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St. George Marathon Race Report

October 2, 2011

It was a very good day and about 75 seconds from being a great day.  First, the results and some stats.  My race time was 3:16:14, an average pace of 7:29/mile and average speed of 8.0 mph.  That was good for 406th out of 5294 finishers, whose average time was 4:30:03.  I’m not sure how many runners started or dropped out of the race but I know that 7400 were registered.  So, based on the finished, I was in the top 7% of the field.  From all who started the race, I was somewhere in the top 5-6%.

Here’s how the folks in charge have actually illustrated my result:

Like so many of my key races, this one has a bitter-sweet aspect to it.  My “A” goal had been to break 3:15:00.  My “B” goal was to break 3:16:00.  Both are somewhat arbitrary, with the “B” goal being what it would have taken to qualify for the Boston Marathon through 2012.  I say arbitrary because even had I hit my time it wouldn’t have mattered, as the qualifying times for Boston have gotten tougher for 2013 and the registration period for 2012 had passed prior to my race.  There still would have been something special in knowing that I had hit the time historically necessary to achieve the much sought-after “BQ” (Boston Qualifier).

Map of course showing selected leaders

But I didn’t and, much to my own surprise, it doesn’t bother me much.  I feel like I could have done some things differently in my race build up but, for the most part, I did things right.  My training was solid and consistent.  (For those looking for an opportunity for some bathroom humor, here’s your chance.)  I came into the race rested, uninjured, without much stress, and appropriately enthusiastic and optimistic.  My diet had been just right and I was lean and fit.  I had worked out and practiced my race nutrition plan and running gear so I knew exactly how to avoid blisters, chaffing, stomach distress, and dehydration.  And I was without distractions in the days leading up to the race, able to relax and have all the tiny details worked out so when the alarm went off at 4am on race day, I was already up and alert.  And all these factors collectively came together during the race just as I had hoped they would, ultimately resulting in a hard run but enjoyable race with an almost 14-minute PR (personal record).

So, why is there any bitter in the sweet?  I’ll come to that in a second.  Before being a downer I want to go into how the race unfolded.  I had already decided a couple of things beforehand.  (1) I’d start out slow and shoot for a negative split, and, (2) I’d stay behind the 3:15 pace leader for at least the first 20 miles, even if I was feeling strong.  The course has some real climbs, mostly from miles 7-12 and another around mile 20.  Other than that, it’s all downhill, with a net drop of about 2500 feet.

While the second half is almost entirely downhill, it can be a lot of stress on the legs and it is all run as the temperature is rising.  We had something approaching a record high temperature for the race, with it in the 80s and fully sunny at the time I finished.  Even so, I was good about sticking to my plan, starting out easy and getting through halfway, even with the hills, in just under 1:39 (a marathon pace of 3:18).  Up to that point I was steady, sometimes falling up to 100 yards behind the pace leader but unconcerned, as I know I am good at closing that sort of gap easily on the long downhills.  The pace wasn’t exactly conversational but I knew it wasn’t taking much out of me, either.

At the halfway point, I knew it was time to pick up the pace and take advantage of the downhills.  All along, I was diligent in taking a gel every 20 minutes and drinking a couple of ounces of water at each aid station.  My energy remained level and I felt neither thirsty nor bloated.  Really, things were going as well as I could have imagined they might.  Anyone who has run a marathon (or had the misfortune of having a marathoner in their life) knows about The Wall that runners hit, usually somewhere between miles 17-22, making the remainder of the race quite difficult, often resulting in a major drop off in pace.  I waited for it to hit.  And waited.  And waited.  But it didn’t.  I felt some fatigue setting in, of course, but nothing unbearable.  The miles kept ticking off and I just focused on passing whichever runner was the closest in front of me.

