Eighteen Saturdays: Canton Marathon 2012 – Finish Line
Another eighteen-week training calendar is (mostly) full of Xs, and my second full marathon is behind me.
- Training start date: Feb. 14, 2012. Canton Marathon date: June 17, 2012.
- Running days: 68 (Days missed: 4)
- Total miles: 453.3. (Miles missed: 35)
- Marathon time: 4:15:33. Marathon pace: 9:47
That time is around 20 minutes slower than my first marathon – the Towpath in 2009 – and well short of the 8:23 pace goal I had in mind when I started training, but ultimately, this race turned out to be about more than that particular goal.
I was a real bundle of nerves the night before the race, but I carb-loaded and was tired enough to go to bed early, so when I woke up at 4 a.m. Sunday, I felt rested enough.
Adam and I left at about 5:10 to head downtown to the Stark County fairgrounds, parked and caught one of the many shuttle buses with no trouble, and were over at Fawcett Stadium by about 5:50 a.m.
Due to the last-minute arrival of many racers (guilty!) the organizers had to push back the start 20 minutes, but that seems like a pretty small inconvenience in the face of how smoothly I thought the whole parking/shuttle situation was handled: They seem to have had more than enough buses running to and from the fairgrounds – Adam and I had the same quick and easy experience getting back to the car at the end of the day. (Having run in three Akron Marathons, there’s no comparing the two parking situations. I know Akron attracts three times as many runners, but parking up there is a real issue, and every year we wind up parking on some side street and walking a half-mile to the starting line.)
I had trained differently for this race than my first one, and I felt a different sort of nervousness going into it. Several differences between then and now: On the one hand, there’s “Yes, I’ve done this before.” On the other, there’s, “Yes, you’ve done this before, so you know it’s going to hurt, and it’s going to suck.” No headphones in reserve for a late-race distraction this time, but Adam was running with me to keep me going, since he wasn’t going for a personal record, and we’ve never run a full marathon together before.
I went into this one with the mental approach of breaking the run into sections, planning for 90-second walk/water/gel breaks at 5, 9, 14, 18, and 22 miles. In terms of timing, I was hoping to maintain an 8:15 pace for at least the first five miles, and the first nine if at all possible – after that, I knew it would be a matter of just trying to keep going.
Now, we knew this course was going to be hilly – hugely different from both the completely flat Towpath and Adam’s first marathon in 2008. And we’ve heard from people who have run the full and also-hilly Akron course that it’s a bear.
Here’s the elevation chart for Canton’s run:
So, see, we knew that the first five miles covered the biggest net elevation gain, but it’s more gradual than the comparatively drastic ups-and-downs from about Mile 12 to the end. How grueling was that second half? Well, we’d reached the 13 mile marker after 1 hour and 50 minutes, so I was still on pace to beat my Towpath time. The second half beat the crap out of me for the next 2 hours and 25 minutes. I mean, damn. And that climb from Mile 20-21 was probably the worst.
I am proud to say this, though: I only walked for those scheduled 90-second breaks, and the only alteration I made to my plan was that I took my final gel walk at 21 miles instead of 22. Granted, there were times when I was barely passing the marathoners who were, in fact, walking up those hills, but I stuck to my plan, dang it.
Another big difference this time around was my familiarity with the course – for the most part, it covered streets I’ve driven most of my life, so turning a corner or coming over a rise, I had a pretty good idea just how far it was to the next landmark or turning point. Lots of changing scenery and neighborhoods. I liked the route.
Despite fears of an uncharacteristically hot day, the weather turned out to be pretty good for a run: Adam and I were a little worried just after Mile 5, when the sun was clearing the trees and starting to heat things up, but not long afterward, the clouds we had been hoping for moved in. In fact, in Mile 22, just after my last break, there was a great blattering downpour for about 10 or 15 minutes – it was refreshing and energizing and I laughed out loud and whooped with a sort of delirious exhilaration. It didn’t last long, and it made my shoes feel about 3 pounds heavier for a couple miles, but it was crazy and fun.
The last mile, then: Mostly uphill. Again. But I can feel the end drawing near, even as part of my brain pushes a super-early-warning button that sends the message, “Hey: Am I going to throw up? ‘Cause I kind of feel like -”
Just breathe. Slow, deep breaths. You’re almost there.
And then we turn onto the final street, and Adam has slowed to let me catch up, and I can see Fawcett Stadium ahead, and I want so badly to charge full-tilt, but that whole not-barfing thing is keeping me a little in check, and then, when we’re about 30 feet from the gate into the stadium, Adam nods and points to a runner about 15 feet ahead of us: “We gonna pass this guy?” He’s smiling.
I’m not sure I can mount a charge without puking, and I say, “I don’t think I can.” Adam: “No big deal. Whatever you can do.”
I look at the runner ahead again and say, “Yeah, let’s do it.” Adam: “Go ahead.”
I cannot stress enough how much it meant that Adam ran this race with me. We weren’t side-by-side the whole way, but he was always within earshot, and he’d slow up to check on me, to make sure I was hydrating at all the stations, to remind me to try and get my knees up and stride out the downhills when we could, to tell me I was doing well even in those later miles when I knew my hopes at another sub-four-hour time were shattered. On those late-race hills, when I wanted so badly just to slow down and walk, I saw him up ahead and kept going.
And it meant maybe a little more because I’m not sure I’ll be doing another full marathon again. Training for this one, I’ve come to realize that while I can do these 26.2-milers, I’ve found myself thinking more about running half-marathons and working on that pacing and seeing how long I can sustain and 8-minute (or faster!) per mile pace.
So when Adam said, “Go ahead,” I poured it on and passed the guy. And then with a quick left turn, I was on the field at Fawcett Stadium, and I could hear people cheering in the stands, and I could see the finish line, and then – goosebumps – I heard the announcer’s voice echo, “And here comes…John Booth!” And yes, dammit, I raised both fists to the sky and couldn’t help smiling, because then he said, “Followed by… Adam Booth!” And we were about 30 feet or so from the finish line, and I turned backwards and pointed both hands at my brother, and just before we hit the finish line, he did a goofy Heisman Trophy pose (c’mon – it’s Fawcett Stadium!) and I cracked up, and we high-fived and completed our run together.
I won’t forget that.
And then we enjoyed the post-race atmosphere for a bit. Canton’s medals were much bigger and heavier than I’d anticipated; and while there were no sandwiches, the food haul of chips, apple slices, peanut butter, bananas, water, cookies, chocolate milk, beef jerky and two beers easily topped the disappointing dry bagel handouts at Akron last year.
Funny how quickly the marathon’s moments of pain and doubt, which felt like they stretched on and on during the race itself, have receded so quickly in the rear view.