Sunday, December 13, 2009

Rocket City Marathon 2009 - Race Report

Check the Rocket City Marathon page for results. They'll continue to be updated over the next couple of days. Again, I really appreciate the effort of HTC volunteers to make this happen. They do a truly amazing job of scoring. And Dink and Suzanne Taylor of Fleet Feet do so much to keep the running community in Huntsville going strong. I wouldn't dream of buying running gear anywhere else.

I am proud of David Riddle for keeping the win local. He works as hard as anyone and is very deserving. Read about the win here.

WARNING!!! A long boring post follows. I'm not even sure my wife or mother care enough to read all those details.

My 3:11:11 was good enough for 86th overall of 1254 finishers and 16th of 148 in the 35-39 age group. I am truly blessed to have avoided injury and illness for 18 weeks and then to have a good day on race day. It wasn't a perfect day, but it was good.

The Weather
There was so much talk about the weather today. Rain was forecast. It was supposed to be cold, windy, with a chance of sleet followed by rain. What does one wear? I'm happy to say that we really caught a break with the weather. Winds were a factor at 10-15 mph, but they were only in our face during the first half. Really, weather cannot be an excuse today. 37 to 42 F with no precipitation. That's really good marathon weather except for the wind. And who wouldn't rather have the wind at their back in the second half? Note winner David Riddle's impressive 1:15 + 1:11 negative split if you doubt the effect of the wind.

I opted for shorts, a single long sleeve shirt, and Mizuno Breath Thermal beanie and gloves. That was just about perfectly comfortable.

Before the Race
Matt, Leigh, and I rode over and we arrived in plenty of time to find good parking and to get in the bathroom line and get whatever last minute visiting in before the race. Mark and I were planning to stay together for as long as possible during the race, so we arranged a meeting place beforehand. Also, we ran into fellow DC Ragnar (gotta do Ragnar again) teammates Justin Hulsman, Kevin Barnes, Eric Fritz, and Shawn Barber. I also had some time to chat with fellow Athenians Tim McNiell and David Quinn. And I got some last minute words of encouragement from Ronnie Nelson.

Matt, Mark, and I did about a .75 mile warm up with two strides up to race pace. Then, I didn't really HAVE to go, but I knew I couldn't hold it for 3 hours. So I did a last minute port a potty stop. This was a bad idea that caused undue pre-race stress. I was out and in the starting area just barely in time, 7:58. The Star-Spangled Banner had already started! I was so rude, but I had to get to my spot.

The First Half
I was planning a couple of 7:25 miles to start and then settle into a 7:10 pace that I would try to hold for the entire race. Mark, his friend Jeremy, Matt, and me all decided to adopt that same strategy. The only one who executed it completely was Jeremy. Congrats! It was nice running 20 miles with you, man.

We knew the downtown loop would be the least windy. After we headed south from downtown, we were taking turns of 2 people leading into the wind. It would be Matt and Jeremy, then Mark and I. It took until about mile 6 for us to work this completely out, but we decided to trade every mile. That worked EXTREMELY well. But if you ask any one of us, he would say the same thing. "It was windier while I was in the lead." That can't possibly be true for all of us, but I'm sure each of us believes that! :)

That worked well for two reasons. First, obviously, it gave us all a break from the wind. Second, it gave us something else to think about and talk about. The first half, from my point of view, was just ground to cover without getting tired. I wanted to use as little mental and physical energy as possible and hit the half split near 1:35. I did not train for the first half of this race; I trained for the second half. However, the only way to get to the second half was to run the first half.

Leigh was waiting at about 10.9 miles to snap a few photos and with a fresh water bottle for me so that I wouldn't have to stop at any aid stations. Jeremy had a crew that followed him and cheered for him several times along the way. Mark's wife and son (Chrissy and Justin) also found a spot to cheer for us along the way. See my mad wind breaking skilz below.

I could not believe how easy the first half felt. We hit the split at 1:35:43. Pretty close to plan. I was a little concerned because I knew that Mark and Jeremy needed to negative split by about 30 seconds to Boston Qualify. I knew it would take a disaster (though stranger things have happened) for me not to qualify. In retrospect, those easy first two miles were probably not a good idea.

During the first half, I met quite a few folks. The one I remember was a guy named Lee from Murfreesboro, TN attempting to qualify for Boston, and he did. Congrats!

On to 20 Miles
Just shy of the 15 mile marker, the course turns west before going north back to downtown. Leigh surprised me by being at this turn. It was good to hear her cheering for us. The group was still together and still taking turns fighting the wind, but the wind would longer be a factor after the turn.

The conversation basically stopped at this point. We said very few words between mile 13 and mile 17. I had a blister on the ball of my left foot that I first noticed at about mile 12. It was now starting to get painful. Oh well. What can I do? I sure didn't want to talk about it because I didn't believe negative conversation would do anyone any good.

At about mile 17, Matt started to fade a little. He was still close by, but not in the group. We came up on my Ragnar teammate, Justin, at about 17.5 or 18 miles. He hung with us until about mile 19. He didn't train for this race and ran a 3:20. That makes me a little jealous!

Near mile 19, there were volunteers handing out GU. I did bad math and didn't have enough gels with me. That was an inexcusable mistake. I attempted to take one, and dropped 3 before I finally got one! Ugh. By the time I fought that battle and downed the gel, Jeremy had pulled just ahead of me. Mark was maybe 5 or 10 seconds behind me.