One by one, I was passing people and concentrating on running a straight line down the course.  I kept the pace leader within striking distance, at times running on his shoulder, to ensure I wouldn’t miss my goal.  Then, at the Mile 21 aid station, I took some water while running and looked ahead and no longer saw the pacer.  There was a sight line of at least a quarter mile and I hadn’t hardly slowed at the aid station so I figured I had dropped him, which was ok at this point in the race.   With 5.2 miles left and energy to spare, I had visions of greatness.  I stayed on pace the next three miles, telling myself I’d just hold myself back then push hard to the finish with a couple miles left.  I figured, at that point, my “A” goal was all but locked in and was thinking that 3:13 might even be doable.

I never did again see the pacer (even as I slowed below the 3:15 pace – a mystery I’m not sure I’ll ever have a chance to unravel) so I figured as long as he was behind me, all was well.  For a few minutes I had some twinges in my calves that I knew could be a problem but then, with less than 3 miles left, BOOM:  Cramps, alternating between both calves and both hamstrings.  Not just the usual aching muscles but genuine seizures in the muscles.  I hobbled along as fast as I could, somehow staying under 8 minute miles but the pace was slowing and I couldn’t figure out what to do about it.  So I just kept pressing forward.  Without water, I swallowed a salt tablet but its coating made it stick to my dry throat, causing me to briefly choke until it popped from somewhere deep in my throat below my Adam’s apple back out of my mouth and onto the pavement.  All while half limping, half sprinting, knowing the finish line was than 2 miles away.

I’d have 15 or 20 seconds where the intense pains would subside and I’d feel like maybe they were over and pick the pace back up then LEFT CALF, RIGHT HAMSTRING.  It was super frustrating, knowing I had timed almost everything right, with enough reserve energy for a proper hard finish, but limited by some minor imbalance in salt or water or something.  I really wanted to run hard but just couldn’t move any faster, seeing my goal time slip away.  The final push to the finish line was miserable.  Normally, I look forward to that last 15-30 seconds of redlining through the finish, on the edge of passing out, trying to catch just one more runner ahead of me.  But my dumb ass legs took that away from me and I saw the bright red 3:16:XX ticking upwards as I struggled through the line.

So, yeah, some disappointment at the end of the race but I learned a few things.  The first is that if it is even a little bit warm, go ahead and take the salt tabs early and often, even if it doesn’t seem necessary.  The second is that I have more speed than I once thought.  Running in the low 7-minutes-per-mile isn’t that hard anymore and I need to reorient my future goals and training.  Also, even though the last couple miles sucked, overall the effort was easier this year to run 3:16 than it was last year to run 3:30.  Some of the difference was course – St. George is certainly faster than Austin – but a lot comes down to better training, better discipline, and better pacing.  That might just mean future big PRs are a real possibility.

My stand-alone half-marathon PR, set in 2010, is 1:35:06.  The second half of this marathon, even with the cramps and a hilly 13.1-mile warm-up, was run in about 1:36.  That’s pretty cool.  What this tells me is that I’m getting significantly faster at all distances, something that I’m guessing isn’t all too common for guys on the back end of their 30s.

The big take-a-ways – I’m proud to still have the health and will and support of family and friends to keep on pushing to see what I can achieve.  There is a satisfaction that comes from working hard at something meaningful, with an objective goal, and putting that out there for the world to see.  Even if you fall short.  I don’t imagine there’s a person on earth who cares what pace I maintain over 26.2 miles but I hope that the fact that I care says something positive about me.

——

Mile-by-mile splits:

Mile 1   7:52
Mile 2   7:28
Mile 2   7:07
Mile 4   7:08
Mile 5   7:13
Mile 6   7:08
Mile 7   7:18
Mile 8   8:27 (Uphill starts, through mile 12)
Mile 9   7:54
Mile 10 7:38
Mile 11 7:59
Mile 12 7:41
Mile 13 7:11
Mile 14 7:23
Mile 15 7:00
Mile 16 6:58
Mile 17 7:20
Mile 18 7:17
Mile 19 7:35
Mile 20 7:20
Mile 21 7:09
Mile 22 7:44
Mile 23 7:33
Mile 24 7:26
Mile 25 7:29
Mile 26 7:57
Last 0.2 1:56 (7:35/M pace)
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