On a not so cold early December Saturday, 1100+ runners and I, finished the Rocket City Marathon. How’s that for killing any suspense you may have regarding the outcome. I use the term, balmy, to describe the temperature that day. That suggests pleasant weather. If I wasn’t running 26.2 miles, I would agree. But I look forward to running in the Winter because its the…Winter! Big guys like me get hot at temps above 50 degrees. And sadly, I’ve added some insulation over this year due to poor eating habits and absent will-power.
Ok, back on track…get it.. on track..Ha. Damn I’m funny. I got up semi-early. Race start was at 0800. An earlier start would’ve been nice this year. I arrived a little later than last year and had to wrap around downtown Huntsville, avoiding the road closures to get to my favorite parking spot. It’s 50 yards from the finish, which is ideal after running for 3+ hours. That was even more prophetic this year. I’ll leave that for the end.
All black kit. Good for race pics. And my Ironman Louisville visor…Great idea also. Cotton gloves to hold a couple of gels until mile 3…too hot. I thought the south winds would be chilling. Wrong. A new Spibelt stored the rest of my gels clipped around my waist.
The race chip was embedded on the race number bib…cool technology. I’m always afraid my shoe-attached timing chip will fall out. I was also testing a small pill container to carry my Hammer Anti-Fatigue tablets.
I ordered a couple of Hydrapak Softflasks pre-race. They hold 8oz of whatever–gels, water, beer?!. I was thinking of carrying one for my gels and take a dose as needed.
It easily held the 5-6 gels I needed. However, I quickly found that the bite-valve top was less than accommodating to sucking down gels without rupturing my diaphragm. I got it too close to race date, so I’ll try it again on a long run or bike later. The company is currently out of stock. I’m not sure what’s the deal. They also supposedly make a flask with a pop-top that would be perfect. I like the idea of the softer, compressible container more than the rigid gel flasks that are more popular. You can water the gels down to make it easier to “slurp”, but by diluting the gels, the intrinsic caloric value drops. Salomon Sports of trail running fame also makes a soft flask and just recently a cool hand-grip for it. (check out REI if interested) It only comes in 8oz and to my knowledge, only a bite-valve top. Long story, short…that’s why I bought the $20 Spibelt. I’m looking at these little aids for my longer races next year. Anything to make my life easier and more organized.
So, where was I? Yeah, Yeah…the race. Loaded up with my gear I warmed up very little and took my turn at the Porta-Johns. I’d like to commend people on the quickness of their business this year. It was much less nerve-racking standing in line 5 mins before race start…If you know what I mean!
I seeded myself between the 3:15-3:25 pace groups and promptly took off way too fast, as usual. I didn’t look at my watch until mile 12, but the race had volunteers calling out splits at every mile. Thank you RDs. The first 3 miles felt hard. I didn’t feel super fresh. My moods were down a little and most people were quiet which is unusual during the first miles of a marathon. Maybe everyone knew it was going to be a little bit harder today. The temp was in the mid 50s at race start and scheduled to warm into the higher 60s with a stiff south wind. Clouds were predicted but the sun peeked out a fair amount over the first 90mins making to feel muggy/warm.
I ran with a group of 4-5 people through mile 8, then jumped into a Porta-john at the next aid station. Business done in short order, I jumped back out and saw Wayne H. running by. He’s a local ultrarunning phenom. He routinely runs as fast if not faster than most people at the tender age of 62. He was on his pace but not feeling 100%. Ironically, it energized me to see and talk to him. We ran on for 1-2 miles and tucked into the 3:15 pace group when we turned south into the wind. My plan was to draft off this big group as we traveled the next 4 miles dead south. The wind in the face was welcome and we cruised through the 13.1 mile marker in 1:37+. My legs were starting to ache but I had no cramping. I was taking my pills and gels regularly. The pop-open pill container worked like a charm. Will see that on my triathlon circuit. I didn’t appreciate at the time that I wasn’t drinking much and especially not enough for the unseasonable weather.
My build-up to this marathon was too short. I had some 12-14 milers prior to my last 1/2 ironman in October, but then I jumped right into marathon training. Was able to get 5-6 20milers in but my peak mileage was only low 40s for 2-3 weeks. That’s just not enough endurance training for my legs at this distance. Last year, I peaked at mid 50s per week and had several longer runs, including a 26 mile run in training. My speed work was good in the last couple of weeks but I was worried about falling off on the back side of the marathon.
Our 3:15 pace group fell apart around mile 15. Some took off ahead and the rest like me faded back 10 feet. I realized my water intake was inadequate. My skin was hot but my sweating had slowed. That explained my early sore leg muscles, Duh! Luckily I had loaded with sodium phosphate prior to the race and made a effort to drink more water for 2-3 days before the race. That probably saved me from a complete melt down at mile 18.
I finally lost contact with the 3:15 pace group going up the hill at mile 17. I started walking the aid stations and drinking more water. I splashed some on my head but that invariably makes my shoes slosh…don’t like that sound or the blisters. My walk breaks were not long though. I figured it hurt to run as much as walking. The thoughts of my upcoming Ironman Florida marathon popped into my head. I decided this run needed to be as much a mental as a physical exercise. I forced myself to push on and guess what? The miles went by pretty quick.
Sub 4 hours had become my goal. I wasn’t looking at my splits or my Garmin. Man, the desire to walk was brutal the last four miles. Passing over mile 21, I picked up a running partner and ran with him for 3 miles. He mentioned that this was his 43rd marathon this year. He was working his way to finishing a marathon in every state. He admitted coming to this race very tired…Ya Think? Anyway, he was a nice guy and it passed the time to talk. By the time I got to mile 22, I rebounded some. My sense of humor returned and hopefully I entertained some volunteers with my dry humor. They kindly laughed, I think. I was borderline hallucinating at that point.
My pace was in the mid 7:30s while running but slowed with my 15-20sec walk breaks at the aid stations. I didn’t even know my overall time until the 25.2 mile marker. The guy called out 3:14+. Just had to run the last mile in under 11 mins to go under 3:25. Fortunately, destiny smiled, and I was able to keep the legs turning over and finished in 3:22:21. No cramps until I saw my wife and son at the finish. As I passed them, Clark Griswold racing his son to the Walley World entrance jumped into my head. So I proceeded to exaggerate my stride in famous Griswold fashion. Yep…you guessed right. Hamstrings cramped into one solid muscle. Came to a complete stop literally 10feet from the finish line. I duck-walked finally over the chipping mat. Thanks to the catcher that helped me to my family. 3 bottles of water and a huge bottle of Gatorade later, I was sore as sh*t, but able to walk. I’d also qualified for the Boston Marathon again. Getting old has its benefits, qualifying with a sub 3:25.
Another great race. Always learning something new about myself. Ironman Florida marathon, I’m coming for you. I finished in 80th place. I was seeded 82th. So close to perfection. Thanks for reading my musings this year. Look for my 2012 year in review post and my 2013 new year’s resolutions.