The 2013 Myrtle Beach Marathon

Finally, after some 5 months of intensive marathon training, there we were standing on the starting line and staring the elephant in the eyes.  I do not mean this in some vague metaphoric sense – I mean I was literally staring at Bubbles the elephant who stood some 30 feet directly in front of me.  And I was uptight about it, as if getting ready to run 26.2 miles isn’t nerve-racking enough.  Somebody had the brilliant idea to bring an elephant, a real life 4-ton animal, to the starting line of the 2013 Myrtle Beach marathon.  Laura made fun of me as I eased to the right so as to not be standing directly in front of the beast if/when it decided to charge.  Yeah, it’s always funny until the elephant does this.  I had my escape route all mapped out when the starter said “Runners on your mark, get set…” and then fired an elephant sound effect and we were running while Bubbles merely watched.  But I get ahead of myself.  Let’s back up.

We jet past before Bubbles decides to trample us (photo courtesy of the Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach marathon).

We jet past before Bubbles decides to trample us (photo courtesy of Bi-Lo Myrtle Beach Marathon).

Pre-Race

Laura and I had a mostly pleasant drive from Charlotte to Myrtle Beach on Friday morning. I say mostly only because when we made a Subway (the sandwich shop, not the mode of transportation) stop just outside Myrtle Beach and my vegetarian girlfriend attempted to order an Egg and Cheese Omelet Veggie Delite sandwich, she was told that this sandwich was not available outside of breakfast. I could not resist pointing at the sign and asking, “So the sandwich that the sign says is available ‘All Day, Every Day‘ is not available? That’s what you’re telling us?” Okay, so I only whispered it to Laura, but you get the point.  Stupid Subway.  But again, I get off track.

So the sandwich that the sign says is available "All day, every day" is not available? Pathetic.

Photographic evidence.  I am officially done with Subway – their sandwiches taste like crappy salads on cardboard anyway.

Shortly after the great Subway incident, we arrived at the Sheraton, our hotel and also, conveniently, the site of the marathon expo, dumped our stuff into the room, and hoofed it over to the expo where I snapped this pic of Laura with her first marathon bib:

Blurry photograph of Laura with her first ever marathon bib. Sorry, I never claimed to be much of a photographer.

After the expo, it was back to the hotel for the pasta dinner where we ran into a couple of Charlotte speedsters, Dennis Livesay and Michael Putman, both looking to break 3 hours the next day.

We ate quickly and were back in the room by 6:30 that evening.  We laid out all our gear and then got off our legs.  I was fading in and out of consciousness by 8:00, exactly where I wanted to be with the race scheduled to start at 6:30 the next morning.  I had a fitful night of sleep, and briefly thought about getting into a fist fight when some inconsiderate jerk yelled in the hallway, but I really didn’t want to exert any energy so I just rolled over and covered my head with a pillow.

Race Day

My alarm was set for 4:15 but didn’t go off.  Luckily, I got up and checked at 4:20 and discovered that I had dorked it up.  The mad race day morning ensued as we scrambled to get ready, much like that recurring dream of mine.  “Where’s my watch?  Have you seen my heart rate monitor?  Gloves – did you bring 2 pairs of throwaway gloves?”  That kind of thing, right up until 5:45 when we left the room, hopefully in time to catch the last, 6:00 AM, shuttle over to the start.

I was getting a little panicky when we walked outside in front of the hotel and there was no one there, no shuttle, and no signs of any runners or any shuttles.  We asked the concierge where the shuttle pick-up was but he was a bit unsure and rather iffy, “As of yesterday afternoon, I was told that it would be picking up somewhere by the side entrance”.  My urgency tachometer wasn’t in the red yet, but it was definitely headed in that direction.  I knew the starting line was less than a mile away and the race scheduled to start a little more than 30 minutes from now, so we could walk/jog if necessary, but I wasn’t super keen on adding additional mileage on top of the 26.2, and if we walked/ran, we’d be cutting things mighty close, what with bag check and all.

