Once again, it was time for the Country Music Nashville Marathon! I don't cater my training to this race and usually don't plan to be in my peak shape until a couple months afterwards but it's one I will go to the well in, if need be.
My goal for this race was obviously to win and if I could do that, I would then try and plan my race around the time bonuses, which net a little more cash. The first time bonus is 2:26:00, the second is 2:24:00 and the third is 2:18:00.
Running 2:18:00 would be nearly impossible to run alone on a course like Nashville, in typically warm and humid weather, so my plan was to go for 2:24 if I could keep it smooth and controlled. If that wasn't an option, I would save my legs and go for 2:26.
I was really struggling with my running in January and February, started to come around pretty strongly in late March, only to be curtailed by the flu a few weeks before the race. That messed up my training for a couple of weeks because while my fever lasted five days, I was drained for the next 10 days after it left. During that two week stretch, I missed out on a couple planned marathon workouts, so I was coming into the marathon without any "real" marathon work. But I still got myself in the right mindset and was going to be patient and prepared to go out on my shield.
Going into this race, I always have a little bit of pressure because I know a lot of my friends and especially my students will be watching at home. The media does an excellent job covering the race in its entirety, so my kids enjoy seeing me try win every year. And who really wants to lose in front of their entire school? And being at a brand new school, as well as being asked by a student, if I was as fast as the female technology teacher, the pressure was on.
This year, Competitor Group let me stay in a hotel. While it helps me get a good night's sleep, away from my sometimes restless kids and also avoid traffic in the morning, it also made things easier for my wife. In the past, I'd get there about 1.5 hours before the start, so she would wander around Nashville for about four hours while I was getting ready/running.
The afternoon before the race, I went to pick-up my bib number at the expo. While picking it up, I could barely see the sheet with the names of the runners who qualified for an elite entry. I saw two names below mine, so I wanted to know who they were so I could Google the crap out of them and be a little more mentally prepared.
I asked the lady who they were and I was told some American name I didn't recognize and Brian Shelton. Brian is a buddy of mine who lives about an hour and a half down the road and is the owner of Foothills Running Company. He's a super nice guy, with two young children, like myself (I have two kids but I'm not very nice) and is still running high mileage and chasing down the clock. So, he's a guy I connect with and respect.
He started running later in life and not too long ago, ran a low 2:24 at the Twin Cities Marathon, which isn't the fastest course around. Last year, he took two stabs at 2:20 but ran into hot weather in his first attempt and warm and windy weather in his second. Regardless, I knew he was a tough runner, who would not make it easy on me, so he had my attention.
I'm a super analytical guy and like to be prepared going into a situation, so I sent him a text to get a feel for things. He must have known I was up to some tricks, especially since he's a smart and calculated guy as well. He was holding his cards to his chest but hey, we were on a collision course and were both trying to play the game that best sets us up for victory. Touche.
Since I had a little bit of a heads up, I had time to fine tune my race plans. The most conservative and safest option would be to stick with him from the gun and see if I could leave him in the last 10k of the race. Looking at the predicted weather and the layout of the course, I felt like he would probably run between 2:25-2:30 and by starting slower, I would be less likely to blow up. On the flip side, I would potentially miss out on a time bonus.
Option #2 would be to stick with my original plan of going for the 2:24 time bonus. While I haven't done any marathon workouts and was racing against a guy who peaked for this race, I felt like I could still make a run at 2:24 and not kill myself. I felt I was in similar shape as last year, when I ran 2:23 and had a good bit left in the tank. While I would be content with racing a hard half-marathon this weekend, everything is under the microscope in the marathon and things that go unnoticed in a shorter event could blow up in your face in a 26.2 mile race. So with a slightly faster pace, I would be more likely to blow up later on.
After some thought, I decided to stick with the 2:24 plan, unless he went out faster than that. After a dried out chicken philly sandwich and some fries, it was time for bed.
When I woke up, I checked the forecast and the weather was a warmish 65 degrees and the dewpoint went up to 62 degrees, instead of the forecasted mid 50s. That doesn't sound like much of a change but once you get a dew point in the 60s, running becomes much tougher as you're dealing with a lot of humidity.
