Sunday, February 26, 2012
Time: 3:03:41 (7:01 pace)
12th place overall of 402
2nd place Master
Several months ago I was debating whether to sign up for the Canadian Death Race, a 125K race traversing three large mountains in the Canadian Rockies, when my mountain running friend Ross Krause said something that resonated with me in way that guided me towards the final decision to give it a go.
Ross said, “You’ve got to strike while the iron is hot – so if you are fit and motivated there’s your answer.”
The comment hit home because it was an extension of how I think regarding these things, only this was put into words, concrete and real. When I second-guess myself on this or that – do I race, or do I not race, because you cannot race every marathon when you run several per season – I often fall back on this idea for my answer.
This saying got me to sign up for the Death Race. Why can I not do it? Decide to do it, and then do it. There’s nothing more to it. If you’re fit and motivated, and if the iron is hot, go get it. End of discussion.
I found myself coming back to Ross’s comments after racing Ocala Marathon in late January to a tune of 3:03:46. Hyannis was only four weeks later. I was originally going to do Hyannis for fun (not race). Convention says that you don’t race back to back marathons. It is hard. Especially on the mind (re: burnout).
But I was feeling strong and confident. The iron was hot. I wanted to race. I didn’t know if I was capable of going sub-3, something I would indeed shoot for, but I was motivated to give it a go even though I glossed over more formal training for it. No matter; the iron was hot. I had my answer.
As the weeks marched toward the Hyannis Marathon, the iron grew hotter and hotter. I was excited to give it a go. Where Hyannis originally hit my race schedule in early January as a C-race, something I would train through en route to the Boston Marathon in April, I quickly upgraded it to B.
The iron was hot. I was ready to race.
Unfortunately, race day wasn’t on the same page. The morning came blustery and cold with a stiff yet steady 20 mph wind. Although this spelled a tough, slow day ahead, no matter – the iron was hot! I was mentally plugged in and physically ready to go.
Wearing shorts, two long sleeve tight-fitting shirts, and the mighty G (Goon singlet) along with three gels attached to a race belt, I gave Heather a goodbye kiss before slipping into the starting gate a few rows from front. To keep the iron hot, I bounced up and down on my feet. It was cold and windy.
Bang. The race started. Five thousand runners took to the streets of Hyannis. 600 of those were in the full marathon.
Still within the first mile (6:47), I recognized a familiar stride of a runner ahead of me. First confirmation was that it was a female. Second was that she was wearing a shirt with the letters “TNT” on the back. I knew right away it was Issy from the Tuesday Night Turtles.
Issy and I ran together for the next four miles (6:50, 6:50, 6:56, 6:46) until we lost touch through an aid station. Issy was no random find. She is also doing the Canadian Death Race in August; she is part of the group that I’ll be training with. We chatted these miles by with talk of the Death Race.
The marathon at Hyannis is two loops of the half marathon course. I like the format because it means that when you’re doing the marathon, you have people to run with to help you through the first loop. But after that, you’re on your own.
It was during this stretch when the wind was steady and mostly in the face as a headwind. I did my best to tuck behind half marathoners to let them shield the wind. Mile 6 (6:51) was hard but still on track for the coveted 6:52 pace required for a sub-3 hour marathon finish time.
The next several miles (6:57, 7:10, 7:11) were disappointingly slow, and I had to work for them to keep them as fast as possible. This is where the course goes due west along the coast. With the steady 20 mph wind coming from NW, this meant a nasty headwind for a long stretch, even as the course pulls more inland in a north-west direction.
This was the first time when I thought about sub-3 in the context of it likely not happen today. Realizing this didn’t matter, though, since I always race by feel. I worked harder going into the wind, but I refused to let my breathing get too far out of control, because I know to do that quickly spells doom.
So I worked those miles into the wind, fought with a slightly higher effort, but let go of the idea of running a certain pace. It was one of those days. Mile 10 (6:53) was finally back on pace as the course pulled farther away from the coast. If I was going to go under three hours, I would have to make up lost time.
The remaining miles of the loop turned in the direction due east to south-east, a nice reprieve that better aligned with the wind. Now with the wind at my back or to the side, sometimes pushing me forward, I got pace back to where it needed to be. Mile 11 (6:50) and Mile 12 (6:51) were spot on.
Miles 13 and 14, with the wind mostly at the back, this is where I tried to make up time. I was able to get pace down to 6:46 during this two mile stretch, though I was also starting to feel heavy in the legs from having earlier exerted extra energy fighting into the wind. Even though I got pace for those miles back under 6:52, the work required told me that sub-3 would very difficult.
Just after Mile 13, the split in the course came for the half and full marathons. With the half marathon finish to the right and half marathoners peeling off that way toward the tape, I stayed left. Suddenly, I was all by myself. It didn’t escape me that this was a key and very telling point in the race.
I expected to be left by myself after the split, as I knew that if I was around 3 hour pace, or 1:30 for the half, the split would change the race in dramatic fashion. For me, and really for any runner, this is a pivotal point in the race. Whenever you have a course with two loops, especially when you are running a marathon and the other race is a half with the half finish at the split, you go from having people to run with to being by yourself; it is here when you find out where your mental game is.
To this point I was running aggressively but still within myself. My legs were heavier than normal, but I knew that was due to the wind during that 6+ mile stretch in the first half. But now, now that I was all by myself with only a single relay runner in sight ahead of me, it was a moment that would tell me how the rest of my race would unfold. This is precisely when you realize just where your mental game is.
And as I began that second lap, leaving behind the company of friendly half marathoners who were now done for the day, I realized that, damn it, the iron was still hot. I was in the game, mentally plugged in. I thought not about whether 3-hours was or was not likely to happen, not about how many miles I had left or the crazy wind section ahead; instead, I was focused on my body, in control of my breathing, and hungry for the battle immediately in front of me.
