Aug 25, 2007

Self-Transcendence Marathon, August 24th 2007. 6:20:04


This is what I look like after running a marathon

From a review posted on MarathonGuide.com:
The STM is produced by Sri Chimnoy, a self-proclaimed spiritual guru whose practice includes lots of meditation and singing, and focuses on achieving self-transcendence through striving to reach higher goals. Or something like that. The Sri Chimnoy Marathon Team sponsors regular fun runs for his followers in places as far away as Australia. For those who really want to guarantee self-transcendence they hold a 3,100 mile race. Runners do 5,649 laps on a half-mile course in 51 days!

About 800 runners lined up at the start and we set off to run 8 loops plus 2.7 miles around the 2.9 mile lake in Rockland Lake State Park. The course is very flat with a wide asphalt path. A dirt path runs along the asphalt one. There were three aid stations along the three-mile loop, all very well-stocked with water, sports drink, Coke, juice, and food like water melon, bread, gummies, and seaweed (I didn't ask). Volunteers were plentiful.

Before I did this marathon, I had a hard time believing I could run a loop 9 times and not go insane. But it was wonderful. After the first loop, I knew what to expect on the course, and what to expect at every aid station. Most of the path followed the lake, where swans floated along, ducks swam, reeds waved in the mist - beautiful scenery. The course was well marked with mile/lap markers, which were at first a little tricky to figure out but I got the hang of it.

I was impressed with the variety of people at this race. First, it had a very international flavor to it, since many Sri Chimnoy followers are in other countries. I heard runners speaking German, Russian, French, Czech, and some Indian languages. Second, there were many different running types. A fair number of the lean, fast marathoners, also quite a few older runners. One man who looked well into his 70s had run 908 marathons. Many heavier types. But everybody looked very focused and committed when they ran (and when you run a 3 mile loop for 26 miles, you see everybody).


Such was my impression of this thing when I showed up at 6:30 for the running of the Sri Chinmoy Self-transcendence marathon. I had been interested in running this thing for a year, because it involves 9 laps around my favorite 3-mile course. When I realized I could fit the Friday-morning marathon it in my schedule, I eagerly registered, even though I knew I would have to work in the afternoon.

At the time,I was thinking that it would be good training for the 50K ultramarathon that I had been planning on running in September. Unfortunately, I found out after I finished that the promoters of that race had cancelled it!! Arg!!

Anyway, I was blissfully unaware of this fact when I showed up to the starting line at 7am, among about 800 other people, the vast majority being followers of Sri Chinmoy, who was to make a personal appearance. Eager to get a view of him, some people stood on fence posts, while others got as close to the front as they could. When he arrived, nobody spoke except the buzzing of insects - it was pretty quiet. Confined to a wheelchair, he sat on a stage for a few minutes before saying some almost-incomprehensible words about special blessings and love. When he finished, the race started.

By the way, I was sick. My wife and son were both home from work/school with Pinkeye and fevers. I myself had a sore throat and congestion. While some people advised me not to run the marathon, the conventional wisdom and majority of people used the "below the neck" rule - as long as symptoms are not below the neck (stomach, fever, chest pain, etc.), you're ok to run.

So since I was treating this as a training run and only a training run, and because my longest run of the season so far has been 14 miles, and since I was sick, I ran as slow as I possibly could - sub-13 minute miles. I would have been thrilled to finish in 5:30, but I wasn't setting any goals other than to finish under the 7-hour cutoff.

Normally, a 13-minute pace would result in a heart rate between 130 and 135, which I could sustain for at least 8 miles. Instead, my heart rate was about 145-150 in the first mile, and it never dropped. I mentioned this to a medical doctor after the race and he told me that was a symptom of the underlying illness. And by the time I got to the half-marathon, I was dying out there. Even at 13 minutes a mile, the heart rate was up above 165 at that point, and I couldn't even jog anymore. I started walking at the mile 14 marker, and monitored my heart rate afterwards. It took a while for it to drop below 130, but when it eventually did, I decided to keep walking. A brief jog ensued at about mile 17 but it didn't last long. I jogged the entire mile 19 just to prove I can do it, but walked pretty much everything else until mile 25.5, where I kicked to finish.

