Sunday, May 4 2008
Marathon-A-Month #21 (#41 in all)
Finish: 2:59:26 (6:51 pace)
12th Place Overall (of 800)
1st Half: 1:30:33
2nd Half: 1:28:53 (Negative split by 1:40!)
*Splits at end.
Photos (Note Team LIT Headsweats Hat!)
Mile 24: Just before passing First Female…
After much thought over a marathon for May, month number 21 in my quest at Marathon-A-Month for two years, I finally settled on the Providence Marathon. Of all the marathons fitting my schedule, it was the one for which I could get most excited. But coming only two weeks after running the Boston Marathon, which was only one week after racing London for my April marathon, I was leery of inserting a race so close to the others. Although my body was feeling good, I craved a few more weeks of recovery, mainly to help the mind sync back in as preventative maintenance to avoid burnout. But Providence, coming in early May, would allow me to transition to training for Ironman Lake Placid and free up the month for bike miles rather unneeded run miles.
Once the selection was made for Providence, I started working on the mind by totally immersing myself into the course, race day logistics, and even the hilly terrain. By the time race weekend rolled around, I was excited for a fun challenge and a quick weekend getaway.
On the drive down the day before the event, I settled on several goals. In addition to having fun and notching the month of May, I also decided that I wanted a 3:15 or under finish time. I would start easy, continue that way through the half, and then let loose for whatever I had left for a serious negative split. Best case would be a 3:05 finish time. Or so I thought!
With a start time of 9 AM a few miles outside Providence, RI, a tiny city just south of Boston, there was no need to get up any earlier than usual. Apparently, the rest of the field of runners felt the same way, as the race was delayed by 15 minutes while we waited for late-coming shuttle buses to arrive. It wouldn’t have been so bad if not for what happened promptly at 8:30 AM. Sitting inside a warm, dry building along with two thousand others, we were told by police that the building was now closed; we had to exit immediately. “Make your way to the starting line,” an officer shouted with authority. Just outside the building, a chilly rain fell to the ground.
Down by the starting line heads bobbed up and down as runners tried to stay warm. By 9 AM, when the race should have started, the rain was now picking up and getting even colder. Goose bumps started growing on my arms and legs. It caused me to join the chorus: “Let’s get this thing started, already!”
Finally at 9:15 it was announced the National Anthem would be sung. A sigh of relief filtered through the crowd. I took my cap off and placed it over my heart as a young girl from New Jersey did the honors. Two verses in, she forgot the words. After a re-group, she started over. And then forgot the words again. As she attempted another go, we, a pack of runners anxious to get going, continued the singing of the Anthem where she left off. And when we neared the end, the Jersey girl flashed her patriotism by joining in: “…and the home of the brave.” Cheers went up. A gun sounded. Off we went.
With increasing rain falling from the sky, the race was started. Immediately out of the gate was a hill that conveniently separately the fast-to-start runners from those looking to settle in to pace. Because I had earned a chill by standing in the rain waiting for the start, I dialed the effort to medium, more than I would normally do for an event in which I was not racing, in an attempt to warm up sooner rather than later.
Mile 1 (7:13) came quickly, followed by a flat to gradual down Mile 2 (7:01). I was surprised at my split but feeling very in control. I figured another mile or two at this effort and I’d be sufficiently warmed up for the miles ahead, where I’d then dial it back to 3:10 finish time pace.
By Mile 3 (6:53) and 4 (6:56), I noticed that there were very few runners up ahead. Most of those, I figured, were part of the half marathon, while only a handful could be for the full. Tempting as it was to continue on pace, I purposely dialed it back. I didn’t need to race this.
Through Mile 4 (6:56) and 5 (6:51) I was amazed at my pace. My new shoes, with only 3 previous miles on them, felt cushy and fast. My legs, that should be weary, felt strong. And my body, that should be tired, felt fluid yet compact. Without anybody to talk with, I fell into pace, and when I did I couldn’t help but notice that although I was not on Sub-3 hour finish time pace, I was damn close.
And thus the race began. All because I took the first few miles fast in attempts to get warm.
