Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon
Sunday, October 9, 2011
3:01:48 / pace 6:57
36/1000 place overall
8/126 Age Group M40-44
1st Half: 1:28:46
2nd Half: 1:33:02
*Full splits at end.
Whether I was ready or not to race the distance, the Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon was upon us. It was a weekend I was looking forward to. Not only were many Goons — friends from my running group, the Goon Squad Runners — making the trek to Albany, New York, making it a guaranteed fun time, but I was also looking forward to this as a test to see fitness-wise where I was at with my favorite distance.
Having spent the spring and summer running up and down mountains, I purposely abandoned speed work, even resemblances of it, in favor of training for summer mountain races and then launching right into training on trails and mountains with Jay (aka Brewski) for our epic TransRockies adventure across the Colorado Rocky Mountains.
Not only did I abandon speed, but it also abandoned me. Metrics from races and daily training runs proved that I was slower than previous years. For those who run mountains, you know that too much of it starts sapping your top-end speed. And this is exactly what’s happened to me.
Mohawk, as the marathon is known, would be the test that would tell me exactly where I was. I had hoped to have not lost much, but another part of me knew better. Numbers don’t lie. I was off. But, I wondered, by how far?
Perhaps saving grace was my knowledge that top-end speed and steady-state pacing are two different things. Often related, one typically tracks with the other, but in reality, I was hoping that although my top-end speed was off (a fact, not a guess), my marathon pacing effort would still be intact, or at least not as far off as top-end, due to my experience at the distance in knowing how to race it and my base of having run 62 previous marathons.
But all of this was just chatter in my head. My lack of specific training or confidence in running fast didn’t matter; I was still going to go out hard, at Sub 3-Hour pace. It would get ugly, that was to be sure… I just hoped that I got in enough miles before the ugliness kicked in. The race plan was to go out at as hard a pace as I could handle (sub-3), tempting a nasty crash and burn, and hold strong for as long as possible, and then, when it got hard, hold on a little longer without leaking too much time. And that is exactly what I did.
Race morning was a crisp Fall morning in the low 50’s as I boarded a yellow school bus in downtown Albany for the bumpy ride to the start in Schenectady of this point-to-point race. As I was waiting for the seats to fill, in came fellow Goons, Hank (Spanky), Annie (Poopsie), and several others. Everybody seemed relaxed and ready for the day ahead. This is among my favorite parts of a race: the calm before the storm. I make sure to stay even keeled until 15 minutes to go, when I purposely ratchet up the adrenaline. And that’s what I did before slipping into the starting gate a few rows from front. Not long after — bang! — the race was started.
Mile 1 (6:55) winded through the Schenectady park in which the race started. There was no chatter among runners around me. This was a serious crowd. This led me to one conclusion: in a race this big (1000 runners) there must be a group of guys trying to go sub 3-hours. A quick glance back showed that, sure enough, behind me were a collection of guys.
I got to work making friends: “Anybody back there shooting for sub-3?” I asked loudly so that the group behind could hear.
It is far easier to run hard when you do it in a group of others who are running equally as hard, especially when you’re trying to perform over your comfort level. And since my plan was to go out hard and hold on as long as I could, I knew that if I had the right group — and not all groups are right! — I would fair far better.
“Yes,” came back a reply. We’re shooting for under 3 hours. My name is Dave, and these are my buddies.” Dave, my new friend, said this as he pointed to four other guys, all wearing yellow.
I was now the sixth in their party.
Through Mile 2 (6:47) and over the next several (6:38, 6:41, 6:39, 6:46, 6:46, 6:47, 6:41) to Mile 10 (6:48) we made friends, talking about our professions, families, and running and Ironman (Dave had completed Ironman Lake Placid a year after I had). In addition to us, there were at least 15 to 20 other runners tucked in behind us, with the team in yellow and the guy wearing the “Big G” (that would be me, Thunder God!) leading the charge.
The first few miles were pretty rough. It always takes me 3 to 4 miles and sometimes 5 before I feel “on pace” rather than as if I’m trying to keep up. And this was no different. I joke all the time that it’s a wonder I do marathons, because it takes me 5 miles to warm up to feel okay at marathon pace, and by then I only get three miles of comfort before fatigue starts kicking in at mile 8. The rest of the miles hurt. I get three as my sweet spot. Great. Let’s begin.
During these miles our group took turns, two at a time, leading the way with the rest sitting tight behind. Each mile we would take turns pulling, as if on a group bike ride. The benefit is that you share the work load, with the guys in front setting pace, doing the work, and you keep everybody engaged.
Not long into this cycle, when it was my turn to lead the group, the guy I was doing it with was no longer there; he instead was tucking in. I made a mental note that this guy was probably running too far beyond his means.
It wasn’t long after Mile 11 (6:46) when this same guy started complaining about pace. He was right, too. The pace was too fast. If these guys really wanted to go sub-3, like if 3 hours was at the tip of their ability, we were running too fast. I knew that but discounted it because of the marathon experience in the group. So I kept it to myself. After a few more mentions of pace from the same guy, I told everybody to hold it back, to stop accelerating, to keep splits from here on out at 6:51.
“If you really want to go sub-3 as a team,” I started saying, “we should slow the pace down, because you’ll otherwise burn everybody out.”
This pace is good was the reply.
I countered, “That your buddy is even noticing the pace means that it is too aggressive for him. If you want to finish with him in the group, we need to cut it back.”
