117.9 miles raced in 2011
Race: Cowtown Marathon
Place: Fort Worth, TX
Miles from home: 1218 miles
Weather: 65 degrees; HUMID
As a fella obsessed with numbers, the Cowtown Marathon presented a milestone for me. As my 128th lifetime marathon, this race signified that I would have finally run as many marathons post-Fiddy2 as I had when I finished that excursion. With 12 marathons prior to the 52 Marathons, I had 64 done by the end of 2006. If I was able to stumble across the finish line at the Will Rogers Memorial Center, I would have done 64 more since then.
My average for those first 64 marathons? 3:22:08 (This includes a 5:17 marathon at Leadville.)
My average for the next 63? 3:14:10 (This too includes a Leadville marathon as well as a Pikes Peak Marathon and a stumbling-forward-with-food-poisoning-marathon in China in 2007.)
What does this all mean? Doesn’t really matter, actually. I just like numbers. Which is why I had my eye on this particular race for quite some time. Two years ago I had been at the Cowtown Marathon but had not run it as the next day I was taking part in my first USATF Championship race (a 50k which I had one of the better races of my life and took 10th overall.) I was so impressed with what I saw at Cowtown that I came back last year and actually ran it as one of my final tune-up races before my solo 202 miler. This year, with a brand new course and lots of changes installed I was happy to be back again. Given there is an ultra option always available chances are good I will be back again next year taking part in that. But I had to get through this race first.
As is almost a 100% guarantee in the days prior to the race, I spoke to many runners who were either running their first race or nervous or both. Many assume I no longer have butterflies in my stomach given the number of races under my shoes. Nothing could be further from the truth. I may not get nervous about that which I do not know any more but there is plenty I know which gives me quite a fair amount of pause. One of the things I do know is how poorly my body adapts to humidity and unfortunately, race morning called for heaping amounts of that.
First 10K: 6:30, 6:47, 6:54, 6:43, 6:50, 6:51
At the start of the race, I ran into my friend John Anders, one heck of a runner, who celebrated his 46th birthday the day prior. John routinely runs stellar marathon times seemingly only as training runners for the 17 lifetime Ironmans he has done. I had last seen John at the Mississippi Blues Marathon in January where he was running that race and then the First Light Marathon the next day (a double I had done for the first time just last year.) Having been lucky enough to best him in the Blues Marathon, I pulled our head-to-head match-ups to 3-2 (in his favor). This race today could either tie it or have John begin to once again put distance in between us.
When the gun fired, I, as always, wondered how certain people got into the number corrals and why oh why oh why someone would want to get passed by enormous amounts of people by lining up in the incorrect corral. John was curious about the same thing but we did not have time to discuss it as we were separated trying to weave our way through the masses. I guess we could have elbowed our way to the front but I guess we both felt this was not an “A” race for us so there did not need to be any rush to be directly on the line.
As we headed down the first mile I felt a rock in my shoe. I tried to shake it out but to no avail. So before even the first mile was over I had to pull out and take the shoe off. Even with this pause, my first mile was far too fast. It was actually surprising since I felt so poorly. I had a thought in my mind prior to the race that perhaps I could knock out a 2:57. However a few miles in I could tell I simply did not have it in me on this day. I decided that perhaps a sub-3 would have to suffice.
Around mile 3 as I settled into a groove John appeared by my side. We began talking and running and trying to simply enjoy the day. John mentioned how it was pretty ridiculously humid right as we passed a cemetery. I was about to make a quip about how I already did not feel so great until a spectator beat me to it. “CEMETERY AHEAD. LOOK ALIVE!” the sign in their hand read. We both got a chuckle out of that.
At mile 4 I couldn’t believe I had to but the days humidity necessitated that I pull my singlet off my body, twist it up and wring out sweat like it was a dishtowel. John was aghast. I told him he was my witness if anyone ever doubted how much I sweat and how little shot I have of finishing a race when it gets hot and humid. He told me how would have to get the next wring on the flipcam he was carrying. I told him we did not wish to gross out his viewers.
