Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ogden Marathon 2013: The Experience and Lessons Learned

Friday night before the Ogden Marathon I lay in my bed in Hunstville, UT listening to the rain pound the metal roof.  None of my previous four marathons had been in the rain.  This would be a new experience.  Usually the sound of the rain would lull me to sleep but that night it was evasive, coming later than normal.  Of course sleep has always been somewhat elusive before a marathon.

Rain continued to fall during our ride to the start line, letting up as we arrived at the large field with long line of port-a-potties.  The start line of a marathon is a stunningly inspiring place.  People of all makes and models show up and go through their own pre-race rituals.  A nervous energy courses through the people.  This year it was enhanced by the threat of rain.  Garbage bags seemed to be the most popular type of outerwear.

Despite repeated requests to drop our bags at the truck, everyone held on as long as they could, not wanting to give up any of their warm weather gear until it was absolutely necessary.  Just before the final call for the bags, with ten or so minutes to line up for the start, the rain started to fall again.  Looking down toward Ogden Valley and Ogden Canyon, the rain showed no sign of letting up.  All of us faced the prospect of 26.2 miles in the rain.  When the final call to line up came, everyone that I could see moved toward the start line. 

The marathon started and I started my shuffle toward the starting timer.

The Navy shirt is to honor my father for the races he misses this year while deployed.

There is a law of marathons--marathons demand extensive training.  Everyone who knows anything about marathons knows that simple fact.  You pick a training plan and you stick to it as much as your schedule and your body allows.  Adjustments are allowed and injuries are part of the calculation.  But you train the best you can before the marathon, or at least you try to train as much as you can.  For the four previous marathons that I ran, I trained, for some more than others.  But, I did train with regular runs with the miles in the double digits 

Sadly my training for this most recent marathon was minimal.  I ran at most 2 or three times a week.  Only one run, at just under 13 miles was in the double digits.  Fortunately I did have the Ragnar Trail Relay - Zion a few weeks earlier where I was able to run around 16 miles on trails during a 24 hour period.  I could list my excuses for not training, and excuses are all I really have, but they would only embarrass me.  So, I'll just roll with the fact that I was lazy and easily distracted this training season (and we had a new baby bringing us to a total of six children and I started a new job), and avoid the mention of any extenuating circumstances that could be construed as a lame excuse.

As the Ogden Marathon approached this year, the weeks seemed to tick off the calendar in quick order.  Friends and family kept reminding me that the marathon was only "x" weeks away.  Off and on, here and there, now and then, I tried to motivate myself to get out and run.

With the days passing and my training tragically insufficient, my supportive and caring wife became more concerned about the wisdom of me actually stepping on the course in hopes of making it to the finish line.  For three or four weeks our conversations went something like this:

"What are you going to do?"

"Run the marathon."

"That's stupid."

Despite my low level of readiness I was committed to running this marathon for three main reasons:

1.  I love the feel of completing a marathon.  There is nothing like coming across the finish line.  Watching others do it can bring tears to your eyes.  It always brings tears to my eyes when I cross.  The Ogden Marathon offers one of the most picturesque courses coming down into Ogden Valley, around Pineview Reservoir, and down Ogden Canyon.  Also, I didn't want to break my streak of consecutive runnings.

2.  I can run.  My schedule and my physical body provided me the opportunity to step onto that course.  Even with my limited training, I was reasonably sure I could finish it if I only started.  Marathons are inspiring because of all the different types of people, in various states of physical conditioning and life, that step out onto the course.  Likewise, there are so many people who are unable or unwilling to run.  My father, who convinced me to run a marathon in the first place, has ran the Ogden with me the last three times.  This year he wasn't able to run it because he was activated and deployed to Kuwait with the US Navy Reserve.  Given his choice he would have been running with us rather than spending eight months in the desert back and forth between choice garden spots.

3.  I wanted to teach myself the importance of training and preparing properly for distance runs. 

So, I drove my car from Henderson, NV to Ogden, picking my friend Jeff up in Provo.  (This was Jeff's third Ogden Marathon with me).  I decided I would follow the Barney Stinson philosophy of running marathons.  Barney's friend Marshall was training for a marathon, suffering through all the demands of long runs, when they had this exchange:

Barney: "Training for a marathon?!"
Marshall: "What?"
Barney: "You don't train for a marathon.  You just run it!"
Barney: "Here's how you run a marathon.  Step one, you start running.  Step two...there is no step two."
(How I Met Your Mother, Season 2 Episode 15)


With the rain picking up in intensity I started running with a thin garbage bag covering my torso.  My pace for the first nine miles was solid, what some with my sleek body type might even call quick.  Now some of you non-marathoners may say to yourself, "You run nine miles at a quick pace after not having trained properly for a marathon?!  That sounds like a long distance."  Sadly, in the world of elite athletes (and other struggling runners), nine miles is just a drop in the bucket.  After nine miles, all downhill, I still had over 17 more to run.  Using wisdom garnered from marathons past I even held back those first nine miles, fighting the urge to go as fast as I could on the downhill.  At about mile five my body temperature was up and I peeled the garbage off, surrendering to the wetness.