We turned the corner and spotted the shuttle, a standard school bus, and a long line of runners piling on.  We joined them.  By the time we got on, all seats were full so we were forced to stand – not ideal, but better than walking/running to the start.  The bus driver and seemingly everyone else on the bus besides Laura and me seemed a little too sanguine and nonchalant as it was now after 6:00 and they were all joking and chatting and taking their time about getting on the bus.  But eventually we started heading in the direction of the start, by Pelican Field, home of Myrtle Beach’s minor league baseball team.

My anxiety level was nearly at its zenith as the bus stopped near the stadium, yet still nearly a quarter of a mile from the starting line.  Then my head nearly exploded when the bus driver failed to open the doors to let us out.  The bus’ occupants, to steal a line from Fight Club, remained as docile as Hindu cows, while Laura and I were on the verge of flipping out – the bus was literally 5 feet shy of the “Shuttle Stop” sign but the bus driver refused to open the doors.  6:15 and we were still on the bus.  Laura kept nervously asking me, “Why won’t she open the doors?” while everyone else giggled and chatted, not a care in the world, until I screamed “Is anybody going to open the doors?”  It took all my willpower not to throw in various colorful adjectives.  Luckily, the bus in front of ours moved up 5 feet and then so did ours.  Calmly, gradually, the driver opened the doors and everyone else slowly exited.  When Laura and I, pulling our hair out, finally got out, we took  off past all these nonchalant folks and bolted toward the bag check area.  There we ran into Jamie Dodge, who kindly snapped this pic for us:

You can barely tell how frazzled we are with only some 10 minutes til gun time and we are still in the bag check line.

You can barely tell how frazzled we are with only some 10 minutes til gun time and still in the bag check line.

Finally, we checked our bags and made it to the starting corral.  I was surprised how much room there was up front – I guess I wasn’t the only person there concerned about Bubbles’ presence.  We walked right up to the front of the line, where we ran into Bobby (Aswell) and Jim Mckeon. (Aside – I played Nostradamus when I guessed Jim’s time as 2:49 – he ran a 2:50.)

We all wished each other luck, the starter played the elephant sound, and off we went.

The Race

Finally, the race.  After Bubbles so graciously decided not to stomp on us, we were running, although I still kept one eye on Bubbles as I passed, just in case.

But seconds later, with Bubbles in my rear-view mirror, it was marathon business as usual, and believe me, I was all business for this one.  I told Laura just before we started, “Look, hundreds of people are going to blow past us at the start -the  fat, the old, the infirm.  Ignore them.”  Pot.  Kettle.  Black.

I tried to run the planned 8:15 pace, but it wasn’t easy as I oh-so-very-typically ran faster, and as I accurately predicted, hundreds of people blew past.  I tried to make light of it by pointing folks out to Laura and saying things like, “We’ll see him again.  And her.  Oh, and definitely him.”  I was particularly intrigued by a quite, um, rotund (rubenesque?) lady ahead of us running probably sub-7:30 and I guessed she’d be coming back to us, which she did before the first mile marker.  Laura was super uptight about the fast pace and kept reminding me of this fact.  I did my best to ease her concerns by just calmly responding, “Relax, we’re okay.”  We had settled in around 8:05 – that wouldn’t kill us.  Theoden zipped by and we exchanged a few pleasantries before he disappeared into the rising sun.

We hit the first mile split at 8:05 and the second at 7:49, significantly faster than the 8:15 and 8:00 goals, but not ‘derailment’ faster.  Now the plan was 7:45s for the remainder of the race – easy, peezy, lemon-squeezy, right?  If only things were so simple.

I could tell early on that I was working a little harder than I would have expected.  Mile 3 was a perfect 7:42, but mile 4 was a 7:50, both of which took some effort.  I was nervous because if things were going according to plan, these should have been simple – I should have still been screaming at myself to throttle back.  These early miles should be effortless.  They weren’t.

For months now, I’d been preaching to Laura, “You should feel like you’re running too slow.  You will desperately want to run faster.  Don’t.  If you feel like you’re working at all, you need to back off.”  I was already breaking my own advice at miles 3 and 4.  Uh-oh.  I felt storm clouds gathering on the horizon – this was bad.  For comparison, at this same point in the Wineglass marathon, I felt like I couldn’t go any slower and yet I was still consistently hitting low 7:40s, with minimal effort.  And I had crashed hard around mile 23.  I tried to repress any such negative thoughts and just take each mile one at a time.  26 mile repeats, zero recovery, with a .2 mile cool-down.

