The thing about history, in general, is that so much depends on perspective. The 4th of July isn’t celebrated ardently by natives of London, dinosaurs may or may not have existed depending on your interpretation of the Bible (pro tip: they existed), and I imagine that a completely different version of the Korean War is being taught in the classrooms of Pyongyang. History is really just a collection of stories told from different perspectives, and who’s to say that the perspective you’re reading is the most accurate & reliable depiction of events?
This next bit is a BIG jump from talking about war and religion, but race recaps really aren’t all that different in that regard. Every runner has their own different reason for running a certain race, and those unique, individual motivations will serve to bend the arc of each runner’s race narrative. The fastest runners may choose to focus on physical qualities of the course such as its layout, its elevation profile, or the frequency/quality of aid stations; the more easygoing/recreational runners may spend more time writing about the race’s expo, the crowd support, the scenery, and some of the other race details that the speed freaks may overlook. Perspective is everything.
The whole tone of a race recap will depend on what the writer wanted to get out of the race, and how actual events matched those expectations. Depending on whose write-up you read, and if the respective authors have done a good job bringing you into their world, you may ask yourself if you’re really reading about two entirely different races.
And then, every so often, you’ll read a write-up that’s so devoid of anything in common with what others have written about the race, that you’ll wonder if the author even ran the race at all.
Unfortunately, this is that kind of recap, because that’s what happens when you show up to the starting line 40 minutes late.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
BACKGROUND/PRE-RACE — Motivations and Misreads
I registered to run the 2013 Martian Marathon in an effort to receive guaranteed entry into the 2014 Chevron Houston Marathon, a marathon that lets runners skip its lottery-style registration if they’ve achieved a certain qualifying time. When early registration opened last year (in May 2012) for the 2013 Houston Marathon, that qualifying standard was a 4-hour marathon, and the qualifying race had to have been run in January 2012 or later. That meant that runners only had a 5-month window in which to run a sub-4 hour marathon; for example, a 3:40 marathon run on December 31st, 2011 wouldn’t have counted for anything. I had no reason to believe that anything would change for the following year’s marathon, and you might start to see where I’m going with this.
When I registered for the 2013 Martian Marathon in February 2013, I believed that I needed to run a sub-4 hour marathon sometime after January 1st, 2013. But then sometime after I signed up, the good folks at the Houston Marathon announced that qualifying times for the 2014 event could date back all the way to January 2012, and the time could come from a 10K, a half-marathon, OR a marathon…all of a sudden, I found myself with EIGHT different races from 2012-13 that I could use as a qualifying time. Hooray! But also, well, shit.
Simply put, I had no practical reason to run the Martian Marathon anymore…but the race already had my money.
Not wanting to waste a registration fee, I decided to go ahead and run the marathon anyway. It would be good to try and run a fast-ish marathon again after my 5-1/2 hour slugfest last October, and my college friend Michelle had offered up a couch at her apartment in nearby Ferndale, MI for the weekend. The race was being run on a Saturday, so I left Chicago around lunchtime on Friday and pointed my compass in the direction of Detroit.
The lively & efficient race expo featured more inflatable Martians in one place than I’ll ever see again in my life (probably?), and packet pickup took all of about 5 minutes. After dinner on Friday night, I went to sleep weirdly early for me, because I had BIG plans for the next day…with no pressure of having to run a qualifying time to get into Houston, I resolved to instead go balls-to-the-walls and pace myself for my fastest marathon ever, mostly because I couldn’t think of a good reason not to.
As I was falling asleep, I read an update from on the race’s Facebook age that the out-and-back marathon course was being changed to a 13.1-mile double-loop because of flooding on part of the course, but that we shouldn’t worry, because this new course would still be USATF-certified. That’s right, the backup course would be USATF-certified for anyone trying to qualify for Boston (or Houston!), because the Martian Marathon directors are awesome.
The next morning, though, everything went to shit for me, which brings us to a new segment tentatively called “How Not to Race a Marathon.”
NOW PRESENTING: HOW NOT TO RACE A MARATHON
- Show up to the starting line about 40 minutes late, preferably because of a stupid, completely avoidable reason. Like….oh, I don’t know, maybe you forgot your bib on your friend’s coffee table, along with the attached timing chip. This is a REALLY great idea if your friend lives 30 minutes away from the race you’re running, and you don’t realize that you forgot your bib until you’re parking near the starting line. Nothing prepares you to run your best race like turning a 30-minute drive into a frenzied hour-and-a-half back-and-forth debacle, amiright?
