Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon - My First 26.2

The Quest was officially completed yesterday morning when I crossed the finish line of my very first 26.2 mile run on a very nice marathon course in Northern Georgia. The weather was perfect and everything went to plan.... up until a point.

The morning started the day before. I spent the day drinking a lot of water and Gatorade preparing for the big day. I didn't have anything laid out or ready, or even really decided upon before dinner Friday night. My wife made me a wonderful chicken ravioli dish for my pre-race carb loading feast. Once dinner was finished I decided I had better get prepared. I had already made sure my MyTach GPS Watch was completely charged since I have read too many times where people wake up on race day with a dead battery. I spent a few minutes laying out everything I needed and getting my race clothes out and ready. It was going to be a very early morning so I needed to make sure everything was ready and nothing was forgotten.

After spending a little time on Twitter I decided to call it a night at about 8:30 and see if I could actually fall asleep. I needed to get up at 3:40 so we could be on the road by 4:00 am...... yea, 4:00 am! I figured I would go to bed and just lay there because of my nerves and excitement, as well as because it was earlier than I am used to getting to bed. I ate a couple small whole wheat bagels with some peanut butter and the headed off to bed. I fell asleep much quicker than I expected and was asleep shortly after 9:00 pm.

3:40 came really early (duh!) Since I was fully prepared the night before the morning went pretty smooth. I got dressed and packed everything into the car. I grabbed three small whole wheat bagels and some water and Gatorade and headed out the door. A couple minutes later my neighbors walked out and we were on the road by about 4:05. The 2 hour and 10 minute ride went really good and we had no surprises. We arrived shortly after 6:00 am when the packet pickup began and were one of the first ones there. We had no problem finding a close parking space and finding where we needed to go. It didn't take us long to get our numbers and chips and all the rest that goes with it. They also gave us a pair of gloves and our T-shirts at packet pickup. The T-shirt was a long sleeve technical shirt, and specifically had 26.2 on the back of them.
The half marathon shirts had a 13.1 on the back of them. I thought this was cool because too many times I have seen that they list both on one shirt and so you never know which one the person ran..... I know, picky, but it is the little things :)

Since we were there early we were able to hit the bathrooms without much of a line. We also were able to hit the bathrooms in the adjacent high school so had warm bathrooms instead of the port-o-potties closer to the start/finish line. This is a nice luxury on a morning when it is in the low 40's.

It was about 30 minutes prior to the 7:30 start time so we made one last stop at the car to drop off as much as possible before heading over to the start/finish line. We left a long sleeve shirt on at this time because it was still quite cold. We had the benefit of my neighbor's wife being there and not running so she could hold what we decided to discard right before the start of the run. She was signed up to run as well, but got a stress fracture a couple months ago and is still not completely healed.

When getting to the start/finish line I finally got a chance to meet up with a buddy of mine. We used to go to church together years ago and have seen each other many times at many races. When we went to church together I was still terribly overweight and not running, and I am not sure he was running at that time either. It was really cool to see him the first time we saw each other at a race. We instantly had a bond and have kept in touch through Facebook ever since. Since neither one of us had run a full marathon yet we decided back in March that we would try to run our first together. He is much younger than me and is quite a bit faster than me so we knew we wouldn't "run it together" but that didn't mean we couldn't run it together. :)

7:20 came and we finished getting ready to run. I turned on my MyTach GPS watch and eagerly awaited the synchronization to the Satellites. I took off the last bit of clothing that I didn't plan on running with and then spent the next 10 minutes listening to the pre-race instructions and ceremonies that nobody could hear..... and shivering. Since we were at the Chickamauga Battlefield they had a small ceremony bringing the flag out and then a trumpet playing the National Anthem.

I mentioned in an earlier post that I heard they were not going to have any pacers so I really wasn't looking for any, however I did notice a few people carrying some very small balloons and noticed that they had times on them. The one I saw said 4:00 and I was a small bit in front of them. I decided to stay where I was and just make sure I didn't let them pass.

Wow - that is a lot of pre-race talk for a race report -- sorry!

The pre-race took a little longer than expected and they were a little late getting started. About 5 minutes late and it was finally go time! It was very cool, they had a very BIG starting gun..... a canon! They told us that they were going to shoot off a canon to start the race so everyone was ready, but when that canon went off everyone still jumped..... including me :)

The race was underway. This was the moment I had been waiting for, planning for, and training for - for a long long time. I was actually running in my very first marathon..... a distance very few people ever do, and I was doing it!

