It’s fifteen minutes before the starting gun and I can’t decide if I want to try to break my marathon personal record (PR) or try to shatter it. Now is not the best time to be thinking of such things. How did we get here? Let’s back up a few hours to Friday morning.
It pre-dawn and my training schedule has no running on it. For some silly reason it had me biking for two hours, but I had decided I wasn’t doing that days prior. I had a big race in two days and I needed to be fresh. That’s one of the reasons I was trying to start my car in the sub-freezing weather. The other was I was going to stop after work at the thrift store and see if they had any cheap gloves I could use as throwaways in Sunday’s race. But as Murphy’s Law would have it, whatever could possibly go wrong, did. My battery had died. In my typical c’est la vie fashion, I suited up for a 3.5 mile freezing bike ride into work instead and forgot about the gloves.
Sometime later on Friday, I remembered that I was supposed to have the traditional pre-race pasta dinner with @gazelle74. I “met” her on Twitter and had previously run with her on Mount Lemmon Highway. Being car-less is not usually a big deal for me; I typically drive once or twice a month. I tweet her asking if I could carpool with her to the race expo and start. Because she’s totally awesome, she agreed. Meanwhile, I forgot how I was going to get to dinner.
Allow me to digress and say that race expos are stupid. I go, get a bib and a goodie bag, and then leave. I’m not going to buy anything that they’ve marked up an additional 30% over their regular markup.
But back to dinner, long story short, I didn’t end up going. I was sad. I ended up eating a chicken breast, oatmeal, and a fruit salad. Yea! After dinner, I pretty much went straight to bed. One has to go to bed early the day before a big race, even though you know you won’t be sleeping well.
I woke many times during the night and finally decided to get up at 3:00 (yes, AM). Race start was at 7:30, so I had 4.5 hours to kill… sort of. gazelle74 was picking me up at 4:30 so we could get to the location where we’d get on the bus to shuttle us to the start line by 5:00. The bus ride to Oracle, Arizona was uneventful. I’m pretty sure I nodded off a few times on the ride. I guess I wasn’t that nervous after all.
We reach the start line with over an hour to spare. Much to soon to start any sort of warm up, so I do what everyone else is doing: take a poo. Even after what seemed like days standing in line for a port-a-potty, there was still a lot of time to kill. So I found a nice “tree” with a heavy branch that was about 2 feet off the ground to lay on and listened to some Metallica. 45 minutes pre-race and it was time to start the warmup. I love warming up for an event you plan to take 3.5 hours. It was nice and short, just a couple 100 meter jogs and walk-backs at the start line to get the blood going.
It’s now 7 0′clock and warmups are done. Nothing left to do but wait with the rest of the other 730 runners. It was about this time that I decided to set the pace time on my Garmin GPS watch. My previous PR for the marathon was at my one-and-only previous marathon. I ran a 3:50 at the Whiskey Row Marathon earlier in the year. I had no doubt that I could beat that, but by how much? I had been training using a “race pace” of 8 minute miles which is equivalent to about a 3:30 marathon and a 20 minute improvement on my PR. I decided not to mess with things, and set the watch at a 8 minute mile. This was now officially my “A” race of the year. Time to shatter that PR.
I find @gazelle74 and she’s lined up behind the 3:40 pacer. She had said her goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which for her age group was 3:40 (I think). But she said she was hoping for a 3:30 or better. Because I love the psychological boost you get when passing people, I always start further back in the pack and allow people to pass me at the start, since most people go out way to fast. So I started about 10 rows behind @gazelle74 and if her and my plans both panned out, we should cross the finish at about the same time.
I usually don’t remember a whole lot about what goes on during a race. I have other things on my mind, like: left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, etc. Or mentally doing the math to see if I’m on pace even though my watch does that for me. Or thinking about how this will be the last marathon I ever run. You know, those types of “deep thoughts”. I don’t understand the types of people that have full blown conversations during a race. Don’t you plan on using the energy later? Like the pair of guys that were talking about the movie Forrest Gump on Sunday. We were at about mile 3 and they’d been yacking for the past 20 minutes. Seriously guys, shut up and run.
That isn’t to say I’m a grouch on the course. Every law enforcement officer directing traffic got a smile and a “thank you” no matter how tired I was. The officers during the last mile or two may have missed out on the smile, but not the thank you. I was hurting bad and couldn’t smile and the thank yous probably sounded more like “rouhfb jdf”. The same goes for all the spectators who came out with cowbells. They got a smile and a “needs more cowbell“. Once on Oracle, there was a guy that was drafting/pacing off of me that started saying the same thing every time we passed a cowbell. It was fun because they’re be ringing their cowbell, I’d say more cowbell so they’d ring louder, then the guy behind me would say more cowbell and they’d ring even louder! It was great and a real boost. But if I could give one suggestion, there should be more cowbells in the last mile!
