I got to the corral extra early, about 6:20, to make sure I could get a good spot. Despite the weather predictions going up each day I was still holding some hope that somehow the temps would not go up too high. With the corrals pretty much empty it looked reasonable that maybe I could quickly dart over to the 3:20 pace group in the next corral.
As the corrals filled up with people they suddenly started looking larger and larger. By the time the pace group leaders showed up they looked very far away. I was chatting with a woman who wanted to do 3:15, she was from Houston so I thought maybe the heat might not bother her too much. I would see her throughout the course, passing and being passed. The race announcers said to adjust your time goals. I adjusted from a hoped for 3:15 to see if I could still get 3:20 or at least 3:20:59.
Jenny was able to hang out with me just over the corral fence. So we chatted and hung out. There was a skyscraper nearby which had left office lights on so that the building spelled out "Go Cubs Go". A bee kept on trying to land on me. I have an irrational fear of bees so I kept on trying to run away from it, looking like a fool in doing so, but I got my warm up out of the way.
The race started and we inched towards the starting line, 02:27 after the race started I crossed the start mat and continued to walk as the throng of people was extremely thick. The walk changed to a shuffle then picked up as people started to spread. I didn't want to weave very much, but had to a little bit here and there. The garmin pace seemed screwy and later I'd realize I had not let it lock in properly to the satellites because it had been taking too long.
Since the Garmin paces don't mean too much I'll mainly just talk about the 5K splits that the chip recorded.
First 5K was in 24:01 - most of it was much faster due to the first minute or so being walking/shuffling. I was already feeling warm. My left ankle felt a little bit tight as it often does early in a run (even when starting at a slow pace). That seemed normal and would work itself out eventually. I saw my parents about my 2, they looked very proud and happy to see me looking strong.
Next 5K was in 23:41. Crowd was getting thinner by mega marathon standards. I was trying to get to the 3:20 pace group, it seemed very reasonable at that point but I could never quite see them so I'm not sure how far away they were. But I kept going, mainly running by feel for the pace.
By the time I was approaching the 15K mat it was getting a bit harder, I was feeling warmer and warmer. I knew lots of people were tracking my run and I wanted to have a good pace at the 15K point.
That 5K was a 23:20.
Next 5K was in 24:00, pace had slowed down slightly.
I reached the half marathon point at 1:40:01, I had sped up slightly between the 20K point and the half way point. I wanted to get under 1:40 but figured this was pretty good considering the conditions.
Sometime just after mile 14 I started getting my first calf cramp. It was a very small one but still was there. I had gotten a bad calf cramp at Disney at mile 14. I wanted to avoid them this time. I was determined to take Gatorade at every water stop. I had successfully done that so far, grabbing one cup at each station and drinking it without breaking my pace. So, this was one of my goals accomplished, however now it seemed like it was not going to be enough. After all, it was a bit warmer than Disney (which started at 66° and ended in the upper 70's). Now it seemed that one cup of gatorade per stop plus the two energy gels were not enough. I'd start taking two.
Next 5K was in 24:52, slower but still an 8:00 pace.
I saw Jenny at about 16 miles. She had seen me earlier on the course but I did not see her. She was making a tireless effort to get from spot to spot to cheer me on, probably putting in a total of 7 miles of very fast walking. My pace picked up slightly upon seeing her.
Next 5K was in 27:00 minutes, now at the 30K mark. Cramps were getting worse and worse in frequency and intensity. Both legs were cramping as well as my right arm. At some point I was hit with a pretty bad side stitch, which temporarily slowed me down to a near walk until it passed.
There were so many good and kind people along the course. People with lawn sprinklers turned on , people passing out bottled water. At one point I passed an open fire hydrant which I thought would be good to run through. Note to self: don't do that again, wet shoes weigh a lot more. I could feel a huge blister forming on my left foot, but I didn't care too much about it right now.
As I was approaching 20 miles I was looking forward to it. I knew that the last 10K would be no picnic but I wanted to get through it. I got to 20 miles at 2:41, only 1 minute off of an 3:30 pace. I tried to speed up (as I had done few times recently), but the calf cramps would hit me hard when I tried that, as if a giant hand was gripping me.
I completed that 5K in 28:12, the 35K mark, 21.7 miles, less than 5 miles to go. I had told myself it was ok to walk through the water stops, but I didn't quite do that. I'd walk a couple steps to take the first gulp of gatorade, then go back to a shuffle, returning to a run as I finished the cup. One stop had ice, which I held in my hand to cool myself off with. At the next water stop I asked for ice but the did not have any. There was lots of gatorade but it was all warm at this point. I later found that I was lucky to have gatorade as people after me would find empty aid stations.
The next 5K was my slowest at 28:32, to the 40K mark. Ok, now I at least had the finish line to pull me through. Despite the slowdown and muscle cramps I did not have the hopeless feeling I had at Disney during most of the last 10K. I was a bit thirsty but didn't feel like I had an unquenchable thirst. At some point around here there was a bank's time and temperature sign which displayed 98°. I knew that was probably inflated but it was still discouraging.
I saw the 25.2 mile marker. I hit the lap button on the garmin so I could count down the last mile. It had been not very helpful until now. I fought off calf cramps the best I could. It must be someone's idea of a bad joke that the only hill on the entire course is close to the end. I knew about the hill from reading about the course. It looked long and high but the course notes said it was not as bad as it looked. I ran up it and held my pace. Just past the hill was the last turn to the final 0.2 mile stretch, it looked a lot longer than what 0.2 miles usually looks like. Jenny and my parents both said they saw me running, but I looked too focused for anyone to think that I would actually see them.
I was far off my original goal but I didn't feel bad about it at this point. Later, I'd feel even better when the full extent of the problems became known. I grabbed my medal, had a picture taken, and then grabbed cup after cup of gatorade. Stepping out of the runner area my right calf seized up, a stranger had to help steady me. I kept on walking to the reunion area until I found my wife and parents.
Throughout the rest of the day I would run into people who did not get to finish. I had a lot of friends there. There were strangers who asked me "Did you get to finish"? One man was making his comeback marathon, first one in 20 years, when he was told to stop running and walk when he was just a few miles from the finish. I couldn't believe all the stories. I realized how lucky I was and felt guilty about grumbling to myself about warm gatorade! There was one woman from the Tampa area who I know of but don't know personally. She was written up in the local paper, she finished with a 3:09, an amazing feat, but she was also close to a tragic end with a body temperature of 107° at the finish line, fortunately they were able to cool her off.
I think I might have shaved a few minutes off by running a "smarter" race and doing the first half a little bit slower, but in the first half a 3:20 still seemed possible.
I'm going to recover and try again, maybe in Jacksonville this December. The person who finished in 1372nd place last year ran a 3:08.