Saturday, December 11, 2010

Rocket City Marathon

Finally, it's time for the race that motivated me back into running. I've been terrified of racing the marathon for a long time and I spent the last month before the race doubting myself and being completely nervous. With the shorter races, you can have a strategy and know what to expect and know how each mile should feel. With the marathon, the Grim Reaper can call your name almost anytime he wants, and that's what concerned me the most. You can't plan when you run low on carbohydrates, aka: hitting the wall. I've always feared the unknown and like to know exactly what to expect. With the marathon, all bets are off.

The course at Rocket City is pretty fast. There are only a few small hills with the only downside being that there's over 70 turns. This is actually a good thing because I zone out on the long straightaways, while courses with a lot of turns help me to focus on smaller segments. The race is also pretty inexpensive (just $65), hotels are very reasonable in the area (I think I paid $75 for a nice suite) and the people in charge of the race do a great job. A few weeks before the race, they mail all of the competitors a detailed information packet with all of the information you could ever want to know about the race and course and after the race, they mail you a free picture of you crossing the line. Probably my favorite thing about the course is that at least 75% of it is run through neighborhoods, which I tend to really enjoy.

My plan for the race was to stick with Ted Towse, who I did a lot of my long runs with, for the first 13.1, which we planned to hit around 1:14:30. I felt like I was very fit about six weeks ago, but my training the last three weeks wasn't very good and I had two recent workouts go badly. However, all that was in the past and I was really focused on the race. The top five runners got prize money and I thought with a really solid race, I could maybe sneak into the top five.

The weather seemed to be perfect. Temperatures were in the lower 40s and would heat up to the upper 40s by the end of the race. I had Maureen Manning from the Athletes House handing me my race fuel (Vanilla Gu dissolved into a water bottle) every other water stop until about 20 miles, which would be four times. Ted and I ran for about five minutes around the hotel and then did some light drills. When we got to the race, we ran for another mile or so and after several strides, it was time to race.

When the gun went off, a lot of people shot out. Ted and I settled into around 15th-20th place and hit the mile together in 5:34. I freaked out because I wanted to keep the miles no faster than 5:40, so I put on the brakes. We ran 5:48 that next mile and I didn't want to slow down, so I picked it back up and ran the third mile in 5:32. Like a creature of habit, I made the acceleration-deceleration a habit because I ran the next few miles in 5:48, 5:35, 5:46, 5:30, 5:40. The first few miles were pretty windy and Ted was probably getting tired of my bad pacing, so he told me to go ahead and I left him in the 6th or 7th mile.

When I went off on my own, there was a pack about 30 seconds ahead of me that I wanted to try and catch but I made myself be very slow and methodical about it. The thing I love about shorter races is that you can make moves and attacks but I still had a ton of running left and increasing the pace too much would burn off some extra carbohydrates that I would need later. There was a guy falling off the pack, and I caught him and dropped him shortly. When I was around 10 miles, I caught Josh Whitehead and ran with him a bit. He would randomly surge really hard and back off and I would catch him on his "slow" parts. I didn't go with him on the fast parts because I wanted to keep things in cruise control and not eat up my carbs. I didn't understand his thinking with these pick-ups but you're responsible for your own actions. And if you're wearing a neon green outfit with neon shoes and Oakleys, I really don't understand your thinking...

He left me and caught the next pack about 12 miles into the race. I was now alone and tried to figure out what to do. After fighting a strong headwind for a while, I debated in my head and decided it would save more energy to surge and catch the five man pack and then draft off them, than to fight the wind alone the next several miles. I ended up catching up to the pack and stuck with them for a few miles. I hit halfway at 1:13:59, which was faster than I wanted but I felt really strong and relaxed.

Shortly after the half, Kameron Ulmer branched off by himself and a mile or two later, David Riddle, Sammy Nyamongo and I left the two other guys. To save as much energy as possible, I tried to run in David's wind shadow even though I was feeling really strong. Someone said we were 5th and 6th, which scared me because I thought David would have a better shot at the last money spot than I did. And to make matters worse, no one else was in sight, so I wasn't sure if we would be able to catch anyone else.

Sammy would fall back, catch up, surge and fall back again, so I knew he was about to die off. My old teammate, Jacob Rotich, would call this the last kicks of a dying horse. I also noticed he had a pretty killer wedgie, which I mentioned to David but he was in no mood to speak. I was still feeling strong at this point but at around 18, my brain felt a little but foggy and my legs started to ache. David must have read my mind because he dropped the hammer the next mile with a 5:27 split but I hung with him. I really wanted to try and counter with a move of my own but I was too scared of hitting the wall, so I was patient. We then had a couple slower miles and I thought he could be tiring out, so in the 21st mile, I decided to finally make a small move and split 5:31 that mile which made him fall back. I saved a Gu in my pocket and took it, which was my fifth Gu of the race, just to be safe. I wanted to make a hard push at 22, but I didn't want to blow-up and lose to David, so I just kept my pace and was clicking off around 5:30 a mile.

A little while later, I saw a Kenyan guy sitting on the curb, which made me happy because that meant I was in 4th place now. In the distance, I could see a guy about 30 seconds ahead of me and it looked like he was running well over 6:00 pace, so I decided to go after him. I could tell he was hitting the wall pretty badly, so I knew if I went by him, he wouldn't be able to fight. I ended up catching him within a mile and kept on with the rhythm in case anyone else hit the wall. I felt good at the 24, and at the 25 marker, I debated pushing the last mile and trying to break 2:27 but I just wanted to maintain pace and enjoy the the finish.

When I hit 26, I was really proud that I got through it and just relaxed the last .2. After crossing the line, I felt really good and didn't have to sit down or walk around or anything even though I collapsed at the end of the Moon Pie race and had to lay on the ground after the Middle Half. I wish I would have moved with Kameron earlier on because I think I could have run a high 2:25, but I'll definitely take 2:27:08. I was also really happy because I finished in third place, which gave me a little bit of a payday.

On another positive note, I ran my last 5 miles faster than I ran at the Indian Lake 5 Miler last Thanksgiving. I was really, really happy with this race because I could have seen myself running 2:37 before 2:27. The two main reasons for my good race are: making sure I took all of my Gu's, even if I didn't feel like it and being very patient with my moves and always thinking about how things would affect me late in the race.

My main mistakes were taking so long to find my rhythm and not learning how to drink water. Having Maureen hand me the Gu water bottles every other stop really helped me because that was close to 40 ounces of fluid I could take in. At the other water stops, I would always take a water cup but would only get down about two ounces at each one with the other several ounces flying in my face and nose. All in all, it was a pretty good day of running and I'm glad to have my first marathon under my belt. I'm not sure if I'll try one in the spring but I will definitely run one next fall.

Splits: 5:34, 5:48, 5:32, 5:48, 5:35, 5:46, 5:30, 5:40, 5:34, 5:39 (56:26 10 miles), 5:35, 5:44, 5:38 (1:13;59 1/2), 5:42, 5:42, 5:34, 5:47, 5:27, 5:37, 5:40, 5:31, 5:30, 5:32, 5:29, 5:34, 5:32, 1:09