Sunday, January 22, 2012
Time: 3:03:47 (7:01 pace)
4th place overall of 200
1st place Master
Ocala Marathon was a last minute excuse for me to visit my mother in Florida. I had wanted to pay a visit for a while, and then just after the Christmas holidays, I decided that a January or February trip made sense. A quick look on marathonguide.com, the de facto website for marathons, showed me all I needed to see in order to book a trip. I would visit my mother in Tampa, but I would first run the Ocala Marathon. It was a win-win.
Because of the late nature of committing to the trip, I didn’t have time to make this race anything more than a C-race. In other words, I didn’t have time to train specifically for it. So there was no way that I was going to run a PR or even have too much a chance to run under 3 hours. After a look on the race website, I discovered the winning time of the last few years was often soft, so I reserved right to upgrade the race from C to B if, come race day, I found myself in striking distance of top placement. The possibility was there. But would I crash and burn due to lack of specificity in my training?
One thing I didn’t want to do, regardless of how the race shook out in the early miles, was for me to roll over and die on the rolling hills course through horse country in Central Florida. So in the first two weeks in January, I inserted speed work to get the legs fired up to running hard and lungs conditioned to heavy breathing, and then a week before the race I took easy to taper into the event.
Arriving in Ocala, I had no idea on what to expect of terrain. Florida is flat, right? The course map showed gradual ups and downs, one after another, circling around and through horse farms. Northeast of Tampa by 75 miles and northwest of Orlando by the same, Ocala is located in north-central part of the state and is surprisingly not flat. Because of the gradual nature of the land, the area was loaded with false flats. No one hill would put you out – this wasn’t New England – but the hills, I knew, would become a factor in the latter stages of the race. This wasn’t your Grandfather’s Florida.
In the darkness of the morning on race day, now with me toeing the starting line along with 200 others, little did I know that the course, because of its terrain and horse farms, would quickly become among my all-time favorites.
“Go!” The race was started.
The race started and finished in the parking lot of a mall. As I settled into pace at the front of the pack, I got chatting with another guy. He said he was looking to go 2:50 or under on the day.
“If you see me,” I told him, “you’re having a bad day.” I’ll be somewhere under 3:10. I hope I don’t have to run too hard.”
As I watched him join up with two other guys to take the lead, I knew then and there that I would not be winning a race today; this year wouldn’t be as soft as others. One of those guys would go on to win. In fact, all three guys would finish 1-2-3. My buddy would take 3.
Over the first mile (7:11), I had fallen to 12th place. This was no big deal, as I purposely held back in order to see what the field would look like and perhaps find a new friend to chat away some miles with.
Mile 2 came with a split of 6:33. It was a little quick, but it was also predominantly downhill. I made a mental note of the hill; we would pass this again at mile 25 on the return trip home, only having to go up it. At this point I was still in 12th place. This would be my lowest placement of the day, for I was already running by myself, nobody to befriend.
On the next two long rises, each gradual and roughly a quarter mile in length, through Mile 3 (6:44) and Mile 4 (6:57), pretenders fell quickly. I moved into 8th place and then again into 6th.
Mile 5 (6:42) was the beginning of a 6 mile and out and back section. I would next return to this point coming from the opposite direction around mile 11. This was also part of the lollipop of the course where the pop would serve as a double loop. So I would be back here again, after doing the loop once, just beyond Mile 19. Mental notes were made.
Mile 6 (6:39) through Mile 7 (6:46) was a pivotal point in the race for me. This is when I knew that I was racing, when I knew that my pace was now under the 3 hour wire. I watched from my 6th place perch the top three guys, working together, slowly pull away. Number 4 (guy in white) looked to be trying to hold onto the top three but slowly coming back; he was, maybe, a minute up. Number 5 (shirtless guy) was within striking distance, but in a race this long I kept him there to serve as a rabbit to hold pace. I would rather run with him so that we could work together, but the energy it would take to catch up would do me in. That much I knew.
To the turnaround on the out-and-back and now heading back in the direction in which we came, Mile 8 (6:44) showed me just how much distance I had put on those behind me. As long as I didn’t fall off pace, I was secure in top 10. I was running hard yet in control and feeling pretty good. It was here where I lost sight of the leaders. Number 4 (guy in white) was still coming back to me, while I kept even distance behind Number 5 (shirtless). I was still in 6th.
On the other side of the road were runners heading out toward the turnaround. They cheered me on as did I them. “Nice work,” came a comment. “You’re in 5th place.” For sure they were wrong. I was in 6th. I was sure. Again it came, this time from someone else, “5th place, you look great!” 5th place?
Just then a guy on the side of the road jumped out from behind bushes, ran onto the road, and joined my side before quickly falling behind. It was the guy who was in 4th place (guy in white). I was now in 5th with 4th (shirtless) not far ahead.
