Cliff notes version:
2:53:41 official chip time. A pancake-flat course and nearly perfect weather were great helps to speed, but the goal was sub 3:00 only. Some of you must be thinking "wouldn't it take very reckless marathoning to overshoot your goal by more than 6 minutes, and carve almost 10 minutes off your PR?" Indeed it would, and that story is told below.
Lots more words:
Training cycle - With the exception of one hot and humid week, the summer was very favorable for running, with cool temperatures and almost no downpours. As with Boston training, I opted to create my own workouts but base them in Pfitz philosophy. One notable departure from canned programs is that I did a lot of racing this summer, relying on it to be the bulk of my speedwork. When I did go fast in training, it was primarily tempo stuff sub GMP for either the full run or the 2nd half of it.
LR's were varied, with some simply as easy endurance maintenance, some with GMP portions, and one very hard "looksee" with all 18 miles slightly below GMP. That run was the seed of confidence -- throw on 8.2 more of those, after a well-executed taper? Sure, why not.
For the taper itself, I was not comfortable. Everything felt tedious instead of refreshed, so I opted to skip the customary last shakeout, forcing myself to be as sedentary as possible after Friday night's run and all day Saturday.
Pre-race - My hotel stay was totally that of a rock star. I ate dry mini-wheats, drank Powerade, posted on RA, and watched the History Channel. After laying out everything for a quick departure, it was early to bed and even earlier to rise, at 4:45. Cars were already pouring into Presque Isle park by 5:30 for the 7:00 gun, directed to sandy lots along the beach in the darkness. After scurrying to the restroom, it took some doing to figure out exactly which tall tree had marked my car. Just when I could no longer sit in the dark looking up at the bright stars, silhouettes started moving towards one end of the lot. I joined them, finding a path marked by glow sticks that lead to race HQ and the start line.
Unlike the leisurely morning leading up to Boston, things seemed to happen very quickly from here on out. Light came into the sky, the soft gray dawn a subtle contrast to the spectacular sunsets Lake Erie grants. A few Buffalo-area runners said hello, and we exchanged good luck wishes. After jogging a bit and making the final porta-pottie visit, it was time. Thrift-store warmups were deposited on the corral fence, revealing an orange Buffalo Marathon "Awesome Volunteer" tee, black shorts, and my Halloween harlequin Elixirs.
Blue bibs for marathoners, the yellow HMers would start 30 minutes later. 18 more weeks of training had come down to this, two loops along a wooded lakeside penninsula. Right here, right now.
Long way to get a sticker- Immediately, a throng of people who had no business near the 7:00 pace flag were moving - slowly. Dodge, accelerate, run on the edge of the pavement; do anything to get room. After that unpleasantness was finally done, I found myself right behind two Buffalo-area runners with speed very similar to mine - Nate and Jenny. Ok, just hang here and see what happens, since I know that they are racing peers. A pack of roughly 8 formed, with a chatty guy and his cousin on my left. He outlined some of his training, and while I tried to be vaguely supportive, my brain was screaming "this pace is unsustainable for you, buddy." That was just the start of my nonsensical behavior.
We passed the one mile marker in 6:20 - 30 seconds too fast. Unsustainable for him, and for me. I said "Wow, that's not good" but just kept flying along with the pack. There were two familiar folks right ahead whom I can usually beat by a slim margin in shorter races, why not just hang with them? What horrible logic for a marathon. Things were still easy and optimistic though, and Chatty Guy made a crack about being ok with the girl breaking the wind for the pack. I shot back "But not breaking wind." Comedy gold saved just for goal races.
The madness continued past mile 3, and finally I explained that sub 3 should be a 6:50 pace to Chatty Guy and cousin. We had to slow down. Having not talked to Nate or Jenny, I didn't know what their goals were, but finally I let the idea of hanging with them go, and they pulled ahead. Still too fast but not suicidally so, runners joined and left our group. "Vermont", "Chicago", and some silent intense guys. Water stops were frequent and well-manned, competing against each other for best theme, most enthusiastic, and so on. I don't know what kind of sports drink they had, but it tasted like lemon-lime bathroom cleaner smells.
I made a decision around 6-7 miles that I'd stop obsessing over splits and just run. At 13.1, I'd know exactly what work to do for the 2nd loop. We passed a whole row of de/motivational signs -- "worst parade ever", "Chuck Norris never ran a marathon", etc. I threw a water cup at Chuck Norris and of course invoked a few punch lines to the sign from Chatty Guy. If nothing else, this race would be fun. And then I lost those two and never saw them again. Pacing is weird like that -- I felt good, pulled ahead just a little, and a little became a lot.
13.1 hit in 1:27:38, and with it some self-doubt. "You went out way too fast, jackass, do you expect to hold this pace for another hour and a half? Really?" But the inner conflict fought that off. "It's just another HM now, way slower than HM pace. Those two runners you can beat at short distances are smoking you, completely out of sight now, suck it up."
So I finally settled down and started to run smart. Get to 16 without losing ground. Be conservative until 20 and only then start the endgame. All the things you've learned in your previous 3 marathons, use them.
