Sunday, November 22, 2009
284th place overall of 7500
24th place M40-44 of 652
1st Half: 1:29:45 (6:51 pace)
2nd Half: 1:33:13 (7:06 pace)
A marathon is comprised of twenty six and two tenths individual miles. Each mile, taken together, determines how the whole plays out. Look quickly and you might not see that although this is a marathon, not a sprint, no one mile should make or break the race, for it is simply too long a distance, but look more closely and you might see that to race a marathon to your fullest ability, no single mile should make or break the race but, you should know, any given mile may. And sometimes when looking back at the race after it had been penned in the daily log it might not be the mile you think.
Philadelphia Marathon, my 52nd go at the distance, was about a particular mile. A first glance might reveal that mile 19 dictated the outcome, for it was when the slowdown began. But a closer inspection will show that this was only a symptom of an earlier mile gone wrong. Perhaps it was the middle miles where the pace was rapid, far faster than intended. But it wasn’t. Those too were symptoms of an earlier mile gone wrong.
Of all the twenty six miles, there was one that dictated the outcome, for each mile thereafter followed with that tone, setting a new tune for the next, until the very end when the clock read something more than the goal had allotted, the song different to the hear than played.
Bouncing on my toes at the starting line to stay warm in the 38F brisk morning along with nearly twenty-five thousand other runners (8000 in the marathon, 9000 in the half marathon, and the rest for the adjoining 8K), I had no idea that a mile, one in particular, would define my race.
The goal had been to go under 3-hours. This meant holding a 6:52 minute per mile average pace throughout all miles. To my pleasant surprise the day before at the Expo, I had discovered that there would be a 3:00 pace group. That’s when I decided to simplify my race plan; I would go out with the group, lean on the help of others instead of going it alone. Race plan went from a list of trying to hit several key marks along the way to one of simplicity by just following along.
After the national anthem and announcements, the race was on. The first mile (7:30), being caught up in a dual start of half and full marathoners, was slow. We were already down 42 seconds. This shouldn’t be cause for concern, for we had 25 more miles to make up time. That should have been the thinking – but it wasn’t.
With a size of over 30, this 3-Hour pace group was the largest I had ever been a part of, and as if on queue, as soon as we went through that slow mile, the pace, as if panicked, ratcheted up for a fast Mile 2 (6:20) and 3 (6:48) to make up lost time. All it takes is one in the group to pace more quickly. This group had many. We paced more quickly.
Now back on three hour pace, having made up the 42 second deficit, the group slowed noticeably for Mile 4 (6:59). The uneven pace made me unsettled. I had worked far too hard over those early miles for this early in the race. I felt good. But I was working. And it was all because the group panicked at sight of the first mile being slow. Where the pack mentality should have been “It’s a marathon, not a sprint; we can make it up over the miles with a steady, even pace,” it turned into a chaotic all or nothing tune.
By then the personality of the group had been set. Instead of pacing steady as we did through Mile 5 (6:49) and 6 (6:54), it became running hard for a set pace (Mile 7: 6:47, 8: 6:47, 9: 6:39) because the prior miles were slow, then panicking and taking the pace way down (Mile 10: 6:52) and, because the group was now pumping with more adrenaline due to having already run faster miles picking up again quickly (Mile 11: 6:41, 12: 6:46, 13: 6:48).
The temperature was rising slowly during this stretch. I grew hot, then cold, then hot, and cold again. Gloves off, gloves on, off, on. Another concern was that I couldn’t get fluids in. Where normally I could suck down half a cup of water or Gatorade at each aid station, I would take in half only to spit out most of it. My heart rate was far too high on those quick stretches to get much in. The cascading effective of a slow first mile and an over-sized pace group was in full force.
By half way the pack was already half the size it was in the first few miles. Half came in 1:29:45. We hurried back and forth with the pace, but we were now on pace. Unfortunately, the personality of the group was strong, and so the ebb and flow with pace continued.
To this point I was staying firmly near the front of the pack, for it was too large to tuck in given the storm grates and potholes and uneven pavement on the roads. At times I would fall back only to slow my way back near front. One thing certain was that mile one was still rattling around in my brain. I knew by then that the slow first mile had set the tone to the frantic pacing system instilled in the group. I was breathing way too hard even though I was keeping up. I contemplating letting the group go and running my own race. But those thoughts ended right there: I knew it was easier to run with the group, especially now that we were on the second half. I told myself I was stronger than the course. I would do this.
