Saturday, April 11, 2009

Illinois Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 6th Edition
139 miles raced in 2009

Race: Illinois marathon
Place: Champaign - Urbana, IL
Miles from home: 1415 miles
Weather: 30-40s; breezy

68 Days?! Has it really been 68 days since I last ran a marathon? (And no, the 50k I ran in March is not a marathon - it is a 50k. I will argue this with anyone.) Even with the time in between marathons, I will not say I was nervous per se but when it hit me it had been over two months since I toed the line for this distance I was, at the very least surprised. Of my 90 lifetime marathons, only 8 had been done with that much "rest" in between them.

So, on one hand I was fortunate enough to not being racing, so there were no nerves in that area. But on the other hand I was pacing the 3:10 group at the Illinois Marathon, and as I take this responsibility very seriously this was not going to be a walk in the park (even though we went through one!)

On the days before the race, I had the always great pleasure of speaking with Dick Beardsley and Bart Yasso. There probably isn't a person on the planet who doesn't like Dick so it is never a bragging moment to say he greeted me with a smile. Nevertheless, I consider him a friend and was pleased to spend time with him. I actually had him call my friend Christine and leave a message on her voicemail. Christine has now received phone calls from Bill Rodgers and Dick Beardsley because of me. I hope she is saving her voice mails!

While I do not know Bart as well as I do Dick, fellow Pennsylvania boys stick together and his presence at the dinner for a few of the staff and marathon participants was indeed enjoyable. He shared some funny stories at dinner about the remodeling of his home and along with another notable speaker at the race, Coach GP.

I spent the day before the race working the pacing booth for a few hours and then joining Joe Moreno, the Quad Cities Marathon race director at his booth to promote his race and sign copies of See Dane Run.

Joe may win the Pulitzer Prize one day but will probably eternally be remembered as the guy who used his truck to block a railroad train which threatened to screw up runners during his marathon. I am not making this up. Look. And of the irony of ironies, the winner of that race in 2005 was my roommate at the Des Moines Marathon last year! (On a side note, when we spoke a few days before the event, Joe just happened to be passing near a train which tooted its whistle in the background. "Conducting a race?" I asked him.)

As usual I ran into many friends and acquaintances and made many new ones at the expo. None was more pleasing to spend time with then fellow law school soon-to-be-grad (only one more year!) Marley. A great smile and a wonderful personality, there is no doubting that Marley will go far. She thoroughly enjoyed herself in the half-marathon the next day and sent me this picture as a keepsake!

After a great expo day in a completely renovated exercise facilitated at the University of Illinois (it was a fantastic building that I hope the students really appreciate), it was time for a good night's sleep at my host Jan Seeley's house, who is one of the creators of Marathon & Beyond magazine. If you aren't a subscriber, you should be (and if you tell them I sent you, I get a free issue added to my own subscription!)

Race Day
After a very cold and blustery day on Friday, Saturday broke with clear skies and still a little bit of nip in the air. The wind died down, however, and with no clouds, we new the sun would heat us up properly. As I introduced myself to the mass of people settling in behind me in the crowd, gathered towards me no doubt because of the 3:10 sign I held attached to a three-foot dowel rod, the energy was palpable.

I met a few runners who I had spoken to on numerous occasions on some running forums and was wonderful to put a face to a screen name. The sun warmed us even in the chilly morning and we were treated to a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the Illini Glee Club. For a first time race, every thing was pretty darn top-notch.

I gave my runners my instructions for how I would pace them and if they ran with me I would get them their coveted 3:10. Not counting the Run With the Horses Marathon, where both a wrong turn on the course and a race that started while I was in the john kept me from officially running a Boston Qualifying time, I had run sub 3:10 in 21 consecutive marathons. If you want to go back to my 3:10 pacing effort at the Des Moines Marathon during Fiddy2, I had gone sub 3:10 in 32 out of 38 marathons. My runners were in good hands (or is it feet?)

