Sunday, January 07, 2007

Tiberius Marathon Report

Tiberius Marathon
January 4, 2007

It was these words that I read in a book last night that affected more than any other words I have read in running books.

“ The planned walking approach is appealing to runners that don’t or won’t put in the necessary time to train properly. So if you want to take it easy for whatever reason go ahead then, walk - run the marathon. But don’t brag to people that you ran the marathon. You participated, enjoyed yourself and finished. That’s an achievement and has its own rewards. But to be a conquering hero, train to do your best. To do that, you’ll need to race the marathon on the run.”

Extract from the “ The Competitive Runners Handbook” Bob Glover & Shelly-Lynn Florence Glover. Second Edition 1999 Page 266

I thought long the night before the marathon about these words of wisdom, as I had been planning to run this marathon using the Galloway method of run – walk and thought that given I have had no chance to train seriously since the New York Marathon in November 2006, my longest run was a twenty km two Saturdays ago after a month on the road in Turkey and Iraq.

The Galloway idea of achievement appealed to me, I am a middle of the pack runner aged 47 my best time is to go twice under 4 hours by seconds, but still sub 4 is sub 4 whether by 59 minutes or 1 second sub 4 is just that. Both of these marathons had totally exhausted me.

I wanted to run Tiberius, my only chance to run a local marathon in a calendar year. We only have one marathon a year in Israel and the date just sucks for any Spring Fall training schedule. But after New York I knew that to have a goal would help break the dreaded post marathon blues.

But unlike running authors who can pontificate whilst they earn a salary and train in the comforts of Central Park. My world is vastly different, during the “taper” period I was in Iraq being shot at on a daily basis, to help the War on Terror so authors like Glover may run in peace.

I picked up Russ at 5:45am (Russ is a running friend who I met through the Pod cast “Phedipidations” and we had run once in the middle of the year when he was here on a layover from his job as a Delta Airlines Pilot. Russ flew in last night at 8pm and we had arranged to run the marathon for fun.

Driving up to Tiberius took a couple of hours in my armored car and we laughed and joked about life and running. When I asked him what he hoped to do he said 4 – 4:15. This was critical as I had the key to the car and did not want him standing around in the cold waiting for me after the marathon.
So as we lined up with I said lets try and find the 4 hour pacing group and hang in with them to 10km and assess where we were at that stage. Naturally we could not find them and with about six hundred other runners set off, trying to hold a pace and find the pacing team. We hit the first km at 5:40 exactly the pace for 4 hours and still no pacing group anywhere.

For the next couple of minutes we moved along and then as I looked at my watch at 8:30 I turned to Russ and said I am doing Galloway – run 9 minutes walk 1 minute. Russ looked at me and nodded lets try it. Neither one of us has ever tried this in any of our training runs or past marathons, Russ has done ten marathons and I have run 4 before today.

So we just walked at nine minutes for one minute then started to run again, runners past us and we caught them up, then at 19 minutes we walked again and the same runners past us and then we caught them again.

The benefits are not in the first hour or second hour but according to Galloway in the final km’s you will run stronger and faster.

As we got to near the eight km mark we saw a large pack running together, the elusive 4 hour pacing team was about fifty strong and moving along in the distance about 700 m as they went around a bend. Russ and I just held onto what we were doing and as time past, our marathon became very manageable segments of nine running one walking.

Mentally this was a total and complete break through for me as the km wore on and we were buffeted by wind gusts of 40 kmh coming off the Golan Heights we stuck to our plan. Moving deliberately and with purpose. At the halfway the distance to the 4-hour pacing team was down to less than a hundred meters and their numbers were dropping whilst we felt stronger.

We reached the pacing team at 23 kms and since the watch hit nine minutes we backed off and walked and the pace team moved on looking at us as to why we were walking, five minutes later we passed the twenty of them that were left and our pace was picking up whilst they could not hold on to us.

The wind on the back section was brutal almost pushing you off the road, what sweat you put out dried as salt on your skin and face. Both Russ and I had to hold onto our caps to avoid losing them during gusts that beat us without fear or favor.

The thing was that we both felt strong our pace through 30 km was as good if not faster than the first ten km. 32km and you enter the death zone (20 miles) the wall is there we all know it, we have all felt it. That feeling of dead legs, racing pulse and sheer mind numbness where the left side of the brain controls all aspects of life. Nothing is positive in this zone; you just try to hang on. Power drinks taste like kerosene, gels has the flavor of sump oil that gags you and trying to drink water is impossible beyond a sip that does nothing of value. Your body wants to shut down and all you want to do is walk to escape the pain and horror of where you are, and how much further there is to go.

But neither Russ nor I said anything, I hand signaled a walk as I had done for the past hours and we walked. Then again picked up the pace. Looking at my watch I would glance down and say, “just hold it for three more minutes then you can relax for a minute”

Each of us took turns without realizing it pushing the pace and tempo, at one stage in the 30’s we ran a 5:06 km. Never before had I ever achieved this type of speed at this stage in a marathon and felt so good. I was hurting so was Russ. If you do not hurt at this stage you are not putting it on the line and we both without saying a word were in pain.