- Don’t stretch beforehand, even when the weather is in the 30s. This will mostly be because you’re arriving late and don’t even think about stretching, but don’t worry, stretching is for pussies. You’ll probably pull a muscle at some point in the race, but who cares?
- Park really far away from the starting line, too — at least a mile, if you can manage it, especially when you know that you’ll probably be running to the starting line. Marathons are cool, but do you know what’s cooler? UNOFFICIAL ULTRAMARATHONS.
- THE NIGHT BEFORE THE RACE — if you have back problems, accept your friend’s offer of a couch, and don’t bother to bring an air mattress. Don’t even consider the possibility that the couch may not be long enough for you, or that it may have a specific sag right in the small of your back that probably wouldn’t be a problem for anyone under 5’10”. Wake up with an achy back and a strained groin, weirdly enough. Scold yourself often on the drive to the starting line (which, again, is now 3 times as long as it should be!), and spend lots of time wondering how you pulled a groin while sleeping.
- Go out too fast. Like, way too fast. Allow yourself to instinctively speed up once the 10K leaders start passing you, whose race started 5 minutes after you crossed the starting line to run your stupid marathon all by yourself, you dumb shit.
- When the time comes, bonk and hit the wall with such force that you wake up a small child in Asia. If possible, do this before Mile 17, so that you know you still have 15K to run with a failing body.
- I don’t know, maybe roll an ankle, too? You might as well.
Okay, that was both fun and cathartic. Now, back to your regularly-scheduled race recap:
THE “WHOOPS-I-FORGOT-MY-BIB” SHITSTORM OF EARLY APRIL 13TH, 2013
As you may have been able to determine from that previous section, I drove all the way from Ferndale to Dearborn before I realized that I left my race bib on the coffee table. What ensued was a panicked 30-minute drive back to Michelle’s apartment, during which I asked myself more than once if I really wanted to run this marathon, followed by another 30-minute return to Dearborn. By the time I arrived back in Dearborn, the downtown area was packed with runners, with traffic moving at a crawl. After an excruciating search for parking, I finally parked about a mile away from the starting line.
I ran straight from my car to the starting line, eschewing gear check, and I despairingly asked a volunteer if she could kindly tell me if the revised marathon course started with a left turn or a right turn after the initial straightaway. The marathon started at 7:15am, and I crossed the timing mats at the starting line at 7:55am, just minutes before the scheduled 8:00am start of the 5K & 10K races.
THE ACTUAL RACE ITSELF
I started the 2013 Martian
solo time trial from hell Marathon the same way that I would eventually end it — all by myself.
The modified course started out running alongside a nice-looking golf course, at the end of which I asked a police officer if I was supposed to turn right or left (I turned right). “This must be how the Kenyans feel,” I told a bewildered volunteer at the first aid station I reached, “because there is just NOBODY around me.” Everybody loves joking about how fast Kenyans are. I decided to pace myself for a 3:30 marathon with level 08:00/mile splits (my previous marathon PR being 3:41:34), and with no one else near me, I found myself paying extra attention to my GPS watch to stay on target. Despite pacing myself for an 11+ minute PR, I couldn’t help but think that if I ran just a little faster, I might catch up with some of the walkers a little earlier…
Running a race all by yourself sucks. Being in last place sucks.
But do you know who loves cheering for the guy in last place? EVERYONE. There weren’t a lot of spectators out on the course, but every last one of them had a kind word for me as I ran by with a sheepish grin. I was running fast enough that everyone knew that something must have happened for me to be running alone in the back of the pack, but I wasn’t running fast enough for anyone to think that I was leading the race and on my 2nd lap. More than a few spectators joked that they were pretty sure I was winning, anyway, and as I had no one running around me (have I mentioned that yet?!), I was grateful for pretty much any interaction that I could get.
After I banked a few sub-8:00 miles to start things off, the course took a turn into a neighborhood, where I was relieved to find the course well-marked by cones, signs, and chalk arrows. As I ran into the neighborhood, I came across some other runners coming out of the neighborhood, which gave me some encouragement that I would soon be running among a crowd soon enough. The concrete roads of these neighborhood streets weren’t doing my calves & back any favors, but the course was very flat and undoubtedly fast.
It was somewhere between Miles 6 & 7 where I caught up to the first marathon walkers, and by the end of Mile 7, I’d reeled in another half-dozen more. It was around this point were some girls who looked a little too young to be saying these things told me that I was the cutest marathoner they’d seen all day, and since they had seen LITERALLY EVERYONE ELSE WHO WAS RUNNING THE MARATHON (except the 6 people now behind me), I decided that this was a genuine compliment and they were in no way saying it just because I happened to be the one person running in front of them at that very moment.
