Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Rocket City Marathon

The Rocket City Marathon has a sentimental value to me.  It was my first marathon,which turned out to be a positive experience.  I was hoping to run 2:30 that year (2010) and ended up running 2:27:08 and felt really strong at the end.  It was then supposed to then grant me the best running experience of my life, qualifying for the Olympic Marathon Trials last year, but a sickness decided to take me out two days before the race. With Houston five weeks away, I debated running this as a faster long run to get another feel for the distance and hopefully pick up a little bit of money.


Before deciding to run, I consulted three different people.  It was a little bit funny because their individual views and personalities showed in their answers.  First, I asked Mark Hadley.  Mark is a really knowledgable guy who has a passion for the sport.  He has a knack for making the scientific sound simplistic.  He is a coach to a few elite runners, as well your average joes. His site is a really valuable resource, so I figured he'd be a good guy to ask.  He told me that while he would not suggest it in an optimal build-up, it could be doable, and used to my advantage as long as I kept it under control and ran three easy days before and three to four easy days afterward.

I then asked Camille Herron, who is a 2:37 marathoner and new world record holder.  I haven't talked to her much over the last few years but I used to talk to her way back in the and aol instant messenger days.  She ran a really solid marathon at Dallas a couple of years ago and came back to run very well at the Mississippi Blues Marathon about a month later.  She runs a ton of marathons and her advice was that it was definitely doable and that I could run really well at Rocket City and come back and smoke Houston.  It was a great confidence booster!

My last person I asked was Fernando Cabada.  I've never talked to him before but I always liked his confidence and "real" mindset.  He ran Rocket City as a long progression run last year and then came back five weeks later and ran 2:11 at the US Olympic Trials.  Since that was exact time frame I was looking at, I figured he would have some good input.  He said that it didn't take much out of him and he was able to work out hard the following Wednesday.  His advise was to definitely keep it under control.  He must like this method because he ran a 2:19 the week before Rocket City and six weeks before Houston, which he is planning on making a run at sub 2:10.

With the "approval" of those three, I decided to give it a go.  My plan was to take my normal marathon race fuel during the actual race, but keep it very relaxed and under control.  Under ideal weather, I was planning on running 2:25-2:30, with obviously a slower time better,  but since I was running for money, I couldn't just jog.

I had a very hard week of training the week before, which was also probably one of my best weeks ever.  I planned on a really hard workout the Tuesday before, but I axed that shortly into it.  I then tried another workout on Wednesday, and ran a 11.5 mile moderate progression run.  During the week of the marathon, I was planning on getting in about 110-115 miles.

I constantly checked out the top seeds page on the Rocket City homepage and saw that I was seeded first.  That gave me a little bit of pressure because I was the "favorite" but wasn't planning on winning.  The #2 seed was Geoffrey Terer, who I considered to be the favorite.  After doing some Google stalking, I found that he runs mainly half-marathons.  He consistently runs in the 65 minute range, but wins by a small margin.  That showed he was probably just running hard enough to win and had a lot left in the tank.  He even had a win over Patrick Cheptoek, who I have never come close to beating.  Based on my current fitness, I felt like I could beat Geoffrey in a flat-out marathon race, but I didn't expect to beat him with the effort I was going to give.

Behind Geoffrey were Jay Stephenson and Wojciech Kopec.  I expected to run primarily with Jay.  He ran some really fast times several years ago but hasn't been racing a ton.  I saw that he broke 70 in the half this past fall and felt like he would run around 2:30.  He's a pretty consistent racer, so I figured he'd  be a good person to run with.

Wojciech graduated from Harding (my old college) and has never run a marathon.  In college, he was better at the 3k/5k and seemed to struggle some in the longer distances.  Because of that, I felt like he would go out hard (rookie mistake) and then fade the last 10k and finish somewhere around 2:35.  I was happy with the entries because I felt like I could get 2nd place and run around 2:28.

After school, Mary, Kate and I headed down to Huntsville.  Unfortunately, we hit a ton of traffic and didn't get in until around 7pm.  I always forget stuff when I go somewhere, which for this trip included my pair of racing socks and body-glide.  My only other pair of socks were knee-high compression, so that meant I would have to wear the same pair two days in a row.  No biggie.  I had a pass to the dinner and when I saw it was about to close, I sprinted to my room, threw down my bags and ran back downstairs so I could make it in time.  I also got grumpy because I another Kenyan, in addition to Geoffrey.  Who was that guy?