Mile 14 (6:52) was the beginning of a long out-and-back stretch into the wind that winded along the Schuylkill River all the way to the town of Manayunk at Mile 20. This was the beginning of feelings of not-so-highs and deep lows, one after another, all the while still unable to get nearly as much fluid in as I would like. I hoped this would not come back to haunt me, although I knew better – the cascading effect.
Miles 15 through 19 (6:40, 6:57, 6:58, 6:48, 6:53) were more even, but by then I knew it was a matter of time before the cascading effect of the first mile would bit me in the ass. I just hoped that I was strong enough to push off that timeframe until after I hit the finish line. At times I found myself ahead of the group, and at times I struggled to keep up. Seeing that the pace of the group was more steady now, and knowing the signs my mind and body were giving me, I knew this was the beginning of the slowdown before the pace actually fell.
The slowdown came during Mile 20 (7:09) on a hill leading up and then down to the turnaround in Manayunk. On that hill I lost contact of the pace group, which was now down to 10 or fewer runners. And I knew I would not catch back up. My body was fatigued, with my lower back aching, and my left hip sometimes feeling as if it would give, also because of fatigue. My breathing was far too labored, and any incline set my pace to pot. This was it: The slowdown, the effect of a slow first mile having cascaded, through fast and slow, to the end.
Having now lost contact with the pack, it was time to get to work – exactly when, if I let my mind wander, it was done doing work. I knew exactly what I had to do. I had to minimize damages by fighting for whatever pace I could as long as it didn’t bring me to my knees in a walk, try like hell to keep the pack at a set distance, the imaginary elastic cord, and stay focused and in the moment.
And that’s what I did. I fought hard. I dug deep, very deep. I stayed in the moment. I removed all thoughts of distance remaining and pain in body and mind. And I worked on setting pace as fast as I could with breathing still barely manageable.
The long stretch back along the river felt like eternity, but slowly and steadily, the miles came one by one: 21: 7:11, 22: 7:26, 23: 7:30. I grabbed onto the shoulder of anyone I could find running a touch faster than me. I stayed focused, kept cadence up even though I had to shorten my stride, and I fought on.
A few more minutes, I told myself. Back to the moment. And the task at hand. On I fought. Mile 24 (7:21) was better, as I seemed to get more legs under me, but I was muscling through a left leg that wouldn’t always land correctly. I knew I had at least that much energy, to keep muscling, to keep breathing labored, and I believed in myself to be able to carry this to the finish line.
As Mile 25 (7:25) came, my tunnel vision permitted me to take in the wide open full roadway at the Museum of Art, with each side of the street filled with crazed fans cheering loudly, almost too loud for my tired ears. I was, finally, in the home stretch. I hadn’t looked at the clock to know what time I would finish in, but it didn’t matter. I had fought through each mile, one after another, paying the price for a slow first mile that set a pace group frenzied. At this point my goal was still the same: run as fast and hard as I could over the distance remaining. Give it my all on the day with what was before me. And that’s what I was doing. In a strange way, I was loving every damn painful minute; I was stronger than the course, this I knew!
Now in the final stretch, with crowd noise deafening, I saw Heather and her sister, Amanda, smiling and waving. Their smiles and the glow on their faces told me all I needed to know: They themselves had great races and for me, after a very difficult hour or more of holding onto pace for dear life, doing whatever I could to maintain, to minimize the damage, and hold onto my race, the pain was now over. I held on. I held onto not the race of my goal. But I held onto the race of the day, a worthy race, and a performance I am intimately proud of.
Chip time: 3:02:58.
Like a roller coaster from hell, after a slow start as the car clinked its way higher and higher before the screaming downs thrust it fast and steep ups halted it slow, I held on for a wild ride in pacing that would have likely been far different had it never climbed so high in the first mile of track.
1 – 7:30
2 – 6:20
3 – 6:48
4 – 6:59
5 – 6:49
6 – 6:54
7 – 6:47
8 – 6:47
9 – 6:39
10 – 6:52
11 – 6:41
12 – 6:46
13 – 6:48
13.1 – 1:29:45 (6:51)
14 – 6:52
15 – 6:40
16 – 6:57
17 – 6:58
18 – 6:48
19 – 6:53
20 – 7:09
21 – 7:11
22 – 7:26
23 – 7:30
24 – 7:21
25 – 7:25
26.2 – 9:07 (7:29)
26.2 – 3:02:58
13.1 – 1:33:13 (7:06)