Last Friday I ran the Tiberias marathon, my 8th marathon, and my fourth Tiberias marathon. Since the race, I have felt more than ever before just what a humbling experience running a marathon can be.
I’d been hoping to set a new personal record and although I have a hamstring injury, I believed I would. The race, however, did not go as planned. But, hey, I have type 1 diabetes… I know about things not going as planned. Surprisingly, though, the experience bothers me less than I would have expected.
The race was so exhausting, both physically and emotionally, that I needed some time to reflect and recover before I could write about it. And although it has been a few days since the marathon, and I’ve given it a lot of thought, I’m still not entirely sure what went wrong. So all I can do at this point is recount the difficult experience.
I was very careful with my eating during the days before the marathon. I tried very hard to keep my blood sugar in range while eating some carb with my meals. On Thursday, the day before the race, though, I was very careful not to eat carbs – a lesson learned from my disastrous carb-loading attempt before the Milano City Marathon (this may have been a mistake).
On the morning of the marathon I got up at 4:30, three hours prior to the starting time. Things were good. My blood sugar was 85 (a little low, but I expected it to go up). At 6:45 I was out warming up, and my blood sugar was around 130.
Things seemed to be going well. It was a cool day with no rain, but with some wind that didn’t seem too bad between the buildings (the race starts in the town and heads south along the lake).
At 7:20, I was in the starting area near the 3:30 pacers. I decided I would run with the pacers at least for the first half of the race and then, depending on how good I felt, I would break away and try to set a new personal best.
I checked my blood sugar again once more before the start of the race. It was up to 151. Perfect, I thought to myself, I can take my gels as planned (mile 3, 11 and 19).
At a little after 7:30, the marathon started. It took me 30-40 seconds to pass the starting line. There were over 2,000 runners, a record for this race, and it was a much slower start than I’d expected. I ran with the 3:30 pacers, hoping they would keep me from running too fast. After a while, I realized they were running at a faster pace then they should.
I felt good and decided to stay with the group heading south towards the southern tip of the Sea of Galilee. When we turned north, on the eastern side of the lake we were hit by a strong wind.
I knew this meant trouble, but decided I would continue to run with the pacer, thinking I would be better off running a little too fast than fighting the wind on my own.
I reached the halfway mark a 1-2 minutes faster than I had planned. I felt good and continued to run at the same pace. The wind was at my side and back most of the time, which didn’t seem to help, but didn’t bother me either.
When I reached the 16th mile mark, I started to feel weak. I slowed down a bit thinking I would pick my pace up again when I hit the 20 mile mark. At 19 miles, I decided to take only half a gel. I was worried about my blood sugar and thought it safer to take half now and half in 4-5 miles.
I continued running, stopping every few minutes to stretch out a cramped foot or leg. Runners kept passing me by but I didn’t care. I was in pain and I wanted it to be over. The time didn’t matter anymore. It was only about finishing.By the time I reached the 20-mile mark, I knew it was over. I considered dropping out and saving my legs for the Tel Aviv marathon (Feb. 28th), but knew I would never forgive myself if I did. I tried to keep an 8:00 minute mile pace but found it harder and harder to do. My legs felt as if they were about to cramp on me and during the 21st mile, they did. My left foot and my right calf cramped at the same time. I stumbled to the side and grabbed the road barrier. It took me 2-3 minutes to get them loose, but once I did, I continued to run. I tried to increase my pace, but my legs cramped every time I did.
With just one mile left to go I felt out of breath. In a scary way. I tried to breath but had a very hard time getting any air in. I thought I was about to die, which was rather stressful, but I kept going anyway, and, luckily that feeling passed and I was going to finish the race alive.
I continued running towards the finish line. The pain in my legs got worse with every step. I crossed the finish line after 3:40 minutes (personal time 3:39:43). When I got there, again, I found myself gasping for air. I thought I was going to cry and throw up at the same time – which was unpleasant, but not nearly as upsetting as thinking I was going to die. Fortunately, I did none of the aforementioned, and after a few minutes I felt fine. Tired, but fine.
I wasn’t sad or disappointed. I felt good for completing another marathon and for not giving in. I also felt calm, like I was on the other side of a near death experience. Just not being dead was as glorious as breaking a personal record would have been… well, maybe not! J
I’m not sure I know what went wrong during the race or why my legs cramped. Should I have eaten more the day before? Did I run too fast? Was it the wind? Or maybe a little of all?
I imagine I’ll keep trying to figure it out until next time.