Strange Hotels, Marathons, And The Wall
Hitting the wall is the biological equivalent to riding a bike on a flat tire.
I ran my second marathon in Albany, Georgia, recently, and this one felt different from the last. Although it was slower, it meant more to me and felt like a bigger accomplishment than the previous marathon I ran in Savannah back in November.
I went into this marathon doing, at max, 40–45 miles per week, three to four runs a week, with a couple 20 mile long runs with my friend, Greg, to prepare myself aerobically for the long race. Now, if a race is 26.2 miles, it certainly is an issue when my weekly training mileage is less than twice the miles I’m supposed to race in one day.
But things got in the way. I had work to do, homework to catch up on, and on some days, I just skipped running in general for an extra two hours of sleep. I couldn’t run for three weeks after spraining my ankle so bad on a run that I couldn’t walk for several days. I will not say that life that got the best of me: laziness and a general lack of motivation for this race got the best of me more.
I was slower and less fit going into this marathon, but that did not stop me at the start line from gunning for my personal best in Savannah. That was the point, after all, of planning to go to Albany in the first place. I went out right behind the leaders of the race, looked at the clock, and knew I was in trouble.
My first mile was 5:30. There have been cross country races I’ve run in my collegiate running career where I didn’t run that fast, so I immediately knew that I was in trouble. I laid off the pace a little bit, hoping to get my body to recover in time for later in the race. For the next nine miles, I hovered around six-minute mile pace, trying to stay in control, but also straining a little bit to pass half marathoners taking up large portions of the road.
Unfortunately, the wheels started falling off sooner than the marathon before. It was natural that they did, and my lack of fitness caught up to me sooner than I would have liked. At mile 13, only halfway through the race, it was official: I hit the wall, and I still had half the race and more than an hour of running to go.
Some wonder what it feels like to hit the wall in the marathon, like I did at mile 20 in Savannah. Biologically, hitting the wall in a marathon is a result of glycogen depletion in the muscles and liver. Hitting the wall is the biological equivalent to riding a bike on a flat tire. Your vision gets blurred, your heart races, and your head becomes dizzy, and it’s overall a counterintuitive and dreadful experience.
But biology simply cannot describe the psychological and physical agony of feeling like you’re exerting a Sisyphean effort to run significantly slower than you want to, for a long period of time. I felt like everything inside my body from head to feet burning up for more than an hour, only to know I had to keep going, keep pressing, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, hanging on for dear life.
Every mile felt like several after a while, and God made me suffer for my lack of training, preparation, and overwhelming arrogance going into the race. Every time another person passed me in the final seven miles of the race, I looked at the person to see if it was my friend and training partner, Greg. Through a combination of friendly competition and pride, I believe I would have gotten a second wind no matter how little glycogen was in my body, as the least I could have done was not allow Greg to beat me.
Although I ran a sad and pitiful second half of the race, I ended up crossing the line with my head held high in a time of 2:52, which wasn’t terrible. All things considered, I was happy with my effort. I knew I gave the race an all-out effort, and resolved to train harder for whenever I run the next one. Again, when life throws you lemons, make lemonade. It wasn’t my best preparation, but I did my best on the day with the cards I was handed, much like walking into an exam doing no studying.
However, the experience of driving down to Albany, Georgia was not just about the marathon. Greg and I thoroughly enjoyed other parts of the process and adventure, such as the most interesting hotel stay of our lives at the Days Inn by Wyndham Albany. The hotel averages 2/5 star reviews on Trip Advisor, and Greg and I were kept awake for a large portion of the night before the marathon by bass-heavy music, screaming, and what seemed like the party of the century happening right next door. If only we didn’t have the race the next day, we possibly could have joined in on the festivities.
The race ended at the most famous tourist attraction in Albany, the Ray Charles Plaza in Albany, Georgia. Staring at the statue and listening pensively to “Georgia on my Mind,” I knew what I did wrong and knew what I want to do differently. Only several days after taking the physical toll of racing 26.2 miles, I have run every day for 9 miles or more, perhaps overdoing my training and leaving myself vulnerable to injuries and stress fractures, but absolutely committed to being better prepared for the next masochistic venture into our next 26.2 mile run.
This article was originally published at theodysseyonline.com on March 11, 2019.