This past Sunday, May 19, I ran in the Cleveland Marathon. And it was awful.

The race started at 7am. It was about 72ºF and overcast. Caught up in the excitement (and the throng of runners surrounding me), I sped across the start line. During the first mile, I spotted pacers who would be running 8:12/mile pace. Considering I had run 20 miles at 8:10 during my training, I figured this was an appropriate pace to start out with. I knew that 8:12 would be too fast, but I thought that once I started to feel tired, I could slow down to 8:30 or 9:00 miles and finish the race at that pace. Boy, was I wrong.

The first twelve miles were a breeze. I felt like I could be going faster, but I knew I was saving energy for later in the race. Around twelve miles, though, the sun started to come out. I was a little over an hour and a half into the race, and temperatures were up to about 77ºF. Heat is my number-two weakness, with sun coming in at number one. On top of that, my training runs never really got any warmer than 65ºF (the aforementioned 20 mile run never got above 50ºF, and had no sun whatsoever). I was not prepared.

I very quickly dropped behind the pace group and kept trudging along. Soon, I felt a strong urge to take a break and walk. I won’t walk, I told myself. The urge grew and I gave in. At 9:51am it was 79ºF, the sun was out, and I had run 19.5 miles with numerous walk-breaks along the way. Five minutes later, convinced I needed to use the facilities, I waited four minutes for a portable toilet.

It only got worse from there. Walk breaks and stop-and-stretch breaks became more frequent, the temperature rose, and my morale sank. Here’s how I looked at about 10:40am, when temperatures had climbed above 80ºF:

Running (for the moment)

The picture is courtesy of my uncle, who was there to support me. He told me later that he was suffering in the heat of the day, and he wasn’t even running! After the photograph was taken, I ran/walked so slowly that he almost caught up with me on his walk back to the finish.

Ultimately, I finished the race with a time of 04:14:35. It was between 82ºF and 84ºF. I had really wanted to finish in under four hours, and I think that that was a realistic goal, so to be so far off the mark did not make me feel great. Still, I completed the race, and I am glad that I did.

Here’s a link to the recorded activity.

Screenshot of GPS recording

Postmortem

Never before have I walked anywhere near as much I did during the Cleveland Marathon. Never before have I wanted to walk anywhere near as strongly as I did during the Cleveland Marathon. What went wrong?

The first cause is obvious: the heat. As I said above, it was much hotter than I had trained in, and I know that I perform poorly in the sun and heat. The second cause was that I went out much too fast. I had discussed with my coach the possibility of a hot race day, and he and I agreed that I would go out slowly if the weather was not in my favor. In the excitement of the race, I applied this plan much less aggressively than I should have. Had I deliberately tempered my pace a lot more from the beginning, the whole race would probably have gone better. It still would have been grueling and slower than ideal, but it would not have been the awful performance that it was.

As I sit here writing this, it is overcast and raining. Yesterday and the day before (May 20-21) were both in the 60s. If only the marathon had been a day later…


My coach told me in an email afterward that, though it is easy to judge the entire process by the final result (Sunday’s race), that discounts all of the preparation and training that went into this. I ran 428.5 miles total in training for and running the marathon. The race itself makes up only 6% of that. I had a lot of fun training, and the race doesn’t nullify that. That’s why I’m happy that I ran the marathon.