A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 3rd Edition
58.6 miles raced in 2008
Race: National Marathon
Place: Washington, DC
Miles from home: 2089 miles (weird that DC is that far from my new “home”)
Weather: 30s. Sunny. Windy
I experienced a feeling in the week before this marathon that I have not for quite some time: nervousness. Having run 73 lifetime marathons, I still felt a sense of trepidation before the start of the 74th. Granted, this feeling was not necessarily of the “Can I finish this race?” ilk as I knew that was not going to be a problem (hopefully, at least). But mainly the feeling of slight dread was present because I was setting my sights on previously uncharted territory: a marathon in the 2:40s. Let me be perfectly clear, a 2:49:59 is IN the 2:40s and that was what I was shooting for in the National Marathon on the last Saturday in March in our nation’s capitol.
Some feelings of uneasiness were also aroused for various other reasons. First of all, I have only run one marathon in the past five months. My only foray in the 42 kilometer distance since the Marine Corps Marathon in October had been the impromptu race in Carlsbad in January. While I had added some pressure to myself by signing up to be the pace group leader for the 3:10 group, I knew I had no problem running that time. Even with the 52 marathons in one year bringing all sorts of my average marathon time down, 31% of all my lifetime marathons have been in that Boston-qualifying range. But this would be my first time racing in 5 months. That sort of lay-off gives one plenty of time to think. I am pretty sure I don’t want to do it again anytime soon.
In addition, I have moved from Arlington, VA to Salt Lake City. While the added elevation should help my training, of the 8 weeks I have received mail at 84105, I have only spent half that time living there. And it was not consecutively. In that two-month span I have been to Phoenix and Atlanta before actually going to DC. With a very successful speaking tour in the greater DC area, combined with sundry other job duties, this was not exactly the taper and resting week one would prefer going into a race.
Finally, I knew the course was far from easy. Not exactly hard but some hills would definitely make this a challenge.
All of these things had me toeing the line on race day feeling a little nervous. A long wait in the bathroom line aborted 5 minutes before race time when I realized that I would not make it in and out before the gun did not help. I finally had to call it quits and just run to the race start line. (But not before a pitstop in the bushes.)
In the brief seconds I had before the race started I saw many a familiar face. Most were surprised to see me and I got many "I thought you moved!"s. I saw Luke Merkel, a young chap and a heckuva a runner who set his previous personal best in a marathon at last year’s race (2:48 and change). We chatted for a bit and realized we were going to be running close to the same pace at the start. So when the gun sounded we decided to stick together.
I knew eventually Luke would peel off as we had a goal differential of a few minutes. My aimed-for pace was going to be a 6:29 minute mile, his about 5 seconds faster. Needless to say, the 6:16 we ran in the first mile was not what either of us wanted. Nor the 6:17 and 6:18 that followed. Here I bid Luke and other familiar face, Max Lockwood, farewell and forcibly slowed my pace. (Luke went on to a huge PR himself in the 2:44 range.)
Missing the fourth mile marker I only could tell at the start of mile five that I was back on pace. After leaving the familiar scenes of DC proper behind (Washington Monument, White House, et. al) we began the biggest climb of the day. Roughly three miles of hill through the heart of DC helped bring my pace back to where I wanted it. DC is always asleep on weekend mornings but I have to say I was rather disappointed with the turnout of spectators. Most people just needed to step outside their door to cheer runners as we raced through their neighborhoods but few bothered. Those who did, however, were very vocal and greatly appreciated. A few friends surprised me with hellos (Hi Adina, Elizabeth, Laura, Mike, Elyse and others!) and the band near Howard University was a very nice touch.
Next up was a long, straight slight downhill down North Capitol street with the Capitol building looming in the distance. DC’s finest patrolled every street and kept traffic at bay: no small feat, that is for sure. I thanked every officer I could until winded breath later had me nearly waving thanks. I hope they all know how much we appreciate their efforts.
As we neared the halfway point, a few halfers showed their final sprints and passed me from behind. One chapped passed me three times. Yep, he would sprint like a madman and then walk like a dying man. I hope his last sprint carried him past the finish line.
As the halfers peeled off to finish, I hung a left to traverse the empty desolate parking lot. I say desolate because there was NO ONE around me. I turned a corner and looked back and saw no one. I peered forward into the distance and saw no one. The very cheerful Red Bull people standing at my halfway point were the only warm bodies to be seen. As I hit this section at 1:23:55 I was quite excited. That is only 30 seconds slower than my half-marathon best. I felt great and was ready to rock.
(N.B. I also hit this section after an easy quarter of a mile detour when the volunteers thought I was a half marathoner and directed me toward the finish. Only when I realized this was wrong and asked where the marathoners go was I able to backtrack and find the right course. I was upset.)
For the next 3 or 4 miles I was running completely alone. There were no half marathoners around me, no marathoners I could see to track down, scant spectators and just this eerie feeling of running through the city streets when I should not have been. Have you ever seen Vanilla Sky when Tom Cruise runs into an empty Times Square? That is what I felt like.
I had somehow missed both of my good friends Diana and Anne at the half (who were there to spectate) so I was hoping they weren't worried about me.
