Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fort Worth Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 13; 11th Edition 
126.96 miles run and 12.75 miles biked and 6409 meters swam in races in 2019 races
Race: Fort Worth Marathon
Place: Fort Worth, TX
Miles from home: 190
Weather: 50-60 degrees; bright sun; warm

I ran the Three Countries Marathon in Europe last month after thinking I wouldn't be able to do so as late as one day prior. Going from not being able to run at all to being disappointed I didn't get a time I wanted is something many runners can understand. Desiring to try to roll this training into another race, I looked around near me to find something that would fit. I found the Fort Worth Marathon three hours north of me and began to fervently watch the weather. Courses matter for running fast but weather matters more. When it looked like it was going to be fairly decent I pulled the trigger and registered.

The Course:

This race course is pretty simple and fairly easy. Two times around a basically a 6.5 mile out-and-back allows for runners to know what is in store for them the second loop and for spectators with knowledge of the area, an opportunity to cheer in multiple places. I know the latter is possible as I saw more than a few fans at locations all around the course. Or, heck, if you stayed in one place you could see the start, the runners pass on the other side of the West Fork of the Trinity River a mile later, the halfway point, a mile after that, and then the finish.

The vast majority of the course is run on a bike path that is not closed to pedestrians. I say that simply because you can't expect it to be free of everyone. It mostly was, but just mostly. There are a couple of few small rises but other than that it is quite flat and forgiving. As it is an out-and-back, you will be running into runners coming the opposite direction (hopefully not literally) but that won't happen until the 6th mile on. By that point most runners will have been strung out a bit leaving the potential for collisions to be low. But it can still get a bit congested.

I would say 95% of the course is paved with small portions on crushed grave. There are a couple of places where it seemed like you could choose between the bike path or an adjacent crushed gravel path as there were no markings to tell you which to choose.  If it is certified, obviously there is one way to go; we just didn't see which it would be.

The entire course (or 99%) of it is exposed to the elements so whatever the weather is, you are going to get it. Plan accordingly.


After the malaise and breathing problems I experienced in Europe, I came back to what can only be called some sort of a cold for about three weeks. I didn't go to the doctor because I didn't seem sick enough to be able to describe what I had and, well, our health "care" system sucks. Hearing people in Austria during my race saying "Well, just go see a doctor" and being confused as to why I wouldn't just go reminded me of this.

I had a good week of training before the last week before the race. Then that week just went horrible. I told my friends I had either tapered perfectly or this was going to be a disaster. Regardless, I only had one goal for this race: to secure a Boston Qualifying time for the 15th straight year. Other people have streaks where they just want to show up each day and check a box. I have streaks where I want to push myself as hard as I can for as long as I can. As I have said for over a decade (and have put on shirts and posters): "There will come a day when I cannot do this. Today is not that day."

I drove up leisurely on Saturday to Fort Worth with my friend Sarah listening disappointingly to the end of the Penn State-Minnesota game on the radio. Grabbing my packet from the small expo, I was rather relieved not to be working this race. Most of the time when I race I have other duties. Be it a book signing or a speaking engagement or what not, as much as I enjoy it, it is still work. Walking in, walking out, and heading to a hotel felt pretty darn good.

Couldn't really decide what I wanted to eat. I had put on a few pounds since last months' marathon in spite of eating less and coupled with my general blah of the past weekend's workouts, I was wondering if I was wasting a trip up here to simply slog through a marathon. So I went to IHOP because that was what my belly told me it wanted to eat. I listen to my belly.

Somehow I got to bed at a ridiculously early time for myself and slept wonderfully. Normally 5 a.m. wake up calls are met with a lot of swearing but I was ready to roll. A little bit of traffic jam pulling into the paid parking lot (why they didn't just roll that into the price of the registration and save this bottleneck, I don't know) gave way to a quick park, a quick bathroom break, and a stroll to the start. My watch was giving me some problems as the counted down the final seconds before we began, so I just hit start when the gun fired and hoped it would grab my data. (It kinda did.)

My Race:

Normally in a smaller race, I have some designs on maybe trying for a victory of some sorts. Today I knew I wasn't in shape to do that and gladly let a pack of about ten runners or so take off. The first mile marker seemed like it was off by at least half a minute. Even on a bad day I don't run a mile that slow to start a marathon. The second mile marker seemed to make up the difference between the two. No harm, no foul. Mile markers aren't certified and any race that has them I am just happy they are present.

But the next four miles surprised me. As the sun finally came over the horizon and began to warm us around the fifth mile (well, I had already had sweat drops on my sunglasses after the first mile) I saw that I kept clicking off miles right at 7 minutes per. One side or the other by a few seconds but I was running like a metronome. I had a few runners pass me and a few others I was tracking put some distance between us but I seemed to be doing far better than expected. I knew that this pace would bring me in at 3:03:33 but at six miles I wasn't thinking about that. I was thinking about how, while I didn't feel good, I didn't feel tired. I wondered how much longer that would go. I have had more than a few marathons where at no point did I feel spry or light. But I also never got worn down. Maybe this would be one of those days.