Yes, I did finish, but for a long time it seemed like I wasn't going to. One of the things about this marathon in particular is that it involves 9 laps around a relatively small course - 9 times I got to run right past my car, and 9 3-mile intervals where I was left with my thoughts about how much longer the race was. For a while, it seemed impossibly long. At lap 4, I couldn't imagine the fact that I wasn't even halfway done yet. At lap 5, it seemed really bad that I had to do 4 more of these. At lap 6, the weight of 9 miles crushed me. Even at lap 7, the 20 mile mark with 10k to go, it seemed like a long time and I doubted my ability to stick with it. I didn't have to - to most coaches, running marathons as LSDs is ill-advised. I told myself that since it was just a training run, I should be ok with DNFing at mile 20. Plus I was sick! But a couple of things kept me going. One - the 50k that isn't happening though I didn't know it at the time. If I couldn't finish a marathon, then that would be a crushing blow to my moral about the 50k. Another was the fact that I knew I could do it, even though I didn't want to believe it. Podcasts on a borrowed Ipod helped distract me from the pain. And, of course, starting at lap 4, I saw people wearing finisher's medals every time I went by the finish area. I wanted a medal. For some reason that became a powerful inspiration.

Anyway, the finish was interesting because I beat out 4 people who I was with. During my walking periods, I spent a lot of time trying to "powerwalk", and actually had one or two 15-minute miles in which I walked the entire thing. Even doing this, I was getting pretty tired towards the end, but my competitive nature kicked in with about a mile to go. I saw four people in front of me, and I decided that I wanted to beat all four of them (but didn't believe that I could.) I really kicked my powerwalking and passed all but one of them, a tall slender woman about my age. She and I were in the same position for a few hundred yards when, at the southern extreme of the lake with a half-mile to go, I decided to start my kick for the last half-mile. I knew that she intended to beat me, too, because as soon as I started into my 13-minute pace, she started running too - faster than me. She surged ahead about 50 feet and started walking again, when I quickly catched her on my 13-minute slog. As I passed, I'm sure she thought that I wasn't too much of a threat, even ahead of her, and she let me go as she continued walking. A little bit later, I sped up a bit - probably to a 10k pace. I had no idea where she was, and to be honest with you, I completely forgot that she was there. I maintained the 10k pace for about 400 meters, and my only thought was "how strange that this seems easy at the end of a marathon" - I guess the muscles used for fast running were 1.) different than the muscles used for running slow and 2.) pretty much rested at this point. When the finish line came into view, I kicked into a 5K pace, and finished very strong.

The scorer told me to move quickly through the empty chute.. and I wondered why. I kind of stumbled through - I remember leaning to the left as though I was about to fall over. When I got to the end and received my medal, I looked behind me and saw the woman right there. She had tried to beat me - but couldn't and instead finished a few seconds behind.

Well, it was my second marathon, and I finished in 6:20:04. I am not particularly happy with it, but given the circumstances I suppose I shouldn't complain too much. Also, I have a new PR - my only other marathon - Las Vegas, was something like 6:47. But I really would have liked to have been able to jog the whole thing.

Today is the seventh day after the marathon and I've had some time to think about it. One thing that I should point out is that I was hit with a violent fever the night after the marathon - I thought I was going to die. Aspirin got me through the night and I felt better the next day, but had a sore throat that still affects me now, even a week later. I was advised to rest until the sickness completely leaves me and that's what I'm doing, even though after a week, I'm getting tired of not running at all. Still, as I type this, there is a scratch in my throat and I know I'm not there yet. I'll need to start running again very soon so I don't start losing my fitness, but I suppose it doesn't hurt to allow my legs 100% recovery. Even though they feel 100% recovered now, I know that they're not and too much too soon will aggravate them a bit.

But, that's it. I went home after the marathon and went to work. It wasn't bad.