My plan for the first mile was to run about a 9:30 and then slowly speed up from there. My neighbor and I ran together for the first 8/10ths of the mile and then I slowly started to pull away as I tried to find my stride. The first mile was right about 9:15 so I was feeling pretty good about that.

******A quick side note - I found my watch was beeping before each mile so it was measuring each mile a little short. Each mile it was a little bit sooner than the previous so I know it was pretty consistent. I noticed that this was happening to others as well, but everyone seemed a bit different. Someone told me that it could be that the watch was being slightly messed up by my swinging arms..... not sure what the reasoning is, but have seen the same thing happen at other races, just not quite as pronounced as when running 26.2 miles :) In the end my watch said I ran 26.8 miles so I took the extra .6 and divided that up and added :15 seconds to each mile. I know this isn't 100% accurate but it gives me a closer indication to what I was really running. (based on this calculation my watch time puts me at 1:58:19 at the half and the chip time said 1:58:40 at the half so it is fairly close)

We were running through a small gravel trail when we hit the one mile mark and shortly after that I had a young lady probably in her early 20's start running with me and chatting me up a bit. We were still running with all the half marathoners and that was the race she was doing. We talked for some time and she mentioned that it was her first half marathon. She was shooting for about a 1:45 is what she said, and I said she better get going because she needed to be running an 8 min pace to do that. She quickly corrected herself and said she meant 1:55. She mentioned that her husband said that she better not walk because it doesn't count if you walk, and then she said "but you see who is not out here with me :)" We talked a little about the course because she said she trained for Cross Country on these same roads when she ran in high school. As we neared the 2 mile mark I looked at my pace and realized that I had been running it a bit too fast at 8:38 and wished her luck and told her I was going to slow down a bit.

I ran pretty much by myself for the next few miles and was just enjoying the scenery and the nice wooded roads. The sun had come out by now but most of the course was in the woods so it was shaded. We only came out into the open battlefields occasionally. This was also about the time it started warming up a bit and was a very nice day to run. We couldn't have asked for better weather in my opinion. I was running very comfortably at this time. They had water stops with water, Powerade, and fruit every couple miles give or take. These were all well placed and well run. I took Powerade at each stop early in the race except for a couple where I opted for water instead. This was the first race I had run where they had something other than the standard yellow Gatorade/Powerade. They had red at most of the first stops and later on had a mixture of blue, yellow, or red. I joked that they gave us red so when we spilt it on ourselves it would look like we were bleeding (I had a white shirt on) At mile 10 and mile 20 I added the Sport Beans to my mix and everything seemed to work as planned.

Somewhere around the 6 mile area I heard a pack of runners coming up behind me. I turned to look and noticed it was a pace group so I asked them what pace group they were. He said they were pace group 4:00. I looked down at my watch and thought they were running a bit fast so I let them go. Shortly after this the Pace group leader took a dive off into the bushes :) The pace group continued on and I let them go. I figured at the pace they were running they were going to burn out all the 4 hour hopefuls. Later in the race this proved to be true when I saw them running by themselves. At that time I was blaming them for running too fast, but knowing what I know now about the second half of the marathon they were probably right on pace.

Right around that same time I came up on a guy and started running with him. I asked him if he had a time goal and he said he did, that it was 4 hours. He also mentioned that it was his first marathon as well. He was from Powder Springs and runs with the Atlanta Track Club. He said a lot of them were expecting him to have a really good time, and he wanted to get the sub 4. We talked a little bit about the Pace group and he was feeling the same way I was. We ran together off and on for quite some time and around the 11 mile mark he started to speed up a little so I let him go.

