Sunday, May 24, 2009

Stillwater Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 12th Edition
296.2 miles raced in 2009

Race: Stillwater Marathon
Place: Stillwater, MN
Miles from home: 1,324 miles
Weather: 40-70s; dry and sunny

Going into this race I had a lot to think about. One of the many great things about racing as many marathons as I do is that I get empirical evidence to back up many of my statements. For example, I felt I could go under 2:50 even running multiple marathons. I did so last week, in spite of some who said there was no way I could. But going into the Stillwater Marathon I was curious if my hard effort in getting that sub 2:50 would leave me flat otherwise.

As I have mentioned many times, in my Kentucky Derby Marathon a few weeks back, I ran one of my worst times ever, mostly because of the unprecedented heat that day. When I rebounded with a stellar Pittsburgh Marathon performance as a Charity Chaser, I felt vindicated and thought the heat of the KY Derby marathon alone was what had decimated me so. However, I had some lingering doubts that perhaps my collapse had something to do with my PR attempt at Salt Lake City the week before where I ran a 2:53. As such, would me getting that 2:49 hurt me badly in Stillwater as I hoped to pace the 3:10 group to perfection? Instead of debating it and wondering whether it would, I am fortunate enough to be able to go and test that theory!

Race expo:

I was scheduled to speak on a variety of occasions at the Stillwater Expo. However, we felt that the current setup that was originally planned was not conducive to allowing the maximum amount of listeners to hear my speech. So, on the fly, we threw down some chairs in front of my booth and blammo! Instant speaking area.

I had quite an enjoyable time getting to know so many of the race participants, many who were just a short drive from the city of St
illwater. The speeches were well-attended, I got to answer some insightful questions and dispense lots of last-minute marathon tips. However, I was eager to get some sleep and get my last race as a 32 year-old underway. So not long after the expo closed, I was grabbing a quick dinner and heading back to my hotel. Yet, I could not fall asleep right away and I tossed and turned a bit. I was wondering what the next day would hold.

Race Day:

Signed up to be the 3:10 pace group leader, I knew that in a marathon in its inaugural year, that the number of runners whom I would have with me who legitimately would be trying for a 3:10 would be low. However, if I only get one person across under that magical threshold, than that is more than enough for me. As a group gathered behind me holding my dowel rode with the 3:10 group sign attached to it, I wondered who would be with me the whole way.

My usual race day instructions were put on hold as an invocation was given as well as the story of Jon Francis was told. I feel THIS link does a much better job than I can of telling his heat wrenching story.

Soon after we all composed ourselves, the race was underway.

First 10k: 7:05, 7:08, 7:22, 7:23, 7:15, 7:15
Goal: 44:56
Elapsed Time: 44:55

A few hundred meters into the race, I turned around and began to tell those behind me how I would be pacing them. I asked how many were running their first marathon and when no hands shot up and no voices outed themselves as newbies, I felt maybe I had a good chance to have a high number of 3:10 people with me as we crossed the finish line just a few hours from then. There were a heck of a lot of runners out here so who knows?

After a mile or two of trying to settle everyone down, and almost literally fighting back the surge of my runners as they pushed us forward, we settled into a nice even and almost perfect pace. Our first hill at mile 4 slowed us just a touch but after the slightly fast first two miles, we were right on schedule. A surprising amount of spectators were out in force to cheer us on. I say Surprising as the city of Stillwater only boast about 15,000 residents.

Passing over the 10k mark only one second off pace, one of the runners right beside me named Phil, chuckled out loud and shook his head. "How did you do THAT?" he said.

Half Marathon:7:15, 7:18, 7:18, 7:16, 7:11, 7:19, 7:06
Goal: 1:35:00
Elapsed time: 1:35:02

Starting around the 9-mile mark, we began to climb through the second hilly section of the course. Passing by the Minnesota Correctional Facility I told the runners to think about how lucky they were to be outside of the barbed wire running on a day like this, instead of inside looking out. Someone commented that we should not pickup anyone in an orange jumpsuit. I gave the retort that if the prisoners could maintain a 7:14 minute mile pace until the end, they should be allowed to go free.

