Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Reykjavik Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 10; 17th Edition 
207.3 miles run in 2015 races
Race: Reykjavik Marathon
Place: Peducah, KY  (Just kidding: Reykjavik, IS)
Miles from home: 3720
Weather: 50s; Cloudy; humid

It's been 8 years since I did an off-continent marathon. That is just enough time to forget that you shouldn't book a flight to get you there the day before you race. Leave leeway. Some time to adjust for errors. Suffice it to say that what seemed like a good idea (and saved me a ton of cash) left me exhausted, worn-out and a plethora of other ungood things as I got to Reykjavik with about half of a day of rest before the race started.

Fortunately, one of the things which did go right was me getting a place to stay less than three blocks away from the start/finish of the marathon. With all else going less than wonderful, this was a welcome relief. I woke up with just enough time to saunter on down to start. I then realized I had enough time to run back home and use the bathroom one last time. Do not pass up the opportunity ever to make one more comfortable bathroom stop before running a marathon.

Back in the starting corral, Kathrine Switzer was the honorary starter. Her husband, Roger Robinson has spoken at the expo. Unfortunately, given my travel woes I did not have the energy to stay around.  So I missed Roger, one of the nicest and most talented masters runners around.  In fact, when speaking with Kathrine, I found out that he had just run his first half-marathon in 20 years, at the age of 73, on a replaced knee in a time of 1:48! What is amazing about Roger is his writing is even better than his running.  Read my review of his collaborative effort with Kathrine called 26.2 Marathon Stories here. I am fortunate to be able to call them both friends.

I gave Kathrine's shoe a tug from down below the stand she was on and she waved and smiled. Jumping back into the corral I readied myself. I had goals in mind and most of them were relatively unrealistic.  Why the heck not, right?

First 10k:

With the gun shot we headed down the street right next to Tjörnin, the prominent small lake in central Reykjavík right in front of Reykjavik City Hall. An idyllic setting if there ever was one for a marathon start I found myself craning my head sideways to check it out. The weather was darn near perfect with cloudy skies, a temperature right around 50 degrees, even if it was a bit humid. Two quick turns took us down a small slope towards the water and through some small streets where residents were enthusiastically out banging pots and pans. The more organized areas for spectators were called "pep stations" and were marked on the map with a smiley face.  I smiled every time we went through them.

My "A" goal for this race was to get another sub-3 in a new continent.  I have one in North America and one in Asia and this would be a nice feather in the cap to add a third. In order to do so I would have to run 4:15 per kilometer. While I was trying to be conservative in the beginning, after the first 3-4km, I knew this sub-3 was unlikely to happen. Rather than beat myself up over it I settled into the pace I was running and tried to be smart.

As we skirted the tip of the peninsula that juts out westward into the ocean, we passed a plethora of art museums and buildings that look brand new. They very well might be given the constant volcanic activity on this island or maybe they just like things tidy here. Somehow putting the goals out of my mind for a bit had made them more feasible. Unfortunately, I knew the hills of the race were yet to come.

To the Half:

Shortly before the 9th mile, a long steady climb appears in front of the runners. It's beginning was signified by the iconic Sun Voyager sculpture on our left. I later met and talked to a guy from Houston, TX, who mentioned that while hardly the biggest hill in the world, this climb here trashed his legs. I didn't get trashed legs but it definitely slowed me down a bit even as I began passing runner after runner.

Bib numbers were different colors so you could tell who was running what race. In spite of the fact that I was keeping a even pace, I was slipping by many runners without much effort. Unfortunately, next to none of them were marathoners. Instead, they were half-marathoners who had gone out too fast. While I had figured out my pace per kilometer to some extent, small deviations were hard to compute in my head to tell me how far off I was from my desired goal. Instead, knowing my biggest goals of the race were probably out of reach, I focused on competing with the runners around me.

Cresting the hill, I saw the leaders coming back at us. I knew we would go back down a small hill before turning around and climbing again. A less than beautiful part of Reykjavik, as it was simply a highway closed down, the visages just a few miles away of cliffs and water and clouds hugging both made up for any shortcomings.

I made the turn and began climbing, having counted about 60 some odd men and 6 women in front of me. I again felt better than expected and tried to turn up the juice a little. When we got to the top, after seeing the hordes of people behind us, I turned it up even more. I like running downhill. I had some of my best miles of the day here as we flew down the backside and began to separate from the half- marathoners. Unfortunately, at the bottom of this hill, we were faced with two whammies.  First, the biggest climb of the day. Second, what felt like total isolation as the crowds disappeared for a few miles and we began running on bicycle paths next to highways.

Here's the thing: I hate bicycle paths. They are always more twisty and turny than you think. The small rises come out of nowhere and look like nothing on a elevation map but always kill me. It is almost impossible to run the shortest distance using tangents without cutting someone off. Mentally I just get worn down by them. (Although, as with all things, I know many love them. I talked to an English chap named Jonathan at the Sun Voyager statue the next day and he mentioned how he enjoyed them. Different strokes!)  Instead of worrying too much about these paths, I tried to concentrate on the runners around me instead. A group of about five of us played cat and mouse, switching who took the lead and led the charge. Clustered in here was one woman who was wisely (or unfairly, depending on your perspective) only so happy to fall directly behind whatever man took the lead.