Somewhere in the first half of the race I had a couple of ladies come up behind me talking quite a bit. They were talking loud enough it was hard to not overhear them. During the course of the race I heard way more than I ever wanted to hear from them. I heard about emergency C-sections and an abscess while breastfeeding. Then one of them mentioned that that was why they didn't want kids, which the other one quickly said "don't let that stop you and xx from mating", which she quickly replied to "what, are we primates?" Later on I heard them talking when one of them mentioned "I am wearing a thong" and went into some different reasons why. She then mentioned to her running partner that she didn't mind her knowing....... I was thinking..... what about everyone else running around you right now? (if this was you and you are reading my blog.... sorry, I really couldn't help but overhear some of your conversations)

I don't know if it was the same two ladies as the above, I can't quite remember, but at around the same time I remember a couple of ladies starting to run right around me. They were doing a run/walk and so we yo-yo'ed quite a bit. We stayed right around each other from around the 7-8 mile area all the way to about the 21 mile area when they started to leave me. I guess the run/walk worked better than my plan :)

Just before the half way point the half marathoners left us (they had a little bit different routes at times so they were at about 11.5 miles when we were getting ready to hit the 13.1 mark) I watched the clock at the 13.1 mark and saw that I was under 2 hours and I was happy...... little did I know what the second half would bring. At that time I was still very optimistic and in my delusional state actually thought I could run the second half at the same pace as the first. This may be telling to much, but at some point early in the race I felt so good I actually thought I may be able to pull a negative split out of this race....... any marathoner out there is laughing at me right now :)

Shortly after the half way point I started running with an older gentleman. I asked him if he had a time goal and he said he was hoping to break 4 hours. I asked him how many marathons he had run and he said that this was his 59th. I asked him if he had run a sub 4 and he said he used to run down around 3 hour marathons but that was 15 years ago. This continued to boost my confidence in hitting the sub 4 hour goal since if I was with him he surely knew how to run a marathon and so I couldn't be too far off. I made a comment to him about trying for the 4 hour goal and that it was my first and he kinda chuckled and said.....
"yea, but you don't know what the second half of a marathon holds" I know he wasn't trying to be mean, but rather just being honest. I ran around him for a while and about 16 miles he told me to be careful. He said that it is usually around 15-18 miles where people are feeling good and get too confident and run too fast and ruin the rest of their races. I thought this is great advice, but felt I was running conservatively so didn't change anything. He left me about 17 miles.

Right around 18 miles I started to catch up with the guy I had run with earlier in the race. We ran with each other for a couple miles and I commented how I was experiencing something I had never experienced before. This was a 2 loop marathon and the hills actually grew taller and longer the second time around. He laughed and said he was thinking the same thing. This was shortly after I ran past a pink flamingo sitting on the back of a car. I was a bit nervous to mention it to him, hoping that I wasn't the only one that saw it :) We ran with each other for a couple miles when he started to leave me again right after the 20 mile mark.

Right before the 21 mile mark we were on our second time on a little out and back of about a mile. Just before the turn around I saw the older gentleman that I ran with a bit earlier. He must have seen I was starting to fade and have trouble because he encouraged me and told me to keep it up. This was where the race took a nasty turn..... I have never experienced a Bonk before, but I am assuming now that this is what it feels like. At the turn at the end of the short out and back I couldn't take another step. I walked for a few seconds and then it took everything in me to start running again. I was fine in every way except my legs just gave up and wouldn't move anymore. The rest of the race was all uphill in my mind. My pace started to drop dramatically as I couldn't keep running for more than a little bit at a time. I would run a little bit until I couldn't take it anymore, and then walk for a little bit. The rest of the race went this way with each mile getting slower. Mile 24 I was able to speed up a little bit, but mile 25 took an even bigger dip. My worst mile was the second half of the 25th and first half of the 26th.

During the last couple miles I remember while running my legs were hurting so bad. At the point I just couldn't take it anymore I would walk for a little bit, but then my feet hurt so bad I started running again. This went back and forth and it seemed like the end was so far away. I was starting to pass some people that this had also happened to, but I was also being passed by others that were in the same boat, as well as others that were just plodding along barely moving.... but still running. I came up on a younger guy that was hurting pretty bad. He was doing the same thing as me and at one point we were running together. We weren't talking to each other but were running side by side. I finally came to a point where I had to stop and so I stopped to walk. He quickly turned around and encouraged me to keep going. I got myself moving again and we started to talk. He was also running his first marathon and also realized he had gone out faster than what his body was ready for. He, like I, thought that the training we had done and 4 20+ milers we had put in in training were going to carry us. We both were struggling but helped each other keep going a bit. Looking back, this is probably the 24 mile time-frame when I was able to speed up a bit. At the final water stop he fell back a little bit further and I didn't see him again till after the finish.

