Marathon #5 is in the books and it was a success! Because I’ve heard so many great things about the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, it’s been on my to-do list for years. When Matt told me that one of his buddies planned to make the 2018 race his final marathon, I figured it might be a good excuse to finally try it. I booked a hotel in downtown Indy way back in February just in case. Staying downtown is really convenient for big races, so I wanted to grab a good location early and I’d cancel it if we didn’t go.
Initially I thought I’d aim for the half marathon. I knew I would spend the summer doing triathlons. It can be tricky for me to juggle biking mileage with the heavy running mileage needed for marathon training. However, I’m really drawn to the challenge of the marathon. At the beginning of July I decided that I’d start following a marathon plan and see if I could keep up with it. If I could, maybe I’d try the marathon instead of the half.
I’ve truly followed the Hansons Marathon Method for one marathon, but it was hot and humid on race day and it was a rough day for me. Since that race, I’ve been anxious to try this plan again to see what kind of results I would get.
Because of my triathlon training/racing, I didn’t completely stick to the plan. If I raced on the weekend, sometimes I’d skip the speedwork during the week knowing the race would help make up for it. The summer was so hot and humid that I altered or dropped my speed and strength workouts at times because of the conditions. At this point I have a pretty good idea what I need to do in terms of training, so I adjusted the plan as necessary while using it as a guide for most of the summer.
By the time August rolled around, I started to cut back on biking mileage in favor of running. When I’d successfully followed the plan closely enough for about eight weeks, I decided to commit to the marathon and I officially signed up for Indy. Despite the challenges with the weather, my training went really well…until I nearly blew it all just three weeks before the race.
I love training during the fall because it’s a good excuse to get out and see the fall colors. When I was out for a 16-mile long run in mid-October, I saw how beautiful the leaves looked at Stony Creek Metropark. Though I had planned to stick to the dirt roads around the park, the scenery drew me in to the mountain bike trails.
I was running on one of the easy, non-technical trails and somehow I managed to wipe out. Maybe the leaves hid some rocks or roots underneath. Whatever it was, I went down hard. I had a gash in one palm, I scraped my other elbow, and I bashed both knees. At least it was dirt and not concrete? Somehow I managed to run through the pain for 12 more miles, mostly because it was my last long run and I didn’t want to skip it. I took one day off and my left knee bothered me a little bit for the next couple runs. I seemed to be in the clear until I ran up a few steep hills along a nature path the following weekend. It must have bothered my knee and sent me into a cycle of trying to run, having my knee hurt, taking a couple days off, then trying again. I was really stressed out when it hurt to push through a 5-mile run six days before the marathon. I had a pretty extreme taper period for the two weeks leading up to the race and wasn’t even sure if I’d make it to the starting line. I figured the Wednesday before the race would be my make-or-break run. My knee didn’t bother me for that 5-mile run, so I decided I’d rest until the race and give it a shot.
Matt and I took Friday off of work and drove to Indy, which is about five hours away. We got there around 2pm and checked into our hotel across from Lucas Oil Stadium.
When I looked out the window at the stadium, the nerves suddenly hit. I was really there and the weight of what I was about to attempt sunk in. A marathon can be nerve-wracking anyway, but it hit even harder because I was totally uncertain about the condition of my knee and how extreme my taper period had been.
I was lost in my thoughts as we walked to the race expo, so luckily Matt was paying attention and saw our friend Carmen coming toward us! It was funny that we just happened to cross paths. Carmen was going to run the half marathon and it was nice to catch up with her for a couple minutes. We made it to the convention center and checked out the nice expo.
I picked up my bib and race shirt, bought some cheap throwaway gloves, then browsed the official merchandise. There were several cool items, and I decided to get a nice jacket/hoodie.
We were able to meet up and chat with Jen for a little bit, who was also going to run the marathon.
We chatted with a couple other friends, and although it would have been nice to have dinner with Matt’s friend, I knew I needed to eat earlier than he was ready to. No screwing around with the schedule before a marathon! I wanted to eat just after 5pm and have enough time to chill at the hotel afterward. We went to a restaurant called The Ram, and a salmon and rice dinner worked well for me. We got some treats at the Nestle Tollhouse Cafe nearby then headed back to the hotel.
