And how this relates to the San Francisco marathon is that I knew the danger and symptoms of "hitting the wall" (same as bonking) and could take precautions against this as I planned my grand race-strategy.
The strategy began with with my submission of my running resume to the marathon coordinators requesting elite/invited athlete status and associated complimentary admission. Once that was taken care of, I then focused on my training. And with one week to go I planned my exact race plan: Go out in 6:05-6:10/mile pace which would likely land me in the top five as the top San Francisco finisher in a time of 2:39 or so. Concerning fluid and calorie intake during the race, I would drink the sports drink offered at the aid stations rather than water and also take part in the energy gu offered at mile 16. This two-pronged approach would provide a small bit of fluid and some energy. Perfect for me as I can easily run 18 miles unsupported. For a slightly longer run of 26.2 miles, the aid would provide insurance against/prevent hitting the wall.
To delve into a bit of science (to shine some additional light on this matter) one's body has approximately 1500-2000 calories of energy on hand stored as glycogen in the blood, muscles, and liver. The conversion of glycogen to glucose and then glycolysis is what fuels our bodies. Once glycogen is depleted the body then relies on fat for energy. The breakdown of fat into glycogen takes significant time such that during a high-output activity conversion of fats cannot keep pace. By consuming simple sugars one can buy time for the fat conversion to occur. So as I use 700 calories an hour, by imbibing in the Cytomax beverage and gu at a rate less than 700/hour I can still keep going. So my plan was to supplement along the way and finish the race with the calorie tank nearly empty. Very efficient.
And my last bit of preparation was noting the parts of the race where I would have six, four, three, two and one miles left. Or as I like to phrase it, note where to "drop hammer and leave the fools in my dust". I was rearing to go.
4 AM I wake up, eat a quick race-breakfast of oatmeal and a banana and then alight my bike for the leisurely four mile ride to the starting line. Arriving at 4:50 AM I check my bike at the valet station, locate the elite athlete tent and drop off my sweats, go for a warm up run, stretch, find a quiet corner to take a leak, and then take my rightful place toeing the starting line with the other elites, with the humdrum of 20,000 0ther racers behind us. Following some generic pep talk we take our marks and then start to the sound of the announcer shouting "go".
I soon pass Chakira, a running buddy of mine, who I outpaced a couple weeks previous on a 11 mile run to the top of Mount Diablo, a nearby 3000 foot peak. I ask him, "Are you running the full or half marathon? What time are you going for?"
"The full marathon, 2:40."
The pace is not so relaxed that we will chat incessantly like any good distance runner would do on a Sunday long-run, though it is certainly comfortable enough to emphasize to the other runners around us how relaxed the pace is for him and me.
From my unobstructed view in front I am better able to see the small group of runners ahead of us. I ask, "Are those the 2-4 runners?"
The pace is good, the company friendly, the race position exactly what I want. I'm in a good mood despite the fog which is obscuring the now rising sun.
As the sun continues its ascent we knock off the miles. 10 in exactly 60 minutes. 12 in 71:48. I am on pace to run well under 2:39. Crossing the half marathon mark though I began to feel myself falling off the pace. Not that the pace feels fast but rather that it simply feels hard. Seemingly the race starts here.
I continue pushing myself though the race is ever so slowly getting away. I fight the fatigue though have lost the cockiness and competitive push to hang on, which is so easily found when the race is in its early stages. I soon pass within four blocks of my apartment and am filled with a desire to end the race now and simply go home. I begin to worry about my energy levels and resolve to drink Cytomax from every aid station rather than pass some of them by. I also look forward to the mile-16 gu. As I push on I slowly lose sight of the runners in front of me. They travel at 6:00/mile in the fast lane with me simply in a different lane and a different race. At the aid station I hastily grab a packet of gu which I squirt in my mouth followed by a cup of liquid to wash it down. Ahhh sweet verite.
At some point I overtake my slow friend. And then he overtakes me. I notice the delicious smell of early morning brunch wafting through the air. I negotiate a turn. I see a motorcyclist wearing a leather jacket. I realize that at the pace I am going 2:40 or 2:45 is no longer an option. If I can run 8 minute miles for the rest of the racek I will finish around 2:50-2:55. I keep running with the self-awareness of a lumbering pachyderm. My purpose in life is to run and I will do that until instinct tells me otherwise. I run another mile. I realize that I am actually on pace for just under 3:00. I contemplate stopping though my instinct is still alive and well. Go on, go on, don't stop. I push on.
I am undoubtedly in a daze now, though am entirely unaware. Unlike being drunk in which you have full mental capacity to assess and say, "I am sooo drunk," as my blood sugar goes down so too does my ability to recognize that it is so. Instead I plod on. I do want to stop though wont let myself. Though like a restive mule who goes forward when it wants and stops when it wants my legs suddenly stop running. I am walking, though hardly because of any decision I made. I stumble onwards,with my legs seizing up and cramping nearly every step. In the cobwebs of my mind one thought seems to come through which is keep moving lest I stop and have my legs lockup entirely. I keep walking, my stride resembling that of a late night reveler making their way home to then pass-out in bed. I stumble up to the last aid station two miles from the finish. I grab an offered cup of sugar water which is downed in an instant. I gulp down another; and another; and another; and perhaps some more though I don't remember. I then push onwards, walking sideways one step for every three I go forward. I somehow pass by the medical table without being accosted. After walking another 100 meters or perhaps a mile, I am unable to stand. My legs don't quite crumple beneath me, though they more or less say no more. I sit on the curb. That requires too much effort. I lay down on the curb. My legs have charlie-horses their entire length. Despite my lack of self-awareness I can tell that I am in pain. I push myself into a sitting position. I lie down. I push myself up. I lie down. I stay down. I turn my head left. I turn it right. Left. Right. And then out of nowhere a bicyclist arrives. "Do you want me to get the ambulance.?"
"No...food...I need food."
"I don't have any."
And then a cliff bar appears out of thin air. And as quickly as she arrived she disappears. I scarf the bar and like a child suffering from anaphylaxis following a bee sting, the chocolate mocha fudge has the effects of epinephrine. Within minutes I am on my feet. I walk ten paces. I stop to rest hands on my knees. And then twenty paces. And then thirty. And then I run some. And walk some. And run, and walk, and run, and run. I've gone a mile or so. Back from the deadThe daze is still there but I am at least moving forward. And then I look up and see the finish line ahead. My ordeal is nearly over: 13.1 miles of racing; about 8 miles of slowly bonking as gu and Cytomax acted as a panacea prolonging the fun; 3 miles of walking until I could walk no more; some minutes of incognizance; and 2 miles of awakening. I've arrived. I see a shirtless racer between me and the finish 60 yards away. I'm jolted back into reality--competition! The past half-marathon of indifference is forgotten. I drop the hammer, speed past him, and finish hard. 3:15.47 good for 152nd place.
I completed the race about 35-38 minutes slower than I had hoped for. I'm looking forward to another marathon in which I will run both halves rather than only the first one. To do so I will need far better food management. Now that I've bonked twice, I can say with confidence that my body is especially prone and I should eat gu every 4-5 miles downed with liquid.
A note on writing this narrative:
Remembering the details of the second half of my race, especially distances and locations, involved investigative work with the course map and some guessing. My memory of it is mostly muddled with occasional points of reference such as hearing my name shouted, the smell of frying bacon, the sounds of Soulja Boi playing through race-side speakers and other phantasmagoria.