Last Sunday, April 28, was Madrid’s Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon. Mario was a participant, and I thought it would be a great time for him to share his thoughts on the experience.
I like running. I started in high school, before it became so popular. The truth is that, although I love running, I’ve never taken it that seriously. Actually, the first time I ran a “real” race was in December 2005, when I took part in the Ismaninger Winterlauf, since at that time I was working in Munich. It was 12.8 kilometers, and I finished with a time of 52:50. It was snowy and bitterly cold and I think I was wearing two T-shirts (maybe three). It wasn’t until 2009 that I ran my second race. The race was in Salamanca and the distance was 7.650 km. My time was 28:56. I was dating Kaley at that time, which helped motivate me to run fast in order to impress her.
Kaley: I ran too, but not nearly as fast as Mario
My first big race was in March 2012, when I ran my hometown half marathon. I didn’t have a specific plan to train for the race. For those who follow this blog, you may have read that Zamora is a beautiful sort of medieval town. However, those in charge of organizing the race for some reason didn’t draw up a race course that went through the nice old town. The race is on the outskirts with 90 degrees turns (those who run know how much making an u-turn kills your rhythm) and, worst of all, it was two laps of the same circuit (boooooooooooring). I ended with a time of 1:25:15, which I was happy about.
When I moved to Madrid last October, I considered running the Madrid marathon. It sounded scary, but I wanted to try. Sito, my cousin, who is an experienced marathon runner, talked me into it. He knows a lot, and he guided me through it. I had done some calculations in order to estimate the time I would need to run a marathon, based off my half marathon from last year in Zamora. One way to estimate a marathon-finishing time is to double your half-marathon time and add ten minutes, which for me would be exactly three hours. Kaley had downloaded a training plan for a person who goes running three days a week. As I said before, I’d never used a training plan before. I usually go running à la Forrest Gump—it’s what I like, but I’m not what you would call organized when it comes to setting up a training plan.
The problem with preparing for a long race is that you have to start training well in advance and you never know what might come up, such as a lot of work in the office (which would mean not being able to follow my scheduled training sessions) and/or injuries. The former didn’t happen, but the second one kind of did. Three weeks before the race, I started to feel—literally—a pain in my butt. After a couple of hours sitting at my desk at work, I couldn’t sit still; I kept fidgeting. I didn’t know I had a slight case of piriformis syndrome. I should have rested a bit, but the marathon was drawing closer, so I decided instead to run shorter distances, so that I wouldn’t overload the muscle (even more than it already was), and stretch. It did get better.
Kaley was my personal food expert, and she cooked for me foods rich in carbohydrates, so I got plenty of energy. The day before the race she prepared some delicious cannelloni. Finally the day of the race came.
The race started at 9 a.m. It had threatened to rain, but in the end it didn’t make an appearance. But the weather was brisk. Both Sito and I wore two layers. The race started in the Plaza de Colón. Because there are so many people who participate in either the marathon, half marathon, or 10K, people are separated into corrals, based on previous race times or estimated race times. I was in Corral 1, just behind the professionals. (You don’t see the Kenyans even at the very beginning, they’re so fast.) Before the starting gun went off, we had a moment of silence in honor of the victims of Boston. I had attached a black ribbon to my T-shirt.
Then the countdown began, and before I knew it, my legs were moving. We were running up Paseo la Castellana. In the Rock and Roll marathons, they have bands playing live music, which really pumps you up. There are also liebres (literally, hares) or pacesetters, who are experienced athletes recruited by the organization. They have a balloon tied to their back (it must be annoying running with that) with a sign that says how long it will take them to run the marathon. If you follow them, it helps you not to go out too fast or too slow, so I tried to keep close to the three-hour pacesetter.
Around the 14-kilometer mark, my left knee and ankle started to bother me, and I began to lose sight of the three-hour pacesetter. Luckily it passed, and I was able to find a comfortable pace, which I gradually increased until I was again able to see the three-hour balloon. That part of the route went through the center of Madrid, on Calle Fuencarral, through Sol, down Calle Mayor. People lined the streets and applauded, there was rock music, and thus I felt the rush of adrenaline; I was meeting my three-hour target.
With regards to hydration, every five kilometers there were hydration points with water bottles and cups of Powerade. I drank something at every point so as not to get dehydrated. As I passed the half-marathon point, I saw that I had completed the half in one hour and twenty-eight minutes. I felt confident that, if I kept it up, I would be able to meet my goal. However, it was too late to realize that I was overconfident … because it was then that I hit the metaphorical wall.
I had not heard of the “wall” concept until the previous day, when I went to the fair organized by the marathon. I had to go to pick up my bib. There were professional athletes giving a talk, and one (I don’t know his name) was speaking about his experience the previous year, when he too hit the wall. Someone asked him if the feeling passed, but he said no, that it had lasted until the very end. I hit the wall around kilometer 23, and it lasted until the end, so I basically ran the entire second half with this horrible feeling in my head and legs. Moreover, added to my suffering was the fact that I now had to run through the Casa de Campo, which became unbearable.
At kilometer 27, they were giving out Powerbar energy gels, which taste disgusting, but they help. Still, I had to stop twice to stretch my hamstrings and pyramidal muscles, which were killing me. Along the route, there are people on skates who carry Vaseline and topical painkillers in spray form. The good thing about them being on skates is that they can spray you while you’re running; you don’t have to stop. I had to resort to them twice.
Here comes the figure of my guardian angel: Sito. We had both planned to run the marathon in three hours, and he sacrificed this in order to wait for me and cheer me on. As the race went on and I was suffering, I watched as people passed me by and I barely passed anyone. I tried to think about songs that motivated me; I needed to break through this wall that was preventing me from moving forward with the ease that I desired. It makes you want to stop and quit. I think that, sometimes, the wall is real—your muscles don’t function at full capacity because you haven’t trained enough. With determination and Sito’s help, I was able to keep going. Most of the time when I run, the kilometers seem to fly by, but at the time the distance between one kilometer and the next seemed endless. The good thing is that when you leave Casa de Campo, you return to the city, and there were again people cheering. We arrived at Atocha and there were only three kilometers to go. The bad thing is that the remaining kilometers were ascending, but I was able to draw strength from somewhere. I couldn’t quit then, we were almost to Parque del Retiro, I only had to push a little bit more.
Finally, I saw the 41-kilometer marker, and I knew there were only 1,195 meters left! There were people along the path clapping, so you have to stop looking pitiful, keep your head up, and enjoy the last minutes. I crossed the finish line as it marked 3 hours, 21 minutes. Mission accomplished.
Throughout the race, there is a sense of camaraderie because other runners encourage you and you, them if you see them stop. Or, in my case, Sito, who patiently waited for me, so that we would finish together, thus sacrificing his personal finish time. “Si empezamos juntos, acambos juntos,” (“If we started together, we finish together”), he kept repeating every time I told him not to wait for me.
These days after the race, Kaley has been taking care of me and massaging my legs with specific creams to help them recover from the effort.
I may not have finished in three hours like I wanted, and naturally I feel a bit disappointed, but in life you must learn from everything, and—above all—from the negatives. I learned three valuable lessons: Don’t leave anyone behind, don’t get overconfident, and have the ability to analyze situations in the long term.