After Mary settled in with Kate, they came down to join me.  I downed 2.5 plates of spaghetti, a cup of Gatorade and a piece of carrot cake.  At dinner, I saw Jay and we talked strategy a bit.  We talked roughly about going out in 1:14ish for the first half, which sounded perfect to me.

After dinner, I was still really hungry, so I ate a couple of energy bars that I bought at the expo.  I then headed to my old Hood to Coast teammate, Ethan Coffey's, room because his girlfriend, Julia, was going to be my fuel girl.  The plan was to take a gel bottle at miles 7, 12 and 19.  I was going to stuff an extra one in my back pocket and take it around 3-4 miles in. Everything was set and I headed up to my room for bed, but unfortunately I got a random phone call which basically consisted of:

Caller: Why did you hit my car and leave a note with your number on it?
Me: What are you talking about man? I didn't hit your car.
Caller: Yeah you did, my tail light and bumper is all busted up.
Me: Well it wasn't me
Caller: Who's your insurance?
Me: Geico, you could save 15% or more if you switched over.
Caller: Geico? You lie man.  If you didn't leave a note, who did?
Me: The Geico gecko

And then I hung up. Fortunately he didn't call back.

There was not just one additional Kenyan, but two new ones entered, so I did some Google research.  The first, Reuben Mwei, was a stud at Adams State College and has been running very well on the roads.  Jay told me he thought he heard Reuben was hurt, so he probably wouldn't show up.  However, if he did, I knew that would be another guy ahead of me.

The other was Peter Kemboi, who is also a tough runner.  But he's run a ton of marathons this year, including the Philadelphia Marathon just a few weeks ago in 2:29, so I knew he would be tired.  My hope for him was that he would hang with the leaders and then I could pick him off the last 10k and snag third.

Shortly before heading to bed, I started getting a super hunger attack. I then looked on my phone for the closest fast food place and saw that McDonald's was less than a mile away.  I drove there and ordered my usual, a McDouble, without pickles and a small fry.  I then devoured my food, took a couple of Benadryl and headed to bed.

I woke up a couple of times in the middle of the night with a pretty bad headache.  But whenever I have headaches at night, they are gone in the morning.  I was also insanely thirsty, so I chugged a 32 oz. Gatorade and then went back asleep.

My alarm woke me up at 5:30am and I still had a killer headache.  I knew it was probably due to dehydration because I ate a lot of carbohydrates yesterday and drunk very little fluid.  Before this, my plan was to cut off my beverages at 6:30am, so I could pee it all out before the race, but I knew I was in "fluid debt" and needed to drink a lot.  I drunk another 32 ounces over the next 1.5 hours but still had my headache.  Along with the water, I had my customary coffee and ate two Powerbars.

At 7:00am, I decided to walk around outside for a while and then at 7:30am, I started a very easy mile jog.  I was crawling, but luckily, my headache was going away.  I saw several of my Nashville running friends, as well as several more from the Hendersonville Running Club.

I then ran into my old former teammate, Janet Cherebon-Bawcom who ran the 10k for the United States this past Olympics.  I was worried she was going to jump in and smoke me, but fortunately, she was just there to cheer.  Janet ran the Rocket City Marathon several times in the past and two years ago, when I started training hard again, it was my sole motivation to not get beat by her.


Finally it was time to start.  The weather was right at 55 degrees, which was pretty warm.  When the gun shot off, the pace was crawling.  We were probably going close to 7:00 pace the first half mile. Everyone bunched together and then some guy with a really weird European accent was rambling about his seven kids and how all five were sick the other night, so he was busy taking all of their temperatures at 2am.  I then noticed he was running in Crocs (yes, Crocs).  Whatever floats your boat I guess but I can't see how those would be any more comfortable than a pair of racing shoes.

