I gambled by registering for this marathon; in the past it has been hot and humid due to its late spring season time frame. But it is relatively close, a fast course, and well-organized according to reviews. I registered in January, near the beginning of a highly successful training cycle in which I averaged about 45 miles a week and peaked at 61. The only real hiccup in training was a nagging pain in my left foot, which forced me to take several days off in February. Although it improved, it continued to bother me off and on throughout the spring, relapsing two or three more times. Ice kept it under control and I had no problem running on it.
My original goal was to dip under the four-hour mark for the first time, taking my PR from 4:14 to 3:xx. As the spring went on I PRed convincingly in every race I ran, including a 1:44:54 half marathon, which lead me to believe simply breaking four hours was a very soft goal. I even entertained thoughts of BQing (3:40) but knew this was a stretch.
As race day approached, I pored over the weather forecast. All systems were go; taper had gone perfectly, I hadn't felt a twinge in my foot for weeks, and if I could just have some good weather, things might just be perfect. I bonked big-time in the sauna that was Twin Cities last fall, so I was definitely looking for some redemption. The weather was promising--a.m. clouds, 64 degrees predicted for most of the morning. As long as it wasn't too humid...
Mark and I arrived in South Bend in the afternoon on Friday. We stayed at the Holiday Inn just a couple of blocks from the packet pick-up/start at the College Football Hall of Fame. Packet pick-up was easy and quick, and we still ended up with a little time to kill before checking into the hotel. Luckily, they let us check in early. Then we met up with Mark's parents (they live in Michigan, so we figured this was a good opportunity for a visit). Mark and his dad both ran the 10K. We headed out to dinner at Fiddler's Hearth, where I had the "runner's special," a small salmon fillet and some fettuccine in garlic-olive oil sauce. It was yummy, and the perfect amount of food. We made it back to the hotel where we watched "Rudy" on my laptop. Lights out at 9 p.m.
I woke up at 3 a.m. and immediately checked the weather. Temp read at 64 as predicted, and it was overcast, but the humidity was 93%! I started to think I would be lucky to be under four hours at this rate. I went outside to get a feel for things; it felt cool, but there was a haze in the air and I knew the coolness was deceptive. I decided to ditch the shirt and just wear sports bra and shorts. I ate a Clif Bar and drank some water until 5 a.m. Managed to convince Mark to wake up and go to the start with me. We headed out around 5:30. I wore a long-sleeve shirt to the start, but I didn't need it. It was already warm, and it reminded me of Twin Cities and also of the Indy Mini in 2007, where it was also very hot and humid. I don't know exactly how humid it was at race time; it did drop slightly, but not enough.
I got lined up and listened to the announcements: the temperature was now 70, and they recommended being careful and drinking a lot of water. More shades of Twin Cities...
The gun went off and I crossed the line within a few seconds (~500 participants). I was able to immediately settle into a rhythm.
I figured I would settle into whatever pace felt comfortable and a little conservative, given the humidity. I would reassess around mile 6. I was pleased with my consistency, and I was still feeling very good. I was sweating a LOT, though...clothes and hair were soaked by mile 3. I took advantage of all but one or two aid stations in this race (there were 23). A lot of people passed me in the first three miles, and I edged by a few, including a guy with "Slow Twin" emblazoned on his back. I wondered how fast the Fast Twin was.
I didn't feel like I sped up, but apparently I did. I had started to pass people very steadily, and I wondered if others were already feeling the humidity. I tried to just stay in my groove.
Wha? I assumed for a few minutes that maybe I'd seen the mile marker for the half or something, but no more mile 7 markers presented themselves. And there were no corresponding 11-minute miles to complement this one. So after this I obviously couldn't trust the mile markers. This race is USATF certified and has been around for 25 years, so I was surprised to encounter this problem.
Throughout this section I was still very much in rhythm, so I'm fairly certain something was still up with the mile markers. By this time I was just shaking my head and shrugging at the splits. Even so, I was enjoying myself very much. It was still overcast, I still felt awesome, and the course was beautiful. After a couple of hairpin turns, we ran a long section along the scenic, tree-lined St. Joseph River. There was a nice breeze that really took the edge off the humidity.
I did I double take when I took this split. I was on BQ pace! I hadn't thought I was since most of my miles were in the 8:30 range. That 5-minute mile sure made a difference. Of course, I couldn't be sure the marker at the half was correct, but still. This buoyed me quite a bit, and I considered picking it up. Maybe I really could go for the BQ, despite the humidity. I decided in the end to stay in my groove and reassess around mile 18. A year ago, in good weather, this is where I had started to unravel, so I wanted to see how I felt this time around and go from there. Besides, I had two minutes in the bank.
The miles were consistent again, for which I was grateful, but the sun had come out and now it was really starting to heat up. But I continued to feel strong and fresh. My legs still felt good. No hint of real fatigue yet.
Bam, my foot started to hurt. A lot. I wasn't quite limping, but I was forced to shorten my stride because pushing off my left foot normally hurt too much. It was amazing how abruptly this happened. When I hit mile 17, I knew the BQ was out the window. I also knew it might be smarter to step off the course. In the past when this injury acted up, it hadn't hurt this much. But I just couldn't bring myself to stop. My legs still felt so good, and everything else felt so fresh and relaxed. I cursed my foot and kept on.
This section was a huge struggle. It was an out-and-back along a narrow concrete sidewalk. It was still along the river, which was nice. I was even still passing some people. But the pounding from the concrete was tough and the heat was getting worse. Foot still hurting.
Miraculously, the foot pain dulled quite a bit. I attempted to pick it back up, hoping to recapture the magical rhythm of before, but it wasn't to be. The sun beat down and my legs were starting to feel heavy. I couldn't regain the pace. Sweat was pouring off me.
Wheels now starting to really come off. Not thinking much of times right now, just want to finish. At the same time, though, I felt worlds better than I did last year at this point in the race. I never stopped to walk, and I never had to convince myself to keep going. It was hard, but I never lost faith that I would finish. It was a blow to see the 10-minute mile split, but I refused to worry about it. I was still hanging on.
Mark met me sometime in mile 25 and ran with me for a few minutes, filling me in on his race (he ran a PR in the 10K) and where his mom was to be found after the race. Apparently he hadn't had time to return to the hotel and get us checked out. We turned a corner and he told me the stadium was up ahead. It looked like a long way, but we got there. As we approached, I felt the fatigue melt away. I told him, "I've got it from here!" and took off.
Final time official: 3:50:44
I managed a respectable kick and was immediately handed a medal and cold washcloth, which was the most heavenly sensation ever. They announced my name as I finished, and seconds later, Joe introduced himself to me--he reads my blog! Hi Joe! He had a good race too, despite the conditions, running a negative split in the half marathon. Anyway, that really helped make my day.
Post-race food included fruit cups and popsicles, perfect. I thoroughly enjoyed myself during this race. There will always be factors to throw a wrench in the works, and I was thankful that the two I encountered today didn't slow me down too much. I could spend some time lamenting the fact that my foot knocked me out of my groove miles too early, but to be honest I should have expected the possibility that it would relapse during the race, and just be thankful it didn't worsen and force a DNF. It's difficult to be anything but thrilled with a 23:37 PR in my seventh marathon, and now my long-term goal of BQing in the fall seems a little more realistic than it did.
If you made it this far, thanks for reading and sorry about the excessive length!