Around Mile 9 (6:52) things got harder. I was working far more for the pace and started wondering if those early miles would do me in. I had no business seeing 6:40’s or under on my watch. Yet here I was, now working harder, but also feeling… different. Different than I normally feel. I was working hard, sure, and my breathing was on edge, but what was different was that I didn’t feel pounded like I normally do when I race a marathon. Normally mile 8 my body feels pounded. Now? I felt the fatigue but there was little pound on the body. My body actually felt… smooth. At least for the miles accumulated. This was either attributable to running in warm weather or, perhaps more convincing, Glucosimine pills that I’ve been taking for the last month. I laughed out loud when I made this realization. You’re getting old, I joked to myself, the Old Man. But hey, this old man is leading the old man category. All of those guys ahead of me look like youngsters. So there’s a first: Me. I’m leading something!
Not so fast, Old Man, I coached myself. You still have a lot of miles remaining.
Over the course of Mile 10 (7:00) and 11 (6:45), the guy behind me (guy in white) – the same guy who had been in 4th place and stopped to jump behind the bushes before I passed him – worked up from several paces behind me to right by my side. At Mile 12 (6:51), he made a move to claim 5th place and worked it through Mile 13 (6:46) to make it stick, up roughly 20 seconds on me. I was now back in 6th place.
Half came in 1:29:20. I was a bit surprised to be that far under 1:30. The time was now 8:30 AM. The sun was lifting high in the sky making the day hotter and hotter. I was a puddle of sweat. This was a good sign for the heat to come.
Over the rolling hills of the next 6 miles (6:47, 6:45, 6:46, 6:47, 7:00, 6:52), we completed the first loop of the course and started onto the second. During this stretch, I watched the guy in white slowly catch up to the shirtless guy, but there was no more distance gained on me. This meant that shirtless was coming back to me. I felt good enough to let them work together, or at least run together, for we still had a long way to go, and if I had to make a move right now, I felt I could over take them if I had a few miles. I was in a good position. I tucked in and kept effort steady.
By then we were back into the rolling hills of the course, the second time around. Hills were starting to wear on me. I was losing a few seconds here and there but otherwise felt that I was still on pace to break 3 hours. I laughed at my fortune having not trained specifically for it. I knew that it doesn’t come that easy. I knew that the hard work was yet to come if I was going under three hours or wanted to come close.
With guy-in-white and shirtless, places 4 and 5, still 20 to 25 seconds up on me, I followed along… straight off course. It occurred to me as we went by a familiar looking street corner that this is where I think we were supposed to turn. We did this section, going straight here, on the first lap for the long out and back. But the second time around, we were supposed to turn there. Or so I thought as I watched 4 and 5 run right by it. A tenth of a mile up the road was a lady walking in the full or half marathon. I stopped by her side and asked, “I’m on my second loop of the marathon… do you know if I was supposed to turn back there? I think I went off course.” The nice lady confirmed that I was off course. Crap. This sent me into action.
“YO!” I screamed ahead to guy-in-white and shirtless. “HEY!” No response. They kept running. “YO! HEY YO HEY YO!!!” Both kept running farther off course. Crap. With that I knew I had to take care of myself. I ran back to the turn and went straight up to a kid sitting in a chair beside the road. He was looking at his iPhone, just as he had a minute ago when the three of us ran off course. I got in his face: “Me and two other guys ran off course because you were dick’n around on your fuck’n phone. Those two guys are still out there. I want you to tell a race official or one of the cops patrolling the course to go get those guys.”
Now completely out of breath but surprisingly no longer pissed or flustered, I went through Mile 20 in 7:59. As I noted that the diversion cost me over a minute on the race clock, I realized that I had to not make up lost time but in fact keep effort even as it had been before, because these late miles of the race are where anything can happen, even a complete meltdown after a slight pickup.
In the growing heat of the morning, I continued on with hopes that I would be able to hold off all other runners and maybe, just maybe, see one of the guys ahead of me to perhaps pass them for 3rd place. Mile 21 (6:57) was still good, but by Mile 22 (7:06), with a mile over the 6:52 average needed for a sub-3, I knew for certain that I would not break three hours, though I suspected this a few miles back.
No worries, I was still in control and feeling pretty decent although getting bogged down quite a bit on the long gradual rises, as Mile 23 (7:32) could attest. I was not bonking; rather, I just had nothing more left to accelerate. My legs felt okay but didn’t move any more quickly.
Mile 24 (6:51) was back on pace, but Mile 25 (7:35) and 26 (7:55) was met with more long gradual hills that ate away tens of seconds at a time. During this stretch I looked back several times before I convinced myself that I was securely in 4th place.
Finish came in 3:03:47, which was good for 4th place overall and 1st Master. Goal accomplished. Fun time over what is among my favorite courses ever. Running through horse farms, with horses standing idle watching runners go by, was something I’ll never forget. Ocala Marathon, if you’re ever in town, consider it.
1 – 7:11
2 – 6:33
3 – 6:44
4 – 6:57
5 – 6:42
6 – 6:39
7 – 6:46
8 – 6:44
9 – 6:52
10 – 7:00
11 – 6:45
12 – 6:51
13 – 6:46
1st Half: 1:29:20
14 – 6:47
15 – 6:45
16 – 6:46
17 – 6:47
18 – 7:00
19 – 6:52
20 – 7:59
21 – 6:57
22 – 7:06
23 – 7:32
24 – 6:51
25 – 7:35
26 – 7:55
26.2 – 2:11
2nd Half: 1:34:27