After some more explanation, they agreed to slow it down a touch. It wasn’t soon enough.
A mile later (Mile 12: 6:46) the guy had dropped off.
We cruised through half in 1:28:46. This was too fast. Granted, it was a fast course, but this was too fast for ME. I got that, but I was also willing to put myself out there, as this whole race was, in reality, me putting myself out there.
In hindsight, I should have forced everyone to slow down earlier, when I first noticed the faster pace. I brushed it aside because of the marathon experience in the group; what I failed to take into account was that although these guys have run many marathons, this was among the first times they were looking to break three hours. Racing and pacing are different things. This I knew. And I should have said something. Because the ugliness was about to come for this group. Only I thought it would impact me first, the others second. Thankfully I would be wrong on that account.
The next five miles (6:48, 6:41, 6:51, 6:42, 6:43) were the turning point. I had taken the lead to pull more times than not now, doing more than my share, giving the others a rest, even though they seemed to be strong. Our group wasn’t talking as much, but we were still working well as a team. At one point I looked behind me and noticed that our entire pace group (including those who were not in yellow who tagged along the entire way) was now down to a total of 8, including 4 of the guys in yellow.
Mile 19 (6:59) changed all of that. For everybody. This is when it got tough. If there is one mile when the shit hits the fan. This is the mile when the shit hit the fan. It stunk. Our group leading into this mile was fairly intact. After this mile, now when it was growing very hot, with aid stations spaced too far apart to stay hydrated, our group was decimated. It was every man for himself.
Through Mile 20 (6:57) I was still on pace for a sub-3 finish. Dave was a few paces behind me but dropping yet another pace with each tenth of a mile. On of the other guys in my group gained 10 yards. His yellow singlet in front of me served as a rabbit, or pacer, of sorts, since I knew he was the strongest of the bunch and had the greatest chance of going under three hours. My goal was to not let the gap get any bigger.
It was growing so hot and getting very difficult that by Mile 21 (7:03), although my pace was trickling away by 15 to 20 seconds, I was passing runners. But guy in yellow held strong. I kept the gap to 10 to 20 yards. Like an imaginary cord between us, I wouldn’t let it stretch beyond that.
Mile 22 (7:18) was a turning point for the worse. And it was a turning point for everybody around me. Guy in yellow came back to me very quickly. As I passed, he sent me along with encouragement. “Go get it,” he offered. “You’re looking strong.”
Maybe to him I was looking strong, but to me, I was feeling like death. I was on verge of overheating, splashing water on my wrists at each aid station; I was giving back seconds and now 10’s of seconds with each mile; and I was in dire need of salts, so bad that I was wiping my hand beside my face for the salts sweated out, and licking my hands. It was that bad. So bad it was that the reprocessed salts, they helped!
No worries, though, as I was now in full salvage mode, trying to not give back too many seconds. Mile 23 came in 7:11. The goal now was to focus on form so that I could run — not walk — through the finish. And maybe, just maybe, I could get at or still under 3 hours.
Sub-3 was officially out the window with Mile 24, when I gave back 45 seconds with a 7:36. There was nothing I could do. I was running as fast and hard as I could. Any faster and I’d be walking. In fact, there was no faster. There was only walking.
Mile 25 was a sieve at 7:32. But no worries. I was still on track for a kickass marathon. Life was good. But not just yet. Because this hurt, holding on to a steady, honest pace here in the growing heat.
The last 5K felt like forever. The bike path seemed to meander and curve around yet another bend. I was in such a world of hurt that I ignored any notions of the finish line. This required work to keep running, and I needed to stay focused.
Finally I saw crowds of people up the bike path. I couldn’t yet see the finish, but it was then when I looked at my watch to see that I just ripped off a race that I am ultimately proud of. I put myself on the line for a sub-3 affair, especially when I knew I wasn’t in shape for it, that it would get very ugly and maybe even a crash and burn, and I gutted it out.
As the smile grew on my face, the very next best thing greeted me. There, as I hammered down the path toward the finish, on the side was Heather and a collection of Goons hooting and hollering.
Finish came very sweetly in 3:01:48. I punched the air with a fist.
Not only did this qualify me for the 2013 Boston Marathon, but it also lowered my time for Boston 2012. What could have been a very bad race turned out to be something pretty sweet. It wasn’t the sub 3-hour affair that I desire, but I knew that I wasn’t in that kind of shape. I put my all on the line, gutted it out and refused to crack when it got tough — and it got tough — and held on for a last 5 miles from hell.
After crossing the finish line, I gathered my belongings, got something to eat, checked results, and in general took my time. Once rested, I headed back on the course to meet up with Heather and other Goons to cheer in the rest of the crowd still out on the course. After bringing in our people, Goons and non alike, our group headed over to the Albany Pumping Station, a brewery around the corner, for a few celebratory ales.
The beer wasn’t very good. But I didn’t notice. Victory makes beer taste good. I love marathons.
1 – 6:55
2 – 6:47
3 – 6:38
4 – 6:41
5 – 6:39
6 – 6:46
7 – 6:46
8 – 6:47
9 – 6:41
10 – 6:48
11 – 6:46
12 – 6:46
13 – 6:54
Half – 1:28:46
14 – 6:48
15 – 6:41
16 – 6:51
17 – 6:42
18 – 6:43
19 – 6:59
20 – 6:57
21 – 7:03
22 – 7:18
23 – 7:11
24 – 7:36
25 – 7:32
26.2 – 7:35
2nd Half – 1:33:02