Half came in 1:30:14.
A few paces up the road, the course cuts through part of downtown Hyannis. That is also where the road tips up ever-so-slightly before it shoots away from town center. It was on that rise where I saw a familiar yellow winter jacket. It was Heather. I put up my hand until she waved back. I was all smiles.
Just as I was contemplating stopping for a good luck kiss, Heather yelled out to my attention. “Top 20,” she said. “You’re in top 20.” Without pausing, the best support person on earth went to my needs, “Do you need anything?” She held up a small bag of extra warm clothes and hat and gloves.
“I’m good,” I replied. I was good. Although there were cold sections, my internal furnace was keeping me plenty warm in my shorts. I had everything I needed. The iron was still hot.
Mile 14 (6:46) came quickly after that excitement. It was here where I gobbled my second gel and got back to focus.
The beginning of the loop was mostly with the wind at the back or side, and only sometimes into the head. So it was no surprise to be able to run near pace, though I did notice that none of the next two miles – Mile 15 (6:56), Mile 16 (6:58) – were under the 6:52 I coveted.
Through this part of the second loop, I started seeing another runner, and then another, up ahead. This was good news because although I was losing a few seconds per mile toward my goal, the truth was that other people were losing far more. My iron was hot. I was closing gap, moving up in the race.
Next came the second pivotal point in the race. These next five miles were directly into the 20 mph and growing headwind. There was no way around it. Nobody to draft behind. Just me and a nasty wind. No worries, though, the iron was hot.
Although this stretch, Mile 17 (7:09), Mile 18 (7:13), Mile 19 (7:10), and Mile 20 (7:39), was slow, and although I bogged down quite a bit, especially when the course tilted up, I fought through it by increasing effort to the maximum sustainable, my breathing on edge the entire time, and kept it there regardless of what the watch said my pace was. This was a slow, tough day. Worry about pace and the race is gone; this I knew. So I focused on effort, running on edge but within.
This part was also picked off several guys. One was walking, another wobbling, and another plodding. Ahead of me, way up the road, was the next. I gobbled my third and final gel and was back to focus.
In and out of the wind again, for Mile 21 (6:52 – out of wind) and Mile 22 (7:17 – back in the wind), I came through the wind tunnel still in control of my race. I was not hitting the wall, and although my legs were slowing, with lactate acid building, I was still powering. The iron was hot. I locked eyes on that guy ahead and then another and kept motoring.
Now through enough of the course to finally have the wind at the side, as opposed in the face as it was for the majority of the previous 6 miles, I knew I would finish with a strong marathon time. I wasn’t sure what the time would be, for I didn’t count the seconds lost each mile, but I knew that if I could just stay focused I would rip off a decent race, one I would be ultimately proud of.
Mile 23 (7:09) came quickly. I felt like I was running 6:30. No matter. The iron was hot. I was feeling good, just not running that fast. It was here when I made a mental note about how quickly the race had gone to this point. I mean, I was already on mile 23! Part of what helped – and helped tremendously, I should add – was that having done the race before back in 2007, I knew the course. Familiarity shortens the course.
Dreaming of the finish, I missed mile marker 24 – no wonder that mile seemed so long. The good news was that before I knew it I was passing Mile 25. During that stretch I closed the gap to those two runners and even picked off a relay team. I was feeling good but now wanting this to be over. Miles 24 and 25 came with an average pace of 7:11. Legs were heavy and breathing running amok, as I did my best to leave everything on the course, but I felt fluid and still in control.
Ahead was my next victim. As a way to motivate myself and stay focused through the finish line, I set chase determined to catch up. Alas, I ran out of room. Mile 26 (7:08) and the finish area came into sight quickly.
Just then I heard the loud speaker announcing the finish of my rabbit of the last few miles: the first female was finishing. Heather would later tell me that this girl was up on me by at least five minutes, maybe more, at the half way mark. I wasn’t surprised. It was a slow day; a lot of people slowed. I did too but not by a lot.
Next it was my turn. Into the finish chute I turned, I passed a half marathoner, who kindly took the middle of the road so that I could run tangent, around the corridors I went. All too quickly I saw and then heard Heather shout my name, then another person call my name, then finally the finish line came into view around the final bend.
And there, that moment, was a moment in marathon racing that I never forget; it is amongst my favorites: the first time I set eyes on the clock. Although I take splits on my watch, I never look at the running time on the clock. It’s something I just do not need to do, for I run at edge and to my ability, unable to give anything more. And so seeing the clock for the first time, you bet your ass I was psyched to see it ticking in the 3:03 range. Especially when you’re expecting it to be higher.
Finish came in 3:03:41, exactly 5 seconds faster than Ocala a few weeks earlier. A 1:33:27 second half split helped me finish 12th overall of 600 registered (400+ actually finishers) and 2nd Masters runner. For that I won a 2nd place medal.
The iron was hot. I was fit and motivated. And so I ran. Aggressively but in control. On a tough, slow day. And I laced up a race that I am ultimately proud of. Because the iron was hot.
1 – 6:47
2 – 6:50
3 – 6:50
4 – 6:56
5 – 6:46
6 – 6:51
7 – 6:57
8 – 7:10
9 – 7:11
10 – 6:53
11 – 6:50
12 – 6:51
13 – 6:46
1st Half: 1:30:14
14 – 6:46
15 – 6:56
16 – 6:58
17 – 7:09
18 – 7:13
19 – 7:10
20 – 7:39
21 – 6:52
22 – 7:17
23 – 7:09
24 – 7:11
25 – 7:11
26 – 7:08
26.2 – 1:29
2nd Half: 1:33:27