I was feeling more nervous than usual and had no appetite but I was able to down a 32 oz. Gatorade, some coffee and chowed down on a Pop-Tart and Lara Bar. Normally I eat a much bigger breakfast than that on the day of a marathon, but my body wasn't feeling it.
With a little over an hour to go, I jogged a few blocks to the Honkey Tonk Central (remember, it's Nashville), where I was allowed to hang out until the start of the race. I was glad I had an indoor place to stay in because it was raining and I didn't want to stand around outside.
About 20 minutes before the start, I started making the trek over to the starting line. And man, it was a slow moving, massive herd of runners and I thought it was going to take at least 10 minutes to get there. I saw my buddy, Chris Duncan and he could tell I was in a hurry. He then tried to escort me to the start by yelling that he was bringing the defending champion to the line but I wanted nothing of that, so I stopped walking. He then used his University of Florida education to figure out a better plan and he yelled that he was the 1:30 half-marathon pacer and to follow him if you're running in that group and for the other people to scoot over. It was the perfect plan as I quickly got to the start.
|Fellow Hendersonville Running Club member and the female lead cyclist, Charlene Alcorn|
However, my luck changed as the race was delayed 35 minutes because of lighting in the area and then it started raining...not the ideal way to start a marathon. But everyone else was in the same boat, so I tried to make the best of it. I lined up beside a guy that runs with a big American flag every year and starts at the very front. He told me that he started beside me the past three years and I told him that since he's my own little lucky leprechaun, I would start with him again.
I talked briefly with Brian Shelton and after a long wait, we were off. But not before some guy stole my spot beside the flag guy. I was hoping that it wasn't a bad omen!
Roosevelt Cook, last year's half-marathon winner from California, took the lead, with Wild Bill on his heels while Brian and I hung side-by-side. We were running right around 5:30 pace and ended up catching up to Wild Bill and Roosevelt and hung out behind them. Hey, they were running half of the distance, so no shame in drafting off them.
Roosevelt and I got a little bit antsy as we broke away quite a bit in the fourth mile. I was hoping that Brian just fell back and we were still hanging in the 5:20s, but nope, we dropped a 5:12. I immediately tried to relax and run a smarter pace so I wouldn't hit the wall 20 miles down the road.
Anytime we had a sharper turn, I would check out my lead over Brian and it was very slowly, but surely growing. A couple of times Roosevelt would leave me and I'd catch back up and then he left me for good at around nine miles in. Wild Bill then passed me a short time later and once the marathoners broke off, I was on my own.
The next part of the course is a gradual downhill, followed by a flat section that takes you through the half-marathon mark and then you make a turn and run up the hills you came down on. My quads were starting to feel really flat, which worried me. I relaxed even more to be cautious and after going through the halfway mark in 71:38, I decided to go for 2:26 instead of the 2:24.
|One of my students made his own Lego Marathon, with me leading the charge|
The uphills were a little tough and I lost some time, so I felt better about relaxing and slowing things down an extra 10 seconds a mile for the second half.
On a really random part of the course, you enter the Nashville Sounds baseball stadium and take a lap around the edges of the ball field. It was kind of cool because you saw yourself running on the jumbotron.
As soon as I entered the ball field, I checked my GPS watch and it was almost 16 miles on the nose. I figured it would take at least a quarter of a mile to run around the field and I wasn't sure how big my lead was over Brian. So if I could see when he entered the stadium I could tell how big my lead was.
After completing the loop around the field, my watch read 16.30 miles and a few seconds later, I saw Brian.enter. After some rough math, I figured I had about a two minute lead which is decent enough but if I blew up, he would be be back in the mix of things. It's funny that if you have a one minute lead at eight miles into a half-marathon over someone, you will most likely beat them. But with that doubled, you still have to be cautious.
But I figured that if I could keep the pace inside the 5:40s, I should be able to win. After leaving the stadium you head back down towards the finish line area. I assume Roosevelt won because he was still running up-and-down the area wearing the American flag. He must have had an easy win because he would have most likely been finished close to 30 minutes prior.
