Splits: 6:17, 6:14, 6:03, 6:12, 6:10, 6:11, 6:09, 6:08, 6:06, 6:07, 6:00, 6:05, 6:00, 6:00, 6:01, 6:01, 5:58, 5:41, 5:46, 5:39, 5:49, 11:57, 12:16, 7:27
Today I ran well. Finally. Actually, my last half went well, but I’m talking about the marathon. Well, besides the last two races, I don’t think any races went well in the last three years.
This all started three—no, four years ago. Four years ago is when I decided to try to run a marathon. At that time, I figured it would take me three years (or three training cycles) to run a decent marathon. And guess what! This was my third. So does that make me some kind of super genius, or was it a self-fulfilling prophecy? Let’s rule out super genius but keep the idea that I have a little knowledge about training and how it relates to me. I don’t think it was self-fulfilling either because even after hiring a coach, I couldn’t get it done the second year.
Of course, the marathon involves luck, and I waded into a ton of it with the weather for the day. I went to bed with a forecast of 40F for the start. And I awoke…three times to pee last night. I was either well-hydrated, or the Blue Moon from Olive Garden was working against me.
I slept little last night, and my 4:30 alarm woke me so I could shower and get out the door to catch a shuttle to the start line. Yes, I shower. It’s part of my pre-race routine. It wakes me up and relaxes me at the same time. Don’t judge! Speaking of showers, the best thing about running a race in a far off land like Nashville is that the hotel has hot water that won’t run out. I try to make up my room rate in hot water usage.
The great thing about the hometown marathon is that the start line is right next to the place I work. I get a whole building to myself: shelter, bathrooms, bottles of cold water, a place to store my bag, and a short 300m jog to the start line. Boston will be a rude awakening for me.
The only problem I had this year was that the lines at the bag check station were longer than I expected. I should have realized this would be the case because of the half and full started at the same time. For a few minutes, I started to get tense, but they were quick about it, and I hurried over to the start. It was cool (perfect for the marathon), but I chose no gloves or hat. I thought about that later, after taking my first cup of Gatorade, when I became as sticky as my kids when they eat, well, pretty much anything.
Coach gave me some points to consider. He saw me going out at 6:09-6:12 pace without worrying much. He thought I could do that and shorten the race to a 16-miler. He foresaw me running that pace for 10 and rolling sub 6:05 pace to the finish. We made that the plan.
From the start, things went easy. I let the fast guys go, and I stuck with a guy that ran at Oshkosh before me. He’s kind of annoying, but he was aiming for a time that would keep me on pace at the start. He would announce pace and splits at each mile (as if I didn’t have a watch), but mostly, he wasn’t too bad. He kept the talk to a minimum, and we ran together through the first five.
I started taking water and Gatorade early. A number of times during the race I couldn’t handle drinking and running at the same time, so I ended up with a couple of coughing fits. I probably took too much Gatorade early, and my stomach started to get a little queasy, so later on, I would alternate between Gatorade and water at the stations. By mile 6, we had rolled up on Kirmse, and we all ran together to 9.
I was feeling fine, but I also knew that Kirmse and I were coming up to 10, it had a hill, and it would give me a place to check my pace. I had looked up the pace for 2:39:59 the previous night, and to run even, I needed to be there at 1:01:01. Because Kirmse can run hills, apparently, he opened up a little gap and reached 10 before me. I got there at 1:01: 43. Not too bad, I presumed. I tried calculating paces and splits in my head, but I gave up after I couldn’t concentrate enough.
Shortly after 10, we caught Heidke, a three-time winner here, and I guy I wanted to beat. We had been chasing him from 8, and now we had packed it up together—he, Kirmse, and me. This is where things started to pick up. Our splits dropped to around 6 min miles. That we caught Heidke this early made me think that there must be something wrong with him today. At 11.5 we gapped him, but just before 12, he came back up on us. Now, I started to think that I’d have to drop him somewhere.
As we approached the half, a local runner ran alongside of us giving us an update on the leaders: Heling was leading by a minute, but he needed to take a shit (we both got a laugh out of that), Williams wasn’t in second, and then he asked Heidke how he was doing. Heidke answered that he was feeling better now. “Shit,” I thought, “now I’m really going to have to work to drop him.” Heidke is an experienced marathoner, and I know he’s fought through dark times to run good races. I pictured both of us hammering each other towards the end—something I didn’t want to think about.
We passed through the half, and I had no idea what my split was. I didn’t really care, though. All I knew was that I had to get to 20 by 2:02:02 to be on pace for sub-2:40. Also, from half to 15 has always been my downfall. It’s where I’ve realized that I’m in trouble. It’s where I’ve started to feel the fatigue. But this time was different.
By 15, Kirmse had started to drop, and at this point, we were 24 seconds behind Schimdt (another local runner that’s a “rival”). By 16, we caught him after a 6:01.
So there we were: TJ, Mike, and myself at the loneliest part of the course—almost no one cheering—and we weren’t saying anything to each other. I was feeling good, when we got to about 16.5, and as we turned a corner I picked it up a little, and they didn’t seem to go. I knew Heidke’s team (he’s a high school coach) was manning the water station at 17.5, and I didn’t want him to get excited by the crowd there. We got to 17 after a 5:58, and I had a small gap on the other two, and that’s when I went for it.
I hadn’t really planned it this way, but I had run a similar run in August—a 21-miler with last four getting faster on this exact route, so it all seemed fairly natural. I started a surge, and I listened at 17.5 for the sounds at the water station to gauge how much time I put between us. The crowd was loud. Either he was close, or they were really loud. I kept pushing and when I hit 18 I checked my split: 5:41. At first, I thought, “No way! Something can’t be right.” But I quickly realized that it didn’t matter, I had to keep going. I've never been able to take easy steps down the pace ladder. I'm more like a fireman that slides down with hands and feet on the outside of the ladder.
Now, I started picturing the 8 mile route I have run so many times before, so I could break down the last part of my race into and easier, familiar chunks. I rattled off three more splits at 5:46, 5:39, and 5:49 to get me to 21. When I went past 20, I looked at the clock: 2:00:57. That was ahead of where I needed to be. I could make it under 2:40 if I kept it together. Great, but were they coming up behind me? I tried my damnedest not to slow much by quick steps and arms to keep my stride from getting long and lazy: pace checks.
By now there were walkers everywhere on the course, and at this point I started to get annoyed by them. I was also starting to lose concentration. I missed the mile 22 marker, and couldn’t hit my split until 23. It was 11:57—still sub-6. Somewhere in these miles I got really pissed at the stupid walkers. One lady was weaving in front of me, wearing headphones, and of course, she stepped in my way. I clipped her pretty good, and I didn’t feel bad about it one bit. I wasn’t about to tear an ACL trying to dodge her. I kept listening for anyone cheering behind me, but I couldn’t tell. I also caught one last runner. He wasn’t moving fast. I’d been there before. In my mind I wished him luck, but I didn’t say anything.
I missed the marker at 24. I checked at 25: 12:16. Shit. It’s creeping way up. Just 1.2 to go. Keep it together. I ran the last 1.2 at 6:12 pace, but I saw the clock and I knew I had done it. Finally.
If there is one good thing about finishing a race the way you want to, it’s that I didn’t feel that bad. Don’t get me wrong, I was tired, sore, but I didn’t feel like I was going to die—not like the last two years. It’s a great feeling to be tired and sore