I got up around 6am on race day, which was Saturday, November 3rd. I had a Picky Bar and water for breakfast and took my time getting ready. One of the perks of staying downtown is having a bathroom at the hotel rather than dealing with lines for the porta-potties. I finally headed out just before 7:30, but I needed to hurry since the race started at 8:00 and our hotel was nearly a mile away. I half jogged, half walked my way to the gear check and dropped off some warm clothes for after the race. It was in the mid-30s and clear to start, and it would climb to the mid-40s during the race. I settled on shorts, a t-shirt, arm sleeves, and gloves, which worked perfectly for the whole race. I only had 10 minutes until the start, so I didn’t have much time to shiver before I got moving again.
With over 4,500 people running the marathon and 7,400 running the half, there was a pretty big crowd. I couldn’t find the openings for the corrals, but eventually I saw people separating one of the gates enough to squeeze through. I was in the first wave and crossed the starting line about a minute after the race started at 8:00.
I went with the flow of the crowd and didn’t worry about my pace to start. I enjoyed running under a bridge and hearing the echoing voices of excited runners as we approached Lucas Oil Stadium. I started kind of slow, but that was fine with me. After a couple slower miles, I worked toward my goal pace of 8-minute miles. Honestly, I didn’t know if I’d aim for that pace anyway given my knee issues. The whole race was really an unknown for me at that point. I figured I’d still try to hit my goal and see how it went. For the most part, I ended up running the whole race based on feel rather than trying to hit any specific pace, but luckily my pace naturally hit 7:50-8:00 for quite a while.
I did feel my problem knee a little bit during the first couple miles but told myself it might fade. Luckily it did. I was able to get comfortable and take in the sights. We ran past the Soldiers & Sailors Monument, which is where the race logo comes from. The half marathoners split from the crowd about seven miles into the race, but I still had plenty of marathoners around to follow.
The course is billed as flat and fast, and it’s true. Any hills we hit were so brief and insignificant that I barely remember them now. There was a nice mix of streets in the downtown area, neighborhoods, and roads lined with trees and colorful leaves. Loud crowds of spectators were scattered at various points along course. It was cool to run past Butler University and an art museum, and musicians were located in a few spots.
I passed a guy who was playing “Mary Jane’s Last Dance” by Tom Petty on the acoustic guitar. I got pumped up because I love Tom Petty. I happened to go by as he sang, “You never slow down, you never grow old.” As many times as I’ve heard that song, somehow that specific line really hit me at that moment and it became my mantra for the rest of the race. I kept thinking about the deeper meaning of that line and it was perfect. It might be kind of cheesy, but when so much of a marathon relies on mental strength, things like that help me power through.
I’ve learned that being on top of the mental game is one of the most important parts of the marathon. You can do all of the physical training and hard work, but it’s also critical to be prepared to handle the mental aspect. I don’t listen to music when I run unless I’m on the treadmill. I let my mind wander as I run, and when I’m out there for 3 1/2 hours, that’s a long time to have thoughts running around in my head. I thought about how the race is supposed to be a celebration of all of the hard work put in during training. It’s time to take it all in and enjoy the experience. Even though it’s kind of insane to do a marathon, I thought about how all of us out there are a special breed. We have such a tremendous level of will-power and drive. To voluntarily push through something like that, you have to be incredibly strong. I kept going back to that kind of thought process throughout the race to keep positive. I know that sometimes the body simply will not cooperate and it doesn’t matter how positive you might try to be. You can’t always talk yourself through it, but fortunately this time I could.
10 miles into the race I reminded myself that the Hansons Method talks about preparing you for the last 16 miles of the race. I told myself the race was just starting at that point. I was still feeling pretty strong. It looks like my pace dropped off slightly for miles 16 and 17, but then I kept moving pretty good until mile 21. That’s when my pace dropped to the 8:30s. I think somewhere around that point I hit a stretch of the course that felt like a grind to me. There weren’t any spectators, and although we were running near a river, I couldn’t see much of it from the road. I was thankful that they had placed a series of signs along that stretch with trivia questions about famous people from Indiana. That kept me entertained and distracted.
