When I wrote last Thursday's post about refusing to worry about the weather, I was still secretly hoping we'd get decent conditions. Of course, that didn't happen, but it was even worse than normal. Maybe not worse in terms of final temps - although some say they were the worst conditions ever - but worse in terms of being teased on Friday evening. My parents live about 70 miles east of Duluth. When I left their house, it was 80+ and sunny. When I pulled into Duluth around 4 PM, it was 55 degrees and foggy. Runners were almost giddy with anticipation of waking up to perfect conditions on Saturday.
Well, it was all a cruel joke. Hoping to find a cup of coffee before getting on the bus, I opened the door at 5:15 to 63 degrees without a single cloud in the sky. Right then I knew my window of 2:59 - 3:04 was closed. Again, not a big deal, I'd just adjust my strategy and race for place more than time. Now the question becomes; “What is the correct pace for such conditions?” Well, 3:04 is 7:00 pace, so it has to be slower than that. I figure it should be another 10-15 seconds slower per mile - quick math says that's about a 3:10 marathon.
I was able to start the race by running with Jim. I can honestly say, this is the first marathon that I've ever wanted to drop out of - during the first mile! Seriously, my legs felt flat. I knew I'd be fine within 2-3 miles, but I definitely wasn't happy at the start.
Mile 1 passed in 7:04 - about 10 seconds too fast. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but I also know that 10 seconds per mile too fast can ruin a marathon when conditions are ideal. Given our circumstances, I knew I needed to slow down. That's a lot easier said than done when you're 2 miles into a marathon and people are streaming by you left and right - it's not easy on the ego. But about this time I thought about Thursday’s post where I mentioned being street smart and having the ability to run smart in the heat. I figured I’d really look bad if I screwed up after writing that.
I managed a 7:13 second mile and the legs started to come around. I was still running with Jim, but it felt like he wanted to go faster than I did. That was confirmed with a 7:09 third mile and I eased up - finally letting him go. From there I settled in with splits of 7:16 and 7:18 for miles 4 and 5.
I used to think I had my pre-race nutrition figured out. I think it was at the 2001 Grandma's Marathon where I met a guy on a message board and he suggested more of a liquid breakfast. He would drink 32 oz. of Gatorade about 3 hours before the race and then wouldn't drink anything until 10 minutes before the race. This helped him get hydrated, top off his carbs and he was able to process the 32 oz. before the start. I tried it and I found it work a lot better than trying to choke down a lot of food with butterflies in my stomach and then nervously sipping water the whole bus ride to the start - and then having to stop and pee during the race. Well, it worked for a while, but now I think I've had to stop and pee during my last 3-4 marathons. This time it happened during mile 6. When I got back on the road who do I see coming by? It's the 3:10 pacer with a group of about 30 runners.
As you can probably tell by my letting Jim go early in the race, I prefer to run my own race. However, with a 3:10 in the back of my mind, I thought I'd give running with them a try. I was immediately greeted with a 7:01 mile. The pacer apologized to everyone, but I think he overcompensated because the next mile was 7:29, which turned out to be my slowest of the day. I was quickly losing patience with the inconsistent pacing, getting annoyed with all the rah-rah banter and tired of the congestion at each water stop. So the next time I felt the pace quicken, I let the group pull about 15 seconds ahead of me. I figured that might be a “fun” vantage point to watch people fall off the back of the pack.
This is what happened during my only other pace team experience at the 2002 TCM. I caught the sub-3 pace group around mile 16. At the time the group was pretty big. I maintained 3-hour pace and somehow pulled away from them by mile 19. My next sighting of the “group” was around mile 24 when the pacer came by me alone. He got his sub-3, but no one was with him.
Nothing too exciting happened as I rattled off 7:08, 14:33 (missed the 10th mile marker), 7:00 and 7:10, which means I reached the halfway mark in 1:35:09. While I knew I was right on my target pace, I also knew that I’ve only run negative splits once or twice out of 14 marathons or so. Therefore, I wasn’t 100% convinced that I was running the correct effort for the conditions. But I was feeling pretty good so I let it ride.
Maybe passing the halfway mark caused something to kick in, as the pace dropped a little. Mile 14 (6:57) turned out to be my only sub-7 of the day and I followed that with 7:08 and 7:09. Now I’m at mile 16 and I’m starting to catch lots of people. Unfortunately, I know quite a few of them and it’s tough to see friends struggle.
I’ve mentioned that mile 16 is important in a marathon because you’re either thinking darn I still have 10 to go or dang I only have 10 to go. Well, I was actually somewhere in between those two extremes. I wasn’t feeling so awesome that I never wanted the race to end and I wasn’t feeling so crapping that I was ready to step off the course. I was just kind of happy to be clicking off the miles without any sign of slowing down - although my splits for miles 17 and 18 crept up to 7:18 and 7:19 and I wondered if it was the beginning of the end. During mile 19 there’s a nice downhill and I was able to stem the tide with a 7:04, but that was followed by a 7:22 – again, I was thinking here comes the inevitable slowdown.
The nice thing about this point of the race is that the aid stations are now 1 mile apart instead of 2. All along I’ve been following the strategy I used during my 2007 Grandma’s where I managed to PR in somewhat similar conditions. Basically at every aid station I’d drink 1-2 cups of water, pour 1-2 cups of water over my head, grab a sponge, and throw a cup of ice down my shorts. Yep, down the shorts – shrinkage and all. I don’t know if it helps cool my core, but it doesn’t seem to hurt. I took gels at mile 5, 11 and 17. I planned on another gel somewhere between 20 and 22 but my stomach wasn’t feeling the best so I skipped that last gel. It didn’t really seem to hurt me as I rattled off splits of 7:14 and 7:13 to get me to mile 22.
By now I figure the wheels are not going to come completely off and I pick up my effort on Lemon Drop Hill, resulting in a 7:15 mile. All this time the 3:10 pacer is still in front of me, but his group has been whittled down to about 4 people. I passed them with a 7:18 24th mile and use the crowd to pull me to a 7:06 25th mile. Again, quick math tells me that, barring some unforeseen circumstances, I'll be in under 3:10. The never-ending 26th mile around the DECC, past the William Irvin ship, and back under Lake Street seems to be the longest mile on the course – probably because we’ve been going in a straight line for 25 miles and now we’re finally turning in different directions. The last mile took 7:25 before closing in 1:34 for a 3:09:43 - a 35 second negative split.
Again, that wasn’t the kind of time I was looking for 12 weeks ago when I started my training, but I doubt many people ran what they wanted to. In the end, I’m happy with how smart I ran. I said it’s a race and the idea is to place as high as possible. I ended up placing 147th out of 5,891 finishers. I can guarantee that there were more than 146 runners in front of me halfway into the race.
All right, this is already my longest race report ever. If you’ve made it this far – get back to work. Thanks for reading - I’m sure there will be more thoughts throughout the week.