First 10k ( 7:03, 7:32, 7:16, 7:16, 7:00, 7:20): 45:00 (7:14.5 pace)

I had told my runners I was going to take them out slow the first mile to calm the jitters. when we passed the first mile in 7:03 I couldn't believe it. Then we found out that this was some phantom Mile 1 marker and the real one showed up about .1 of a mile later. As it was my task to run a 7:14 minute mile to help these people get their 3:10, I was quite pleased that almost every mile in the first 10k was spot on. Mile 5 was marked a little short which made the 6th mile a little long, so wen we hit the first 10k at exactly 45:00, my runners were quite pleased at the pacing so far.

There was a really nice section through a park that I feel needs some tweaking here. as the full and half marathoners run together for the first 10 plus mils, this section was pretty but a little too narrow to accommodate all the runners comfortably. Placing it later in the race where the crowds have thinned some would be better suited for the runners.

Regardless, the promised flat course was just that. Mile after mile of good roads and flat course provided my runners with the opportunity to just get into a groove and go.

Half-marathon: ( 7:09, 7:17, 7:12, 7:18, 7:29, 7:18, 7:18) 1:35:20 (7:16.3 pace)

As we wound through both Champaign and Urbana, it was really nice to see how well the towns were out and supporting the race. With it being Easter weekend the crowd turnout could have easily been 10 people. But even in a sleep cold morning with many college students home for the holiday, people were out in force. Blue and Orange balloons lined the course and many spectators made use of the courses layout to cheer runners on at multiple locations. We saw one lady on a bike no less than 5 times and smiled each time she cheered us on.

As we approached the point where the half-marathoners would peel off, I kept looking behind me at my pied piper group. I was just absolutely flabbergasted at how many people were falling in step behind me. No less than 40 people were huddled tight together, smartly using me as a windbreak against the swirling (but not horrific). I fully expected that when the split came I would lose 75% of these runners and our little marathoning group would be much more lonesome. But at the split, I still had 25 or 30 runners with me. I let out a whoop and told this group it was my favorite ever!

I had a few people running their first marathon ever and I really do my best to take those people under my wing. While I shout out general directions and offer advice as a whole (sometimes while turning around and running backwards - I am sure I will trip some day) these select few are the ones I really turn to and give the best I can. Anthony and Bruno were two of the first-timers running with me and I wished them the best. I also spent time talking to Bruce and Sean as well as Sergio and the lone woman in our little group, Amanda.

We hit the half-way mark just about dead-on and I told them to hang on. It was time to get serious.

Mile 20 (6:56, 7:12, 7:17, 7:16, 7:01, 7:16, 7:12) 2:24:47 (7:14.35)

I think being just a little behind our time spurred us on to a fast first mile out of the half-way point but I think also my advice to avoid the letdown that many runners feel after cresting the 13.1 mile mark also helped. We reeled it back in over the next few miles as my pacees stayed strong. Also at this point, a few runners who had stayed about 5 yards in front of us the while time had fallen into the group. This pleased me for a variety of reasons. First, if you are going to run with a group you might as well actually run WITH the group, not in front of it. You can use the energy of this mass and ride the swell. Second, some of these runners were cutting me off every once in a while and my usual competitive style would be to run behind them and leave them in the dust. Not a wise idea when you are pacing a group of 20 or more. So they made it harder for me to do my job which is hard enough as it is!

As we approached the big mile 20, I refused to let my runners think about that big marker. I broke our goals down into bite like segments. I have always dislike the notion of mile 20 being "The Wall". so much of a marathon is mental that if you think of this marker as significant and tiresome for many, chances are it will be so for you. I had my pacees do little mental exercises to keep them light in mind and in spirit even as the winds picked up in certain areas. (I know this because the sign I was carrying smacked me in the face a few times and actually cracked the dowel rod I was holding. I quickly broke the rod in half and now was carrying a much shorter sign!)