The guy that was drafting off me, probably for a good 5-6 miles, never did pass me so I don’t know what he looks like. Maybe he’ll read this blog and say “hey! that was me!” If so, introduce yourself or you’ll forever be known as “The Drafter”.
The only other individual I remember during the race was “The cougher”. I swear, this guy was coughing the entire time I was within earshot. It was somewhere on Oracle after the out-and-back to the Biosphere when I heard the first cough. I remember thinking “that must suck”. Then another. And another. It continued as I passed him and until the coughs faded away in the distance. If I was continually coughing around mile 15 I think I’d pull out. I don’t know if The Cougher ended up finishing, but if he did, he’s tougher than me.
Then there was “the gazelle”. I only saw her once during the race on the out and back to the Biosphere. At that point she was behind the 3:15 pacer, but ahead of the 3:30 pacer. I was thinking, WTF? I still hadn’t caught the 3:40 pacer even though my watch, and my brain, said I was exactly on pace for a 3:30 finish. Gazelle was on a super fast pace. She ended up finishing in 3:20 and easily qualified for Boston. I never did end up catching her. Gazelles are fast.
My race was looking real good until mile 24 when I hit the proverbial wall. Not head on, but more of a grazing shot. It was getting warm and the course had flattened out and I just couldn’t hold my 8 minute mile pace. I slowed to about a 9:13 pace, while the heart rate continued to climb. It maxed out at mile 25 at 180 beats per minute! I knew I was pushing hard, but I’ve never had that high of a heart rate while running so slow before. Then I did actually hit the wall. Speed plummeted along with heart rate with about 1.25 miles left.
I ended up crossing the line shuffling along at a 13 minute mile pace in a time of 3:31:11. So I didn’t end up making my goal time of 3:30, but I did shatter that PR by almost 20 minutes. The caveats being that this course was downhill and downwind pretty much the entire way and the other one had around 3000 feet of elevation gain (and loss). Plus I was in much better shape for this one.
As I crossed the finish line, volunteers stopped me to give me a finishers medal and take my picture. While I appreciated it, I would have appreciate it more if I didn’t have to stop because I had to use the port-a-potty again and now my velocity was zero. I finally did manage to get moving again and it took me about 10 minutes to walk from the finish line to the port-a-potties, which I’m estimating were about 50 meters away. After successfully voiding myself, it was time to make it to the food tent. But there was the problem that my velocity was again zero! Grrr. 10 more minutes to reach the food tent. Along the way I ate my last ClifBar for the needed calories so I wouldn’t collapse.
Met up with @gazelle74 after stuffing my face and hopped on the bus back to the parking lot where the car was. Along the was there was a set of stairs (down) that some finishers were taking two at time. I was thinking it was going to take me 20 minutes to get down them. Per my SOP, I let gazelle74 go first so I’d have that mental boost as I passed. But just like in the race, she pulled away and was waiting at the finish as I staggered across.
Once on the bus, I sat next to a guy that looked in fairly decent shape. I asked what his time was and if he’d beaten his goal. Turns out he didn’t have a goal time (huh?) and he finished in around 4 hours. I wasn’t really listening, because I’m mean like that. Anyway, while he’s jabbering my brain is calculating the time necessary for a 4+ hour finisher to get to the bus, and I conclude that he must have went straight from the finish line to the bus at a normal walking pace. As we got off the bus, this guy didn’t have the normal post-marathon shuffle and appeared to be fine and dandy. It was at that time that I decided on Rule 1:
If you can walk normally after a race, you didn’t run hard enough.
I don’t care if it takes you 40 minutes to finish a 5k or if you’re an elite ultra-marathoner, you should be hurting after a race, otherwise it’s just a long run.
On the way home, the gazelle tried to convince me to run Mount Lemmon Marathon on April 29. I was still a little delirious and may have agreed to do it. I’m planning on racing a full bike season this year, and this is right near the end of the season. So I’m not sure. I’d love to do it, but I was thinking I’d have until fall to train for it since the first 2 years were run later in the year, right during triathlon season, which may be why they changed the date.
All in all, this was a fun race. I plan to run it next year and set a new PR and hopefully BQ. Actually, I want to run a sub 3 hour marathon here next year. Is that too much? I don’t think so.
I’d love to read others thoughts about this race, so if your wrote a race report and want a link, post in the comments.