Friday, September 23, 2011

Bismarck Full Marathon, Race Report

On the drive down to Bismarck David explained how he divides marathons into thirds. As with much of what David says, it stuck and has caused me to reflect.  The first third of the marathon he says,  we use our brains, the second third our legs, and the last third, our hearts.  It's the heart that gets us across the line, but it's the brain and the legs that make it possible.   So I tell my story in thirds.

The grand powerhouse of the brain is the prefrontal cortex, the executive functioning takes place here.  It's a filter not unlike the mother board of this computer I'm presently tapping.  The prefrontal cortex analyzes data, reads subtleties, and adjusts to conditions.  Remember the old days when your teacher  would give you a little slap on the forehead when she caught you daydreaming?  No?  Maybe it was just me.  She was stimulating the prefrontal cortex and in retrospect I should have thanked her for the abuse.  Try it next time you're losing focus, slap your forehead 3 or 4 times, see if it doesn't get the blood flowing.  Do it now, no one is watching, I'm doing it... slap, slap, slap, slap... feels good right?  It makes the brain spark, yes?  In a marathon we depend on the brain to set a pace that will sustain us for the full 26.2 miles.  It's difficult because the legs are fresh, the heart is strong, and the adrenaline is surging.  It's so tempting to go out fast, too fast.  It's the brain that says: 

"Whoa Mikey, dial it back man, watch your pace...".   

In the same breath the legs yell: 

"Come on Mikey, get the lead out!  Everyone's going 
faster than you, even that barefoot guy, hurry man, hurry....".  

Regrettably, the legs won over the brain .... sigh, again.  I went out too fast.  I was enjoying the ambience, chatting, laughing, and having a grand time.  This is just fine, even admirable... unless you want to improve your time. A good brain will give you a negative split, something I have yet to attain.  A bad brain will give you a 22 minute positive split.  Bad brain, bad!   Now there's a lesson here.. even a goal for my next Mary...slow it down Mikey, look for the elusive negative split.  Listen to the brain from mile 0 through 10.

The legs take us the middle third distance.  If we use our brain in the first third our legs are fresh and strong, they're ready to carry us to mile 20.  The legs represent the 1000+ miles we've trained, the hills, the speed workouts, the long lonely distant runs, the blisters, the set backs, the joy, lots and lots of joy.  The frustration of injuries.  All this is to prepare the legs. The legs are an extension of the brain and are deeply connected to the heart, but they are the powerful engine that propel us ever forward... step by step by endless step.  Blood, adrenaline, and endorphins surge.  Colours and textures flood the brain. The mind is sharp and focussed.  My thinking becomes clear.   I see details in macro view.  My legs move rhythmically to the cadence of my hearts. I feel good... omnipotent even.  My legs are confident, strong, hard.


My legs felt good, really good in fact, to about mile 15.  This is where we approached Mary Hill for the second time in the looped course.  Mary Hill is shown in a couple of pictures below.  It's about 1.5 miles in length and averages out to a 4 or 5% grade.  The first climb at mile 5 was a piece of cake, the second at mile 18 was tough, really tough.  The legs slowed, planked up, became heavy.  I walked a bit, ran a bit, set tiny goals... run to that pole, walk to that tree... I split the hill into manageable chunks because the legs were beginning to sputter. It was a long climb, a slow climb, my brain and my legs were failing me.  As I crested the hill at mile 17 I knew my legs were losing power.  Too early.  I need the legs to get me to mile 20 or 22, but here I am at mile 17, legs thick, brain thick, heart rate too high. Too early to pass the baton to the heart.   The heart can only carry me so far.  It can carry me for the last 5 or 6 miles, but I had 9 remaining.  It's too darn early for the legs to quit, too early to transition to the heart... too early to depend on the heart to take me to the line.

I entered the last third of the marathon 5 miles too early, the final third,  the most difficult portion, the heart.  By heart I mean spirt, drive, determination, resolve... not the organ in your chest. Or is it?  I could sense my heart rate increase to an uncomfortable level.  Too early for that... darn.  Ignore it, keep moving.  The legs ache, the brain's cooked, it's the heart that will get me across the line... that beautiful line, so skinny, a chalk line really, so meaningless to billions, and yet such a goal, such a challenge.  What does the line mean?  Why are we so drawn to the line? David, marathon number 88, says he's always one marathon away from quitting. Bob's barefoot, and enjoying it!.  We hurt damn it.  Why do we do this?  Why are we drawn to the edge?  Hunter Thompson understands.  He says of the edge... there is no honest way to explain it because the only people who really know where it is are the ones who have gone over. We don't run to the line, we over the line, past the line.

So friends, what's it all about?

To laugh? To run?  To dance?  It's the slow dance.. the moment when we surge past the line.  Images flicker like old 8 mm movies, black and white, sun spots, out of focus, powerful imagery.  I exist.  I am alive.  My past is focussed. My future glows before me.  I dance across the line... I dance, we dance, I dance.

But then again, that's just my opinion.

It's a good day to be alive.


Matt Adams 2:23:36

Mary Hill


Bob's soul.

David crossing over the line
Happy Rastafarian Runner. 


Jan said...

such a complex joy! really really love these pics.thanks for the post.

Unknown said...

Great analogy Mike, I absolutely enjoy your writing, it brought back a lot of memories of a unbelievable experience. But really I think I only passed you once and that was really early, and then both you and David tore past me. We must do that again.

Jen said...

I loved your description of the race! I must admit that I was waiting and waiting for this report hoping that it was a good day for you. I loved how you broke it up into thirds. That's such a good way to describe how our whole bodies get us over the line. And really, we're all just trying to push the limits of what we personally can do. It sounds like it was a good day! So glad to hear it!