To the Finish (7:17, 7:18, 7:11, 7:14, 7:15, 7:15): 3:09:51 (7:15 pace)

With a still incredible 15-20 runners behind me as we went through mile 20 I was doing everything I could to extol my runners. Little hills and the wind were taking their toll. I had seen my friend Laurel on the course and she was so surprised to see me that she said :"Holy crap!" this got a good laugh out of the runners and I think lightened the mood for a few hundred yards. Laurel quickly snapped this picture with her phone. You can see how many runners were still plugging away.

You can see a fellow in yellow there and his name was Denny Jordan. A 57 year old Denny had been running with me when I paced the same group at Seattle Marathon last November. While he had fallen off the pace there with a 3:11, I am happy to report that he nailed it this time, running a 3:08! Go Denny!

Another mile went by and then another. My group was thinning. Some went ahead (like Denny, Ryan and Jason) and some fell behind. God, I hate losing runners like that. It was now me Andrea, Kevin, Bruno and Michael. I told them there was no way we were not finishing together.

Another mile or two and the Illini Stadium and the finish line looms. Bruno and Kevin take off, perhaps a little fearful that I may be a tad off in my calculations, perhaps just wishing to get done. I always want to jokingly say "Come back here and finish with me, damn it!" As we entered the stadium, Andrea also pulled ahead. in the last 50 yards, I have to admit I sped up some as well. But wanting them all to enjoy their (literal) moment in the sun, I fell back.

I fell back to the cheers and shouting of Coach GP over the loudspeaker as he urged those behind me to give that final push to make it under 3:11 (and get their Boston Qualifying time). As I hit the mat in 3:09:51 I turned around and saw four more of my pacees make it in under the time.

I quickly found Bruno who was running his first marathon and gave him the 3:10 sign. "You earned it buddy!" I said and patted him on the back.

Amanda ended up running a 7 minute personal best and taking 5th place overall. I could not have been more proud of her. As for all my other pacees I was unable to corral them all to get thier feedback but grapevine rumor says they were quite pleased with my leadership. few things could mmake me more happy and I hope they all had a nexcellent time. As my plane was not going to wait for me, I could not hang around afterward to locate them.

All told this was one well put-together race. The post race food of ziti and pizza was marvelous on a slightly chilly day. The course could use a tweak or two but no course out there could not do the same. The towns should be proud of the effort they put into making this a success and I think they are. Congrats to the race staff for doing so well.

Stats: (as I love them so much.)
25th Saturday Marathon
14th April Marathon
Avg Saturday Marathon time: 3:19:36 (3:14:41 if you removed one marathon [Leadville])
6th marathons run with a rest of 66-87 days
Avg time of marathons run with a rest of 66-87 days: 3:10:45

Next up: Salt Lake City Marathon in 6 days!


runamanda said...

Awesome job of pacing and report!! I need to pay you to come take me through a sub 3:00 in a couple weeks LOL, my pacer backed out.

Branton said...

Thanks for the recap. I just started reading your blog. I'm hoping to qualify for Boston with the 3:10 pace group in Chicago this fall. It's good to read about an event from the pacer's perspective.

Teresa said...

Awesome job on your race and pacing Dane! It's great that you could not only get yourself across in that time, but help others do it too.

Kevin "KonaKev" Kunkel said...

I'm the "Kevin" or "RAT" (My triathlon club name) mentioned in your post. I had hoped to run an even 7 min mile paced race. I really didn't know what to expect coming in in that I haven't run an open marathon in 5 years. When you guys caught up to me at mile 22 I knew running in with you in those winds would be my best hope for a good time. I'm glad I did. Dane, you did a phenomenal job pacing the 3:10 group--probably the best I've seen to date.

Daniel R. Grayson said...

Thanks for coming to Illinois, Dane! I hope you come next year, too! (We met at your booth and I bought your fine book.)

Dane said...

Which race, runamanda? :)


Glad you enjoyed it.


I love when I can give back!


I noticed the Reston on your shirt and wondered if if was Virginia. Appears it is! Thanks so much for your kind words.


Great to hear from you. The Graysons are well represented in Illinois!