The miles dragged on, I passed more walkers, and I was able to keep a consistent pace hovering just under an 08:00/mile average. Before long, I was passing some people who were actually running, and this was an immeasurable boost to the ol’ morale.
Mile 11 took us through a nice wooded area, which provided a refreshing change of scenery from the neighborhood streets and highways I’d been running along up to that point. The only drawback of this section was that it ran near UM-Dearborn’s campus, where an alumni club was playing “Hail To the Victors” on a stereo like we were running on the University of Michigan’s main Ann Arbor campus and not U-of-M Junior. I am nothing if not a respectful Michigan State alum, so I outwardly flashed a big smile while mentally flipping them all the middle finger in my mind, and I pressed on toward the end of my first loop.
I hit the 13.1 mile mark in almost exactly 1:45, which would have put me on pace for my 3:30 goal if I could just keep it up…and then I started my 2nd loop.
I’ve learned that I do not like double-loop courses.
Passing all of the sights I’d already seen once before sapped both my physical energy and my hitherto indomitable spirit, and I found myself taking a l-o-o-o-o-ng walk break at the first aid station just past the golf course. Somewhere between Miles 16 & 17, I hit what felt like The Wall. It was way too early for The Wall.
The tightness began in my upper back — not my quads, hamstrings, calves, or arches, but my upper back. After stopping to stretch and take a minute’s walk break, I started running again, and was pleased to discover that this was apparently just a mini-wall; the stretching and the walk break seemed to do the trick. I was running sub-9:00 miles again, but it wouldn’t last for long. Soon enough, my splits turned to 9:25, 9:04, and 9:28, and it was with my first 10:00+ split of 10:23 in the 24th mile when I finally accepted that a new PR was probably slipping away.
After logging a labored 11:04 split in the 25th mile, I was able to at least muster the energy for a somewhat-dignified jog across the finish line. For the first time in my life, nobody had passed me during a race, and I staggered across the finish line with a final time of 3:49:00. My final 3 miles were all run at slower than a 10:00/mile pace, but my opening half-marathon split ensured that I would be walking away from the Martian Marathon having run my 2nd-fastest marathon ever.
If I had needed a sub-4 hour qualifying time for Houston, well, I had it in the end…along with some pretty damn sweet bling:
When I say that I “staggered” across the finish line, I mean that in the literal sense of the word. I finished shortly before the start of the Kids’ Marathon (PLEASE CLICK ON THAT LINK, it is an awesome initiative but just too lengthy to get into here), and while I received a moral boost when I was given one of the coolest marathons I’ve ever laid eyes upon, the death march back to my car reminded me just how stupid it was to have gone out that fast. Every step brought strange new pain, and once back at the car, I finally allowed myself a good post-race stretch in the parking lot.
I was thankful that the race was on a Saturday (as opposed to a Sunday), because I’m not sure if I could have handled a 4-1/2 hour drive back to Chicago immediately after the race. Michelle treated me to a glorious burger and several local craft beers, after which I took one of the most satisfying naps of my life on the same couch that felt so uncomfortable the night before.
FINAL THOUGHTS, or “A LESSON IN HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE”
After all that, perhaps you can now understand why I chose to begin this entry with a quick word about historical perspective — for better or for worse, I don’t think this race recap will resemble anything else you read about the 2013 Martian Marathon. I’m not disappointed that I failed to PR, but I do rue the fact that I put myself in a position where I couldn’t properly enjoy and soak in all of the great things this race had to offer.
Instead of spending many words lavishing praise on the race directors for somehow still holding a marathon in the face of historic flooding, that bit was instead relegated to a footnote in my story about how I can’t properly pack a race bag. And that’s not fair to the race, but it was no more than I deserved.
So, all snark aside, let me take this moment to lavish praise upon the people behind the Martian Marathon.
They could have canceled the race, but they figured out a way to make it work. They could have told me to fuck off when I showed up to the starting line 40 minutes late, but they let me run the race and record an official finishing time. They could have tried to just make money with this race, but they instead chose to involve the entire community and put on an event that the city of Dearborn could genuinely, legitimately be proud of.
More than anything, that’s what I’ll remember about the 2013 Martian Marathon — not what could have been, but what actually was.
There will be other marathons, but I’m glad that I ran this one.