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COACH HAMMOND AT ECSDC
I woke up to my alarm at 6:07 a.m. feeling well rested and ready. I had a usual breakfast, which included two bananas, oatmeal with almond milk, a bagel with peanut butter, orange juice, and water.
As the shuttle bus full of runners pulled up to the course adrenaline rushed through my body. I knew, however, that over an hour before my race was not the time to release stored adrenaline, so I quickly calmed myself. A few minutes later, my Aunt Linda and Uncle Mark, who had driven up from North Carolina,arrived. Some time had passed since I last saw them, so I was happy they were there.They also helped to take my mind off the race.
Half an hour before the marathon, I began focusing on the race. I went for a 15 minute warm-up to gently wake up my muscles and gather my thoughts.
I walked over to the start line feeling calm, yet anxious to release the energy that I had stored. As the announcer counted down from 10 seconds I kissed my hand and placed it on the ground to thank the earth and ask for strength.
The gun went off and the pack raced into the woods. Early on I lead the race out of excitement, but I quickly relaxed into a comfortable pace and let two veteran racers take the helm. For the first eight miles as we winded through the open fields and narrow wood paths I switched off between second and third place as the leaders alternated between first and second. At mile nine we encountered a knee deep stream. I was the first one out the water, thus regaining the lead. The runner behind me yelled “The guy in third likes to finish strong!” I said nothing, but thought to myself “so do I.”
I picked up the pace, feeling almost no fatigue averaging 6:50 per mile. As I approached mile 11, second and third place were nowhere in sight. Then it hit me.
I was running the wrong trail!
“Ok Pat don’t panic” I said to myself. I retraced my steps and three minutes later I was back on the course unsure of my place. As I approached the half marathon mark I crossed paths with my friend Paul, who was running the 50 mile race. He told me I was in second place. Luckily, there were still 13 miles left in the race and first place was still within reach. Besides, I had plenty of gas left in the tank, or so I thought.
Around mile 14 my foot cramped up. “Stop that foot” I said out loud. But it wouldn’t listen. Instead the cramp traveled up to my calf. At this point my right leg had lost function and I actually had to stop and shake it out.
As I struggled to make my way through the course I realized the cramp was there to stay. Every time I increased my speed too much both of my legs would tighten up, so I had to shuffle and hop along.
Soon the runner in third place came and went. It was frustrating because from the waist up I felt like racing. Next I had to limp up and down a set of hills. At the top of one of the hills I tripped over a root and fell. As I lay on the ground I laughed because I, a former steeplechaser, had tripped over a one inch high root.
I picked myself up and thought “Never in my life have I not finished a race, and I am not going to start now.”
Mile 20 came along with massive stiffness in each of my legs. A pacer for the 50 miler noticed I was struggling and was kind enough to offer some nutrition. Although the energy gels did not have instant healing effects the generosity lifted my spirits and gave me the strength to continue.
With only a few miles away from the finish I fell to 5th place. At this point it was as though I was standing still. Placing no longer mattered. I just wanted to finish the race. Entering the last mile I noticed someone yelling in the distance. It was my friend and coworker, Alex. He ran with me for the last mile, encouraging me along the way.
Although I felt somewhat disappointed, I was happy to have finished my first marathon in 5th place with a time of 3:32:18.
Looking back, I realize that, although I ate nutritious foods, the week leading up to the marathon my diet was low in sodium. This may have resulted in the early cramping because sodium is needed to retain water and prevent cramping. I also should have taken salt pills during my race. It could have prevented the last major cramps, which caused the most damage.
Then there was the fact that I ran the wrong way for three minutes. Unlike road races, trail runs may be secluded, which makes it particularly important to pay attention to surroundings. I’ll be sure to hone in on the course markers next time.
My next endeavor will be the North Face Endurance Challenge 50K in Wisconsin. The goal is to run a qualifying time for the elite wave of the 50 miler in San Francisco. I know it’s going to take a lot of hard work, but moving forward I plan on applying the lessons I learned from this debut marathon.
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When a race does not go as planned one can either dwell on mistakes or learn from them.
On Friday, June 6th I and two other runners loaded up a car for a four hour drive to the second race in the North Face Endurance Challenge Series in Sterling, Virginia. After winning the Bear Mountain half marathon, I was eager for the next race of the series. This time, however, I was stepping up to the marathon distance.
Leading up to the race my training had been going well and my muscles felt ready to race. To be honest, I was quite nervous, but the prospect of racing a trail marathon far outweighed any anxiety.
Coach Patrick Hammond earned his Masters Degree in Sports and Performance Psychology from the University of the Rockies. He is a USA Track and Field Level 1 certified coach.
As a runner in college he competed at Western Kentucky University, where he helped his team win a Division IA Cross Country Sun Belt Conference Championship.
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