The Last 10k
I commented to Jeremy at about mile 19 that it was one mile to go until the race began. He took that to heart and I did not. At mile 20, my right hip was hurting. My blister was hurting. My right calf really wanted to cramp up. In spite of that, I really wanted to speed up. However, I was still afraid of going too fast too early, so I convinced myself that a better idea would be to wait until Airport Road and turn it on for the last 5k.

The proverbial wall wasn't there at mile 20, but I was tiring. At about 20.6, at the turn onto Whitesburg Drive, there was Leigh again with another fresh water bottle. It was great to see her!

Jeremy continued to open up his lead on me because I was slowing a little. I really wish I had dropped the pace a little and caught him. I really think we could have helped each other during that last 5k. Ok, maybe he could have helped me. :)

I hate that stretch on Whitesburg up to mile 21. I don't like the road and I don't like the uphill. I'm just looking forward to the tunnel, which I also don't like. I made it, and had to pass someone at the turn in the tunnel. She couldn't have been a racer. I mean, there's no way she was at that point at that time in the race. She had to have been going 10:00 per mile or slower. And it was right in the turn and it was awkward. Oh well. That was the least of my worries!

Just after passing the school, I caught up with Joe Francica. Joe is such a strong runner and I really admire him. He destroys me at the half marathon and shorter distances. I was VERY surprised to catch him. I tried to encourage him to stay with me the rest of the way, but it wasn't to be.

I ran strong in miles 20, 21, and 22, but miles 23, 24, and 25 got me. Even though I was struggling and had slowed to 7:30 or so pace, I was still passing people left and right. I only remember one person passing me during this time, and I caught her (barely) before the finish. The look on my face was one of sheer misery. I'm so glad there are no photos during 23-25! There was no "turning it on" as I thought I would do for the last 5k.

I am really disappointed in how I handled these miles. I simply was not tough enough. I was prepared, and my body could have done it. I just chickened out. I had told myself over and over that I would run smart early, and let it all hang out during the last 10k. But that's not what I did. I slowed for no good reason other than the effort was painful. That frankly disappoints me and I will learn to race harder. That lapse in focus and determination tempts me to find a spring marathon to get revenge on 23-25.

Don't mis-interpret my critique of miles 23-25 to mean that I think I had a bad race. I had a GREAT race. I didn't have a perfect race, and 23-25 is where there is room for improvement.

During mile 25, I came up on Marty Clarke. I asked him to join me for the finish, but he did not. He did offer me some words of encouragement that I appreciated and I definitely sped up after our chat. Since he had just run a 3:15 seven days earlier in Memphis, I guess I'll let him off the hook for not joining me. :) Marathons in back to back weekends? Wow.

Somewhere during mile 23, Andrea McGehee passed me. I was able to overtake her near the 25 mile flag. As I was passing, some women on the street yelled, "Go women!!!" and Andrea said, "I think they just called you a girl." That cracked me up! She said a few other funny things during that last mile that I just don't remember. She even (not verbally) challenged me to a race to the finish! She did not back down as I dropped the pace and finished just behind me. And we did pass a few other runners along the way, too. I admire her for her strength and her sense of humor as the effort was painful. She is definitely the fastest 41 year old woman I've ever met!

The Finish
As I crossed the finish line, I was a little disappointed that it was not 3:10 something, but I knew that I had qualified. I had achieved the goal that I had set 18 weeks ago, and I had done so by a very comfortable margin. I can't really describe the feelings that were overwhelming me. When Leigh found me to give me a hug, I was overcome with emotion. I wanted to cry like a baby girl, but somehow I held on to my manhood. :)

Last Thoughts and Splits
3:11:11 with a half split of 1:35:43 means that I negative split this race by 15 seconds. I would attribute that more to the lazy first two miles and the wind than I would to a strong second half. My mile splits are pretty consistent. I'll say it's not bad for a second time marathoner. I still have a lot to learn about this distance, and I'm beginning my chase of 3:00 right now. My next one probably won't be sub 3:00, but you can believe that I'm going to be pretty focused on getting there.

Splits for those who are still awake. These are GPS and not flag to flag. My GPS was a full 0.1 off by mile 11 and showed 26.38 total miles for the course.
  1. 7:27
  2. 7:23
  3. 7:10
  4. 7:16
  5. 7:13
  6. 7:09
  7. 7:07
  8. 7:13
  9. 7:03
  10. 7:16
  11. 7:09
  12. 7:13
  13. 7:15
  14. 7:10
  15. 7:11
  16. 7:10
  17. 7:18
  18. 7:07
  19. 7:13
  20. 7:11
  21. 7:13
  22. 7:11
  23. 7:28 (lost focus)
  24. 7:19
  25. 7:35 (thinking negatively and lost focus. I HATE this split. Ugh.)
  26. 7:18
  27. 2:40 (0.38 miles, 6:51 pace)


Anonymous said...

Nice Race! I ran the the marathon this weekend as well. It was my first. I finished in 3:58:18, 3:57:47 adjusted. My GPS gave me the same mileage as yours. 26.37 miles.


rundanrun said...

Great race and a top 100 finish. Your mile splits were great.

Getting My Words Out said...

I had to come back and read this again. It's nice to read RC 2008 then RC 2009 then Music City 2010. Man, I can not even begin to tell you just how encouraging your blog is. You're tough, buttercup!

Old Man and mid pack runner said...

Great report! Congrats on the BQ. Rocket was where I qualified as well. Seems the wind is always a factor on that course.

Dana said... I am, reading this AGAIN. It's funny to think I wasn't even running when you ran this in '09. I remember seeing the runners crossing Governor's and thinking one day I would be out there... TWO WEEKS to go. So...if I'm reading correctly, I think you would say even pacing is the way to go, not start easy and try to speed up??