About a mile later I was struck with the desire to use the bathroom so ferociously that I had to pull over and duck behind a fence. These bathroom breaks are always annoying but on a day when you know you are already going to struggle a bit to the finish they add a little more pain. Still ahead of sub-3 hour pace, when I popped out of the bushes I almost ran smack dab into a horde of runners. Some were obviously shooting for sub-3 in the marathon but most were part of a huge pack of sub-1:30 half marathoners. I quickly pulled away from them and tried, probably in too short of a distance, to catch up to John. I figured I ran the equivalent of a 6:20 mile just to make up the distance lost while stopped.
At mile 6 we passed through the Fort Worth Stockyards, a historic section of Fort Worth which has been updated to contain eateries and shopping. Lots of fans were here to cheer us on as we ran down the brick streets. In front of us we could see that the course made a quick acute angle turn to the left before making another turn to the right. However, directly at the end of the road we were running on lay a staircase with about 30 steps. I said that we should be allowed to decide if we wanted to cut 50 yards off of the course and instead tackle a stair workout in the middle of a race. John smiled (I can honestly say I have never heard John, a very friendly and genial man, mutter a giggle much less a full laugh. He is either always soft-spoken or I am simply not fun. Or both.)
To the Half: 6:46, 6:46, 6:51, 7:11, 7:06, 7:06, 6:57
The next few miles flew by. Even though they were not particularly fast we both were surprised whenever the mile marker appeared. I noticed my shoe was coming untied and had to pull over quickly to double-knot it again. We knew the biggest hill of the course by far was at mile nine. A long 1.5 mile straightaway sprawled in front of us with the Tarrant County Courthouse at the end. An old stone building which just simply breathed Texas-style, the courthouse gave us something to focus on as we trudged up the hill. Finally getting to the top, I was a little bummed to have run out first mile over 7 minutes of the day but given the length of the hill and the fact that I had all but conceded a sub-3 hour finish was not going to happen, I wasn’t too displeased.
A little after the 10th mile I saw representatives of the Texas Beef council snapping pictures and cheering on runners. After a couple of high fives, which I swear transfer energy to runners through some sort of osmosis, John and I cruised on.
Here we began a slight cat and mouse with one runner who would pull out of front of us by a few meters and then fall back behind us. John and I were running fairly even paced miles so we wondered why this runner was surging and fading. Suddenly another runner materialized right behind us and by “right behind us” I mean he could have pickpockets the PowerGel on John’s belt. In fact, at one point he stepped on the back of John’s shoe and almost gave him a flat. About half of a mile later I started telling John of a story about my last marathon in Texas where I had been running with a girl who was running the half when I was doing the full. I could tell another female was using me for purposes of drafting and pacing and even though I had only known the new friend for about three miles, it was like she was trying to steal from MY friend. So I told her in a small voice to simply follow me and we proceeded to lay down a blistering quarter of a mile. The friend asked why I did that and I told her I wanted to see if the shadow would follow, which she didn’t. Soon thereafter John and I’s own shadow pulled ahead and got behind another group of runners and attached himself to them. John asked me if my story was for the benefit of the guy behind us to get him off our butts, I nodded and said I felt it was much more polite them telling him the back the hell off. John laughed!
And while I still did not feel well (my stomach churned even with just the water I was taking, let alone anything with any flavor or calories) the miles still passed by quickly. I told John to remind me I said that at mile 19 when I was on the verge of collapse.
We hit the half at 1:30:09. I said that felt just fine but there was no way another 1:30 was following it.
Off to mile 20: 7:09, 7:09, 7:12, 7:09, 7:17, 7:12, 7:09
At this point in the race, we began running through neighborhoods with some fairly nice houses. Pockets of spectators were out and were pretty vocal even if they were fewer in number than they could be. We talked about how if we ever had a marathon run past our house how we would be out in full-force cheering the runners on – if we weren’t actually running the race, that is. But those who were out were indeed very much full of energy and made us feel good. John and I were feeling fairly good and as we were not redlining, were carrying on a full conversation. Passing a group of spectators they gasped, “Those two were talking like they are just out for a stroll.” If only they could see us at mile 23.
Then my shoelace became untied again. Rookie mistakes like this can really kill the psyche and I have no idea how the double knots became untied. Just for good measure I redid the other shoe as well. Now John was a solid 100 meters in front of me and as I did not want to lose touch with him I turned on the motors to catch him as quickly as possible. This was probably a bad idea.