Finally, around mile 16 I could see a solo runner in the distance. I set my sights on tracking him down. Once into the touristy part of DC again I had to dodge a few people out for their sight seeing tour and at one point needed to shout a quick and loud "Runner Here!" at some pedestrian crossing a street right in front of me wearing an ipod. As she jumped back I got a little bit of glee.
Around mile 18 a runner passed me. I had been tracking down the runner in front of me for so long I had not been paying attention to anything behind me (which is the way it should be). For the next 5 miles I would stay with this gentleman as he was running at or near the pace I wanted to run. Without a doubt he pulled me through a few miles that I might have run slower than I wanted. Passing runners often makes you feel you are running faster than you are when it may just be the other runner who has slowed. That was definitely the case here.
What I have not mentioned until this point was the wind on race day. While the temperature was a little cooler than most of us would have found ideal, it was not bad. However, there was a fair amount of wind that, in certain places, was rather difficult to run through. This was nowhere more evident than in the miles starting at 22.
Prior to that, at mile 20, I saw that in order to get a sub 2:50 I needed to run a 41:30 final 10k. Not impossible but not easy. The next few miles made it much more difficult, however. Following my pacer-of-sorts, we both knocked off another runner. I was pretty sure this put me in 19th place but I did not care one bit about that. My only goal for this race was time-related and as we ran north on the Anacostia River the wind was making that a difficult prospect. 6:41 and 6:44 miles ate away at any cushion I had. At mile 23 I saw I had 21:30 to run the last 5k. Then I realize that there was an extra .1 to tack onto that 5k. Doesn’t sound like much until you realize at a 6:30 pace that is close to another 45 seconds.
Then the time slipped away. Mile 23-24 was the hardest mile on the course as the wind stayed steady and the hills popped up. At the top of a larger hill runners went around a bend to the left. The water table was all the way on the right. I was thirsty but I was not running around that huge bend to get the liquid.
I received a few emails from people after the race who said they saw me on the news. The reason they saw me on the news was because the local NBC affiliate was interviewing the person who I am guessing was in charge of the water stop right before Mile 24. Was I waaaay in the background when this happened? Nope. I was about 5 feet away. Why? Because apparently the news anchor thought the MIDDLE OF THE ROAD was the ideal place to conduct said interview. "Boy, did you look pissed!" was one comment I received as I swerved around the crew who never once even noticed a runner going by them.
But if I had known this mile was going to be a 7:01, I might not have even cared. I knew I was seeping energy like a sieve and if that mile was 31 seconds off the pace, who knew what the next would be. It turned out to be a 7:10. Well, crap.
Resisting the urge to walk I pushed on. With about half a mile to go a runner passed me. He had probably been tracking me for quite some time and seeing me falter probably gave him the boost I so often love to get. I tried to stay with him but realized I did not have the gears. I let him go and focused on finishing.
Up the last sadistic hill I ran and luckily had a race volunteer tell me to "Watch out for that car!" How a car had gotten onto the narrow access road right before the last .1 of a mile is beyond me but the police were frantically trying to direct this Mazda out of the damn way. I am sure the poor confused driver did not mean to be a pain in the ass but as I shimmied my body between it and the curb, I could not care less about their intentions. Another foot closer and I would have bashed its hood.
Cheers I could not hear from many friends emanated from the crowd. I was focusing on the clock. No way I was running a 2:52. My final one-gloved push got me in just under that at 2:51:49, nearly a four-minute PR and a 20th overall finishing place.. (Video of my finish HERE. That siren you hear is Diana's "wooooooooooooooo!")
As I as handed my medal and mylar blanket, I dodged two men dressed as a naval vessel (they had ran just the half; if they had beat me in the marathon I would have never run again) and staggered to a sideline fence. Anne and Diana were there and they were soon joined by Kristin, Christine and Fran. It was all I could do to lean on the fence as words could not even be formed. I was beat. Medics cautiously approached but were waved away. I finally gathered my things, walked around the fence and joined my friends where I promptly sat down and was as tired as I have been in a long time.
Soon my massage therapist Terrel Hale appeared out of nowhere and corralled me to a table for a post-race rub-down. Even as I am little stiffed legged today, I know how much worse I would have been if not for this. You kick butt, Terrel. Sorry for the eyes closes shot Terrel but I don't look any better!
All in all it was a good race but not a great race. I can see there is much room for personal improvement and improvement that will happen soon. My next race takes me to Boston but I know I will not be gunning for a personal best there (and I will explain why soon). But without a doubt, by June I will be well into the 2:40s.
Thanks to all my friends who came out and supported me. As you all know I will be back in May for another leg of my speaking tour and I can only hope I get to see more of you then.
Here are uber-supporters Anne and Diana. They rock. Diana felt bad when her sign was outclassed by a 6 year-old's somewhere else but I said it is the thought that counts.
I did not get a shot with Christine who made the whole trek from Alexandria via metro (yuck!) which was a bummer. Thanks anyway! Great seeing you.
For the overall winner, my fellow running club member Mike Wardian won for the third straight time in just under 2:25. Smoking fast.
Now I go on the road again for two more weeks of work. My next planned race is the Boston Marathon. Stay tuned here for my news about that. It is a doozy.