Between miles 5 and 6, as we neared a turnaround in Market Common, the leaders ran towards us.  I saw Dave Munger cruise by, on his way to a huge PR in the half, and Adam Mayes, and scores of fast kids.  How I envied them their sub-6:30s as I struggled for measly 7:45s.  When I crossed the 6-mile marker, I thought to myself, “20 miles to go.  Holy s**t – I don’t think I can do this.”

It was during this period of time that an older gentleman donning a safari hat, and what looked like a plain white cotton t-shirt, and cargo shorts, yes cargo shorts, pulled up beside Laura and me and started chatting.  “I assume by your matching outfits…” (we both had on white Charlotte Running Club singlets and throw away arm-warmers, $2 Target tube socks with the toes cut out) “…that you guys are a couple.”  I was proud of Laura’s facetious , “Nope, we just met” response.  Chatty Crocodile f * * *ing Dundee (I can’t take credit for this title – Laura dubbed him that after the race, minus the profanity, of course – that part’s mine) kept talking away, like he was conducting an exclusive interview for the New York Times or something.  I bet Jordan never has to deal with the chatty Crocodile Dundees of the world.

I don’t mean to be rude, but here’s the deal – think of your marathon energy reserves as a jug of water.  Every word out of your mouth is a sip of water from that jug.  Now think of miles 20 through 26 as the Sahara desert.   When you enter the desert, you are really going to wish you hadn’t taken all those earlier sips.  So I was Silent Sam while Laura, a much nicer person than me, indulged him briefly with short answers.  Finally, he gave up and moved ahead to find someone more willing to engage in a lengthy conversation.  Thank god.

We made the turnaround and I continued to struggle.  It was too early in the race to be having a tough patch, and yet here I was, fading before mile 7, when I heard a familiar voice ring out, “Go Allen!  Go Laura!”  I looked over just in time to spot Scott Helms.  It was a motivational shot in the arm and I sped up.

Mile 8 neared and we hit the strip, with the ocean in view to our right.  We were now running directly into the sun so I put on my sunglasses which, up until now, had rested on top of the Why Marathon hat on top of my head.  But the glasses were useless, completely fogged up, so I desperately tried to wipe them off with my singlet.  I quickly learned that sopping wet singlets don’t make very good glass cleaners.  I wore the cheap sunglasses anyway, ready to toss them the second they got too annoying, and blindly continued on.

By now, my arms were warm, so I struggled to get the arm warmers off without losing my gloves or, of course, my expensive Garmin watch.  I was only partially successful as I managed to keep the watch, but lost the gloves in the process (also throwaways, more cheap Target threads).

Now we were running into a significant headwind coming off the ocean.  I continued to struggle.  We were still on pace, but man, it felt really, really difficult.  I was on the verge of downright panic.  Laura was a trooper, running stride for stride with me in her first marathon, even with nagging calf pain that had been bothering her for over a week now.

I am ashamed to admit that about this time, I began entertaining notions of quitting.  I felt like there was no way I could break 3:25 on this day – I was working way too hard, way too early in the race.  My legs felt fatigued, we were fighting a headwind, and there were over 18 miles to go.  I thought things like, “I can just run the half and call it a day.”  In my head, I started running through a list of upcoming marathons where I could try to qualify, “Columbia?  No, too hilly.  Shamrock?  Yeah, maybe Shamrock…”  That sort of thing.  But mile 8 passed and we were still on pace.  Hang on for another mile and reevaluate.

Around mile 9, Bobby Wheeler passed me and I called out, “Hey Bobby!  What’s your goal?”  When he answered, “3:30 at the worst”, I felt another twinge of panic as he quickly, easily dropped me even while I was shooting for sub-3:25.  And the headwind continued to buffet us.

Now I was struggling mightily.  I felt like I couldn’t keep up with Laura and, much like in the Thunder Road half, I fell a few paces behind her.  I kept exhorting myself, “Hang on.  Just stay in touch with Laura.  Don’t fall off the back.”  I felt bad when I noticed her, on several different occasions, looking around in an attempt to locate me.  But she looked strong so I tried to play off that strength and convince myself to keep going, “You’ve done the same training as her.  If she can do it, so can you.  Stay with her.”  I played a lot of mind games to trick myself into believing I could do this.

