April 16, 2013

SILVA: Marathon isn't any easier the second time around

If I had to sum up my experience in San Luis Obispo, it’s this: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” I had more fun than in my first marathon. But it certainly wasn't any easier.

There I was, one mile from the finish of the San Luis Obispo Marathon. And I couldn’t take another step. The cramp in my left hamstring was so bad, so painful I had to stop. I couldn’t go any further.

I looked down at my GPS watch, which tells me how far I have run, and it read: 25 miles.

“No,” I said to myself. “This isn’t possible. I can’t run 25 miles and not finish.”

Then, somehow, after a few minutes of stretching and massaging, the cramp subsided. My legs were still in pain, but I was able to start walking, then jogging.

This was the deciding moment of my marathon. I finished in just under four hours. Much slower than I had hoped, despite knowing that this was a much tougher course than my first marathon.

Newsflash: The marathon is tough.

If I had to sum up my experience in San Luis Obispo, it’s this: “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”

The Good: I had more fun than in my first marathon.

I was more relaxed, more confident and paced myself much better than the first time around.

I also had the unique experience of running about a mile — it was early in the race, around Mile 5 — with one of the most famous marathoners in the country, ultra-marathoner Dean Karnazes (he’s a Cal Poly grad). We talked about the weather, the beautiful scenery and the book he’s working on. We also talked about the writing process.

I saw my running coach and a close friend just past Mile 15 and felt strong, getting a big boost from seeing friendly faces. That’s as close to a “runner’s high” that I’ve ever felt. Up until about Mile 24, I felt tired, but good.

The Bad: Much like my first marathon, the cramping set in at about Mile 24. The hills of the course really began to take their toll. I could feel my muscles tightening up as I tried to increase the length of my stride. So instead I began taking shorter strides, and even walking some stretches.

At Mile 25, the cramping in my left hamstring increased and I finally had to stop. I’m afraid I scared some of the spectators when I yelled out in pain.

The Ugly: The hills, the walking and the time I took to stop and let my hamstring improve hurt my time. I really wasn’t running this race for a personal record. But I was a little disappointed that I was going so slow at the end.

But by Mile 25 I had given up on running a good time — I just wanted to finish. As I approached the finish line, I was a relieved that I was going to finish under the 4-hour mark.

My final time: 3 hours, 57 minutes, 47 seconds. For me, it’s a little ugly. But I respect the marathon and know that it’s the best I could do on that day.

Oh, but there was more to this race to me than the good, bad and ugly.

There was the great, too.

That great was the experience of running as a member of Team in Training. It is difficult to put into words just how rewarding and meaningful it was to put on my purple shirt, join my teammates at the start line and head out on my 26.2-mile journey.

I heard “Go Team!” and “Good job, Jim!” so many times during the course of the marathon. It’s an incredible feeling.

And most incredible of all, is that my chapter of TNT — the Greater Sacramento chapter — made up of less than 180 people — raised about $500,000 for the fight against blood cancer.

I was honored to be running in purple and representing Team in Training at the San Luis Obispo Marathon.

It was a life-changing experience. One that I will never forget.

Reach Jim Silva at On Twitter: @mission26point2.

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