Friday, November 27, 2009

Atlanta Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 4; 24rd Edition
610.1 miles raced in 2009

Race: Atlanta Marathon
Place: Atlanta, GA
Miles from home: 1914 miles 

Weather: 40-50s; cool and clear

In the few short days between the Atlanta Marathon and my previous race in Mesquite, I began to think that this was the shortest rest I had ever had between races.  Them I remembered it was tie.  Last year I had run Boston on a Monday (twice actually, but that is another story) and then flew to Korea to run the Hangang Marathon.  Due to the International Date Line, I lost a day in transit and the time between was 4 days.  So the adventure I was imparting on was not completely uncharted waters.

In fact, in what remains what has personally been one of my most impressive feats of running, I had run Boston in 3:01 (a week after running a 2:58 in Utah and right before turning around and doing it again under 4 hours with the Race Director) and then inexplicably ran a 2:56 in Korea.  However, while I had done a similar event before,  I knew no such effort was going to be repeated here in Atlanta.  As early as Tuesday before the race, I was still limping around like I had not done post marathon in quite some time and knew that merely slogging through the race might be my only option.  In addition, I had the largest of monkey wrenches thrown into my Thanksgiving week plans the day I was departing to partake in those plans, and was completely mentally spent.

So I did what is very hard for most runners.  I decided the Atlanta Marathon, my first in Georgia, was going to be nothing but a training one.  But one which I felt would simulate many of the events I have planned for the near future.

I spent expo before this race working with a company called Asea. This is a product I have been taken for a few months and we will probably working together at multiple races.  I am saving further discussion about Asea for a future blog as it deserves its own space. Believe me, you will wish to read about this.

As the expo I was able to meet and greet many people as I am always fortunate to do but one I was especially looking forward to was Kelly Luckett.  Kelly and I have corresponded for quite sometime and always seemed to just miss having our paths cross on may occasions.  But we finally connected.  Kelly is a special girl/woman indeed and she too will have a blog dedicated to her very soon.  Stay tuned!

Race Morning:

While my hotel had been perfectly placed for the expo, it was a little off the path from start of the race. I found I had to get on the MARTA (Atlanta's subway) and could either switch lines at one point or get out and walk to the start.  Both options appeared to take about the same amount of time because of the waiting for the second train, so I opted for the walking one to get my blood moving.  Bad choice.

My usually Crocodile Dundee sense of direction failed me miserably.  Well, actually, it stayed true.  I knew where to go, but I simply could not figure out how the heck to navigate the streets on foot to get me there. Highways and dead ends conspired against me.  The colock was ticking away.

At one point a car approached me and an equally baffled runner rolled down the window.  He asked if I knew where the start line was.  I told him I would tell him if he took me.  He agreed and I hopped in.  He immediately went in the wrong direction from where my Spidey Sense had told me to go but as he told me he had run the race 10 other times, I assumed he sorta knew where he was going.  The only problem was that he didn't.  Oh, and the other problem was he was not making haste WHAT.SO.EVER.  I wanted to reach over and push his leg down on the accelerator as he took us further away from where I knew we had to go.

Finally, after a convoluted amount of turns and me trying to politely steer him in the direction of Ted Turner Field and the start of the race, it appeared on the horizon.  It was now 7:26 Am.  The race started at 7:30 AM.  I asked if he would drop me off as he parked and I sprinted towards the start.  Hurdling a fence, I looked at my watch and at the surrounding runners.  Everyone stood completely silent and still. With no use of hyperbole whatsoever, no more than 5 seconds later, the race started.  I was still wearing my throwaway t-shirt, didn't have my watch quite ready and was still panting heavily.  They actually started the race two minutes early!  No sense in worrying.  Time to run.

First 10k: 21:18, 7:06, 7:25, 7:23 (45:00)

Barely a few hundred yards into the race a gentleman appeared on my right.  Mark Ott is his name and we first met at Run with The Horse Marathons in Wyoming last year.  Mark took second and I garnered third.  That race had me still in the portapotty line when the race, with no chip timing, had started.  I may have to boycott future races that Mark races.  He is bad luck!

Soon my good buddy Mosi appeared right next to him.  He had designs on running a sub-3 on this course but after getting only 2 hours of sleep, I told him it might be tough to do.  I had hoped to take him through the first half on 3:00 pace but I knew there was no way that was happening.  First of all, I was running with clenched muscles as I had not had a chance to use the bathroom.  Second, I could tell that today was simply not going to be a fast day from the get-go as none of my legs felt like they wanted to run one mile, let alone 26.2 of them.  Third, well, the course, how do the French say it?  Oh yeah! "It sucked."  More on that later.