Mile 6 (7:04) was a gradual up hill that ran long for nearly a half a mile or long. I took notes of the hill when I saw a Mile 23 sign, knowing I’d see this again, only the next time at what would probably be a defining moment of the race – if I was still in the game by then.
Mile 7 (6:56) and 8 (6:56) were very consistent. I was now running fast, wondering if I could hold this pace or slightly faster to the end, but still feeling in control. The new shoes were really feeling smooth. This was exactly where I wanted to be.
By Mile 9 (7:08) I was slowly increasing effort – increasing, that is, until I saw a familiar face on the side of the road. It was Byron. Bryon and I ran Sugarloaf Marathon the previous May together in the same pace group. We were 4 of 15 that hung together until the near end. Only now he was cheering on runners. And I had to stop to say hello. Byron, it turns out, is going back to Sugarloaf in a few weeks. We said our goodbyes and off I went.
Mile 10 (6:50) was about getting back to pace, and finding again that zone to last for the duration. Not long after, Mile 11 (6:38) came where the half marathoners broke away from the marathoners. That’s when I realized just how along I really was. As far up as I could see, only three runners dotted the landscape. Behind me were plenty, as I found out at Mile 12 (6:44) when I stopped to take a wee.
By Mile 13 (6:45), I was wondering just how close to Sub-3 pace I was. I knew I’d be over by a few seconds, maybe even as much as a minute, but still, not being a clock watcher, I had no idea. So I was pleased to see the half way point come at 1:30:33. But could I negative split this rather hilly course, especially with many of the tough hills yet to come? I didn’t know. But I was willing to try.
And since I was willing to try, I knew that my chances of holding on to this brisk pace would be greater if I had somebody to work with. 30 seconds ahead was my partner. But I had work to do to reel him in.
After a few hills through Mile 14 (6:55) and a quick 15 (6:49), I caught up to Tom, a Rhode Island local who, as I found out, lives very near mile 18 on the course. Tom wanted to break 3-hours. We were a perfect match, though I was worried because he was talking much more smoothly than I.
Tom and I worked together, with both of us increasing pace, through Mile 16 (6:38) and 17 (6:35), where we saw his extended family, a collection of 30 rowdy fans shouting on encouragement, which only caused his pace to pick up and me settle in behind him as I struggled to keep pace.
Mile 18 (6:40) was on a bike path along a river basin into a steep head wind. Tom gained several paces on me, but we otherwise remained equidistant apart. I wanted to tell him that we’d be better off working together. But I had no extra energy. I was now holding on to a brisk pace and starting to worry about when the moment would come when it all feel apart. ‘You’re too strong,’ I coached myself. ‘You can hold on. Believe it. Know it.’ And so I did.
Mile 19 (6:47), still into the wind, was great effort. I knew on a flat stretch with no wind, this would have been a 6:30 mile. Still, it was all good since it was still under the magic 6:52 pace required of a 3-hour marathon.
Tom had warned me of two rather steep but short hills coming up. Mile 20 (6:57), with me clicking on Tom’s heels, was the first steep hill, and what an unwelcome sight it was. After climbing the hill, I sat back, tried to stay compact, and got my breathing under control. By then Tom had gain more paces on me. He looked strong going up that hill. That was no mistake. Me holding on to him, maybe that was a mistake. I stopped the ill thoughts immediately and got to work.
With a slight down hill, Mile 21 (6:17) was FAST. I had to look twice at my watch to make sure it was accurate. Perhaps the course was mismarked or maybe it was just a fast mile. But that was when, much to my surprise, I was back by Tom’s side, running equal with him and, shortly later, even pulling ahead.
Mile 22 (7:21) was more rolling but gradual hills. The slower split didn’t faze me since I knew the previous one was fast. Still, was it good enough to now put me under 3-hour finish time? I didn’t know. But I still had drive in the legs and grit in the heart to make a go of it. I knew the next mile would be tough – a half mile gradual up hill – but I knew that I had to hold my own if I wanted to see a “2” as the first digit on the clock in the hour slot when I finished.