Looking at Russ I could see salt encrusted sweat lines on his face, his mouth was tighter his arms looked heavier and I knew that he was a mirror image of me.

At 38 km’s the 4 hour pace leader past with the group there was only two of them left out of fifty. They moved past us, we were at the end of our limits there was no shame in being past by good runners and all we wanted was the end.

We had both run one of the best marathons of our lives, strong to the end and positive. We had passed so many walking runners who moved like zombies and yet we strode with shuffling steps. We had come this far together we were going to finish together.

We crossed the line in 4:04:01 exhausted my legs had been pushed to a point that defied pain and endurance. But they had strength that I had not had before.

Did either of us feel less of achievement because we had used a technique of intelligent running never tried before? NO.

We were marathoners who had done it, run a complete marathon in a time that I thought was but a pipe dream before using this technique.

Original members of the 4 Hour Pacing Group were still crossing the finish line as we drove out and back home, they like us were heroes on the day. Russ and I had run smarter and both had learnt that happiness from running comes from within and doing your best.

Messer’s Glover like other elite (sic) runners should realize that behind them are runners who truly embody the spirit of our sport. We complete events that world champions run in and we enjoy the experience just as much as they do. They too walk through water stops as Bill Rodgers used too, is he not a runner since he walked during a marathon.

I could get annoyed at anyone who says that it is not allowed to walk during a marathon we all do at some stage, just some of us use intelligence to maximize performance and allow hollow words in old books to give us motivation.

Russ and I had a great run today a truly great run and no one will ever take that away from us.


Jill said...

Tremendous job!! Great report!! I am glad the comments of some "runner snobs" did not deter you from trying a plan that obviously worked so well for you. Well done!

Anonymous said...

How refreshing in this day of cooky cutter read the words of a real "individual". Loved your blow by blow...wait make that minute by minute....step by step...coverage of the race. My legs were hurting about half way through and I was sweating....profusely. You are a real encouragement for many of us out here to continue our running...even if we are a "little" unprofessional. Makes us feel good you said. Congratulation to you and Russ! We just knew you'd win...inside.

Russ said...

I must say that it was an honour and a privilege running the Tiberias International Marathon with Mal. I never could have done it without his help, and I'd like to add some thoughts.

I've never run the marathon distance with a buddy before and it really made a huge difference. There were times during the race when I was ready to drop back, end the pain and just let Mal go on ahead (especially around km 28 during worst of the ferocious windstorm, then again about km 35), but somehow kept up the pace, tapping energy and motivation from Mal, not wanting to let my running partner down. As he alluded, in those last 10 km we were just enduring the hard 9-minute runs and hanging on for the one-minute recovery sections. By that point the mere thought of sweet carbs, of which I had plenty in my pockets (Clif Shot Bloks and Sport Beans), just made me gag. Had I eaten them I might have had more left at the end, but I just could not stomach anything sweet at that point. Finally, about km 38 Mal said, "go on ahead if you want" and I replied honestly, "I got nothin'", so we finished together.

The run/walk method can really work. As Mal said, we did 5:10/kms late in the race. For we metric-impaired Americans, that's about 8:20/mile which might not seem very fast but it's certainly the fastest I've ever run after 32km/20mi and I didn't run out of petrol/gas until about 38 km/24mi. I don't want to make excuses, but the nasty windstorm we battled on and off for the middle 20 km really sapped our energy, and I feel pretty good about our performance. We were among the few who were still running after 38km, we passed a lot of participants who were just reduced to a painful shuffle. The 4-hour pace group, with whom we had played catch-up all along and finally caught and passed at 25 km, had shrunk by the end from about 50 to only two (including the pacer), if that is any indication. There were some times that I felt like those running segments were a lot longer than 9 minutes and that Mal was stretching it but of course he wasn't. By the way as a pilot I can say that the winds we encountered in that middle section were sustained 15 knots/28kph with gusts to 35 knots/65 kph. That will suck the energy out of you no matter how well you have trained. At any rate, it was like any ordeal that we endure, we hate it at the time but treasure the memory of the struggle that we endured.

I've run 11 marathons now and this was easily the most memorable. Whether it was the logistics of just getting there and back (thanks to Mal), running past historic sites from the ancient (the site of Jesus' baptism) to the modern (military relics from the 1967 6-day war), or enduring the windstorm off the Golan Heights with Mal, it was one that I will always remember. OK, when he got his one and only high-5 from a spectator at km 40, he sarcastically remarked, "this is just like the New York City Marathon". Now that made me laugh through the pain! If you need spectators to motivate you, this is not the marathon for you. If you want a unique and unforgettable experience, do the Tiberias Marathon.

marathonchris44 said...

Great race report, Mal. Taking walking breaks did not nullify you as a runner, but made you a better runner!!


Anonymous said...

The body of that TV car looks pretty beat up Mal...on the other hand yours don't look bad!

PLANET3RRY said...

awesome report Mal! You have great way to describe what was happening and how you were feeling during the race. Great job on the 4:04!

BTW Russ put is bib for the marathon up on

Bjorn Paree said...

Fantastic report. I am thinking of running this Marathon next year (2010). Now looking on the internet for all info.