Have you ever crossed the finish line of a race, happy to be done, but confused about how you got there? That is, confused about how the race unfolded in terms of pacing and overall time? That’s what happened to me on Saturday. After over 26 miles, I sprinted the final 100 meters on the high school track to the finish line and broke the imaginary yellow tape (someone must have inadvertently knocked it down before me), grabbed the medal dangling from the volunteer’s arm, and wandered toward the exit. I wasn’t even out of the finishing chute before the questions started.
Why did you run that race so slowly?
How did you misjudge your pace this badly?
How could you sprint that fast at the end when you should have been exhausted?
Why is that guy with the back hair not wearing a shirt?
You are going to hate yourself for this.
Alright, that last one wasn’t really a question but I was thinking it all the same.
It was supposed to be unseasonably warm. At race start, I was expecting 70 degrees with rising temperatures to 80 before the finish. I had visions of the 2007 Chicago Marathon where, like an innocent foal, I said Fuck You to the 85 degree starting temperature and ran my race at normal pace….and then fell apart in complete fetal-positioned, thumb-sucking dehydration after 14 miles. No, I wouldn’t make that mistake again.
Smart pacing was the key. Pull back at the beginning – like I did on my last few 20+ mile training runs – and hold a steady, comfortable pace much farther perhaps even through the end of the race. This was how I was going to beat the heat. You may recall my sudden switching of goals from this to that right before the race as a reaction to the ugly, ugly warm forecast.
As the starting gun sounded (which sounded remarkably like a man shouting GO!), it was 57 degrees, just a bit north of “perfect”. But the heat would come right? There were still 3+ hours to go and several sun-exposed portions of the course to traverse. Keep to the conservative plan; keep to the conservative plan. These thoughts were repeating in my subconscious so much that I began to think that I accidentally had Rush Limbaugh playing on my MP3 player. Keep to the conservative plan. Ditto, I said. And did it, I did.
I ran easy and chatted with a younger fellow trying to BQ under 3:11 in just his second marathon. We came together at mile 3 and held shoulder-to-shoulder through the half-marathon marker. My plan was to cross the half in 1:34:30 and try to hold the same pace as long as I could from there on out.
I came through in 1:34:33. Bing-freakin’-o.
I felt great. I felt like I had an abundance of staying power. I was the marathoning equivalent of Ron Jeremy and four Viagra. Maybe this conservative plan wasn’t a bunch of voodoo runnernomics. Maybe it would become my new race theory: Nitmosnomics.
It was warm but not WARM. After the half, I should have re-evaluated my pace and time goals. The overwhelming heat was not materializing. It was still in the low 60’s with a cool breeze coming in off the bay and, after the half, it was now at my back.
But I ran on at even pace. Mistake. There is one tough stretch between 18-20 miles that contain the few incline/declines ranging 20-30 feet but also correlates with the most sun-exposed portion of the course. Get through that and it’s all flat and shady to the end.
After the half, I dropped and ran about 15 yards behind the BQ-aspirant who was now pacing along with another runner. Like Ron Jeremy, he was apparently not opposed to having multiple partners during a marathon, er…whatever, I lost myself in the metaphor. At 18 miles, he dropped off to the side and, as I passed, I attempted to cajole him into latching back on with me. But his
I stopped briefly just before the 20 mile marker to meet Mrs. Nitmos who was holding Gatorade, Gu Chomps, and some Biofreeze. I slather on the Biofreeze in the 20 mile range these days as a pre-emptive strike against calve cramping. Between miles 19-22, they cruelly do not provide an aid station so I took the bottle of Gatorade with me. There would be no free water hand-outs during this stretch. All part of the conservative plan, I thought.
After 22 miles, my legs got heavy, as expected. After 23, the left calf started twitching again intermittently. I kept running. I no longer stop to stretch when the pre-cramp twitches begin.
In the end, my legs held me hostage. Cardiovascular-wise, I felt great. At 23 miles, I determined I was going to make one last push to the finish. I was not exhausted. My head and heart said I could knock out at least one sub 7 minute mile and shift the race back on track and into PR position. I was only behind my plan by about one minute. I still felt like I could run all day but the legs were having none of it. I simply could not get the legs to move faster. Signals were sent south from the head down to the toes but the response was “No go.” Threats were made. No go. Visions of chainsaws cutting through flesh and bone post-race were imagined. Still No go. Very frustrating. My legs had a gun to my head and they weren’t giving in. I guess this is the price to pay for training for a marathon on the cheap (i.e. average mpw in the high 30’s rather than 50-60.)
Mentally, I had checked out for miles 25 and 26 as I knew I had blown my ultimate goal of sub 3:10. The questions were already starting. I had followed the conservative plan so why did I have a time deficit?? Theory and reality were at odds.
Pace chart for posterity (mile/pace):
13 7:51 (closer to 1.1 miles as they adjusted the marker for the half-mary)
20 7:41 (pit stop to see Mrs. Nitmos)
25 8:07 (despair)
26 8:08 (anger)
Final distance 1:04 (due to course adjustment in mile 13, not sure how far over 26 this was)
The crowd was roaring for the runners. I hit the track and kicked it in. My 100 meter pace was 6:15 per mile. I crossed in a full pissed-off sprint, grabbed my medal, realized the guy with the back hair was Ron Jeremy, and thought opportunity lost. Nitmosnomics had, inevitably, failed me.
The Year of the Ass Kicker, for this race, was little more than a Derriere Patter.
Ending temperature was 65 degrees. Heat was not an issue. My failed plan was too conservative. I should have knocked a minute off the first half and another minute off the second half before the 20 mile mark. Fiddlesticks.
Numbers? Yes, numbers:
88th of 1500 total finishers
14th of 153 in age group
Missed a PR by 38 seconds. I now have an infamous history of 3:12:XX race times. Goody, goody, gumdrops.
I will now be searching for a fall marathon for which to register.
I did, however, BQ again for the fourth consecutive year. I have every intention of running Boston one more time in 2011 so, at least, there’s that. I also think that, with the fear of washing out a race and NOT BQ-ing taken out of the equation for future marathons, I’ll be free to employ a more aggressive race strategy. It plays with your mind to think that, if I kick it in, I might just fall apart and not get that BQ. Or, I could just run steady and get the BQ. This is the last race I will think that way. From here on out, it is PR or Bust, baby.
If you are still here, thanks for reading. Now get on with your life…your runs…your PR’s.