Lesson #1: if one plans to run the first 10 miles or so at a particular conservative pace, one would be wise to actually run at that pace, rather than ~30 seconds faster than pace simply because they feel like a super hero, the weather is gorgeous, the scenery even moreso, and the company fabulous (Randy, thanks for being so entertaining for the first 15 miles or so, when I bailed).
For a good laugh, check out my mile splits to see when I blew-up. To those training for their first marathon or considering one in the future...use my race as an example of what NOT to do on race day.
10 miles in I was suspicious that I was likely going to regret going out so "fast." By the halfway mark I was about 75% certain that the second half was going to be slow and painful. By 15 miles there was no question...the last 10 miles were going to be payback for ignoring reason and letting my legs dictate things. Those same legs would betray me 2/3 of the way through the race.
Last Fall in Milwaukee I started finding that my legs were feeling uncomfortably tight by ~16 miles in...4 miles later they locked-up completely and I was forced to walk/run the rest of the race. This time the tightening started coming on a bit earlier, so I started walking to hopefully push the cramps back. This worked, as the cramping didn't come on in full force until somewhere around 23 or 24 miles in, but in the meantime I would run a little, walk a little, run a little, walk a little...each time stopping to walk as I felt my calves start tightening (and later a inner-thigh/groin muscle and my right foot).
The most frustrating thing about cramps this time around is that I really thought I was in the clear this go-round. I had no tightness in my legs while training for this race, even during my 2nd 20 miler...which ended up being at an average pace of about 15 seconds/mile faster than this race...but I also started that run much slower and picked up the pace gradually--what I SHOULD have done yesterday.
I also had no knee issues this time (during training or at any point during the race) and really felt strong after this 18 week training cycle. I had 2 50 mile weeks and based upon my comfortable training paces and overall mileage felt like a 4:30 would not be a stretch...and maybe I could pull a 4:20 off if I had a particularly magical day. But I wonder now if I even would have had a 4:30 in me had I started slow. I just don't have enough experience to know if the cramps were a given or if I could have had enough of a negative split to run a 4:30 on a race with 10:30+ miles for the first 10 or so.
After 2 semi-miserable marathons I find the negative split quite the elusive beast. For shorter distances I'm usually really good at pacing myself and either running perfectly even splits (I seem to recall one 25k race where my first and second half splits were only 1 or 2 seconds different...this was pre-Garmin, even), or negatively splitting a bit. But 26.2 is a whole 'nother thing and I think it may take me at least 3-4 tries to figure it out. I did end up with a 3 minute PR (4:47:34), but I barely held it together in that last mile.
Coming down to the last few yards was really a feat...my right foot spasm'd and I'm not altogether sure how I managed to not fall...I think having a few RA friends screaming their fool heads off for me (even the ones who finished hours earlier--you guys are AMAZING!) had something to do with it. And I am 100% positive that knowing they were all waiting for me at the finish was a big factor in that PR. I have never felt like I left so much on the course before...my usual strong finish was absent. I think were it not for my cheering section in the stands that I would have mentally given up and let the PR (albeit a weak one) slide.
As far as the actual race weekend...things went off quite smoothly. Made it up to Traverse City without the heavy traffic we had expected on Friday afternoon, though traffic IN TC was pretty heavy when we headed over to pick up my race packet. When we arrived at packet pick-up I called Rick (rvelich) to find out where he was. He and Tammy were also on the way to pick up their race packets, so we told them to meet us at the doors to the HS.
As we were waiting for Rick and Tammy I suddenly recognized Q's wife, so the bunch of us (including Rick's younger DD and a friend) got our race packs and chatted a bit. I had already met Q at a couple of races and Q had already met Rick and Tammy...so it really felt like a reunion of old friends. The whole weekend felt this way.
Race morning I woke about a half hour before my alarm was set, so I got up, showered, dressed, had some coffee and a biscuit/egg/bacon/cheese sandwich thing, and DH, DS and I headed over to the lot that Cory recommended we park in (BTW, that worked perfectly).
As we pulled in I saw the entire RA crew already assembled. I'm not sure Derek had the car off before I was out the door and hugging friends. I was especially thrilled to see Mississippi had safely arrived...Michelle, I really wish you could have stayed last night, too. I hope you made it back to PA safely.
After a bit of introductions and chatting (and some photo ops...gotta work on getting some photos online on Tues.) we started to make our way to the port-a-johns and the start. Speaking of that...I was a little surprised that Bayshore had no pace markers for line-up, but there really ended up being no issues in the first mile getting around people, so that wasn't a problem. It's really not a big race and people seemed to know what they were doing at the start. I have run other small races that haven't been that well handled by runners, even with pace signs.
Between intros and the port-a-johns I had lost Kevin and Randy, who were both shooting for about the same goal time. Maybe a half mile in they found me and we ran together as a group for a mile or so, but Kevin was chomping at the bit to go faster, so Randy and I stayed back and let him go. 10 miles or so later I did the same, as Randy was still running strong and I was regretting taking leave of my senses. Randy ended up nearly catching up to Kevin by the finish, so he's already got this pacing thing nailed...damned fine job for a first marathon, IMO! He's already far ahead of me on that one (literally and figuratively speaking).
My 10+ miles without a companion were pretty long and lonesome. Thankfully Bayshore is a stunningly gorgeous course, since it was lacking in crowd support and most of the runners around me had iPods. I leap-frogged for much of these miles with another woman who was in the same predicament as I. I ended up outrunning her at the finish, as well as a few other ailing runners who had been with me on and off at the end. Perhaps they didn't have their own personal cheerleaders (and the incentive of beer after finishing).
After finishing we headed back to our respective hotels, cleaned-up (and, I must say...this group cleans up WELL! ), and met back at the Mackinaw Brewing Co. for a late lunch/early supper. We sat around and ate, drank, and chatted for a couple of hours, then a little while longer on the street, then we all exhaustedly left after more hugs and goodbyes.
This morning I saw Rick Velich and crew, again, and it was the cap-off to a really wonderful weekend...a few hours of miserable racing aside. 2 of our guys BQ'd (YAY Mishka and jhallum!!! You guys rocked that race and looked awesome when we met you on your way back to the finish line...so strong and smiling still).
I WILL be back to that race next year...only then I hope my bestie (backroadrunner) is able to run the whole race with me, instead of just a short stretch right before the cramps hit. I was thrilled to see her and her dog late in the race...they helped me take my mind off of my leg troubles for a little ways. Having Eryn and my guys there for support meant a lot. I found myself looking for my hubby's flashing red LED lights at every spectator spot. My 8 year old logged ~8 cumulative miles of his own without complaint, as the promised shuttle busses seemed nowhere to be found and spectators had to hike-in the the course from a remote lot.
Now I can "enjoy" a brutal trail relay in 3 weeks, a 15k 2 weeks after that, then training for Grand Rapids Marathon in Oct. begins. I'm hoping the 3rd time really IS the charm.
If you made it all the way to the end...might I suggest War & Peace as your next reading assignment?
MTA: I just found the splits for each half...1st half my pace was 10:17 (I had planned to run no faster than 10:30 for the first 10-13 miles). 2nd half it was 11:40. Ow.