Thursday, June 7, 2007

Martian Marathon

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 2; 4th Edition
96.4 miles raced
Race: Martian Marathon
Place: Novi, MI
Miles from home: 520
Course Difficulty: 6 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 5 out of 10
Weather: 50-60s, overcast
Finishers' Medal: 7.5 out of 10

Just one week removed from the National Half Marathon, I found myself in Michigan to knock off one of the states on my list to complete all 50 states. While a nice little goal, hitting all 50 states is not really the biggest goal on my mind these days. However, cheap airfare, a low registration fee and free room and board were difficult to bypass. In addition, this race also has many ties to people I had a chance to encounter last year and was also on my list of races before cheaper races came along. So running the Martian Marathon was added to my list just a few months ago when I remembered it was there.

Why is it called the Martian Marathon? At my time of writing this I am unsure. However, when I posed the question to the running boards on the internet, I got the following response:

Randy Step, the race organizer, is a fun, interesting guy who is just a little bit nutty. He owns 3 local running stores and is a big supporter of the local running community. Last year the race was also run on April 1, like this year, but for all the previous years, it was run in March, which Randy proclaims is the month of Mars. Me-thinks the whole Martian idea was cooked up when consuming several adult beverages after a tough trail run. The whole "Martian" thing gets bigger every year. Like the addition of the 50 or so inflatable Martians that guided you to package pickup. (I bought a 48 inch one that is seated at my kitchen table right now!)

So there you go. No real need for any more explanation that that, right?

Surprisingly, I have no complaints about the airline industry on this trip, mostly because it was a direct flight but also because I did not purchase a thesaurus to find new ways to express my distaste. (How can it be heightened security if it has been at the same level for five years? It is like a mattress store having always having its mattresses "on sale". Sorry, that is their "price". But I digress.) If anything, like a good referee or offensive lineman, I can say that I did not notice the airlines this time, which is usually a very good thing.

The Course:

It was hard to get a read on the course in the days approaching the race, as it has changed a variety of times in the past few years. This can either be interpreted as unease amongst the race director or a response to constructive criticism from runners. I am pretty sure it was the latter as the RD seems to be a pretty responsive chap.
If anything, the course looked like a decently flat course with some rolling hills. Running it did not change much of that opinion except for the fact that, on the way back of this out and back course, the downhills we obviously ran seemed to be far less of a help than the uphills. But no major complaints. It was challenging without being too hard.

Look below for the course elevation (with its odd-ass random numbers on the left):

My race: 1st half:

I started off from the get go with the intention of running a 2:55 which would be almost a 5 minute personal best. As I have been reminded of constantly, I have not been specifically training for a marathon and really have not given myself proper rest to try and set large drops in time. I disagree. I think it is possible to train for a half-marathon, marathon, 50k and 100 miler at the same time. Granted, I do agree that even if I set a marathon personal best, chances are that I could do far better. Whatever time I set could probably come down a great deal with more rest and focused training. However, as I have stated repeatedly, I am never going to be an elite runner. Why should I put so much effort into one particular race or one distance when there is so much out there in life to enjoy? I have not even got to triathlons, adventure racing or anything else.

So while I continue to push the boundaries of what my body can handle, I also have to become a little deaf to the statements of others telling me what I should do.
Now, I have only run one sub-3 hour marathon before in my life. It was an amazing feeling. I was unable to obtain it again throughout Fiddy2 even though I had several close calls. But I felt I had it in me this day (or deluded myself enough to think I might). I knew a pace 6:40 miles would get me this goal, so I decided I would run that pace as long as I could. Almost immediately, I found myself running next to a tiny little girl who I noticed was also running the full (same color bib number). Given the plethora of half marathoners surrounding us I figured she might be the elite runner that was listed on the website. I was correct. Through a few questions, I found out that this was her third marathon and she too was planning on running 6:40s. So we decided to work together. Natalie was her name (which will be very coincidental as you will see) and she had a PR of 2:52. This was the definitely the girl to hang with, in spite of her continued comments about being worried about her conditioning.

A few miles in and we had a good caravan surrounding us. Gabe, Dan, Rich, Natalie and I began to tick off the miles together. Since we were running together I felt like the ring master and decided to break everyone out of their silence by asking questions. Dan was the only one running the half-marathon (in training for Boston) but we all exchanged pleasantries. Before a few miles passed, Rich hit the bathroom and we lost Dan at his turn-around point. Gabe, Nat and I then began working as a three-legged machine. Gabe, a triathlete running his first marathon-only event in years, also had his wife running the race as well (a little ways back). Mile after mile we were consistently hitting under 6:40s, building a little bank of time. Not much, but about 20 seconds or so and we never felt like we were pushing. Everyone was feeling good. I was glad because I do not believe in "banking" time. My comment that you can lose a bank of 30 seconds in one mile was definitely one tinged with foreshadowing.

I hit the halfway mark at 1:26:20 which, barring last week's new half marathon best, would have beat my previous half-marathon time by 30 seconds. Not too shabby. I felt the 2:55 was in hand but wanted to still respect the distance.

Miles 13.1-16:

Continuing to feel great we churned out 6:36s for the next three miles, building our time gap even greater. I saw Kathy (my host for the weekend) a few times and she loudly cheered and took a little video for the archives. Gabe and Nat opened up about a one second lead on me heading into the 16th mile and I felt a little rushed. This makes sense as we crossed the 16th mile in 6:29. As great as running companions as they were, I knew that was too fast for me and decided I needed to fall back and run my own race.

