I’ll be honest, running a marathon without a watch sounds stupid in my eyes. I’ve always been a numbers guy. I love seeing split miles, especially in races when I want to perform my best. I love to finish any type of race, get home, shower/relax, and then view my splits. It’s rewarding, it’s what I’ve been known to do…up until this point. So last month when I decided to run a rail trail marathon without a watch, I was somewhat skeptical.
I was familiar with The North Central Rail Trail Marathon, (NCR Trail Marathon). I ran it last year. It has a small town feel to it. This was their 25th anniversary of the marathon. It seems that there are a lot of people who run this marathon for a specific goal, i.e. a PR, or to add or complete a running streak of some form. After running a lot of marathons and running a small marathon like this, it was obvious this marathon has had it’s share of experienced runners and ultrarunners. I’m sure it has it’s share of first timers, too.
The race is an out and back course primarily along the Northern Central Railroad Trail. The start and finish are at Sparks Elementary School, with the first 1.8 miles being on rural paved roads as you make your way to the trail. The last 1.5 miles of
the race are also on paved roads.The remainder of the race is on the flat stretches of the NCR Trail. The trail surface is a compacted combination of dirt and fine stone. The trail winds along the Gunpowder River, through quiet farmland.
……a perfect time to experience a marathon without a watch. I wanted to listen and feel my body through the race without having a watch come in to play. I wanted to see if there would be any physical or mental changes running a marathon without a watch. There was only one issue, though. I’ve had a sore achilles tendon since last week. I knew the soreness could change the way I ran the race. I was hoping for the best, with minimal soreness.
It was nice to see Clay Shaw and Karen Mitchell at the race….but it wasn’t a surprise. They seem to be at every race. Look them up! They both take exceptional photographs. Clay took this picture of me…
We started at Sparks Elementary School and headed down to the rail trail, via road. There’s not much to a rail trail….it’s runnable, it’s scenic, and you can find yourself mentally. I felt good the first 10 miles or so. I felt the same way I normally felt up to that point in marathons: glad, honorable, curious and anxious on what was to come in the next 16 miles…. At one point I recognized a familiar voice approaching me from behind. To be honest, I’ve heard this voice a lot during my marathons. I would say he has run 70 % of the marathon’s I’ve run. Keith Straw was approaching, with his English accent. He has run hundred’s of marathons and ultra marathons. If you don’t know him, maybe you have at least seen him before. Here he is…
I had my Oil Creek 100 shirt on and I heard conversation behind me about it. It’s a great feeling when runners can relate to you. Keith and his running buddy’s related, and we talked about Oil Creek when they ran by. By the turn, around mile 14, I felt pretty good. I didn’t really have the urge to check my watch. There was only one issue, though. My achilles was starting to hurt. It’s not good when you feel a pulse down by your foot. It was definitely sore.
It clearly wasn’t what I wanted. I wanted to run 26.2 miles strictly on feeling. I wanted to listen to my body, tell me when I was getting tired, tell me when I was ready for a gel, tell me when I could push myself further. But it wasn’t meant to be. It turned out, I was limited on what I could do. At mile 18, watch less, my achilles pain had taken over…..And that was not the feeling I wanted. I wanted to feel free, I wanted to let loose when the time was right. It never happened. All I felt was a thumping pain near my left foot.
My plan was to predict what my finish time would be as I was running. I knew last years’ finish time probably wouldn’t happen this year. At mile 19, I thought I could reach a goal of 3:45. With the pain, all I could manage from then on was to jog one mile and then walk 20-30 seconds. That really didn’t help much because once I got running again, it hurt even more. By mile 22, I was predicting somewhere around a 3:55 finish. By the time I got to the last mile, which by the way is all up hill, a 4:04 seemed reasonable. It was hard to push off the foot going uphill, so I walked most of it.
It was a wash…This watchless experiment thing was a complete failure. I debated naming this blog “Cry baby” or “achilles tendonitis”. Though each marathon is a fun and challenging experience, this was one of the few I’ve done where I just wanted it to be over. When I approached mile 26, I made the final prediction that I would finish at 4:06. So when I made that final turn and saw the clock, I was pleasantly surprised. It read 3:50. I normally run as hard as I can when I see the finish. This was a trot. I crossed at 3:51:11. I honestly had no clue what type of pace I was running. I really have no clue how I finished under 4 hrs. This is me finishing……
I did learn a few things after this marathon. I do prefer wearing a watch, but I still didn’t get the satisfaction out of not wearing one. I’ll have to pick another marathon at a later time to experiment more. Unfortunately, I found out I have achilles tendonitis and that I’ll have to take it easy the next few weeks.
Do you run watchless? Why? Do you have or have had achilles tendonitis? Why? How did you recover?