Sunday, December 12, 2010

Rocket City marathon report

Imagine being an NFL coach leading a team that opened the season with playoff aspirations then proceeded to fall on its face with a 2-8 start. 4 wins in the final 6 can restore some pride but it's hard to feel good about a 6-10 finish. That's just about how it felt. I began my training cycle with slim hopes of a BQ (3:10:59). After a great September, I started downhill with symptoms of burnout followed by a disappointing half marathon effort (1:34:47). I injured my knee in the process and then received my worst medical report since recovering from adrenal fatigue. My doctor started me on a new plan, which has been successful but not exactly a smooth process. All this came after I had previously believed myself to be healed. After recovering from the knee injury, I began a gradual buildup that would leave no room for a taper. Here's my weekly mileage since October: (20-26-0-0-0-11-31-37-30-47)= That's an average of just 20 miles per week over a 10 week period. You'd have to be pretty talented to run a respectable marathon under those circumstances.

I took the entire day off work on Friday with the plan to arrive in Huntsville early in the afternoon. On the way up, I decided to take the backroads up AL-79 and US-231, which led directly into Huntsville rather than take I-65 then pick up 565. I stopped at a country diner for lunch, which was a basic meat and 3. I arrived just after 1 PM at the Holiday Inn, the host hotel, right on the starting line. The expo was small but had pretty much everything you would want. I scored a great deal on new running shorts for just $10. Dinner was a porterhouse steak at Longhorn's then my buddy Nick and I went back to hotel and just relaxed until 10 PM. The weather looked a bit iffy with a chance of a few showers during the race with temps in the 40s and windy. In the end, it got nasty the following day but the race itself was fairly comfortable. Mostly cloudy skies, low 40s at the start and near 50 at the finish. I went with a black long sleeve tech shirt, a cap and shorts.

If anything, I was actually a bit too warm in the later stages but the wind was a bit of a nuisance. If/when I break 3:30 (sub-8 pace), I plan to retire from marathons and focus on the shorter distances. Johnny says that he wonders why speed guys even bother with marathons at all. I am clearly out of my element at this distance even when I'm in great shape but I'd wager that I have more raw 400 meter speed (61.2 s) than many sub-3 hour marathoners. I've proven that I can handle the distance in a one-time effort but when it comes to training properly, I am too vulnerable to injuries. Sub 3:30 would not happen today.