By the time I hit mile ten my outlook had gone from apprehensive to good to worried.  The cold started to kick in as my pace slackened and the pain started to set in.  Following a port-a-potty stop between mile ten and thirteen I was afraid of continuing on past the halfway point.  The familiar thoughts and doubts hit me harder than they had during any previous marathon.

"You won't make it to the cut off in time."
"You're going to injure yourself."
"It's too cold.  You'll get hypothermia if you keep expending energy."  (Usually I worry about being too hot.)
"You're stupid you should have trained and now you'll never make it."
"You'll never recover from the hill after mile fourteen."
"Calling your wife from the hospital will ruin your day."

For two miles I worked through the doubts, entertaining ways to justify quitting at the halfway point.  As I rounded the corner into the halfway point in Eden, I knew I had to keep going.  I forced the reasons for continuing to the forefront of my mind:

"Your body is still moving.  It's not broken."
"Dad finished it last year with a torn calf muscle and the same amount of training."
"Dad is deployed and would rather be feeling all my pains and aches.  Calling to tell him you quit will be as bad as calling your wife from the hospital."
"I want to look down on the reservoir, see the steep canyon sides, and cross that finish line."
"You can do it.  There is no good reason to stop."

With my resolve set I approached the halfway point, excited for an orange slice or two to keep me going.  As I approached I heard over the speakers the following announcement, meant for the relay runners who had just finished up:

"Bus F107 is waiting to take you down the canyon.  Go jump on the bus and get out of the rain.  They have the heater on."

Unbelievable.  My body tried to turn toward the bus but I made it to the volunteer with the oranges and kept going.  As I rounded the corner toward the hill I fought the urge to weep.  I fought through the depression until I hit mile fifteen and knew, if I could keep my pace up I would make it.

Using my Garmin I tracked my mile splits closely in an effort to make sure that my pace was sufficient to beat the cut off times.  My pace had dropped off as I climbed to mile fifteen and I committed myself to keeping my pace up.  Unfortunately at mile sixteen my Garmin, the screen filled with rain water, shorted out and reset.  I couldn't get it to start again.  Without the Garmin I took the next best option for keeping my pace where it needed to be--I ran as often as my legs allowed me.

Passing the aid station at mile seventeen I reached the dam ahead of the cut off time.  I must not have looked too bad because none of the medical vans approached me to inquire as to my health.  I hit the downhill and ran.  For the next four or more miles down the canyon I managed to alternate between running and walking.  This is the part where I always find my core group of fellow runners/walkers, those who continuously trade places.  The rain, which hadn't bothered me much since early on, had soaked my shoes causing a sock to bunch up and give me a painful blister on my right foot.

Exiting the canyon I knew I would finish.  I just didn't know if I would beat my goal time.  After running 23 miles you would think that a simple 5K wouldn't be so intimidating.  I continued to alternate between running and walking, eventually pulling away from almost all the members of my little core group.  Finally I turned onto Grant Street, that last, seemingly interminable stretch of the Ogden Marathon.  Each year I swear they move the entire city center a couple of blocks further back.

As I approached the final 200 or so yards the adrenaline kicked in, I could see people lining the finishing shoots.  I could hear the announcer calling out names.  At that point I couldn't have stopped my body from running as fast as it could.  Off to one side I could hear my sisters Samantha and Heather yelling at me, cheering me on toward the finish.  Again, like each previous year I was overcome with emotion as I came into the finish line, especially when I looked up to see that I had beat my expected time by about thirty minutes.

I knew, as I had each of the previous three years, that I will be running it again next year.

Ogden Marathon 2013 Bib and Medal


I drove back home to Henderson the day after the marathon enduring the pain of sore muscles and joints.  On the way I reflected on lessons learned:

1. Training is important.
2. Experience goes a long way.
3. Training is important.

The course was beautiful this year.  The rain and the clouds provided an amazing backdrop against the peaks, cliffs, and valleys on this course.

My wife confronted me shortly after I arrived home.  I think she wanted me to admit defeat and promise not to do the full marathon again next year.  Her dismay was evident as I expressed my commitment to run it again next year.  Again I heard the word "stupid" mumbled under her breath.  I think, however, that next year she may run the Ogden Half Marathon.  What better first step to a full marathon?

--Jarad Van Wagoner


Shantel said...

Stupid is as stupid does. This was not stupid. There are so many Gospel parallels here. Very powerful experience. Its scary to share that much of your inner dialogue with others. You are brave.

Jarad said...

Shantel, this is why all of my talks and lessons in church involve running analogies. Thank you for the compliment. I opened up, but you'll notice that I didn't share my finish time! Anyone who wants to know that will have to look it up.

Anonymous said...

Jared I am impressed with your resolve to not quit and to continue on. Good work! I'm proud of you. Jacob Holdaway