Running Seattle Marathon: the toughest thing I’ve ever done

Yesterday I finished my first marathon in 3:43:45 (Strava activity). Super happy that there were no major hiccups leading to the race and I was able to use all my extensive training in order to finish strong.

In training I used 8 min/mile pace as my tentative marathon pace, which corresponds to 3:29:45. However, given that the course was hilly (Strava says the elevation gain was 1129 ft, but I think it’s a vast underestimate due to faulty GPS on the course and 2000+ ft reported elsewhere sound way more believable to me), and it was a first marathon for me, the plan was to start with 3:40 pacers and see how it goes.

When we started, I didn’t feel too well: whenever we were going uphill, my left leg was getting numb and I was constantly worried that I can overlook some blisters, also ankle joints felt fatigued for whatever reason. However, in a few miles things settled a bit and I was back to normal. Then, something pretty bad happened: after 7 miles (which were by far the most hilly miles in the race) or so, I realized that we are about 2.5 minutes ahead of the schedule. At that point, I started suspecting that things will get interesting towards the end. But the first huge lesson: pacers might easily fuck up. To their defense, parts of these seven miles were in the tunnel, where the GPS was completely out of whack, but I should have caught it way sooner and didn’t try to stay with the group.

Between miles 7 and 20, things were kind of OK: I was feeling good modulo quads being quite tired due to constant hills. Mile 21 felt a bit harder but tolerable as well. Around 21.7 miles in, however, I bonked pretty hard (which effectively means that my muscles and liver ran out of available carbs and I had to rely mostly on fat for running and functioning in general). What this means is that I wasn’t able to run faster than my easy pace (which was around 1:20 per mile slower than the marathon pace), and even the easy pace hurt the whole body including arms and neck. So, last ~4.5 miles I had to slog overcoming quite severe discomfort. Luckily, at that moment, my mind was perfectly clear, I didn’t get disoriented, which could have easily happened (I saw a couple of people who passed out around miles 24–25).

All in all, I finished and was not even that much off the schedule in the end! Afterwards, it took me maybe 5 or so minutes to get into the car: legs hurt pretty badly, the face, according to my wife, was very inflamed and puffy, and overall I was a mess. 🙂 I would say that a marathon is definitely way harder than a half-marathon due to this “hitting the wall” phenomenon.

What could I have done to prevent or at least postpone the bonking other than not going with the pacers? The main thing would be to do way more hill training. I didn’t have economical running form on the hills, which lead to the glycogen burning much quicker. Another thing to tweak is the amount of carbs consumed during the race: I ate around 50 grams per hour, but it was on a conservative side. I feel could have easily bumped it up to 75g (with the aid of sports drinks perhaps, I had just gels and water) without much GI distress.

But anyways, these were relatively minor difficulties and setbacks, overall, this marathon was a huge success for me, and I can’t wait to do more of those in the coming years! Now it’s time to celebrate!

As a little retrospective:

  • Marathon hurt, but it was nowhere near the last mile of an all-out 5K race 🙂
  • The race itself was pretty difficult, but the training was even more difficult…
  • … and not so much the physical aspect of it, but planning all the many runs around work and family commitments

Finally, some obligatory pictures.

Start line
Near the finish line (at Husky Stadium)
Around the half-way point, starting to work 🙂