Even as we went over hills both up and down, my crew stuck right with me, repeatedly nailing almost exactly-paced miles. As usually happens when I pace, I had a few guys who felt the need to run right ahead of me for miles and miles. I mean, RIGHT in front of me. I often have to weave around them as they fluctuate in their own pace. I mean, understand the machismo reasoning behind this - the whole "I don't need YOU to pace ME". Nevertheless I tried convincing as many as possible that if they wanted to run with the group, well, they should run WITH the group - not in front of it.

Nearing the halfway point, we began to climb what would be the second-to-last big hill of the day. With the 13 mile marker at the top of its crest, I urged my runners to run this hill smart and easy and then enjoy the downhill on the other side. Even though I fell back a few meters as some of the runners shot ahead, I was still pulled along with them. Next thing I know, we all ran through this mile, with its rather tough hill, in a phenomenal 7:06.

Now just two seconds off of the goal pace for the day, Phil once again laughed and said he had no idea how I was nailing these times. I told him it was good luck.
Or maybe the 96 marathons I had run previously.

20 miles: 7:03, 7:13, 7:05, 7;13,7:14, 7:00, 7:25
Goal: 2:24:40
Elapsed Time:2:24:35

Just when I was feeling that I had a super solid group that was going to crush mile after mile, my group began to dissipate. After cresting the hill, I easily had 10 members running right with me. Within a mile or two it was down to 5. Another mile after that and there remained just four total, including myself. We passed a golf course, went down around the bend, made a 180 degree turn and now there were three. Myself, Phil and the only lady who had been running with us the whole time - Jess. Here Jess almost continued right pass the turnaround and proceeded to run right into me as the headphones she was wearing didn't allow her to hear the instructions the volunteers had shouted.

I will admit I was a little perturbed with her earphones. Especially when on numerous occasions I had told my pacees a few things about the course, such as "We have a hill at X mile and another one at Y mile" and she would ask a few minutes later: "Do we have any hills left?" I get the "need" for them by so many. I really do. Doesn't make them any less annoying though.

In fact, as we began the final stretches of this race, it was just Phil and I, who were establishing quite a rapport, and the girl who we would just call "iPod" for a few miles.

Phil had already run a sub 3:10 before with a PR of 3:04. with no one else anywhere close to us and me not being able to converse with Jess, I admitted to Phil I was a touch bored. If no one needed me and I still had 7 miles to go, I told him I just wanted to get the darn race over with. People think that as a 2:4x guy a 3;10 marathon is "easy". Believe me, 26.2 miles is never, ever easy!

At one point Phil said that mile 20 was just on the horizon. I thought it was mile 19 but since earlier in the race I had actually lost track of where we were (even though I had hit my watch at every mile marker) I believed him. When the next sign marker appeared and it said Mile 19, I think both Phil and I were a little bummed out. "Wishful thinking, Phil?" I asked.

In fact, I should have know better as mile 19 began the last and final big uphill of the day.

And here is where Jess became a little more conversational. She asked if this was the last time we would be dealing with a hill. I said, all we had to do was get to mile 20 and we were home free.

To the Finish: 7:08, 7:13, 7:09, 7:13, 7:17, 7:04, 1:28

Phil said he was feeling good and was just going to see what he could do. I told him I was going to keep back and continue with my 3:10 pacing effort. When Phil pulled ahead, Jess looked at me and I told her I was right on pace. She slowed a little bit and fell back beside me. Still listening to her iPod, she seemed to be in a zone.

We began the final downhill slope towards the end and the St. Croix river appeared on our left.

