Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Country Music Marathon x 3

The Country Music Marathon is probably my favorite race of the year.  Almost every runner/walker in the area does it, it gets a ton of coverage and it's the only time you get to run through the streets of Nashville and not get hit by a car.  It's also the race I get asked about the most and everyone knows me as the guy who has won the race the past few years.  They could care less if I somehow ran a 61:00 half-marathon somewhere.  As long as I win this race, they think I'm the man.

It wasn't the focus of my season and I had bigger races planned afterwards.  But it's a race where winning is important to me and I would race flat-out if the situation called for it.  They do a great job of showing the race on all of the local TV channels and my school kids enjoy seeing me try and win. And this year was a little more special because I had a lot of pressure on me to win for the third year in a row.

So my plan was obviously to get the win.  I wasn't marathon battle-ready but I would at least try.  If I was going to be able to get an "easier" win, my goal was to go after the 2:26:00 or 2:24:00 time bonus, depending on the weather and how I felt.  My goal was to come out of the race feeling strong so I could continue my training for the spring racing season, so a few extra hundred dollars wasn't worth the extra fatigue.

After school on Friday, I went to pick-up Kate from daycare and then headed downtown to get my bib number, as well as my school's packets for the kids run the following day.  Since I hate dealing with downtown traffic and am too cheap to pay for parking, I parked by the pedestrian bridge.  The parking is free, but it's well over a half-mile walk to the expo.

My daughter was a champ on the long walk there and we made it the whole way without complaint. At the expo, I did a short little interview with one of the local stations and I was able to meet the guy in charge of the race.  My biggest worry was the expected weather...bad thunderstorms that would get worse as the race went on.  There was a chance the race could get delayed, have all of the marathoners switched to the half or cancelled all together.

My biggest fear was for the race to start as planned and early on in the race, have them decide to move everyone to the half.  Since there were some tough half-marathoners in the field, I would be too far back to do anything and would get smoked in front of all my kids and be the laughing stock of the school for the next year!  But the dude in charge said that wouldn't happen and if they did switch people over, it would be the slower marathoners.  Hopefully that would be true.

It was a long walk back to the car, especially being that I had to carry a large box, which put my 11 inch biceps to work.  And Kate complained the bridge was making her tired but after a long walk, we finally made it.  I didn't get home until after 7pm, so I decided to run by Chick Fil A for dinner.  It's not exactly the meal of champions but your pre-race dinner should be more of a matter of comfort and what won't jack you up, not some fancy high-carb crap.  Chick Fil A has never caused me issues and I find them to be delicious, so I had no shame.

Since the interstate exit backs up a lot for this race, I wanted to make sure I left my house by 4:30am, so that meant a 3:45am wake-up.  I put my wife in charge of the alarm and made her check it one more time before bed, just to be safe.  Luckily I woke up on my own right at 3:40, because it turns out my wife set the alarm for Monday morning.  That would have been awkward.

I got to the race pretty early and we sat outside for about an hour before the VIP place opened up. Luckily it wasn't raining yet and it was pretty comfortable out there, if not a little chilly.  Once the VIP place opened up, I got to hang out inside and drink some coffee and kill time before my short warm-up.  And after checking the weather, it looked like things were blowing over and it may not even rain at all.

My buddy, Steve Chu, finally arrived, so I jogged around with him and then ran into Joey Elsakr, who ran with us some before heading to the start.  Some lady wouldn't let them into the first corral since their numbers started with a 2. Corral 1 was for bibs 1000 and over and after trying to explain to the lady that all the comped half-marathoners started at 200, she finally let them in.  I'm glad we didn't get escorted out in handcuffs.

My race plan was to hang out around 5:30 pace (2:24ish pace) with Joey and then see how I felt at halfway.  If a 1:12 was easy, I'd shoot for the 2:24 bonus.  If not, I would have a nice sized cushion and slow it down to a 2:26.

When the race finally started, Joey and I stuck together while a bunch of half-marathoners shot out front.  I was checking my GPS and saw that we were rolling pretty quickly and I didn't want to get sucked into too fast of a pace.  So I slowed down and we went through the first mile in 5:35, which was probably about 20-25s seconds behind the lead group.

Shortly after the first mile, I noticed a Kenyan looking over his shoulder a few times.  Since he was running with the half-marathon leaders, he caught my attention as a potential marathon runner.  Why else would he be looking around when he was in the front pack?  I asked Joey to use his 25 year old vision to see if he could tell if the guy had an orange (half-marathon) or green (full marathon) bib. We could never get a good look at it but I saw him take a cup of water a little over 1.5 miles in, which set off the sirens in my head (unless he was just really thirsty).  I went from a relaxed groove to being stressed out because some dude I didn't expect was not only in the  race but about 100 meters ahead of me. And I would have to potentially race the marathon all-out. Talk about a high stress situation!

I decided to drop the pace down to the 5:20 range and I ended up catching him about three miles in. As soon as I caught up, I realized the Kenyan mystery man was Geoffrey Kiptoo, who I raced at the Frostbite Half-Marathon in February.  I started to make some small-talk not only to be friendly but to see if I could figure out anything about his fitness level. I knew he had a full marathon planned two weeks after our February showdown (and since he was two weeks out from a marathon, he probably had it in cruise control) and when I asked him how it went, he said he didn't run it because the weather was bad leading up to the race.  That didn't tell me a lot about his condition but my plan was to stick my nose out and stick with him.  I didn't want to give him any breathing room and my plan was to beat him straight up, rather than have him build a big lead, struggle home and then have people question whether I would have won if he started slower.