The crowd had finally thinned out some when Laura and I found ourselves running in a little pack of 5 – Rob (a 40-something guy in a bright yellow singlet), a 50-something Vac and Dasher, and an older, bigger, balding guy in a bright black and yellow windbreaker (Bill Vanea, I think, as I look through the results).  Bill seemed perfectly content to lead this pack so the rest of us, except Laura who ran directly to my right, settled in a nice little drafting train behind him.  I tried to hand signal to Laura to tuck in the line in front of me, but she didn’t see me.  I spoke out, “Laura…”  Nothing, off to the side of our line, she continued to fight the wind alone.  “Laura.”  Still on her own.  “Laura!” I cried out.  She finally looked over and I gestured for her to tuck into our draft line just in front of me.  She did.

And we mostly stayed like this for the next few miles, occasionally trading spots, our own little private Myrtle Beach Marathon conga line.  And yet, even with the drafting help, I still felt labored.  The DNF thoughts continued and got more and more frequent and more and more pervasive.  As we neared the 12-mile spot where the half and full marathoners diverged, I seriously contemplated turning left instead of right and stopping at the halfway point.  I thought I was done and that there was simply no way I could break 3:25 on this day.  I turned to Laura and for the first time all day, I conveyed my doubts to her.  “I am working way too hard – I’m struggling.”  She was super upbeat when she said, “Don’t worry – you’ve got this!” even as I faded back behind her.

At the spot where the halfers turned to head home, I fought against the mighty temptation to finish with them.  I partly continued out of pride, partly out of stubbornness, and partly because I didn’t want Laura to have to run the remaining 14+ miles on her own.  She would have been fine, but I would have felt so guilty and so incredibly shame-ridden had I bailed on her this early.  Besides, I checked my pace tattoo at every mile marker and even with all my struggles, we were still on pace, give or take a few seconds.  Another mile.  Maybe one more after that.  Hang on.

We stuck with the conga line and Laura and I, she a step or 2 in front of me, crossed the half right at 1:42:30 – dead on schedule.  Again, panic mode, as I was counting on about a 30-second cushion here.  I was supremely worried: a) Because I felt like s**t and b) Because it would take a negative split to qualify for the Boston Marathon, meaning I’d have to run the second half of the marathon faster than I ran the first, and I had never, in 8 other tries, run the second half of a marathon faster than the first.

I still thought about laying down, throwing in the towel, calling it a day, insert your favorite quitter euphemism here.  One of the biggest deterrents was that I didn’t know how to quit.  I don’t mean this heroically, as in “I don’t know the meaning of the word quit”, but rather literally, as in, “What do I do if I want to quit?”  Do I just stop and wait for a van to pick me up?  Do I walk up to a stranger’s door and ring the bell and say, “Excuse me, I was running the marathon and decided to quit.  Can I use your phone?”  While these thoughts were running through my head, we were still hitting the splits.

Until we weren’t.  My fear grew when the splits started getting a little slower as the conga line of 5 began to fall off pace – a couple of the subsequent mile splits were 7:47, then we had a 7:51, then at mile 17, we ran a 7:54.  It was then that something in me snapped.  I realized that if I didn’t do something right now, that if I just remained settled in with this pack, I was going to miss qualifying, again.  I suddenly just had this supreme anger.  My mild mannered 7:50-something Bruce Banner turned into some kind of angry 7:30s Hulk.  I took off.  Quit?  Screw that.  The idea was forgotten.

I dropped our pack, wind be damned, and Laura came with me.  Somehow, miraculously, I felt good.  I picked up the pace.  I saw Bobby Aswell, then Theoden close behind, coming the other way, maybe a mile ahead.  I waved at Bobby and gave Theoden the thumbs up sign, and I pushed the pace.  I was a different person – I felt great.  I ran mile 18 in 7:38, the fastest split yet, and I continued to accelerate.  Laura wisely backed off.

