I've always run, but never raced more than a 10-K! I decided, or hoped, that when I turned 40 I would take the big "next step" and run a marathon. Well, my fortieth year came and went with no marathon, so around my 41st birthday (December 28, 2004), I decided to get serious and finding that my hometown had its own marathon, made it more plausible! My new house was practically on the race course, so I could actually train on the course (I know that this is not necessarily ideal in the eyes of some runners, but it was convenient and a beautiful course)!
I feared that I might over train, since I started training in January 2005 and the race was not until December 2005, but despite the numerous months of training, it seems to have worked. I remember while training, as I'm sure so many other first-time marathoners do, that I was skeptical about actually being able to make the full 26.2 miles. It wasn't until I completed my last long run at the beginning of November that my confidence was crowned. I set out one Sunday morning to run 20 miles and ended up running 23. Now I knew I could complete the marathon. My endurance has always been good, but I was a bit fearful of injury. I can only attribute my weight training to the lack of injury during the long training periods - averaging 48-52 miles a week for the last 3 months of training, 4 days of weight-training per week (alternating upper and lower body) and 3 days/week of abdomen work.
Two friends (Socrates and Chris), who had both run marathons before, flew in from Baltimore to see me run. The night before the race, I was actually not as keyed up as I thought I would be, and actually slept fairly well. Race morning dawned in the 50's with some humidity. I was a little worried about that, but being as I have lived in the sub-tropical climate of South Louisiana all my life, and run in it plenty of times, I just took it in stride (no pun intended). I decided to walk to the beach where the race began with my friends instead of driving, since it was so close to the house, parking was a joke and it would provide a good warm-up besides. I casually spoke with Socrates and Chris about some last minute questions/concerns I had. But, I think, inside I was fairly comfortable with my aspirations for the race.
They lined up the half-marathoners on the left-side of the four lane avenue and the marathoners behind on the right for the race start. I remember thinking to myself, "now remember Thomas, do not start out too fast." Although, I usually did not start out too fast on my 10-K's, the 10-K was the longest race I had run. I also recall reminding myself that I would be just beginning a 4-hour (my "goal" time for the marathon) experience. So, "casual" it began. A little after 7 A.M. we commenced running through the beautiful College Town neighborhood that I was so familiar with. 500 runners was not too crowded, but busy enough for the first mile and a half anyway. The first water stop had some very encouraging "fans," and that was a good boost right off, especially since that water stop also marked the onset of probably the least attractive part of the race course, which went on for about 3 1/4 miles. We ran away from the LSU lakes at this point for the first of two spurs on the loop course.
I was so impressed that traffic stopped on Nicholson Drive for the runners - you just don't see that much in Baton Rouge! In fact, I was even more impressed with the number of police that were directing traffic during the entire race. Passing Alex Box and Tiger Stadiums lifted my athletic spirit, which in itself was an odd experience, being as I never considered myself an athlete. Heading back into LSU campus and toward the lakeshore drive lined with Sorority and Fraternity houses, I was now approximately in my 5th mile of the race. It was at that point that I began thinking about my friends who were supposed to be at the far end of the lake, just before the second spur begins. All of my friends gathered at the beautiful lake-side home of Anita's and Dwayne's to enjoy the double-loop course run by both half-marathoners and marathoners. The intersection was maybe 1/10 mile from the house, so easy for them to walk down and see me there and then head back to the house to see me again after the Garden District spur.
I had to smile when I passed them there at the intersection at about mile 7 or so. The big sign that said "RUN THOMAS RUN" put a smile on my face (my best friend, Leonard was holding it up) - food and drink were offered by my friends, but I declined them all. And at the end of the line of friends was my Dad. It was good to see him. I caught myself speeding up a bit, which was fine for now, not too fast. Up Dalrymple Drive and alongside City Park, I ran across the first chip-reader. At mile 7.25 I was just at an hour and 2 minutes. Without stressing my brain out too much, I figured that I was, at least for now, within my projected goal of completing the marathon in 4 hours or LESS! The next part of the course is perhaps my favorite. For the next 3 1/4 miles, the course runs through the Garden District of Baton Rouge. There were not many people out in their yards to cheer us on, which was a bit disappointing, but it was still early on a Saturday morning. It was also at this point that I felt the sun a bit. However, the trees that line the Garden District streets were kind with their shade. Several of the runners commented about how it had heated up. I must say I didn't find it too hot - it was quite comfortable. Of course, I was shirtless, whereas some of the complainers were not.
As I turned onto Parker, a little boy held out something that looked like a fried chicken drumstick. I thought to myself, "how odd that someone would be offering that by way of food for a person running a half-marathon/marathon race!" It turned out to be a banana, of which I did not avail myself. However, at that point I decided that, if the boy was there on the second loop, I could probably use that banana then. As we went down one of the small gentle hills near Perkins road, another runner asked me what mile we were on. I told him I had no idea, but then realized that I should, since I had trained on the course. However, all my mileage was off since, while training, I always began running from my house rather than the actual race start. It turned out to be mile 8 1/2. I figured I had about a mile and a half until I pass my friends at Anita's and Dwayne's on Lakeshore Drive. At mile 10, they were there - and more than the 5 who were at the intersection going up into City Park. I heard a cowbell, saw the sign again, heard cheers, and saw several cameras. Again, a smile broke out on my face. It was all I could do not to laugh. It was WONDERFULLY ridiculous!. Later, I found out that so many of the other runners were "Thomas-wannabes," since by far, I had the largest scale fan club! My pace quickened, as I was boosted on for the final 2.9 miles before the end of the first loop.
