Monday, October 08, 2007

At least it wasn't as bad as Chicago

I'm sending my thoughts out to the family of the man who lost his life in the Chicago Marathon yesterday, and also to those still in the hospital after the ordeal. As I struggled through my own marathon in the Twin Cities, I tried to imagine what it would be like if the temperature was 5-8 degrees warmer and gave up, much as I gave up on my sub-4 and my PR.

I had a lot of friends running Chicago, so my thoughts naturally strayed there once I could think straight again. My friends Michelle and Jenny were not able to finish once the organizers shut down the course at the 4-hour mark. My friends Rob and Donnie both managed to finish, but only after running for over 5 hours each in 90-degree heat and high humidity. Fellow blogger Nitmos had a strong first half but a disastrous second half--but he overcame adversity and finished. Read his riveting race report here. Fellow bloggers Al and Mike both finished (yes, I stalked them on the race tracker after the race), but haven't posted reports yet.

The Twin Cities recorded its hottest marathon ever yesterday. For me, it was an exceedingly odd race. Erik D. and I arrived at the start in plenty of time. We got situated and placed ourselves near the 4:00 pace leader, intending to keep the pace group in sight as we ran. After the gun, we crossed the line in about three minutes and were off. The 4:00 pace group was nowhere to be seen. The 4:15 pace lady went sailing by, despite the fact that we ran our first mile in 8:56. We caught up with her eventually, but I was surprised that she had her group running 3:55 pace for the first several miles of the race. Anyways...

1. 8:56
2. 8:38
3. 8:56
4. 8:41
5. 8:50
6. 8:55
7. 8:59
8. 8:59
9. 8:49
10. 9:00
11. 8:53

I knew I was going out a little too fast, but as long as I felt comfortable and it was relatively cool, I figured why not bank some time? I thought to catch the 4:00 pace group and then try to stick near them. At least I had gone out more conservatively than them! It was hot and humid (about 80 degrees, with very high humidity), but certainly nothing compared to a normal August day in southern Indiana. I was sweating buckets, and took water at each water stop along the way. We both ran comfortably (Erik had some hip pain in miles 4-8, but it loosened up after that) for about 11 miles. Around mile 10 and 11, I started to become aware that I was working. Just that tiny feeling you get when you realize it's going to get much harder to run soon. I got the same feeling at Bayshore, but not until mile 16-17. CRAP.

12. 9:14
13. 9:21
14. 9:44
15. 9:57

A little uphill here in mile 12. Erik started to draw ahead after that, and I let him go. By this time my clothes were completely soaked through. Normally the heat doesn't bother me too much, but I could tell it was starting to get to me. I really wanted to stop running, but I knew that as soon as I started talking walk breaks, I could kiss a PR goodbye. After mile 14, I knew my sub-4 would have to wait until the spring. After mile 15, I knew a PR would, too. It was so hard to keep running.

16. 10:59

I was starting to feel light-headed. I knew I had to decide: should I keep struggling on even though I know I can't PR, or should I stop and try to salvage some kind of enjoyment of this experience? I didn't make that decision quite yet, but I did stop, because to keep running would have been dangerous. I walked, and walked, and came to a water stop, and gulped down two cups, and walked a little more, and then started to run again.

17. 11:14
18. 12:53
19. 12:30
20. 14:50

This stretch was kind of a nightmare. I felt crappy, the sun was beating down, there wasn't enough shade, and a course official even asked me if I was okay. I drank a Powerade and one or two waters at every water station. I thought, I'm not cut out for running marathons. I should just quit. I'm not any good at this and never will be. This has been a complete waste of time. Why do I train and train and train, and always break down? I thought seriously about dropping out. What was the point? All my goals were pretty much shot.

Then I realized that all my goals were not quite shot. My sub-4 and my PR weren't going to happen, but perhaps I could salvage some fun still? And just maybe I could still do something about my final 10K.

21. 11:49
22. 12:22
23. 11:02

These three miles were largely uphill as we climbed Summit Avenue towards downtown St. Paul. And here's where a very odd thing happened: I started to feel better. Normally in marathons, once things go downhill, you're through. As I started up Summit, I told myself I would walk the uphills and the water stops, and then try to pick it up a little going down into St. Paul. Sometime in mile 23 (the steepest mile!) I realized that running up that hill didn't seem so bad. I could run, and it wasn't a death march. I was passing people right and left. Somewhere in there I started to enjoy myself again. I encouraged a couple of other people. A man on the curb cheered as I ran up the hill: "You're really digging deep! You can do this!"

24. 10:24

Mostly flat, with a couple welcome downhill slopes. The sky had clouded over, and although it was still hot and humid as ever, the sun wasn't beating down quite as badly.

25. 10:24
26. 10:08

My mile times were actually going DOWN. I couldn't believe it. I still took a couple of walk breaks, but they were shorter. I felt better than I had since halfway.

I think this marathon has one of the greatest finishes ever. First you come up one last hill. You can see empty air beyond it and sense that there's a downhill beyond it. As you near the top, you start to make out the buildings of St. Paul in the valley. You get to the top and see the city spread out before you before turning left to head down toward the capitol building.

26.2. 1:31

Around a bend you can see the panorama of the finish, with the capitol building behind, with the finish line centered and clearly visible. What an inspiring and welcome sight! I hit the split button at mile 26, saw the 10:08, and realized that I actually felt (dare I say it?) good. So I sped up, passed a lot of people, and ran by far my fastest final two tenths ever. Kick of the week, I say!

Final time was 4:26:12.

After a little math, I realized that my last 10K was almost three full minutes faster than my final 10K at Bayshore. I'm pretty sure it's my fastest final 10K ever. Considering that I walked a fair amount of it, that's saying something. It gives me hope that getting this marathon thing right is not out of reach, but simply a matter of putting the pieces together. It made me realize that there is another gear there that I developed or discovered, and now I know it's there.

And here's the kicker: I was barely sore yesterday. I'm more so today, of course, but I can climb and descend stairs without much trouble. NOTHING like what usually happens after both faster and slower marathons.

So, mixed feelings about this one, but overall I am pleased, hopeful, and even more energized than usual to begin preparations for the next one!

And finally, a shout-out to Erik, who ran and finished his very first marathon in 3:54! He ran remarkably even splits despite the heat. I am totally jealous, but also VERY proud of my friend. The heat ruined the well-laid plans of pretty much every marathoner I know who raced this weekend, but his first mile time turned out to also be his average mile time for the whole race. Yaaaaaaay!
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