I always tell people I'm a rhythm runner and have trouble adjusting pace.  While running with Geoffrey, he would constantly do little surges and I'd find myself running in the 5:10 range for extended periods of time.  It didn't feel too tough but I knew if I kept it up, I'd pay for it later. Anytime I'd drop back a little bit, he'd motion for me to come back up with him.  I didn't want him to think I was a chump and drafting off of him, so I obliged.  After 11-12 miles, I decided to quit playing with fire and gave him about 10-15 meters so I could focus on my own pace and not get sucked into a pace that would later destroy me.  It was tough to give him a lead, being that people were watching at home but I knew it was the best decision.

Miles 15-19 or so have a lot of long climbs, then after they are done, you go through a series of quick turns.  My plan was to hang back on the tough stretch, hope Geoffrey would get an adrenaline boost from dropping me and taking the lead and then wear himself out on the hills. And once the turns started, I'd make my move because it's easier to "hide" during that stretch.  

I went through halfway in 70:29, three seconds behind Geoffrey.  Shortly after that, we had a quick u-turn and I found myself right beside him.  He asked me if I wanted to try and break 2:21 but I told him it was too hot and hilly for that, but he could go ahead.  I was hoping he'd take that as a sign of weakness and press again but the pace quickly started to slow.  About 14-15 miles in, I ended up taking the lead with no response from him.  I didn't want to reverse things and be the one who died over the hills, so I stayed conscious of my pace and effort and focused on my own race.  If he was still there in the later stages of the race, I would be ready to throw down.

I spent the next couple of miles checking over my shoulder and I even got called out by one of my fourth graders a few days later since I constantly remind them not to look over their shoulder in their cross country races and gripe at them when they do.  But while I was checking to see what he was doing, I also hoped he would look at it as a sign of weakness.  I knew he was struggling some and if he took my glances as blood in the water, I was hoping he'd pick it up and try and chase me down, wearing himself out even more.  It was more of a big bluff than anything else.  But as the race wore on, I continued to increase my lead, which resulted in me relaxing it even more.  

I got through the tough stretch feeling ok over the hills.  And from a guy who normally hates and struggles on hills, I took it as a good sign.  I like running through the East Nashville part of the course because there's plenty of people cheering for you and supporting you, which helps the rising fatigue and temperature not feel as bad.

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After you go through East Nashville, you dip into Shelby Bottoms for a few miles before beginning the long stretch home.  About the only thing I like about this part is that there's plenty of shade.  It's a bit of a lonely stretch and there's a couple of little molehills that feel more similar to mountains 20+ miles into a marathon.

The great thing about being right behind the press truck is that you have the time clock right ahead of you.  I constantly did the math after every mile marker and saw that I could slow down to 5:45s and still run sub 2:24.  I put on the brakes a little bit more and split a 5:54 for the 23rd mile.  That was frustrating because it didn't feel too easy and I didn't want to miss 2:24 by just a few seconds.  I ended up running 5:30 for the next two miles and it turned out, the 23rd mile was long and it was really closer to a 5:37.

Finally, I crossed the line in 2:23:34, netting me the 2:24 bonus, with Geoffrey having a rough last 10k to finish about ten minutes behind.  I was happy to see my wife at the finish line because security there is hardcore and it took me literally over an hour to find her last year.  I got interviewed a few times and since I hate boring interviews, I tried to spice it up a little bit. I can't figure out how to embed it, so here is one of them.

I was really happy to pull off the third win and I'm also glad there was a little bit of adversity this time.  And I'm especially glad it was a Kenyan so people will stop asking me why a Kenyan never runs!

I really wasn't sure how I would perform since I only had a few long runs and really no marathon-specific work or much workouts at all, so I was pleased with how it went.  Using my often-resourced conversion formula, I feel like I'm in about 2:17 shape after this performance, which is a good sign. I feel like I could have run a 2:20, flat-out today and with weather in the 60s on a really hilly course, I feel like it's worth a 2:17 at Indy Monumental, Houston, or somewhere like that.

And since I'm posting this about two months late, I'm not going to post about my post-race plans because they already happened.  But some random facts/data:

  • Gels Taken=4
  • Water= Probably about 16-20 ounces...I can't drink out of cups well and I find I don't need a lot of water
  • Faster Mile= 5:12
  • Slowest Mile=5:54  
  • Shoe Used: Newton Distance Elite...the blue ones, which look way more cool and have a longer tongue
  • Cadence: 179 spm
  • 1845ft of gain, 1878 ft. of loss...downhill course!
  • Garmin 620 reading=26.40 miles...over 99% accurate!

1 comment:

  1. Great report. Your humility is amazing. The whole report you describe worrying and uncertainty and how your competition wants to run 2:21. Then in the end you win by 10 minutes. That means that your only real competitor was secretly on a desperate suicide mission the whole time! He was probably trying to get away and hide by blending in with the half marathoners and hope you would not realize where he was until too late. When that didn't work I think he tried to get you to destroy yourself and maybe fall apart or drop out. I watched your interview and the "don't fill up on rolls at the steak house" analogy was pretty amusing.