spend some quality time with my family and do other things in addition to running before tackling marathon 2.0.