Saturday, March 26, 2011
Marathon (26.2 miles)
93rd place overall of 2959
14th place M40-44 of 261
1st Half: 1:29:43 (6:50 pace)
2nd Half: 1:33:37 (7:08 *potty break)
“Do you think we’ll make it?”
It was the third time, maybe fourth, Heather and I asked each other this question as we sat in traffic trying to get to RFK Stadium in Washington DC for the start of the National Marathon.
Heather was to run the half marathon while I the full. But here we sat in traffic, now with only 15 minutes until the official start time, with the car GPS indicating that we still had a mile to go.
“No,” I finally said, “I don’t think we’ll make it.”
“Then you go,” Heather demanded. “This race is more important to you. I’m going to wait for Amanda anyway. So you go. I’ll take the car down.”
Heather was right. This race was important to me. It was my target marathon of the spring. The race was also important to her, but in a different way that worked out. She was going to run her race with her little sister, Amanda, and they planned to run the whole way together. And since Amanda was later than we were, it was a no brainer that I go.
That settled, I got dressed in the car, slipped on my running shoes and race belt with number, and jumped out of the car while Heather climbed from the passenger seat to the drivers. I tied my shoes beside the road, steadied my race gear and number, and set out for the mile run to the start. As I was jogging by a long line of cars, I heard a muffled noise in the background echoing off city concrete. It was the announcer getting the crowd ready for the National Anthem. I had no time to go to the bathroom. No time to stretch or chat idly. The race was starting. Only problem was that I had to go to the bathroom, both 1 and 2. Maybe, I hoped, it would go away as I ran. If only.
As patriotic words were sung, I slipped into the 2nd corral where I instantly found the 3-Hour Pace Group, a collection of 9 or 10 guys. By sight, it appeared I was the oldest of the lot.
Bang, a gun fired. The race was started.
National Marathon – Start!
With legs fully warmed up, I was able to hit pace right away. Running 6:50, our target pace, felt easy enough. I say “easy enough” because, well, it always feels brisk. This was no different.
Over the first few miles, I got to meet almost everyone in the group. Some folks just aren’t social, and I respect that. Everyone lived local as compared to me. One guy, Andrew, and I hit it off from the start. He actually lived in an apartment on the course. He was in his 20’s. The pace leader was young too. I asked him his marathon PR (“2:55, last fall”). I was alarmed by the response but kept it to myself. Right there I knew I would have to keep an eye on him in the later miles. With a marathon PR of 2:55, pacing a 3-hour group is not easy. There just isn’t enough of a difference in pacing. This became evident as the miles ticked on, as the pace leader said few words.
The National Marathon course navigates the streets of Washington DC by many landmarks. At mile 4 it shoots up north, through Dupont Circle and up through Georgetown before heading back east. This stretch of the course is challenging with long gradual hills that rise and fall in the order of a 100 feet here and there. While there are no steep hills, the course is not fast. And if you do not pace well, it can eat you up early.
At mile 5 was a portopotty, and I had to go. I did my business quickly. It took about 1:10 in time. After that I got back on course riding my horse as fast as I could to catch back up to the pace group. It took just over a mile, but I did it. I hoped that little pick up wouldn’t come back to haunt me later.
It wasn’t until the timing mat at 10K when we knew we were on pace. To that point, believe it or not, there were no visible mile markers. I firmly believe that they were there, but they were probably sitting underneath parked cars or hidden from view. We saw not one. At one point a runner came up to us and asked: “Three hour group, what’s your strategy… how much time are you banking (in the first half of the race)?” To that the pace leader replied: “We don’t really have a strategy… we haven’t seen any mile markers. We don’t know if we’re on pace or not.”
The pace over the first 8 miles remained fairly steady. It wasn’t smooth. But it wasn’t as bad as the Philly Marathon was a few years back when the pace group was all over the map.
My new friend, Andrew, and I were pretty much running shoulder to shoulder. “How are you feeling?” he asked around mile 10.
“I’ve got a pain in my calf,” I replied. “I’m a little worried about it. I felt it the past few weeks, and now it’s really hurting. Gotta watch where I step. It might pop if I don’t.” That was the last of my social hour.
National Marathon – Mile 19
Not long afterwards the half marathoners broke off to the right for their finish while we went to the left. We in the pace group were pleased when we went through the halfway point to see that we were indeed on pace. Half came in 1:29:43. By that point, however, I was in pretty rough shape. My calf was now not only hurting but it was very stiff. I knew that to go on would mean injury. But by then it was probably already too late. As long as I kept running, I knew, it would be okay; stop running and I won’t be able to walk.
So run I did.
Through 14 miles the pace group was mostly intact. We had 7 or 8 guys still holding on, some obviously not very strongly.
It wasn’t long after that when another urge came. I had to go to the bathroom, and this one couldn’t wait. I knew then that I would not see the pace group again. This business would take a little too long. And I was right.
After a stop of 1:40, I was now off pace of sub-3 and far away from the three hour pace group.
As I picked up pace, now faster than I had been running with the group, I decided that I’d be better off in my effort to go sub-3 if I tried to use the pace group as a rabbit to make up the time I had just lost.
Through mile 20 I was able to close the gap to what I guessed was a minute. But the group, now falling apart in front of me, was still out of reach. And the headwind was strong. By then I was holding on for dear life, running as fast as I could for the distance remaining. It would have been nice to have the group through this. There were few mile markers, and those that we out were mostly off, so I had no idea on my pacing other than seeing the three hour pace group up ahead and trusting they were still on pace.
Mile by mile, the calf got worse and worse. By then I had to choose my running path such to avoid potholes and uneven surfaces. Every now and then the calf would twitch, hurt more, stiffen more greatly. It hurt. It was injured. And mile by mile, I picked off yet another guy who had been in the group.
Miles 22 to 24 were back into rolling hills. I tried my best to not slow down, but I could feel it, ever so slightly, and my quest at Sub-3 slipping away. I just couldn’t make up the time I had lost due to the potty breaks, and on top of that I probably still would not have gone under three. I just didn’t have it on the day. The slowdown, however gradual it was, was there. I was still running hard but not at under the 6:50 pace I needed. And so I tried to maintain what I had, salvage the race earned to this point, and not test the waters with a pace I couldn’t hold.
Finish came in 3:03:20.
I would find out later that the 3-Hour pace leader finished in 3:01. He was by himself. One other went ahead (finished in 3:00) while all others fell back, most behind even me.
On the day, I gave it my all, ran a smart race, or so I feel, but just didn’t have a Sub-3 in my legs. I believe that I could have gone Sub-3 on a different course or perhaps on another day. But on this day… yeah, I gave it my all, I didn’t get Sub-3, but I did enjoy the hell out of it.
Splits (distance / accumulative time / acc. pace)
*No mile splits were seen on the course!
10K – 42:34 – 6:51
*1:10 potty break. Caught back up.*
Half – 1:29:43 – 6:50
*1:40 potty break. Never caught back up.*
20M – 2:18:30 – 6:55
Finish – 3:03:20 – 7:00