I was doing all I could to not only run my pace but also keep Jess in check while looking behind me to see if there were any hard charging 3:10 possibles. None appeared and none would. The only people we were passing now were those who were doing the variety of shorter races head throughout the day. Something told me that Jess had never been in this territory before. Unless we were mistaken she was the lead female. So now, my job was to not only keep the 3:10 pace going, but to help the potential women's winner!

As the miles ticked down and we hit the 25th mile, I made an executive decision. There was absolutely no one who was coming close to the 3:10 time. Phil would eventually finish in in 3:08 and the results show that the next fastest person behind me would be nearly 4 minutes over a 3:10. So, when Jess picked up the pace in the last mile I decided I would be her personal Paul Revere. With every crowd we encountered, I would shout: "First female!" and the people would go ballistic.

As we rounded the final bend and saw the balloon arch of the finish framed by the Stillwater Lift Bridge, I began to extol the assembled masses to cheer for Jess. Falling a step behind her so she could enjoy this special moment all to herself, I pointed to her and raised my hands in triumph.

Jess ran a 3:09:06 and won her first marathon ever. I came in two seconds behind her and was soon enveloped in a bug hug. Jess had removed her iPod and began to tell me that there was no way she could have done this without me. Not only was this a win for her but her first time under 3:10.

On a day when I wasn't sure how my legs would respond to a hard effort the week before and when I had been quite bored 75% through the race, I was able to find a way to make this last race as a 32-year old, special to me.

Sorry for the sweaty shirt, Jess.

8 comments: said...

Well done. Nice job, Dane!

Go Penn State! (By the way, my now 14-year-old is going to go to a sports journalism camp in mid-July at PSU. It will double as a visit to see my grandparents in Tipton near Bland's Park - or now Delgrosso's.)

Sam Felsenfeld said...

Good call on your executive decision. Too bad you got chicked! ;)

Yellow Scuba said...

Great race, Dane. Too bad the group couldn't hang with you, but congratulations to Jess. Now, tell her to lose that dumb Ipod! You can't win a marathon while wearing an Ipod! It's just not right. ;)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your help, yesterday. There was no way I could run as steady and smart alone. Your pacing is amazing.

Phil Sheridan

jesseymike said...

Dane, this is "Ipod"'ll be even more disgusted to hear that I listened to the same song on repeat from mile 5 on! Sorry I lacked in conversation. It's not that I didn't want to chat, but as you know, I was a bit tired. And focused.

I can't thank you enough for helping me cross that finish line. All I wanted to do was finish that race in 3 hours, 9 minutes and 59 seconds, and without your encouragement and pacing those hills would put the kabash on that goal.

Though you probably didn't see me smile or utter a full sentence until we crossed that finish line, you made me a happy gal on Saturday. Thanks so much!

...And I'll work on my social skills :)

Chris said...


I was the one who had to leave the pace group at mile 2 because I was running the 20 mile race.

My goal was to see how far I could go running 7:15 pace, given I want to qualify for Boston in my marathon in 4 weeks.

But they didn't have any mile markers for the 20 mile course, and my watch was acting all screwy so I didn't know what pace I was running or how long I had been out there.

But I finished the race averaging 7:05 miles, which absolutely shocked me. The last 20 mile race I did was 6 minutes slower, and there were no ridiculous hills like in Stillwater!! Then I look and see that you started me off for the first two miles right at that pace!!

Thanks Dane!

Hey Jess, what was the song??

Dane said...

Thanks John! Glad your 14 y/o has some smarts to get out of TX! :)

Oh, Sam and your sexist ways. ;)

I think She will see the error of her ways, Scuba!

Phil, you knew all along you were in my age group and just wanted to beat me, huh? ;)

Glad I could be there for you, Jess. You can pay me back by losing the iPod (or getting my book!) Way to go!

My pleasure, Chris. although those hills were far from ridiculous. Check back in July and August when I do Leadville and Pikes Peak!

But yes, we do want to know that song!

1L said...

Nice job once again, Dane. I would say that you have the pacing thing down - and to bring home the female winner, what a great day!