As I searched for a portapotty on the course I somehow missed both the first and second mile markers.  Mark told me the third mile marker was coming up on our right so I wouldn't miss it.  He did this in between flirting with a very cute girl running with us ("Hey.  There is my hotel!  I am in room 517"  - OK, we jokingly added the last part but it was still funny.) and pointing out he had bested me at the marathon in Wyoming to all within ear shot.  He had also re-introduced himself the same way in an email just a few days before.  You are a hard one to forget, Doc Ott!

Me, the winner and Mark at Run for the Horses Marathon in 2008.

Around mile I finally found a portapotty and dashed inside.  Wearing big cotton gloves as the racetime starting temps was in the 40s, I took one off to assist in, well, figure it out.  Then I reached for toilet paper and realized it hadn't been removed from the protective wrapping.  Dadgummit!  Off comes the other glove as my numb, and slightly wet with sweat fingers fumble with the wrapping.  My body heat in this enclosed place has now fogged my sunglasses.  Now I am like Stevie Wonder with a fiber problem. I spent a solid minute and a half in the bathroom but it was a necessary trip.  I came out just in time to start the longest continual climb of the first half of the marathon.  But not until I almost tripped over a curb I couldn't see in my foggy eyewear.

To the Half:7:59, 7:24, 7:25, 7:20, 7:29, 7:15, 7:22

Now here I am going to mention a little about this course.  The Atlanta Marathon course follows, for the most part, the same course that the Olympic Marathon in the 1996 Olympics followed.  That is pretty cool.  And of course, there ends anything "cool" about this course. Before I get negative, let me say that the course is very-well marshalled, volunteered and while it contains many potholes, those potholes are all fairly well-marked.  In terms of administration, it is well-handled.  The poilce did an excellent job of stopping and directing traffic and the volunteers were very friendly with tons of "Happy Thanksgivings"! being passed out all over.

But the course isn't very fun.  There is not all that much to look at in terms of scenery(not that I, for the most part, care too much about that), there were next to no spectators (understandable as it is Thanksgiving morning) and Like, seriously.

Normally, when I map out a course the elevation profile has lots of little undulations that I know are simply imperfections in the mapping software.  This above profile, however, could not be more accurate.  You are NEVER running flat.  Either up or down, runners are always either tackling a hill on the upswing or trying to cruise down it on the other side.  With sore quads and calf muscles from Mesquite a few days before, I was definitely getting some whines from my muscles.  I also take that into account when I am trying to ascertain whether the course was "that" hilly.  But yeah, it was.  And after cresting the big hill to mile 7, I was hoping for a reprieve but no.

Seriously.  Click on the picture above and examine the ups and downs.  Man.

At this point, I was simply trying to hold onto 7:20 minute miles.  I simply could not get moving.  Every once in a while I would get a little burst of energy and I would surge forward and then it would ebb and I would back off.  I simply could not get mentally engaged.  It happens to me every once in a while in a marathon where I just plain and simply do not want to be running.  I have no motivation and wish to high heaven I was only running the half.  This almost always happens not too soon after something else going on in my life went awry.  The mental aspect of running a marathon is so integral that if you are not in it with your mind, you might as well forget about being in it with your body.

Fortunately, I was able to pass a runner here and there and kept on the same pace more or less as I approached the halfway point.  I could see that pure math would tell me I was on pace for a 3:12 but I knew it was going to be slower than that because of the hellacious last 10k.  But one mile at a time.

To 20 mile: 7:14, 7:19, 7:11, 7:20, 7:42, 7:16, 7:16

The Atlanta Marathon is not big but it is growing. 826 runners crossed the finishline on this day, which is the most they have had in at least a decade.  However, in the just right around 3:10-3:15 range, there was a core of about 15 runners who were constantly running near each other all day, sometimes changing places by a body or two, sometimes pushing the pace and sometimes falling back.  I was one of those runners.  I would pass the black guy in the red shirt and get passed by the tall white guy in the arm warmers only to then be passed by the black guy in the red shirt who also reeled in the tall white guy as I followed in the black guy's wake and also passed the tall white guy.  This went on all day with about 10 runners right around me.  Ebb and flow.  Push and pull. It is always interesting to try and figure out why right NOW I have energy and right NOW, the other guy gets a burst.

I knew the course had one shining moment for me and that would be the precipitous downhill from 18.5 to 20.5.  Unfortunately, I knew what lay ahead of that and was loath to let myself go nuts on the downhill only to completely blow up on the final ascent.  Memories of a complete system shutdown at mile 23 at Mesquite were very much in my mind and I wanted to avoid that.  So I did the best I could to utilize the downhill and nab a few decent miles before the final test began.

