26.2 Miles of Pain - My first (and only marathon?)

By Jarrett Retz -February 26th, 2017

I was making a list of things I wanted to accomplish during my 24th year on Earth and—for reasons I still do not fully understand—running a marathon was on that list. I think the desire came from wanting to try and do something that was far outside my current limits. Running is also cheap, and after I got back from my road trip I had time but not a lot of money on hand.

I have never been much of a runner. A few times over the years I have ran distances of a couple miles, and I did track in the sixth grade, but have never been much of a runner. However, I have stayed athletic over the years. I've always been skinny. I started training at around 166 pounds, and I raced at around 164 pounds. I'm making that point to show that I was not someone who needed to drop a lot of weight to run being 6'2''.

I wanted to run the marathon before I started working at Manito. I picked the Richland Runfest, which looked like a nice event, taking place on February 25, 2017. It was a Boston Marathon qualifier (that was not the goal), so I imagined it would be a nice event. I wanted to complete it in under four hours.

I did my research, I saw the minimum time requirements that some people have ran marathons. I looked at mileage, nutrition, pacing, and other helped training articles. I also figured I would tweak the training to fit some of the training activities that I did not want to give up (strength training, yoga, hiking, sprints). On November 28, 2016, I went on my first run. It was a 2.7 mi jog around the neighborhood and left my calves screaming the next day.

What I would do differently is, first of all, train longer. This is a no-brainer. Training for just under three months was a gamble, and I suffered greatly towards the end of the marathon (and a few days after). In a perfect scenario I would have had my stride analyzed because most of my pains were coming from my left leg. I felt there was something funky going on. I would have worn sunscreen & sunglasses (haha). I sported a nice sunburn after the marathon. The morning of race day I wished that I had a jump rope to warm up. I did some dynamic stretches, but it was a pretty cold morning. Although I was able to finish with a time I wanted, longer training would have allowed me to enjoy the marathon more. Taking a jump of 18 miles to 26.2 miles was over ambitious.

Thankfully, I ran the marathon on a nice day in February on a fairly flat course in Richland.

Other factors that could have had affect on training;

  • I ran all my miles, except for 2.67, outside on road or gravel.
  • I was not working full-time, only part-time during the training.
  • Some of my longer runs I would gain elevation up around 500'-600'. Running around my area there was some steeper hills involved throughout many of my early miles.
  • When I started consuming on longer runs, I was using Gu Energy Gels every 4.5-5 miles

I didn't set a strict enough schedule (in terms of mileage over the weeks) and I think it hurt me later in the training. This was my weekly mileage;

  • Week 1: 2.7 mi
  • Week 2: 5.7 mi
  • Week 3: 12.0 mi
  • Week 4: 12.0 mi
  • Week 5: 13.0 mi
  • Week 6: 18.2 mi
  • Week 7: 16.0 mi
  • Week 8: 9.0 mi
  • Week 9: 20 mi
  • Week 10: 17 mi
  • Week 11: 32 mi
  • Week 12: 14 mi

I would squat and deadlift once a week, alternating heavy/not heavy, through Week 8. The first month of training I would do some cardio w/ jump rope or bike thirty or forty minutes to cross train. When I started being able to do 5 miles runs with some ease I was feeling good.

I panicked Week 8, I only did 8 miles and felt behind on my training. I went back to some research to salvage some knowledge. I added a VO2 max, changed my diet to more fats, started trying to drink and eat on longer runs, and structured my workout more like the Hal Higdon Training Program: Novice 1. I stopped lifting. I liked the structure of having the shorter run mileage add up to the long run mileage (2 mi, 5 mi, 3 mi, then a longer run of 10 miles).

I ran 13.2 miles Week 9 with a 8'19''/mile average. I realized I was not focusing enough on pace. I ran the first mile at 6'58'' and the thirteenth at 8'49''. I decided I wanted to run at a pace of 8'30''/mile. I felt this helped a lot. My final training run was not at 20 miles, but at 18 miles. I ran it around Green Lake in Seattle, WA, two weeks before my race date.

I realized I needed a couple more weeks to train after this run. I would have felt a lot better going into race week if I would have been able to complete two more longer runs (15 mi or more) before race day. I developed lingering pains after my 18 mi run that leaked into race week. Both on my left side, which gave me trouble throughout training.

The only miles I ran in my last week consisted of a 6-mile run seven days before the run. The race was on a Saturday. That Monday I did a H.I.I.T (high intensity interval training) on a bike, and then did that again on Wednesday. I had some nagging discomforts in my left hamstring, left foot, and spot near my toes on my right foot. I lowered miles drastically the last week to let those pains fully heel.

I wasn't totally dedicated in my diet. I was definitely conscious of trying to increase my fats in proportion to my carbs. The last month was my best month nutritionally speaking.

Race day, everything was in order. I got good sleep, great dinner the night before, and it was a sunny day. Oh how the good times did not last. For some reason, I did not put sunscreen on my face, or where sunglasses, which in Richland, WA, was incredibly neglectful. I also started out significantly below my target pace the first 5-6 miles. The energy at these races is high, and having been waiting for the day for a while, I was excited. That being said, the first half went great and I only had a little tightness in my hamstrings.

The second half of the marathon broke me like a stallion. Miles 14-20 led to a total drop off in pace. Mentally and physically I felt like I wouldn't be able to make it especially miles 18-20. It is wild to be at such a bad place but then still have the strength to finish the race. I felt like my legs were on auto pilot. I wasn't controlling the motion, but feeling all the pain. I only consumed two-and-a-half Gu Gels, but was drinking Gatorade when I had the chance.

As I entered the last half mile I couldn't believe I was about to finish. I got a little emotional right after finishing the race. Going from thinking I was going to fail, or have to walk the end, to seeing that I would actually still finish under four hours (an original goal) was unbelievable.

I don't think I would have been able to do it without people in my support system rooting for me. I know it's a cliché, but it has a lot of truth. I am not seeing another marathon in my future, but I'm damn proud of completing this one.

Richland Runfest medal

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