Monday, October 12, 2009

I indulged in the running of the 25th annual Long Beach Marathon yesterday, which was perfectly enjoyable, and I have little pain today as a result, as if to prove it. And I say "indulged" because it is tough on Mrs. Ditchman to get up pre-dawn and drag the children a hundred miles to a lesser-known city, and then haul through traffic and road closures, embattled with 50,000 other spectators and participants. She juggles the needy kin for a few hours, all to see me huff by in a matter of a few seconds, and then she puts up with my blabbing about it at race's end, standing idly on the other side of the beer garden barrier as I celebrate with a few draughts. She is a true champion for being able to negotiate it all. My champion.

The race was great, with perfect conditions and spirited participants. It runs around the harbor, past the Queen Mary, and then does a big out-and-back along the beach, half of it right on the sand (that is, on the bike path.) Most people run the half-marathon (about 10,000 runners), though there are a good 3000 or so running the full race, which also has an out-and-back course. Since I only trained for a month, (I ran no more than a single day in August) I had a modest time goal of beating 5 hours. I came in at 4 hours, 45 minutes.

It seemed a fairly well-run event. I could nit-pick ten or fifteen things that bugged me, but in the end everyone really seemed to be having a good time. I wasn't a big fan of the marathon course, though the half was nicely scenic. One thing in particular that I thought was a hilarious bit of planning was that one side of the 3-foot high beer garden barrier actually abutted a narrow part of the course at around mile 6. This means that if you were in the back of the pack, quick finishers of the half were already standing there wearing their medals and having a 9AM beer, roundly cheering you on. Something about it just seemed wrong, but it was altogether too funny for me to stop and contemplate.

I ran the first 10.5 miles with my old buddy Steve, (the guy who I mentioned last April who had run the Carlsbad 5000) who took up running again in his fifties after a heart valve replacement a few years back. It only took a little bit of prodding, but he was willing to sign up a few months ago and endure the rigor of all those training miles to work his way up to 13.1. I told him I would run with him every step of the way, no matter how fast or slow, and so I did.

He's been doing the walk/run method, which has always been a challenge for me, and it paid off. He had a respectable time goal of "just beating 3 hours" and came in at 2:51:21, limping to the finish with sore knees in the last couple miles. He loved every minute of the race, though I could tell he was beginning to feel the pain at about the halfway point. I tried to cheer him up and said, "Look at it this way: you've only got 6 miles to go. I've got 20." and then he nearly fell off the course, he found that so entertaining.

Running your first big distance race is a lot harder than running your 13th marathon, and a much bigger accomplishment, so I wanted to see him do it, and be a part of it. Steve actually thanked me for getting him out there, and then running it with him, and he was grinning from ear-to-ear in the beer tent, which was a pleasure to see. It's a sh!t-eater's grin, after your first big race, and non-runners can't understand it. But it feels fantastic.

As for me, I was challenged by a marathon where I walked most of the first half, which was the oddest strategy I've ever taken on. Coaching Steve on the power of Gu and all those running supplements, I was also taking in a bunch more calories than I am used to on race day, so it had the weird effect of energizing me all morning. At mile 11 I bid him goodbye, plugged in my iPod, and took off running -feeling like a million bucks. I ran all the way to the finish line, passing 506 runners after mile 18 (web site stat) and bounded over that final timing mat feeling like a Starr, myself. My feet were sore from being on them for so long, but I must say it was nice to finish a marathon for once where I didn't feel like I was going to puke and pass out. (Mrs. Ditchman chided me on this. She's been trying to get me to eat more Power Gel and take more walk breaks for years. Right again, Mommy.) For future reference, getting all that marathon's-end walking out of the way in the beginning is worth it. (It may have been the fastest second half of a marathon I've ever run!)

So I'm glad I did it, as always. Steve says he's gonna keep running. I reminded him that he was half way to a full marathon, and that if he quit now he'd have to start the training all over again when he does finally commit to The Big 26.2. The look on his face said he was going to go for it, since, who would want to go through all that again?

As for me, I'm already signed up.