To the "Ted" (and finish): 7:55, 7:46, 7:56, 7:58, 7:57, 7:45, 1:33

Around the time the worst hill of the entire course began, situated unmercifully at the 20th mile, I turned to the guy next to me and said: "Yeah, I am about over this sh#t."  I barely got the sentence out and he was agreeing 100%.  When we finally crested the hill, the chap whose name was Andy, caught up to me again.  I congratulated him on conquering it and he said: "Was that it, hillwise?"  I asked him if he wanted me to lie to him and he got my point.  I stated he obviously hadn't run this course before and he told me this was his first marathon.  Quite impressed I told him he was doing a spectacular job and if he just hung on we could conquer this together.

So onward and upward we went.  Just like I described before, Andy would pull ahead and then fall back.  I would then surge forward and Andy would catch up and pass me.  It was like we had a rubber band attached to our waists and one would pull the other in a slingshot type manner past them when they reached a certain point that pulled the band to its maximum stretch.

Every mile got dangerously close to being my first 8 minute mile of the day but I would see this happening and push myself forward in the final yards of each mile to make sure this wouldn't.  It is little goals like this that keep you going when the day is hardly a "success".  No 8 minute miles.  That was what I wanted.  And boy did I get close!

For whatever reason I had been tired, to the exact same level of tiredness, all friggin day.  I started out tired, was tired in the middle and was just as tired here.  I wasn't more tired as the race was finishing even though I was slowing down.  The hills were just harder here.  I had never experienced something like this where for the entirety of a marathon distance I seemed to be stuck in one gear.  Fortunately it wasn't a 10 minute mile gear but still.

I started doing math with about a 5k to go.  What was my time going to be?  Wait. Wait a minute.  Have I ever run a 3:15?  I know I have run 3:16 numerous times.  I was aware of at least two 3:14s.  I don't think I have ever run a 3:15. I spent one big hill thinking of any race that had a 3:15 in it.  I was pretty sure there was none.  Well, there you go.  That is what I am going to run.

A quick series of uphills once again put me dangerously close to run over 8 minutes but I held those extra seconds at bay.  Andy pushed forward with one final surge as we crested the  steepest but shortest hill of the course.  We could see the Olympic rings ahead which we knew had a finishline just a few feet behind it.

A runner or two pushed the pace behind me and passed me in the last few hundred yards.  There was zero reason for me to push back as to try to beat them in this race with a "sprint" that would put me 26 minutes slower than my personal best. Plus, chances are these fellas started behind me and their chip time would be faster than mine anyway.  So I glided in the final few steps, heard Kelly yelling out support for me after finishing her own half-marathon, was flattered to be announced over the loud speaker.  I then stpped on the mat finished right in the minute I have never before finished in:


Mosi crossed the line in 3:10, Mark wasn't far behind in 3:11 and Andy nabbed his first Marathon finish in 3:14.  In fact, Andy sent me a note later on race day which said:

"It was a pleasure to have met you during the Atlanta Marathon.  (I was the first-time marathoner with the sky blue Nike shirt and Nike visor).  Thank you for helping me hang in there with all those hills at the end."

Well, Andy it was my pleasure to run with you as well.

I was glad to have run this race both tired and mentally spent.  In January I will be running my first set of marathons on back to back days.  I have no doubt I will be exhausted in both mind and spirit there.  And I know I am going to be hurting in both places many times over in my 204 mile run in April.  As such, it was nice to take on this challenge in Atlanta, on a hilly course, when I absolutely had no desire to run, to prove to myself that I can move forward when things are not going right.

Knowing I have the strength and resolve to push through adversity is one of the many things I was thankful for on this Thanksgiving Day.  I hope yours was just as rewarding.


The World Through My Shoes said...

"As such, it was nice to take on this challenge in Atlanta, on a hilly course, when I absolutely had no desire to run, to prove to myself that I an move forward when things are not going right." This lesson just very well could be worth it's weight in gold. Well done Dane.

1L said...

OMG, I thought you were smart enough to run the half not the full. Ouch, I have lived here on an off since 1990, and I would never, ever, run the full. You are a brave, brave soul. Great to see you Dane. Sorry that I couldn't run yesterday, but maybe I need to imbibe some of that ASEA drink and get this achilles this over with. Glad that you enjoyed your time here. Next time pick an easier run (not that ING is any better, but the Expo is a lot bigger).

Dane said...

All these lessons in running are so valuable, Cheri.

1L, You should get the ASEA! And halfs? Please! ;)