My Experiences With The Last 6.2 Miles Of The Marathon
The Last 6.2 Miles Of The Marathon
Those mystical, last 6.2 miles of a marathon are one of the most talked about subjects between runners. Runners can definitely be storytellers and can sometimes rival fishermen with their runs getting longer, harder, hotter or colder, and with more elevation gain each time they share the story, but the last 6.2 miles usually needs no exaggeration to make it a good story. This is one case where truth is probably better than ficition. Everything that you have heard about the last 6.2 miles is probably true. When I start a race I am usually thinking in five mile increments and then the farther I get into the race my goals shorten to water stops and then to 1 mile at a time and during the final few miles it goes to one step at a time.
I have now had six marathon experiences and each time the last 6.2 miles has lived up to it’s reputation. The last 6.2 miles is really what makes the marathon such a special distance. If it were only 20 miles then so much of the allure of the marathon would be lost. It is during that last 6.2 miles where most people venture into an unknown area for the human mind and body. It is during that last 6.2 miles where you really have to reach down deep into yourself both physically and mentally and find strength that you previously didn’t know you had. The last 6.2 miles is what makes you a better, stronger, more confident yet humble person following the marathon. That 6.2 miles stretch gives you the confidence that there is nothing that can stop you from attaining your dreams but also makes you so grateful for all the gifts that you have been given. It also makes me grateful for chocolate milk and massages.
OK, now I don’t want to say too many good things about the last 6.2 of the marathon because there have been six times that I have wanted to curse that *#$@! 6.2 miles. I have heard some people say that if they pace themselves correctly and they are smart about their hydration and nutrition then they cruise through the final miles of the marathon with ease. While I think you can make the race easier with proper expectations and proper fueling, as I talked about in my previous post about “What To Eat Before And After Your Race.”, I still believe that if some people truly find the last 6.2 miles a breeze then I must be doing something wrong. I guess if I were to take it pretty easy during the first 20 miles then I may be able to finish with relative ease but I have never been able to do it that way. When running my marathons I always try to set an attainable time goal but also a goal that will push me to break through some of my limitations. By using this strategy I think I set myself up for some pain but also for a lot of growth and give myself the opportunity to make my 100% a little better. I believe it gives me the chance to learn some things about myself that I would otherwise never learn.
Here are a few of my experiences with the last 6.2 miles:
2001 St George Marathon – This was my very first experience with the final miles of a marathon. If you have ran a marthon you have probably experienced some brain shutdown during the final stretch. During the final miles of this race I somehow lost count of the miles and instead of being at mile 22, like I thought I should be, I was really at mile 21…..demoralizing to say the least. When I saw that “21 mile” sign I wanted to stop right there and quit. It was not long after this that I experienced what has been my nemesis in the final miles of all but one of my marathons, which is cramping in my hamstrings. My hamstrings feel like the window shutters in the old Tom and Jerry cartoons and just want to roll up into a ball. Luckily I found the strength somehow to keep going and learned that day that I could finish a marathon which, years prior to that, seemed impossible to me. My limitations changed that day. I finished in a time of 3:31:19 and knew that I was hooked and would be back. A little funny tidbit here, to top this race off I had an old guy pass me with about a half mile to go and on the back of his shirt it said “77 and Still Running.” It made me feel a little better when I found out he at least set the 75 and older age group record.
2002 St George Marathon – This was probably the hardest physical experience of my life (as you can see from my half dead appearance in the picture here just after I finished). I had one marathon under my belt and I really ramped up the training and set my time goal at 3:15:00. I had slimmed down and was feeling great. The first half of the race went really well and I was actually feeling pretty good until about mile 22 . I was even on pace to qualify for Boston if I could keep it up. Don’t get too excited though, the hamstring cramps that I had felt the year earlier returned with a vengeance. I was trying to run straight legged and hobble the best I could but my pace started to slow. I found myself gritting my teeth and kind of growling to try to persevere through the pain. I remember just feeling like my body was starting to shut down. I had never felt anything like this before and I wasn’t really enjoying it. I do remeber one highlight though, with about 2 miles to go someone was passing out ice cold wash cloths which I used to wipe my hot, salt crusted head and body with and then just laid it on my bald head while I ran. It was possibly the most refreshing thing I have ever felt. I had a group of runners that I had trained with pass me with about 2 miles to go and I later found out that they hit under my qualifying time for Boston but it wasn’t in the cards for me. I finished in a time of 3:12:12. I had missed Boston by 72 seconds but I had done better than I had expected and again found out that I could push myself to attain things that at one time seemed unattainable.
2005 Salt Lake City Marathon – This marathon was definitely nothing special as far as my finishing time. I had not put forth the effort needed in my training to finish with one of my faster times. Sometimes those races when you really struggle help you to learn more about yourself than the easier ones. Because of my lack of training and the fact that I was carrying some extra weight I really struggled in this race. By the time I hit mile 20 I was ready to be done but I learned something that has helped me in races, and life, ever since. When I was struggling the most I came upon a young guy who made me feel like I was doing okay. He was really struggling. He was walking (well really hobbling) and as I passed him I gave him a little slap on the shoulder and told him that he could do it and that we were getting close. He mumbled something back that I couldn’t understand but then he started to jog with me. As we talked I started to tell him that he was looking good, that we were getting close, and that he would never be the same after finishing that marathon (it was his first). The thing that I noticed is the more I tried to help him and get his spirits up the better I felt about myself. In talking someone else thruogh the rough spots I am also talking myself through. Now in every race that I run I seek out those who look like they could use a little help or inspiration and try to offer some words of encouragement. I think life is the same, if we will try to find opportunities to help and give then usually we are the ones who receive the most. I finished this marathon with a time of 3:52:34 and the young guy that I ran with actually ended up leaving me in the dust with about a mile to go.
I have 2 marathons planned for this year and hope for many more and I’m sure I have some valuable lessons to learn from those gloriously, horrific last 6.2 miles.