Now I had confidence.  Now I believed.  I passed a girl in a purple skirt and I cheerfully told her, “Now it’s just a daily run!” and she, smiling, agreed.  I started picking people off and using each runner ahead as motivation.  Catch that guy in the blue singlet.  Pass that girl wearing the pink Mizunos.  And so and so and so forth.  It was eerie how good I felt after having felt so bad for so long.  I didn’t understand it but I’ve run enough marathons to know that there can be a lot of good and bad patches in a single race.  I’m a firm believer in taking advantage of the good patches.

I ran mile 19 in 7:26, the fastest of the day.  I started imagining victoriously crossing the finish line.  I began planning a pose for the finish line picture.  Maybe I’d hold both arms up, triumphantly outstretched. Ooh, no, instead I would flex my biceps, bodybuilder style.  Maybe I would leap high into the air.

Snap back to reality.  My inner drill sergeant grabbed me, shook me, and slapped me in the face.  “Hey!  Dummy!  Less daydreaming, more focusing!  Think you’ve got this in the bag, do you?  How many times before have you thought this at mile 19 and then crashed and burned?  Want me to make a list for you?  Shamrock.  Towpath.  Wineglass.  Would you like me to continue?  Now back off idiot before you drop dead out here.”  I checked my heart rate – 160.  Easy boy.  Get back on track.

I backed down, closely monitoring my heart rate which was creeping ever higher.  Mile 20 was the second fastest of the day in 7:37, but then fatigue starting catching back up with me as I ran a 7:46 mile 21.

Say  hello to the bonk, or as I refer to it, the darkness.  Here we go – this is where I break out any saying that motivates me, fires me up, angers me, any and all phrases that have helped in the past.  Nut up or shut up, Buttercup.  I’m a man, I’m 40.  Relaxed, not fast.  All the while, checking the watch, but that was getting dicey – my Garmin display doesn’t show seconds after  reaching an hour  – it only shows 4 digits (I know, I know, I really need to change the display), so I was guesstimating the seconds between the mile markers with race clocks.  By my admittedly bad – and long run loopy – math, if I just stayed under 8-minute pace the rest of the way, I had this.  But it wouldn’t be easy.

Mile 22, 7:57.  Dude, too close for comfort – pick it up!  My mind exhorted my body and my body screamed at my mind, “F**k you, I’m going as fast as I can!”  We made a little u-turn past 22 where some lady yelled at us, “We have gels and food – please take something, your body needs it!  Please!  Please!”  When my body starts breaking down, and let’s face it, mine had been breaking down for about 19 miles now, I start getting angry.  So I wanted to yell at her, “What, are you getting commission?  Leave me alone!  Quit pushing stuff on me – I just took a gel!”

I grabbed a water and tried to drink it but most of it went down my lungs.  I choked.  I coughed.  I gagged.  I very nearly pulled a Bob Kempainen, circa 1996.  And that memory – even while I was on the verge of puking, especially while I was on the verge of puking – was motivation.  Bob was a man, a beast, a hero.  Someone (I later found out it was Scott again, riding his bike along the course) called out “Go Allen!  You’ve got this!”  I didn’t even look up – my eyes were firmly planted on the course ahead.  And I was too busy trying not to puke.

I faded.  But every time I nearly gave in to fatigue, someone came out of nowhere to cheer me on, none at a more crucial time then mile 23 when my friend,  and former Blue Ridge Relay teammate, Christi Cranford, appeared on the side of road.  She screamed for me then ran over and gave me a high five.  I was ever so grateful and Christi’s cheers lifted my spirits.  Mile 23, before Christi, was a 7:58.  Mile 24, after Christi, was a 7:48.

But I was barely hanging on and started slowing down yet again.  If I could just maintain, I had this, but I knew it was going to be close, very close.  Around mile 25, the purple-skirt-wearing girl from mile 18 passed me back.  I recognized her and called out, “Now it’s just a cool-down!” And she called back, even while dropping me, “Yes, less than a mile and a half!  We’ve got this!”

But it was a looonnnnggg mile and a half and I was struggling.  My newest mantra, “Just break 8:00.  Just break 8:00.”  Mile 25 7:55.  Mile 26 7:58.

Less than a quarter to go and I was cutting it dangerously close, way too close.  I entered the long finishing chute and glanced at my watch.  3 hours, 24 minutes, and your-guess-is-as-good-as-mine seconds.  I did the closest thing to a sprint I could do.  Push.  Dig.  Kick.  I got close enough to the finish line where I could read the clock. 3:24:40, 41, 42…kick!  Kick!  Kick!  I realized I had it as the clock turned to 3:24:50, 51, and I crossed.