Rocket City Marathon 2012
Image: Eric Schultz |

We went through the first mile in a 6:11. It's funny, 6:11 pace normally feels pretty fast on a non-racing day, but here, it felt like 10 minutes.  We were still really bunched up and went through the next mile in 6:01.  Finally, people started to get a bit antsy and we were running in the mid 5:30s, which dropped all but a few people.  At three miles, I decided I didn't need my Powergel, so I tossed it aside.  Shortly afterward, Wojciech apppeard to be annoyed by the slow past as he shot off and we all let him go.  He probably dropped a 5:20 the next mile, which is way too early to make a move, especially for a marathon rookie.

I hung with Peter, Geoffrey and Tim Richard.  The two Kenyans started to pick it up a little bit and I wasn't sure what I was going to do.  I didn't know if they would keep a constant pace, so I decided to stick with Tim and worry about the guys up front later.  There was a pretty strong headwind at this point but we ran side-by-side.  The unspoken man rule is that if it's windy, you can only draft on someone if there is more than two runners right ahead of you.

We ran together the next couple of miles before I started to branch off.  At seven miles, I was supposed to get my first fuel bottle.  I was a little scatterbrained and completely forgot.  I ran past the water stop and wondered why a girl was yelling my name.  I then remembered I was supposed to get my bottle but it was too late.  My next "delievery" wasn't until 12 miles, so I decided to drink a little bit of Gatorade at the next couple of water stops but all that really did was tie-dye my singlet.

Shortly before 10 miles, you take a right turn onto a highway, that is 4.5-5 miles long.  At this point, I was a little over 30 behind the trio of Wojciech, Peter and Geoffrey.  I felt bad for Wojciech because they were drafting off him in, in a single-file line, without sharing the work. But it's a race and I guess he could have slowed down until someone made passed him.

On this stretch, I was feeling pretty decent at got my fuel bottle at 12 miles.  I made myself down it all because I know I needed the fluid and carbs.  I could tell I was slowly catching up to them and shortly before halfway, I latched on.  I debated passing them but since I fought the wind for so long, I felt sticking behind would be fine for now.  They were running a good bit slower than I was, so I enjoyed the relax in pace.  We went through halfway in 1:13:22, which was perfect.  It felt easy and relaxed and I had a lot left.

Once we left the highway, the headwind went away.  Unfortunately, that meant it felt a lot hotter.  At this point, I debated taking off my shirt and tucking it into my shorts but I was scared it would fall out and I didn't want to scare all of the little children with my pastiness.  It was in the lower 60s at this point, which sounds ideal to the non-runner, but anything much over 50 will slow you down, with 35-40 being my favorite marathon weather.

Wojciech took some kind of tablet or something and I asked him if they were Polish steroids (he's from Poland) but he joked that they were American steroids.

At this point, I was helping him with the pace, with the two Kenyans on our backs. I couldn't read Peter very well but Geoffrey was very relaxed.    In a couple of miles, Wojciech fell back several seconds, which I thought was the end of him.  I told the Kenyans that there was only one mzungu left, and was going to stick with the pace until at least 20 miles.  Wojciech ended up rallying back and at 17 miles, I got my second fuel bottle.  Since it had a light brown appearance, I told the Kenyans that it was Tusker Beer (largest brewery in Africa and located in Kenya) and asked if they wanted any.  Geoffrey started at the bottle and then gave me a weird look but didn't want any.

Around 20 miles, I was still feeling really good and to be honest, was getting bored with the monotony of it all, so I dropped the pace down to the lower 5:20s,  which dropped Wojciech, with the mile after that around 5:20 and then the next around 5:15, which dropped Peter.  I told Geoffrey that if we could keep it up for a few minutes longer, we would drop them for good.

At 21 miles, he made a big move and motioned for me to go with him.  I debated my two options.  #1: Run the last 4-5 miles at 5:00 pace and try to drop Geoffrey but also put a lot more pounding on my body or #2: Run just hard enough to get second.  Winning would net me an additional $250 but killing myself the last few miles would probably mean a slower post-race recovery.  And even if I ran that hard, I may not be able to win.  Because of that, I decided to run for second.

