I’d like to start this blog off by saying it is really very hard to run a fast road marathon. I even know what calculus is, and running fast is way harder. People have been asking me how does it compare to an ultra, and it’s just as hard- maybe even harder. It hurts as bad as a 50-miler if you do it right and it hurts just as bad if you do it wrong, so you’re kind of fucked either way.
Here is a list I made about running a road marathon and how it compares to my previous experience of mostly running trail ultras…
First, you have to keep up as even a pace as you can, and the terrain doesn’t really change- you get concrete OR asphalt. I stop and walk hills in the later stages of an ultra race. I’ll even sit on a rock and take my shoes off at mile 36 to get all the little pebbles and junk out of them because wearing gaiters looks ridiculous, and sitting down for like 30 seconds when you’ve been running for 7 hours is like sex. I can run sub-6:00 pace downhill on really rutted trails, then hit the flats and settle into a really sad looking 9-minute per mile pace. But roads are different. My goal pace for this race was 6:52/mile (which works out to a 2:59:59). I knew I couldn’t sustain that for the entire 26.2- there’d definitely be some slowing come mile 20, then I’d just try to hold on for dear life and get in under 3:09:59 for the BQ. More like a 3:07 with the new standards, but I figured I might lose up to a good minute per mile that last 10k. So when I say I wanted to try to run that pace, I didn’t honestly think I could hammer 6:52’s the whole day- I was hoping to do that through the 13.1 mark, then allow things to get “interesting”. I ended up running the first 5k split of 22:13 (7:09 pace), a full minute and a half off my intended pace- I knew at this point I was going to be in for a very rough day, like that time I took acid and tried to good food shopping.
Second, I didn’t start in the B Corral because they closed the corrals super early- not to mention the fact that they were closing bag check as we arrived. Not to be too much of a jerk here, but I had to pass literally 25,000 runners (seriously) before I could run unfettered, it took a good 3 miles until I could settle into a rhythm where I wasn’t running into some tutu-wearing hobby jogger’s heels. Ugh, so many tutus. Yes, I understand that they have just as much right to be out there as me, it’s just that some of us have taken our training very seriously and spent a lot of money coming to LA, so if you can understand my sense of entitlement I think we’ll all be better off. If I wanted to party with y’all, I’d have wore some bikini bottoms and painted something cute on my back like a unicorn, maybe shaved a penis shape into my chest hair. So starting in the Open Corral forced me to wait an extra 10 minutes which before a race feels like 77 years, and trying to reel in that sort of energy and keep a cool head at the same time was wasting a ton of mental energy- I was kinda pissed but kept repeating the mantra “not my fault, not anything I can do about it, why are there so many frat boys here and what’s up with all the damn tutus?” That was frustrating to say the least. These are not my people.
Third, the aid stations come every mile but it’s either water or Gatorade. I didn’t sip a single drop of that crap, because I wouldn’t train with it so I wouldn’t race with it. I did know this going in, so I was prepared to only drink water but here comes my biggest complaint. I’m not going to trash the race organizers but c’mon, if you’re giving out Clif gels for the race, couldn’t you have gotten Clif to be the official race drink sponsor too? They make a solid electrolyte drink, not some high fructose cornwater garbage that probably gives lab rats intestinal cancer. Anyway, I had to bring my own gels which isn’t a big deal, but asking the kids giving them out at the first chance to grab an extra gel (mile 13) if I could have one without caffeine and them saying they didn’t know which was which was a bit frustrating. Again, they’re just volunteers, and I was moving too fast for them to see my frustration. I kept quiet and did that sarcastic half-smile thing I am wont to do, it may have come off as evil and creepy though because I was really starting to look like shit by now.
Fourth, running fast is hard. I think I already said that. It’s like really very hard.
Fifth, ultras are tiny. Even The North Face Championship, with its 550 starters in four waves is a tiny race, in comparison. Miwok is like 450 starters. I haven’t done Way Too Cool, but that’s considered a huge ultra and it’s like 1100 people running. Major cities throwing a world-class marathon ARE GIGANTICALLY FUCKING HUGE. This is scary from not only a logistics standpoint but from a sanitation standpoint. There can never be enough porta-potties, never. I remember thinking on the shuttle bus that I was good to go, that poo back at the hotel was great, I’m good and empty. Nope, soon as we got off that bus I got in line for the porta-potties. I proceeded to drop a massive “nerve-induced shit”, these come from deep inside your body, this is like the cells in your hair follicles have to take a shit. I think your brain signals your intestines that you’re about to do something really very dumb that could result in possible death or at the very least severely chafed nipples, which definitely hurts worse than dying (I know because I haven’t died yet). So your body empties itself in preparation, I think it’s where the term “scared shitless” comes from.
Sixth, running on pavement beats the ever-loving shit out of your legs like nothing else. For half the price of this race ($170) I could’ve paid a small French Canadian fur-trapper to beat my legs with a frozen raccoon for three hours, and they would’ve felt just as bad.
Or good, because I kind of like pain.
It gets really bad until it doesn’t hurt any worse, and the second you realize this the cramps start. So on top of a dull ligament / tendon / skeletal ache here comes this sharp, acute stabbing muscular pain. That is just fucking lovely. Soon as it’s like, okay quads, let’s be cool, the hammies start seizing. Then the hamstrings get under control and nope, the calves have turned to stone. I just don’t want any of the muscle groups in my legs to get jealous so they’re ALL INVITED TO MY DAMNED SUFFERFEST. Did you guys see the Evite? It was so cute, “don’t cramp my style” it said, so funny.
Seventh on this list is the crowd. The crowd was amazing but they were everywhere. In ultras you can hide for many miles as you run, because no one is watching. I’ve cried towards the end of races, no one saw me. I’ve pooped huge steamers in the woods, no one sees. I’ve fallen down and only my pacer saw me, and he didn’t even laugh. He also didn’t laugh when that yucca stabbed me because I tried to high-five it, but I forgot he was there with me. This crowd was in every nook and cranny of sidewalk for the entire 26.2 miles. Korean drummers, hipsters in Silver Lake, there was a KISS cover band playing somewhere (there may have been more than one now that I think about it), weirdos in Hollywood, drunk dudes on Sunset, loud cheerleaders everywhere, rich people in Beverly Hills, did I mention cheerleaders? More rich people in Brentwood, then at the finish- Santa Monica was ridiculous, there had to be a million people on Ocean Avenue alone. And never have I been in so much agony, looked so terrible, wished to hide in front of so many people. If you’re going to look bad, do it in style, and when provided the luxury do it in front of the whole world. “You look so strong!” is a lie, but dammit if I didn’t need to hear that 50 more times in those last 2 miles.
So there’s that.
In summation, because my high school English teachers always told me to put my thesis statement in the first paragraph and then again somewhere near the end in case the reader forgot, is why running a fast road marathon is really very hard.
Great report and great race for a first marathon. I’m sad I didn’t get to partake in the suffering. I’m impressed that you didn’t mention the heat at all.
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