After a five year layoff, I completed my fifth marathon. Yay. Honestly, I thought it might never end.

It wasn’t even in my mind. When I first got off the couch just six months ago and began preparing to marathon again, the idea of going for a personal record was the furthest thing from my mind. It should have stayed there.

My goal six months ago, actually even until six weeks ago, was just get back in shape, lose the 70 lbs I put on in the intervening years, and to finish the marathon in one piece. That was no small ambition. But then I got this crazy idea.

As my running improved, I began to wonder if was possible that I could set a personal record for the marathon by breaking 4 hours. As Matt as my witness, I tried to talk myself out of this. For that way lies madness. Six months is simply not enough time to go from 70 lbs overweight couch potato to sub 4. I knew this. But…

Over the last weeks of my training, running seemed so easy, my times had improved so much that I decided, against my own better judgment, to go for it.

I decided to run with a pacing group to try and take all the thinking out of it. I would not monitor my own mile splits, let the pacer take care of it. Just run.

Now the pacer is supposed run as close to even splits for the entire marathon. To break 4 hours with about 30 seconds to spare, you need to average about 9:08 per mile.

I lined up with the 4:00 hr pacer, who carries a sign with balloons attached and we went. I didn’t even wear a watch and I didn’t even look at the clocks. I ceded all responsibility for pacing to the pacer. I ceded all responsibility for my pacing to a person I had never met. Yeah.

Honestly, for the first 16 miles I thought that this was the smartest move ever. I was moving along very nicely, never straying more that 50 feet from the pacer. My running felt easy most of the time. I began to think that 4 hrs was mine. It wasn’t.

At mile 16 I began to develop a pain in my right hamstring and it quickly developed. I started to fade off the pace. I tried to catch back up but that only made the pain worse. By mile 17 my right hamstring began to cramp. Badly. I had to stop, stretch, walk, and then try to run again. It just got worse and worse. I was doing more and more walking. Even small hills made my leg scream. Even more walking. The pain got so severe that I even wondered if I might have to quit. But I kept going.

Miles 16 to 21 were a nightmare. I kept trying to run, but my leg would not cooperate. It hurt pretty bad. My gait was now completely off and this caused the rest of me to start hurting as well.

Stop, stretch, walk, run. Rinse. Repeat. I just kept going.

Somehow, when I got to mile 21, I found that I didn’t have to stop as much. From mile 21 on, other than walking through the water stations, I was able to run the rest of the way, albeit at a greatly reduced speed.

I crossed the line relieved but somewhat disappointed in 4:31. Given the nightmare I experienced out there, I guess a 1/2 hr lost could have been a lot worse.

So the question is, what went wrong?

Well, a number of things. Number one, I don’t think I drank enough. It was fairly warm and I skipped a number of water stops. Also, I was probably not fit enough for sub 4, even if my pacing went as planned. But the thing is my pacing strategy did not go as planned. I envisioned that with a professional pacer, to achieve my overall 9:08 pace, that my mile splits would vary from 9:00 to 9:20. I knew that too much under 9:00 and I would be in trouble. My Iphone was on my waist and recorded my mile splits.

Mile 01 – Average 9:35 /mile
Mile 02 – Average 8:45 /mile
Mile 03 – Average 9:01 /mile
Mile 04 – Average 9:16 /mile
Mile 05 – Average 9:24 /mile
Mile 06 – Average 8:44 /mile
Mile 07 – Average 8:05 /mile
Mile 08 – Average 8:56 /mile
Mile 09 – Average 8:38 /mile
Mile 10 – Average 9:05 /mile
Mile 11 – Average 9:16 /mile
Mile 12 – Average 8:54 /mile
Mile 13 – Average 9:02 /mile
Mile 14 – Average 9:01 /mile
Mile 15 – Average 8:30 /mile
Mile 16 – Average 9:06 /mile

Oh boy. Fully seven of my first 16 miles were under 9:00, some of them well under. This kind of pacing was a prescription for disaster for me and disaster is what I got. I should have paced my self. I ceded a responsibility that should have been mine and I payed the price.

But then again, even though it was a slower and more painful experience than need be, I finished the darn thing and now I am officially a marathoner again. Yay. I think I will take a nap now.