I felt my left IT band tightening up a little bit at one point, but I told myself that it happens during every marathon and I would be fine. Eventually my calves became the biggest problem. They felt sore and overworked. Once again, I threw a positive spin on things. I told myself that my muscles were getting so strong and built. I reminded myself that I had made it through a long run while my palm, elbow, and knees were destroyed, so surely I could do this.
Despite grabbing water at all but one water stop and supplementing with my 21oz bottle of GU Brew, I got pretty thirsty in the late miles. I really looked forward to the water stops. When I saw people walking during the late miles of the race, it was tempting to do so as well, but I told myself that I had goals to achieve and I couldn’t do it.
I kept grinding through, and soon enough I knew the finish was approaching. I saw Matt taking pictures of me which lifted my spirits. He yelled at me to sprint, and I pushed with whatever I had left as I rounded the corner to the finish line. That meant speeding up from an 8:45 pace back to my actual goal pace, but it was something.
I crossed the line in good spirits and felt very accomplished. I muttered “holy crap” a few times, but I was still standing and somewhat composed. I got my medal, a finisher’s stocking cap, a bottle of water, chocolate milk, then found Matt along the side. He told me what my official results were according to the app.
The obsessive part of me was thrilled that I had hit an even number of 3:34:30. It was just five seconds slower than my marathon in April. My goal has been 3:30 for years now, and it continues to be elusive so far. I’ve been within a 30-second range of times in the 3:34s three times now. And I’m totally fine with that. Although I still haven’t quite hit that A-goal, 3:34 is good for a Boston-qualifying time by over five minutes. I’ll take it! Not knowing what I’d be capable of based on my knee, I was ecstatic to still hit that time.
Here’s how the splits broke down. A slow start, around my goal pace for a big chunk, a slight slowdown followed by bouncing back, and the real breakdown came around 21-22 miles. When my “breakdown” is still mostly in the 8:30s, I sure can’t complain! I didn’t pay attention to my watch too carefully, so it’s a good feeling that I ended up running my goal pace for so much of the race naturally.
I picked up some more snacks like potato chips, a Clif bar, and a chocolate chip cookie, got my warm clothes from gear check, then Matt and I went in a tent to get pizza. After downing a bottle of chocolate milk, I opted to pass on the beer tent. I attempted to sit in a folding chair that was sunk pretty low down into the grass, and almost immediately I felt like my left leg was developing a major cramp. I stood back up and was fine. Initially, I felt pretty good. The tips of my toes were a little sore, but otherwise I was in pretty good shape. Eventually I told Matt that he should go meet his buddy at a bar to watch a football game while I went back to shower. I’d meet back up with him in a bit.
I discovered a really nasty blood blister on one toe when I went to shower, but fortunately I didn’t have any other issues. I had a few snacks then headed back out to meet Matt. The tips of my toes slowed me down a little bit, but I wasn’t really limping…yet. Stairs were a little tricky to maneuver, and that got worse over the next couple days. I felt like walking around town would be a good way to keep from stiffening up. I knew it was inevitable, but I’d try to delay it as long as I could. Since we had never been to Indy before, I wanted to see the city. It was a beautiful day and I wanted to take advantage of it. We went up in the Soldiers & Sailors Monument (by elevator), stopped at a place for frozen yogurt, and walked along a canal.
There were a lot of beautiful sights to take in, and I’m glad we wandered around. We got some pizza, then headed back to the hotel. At that point my step count for the day was absolutely ridiculous.
When I finally settled, the soreness was pretty clear. The outer edges of both calves were tender to the touch. My left IT band/outside of my knee was tight like it has been after every marathon I’ve done. I managed to avoid a headache this time, but the general soreness kicked in and everything hurt. For a couple days, a groan came with every movement and I felt beat up. Now that I’m on the third day post-race, things are starting to improve. I know that the soreness fades within a few days, but the feeling of accomplishment sticks with me.
I had a great experience at this race and understand why so many people have recommended it. The weather was perfect, I really enjoyed the course, and we had a good time exploring the city. My body cooperated, and being on top of my mental game allowed me to enjoy even the most difficult moments. Now, it’s time for a bit of rest. I did a spring marathon, followed up with triathlon season and a couple of half marathons, and I’m due for some downtime. I plan to run my first Boston Marathon in April, so I need to make sure I’m fresh before I start that training segment. This marathon business is crazy…but I love it.