Mile 23 (6:56) was when I put some distance on Tom. I was holding onto pace, trying best to increase effort only gradually, just enough to hold pace but not so much to blow up, when all of a sudden, just before the long gradual hill, my calf seized into what felt like a ball. ‘This was real,’ as in a real injury, was my only thought. It came on hard, and it came of fast. I was certain I had a tear. I could feel a ball, feel the pain, and before long was craving the upcoming up hill so that I could stretch it on the run.
And with Mile 24 (7:01), the hill, that’s what I did. Only, it didn’t work. By then I was okay with the fact that I would leave everything out on this course in attempts to get that Sub-3 hour marathon. Even if it meant risking a long-lasting injury. I was so close to victory over Sub-3 to yield another thought. Ironman or not, I was going to punch through what I was certain was a muscle tear, and I would claim Sub-3 even if it meant being sidelined with serious injury. I knew I could do it, for I knew I could hold this intensity for another two miles.
And that’s what I did. I ignored the pain and pushed harder. I wanted Sub-3. And I wanted to go well under, in total negative split fashion. Just after the hill, I noticed up ahead a police motorcycle and two bicycles. That, I knew, must be the first woman. Sure enough, it was. She was holding strong but was not running a pace as fast as her finish time would allow. That told me she was starting to fade. “Hang strong,” I offered as I passed. “You’re looking good.”
By the time I reached Mile 25 (6:38), I knew I had a Sub-3 in the bank. With still 8 minutes and 15 seconds to go to the three hour mark, I knew I had it.
En route to Mile 26 (6:25), my calf was screaming, but I didn’t care. I was feeling great and just being careful to watch my footing. I was all out, hammering with a muscle tear, or so I thought, and only a nick of uneven pavement or pointy rock away from ending my day on a hard note.
As I entered back into the city streets of Providence, where the finish line was, I picked off several marathoners, many of which shouted encouragement. With a fast, flat half mile stretch lined with cheering fans, I knew I had it. I just knew it. I was flying, and I was feeling good. No longer did my calf balk, although it was still there, instead I thought about the story I might write, about notching a Sub-3 marathon, and about how amazing this sport has been to me. I tipped my Team LIT cap as a token thanks for the continued support and the motivation I garner from it, and as I rounded the final corner, I saw there down the road, the clock tick from 2:58:59 to 2:59:00. I had it!
And so I rallied the crowd to cheer even louder. The announcer mentioned “the three hour barrier,” and then called my name, “Finishing, Thor Kirleis, from North Reading, Massachusetts!”
I did it!
1 – 7:13 – Pouring rain, getting cold.
2 – 7:01 – Still raining, still cold
3 – 6:53 – Pace good with little effort – and few people ahead.
4 – 6:56 – Still chilly, still few people ahead.
5 – 6:51 – Decide to race because legs just feeling amazing.
6 – 7:04 – Long gradual up hill (will have to revisit this hill at mile 23… ugh!)
7 – 6:56 – Hitting nice zone.
8 – 6:56
9 – 7:08 – Stopped briefly to shake hands with a familiar face on side of road.
10 – 6:50
11 – 6:38 – Break away from half marathoners, very few turn for half.
12 – 6:44 – Only three other runners ahead in sight.
13 – 6:45 – Pushing harder and harder.
13.1 – 1:30:33
14 – 6:55 – Caught up with a guy to run with.
15 – 6:49 – Tom and I work together, pass a runner.
16 – 6:38 – Tom stronger than I.
17 – 6:35 – Tom getting ahead of me.
18 – 6:40 – Hit bike path with head wind but still holding strong.
19 – 6:47 – Start seeing a few dying soldiers.
20 – 6:57 – Several tough hills.
21 – 6:17 – Solid down hill, enough to break away from Tom.
22 – 7:21 – More hills.
23 – 6:56 – Calf balked hard!
24 – 7:01 – Long gradual up hill – must push hard to break 3-hour barrier, pass first place woman, she’s hurting but holding.
25 – 6:38 – Finally over hills, calf really hurting. Feel muscle tearing.
26 – 6:25 – All-out and picking off fallen soldiers, praying calf doesn’t force me to sidelines.
.2 – 6:25 – Round the final corner… Sub-3 is in the bank. Time to rally the crowd!