The day started out according to plan. I had been hydrating with water and electrolytes all week, my glycogen stores were maxed out, and I was physically fit and ready to run 26.2 miles. I was a bit nervous at the start. Although it was only in the low 70s, I was already hot and sweaty because of the humidity, the heat coming off all the other runners, and my higher than average sweat rate. Nevertheless, the race started and Peter and I headed out on our inaugural Chicago marathon.
We averaged just under 7minutes/mile for the first half, consuming 2-3 cups of Gatorade or a GU/water combination at EVERY single fluid station (about every 1.5 miles). I knew we had to stay ahead of our fluid needs or run the risk of serious dehydration and/or hyponatremia.
We reached halfway at 1:31 and I was feeling confident and optimistic that we could run the second half faster and possibly break 3 hours. When we reached 17 miles I started to notice changes in my body; my right forearm was developing muscle cramps and my legs started to twitch, which for me is a sign of impending muscle cramps. We slowed to 7:20s to try and calm my body down, but the cascade of cramps had already set in, and by 20 miles, my body began to shut down.
Each subsequent mile got slower and I was doing everything I could to stay running despite acute muscle cramps in virtually all muscles in my legs. Yet we maintained our hydration and even stepped it up during those miles to try and fight the battle. The cramps go so severe that Peter would have to catch me, as I would nearly fall to the pavement from the cramps. He also became my hydration assistant and would carry multiple cups of Gatorade and water for several minutes while I attempted to gather mental and physical energy to keep going.
We reached 25.2 miles (1 mile to go) and needed to run a 6:50 mile to get under 3:10 and achieve the Boston marathon qualifying time. We were running about 8:30 pace at the time. Peter gave me a pep talk about how it was time to move, and the pain might get worse if we picked up the pace, but also how the pain might just stay the same if we picked up the pace. Either way, we had to make a run at sub-3:10. So we went. We ran the last mile in 6:45 and the last ½ mile in about 3:00 flat. Finishing time – 3:09:54. I collapsed into Peter’s arms and was escorted by golf cart ambulance to the medical tent where I was treated for dehydration with 3L of IV fluids, ice blankets, and oxygen. After an hour of treatment, I stumbled out of the tent to where my friend was waiting patiently for me. A true friend. With an abundance of mental and physical support, Peter helped me finish the Chicago marathon. It was the hardest run of my life and I reached a level of pain that I hope to never reach again. Maybe I should have stopped. I probably would have had Peter not been there. But we didn’t stop. We finished, we qualified, and we survived.
Bill Nadeau is a Sports Nutritionist with Trismarter.com and recently qualified for the 2008 Boston Marathon.