Sunday, November 09, 2008

Not the best, not the worst

Earlier this week, well wishers asked me how I fared running the City of Oaks Marathon. My response varied in length and detail depending on who asked, but it pretty much boiled down to this: 4:11:52 gun time. It was not my best marathon, but it was not my worst.

It was 6 seconds slower than my third best. It was faster than Richmond, my first Raleigh Marathon, and Disney. I ran faster at Myrtle Beach and two Raleigh Marathons. It is square in the middle.

When the gun sounded a little after 0700, it was in the 40s. I started way too fast. I did not have my Timex Bodylink system to give me ongoing feedback on pace and heart rate, so I had to rely on my watch at the mile markers to get a sense of pace. I settled into a rhythm after the first 5K.

The field was crowded the first half, but I minimized weaving in and out of traffic as much as I could. I kept telling myself "smooth, smooth, smooth." I felt fluid and loose.

The course was challenging. Going up Ebenezer Church Road wasn't as daunting as I had feared it would be, but later miles showed that it took its toll.

Grace met me at the intersection of Graylyn and Ebenezer to run about a mile and a half with me into Umstead Park, at about mile 15. I felt really good at that point, bouyed by my strong attack of Ebenezer Church Road. But a twinge in my calf a little after mile 16, going up the short hill between the stone bridge on the Graylyn trail and the T intersection with the Reedy Creek trail, punctured my confidence ever so slightly.

I was surprised and delighted to see Christopher in running gear at mile 20, announcing that he was going to cover the last 10-K with me. His arrival was a true blessing. By that point, it had gotten hot. My confidence was deflating more rapidly as the twinging returned.

Bad cramps started shortly thereafter, and didn't let up. My calf would cramp, then relax, then my hamstring would cramp, then relax, then my quad would cramp, and so on. Christopher kept me focused on keeping my upper body loose, my arm swing fluid and correct, and on moving forward. It made all the difference in the world.

The last two miles were terrible. There were times that I was reduced to swinging my arms in an exaggerated arc and walking like a circus clown simply to keep moving forward. Christopher encourged and coached my every step.

Afterwards, he sent me e-mail saying "maybe we should call you Crampy instead of Wheezer." Here's my response:

I’ll answer to either.

I took a look at my splits:

Bib# Name Div 10k Pace 13.1mi Pace 2ndhalf Pace Chiptim Pace Guntime
369 Michael Harvey M50-54 53:52 8:42 1:55:59 8:52 2:15:28 10:21 4:11:27 9:36 4:11:52

Here’s a big “duh” moment – I had a rough second half. But things would have been far, far worse (dare I say Richmondesque?) had you *not* been there to coach me through my numerous cramps. I thank you again, my friend. You kept me focused on moving forward, not on my miserable legs.

Perusing the results, I see that I wasn’t alone in my misery. Take a look at the runners who finished with me:

William Hefron M25-29 49:17 7:57 1:46:30 8:08 2:24:46 11:04 4:11:16 9:36 4:11:38
Larry Spero M40-44 53:09 8:35 1:56:21 8:53 2:14:52 10:18 4:11:13 9:36 4:11:45
Brian Mims M25-29 52:46 8:31 1:52:02 8:34 2:18:58 10:37 4:10:59 9:35 4:11:50
Michael Harvey M50-54 53:52 8:42 1:55:59 8:52 2:15:28 10:21 4:11:27 9:36 4:11:52
David Zarbatany M45-49 50:28 8:09 1:46:13 8:07 2:23:41 10:59 4:09:54 9:33 4:11:53
Sarah Phelps
F30-34 50:51 8:13 1:50:45 8:28 2:21:09 10:47 4:11:53 9:37 4:12:05
Kerri Fisher F40-44 56:59 9:12 1:59:56 9:10 2:11:48 10:04 4:11:43 9:37 4:12:20
John Rohrs M40-44 53:19 8:36 1:55:21 8:49 2:16:21 10:25 4:11:41 9:37 4:12:34

Even some runners at the front of the pack experienced a slowdown:

Michael Combs M20-24 37:30 6:03 1:19:01 6:02 1:28:29 6:46 2:47:30 6:24 2:47:33

Did I start out too fast? Perhaps, but I felt *good* going into Umstead Park (mile 15). I felt a twinge in my right calf going up the small hill to the T intersection with the Reedy Creek Trail (past mile 16), but I recovered quickly. Did I not hydrate enough? I don’t know – I drank *something* at every water stop and I had 6 bottles of G2 Gatorade. Was I under conditioned? I don’t think so. Was it a tough course? Well “duh!”

What does this event have in common with my other marathon misadventures?
Cold start – warm-to-hot finish
Clear, low-humidity day – you sweat like a pig but you don’t feel the sweat
Many miles in direct sun

So the planets did not align. However, I’m only 6 seconds (man oh man oh man) off my third best marathon time, despite finishing those last miles at a crawl.

She’s a cruel mistress, the marathon. Next time, I think I’ll run a flat course.

The Tuesday afterwards, a fellow marathoner told me that he was impressed with my time and would be delighted to match it in his upcoming event. Others offered their congratulations. Anne, as always, kept me grounded, reminding me that a) no one puts as much stock in my finish time as I do and b) the fact that I ran and finished a marathon is remarkable by itself.

The marathon is a tough race. Duh! I achieved 1:48 and change for the Inside-Out half marathon earlier this year on a cold, cloudy day. I extrapolated from that finish to shoot for a competitive time on the City of Oaks. But City of Oaks was not on a cold, cloudy day.

The physical challenges compound when you double the distance, and a large set of intangibles (weather, hydration, confidence) exacerbate those challenges. As I said in my response to Christopher, the planets have to align. I have to accept how they align, learn from my experience, and attempt to apply what I learn to my next race.

And, as Anne points out, I should be glad that I can cross the finish line at all. I should enjoy the event no matter what time it takes me to complete it. I've run seven marathons so far. I need to look forward to my eighth, and beyond.

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