Miles 17-20:

Gabe and Nat continued to open a lead on me but I was fine with that. I knew I only needed to run my own race to set a personal best. I was pretty sure I still had the 2:55 in me as well. That is, until I ran a 6:42, 6:52, and 7:07. Crap. Just like that, the bank of time had been depleted. The hills, which never seemed to be of much help on the way out (and to be honest were not that bad) did seem to be far worse coming home. One guy passed me going down a hill and I tried to use him as a new pace setter but he had more energy than me. I had to let him go. I know when I cannot hang with someone on a downhill that I need to race smart. Something is not right (I had a side stitch since mile 14 but it never really caused any serious trouble. I think it was just a warning side of things to come, however).

Miles 21-25:

Another 7:07 and then a 7:28 and a 7:34 had me panicking. I had no idea what was happening. I was hemorrhaging time and could not stop the bleeding. At mile 23, in the middle of the mile, I just stopped and walked. This is a trick I have used before to gain a little peace of mind and rest the legs for a few seconds, often to great success. I could only hope that doing so here would bandage my time wound. As I stopped, I heard footsteps and another guy passed me. Wearing my exact brand of shoes. (Just to insult me, I think).

I rested again at mile 24 at an aid station and even, incredibly at mile 25. But two 8:00+ minute miles were the only result. I was so peeved. That was nearly 3 minutes worth of lost time in 2 miles. Not good at all.

Right before mile 25, I saw Gabe fly past me ahead going the opposite direction. I crested a hill and realized there was a left turn for the marathoners which took us along the outskirts of a parking lot. Natalie was now coming at me and I could see I had a long ways to go before I turned myself to head back. This was psychologically hard and I really just wanted to turn around where I was and head back!
But I pushed forward and hit the turn. As I did I found out I had two guys right on me heels. I tried turning on the wheels but there was nothing to fuel them. My watch told me that a PR was probably not going to happen. Neither was a sub-3. I swore. Out loud.


As I said, I hit the last aid station, grabbed a drink of water and walked for a good 5-10 seconds. I knew it was paramount to any last push that I wanted to make but it hurt to lose that time. Around a bend I ran, up a small hill, and around another small corner put me on the final stretch. We were finally on the road that we had started on and I could see the finish line in the distance. Unfortunately, I could also see the mile 26 marker in the distance as well and it was too far away for my liking. At a 7 minute mile pace, that last .2 from mile 26 to the finish would take me 1:24. I saw I had about 1:20 or less and it had been 4 miles since I had run a 7 minute mile. This did not bode well for me.

I took everything I had in my person and put it into my legs. I could tell something was churning in my stomach but only hoped it would hold off for 90 seconds. The clock appeared ahead in the slight hazy morning. 2:59:29. Always deceptive, the clocks tick off time far faster than you think it could would it finally comes into sight.

2:59:39. How am I not done? Didn't I see the clock?

2:59:49. There goes the PR (a 2:59:48). Did I even move forward at all?

The clock blinks at me with absolutely no pity as the seconds pass by. I slide underneath the awning and stamp as hard as I can on the timing mat. 2:59:58.

I grab my medal and collapse on the ground, more tired than I ever have been before. Someone comes over to me to check on me and I say I am fine (obviously this was someone who runs and knew the difference between a person needing medical attention and a person who has absolutely no energy left to move). After a long minute or so, I roll onto my stomach, push myself up and meander like a drunken cowboy to the person removing timing chips. I look down. No chip.

"Where's my chip?!" I say in a hushed horrified whisper as I feel the contents of my stomach quickly rising upward. "We took it off when you were laying down," one volunteer says. Somehow, my small breakfast takes a turn south and stays put.

(Side note: Kathy was able to get some video footage of me crossing the finish line and it reminded me of some things I have seen a few times in race pictures. If you are unfamiliar with the chip system, what it does is wonderful. Allowing your own personal time to not start until you cross an electronic mat placed on the ground at the start, this alleviates a runner in the back from having a largely skewed time due to how long it takes that runner to cross the start line. Pure genius and barely 13 years old. Yet rarely are chip times official times. Winners are often declared by the official clock time. In the video Kathy took, I passed under the finish line at 2:59:58. Given it took me about 1-2 seconds to start the race, my time should be a 2:59:56 or :57. However, my official time was 2:59:59 and my chip time was 2:59:58. What bothers me is I have seen this in other race photos or videos. Normally it does not matter much. However, in a circumstance like this, one more second would have meant a 3 hour race for me. I wonder how often this might have kept someone else from getting the "time" they knew they had. Just curious.)

I missed two major goals for this race and I am, of course, disappointed in that. To lose so much time in the last 10k is just soul-crushing (even though that is really where the marathon begins). But it would be nothing compared to what two more seconds would have done to my psyche. Therefore, I am indeed proud of my effort. I have now conquered the sub-3 hour time limit again (and as I alluded to earlier, the first and only other time I did so, I ran a good 13 miles with an elite woman named Natalie. Go figure!) and I now no it was not a fluke.
But now, I definitely need to run the Ocean City Half Marathon for personal vindication and also to obtain an automatic NYC Marathon qualifying time. This Saturday, I go for a sub-1:23 on a short week of rest. Logic says after PRing in the half and then running my second fastest full ever in a one week span should not leave me with much of a chance to drop even more time off of my half personal best and hit a 1:23. This is why I will actually be pushing for a sub-1:20.

1 comment:

klottey4 said...

It was really fun for you to get to see my "home" and meet my fam. You did a fabulous job on the marathon. Why are you posting old recaps?