We made the loop around what appeared to be a petting zoo and whose name didn't help make that any clearer (Húsdýragarðurinn). Sneaking in under 1:34 for the 21.1 km mark meant that I still had a chance to go sub 3:10. I readied myself for the second half and hoped for the best.

To Mile 20:

I knew the rolling and undulating hills would continue from the halfway point to around mile 18. After that there were just a couple of bumps to worry about. Perhaps I could throw down a negative split and surprise myself with my overall time. More likely, perhaps not.

On occasion, I had missed a kilometer marker as they go by so fast. Your internal clock as an American is not set to alarm you to look for them and next thing you know they have gone by. Conversely, there are so many kilometers in marathon that when you are tired and still have 20 more of them to see, it can be a bit wearisome.

This portion of the race is a bit of a blur to me. As I mentioned, it was run mostly on a bike path and I really zoned out. Eyes closed, or partially closed and simply looking at right in front of me was how I stumbled through.  As much as trail runners talk about how much they love their races, this zoning out is something you can't do there lest you end up in a ravine. Moreover, it was here I began getting thirsty beyond quenchableness. I would like to take a few moments to point out how perfect the aid stations were with their liquids. They were so wonderfully cold. Even on a relatively cool day, it was absolutely refreshing to be able to douse my throat with cool drink. However, even stopping as I did twice to drink at least three cups of water, I would barely be a kilometer away and be thirsting ferociously for the next aid station. Fortunately, these breaks only put me a few meters behind my competitors and I usually made up the time very quickly. I have no explanation for why I was so thirsty, though.

We finally finished those hills and began running next to the bay. The cool breezes helped wick away some of the sweat but in spite of the moderate temperatures I was still covered in it. Time to hunker down.

To the Finish:

Earlier in the last segment I had been able to throw down some quick kilometers but it seemed they came at the expense of interminable thirst. Knowing I just had six miles left was a big help but it did not stop my need to drink. Two more times in this last 10k I would come to a full stop to drink the liquids presented. The time lost was inconsequential and even if I was racing hard, a few seconds of slowing down means nothing to get liquids in your body.

When most of your goals are gone for the day and you are not in such bad shape that just thinking about surviving is all that takes up your mind, you have time to think. I thought about why I continue to try and race during the summer when I know I am just physiologically not built for it. I don't try racing sprints because I have no speed. So why do I take on these races? Or more accurately, why do I take them on and then be surprised when they do not go as well as planned?  I think it is a delicate dance we as runners do walking the fine line between what we know is possible give our skill set and trying to ignore it and push past it anyway. We strive for more because otherwise we might as well stop doing the sport right now. Those who say they don't want to get faster are fooling no one. We run because we enjoy it. But we race because there is a clock.

How long did that take to think all of that? Crap. Just one kilometer. Nine more to go. 

And that is how the last 10k went for me. As the teeth of a biting wind bit into us a bit around a golf course/nature preserve, I put my head down and acquiesced to the fact that virtually all of my A, B and C goals were gone. Now, "Run well enough to be ready to run again in one week" was all I wanted to do.

The last few miles mirrored an earlier portion of the course and I could picture the end. I knew we had one final small but cruel hill with about half of a mile to go to contend with before the finish. I was battling it out with a few runners and wanted to hold them off the best I could. Fortunately, I did just that and came in with a time of 3:14:30. While good enough for 75th place overall it was only my 86th fastest marathon.

Because of the proximity of my lodging, I was able to shower, change, throw together a sandwich and head back onto the course to cheer for my best friend Shannon. She had to deal with a bit more of the wind and rain than myself as it picked up a tad after my finish. Like me, she was exhausted from travel (and from being a surgeon, which I have no idea how she trains after a day of taking care of people in the worst of shapes) and was just happy to be finishing upright.

Without a doubt, I do not take for granted that I can run a time many would be happy with having as their finish and be disappointed with that. I do not need a dose of perspective to understand where what I do lies in the eyes of others (both faster and slower.) However, I think, as we all should, our worth comes not necessarily from comparisons against others but against yourself yesterday. Without a doubt the day will come when I will slow and have no recourse but to deal with it. They say you have 7 years of running marathons before you start to decline. I ran my fastest marathon 8 years after my first. Perhaps my decline has happened. I don't think so, however. Just this past February, on a day that did not go as I had hoped, I ran my 17th fastest marathon ever at the Phoenix Marathon. But the fact remains that I won't run "fast" forever. I am just not ready to believe that ending is here.

Next up, what can only be considered a fantastic personal scenario, running a marathon in a town in Germany which I share a surname with: the Burgwald Marathon in Rauschenberg, Germany!  It is forecasted to be very warm and the course is not forgiving at all. Fortunately, I am already in Germany so no flight delays should mess up my travel!

No comments: