Saturday, November 29, 2008

marathon report -- the very, very long verison

Here's the very, very long version.

On Friday, I crafted this pace plan on a yellow sticky and "laminated" it with strips of scotch tape. The left column gives splits for 3:15:00 pace, which I felt was the minimum I could shoot for, leaving 59 seconds for the wicked hills in the last couple of miles. I referred to the left column as the "oh s***, I'm in trouble" column. The right column was what I thought was a safe plan if I felt good. In some crazy corner of my mind I worried about holding myself back! The reason 14:00 at "2" is 7:26 pace is because the 2nd mile marker is actually 601 ft short of 2 miles per the course certification map. Unfortunately, you have to give that 601 ft back in the last 2.2, but my sticky planned for that. It turns out the 600 feet is about 50 secs at goal pace, so I used that for the math.

I stopped my ibuprofen loading (an attempt to fix my hip) on Friday ~5pm and I think the advil combined with the rich turkey day feast (and probably some nerves) had left my stomach in a bit of a shambles. I slept really well on Wednesday and Thursday, but slept in 1-1.5 hour segments on Friday night. It's been awhile since I had trouble sleeping before a marathon. When I "woke up" I ate my small bowl of cheerios (just skimmed off the cheerios to avoid the milk) and a banana. The drive and shuttle bus to the school were thankfully uneventful, except that I felt like crap and my pulse was 70+ when I checked with the old finger to the neck (nerves I told myself). Although I felt like crap, I didn't feel my hip at all for the first time in weeks.

I saw coolrunner Jesse and it was nice to have someone to talk before the race. He did the JFK 50 last week, so he's clearly insane. He said the course was harder than I remembered (I still don't think it's hard) and that the climb was tougher than I remembered (well, this is true).
Here's a course elevation map from when I ran it two years ago with my Suunto (which has a barometric altimeter and gives much better elevation than the Garmin -- those wiggles actually mean something). I kind of wish I had actually looked at this when making my sticky instead of going by memory, but my memory was pretty close.

OK, so we start and it's the usual jockeying for position and me cursing to myself as I try to get around folks. I shot out a little quick though and backed off after ~400 meters. I had used bah-bump electrode cream to get good readings from the get go and the first one I saw was 168. Holy crap!!!! I convinced myself it wasn't real and when I started sweating it would settle down. It didn't. I average 173 on the second mile. WTF! Surely the HRM must be messed up.

I hit the "2" mile at 13:40. I was quick but the downhill was much more downhill than I remembered. OK, settle down and just run goal pace, I told myself. Mile 3 was 7:32/171. I should be at ~167 at this point. I'm 4 beats high and six seconds slow. I caught up with Jesse and talked to him a bit. I hoped to be able to run with him a while, but we weren't going the pace I needed. That mile was 7:39/172. I'm 4 beats above normal and 13 secs/mile slow! I'm am beside myself. What was all this training for? What the hell happened. My only choice now is to get on pace and wait for the inevitable blow up. I said something to Jesse like "well, I'll just have to average a higher number I guess." The next mile was 7:27/174. Back on pace but I'm paying dearly for the effort. I was also kind of yoyo-ing in my pace and seeing HRs as high as 177. I was distraught. How can this be happening? I was running 7:30s in the 150s on the track. I consult my stick at 5 and at 36:20, I'm right on the even pace scheme, but I used up the 20 second cushion on the opening downhill in just the last 3 miles.

I scouted around for someone to pace off of, hoping just to think about running. In these situations I usually look for two kinds of runners -- women and age group runners. Young guys are the worst. I found a woman and followed her for about a mile. We must have had a little wind in our face (just a little) because I remember wishing she were taller. 7:25/173 for that mile. A little better, but 173 is still not good at all. (Looking at the elevation profile, it turns out this was just a flatter mile.) Unfortunately, I could tell the woman I was following was losing pace.

At this point, the miracle in a green shirt passes me -- a guy in his 50s running like a swiss clock. This was my ticket. I settled in behind him and it was even better than I thought. He was just a little shorter than me and running almost exactly the same cadence. The next mile (also flat) was 7:23/172. It's early to be at 172, but that was going to be my number. I just followed the guy in the green shirt for the next couple of miles. 7:31/172, 7:28/172. I'm a little slow of the 7:27s, but I'm in the ball park and just hope to make it up on the downhill.

You can start to feel and see the climb starting at mile 9 at it continues until the turnaround. Green shirt leaves me a little, but I stick to my 172 heart rate. 7:37/172, 7:34/173. The race director warned us the parks service had moved mile 12 south 300 feet and it was 7:09/172, which I figured was 7:34 based on 50 secs/600 feet. Mile 13 was long -- 7:51/173 (7:26 by my logic) -- but I didn't even look at this split. I was looking at my sticky. I was at 1:36:22 and my sticky said 1:35:50 was an even pace 3:15:00. I'm 32 seconds behind. I figured ~ 5 secs/mile below pace on the downhill would have me even at 20. It didn't quite work that way.

I turned the corner at the turnaround and wwwhhhheeeeee a downhill! I chatted to green shirt briefly as I passed. I didn't even take the next two splits. 13-16 was 21:42/173 (7:14 pace). I figured I chopped off my 30 seconds right there. These miles were great. I was flying past everyone. The people at the water stops were telling me I looked great and I believed them! 7:17/174, 7:23/173, 7:21/175. A few relay runners fly by but no marathoners. One of the relayer slows a little and chats with me at around 19. He says I look great. My muscles are really starting to ache now from the pounding. I feel like I have something in the tank. I feel about like Frederick and mile 19 or a little better even. Mile 20 was 7:24/176. I consult my sticky. 2:57:55 is what I need for 3:15 flat. I'm at 2:27:31. 24 big seconds in the bank! I vow not to give it up by my next sticky check at mile 24. I'm going to need those 24 and the 59 the BAA gives me to deal with the finishing hills.

The fun of the downhill ends at 20. 20 is basically flat although I thought it was a little uphill at the time. We also get a little bit of a headwind. Like they cliche goes, this is where the real work begins. Mile 21 was 7:25/177. Almost all the people I'm passing are jogging or walking now. The few who are faster are harder to deal with because I just want to fall in behind them. My mantra is "just run the number" meaning keep the Garmin at 7:2X. (The mantra quickly turns to "run the f***ing number!")

My legs are aching and I feel like I'm overstriding and my hamstrings are taking the beating. Another little miracle occured when I passed a pack of three. I think they were pacing a buddy because they were saying "just moves your arms and your legs will follow." Hey, great advice! "Move your arms and run the f***ing number!" 7:31/177, 7:25/177.

5k to go. I thought of coolrunner JimmyB's advice that the last 5k should feel like a 5k. 7:25/178. I'm at 24. My sticky says 2:57:40. I'm at 2:57:18. 22 seconds. I only gave up 2 seconds of my bank. I'm very proud of this.

At this point a guy is passing me, but it's not a relayer. It's a marathoner! Are you kidding me? Another miracle. He's going faster than me, but I sorta latch on and at least keep in my sight. I swear having him save me 10 seconds in the next mile. I'm waiting for my fate when we turn off the trail, but we stay on longer than I remember. Every downhill step on the trail is a gift.

Finally the turn off. It's almost a disaster as my new friend and I are barreling past a volunteer who belatedly says turn right at the bridge. I plant my foot and turn 90 degrees on a dime to just make the far side of the bridge. If I had to backtrack even a step at that point it would been a huge blow. I look across the bridge and think, "I wish I coulda run that tangent."

We're on the road now and no hills yet. When do these come. Just short of the 25-mile marker you see this wall in front you. Looking at the elevation from last year, it's about 60-70 feet in 0.2 miles That's like a 6% grade. Some friendly bikers are passing and say, "Gee what point in the marathon are you guys at." One of the marathoners who's slowed to a jog wryly points at the 25-mile marker. "Sorry," the bikers say. The split was 8:01/180. (Turns out this was 7:29 pace.) I wasn't watching the number during this mile I guess (probably watching my new friend) and I'm not sure whether this is the long mile or not. If it's not the long mile then I just pissed away 35 seconds and I'm in deep s***. I enter desperation mode.

Now to this hill. I charge up this thing. I'm not letting this slip away. No chance. My heart rate spikes well into the 180s. (Looking at the data, I hit 186 at the top.) Still this sucker is so steep that my lap pace (which I just reset at the bottom) slides to over 9 min/mi! Down the other side we go. I run as fast and with the best form I can. Another wall. I charge up again. My hands suddenly get cold and start to tingle as a I run up. I'm in full on freight train breathing now (about one breath per step) and my hands (still in gloves) are freezing! We flatten a little and then up another climb (longer but not as steep).

Where the hell is the school? My brain isn't quite working. The Garmin says 7:4X. I can piss away 20 seconds but is it right? I'm 7+ minutes into mile 25 and I don't see the marker. My brain isn't working and I think I should see that finish. I think that somehow I've blow it and I'm minutes away. I don't realize there's another .2 in a marathon I guess. It does dawn on me after I hit the mile marker that there's another .2, but where's the school? My split was 8:18/183. [Turns out this mile was long, too. 7:45 pace]

At this point I have no idea whether I've made it, but I'm going to "sprint" (as best I can) to the finish because I am absolutely not going to miss it by a second or two. Finally the school! I turn left in the driveway and -- is that a 15? It is, 3:15:13 and ticking. I'm going to make it. I run through and see 3:15:20 on the clock. A woman with my medal says "Congratulations!" All I can muster is (in a distant monotone), "My hands are so cold." Looking concerned she says, "You ought to get a blanket." 10 steps later and I'm fine.

I hung around forever afterwards. Talked to Jesse and all the friends who saved me -- green shirt, the relayers, etc. They asked me if I got my 3:15 and I said "Yes!" I met someone on runningahead who ran 2:58 and got his sub-3! The soup was great. The coke was great. My age group was a juggernaut. I finished 6th -- a mere 11 minutes behind 5th. The hip didn't hurt at all! And the runner's knee that had been puffy after every substantial run for the last two months wasn't the least bit swollen.

When I got home, I watched the Ga - Ga Tech game I Tivo'd. My son had a great poker face while we watched together and didn't give away the ending. I was convinced my Yellow Jackets would lose until the very last second, but they didn't! 45-42, Tech. They beat the hated Dogs in an incredible comeback (down 28-12 at halftime). Coach Paul Johnson for President!


MN Ultra Runner said...

Great report and congrats again! Enjoy yourself in April, you've earned it.

Mindi said...

Wow! What a race! I have to admit, that is exactly why I do not wear my HRM in races. Way to just jump off the ledge despite the numbers and stick to your race plan.

Always nice to come home to a winning football game too!

Rest up, recover and get geared up for Boston!!! You have definitely earned it!