14-18, the grind. Not mentally checked out like in Boston, but introspective and focused. Still very little clock-watching. And then, a complete surprise around 18 miles deep. "Nice job, Jenny!" I yelled in support while passing, but knew all too well that look as she replied with a quiet and ragged "Thanks." Shit. The wheels were off, and all I could do was yell encouragement. It hurt to see one of my local competitors going through that, especially knowing that she's previously gone sub 3. Shit.
A double-fumble at a water station left me without sports drink until the next, no big deal. But then, two misfires on Gu as well at the only station with them. I knew that I'd obsess over not having the Gu I wanted to stash, so I went back, grabbed it up, and ran on.
Onward to 20 and a new game, finally allowing time calculations. Running around walkers and lapped HMers started to become frustrating, and I took special care to slow down and grab cups with both hands at the water stations. I used a tactic that has worked well for me in the past, thinking about training runs and trying to make my current fatigue the lesser fatigue of that easy, shorter distance.
"When you run the marathon, you run against the distance, not against the other runners and not against the time." -Haile Gebrselassie
Truth. Every mile marker now was a cue to be slightly less cautious. There were leg cramps creeping up on me, and it would not be a matter of if, but when. My job was to delay them until 26.3 miles. Every marathoner I passed now left me almost remorseful that they were unable to stay ahead, and yet another surprise occurred at mile 24 - Nate. He offered up support as I went by, and finished with a very solid time of his own.
25. You will do this. Short, cautious strides. Someone had made a small poster board Citgo sign and placed it on the left side of the course. At that juncture, it seemed hilarious to me, but when I pointed it out, no one in earshot replied.
Finish line. Goal crushed by running an idiotic race and somehow not crashing, even pulling off a negative split of 1:26:03 for the second loop. Absolutely out of my gourd, I decided it would be a good idea to do some combination Usain Bolt/Katniss celebratory thing, drawing an imaginary arrow, nocking it, and firing it lights out at the clock as I finished. Um, yeah.
After - Minor leg cramps, toe cramps, it was ok now because I was done. 11th OA, 3rd AG. Nothing would have indicated that I could run a 6:38 pace for 26.2 miles. If I had to guess, all the summer racing and longish tempos were enough to make a sum greater than the parts.
What will the training look like to go even faster? I have a good idea. It probably will not happen for Boston because of winter weather, but with all my "A" goals achieved in a year of dreams, the next bar will need to be set higher. Adirondack Marathon 2014, a win if no one faster shows up? I'd like to find out.
P.S. This race is dedicated to Lily. She mentioned claiming one of my races when she was injured, and I said that one of my earliest inspirations to BQ was more deserving of a marathon. So, c'est pour vous, Lily. And thank you for the good vibes sent my way per the dailies, they certainly made a difference.
Wow!, Was waiting for your RR. That is BEYOND amazing! I know speed is relative and there are a variety of levels from top to bottom but 6:38 is some serious pace for 26.2 miles. That's a fact!
Congrats on killing it! Congrats on catching & passing Nate & Jenny, despite the remorse. Still, we all run the race we run. You chose more wisely and it paid off.
Enter the dancing banana in 3, 2, 1.........
A 6:38 pace and a negative split. Wow is all I can come up with. Congratulations!
Jay, inspirational RR.. You are an amazing runner and writer..
2XU HM - 29 Mar
That is an awe-inspiring read.
To put your speed in perspective... I can't. I have a one mile race coming up and I hope to run it close to or (free to dream) under 7. You ran a whole marathon of miles WELL under 7. Unfathomable speed. Great job.
PRs: 1 mile 6:57 // 5k 24:12 // 5 mile 39:32* // 10k 49.10* // Half 1:52:18
* courses slightly short
"It's not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves."
~ Sir Edmund Hillary
In my short time running, I have found that too often we limit ourselves by time goals. Your performance shows what happens when you challenge yourself, and it all comes together during an event.
Of course it does not always work out, but that you were not afraid to, uh oh, wait for it...try something new on race day, you completely obliterated your time from Cleveland 2012 and in the process, joined a unique fraternity.
Nicely executed and well done!
Excellent run, excellent report! Dang, you're fast!!!!!
Tom (formerly known as PhotogTom)
5K - 25:16, 10K - 55:31, 15K - 1:20:55, HM - 1:54:54
Damn, Jay, talk about everything just coming together for a great race! Loved your story telling and the "What the hell am I doing?" inner monologue you had going during the race. Congratulations on destroying your goal and your PR!
Fantastic race, Jay. You are a beast. Have not yet taken the time to read the report, I need to do so, to see if I can pick up a few nuggets of wisdom from the master.
Hip Hip Hooray
First off, if you don't get paid for writing, you should.
Second, screw that little dancing banana, you deserve a BIG dancing banana!!
Jess runs for bacon
I love this race report (you should send it to the Bruised Banana, I know they are looking for good race reports). And holy shit, you are fast! Congratulations! Also, please post the picture you shooting the clock when you get it
Just a fantastic job Jay. You really knocked this one out of the park. It was a joy to read your RR. Keep it up!
An incredible race and fantastic report - well done, sir. Well done.
Congrats Jay! So happy for you!
Awesome race, Jay! Great performance and pace. You deserve this huge PR!
Damaris, Marathon Maniac, Ultra Runner
"The most powerful weapon on earth is the human soul on fire."