As we neared the 16th mile I realized I had used up too much energy too quickly. I told John he was faring far better than I was and I needed to back off the pace. He soon regained that 100 meters again but that is where he stayed for the next three miles. As my miles were not particularly slowing at all during this 5k, I was impressed by how strong John looked and how he had already passed a runner or two in the process. I was a little angry that I wasn’t up their battling as well but the marathon is a race you must run with your head. With basically 3 straight months of weekly races in front of me, dying today was not a good idea. So I held steady. By doing so, Mr. Cat and Mouse was soon able to pass me right after mile 19. In spite of this setback, a 3:03 or so looked pretty attainable.
My 20th mile felt wonderful. I thought for sure I had gained a second wind and would soon be battling for one of the top ten spots with John. I was mistaken.
7:26, 7:31, 8:15, 8:39, 8:23, 8:25, 2:00
Almost as quickly as I felt great I began to feel awful. My next two miles both included me trying to take in fluid but almost upchucking it back up on the course. At mile 22, one of the last hills on the course, I was forced to the side of the road to do a little dry heaving. A mile later, the female leader passed me just as I did another yucky “Bleeech” noise with nothing coming up. “My bad,” I said and she just gave me a wave of her hand as if to say “been there, done that. No problem at all.”
Around mile 24, I ran underneath the underpass of Route 30 and just came to a dead stop. The cool darkness underneath felt so wonderful. As humid as it was, we were all very lucky to have run virtually the entire race under the cover of cloud. I used this little stop to double as a bathroom break and was shocked at my output. If you are surprised that runners are so candid about their bodily functions, you obviously have not been around one for more than about 15 minutes. What I saw gave me great pause as it was definitely not the color it needed to be for a healthy body. I moved forward almost simply because I needed to get fluid in me immediately and staying here would not get that done. At the next aid station I drank copious amounts of energy drink and took two more glasses with me as I walked on by. I did not care that I was losing a great deal of time by walking or that another runner had passed me. This was about making sure I finished the race entirely.
My math skills had not eroded so much to make me not realize I still had an outside shot at getting another Boston Qualifying time. Just as I started running again, another runner passed me. With one mile left I was in no shape to begin a duel for whatever place it would be that we would place but I used him to pull me along.
Coming out of the Trinity Park area I could not have been more glad that I was not one of the ultra runners who got to watch us pull away at mile 25 when they still had 6 more to go. I told one of them who I was passing that he was an animal and he relied he definitely wished he was going where I was going. With the course changes this had been about mile 22 or so last year and I could not have been happier that the end was near.
I powered up one last hill, saw the half marathoners joining the course in front of me and knew I was nearing the finish. I sucked it up and at least looked like I was enjoying myself at I was the 19th person to cross the finish line in a time of 3:10:30 (My eventual place would be 20th as one runner who finished behind me had a faster chip time). John ended up running a fantastic 3:02:21 for 10th place overall. Great stuff, John!
When I finished, I sat down and waited for my good friend, Shannon. She was attempting her second double of the year. After having to wisely pull out at mile 19 of the RnR AZ race when her body more or less shut down, she was understandably nervous about running a marathon in Myrtle Beach last weekend and then another here in fort worth. Even more nervous? Me! But I barely had time to walk through the extremely cordial line of volunteers who efficiently passed out a plethora of goodies (including ice cream which was just so darn wonderful) and head back to the finish area before lo and behold there she was!
Finishing 22nd overall for the women and running her fourth fastest marathon ever (just one week after her 6th) Shannon looked totally fresh as she motored by half-marathoners and marathoners alike. In fact, over the last 7.5 miles, while only one single solitary runner passed her, she passed 63 people! I did not know if I was more shocked at how well she did or that she seemed to actually listen to my advice for once!
Still dealing with how to change her diet since a gluten intolerance has made her not process iron very well, Shannon was proud, as was I, to be part of the huge Texas Beef Running Team. At a dinner the night prior to the race we heard stories from runners of all shapes and sizes and speeds which were inspiring to say the least. This happens to be the case at almost every race I go to and it never gets old. People who challenge themselves and refuse to let what may not be possible get in the way of what they wish to do anyway.
Kudos to everyone who ignores the impossible.