The last water stop came at about 1.5 miles out from the finish. This was also when we left the big circle and started heading back to The 6th Cavalry Museum in Fort Oglethorpe where the Finish Line was. I ran as much as I could, but still had to walk a little bit. I decided that I would run the last mile (ok, half mile will do - it is easy to change your mind in this state) and so when the last half mile was here I absolutely refused to stop and walk for anything. I am sure I was running at a snails pace, but I kept running.

I came out from between two houses and was 4 tenths of a mile out from the finish. I could see the finish line with all the people lined up just over the field. I ran the 2 tenths of a mile to where the road curved enough to where I could now see the finish line directly in front of me. I was just passing the 26 mile marker and knew I only had that infamous .2 in front of me. I closed my eyes for just a second and blocked everything out of my mind. I felt pain through every part of my legs at that time but I felt like I was floating on air. The only thing I could see was the FINISH banner, and everything else around including the cheers and the noise was all blurred.
I took that last step and the volunteers where right there to hand me my medal and shortly after my framed bib saying "First Marathon" I have heard about the emotions at this point, and yes I teared up for a moment getting caught up in the moment. "I just finished a marathon!" I had done what very few others have done or ever will do! I am a Marathoner!

I was not where I had set off to be at under 4 hours, but I had crossed the finish line and I had a time of 4:18:51 according to my watch. The official results were posted later in the day and are here. I finished 244th out of 469 and 33rd out of 61 in my age group. My mile splits can be viewed here on my running log. I am not at all upset with what transpired. I am thoroughly excited and proud of what I have accomplished. However, that doesn't mean I will not be critical of myself, that is how we learn and get better next time...... yes, there WILL be a next time :)

Right after the finish line my buddy and his parents were there waiting for me. They had hung around after he finished to be there for me. He too had a similar experience to me and we exchanged war stories. I was grateful to them for sticking around to support me.

I got some pizza and some other post race food and hydrated a bit. I felt hungry but also felt like my stomach was a bit upset. It was probably because I had totally depleted anything I had in me. I still felt kinda icky for about 30 minutes after the race, but I knew I needed to eat something.

I went over to my neighbor and she was still waiting for her husband to finish and was getting worried. It was about 4:45 now and I told her not to worry that I didn't expect him to finish till about 5 hours. He had not trained much at all and had never run more than 15 miles so I knew based on how I was hurting he was hurting much more. He crossed the finish line walking shortly after the 5 hour mark with his shoes untied because his feet were swollen. He had walked the last 6 miles in horrible pain, but he had completed it. He said he would never do another one (but today he said..... maybe)

***forgot to add - last minute addition: As we were getting ready to pull out of the parking lot I pulled out my 26.2 magnet - my car is now adorned with it's very own 26.2 oval magnet..... before she was even started the first time post race!

To wrap thing up: I was very happy with the course, it was a great half or full marathon course. The race was well organized and well run. The packet pickup was great, the food was great and the way they treated the runners was great. All of the water stops were great, and the way they handled the runners at the end was also great. I would do this race again without any hesitation. The Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon gets my thumbs up - thanks to everyone that helped!

What will I do differently next time? The only thing I will do differently is train up to the distance of 26.2 miles. Almost every training program out there takes you up to 20 miles as your longest run. I was worried about this during training and wanted to get my longest run up to 24, but after my 21 miler the next 20+ miler didn't go well and I stopped at 20 miles. I didn't have time in the schedule to get past the 20 mile mark again.

If you are stopping by for the first time you need to read my pre-marathon report. It gives a lot of information on my journey to my first marathon. As I stated in that post, the journey is just as important as the actual event.

Thank you everyone for the support along the way. All my internet friends played just as much of a part in my journey as those directly in my life.

I also want to especially thank my wife. I am the luckiest man alive. I know many of you think the same thing about your wife/husband, but I am sorry that you are wrong :) She has put up with so many things along the way. Having to deal with me complaining when my shorts/shirts/socks/etc were not clean or where I could find them, to having to be awaken by my really early morning runs when I was a bit too loud. She went to bed early so it would be easier for me to go to sleep when I needed to get up at 4:00 am to run, even though she is a night owl. She listened to me when all I wanted to talk about was my run and how it went, how it could have gone better, or what part of my body was aching now, but most of all, she encouraged me and believed in me :) Thanks Lisa - I Love You!

Tim Wilson - - subscribe - follow this blog - twitter-virtual4now