It was a weird feeling, but also a familiar one, when at the beach, the half-marathoners crossed the finish line on the right and the marathoners were flagged on to the left. I didn't see my time at that point, but later found out that I made the first loop in 1 hour 53 minutes. The familiarity came from the fact that I had trained alone and now with the majority of the runners completing their race (the half-marathon), I was more or less alone. It's not that I did not want to run with anyone else when training, it just seemed to work out that way, and I didn't seek any other runners out. Although, I saw plenty of training groups during my runs. In addition, I have always like to pray while I run, and only used an I POD the last few weeks of training during the long runs. No IPO for the race though!
So, now I'm alone. One runner is far ahead, but within sight, one far behind, but within sight. I noticed a runner walking, and wonder if it was planned as a tactic or forced upon them by fatigue. It looked to be the former. At approximately mile 15 or so, I was back out by Alex Box Stadium and was thinking about fuel. I had drank water and power-ade on the first loop, but no food. I had not trained with food that way, and was a bit leery. Still, I knew that I had to eat something. Here was my chance. One of the water-servers said, "Candy and fruit at the end of the line" I saw a small boy with his hands outstretched. In one was assorted candies and in the other was a 1/3 of an orange. It took the orange graciously from him. Then he looked up at me and said, "You're my first customer!" I'll never forget that! Another smile moment.
All during the race, and especially so at this point, I was very AWARE of the other runners. My mind was wondering how they trained, what was their goal, whether running was something they enjoyed to do or whether it was this simply an athletic task for them. For me, the spirituality of running has always been the attraction. I found myself praying for these individuals running this marathon with me, although I knew nothing about them. It was at this point, and only at this point, for about 1/10 mile that I actually ran side-by-side with someone whose pace was the same as mine. Although nothing was spoken by either of us, it was surely a shared moment. The silence of constant movement can be almost like a mantra. At about this time, I also tried to make eye contact with the police who were stopping traffic for the runners. I wanted to smile at them and show my appreciation.
Heading back out to the LSU lakes I could see from the road (written) that I was now in the upper teen mileage of the race. I was feeling some fatigue in my thighs, but was on auto-pilot for sure. I had no idea how fast I was running. In my mind I thought "OK, now's the time to pick up the pace for a little bit." Well, I later learned that I did not pick up the pace, but I didn't drop off too much either. At mile 20 I saw my friends again at the intersection leading up into City Park. This time I took a banana from one of my friends, Debbie, knowing that there was a water station up ahead at the chip-reader to help wash it down. At mile 20.35 my time was 2 hours and 56 minutes. I knew now, that unless I hit the wall, I could finish in under 4 hours. I was spurred on. Through the beautiful Garden District again. I was running alone for the most part, but I do now remember that I passed several runners. I had always done that on 10-K's, but didn't know if this "passing" style would prevail in a marathon as well.
My fatigue increased and I did start thinking how it would feel to stop and just call it quits. I could hear myself saying, "Yeah you know you COULD have made it, but you chose not to!" That whole "devil on your shoulder" thing. It was no longer a goal to pick up the pace. Even though I don't know that I would have been aware if I actually did that -- now just to finish the race was my goal. Mile 22, 23... and again I pass my friends at the Lakeshore Drive house. I thought to myself how leisurely they had spent the morning, sipping Mimosas, nibbling on food and watching the runners for HOURS! Literally HOURS! And what was I doing? I was running for HOURS!! Am I crazy? A Marathon over a Mimosa!? As you can see, the psychological part began kicking in.
I knew that the plan had always been for my friends to bolt from the lakeshore house to the finish line on the second loop so that they could see me cross it. The house was 2.9 miles from the finish line and I had told them that they would probably have plenty of time (close to 1/2 an hour) to get there. Speaking of time, it did not strike me as strange, until the day of the race that I never wore a watch during training and I wasn't wearing one on race-day either.
But, what happened next in the race was not only apropos, but I'm sure contributed to my "26th" wind in the race! 2 vehicles buzzed past me, with cheers coming forth. My friends were heading toward the finish line. And then Dwayne rode by on a bicycle. My altered state of consciousness at this time seemed to now see most things as comically encouraging. And then, Leonard appears behind me on roller blades with the cow bell. Hilarious! I warned him not to make me laugh or cry, since that would be the end of me and of my chances to finish the race, since hyperventilation would surely occur.
Those last 2.9 miles were most interesting. As we passed some of the other runners, they now recognized me as the "famous" THOMAS (I think they recalled the cowbell). Without being a distraction, Leonard's presence alongside of me was almost comforting. I talked a very little bit, but he continued hitting the cowbell. As we approached the last mile of the race, I could feel the fatigue in my thighs, but now started feeling pain and aches in my shoulders. We passed a finisher who was sporting her marathon medal for completion. That was another sign of encouragement. At mile 26, I did increase my pace (how much, who knows?). As we approached the finish line, of course, Leonard, dropped back. I saw my dad and all my friends as I ran under the clock at 3 hours 51 minutes 59 second. YES! I made it and in under 4 hours!
The next part is probably more hazy to me since it was at that point that I was attempting to communicate with others. Congratulations, pictures, a massage and then back to the lakeshore house for champagne finished the experience for me.
It was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A marathon, and a first marathon. I will probably run another one, but no definite plans at this point. I'll just keep on running! The experience of having run the marathon leaves with me extreme gratitude for the ability and opportunity to have run the marathon as well as for the support of friends and family. Anyone who is even contemplating the possibility of running a marathon, I would definitely say "GO FOR IT!"