The hotel was surprisingly quiet at 6:30 when I went down for breakfast. I had what I usually have for breakfast plus a couple of gels and a red bull for good measure... It doesn't make sense to me to eat something "special" on race day. I had time to go back to my room and watch an episode of The Wire before going down to meet my friends. I started to get slightly worried when I realized that they were still faffing about with their bags with only ten minutes to go before the start, so I took my last couple of pre-race gels and started running on the spot to warm up. It turned out that the Marathon was actually starting at half past nine, half an hour later than I had thought! Even so, I didn't really get much of a chance to warm up and we had to fight a little to squeeze in near the front of the start. In the end, the start was so chaotic that I lost all contact with the others so might just have well done my own thing!
The first couple of kilometers were a bit fraught but I figured that there were plenty left to be able to make up some lost time. I concentrated on keeping my heart rate at the magic 163 bpm level for the first half of the race. This got me to the halfway point in a time of 1:27. It was nice, for once, to know that the balloon marking the 3:00 Marathon pace was safely behind me. The first half went by almost without incident but, just as I passed the 14 km marker, I felt a worrying twinge in my right hamstring. It had been bothering me ever so slightly in the last few training sessions and I thought "OK, so you are going to be the f€&@er that bites me at 35 km". I decided not to waste precious mental energy thinking about it until then.
I felt pretty good at the Half Marathon point considering I had 21 km at about 4:05 per km in my legs. I thought to myself that this second half would only hurt as much as a stand-alone Half Marathon. Then something unexpected happened: I caught up with David Serrano. Serrano was debuting in the Marathon but there were high hopes for him to run a fast time (sub 2:50). He told me that he had already hit a bit of a wall and that he was going to play it safe. I wish I had been that sensible the first time I ran a Marathon: it is to much to ask to be able to run what you are capable of on the first attempt. I decided to press on at my own pace - when I slowed at the 35 km mark, perhaps David would be there to help pull me along. I took heed from what he said and decided to run the second half a little more conservatively, just in case. I never really found a group to run with and I am really picky about who I tail: not too slow, not too bouncy, not too heavy footed. I found one guy whose rhythm I liked but he seemed to find my presence behind him annoying as he started weaving from side to side, as if we were in contention for a place on the podium. Once my heart rate had steadied I made a push and left him behind (I would have been a good wind break for him, had he kept up).
Kilometer 35 was approaching and this time I was ready for whatever kind of obstacle it was going to serve me up. I thought that this was going to hurt as much as a flat out 7 km race and switched to my locomotive breathing style. I don't know how fast I was running because I had stopped pressing the lap button on my watch and I didn't even care to know what my pulse rate at this point was. I didn't even care too much what time I did, I just wanted to get it over with as soon as possible. I remembered a phrase the taxi driver the night before had said, "Para presumir, hay que sufrir" - "In order to boast, you have to suffer".
By this point in the race, it was showing 18 degrees on the thermometers. Even so, I had almost enough to drink with my two little bottles of isogels - I only took a small cup of Aquarius (pronounced here "Aquario") on two occasions. I didn't need any salt tablets or a mega carbo-load before as it turned out. Good to know for next time.
My pulse started to creep up an my breathing became more labored but muscularly I felt on top of the situation. I was passing a steady stream of people and working out in my head that all that was left was the equivalent of one series of 15 minutes at my anaerobic threshold and so on.
Finally, we entered the stadium and all that was left was half a victory lap an then my prize: a sub 3 hour finish time. As the clock came into view I realized that I could get just under 2:55 so I made a final effort and then it was over. Very chuffed with the result. More than the time, it was the satisfaction of a perfectly executed training plan and race strategy: in the end the second half was only a minute slower than the first.
Sitting outside on the grass, waiting for the others, I inspected the damage. My feet looked okay and the Compeed plaster - although it had stuck to the sock - had protected my foot from the beating. Practically no blisters, just a cut on a toe from a neighboring toenail was all.
Back in the hotel, I went for lunch in the restaurant with views of the finish line. I found it inspiring to watch all these people, each with their own story, their own suffering and their own supporters, struggling past. Now I feel I have tamed the Marathon (for now) I can see the beauty of it.