I was a bundle of mixed emotions.  Exuberant that I made it, yet miffed that I cut it so close.  Ecstatic to qualify, yet upset that it seemed so very, very hard.

I bent over and caught my breath, then stood up and staggered towards the medal folks to claim my finishing reward.  They placed the medal over my head and then I turned around and walked back toward the finish, knowing that Laura should be arriving any second.  And she did, grinning, with her arms raised high, she mouthed “Did you make it?” even as she qualified for Boston on her first try.  I was trying to build suspense but she already knew by my attitude so I just nodded and then she fell into my arms as we laughed and I fought back tears.

Laura ran a 3:27:22, qualifying for Boston by nearly 18 minutes.  She also got second in her age group.  I’ve never even sniffed an age group in a marathon.  Other friends also had great performances.  Dennis Livesay broke 3:00 for the first time, running a 2:58, which earned him an age group award in the 35-39 division.  Theoden also qualified for Boston with a 3:14.  Jim Mckeon ran a 2:50, good enough for third place masters.  Dave Munger had a huge half PR with a 1:26.  It was a great day for some Charlotte-area runners.

Jim McKeon, far left, was the 3rd place master.  The one time I was jealous of someone with a monkey on their back.

Jim Mckeon, far left, was the 3rd place master in the marathon (9th overall), the one time I was ever  jealous of someone with a monkey on their back.

I’d like to tell you about the great post-race party at the House of Blues, the free beer, dinner with Scott Helms, his girlfriend Beverly, Stephanie York and her fiancee Kevin.  I’d like to tell you about the snow that swept through Myrtle Beach, the second time in the last 3 years that it snowed on marathon weekend.  I’d like to tell you about breakfast the next morning at Mammy’s Kitchen, and about how grateful I am that the marathon was on Saturday and not Sunday when gale force winds buffeted the area.  I’d like to, but I’m too exhausted from a) Running a marathon and b) Writing this epic novel of a post.  So I won’t.  You can ask me about all these things the next time you see me.

So that’s it.  Marathon number 9 is complete, and I finally qualified for Boston again.  I await my shot at redemption on Patriots’ Day 2014.  Stay tuned.

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8 Responses to “The 2013 Myrtle Beach Marathon”

  1. Jordan Says:

    Congrats Allen! See you in Boston… jogging it the fuck out.

  2. jayloh@runningmovesme Says:

    First and foremost: Congratulations! I’ve been following your “journey” since you recapped your Boston experience, last year. I’m really happy you qualified, again. 2nd, and less important : If I just change your paces to my (slower) ones, I’ll have a nearly word-for-word recap of my marathon, Sunday. I know ex-act-ly what you’re describing upon finishing, too : thrilled/annoyed/relieved/frustrated. Anyway…congrats, again!

  3. John Says:

    Allen, that is awesome! Thanks for the great wrap up and the motivation for me to dig deep to reach my goals

  4. Kati Says:

    Every time I read your race recaps, as you get down to the wire and start talking about those last few miles, I always hear Whitesnake’s “Here I Go Again” ever-so-quietly in my head. I mayyyy have done a tiny little fist pump when I read your and Laura’s final times.

  5. Meagan Says:

    allen, as per usual this was a great recap and i wanted to say congrats on a terrific race! honestly, to feel poorly at mile 3 of a marathon and to still gut it out–and actually pick up the pace!–is quite remarkable, and something few people are mentally strong enough to do. i’m really proud of you and excited to welcome you back to boston next year!

  6. Andy Ventura Says:

    Wow, small world. We ran into Laura at a gas station in Polkston, NC on the way to my brother’s house. She was a fellow walking wounded. Congrats to both you and her.

    • Allen Says:

      Andy, yeah I was there too, waiting in line for the restroom!

      • Andy Ventura Says:

        Okay, I couldn’t tell from the photos. Sorry for the missed acknowledgement. It was nice running into you two. You looked much better off than the rest of us. Who cares how close you were? You did it and fought through a lot mentally to make it. Enjoy Boston!

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