Geoffrey put about 10s on me with every mile and I noticed Wojciech was rallying back again.  At 23 miles, I only had about 15 seconds on him, so I tried to keep it around that distance.  At this point of the course, there is a lot of turns, so I was able to constantly keep a gauge on things.  At 24 miles, he was still close but in the 25th, he started to fall back some and I was able to really relax in the last mile to finish 2nd in 2:26:16 with Geoffrey winning in 2:25:18, Wojciech third in 2:27:24 and Peter 4th in 2:29:58.
Rocket City Marathon 2012
Image: Eric Schultz | 

After I crossed the line, my plan was to turn my hotel tub into an ice bath, sit in that for about 15 minutes while chugging liquid calories and then put on my compression shorts and socks (too much mixed science on whether or not those work but I wasn't taking a chance). But when I crossed the line, I felt really bad and similar to how I felt at the US Half-Marathon Championships.  My head was pounding, my eyes were really sore and my stomach didn't want anything in it.

I wasn't feeling like an ice bath, so I took a hot shower instead.  I tried to drink some recovery drink, but that made me feel like throwing up, so I only got about 150 calories of it down.  I then laid down in bed and took a 1.5 hour nap.  I was expecting to feel like death when I woke up, but I felt pretty decent.  I then headed downstairs to try and get some food in my stomach while waiting for the awards ceremony.  I ran into Wojciech who told me that he barely got in any runs over 13 miles and hasn't been running a ton.  With that being his first marathon, off of that training, he ran really well.  He seemed really motivated and wants to go back home to Poland to train for a while, before trying some training in Kenya.  With his talent, I feel he will be under 2:20 in a year for sure.
Top 5 men in order (right to left)

Overall, I would consider it a successful performance.  I was worried that only getting about 20-24 oz. of fluid and only 200 calories during the race, and then not getting much shortly afterward would put a bigger pounding on me but I felt good.  I should have had a back-up plan in-case and had a goal fluid and calorie amount.  Most people drink too much fluid in a race and drinking to thirst is your best bet but I feel like I didn't drink enough.  Some random tidbits/thoughts on the race, future, etc.

-Need to practice drinking out of cups.  I tried to drink a little bit out of several of them but it didn't work too well.  If I don't have help in Houston, I need to be prepared.

-Need more runs in my Grid Type A5's.  I ran both of my prior marathon in the A4s, but the 5s are about an 1/2 ounce lighter.  My feet and calves felt a little stressed towards the end because of the pounding, so I need to get them adapted to it.

-I need more marathon fitness.  I feel like this race will be a "super-compensation" run but I could tell I still need some more of that down-and-dirty endurance.

-5:10-5:15 pace is going to feel fast and I need to be prepared.  I haven't done much work at that pace yet due to some sickness and training fatigue.  I've done a lot of stuff at around half-marathon pace (about 5% faster than MP)  and some long, enduring stuff at around 90-95% of MP but I haven't zoned-in on the pace I actually plan on running.

"Balanced" mile splits: 6:11, 6:01, 5:34, 5:35, 5:25, 5:39, 5:28, 5:33, 5:27, 5:26, 5:22, 5:32, 5:31, 5:45 (first full mile with the pack), 5:44, 5:39, 5:49, 5:28, 5:23, 5:20, 5:17 (bye-bye Geoffrey), 5:26, 5:35, 5:33, 5:38, 5:43, 1:17 (.2)

For you people on the fence about Rocket City, you should definitely run it.  It's cheaper than most marathons and you get more than your value worth.  You get an information book, along with course maps mailed to you before the race, you get a huge finisher's medal, age group awards are five deep, you get a free finishers certificate, hat and finishing photo and they always have great pre-race speakers (Bill Rodgers this year, Dick Beardsley last year).  This is a race put on to give everyone a positive and valuable experience, rather than trying to nickel-and-dime you for everything.


  1. Scott you got it all wrong man - the guy w/ the crocs has like 10 kids... he's out from my neck of the woods.

    Good run - sounds like you did this just right. Looking forward to hearing about how you tear it up in Houston.

    1. Jake - Scott has a good memory - I had 7 kids when I ran this race :-) It is 8 now.

      Scott - the reason for Crocs over racing flats:

      a) Price
      b) No shoe laces to tie
      c) No blisters
      d) Shock effect - can be used as competitive advantage. At the start your competitor thinks you are an idiot for running in Crocks and does not take you seriously. Then two thirds into the race you are still with him - Crocs are comparable to a good pair of racing flats for speed, although it does not look like it, and he does not realize it. He starts thinking - this guy should not be with me, and that eats him away.
      e) More even pounding impact over the leg muscles - at least for me.