After the turn around slightly before 7 miles I could see we would be getting a full blast of sun in the face. Some of the runners in front of me had chosen to not wear sunglasses and I bet they were regretting that. I fell in behind one runner who I would use for the next seven miles, give or take, to keep me honest. I might fall a little bit behind him and then catch up but once again, all the way until the half way point I was right around 7 minutes per mile.

At the halfway point, I not only saw my friend Sarah but one of my athletes, Kevin, whom I had
never met in person before. (All my coaching is done remotely.) That was quite a surprise although maybe it shouldn't have been as he lived just down the road somewhere in the DFW metroplex. I hit the half-marathon split a 1:32:36. I had slowed in the last two miles but was still feeling just as good (or bad) as I had been for the entire race. I'd take it.

Second Half:

The mile after the half-way point is always one that can set the pace for me for the rest of the race. It is easy to get excited about getting to the halfway point of the marathon and running hard to get there. However, after that little expenditure of energy, to me the next mile lets you know what you have for the rest of the race. When I hit yet another seven minute mile even though I lost ground to those in front of me and had yet another runner passing me, I was getting to feel very good about my chances of setting another Boston qualifier.

At this point I started doing the math on what I could run the rest of the way and still get what I needed. By now the sun was solidly overhead and I was beginning to feel the effects of its brutal rays. There were a plethora of aid stations on this course for which I tip my cap to the organizers. I drunk heartily from nearly every single one of them on the second loop trying to stave off any wayward affects of the rising heat. I began playing a game with each mile as I ran having come up with a system of breaking down marathons into chewable bits. It's a neat trick I have where I use other places I have run, when I felt good, to think "Well, it is only two more miles to mile 18 and remember when you ran two miles in 11 minutes once around Liberty Park?" It takes me out of the moment and to a time when I felt good.

Coincidentally, around the 18th mile my times went from roughly 7 minutes per mile to 7:25 per mile. What was odd was that there was no gradual slow down between the two times but rather a direct drop of 25 seconds. There it seemed like that was the new normal. No matter how hard I pushed or how much I seem to let off the throttle, that new time kept popping up on my watch.

There were a few places on this race where spectators had gathered to cheer on runners and every time it was a nice boost to your energy. But for the most part this was simply a race with a bunch of runners going back-and-forth on a bike path. You got to notice a lot of the same faces and, even though you are racing each other, begin to cheer them all on.

A few miles back I had passed the man who had taken me through the half-marathon point. With about 5 miles to go for me, I passed him in the other directions. I could see he was struggling mightily miles behind me. He had looked so strong earlier (even getting a kiss from his girlfriend/wife) running in the opposite direction at one point that I felt quite bad for him. But I had to focus on my own rapidly ebbing energy.

A marathoner and a half marathoner passed me together at one point which left me confused. The half-marathon had started half an hour later than I did. Anyone running a good clip should have been behind me still. Or in front of me. I also didn't recall seeing this marathoner on my out and back a few miles ago. Entirely possible I missed him but it seemed odd. Plus, he was moving along at a great pace. Within a mile or so he had put himself out of sight in the ever twisting path filled with runners or all races. He must have really saved himself for the end. Either way, trying to figure all of this out kept my mind off of running, which itself was a nice distraction.

With about three miles to go I could see, barring a major mishap, I was going to get the Boston

qualifying time that had eluded me in Europe. I began to think about how this day was one day short of my 18th anniversary of running marathons. In the Harrisburg marathon in 2001, on a day that went horribly for me, I never would have thought that running would shape the rest of my life as it has. As I dodged both cyclists out for exercise and half-marathoners coming in to finish their race I could only hope that the same will be true for many of the people here today.

One of the lead runners was struggling mightily as someone ran arm in arm with him obviously keeping him off the ground. I was not too concerned about the fairness of the help he was receiving but more so about the fact that if it was this difficult for him to move forward, then maybe he shouldn’t have been moving forward. I wanted to lend a hand but selfishly had to finish my own goal first. I knew I didn’t have all that much energy to assist in either case anyway. We didn't need to have two runners on the ground.

It was only 65 degrees but I was doused in sweat from head to toe and really beginning to feel the days' efforts. As I hit the 26th mile it was clear that I would secure my 78th Boston marathon qualifying time out of 164 marathons. I gave Sarah a high-five and turned to run under the finishing arch.

I crossed the finish line and 3:08:16 good enough for 15th place overall. One woman bested me with a stellar time of 2:56 taking third place overall in the whole race.

The race itself had a couple of very nice or different amenities. First were hot showers to any runner who needed them. A little trailer with three showers per gender was set up and was an absolute luxury. Second was free hot food for runners consisting of a variety of options to meet all tastes. The other was the handing out of prize money to randomly drawn runners. None was given to the overall winners of any of the races and I can argue the pros and cons of that decision either way.  Nevertheless it kept lots of people milling around and creating a nice energy post-race that is often missing these days.
Someday I will go a year without running a Boston Qualifying time. Fortunately, it wasn't this one.  Time to start scoping out 2020 and looking to not only go sub-3 again but maybe, just maybe try to set a new PR. If I get a sub-3 it will be the third decade I have done so. I started too late in life and in a wrong part of the other decade or I could be chasing my fourth decade. 

Live and learn.

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