Friday, June 6, 2014

Country Music Marathon-That race I ran a long time ago

A few weeks before the Country Music Marathon, I wasn't planning on running. Mainly because I couldn't run at all.  My bum hip made my training take a complete stop.  I couldn't run a mile, so 26.2 miles was out of the question.  But three weeks out, I was able to start some easy jogging.  I was feeling better than expected, so I decided to enter the half-marathon.  I felt like I could throw down at least a 66 and change, if needed.  But since I won the full marathon last year, I felt the pressure to attempt the repeat.  My students at school really wanted me to do it and with no big races planned all spring and summer, I decided, what the heck and entered the race a week out. Obviously my goal was to win the race.  If that meant I had to race, well, I was prepared to do that.  Well, not physically prepared, but you know what I mean.

I was really nervous about my ability to run a marathon.  While I typically will do a long run most weekends. I hadn't had a 20 miler in over a month.  And all year long, I only had six runs over 20 miles.  I knew my ability to burn fat for fuel at a quick rate was severely diminished (which is a huge part of the marathon) and I was worried about how my body would handle all of the pounding, especially on a rolling course.  And with not being in proper marathon shape, I had to be extremely patient with the distance.  Before a "peak"marathon, I am really fit and never really run easily during the race.  My body is trained to take the damage and I can hold my hand to the fire relatively early and keep it there. People assume that the more fit you are, the easier it is.  But the opposite is true.  The more fit you are, the longer and harder you can run and you can also push and hurt for a long time before dying.  But since I was out of shape, I had to run a more progressive feeling effort.  I had to start really easy because I could go from jogging to redlining relatively quickly, if I wasn't careful. 

One of my favorite things going into a marathon, especially one that I mostly train through is that I let myself eat a little more junk than usual.  All in the name of carb-loading, right?  Two nights before, I went to Waffle-House with Newton rep, Lee Strawbridge and the man behind the Music City Distance Carnival, Dave Milner. Since we had a teacher potluck at work, I ate more than my fair share for lunch but still went with a double hash-brown with cheese, onions and jalapenos, as well as two chocolate-chip waffles.  I had to send my water back though because the waiter's dread locks were resting in it while she was taking our orders. That's what I get for eating at the White Bridge location.  And I ate my night before meal at my go-to Mexican joint in town, Casa Veija. Nothing can faze my iron stomach.

Race morning, I downed my typical Powerbar, 32 oz. Gatorade and a couple bowls of cereal.  The weather wasn't going to be too bad.  Race time temp would be around 50ish and  would climb to the low/mid 60s by the end.  Not ideal but it could be worse for a late April marathon in Nashville.

Going into the race, I felt like I was the favorite to win, and my next goal was to get the sub 2:26 time bonus.  I feel like the course is 3-4 minutes slower than a fast course like Chicago or Houston and I felt like I was fit enough to run the time without a lot of trouble. I didn't have a concrete race place but did have several friends running in the half (Ben Li and Ryan Snellen from Nashville and Brian Shelton from Cookeville) and I figured they'd run around 1:12 or so, so I was thinking of seeing what those guys did and keying off of them.

But tragedy struck when I realized I noticed my GPS was almost dead.  Since I was trying to run a certain pace, I felt it would be crucial.  But 2:26 is around 5:35 a mile and since the press truck had a running clock on it, I could easily do the math (multiply the mile number by 5.5 and add five seconds per mile.  It sounds confusing but it makes sense).

Finally, the the gun went off.  One of the half-marathoners shot off out front.  Everyone let him go and I hung back in somewhat of a pack with Ben, Snellen and Brian, with Joseph Chebet and Mark Pepin hanging along for the ride as well.  We were clicking off 5:20-5:25s.  It was faster than I wanted, but it felt good and I could always slow down later. We eventually caught the early leader with the pack starting to separate some.  After we caught him, Chebet shot to the front, unopposed.  I was running and chatting with Mark a bit.  He went to a high school in my hometown back in South Carolina and it turned out we had a mutual friend.  We were still clicking off mid 5:20s and Ben was doing his best to hang on.  I dropped back so I could run with him some and hopefully help him move up.  Mark's a nice enough guy but I had to help out my fellow Nashvillian.   I ended up slowly pulling away from Ben and caught back up with Mark.  We ran together until the split around 10 miles.  I knew from here on out it would be pretty lonely, so I tried to make some small talk with the cyclist.

After doing the math from the press truck, I was still under 5:30 pace by a good bit and would have a good cushion for the second half and my sub 2:26.  Some crazy dude on a bike started cycling around us singing some songs.  I told the lead cyclist he would be tazed within a mile but he was gone before that got to happen.  The press truck had to leave me before the halfway split because of an upcoming 180 degree turnaround but it turned out to be 1:10:59.  Too fast and after briefly debating going for a bigger time bonus, I quickly nixed it and was happy that I just had to run around 5:40s the second half.

It was a good decision because around 16 miles, I started to get tired.  It wasn't the typical marathon fatigue, my legs just weren't prepared for the all of the pounding since I've been hurt and the rolling hills were taking their toll.  At 20 miles, it got a little bit tougher and after doing some rough math, I figured I would be able to run close to 5:45s the last 10k. So I backed off some more and cruised in just under the 2:26 standard and ran 2:25:52.

While I didn't hit the wall or anything, I was pretty beat up and had to sit down for a while.  I then spent had to make the super long walk to the baggage claim and failed big time when talking with a family when I guessed their son to be in third grade (he was in sixth).  I couldn't find my wife at all, so after calling her on the phone and trying to figure out where she was, it turned out she was literally ten feet in front of me.

Not a bad day at the office and I was surprised the initial pace felt so easy. I was glad to be able to win twice in a row and next year, I'll shoot for three.

Post race interview.  Who wants to hear boring typical stuff? I never did get any JT tickets.

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