A goal: 3:35 PR/ B goal: 3:43:22 (Fargo '09 time) /C goal: sub-4/ D goal: FINISH

Race day:
Powerbar, banana and some Gatorade after waking up at 6 AM. I actually slept fairly well. I did have a morning SNAFU when I turned on my Garmin and found to my horror that it cut off immediately. It's either broken (again) or I turned it on accidently the previous day. Fortunately, there were timers calling out splits at every mile marker so I wasn't completely blind but it always helps mentally to know exactly how close you are to the Mile markers at all times.
Gently rolling throughout. It had a mix of a few flat area and plenty of mild ups and downs. Fortunately, none of the climbs were severe and only a few would even be described as moderate. Good course for a fast time.
I lined up according to my expected time and just followed the group. I felt pretty good warming up but when I started, of course it felt easy but not effortless as I had hoped. The first mile was very crowded and the timer called out my first split at 8:33 (gun time). The next Mile was 8:04. Too fast. Slow down fool. I've heard that for every second you're out too fast in the first half, you can expect to lose at least 2 on the back half. From here, I would try to settle into an 8:15 pace, which would bring me home near 3:35. It was still too early to tell what kind of day it would be but I often know within 3 miles if it's going to be a disaster. Today would not be a disaster. If it still feels easy at Mile 16, then I know that it's my day. At 5 miles, I had settled into a steady pace and resolved not to keep up with others on the course but run my own race. I was around 41 minutes for 5 miles. Roughly miles 8-13 are my favorite part of the marathon. You've settled into your groove but it's still early enough in the race that it still feels fairly easy. We turned out of a residential area on onto a highway with relatively flat terrain but a mountain view in the distance. The pace still felt easy but again it was not the effortless feeling of having my "A" stuff. The PR was slipping away but my splits were about on par with what I ran at Fargo last May. I wanted to be at Mile 10 at 82:30 and got there at 82:55 (clock time) so I figure that I was right around 8:15 pace. Miles 11-14 were quite enjoyable despite the wind and I chatted a bit with a female going for a BQ. My clock time at the half was 1:48:15 so figure that I was just under 1:48 and would need a slight negative split for a PR. Unlikely but I might have a shot at a 3:40 and at least beat my Fargo time. Just after Mile 14, which I passed in 1:55:xx, I began to feel my first bit of discomfort, 2 miles ahead of schedule. I would have to back off now if I was to finish respectably. Doubts began to creep in and by Mile 16, I was pretty much in my "I don't care anymore. Just finish." mode. Not looking good but to my credit, I ran smartly in the next 4 miles. I was able to do some basic math in my head. Barring a disaster, which I defined as 10:00 pace, I would still finish under 4. Soon, the "barring disaster" time fell below 3:50 but more importantly, finishing was now a reasonable goal. The 3:40 group passed me just before Mile 19 but I was able to keep them in sight for at least another mile. In Fargo, I was not passed until Mile 22 but the group was blowing by me a full minute per mile faster. The dreaded 20 Mile marker came at 2:47 and change. At this point, I was hurting of course but I still had a little something left. Based on how I felt, I estimated my finish time to be somewhere between 3:41 and 3:47. Could I beat the Fargo time? It's going to be close. Show some heart here. I turned it up a notch and would pass about 5 runners in the next half mile but as I rounded the next corner, I felt the wall. I still managed to keep the pace respectable at least through Mile 22. When they called out the splits at each Mile marker, it seemed as if my "B" goal was well within my reach. I passed many runners between 20-22 but from 22 to the end, I was merely keeping up with others who were running. I was still gaining places because many people were either walking or trudging so slowly that they'd almost be better off walking. For the third time in as many marathons, I would run the entire way except for water stops. I do not know my splits for Mile 24 and 25 but I'm sure that it was ugly. I was in survival mode here but still had just a tiny bit left in the tank to let it loose in the last 1.2. One mile to go and the clock time was an even 3:35. I was almost a full mile slower than my time trial on the first of the year. I needed a 3:43:22 to beat my Fargo time and figured that it took about 30 seconds to cross the starting line so all I needed was an 8:50 and that seemed well within my reach. Clearly my pace had increased but with no Garmin, I didn't know how fast I was going. There was no split time at Mile 26 and I rounded the final corner to the homestretch. I was not close enough to catch my nearest competitor so believing that I had it in the bag, I posted a respectable finishing kick but I did not go nuts in the last 200 yards. My gun time was 3:43:35 so I would have to wait until the results were posted to confirm that I had done it. The margin was closer than I expected but I made it with 4 seconds to spare. Final time was 3:43:18!
Note: That 3:35 that I mentioned earlier carries an asterisk because it was a training run and the time does not include water stops so I guess you can say that I scored an official PR. It was by a mere 4 seconds but an official PR nonetheless.
I got my medal, finishers hat and space blanket. An official asked me if I was okay whether or not I could walk back. I assured him that I was okay and asked if I looked bad to him. He responded that considering what I had just done, I didn't look too bad to him. Good. This was probably the most comfortable that I felt after my 3 marathons. I limped up to my room. Man, I was sure glad that I had a room nearby because I have a tendency to get chilly and shiver from cold especially after long distances. I hit the bed just for a minute and it was only then that the real pain took over. Cramps in the calf and IT bands were severe and I could barely move a few feet to grab my recovery drink. I was limping badly for the rest of the day but by the next morning, I was feeling much better.

Congrats to Nick on finishing his first marathon in 4:23:30. Way to go buddy!

For the future:
As much as it hurts, it is the right thing to give up the dream of a BQ. It would literally take an act of God for me to achieve that type of fitness while staying injury free. As planned, I will retire from marathons once I break 3:30, which I believe that I could have done last Fall when I ran the 1:32:57 half. My next marathon possibility is the Snickers Energy Bar in Albany, GA and I will run only if I feel that I have a better than 50/50 chance of breaking 3:30. I may run a local 10 Miler in January but my next race will likely be the Mercedes half here in B'ham. Once the weather warms this Spring, I will hit the speed work HARD!

1 comment:

Preston said...

Sounds like a great race all in all!