I’ve come to the realization that the marathon is not my best event. That’s not to say that I still don’t enjoy the challenge. I’m just saying that if I had to pick the event that I’m best at, it’d probably have to be the 20K or half marathon. Anything over 13.1 miles and I start to freak out and get intimidated by the sheer magnitude of the distance. Heck, even my best 25K times don’t correspond with my best half marathon times.
This year’s Grandma’s Marathon provided another case in point on this topic. Having run a 1:26:08 half marathon last month, it seemed like something in the low 3-hour range wouldn’t be that difficult. What’s the rule of thumb, double your half marathon and add 10-minutes? That’d put me at 3:02. 7-minute pace is 3:03:15, so that seemed like a reasonable, conservative goal. Perhaps on a great day I could sneak under 3 hours.
As I drove into town on Friday evening, the temp was 87 and sunny with a strong south wind, which would be a headwind. Needless to say, that was a little concerning the night before the race. Luckily, race day conditions proved to be nicer than that. Temps started out in the low 60s and never got much higher than 65. The dew point was in the mid-50s and there was significant cloud coverage. While the winds did die down some from Friday, we still had a steady 8+ mph head/crosswind to deal with. For those of you not familiar with the course, it’s basically a straight line for 25 miles. So when you have a headwind, you have it the whole way.
Nothing too exciting happened before gun went off. I settled in quickly with my first 3 splits all between 6:54 and 6:56. However, by mile 3 I already felt like I was working too hard too early in the race and I made a conscious effort to slow down. The next four miles were between 7:02 and 7:11. By now, after bucking the wind for 7 miles, I pretty much realized that it wasn’t a day to run fast. I tried to tuck in behind other runners as much as possible, but there were some stretches where that wasn’t possible due to the wind direction or not having anyone around at the time.
By mile 12 I figured if I couldn’t run fast I might as well be comfortable and I stopped for about 45 seconds to take a leak. This never used to be a problem, but during the last 3 years or so, I’ve ended up stopping a couple of times during each marathon. I gotta figure that out sometime, otherwise I’ll have to subtract 90 seconds from each goal in the future.
The halfway point comes and goes in 1:34:12. Maybe if I don’t crash and burn I can break 3:10. Around the aid station at mile 16 I heard people cheering for the 3:10 pace group. Given my experience with the pace group last year, where I wrote “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” I decided to try and hold them off as long as possible – after I stop for one more pee break.
After a couple of 7:17s and a downhill 7:06, I run the 20th mile in 7:26 – my slowest of the day. I hold off the 3:10 pack until mile 22. They catch me at the base of Lemon Drop hill and I jump in with them. Luckily, by now, they’re all rah-rah’d out and are only focused on finishing. A few guys pick up the pace and even more fall off the back. We’re passing quite a few people and it’s kind of hard to get a sense for who’s in the group and who’s not. I guess it doesn’t matter as long as I stick with the guy with the balloons.
Speaking of that, I get a kick out of the spectators that don’t know what the balloons mean. You can see a lot of the spectators looking at the balloons, trying to read the writing on them. And then, of course, you hear the “Nice balloons!” comments along the way. It’s kind of funny.
Grandma’s is one of those courses that gets better the further you go, at least when it comes to spectators. Early in the race there are pockets of spectators here and there, with a few sections that are fairly crowded and loud. However, around mile 19 you start to make your way into town and the crowds get thicker and thicker and they keep building all the way to the finish. I love the beer drinkers around mile 21, the group at Lemon Drop just after 22, all the folks near Fitger’s, and, of course, everyone along Superior Street, especially at the corner of Lake – that has to be the loudest section of all. Just passed this section is the 25 mile marker. I glance at the clock and see 3:00:41. Given that there “should” be about 9 minutes of running left, it seems like sub-3:10 will be reached. No major catastrophes during the last 1.2 and I cross the line in 3:09:42.
I knew I ran 3:09 last year too, but didn’t realize it was 3:09:43. With that rate of improvement, I figure I’ll break 3 hours in 583 years. Here are my splits from the last 2 years;
Split – 2009 - 2010
6.2 miles – 45:34 – 43:33
13.1 miles – 49:45 – 50:39
20 miles – 49:32 – 50:22
26.2 miles – 45:02 – 45:07
I originally thought the consistency from 6.2 to13.1 and 13.1 to 20 was a little eerie. But I think it gets back to being intimidated by the sheer magnitude of the distance. There’s something about the races over 13.1 miles that make me scared to put my neck on the line. Maybe there’s some burning desire to avoid blowing up and walking it in. I don’t know for sure, but I should try to figure it out – or at least change my expectations and be content with being a 3:10 marathoner.
Looking at the results from 2009 and 2010, it appears people are less affected by the wind than the heat. Last year I placed 152nd out of 5998. This year I was 238th out of 5597. I guess I’ll pray for heat in the future.
Finally, I’m not sure I’ve seen this before, but this year, not only do the results show your time at each check point, but they also show your place (overall, age group and sex). It’s cool to see that I was in 309th place at the half, 288th at 20 miles and 238th at the finish. Pretty cool.
If you’re a stats geek, here are my mile splits;
7:55 – pee
7:44 – pee
7:16 – Lemon Drop
Thanks for reading. I should have more thoughts tomorrow – hopefully with a few photos.