After running past that area, there was a quick left hand turn that I missed and then the press truck stopped and let me know I needed to turn around and run around a random side street before making a 180 degree turn. I was worried about the 30 seconds or so that I lost because that meant my lead was now around 90 seconds, which could potentially be made-up in 2-3 miles, if things became ugly.
After the missed turn debacle, it was time to run through East Nashville. The hills are tough but there is also more crowd support. It's almost a double-edged sword. The crowds make you run faster but they make you run faster up the hills! While it seemed like a good idea at the time, pushing up hills shortly before 20 miles isn't the best idea. I got a controlled boost from having people cheer for me and I mentally prepared for Shelby Bottoms, which is in my opinion, the toughest part of the course. Yeah, it's mostly flat with long straightaways, but you're coming off the tough East Nashville part. And while longer straightaways are faster, they become tough to focus on because when you're mentally and physically tired, you want some sort of turn or something to keep you awake.
However, shortly before entering the park, I saw one of my fifth grade students and her family cheering for me, which helped lift my spirits and give me some motivation shortly before the 20 mile marker. Thanks to them, I went from a 5:44 19th mile to a 5:15, 20th! Once I hit the 20th mile, I did some quick math since the press truck had the overall time displayed and I had to run under 35:00 for the final 10k to break 2:26 without cutting it too closely. That meant I had to keep my pace under 5:40, so I made a conscious effort to pay attention to my current lap pace on my Garmin. I felt pretty strong at the time, but things can quickly change after 20 miles.
Every year in Shelby Bottoms, I struggle up the hill around the pond, but this year, it wasn't bad at all. I was able to open up a little bit on the backside and while making my way to the road that led out of the park, I saw one of my kids on my Music City Super Squad team, which gave me another boost! Finally, I was on my way out of the park.
The majority of the last couple of miles is on two, long and straight roads. I was still able to hang in the 5:30s without too much trouble . That is, until the final uphill, which I struggled up. I was pretty sure I had the sub 2:26 in hand and finally made the final turn. I broke the tape in 2:25:42 and was surprised with how worn out my quads were after I crossed the finish line.
|Roosevelt and I|
Every time I've won the marathon, I got interviewed a few different times, which happens nearly right away. I always try to keep it a little bit lively because I hate boring interviews. I think the below video takes a couple of minutes until I cross.
Finally, after a never ending walk, I was able to change my clothes, relax and attempt to replenish some calories. My appetite is always shot after a marathon, so I did my best to down some chocolate milk and Coke. After hanging out with some friends, I made the mile long journey back to my hotel, pleased with being able to take the victory again.
- I was really impressed and motivated by all of the support I had on the course. There were plenty of people encouraging me and helping me through tough stretches.
- During the marathon, I had nearly four gels. I took a Strawberry Huma Gel about twenty minutes before the start because of the delay, then took another one around five miles in. This was my second time using Huma Gel and I like the strawberry flavor because it tastes just like jelly. I also took most two Glukos gel/liquid. It comes in a packet but is very watery and I was was surprised how easy it was to consume. It'd be good in a marathon because there's quite a bit of fluid to it, however I got lemon flavor both times, which wouldn't be my first choice in a marathon.
- Probably had about 20 ounces of fluid during the race. I tried to drink a big gulp at most water stations, but I have trouble drinking out of cups. That sounds low, but I really don't drink that much. You should drink to thirst and I wasn't thirsty. And you also get some extra fluid from the breakdown of carbohydrates during the race.
- I ended up running in my Newton Distance Elites. I don't run for Newton anymore, so I'm free to run in whatever. I debated wearing an old pair of Saucony A5's which used to my marathon shoe, but I didn't want to take a chance.
- I averaged 5:34 pace but only had six miles slower than 5:40, one of which was the missed turn...not bad!
- This was my 14th marathon (5xNashville, 2xRocket City, 2xHouston, and one each of: Cowtown, Indy Monumental, Top of Utah, Chicago and Flying Monkey).