Describing the marathon is not an easy task. There is so much suffering and work that goes into it and it feels insufficient to use only words to describe it. In shorter races you can try again in a few days or weeks. In a marathon you get one, albeit very long, shot. However I will try because the experience is so great that not attempting to explain it is a failure.
Over the next few weeks I will write the article dealing with my training highs and lows and another one about my next running goals. For now you get the race day excitement.
My day started at 4:45 AM and I was awake before the alarm went off. Despite only five hours of sleep I was raring to go. Well, as raring to go as I could when it was dark out and an uncertain future loomed. I happily ate half a bagel then I forced the second half down. I drank some coffee on the ride to the start line and tried to eat some chocolate croissant, but there came a point when I just could not stomach any more food because of the nervousness.
We parked near the McDonalds and started to walk up the hill a mile to the start but some shuttle school busses picked us up and dropped us off at the start. My host G and I walked around to calm my nerves. The 200 port-a-potties were emptry at 6:15 AM which is nice because no one likes to wait in line.
I just kept walking around to stay warm in the 37F chill. Finally 21 minutes before the start I went for a 11:37 jog out and back along the start, probably 1.4 miles. After some leg swings and active isolated calf stretches I lined up way in the back (the tenth row or so). I was even behind some 50s and 60s age women. In other words, I had to weave around a few people the first half mile. There comes a point when moving to the front of the pack gets negative looks from the people you are pushing aside. It is a hazard of the sport. A slow person can line up shoulder to shoulder with one of the best in the world if you don't mind some pushing and shoving. Try standing on the line beside Tim Tebow during his first play of the game.
The gun went off and I started my watch just before I crossed the line. I took it out at a pace that felt easy and manageable. The first mile is significantly downhill so it was very fast. I clocked myself at 5:18.85. By that time I was in front of the third pack. The leaders were off quick. The second pack was a mere 5 seconds ahead of us. Clint Verran and another Hansons runner were up in that pack and I had this strange feeling of living a daydream. I have many times on runs imagined running down famous runners in a marathon so to be there a few seconds behind a guy that has performed multiple times and consistently was realizing that I have arrived. I thought I would slow down on the flatter miles so I felt really comfortable with my place.
My next three miles were 5:22, 5:25, and 5:21. I ran with the third pack and I would pull ahead five or ten feet on the downhills and get caught into the second row of the pack on the uphills by maintaining a consistent effort. I knew I would slow down but it was so fun see these splits! I felt so good! I have felt terrible the last three and a half weeks and I have not totally figured out why I felt amazing Sunday.
Going up one of the hills I let the pack run away from me. I have to run my own race and not get lulled into going out over my head. My next miles were 5:33 (27:00 at five miles), 5:31, 5:33, 5:38, 5:43, 5:35 for a 54:59 at ten miles. Every mile was exciting to look at my watch and see that I was putting the feet to the pavement. 5:20s, 5:30s those are not terribly fast mile times but to be able to do them over and over after barely training at those paces was rewarding for all of the training that I did.
With every passing mile I was getting more excited. I figured I would probably slow down, but I also figured there would come a point when all I had to do was run six minute miles to finish and get under 2:30. As I gradually drifted back through the other runners I hit 11 in 5:31, 12 in 5:43, 13 in 5:40 and the half in about 1:12:27, which is a mere 39 seconds slower than my PR. It is also my second fastest half. I felt so good! Well, I felt really good considering that two months ago that would have been a PR for me. In other words, to run a great marathon I think you need to feel totally fresh at halfway and I did not feel fresh. I felt strong and consistent but a 1:12 half is not a walk in the park for me as it needs to be for me to even split at that pace.
I came through 14 in 5:37 for a 1:17:32 total and my first PR of the day. Likewise 15 in 5:49.8 (I list the decimal on that one because I can't usually see the decimal when I am running and there is a mental difference between seeing 5:4X and 5:5X even though in this case it was about 1/5th of a second actual difference) for a 1:23:21 split, 16 in 5:47 for a 1:29:08 split, and 17 in 5:43. At that point I was really excited mentally. That's about 2/3rds of the way through the race and I was averaging something fast. Physically though, things were going downhill. My vison was a little blurry entering the flages for 17 miles. That is typically not a good sign.
My eighteenth mile was 5:51. Not terribly slow, but 5:50s counts as slow in my book. I didn't put negative thought into it because at that point I was working pretty hard and I knew I would run whatever times I would run and as long as I didn't "give up" I would run as fast as I could on the day.
My nineteenth mile was 5:50, 20 was 5:53, and 21 was 5:55. Those miles went... well enough. Passing 20 I made sure to check the little numbers on my watch that gave my overall time: 1:52:27. That was super exciting. I managed to calculate that 37:30 is what six minute pace would be the last 10k. So when I knew that all I had to do was run sub six pace to the finish I was thrilled to know that I would break 2:30.
Alas, no one is done until he or she is done. My 22nd mile was a plodding 6:01. I figured I had something like two or three seconds a mile slower than six minute pace to get to the finish before 2:30 so I was still happy. I hit 23 in 6:05. No problem, I can easily throw down a sub 18 5k. Unfortunately, my legs, specifically my quads and calves, were in pain. Additionally, the sports drink that they gave us (Ultima I believe) was a terrible choice for a marathon as it had no carbs or sugars. I was living through "the wall".
The 24th came and went in 6:08 and I was feeling worse and worse. The 25th passed in a painful 6:09. At that point I knew I was close and I thought, 'less than 2k, less than five laps around the track and if it is good I am under 2:30.' Any energy reserves that I had left I threw into the boiler of final-marathon-mile-torment. I felt that everything before was leading up to this part of the race and I was giving it everything I had. My legs were so heavy as I tried to deal with the pain and accelerate to faster than six minute mile pace. You could have tripped me with a chopstick.
However, as races go, we run them to see what happens. My 26th mile was 6:17 and yes I did look at my watch because I hoped that I had hit sub 6. At that point I really did not have a great idea of how fast I was going. I think some people passed me in the last few miles, but I was pretty much at war in my head with my body.
As I made the turn to the finish there were crowds directing me to the men's finish, and when I made the final left turn I saw the clock had already flipped to 2:30 and I was to remain a 2:30s guy for another cycle. I ran through the finish and the finish staff caught me before I fell over. It was over 2:30:20 (gun time was 2:30:24) after it started and six and a half months after I started my build up.
I will of course write more about this in the next few weeks but I am not disappointed with my race or huge positive split. Yes, had I gone out in 1:14 I would probably have run sub 2:30. I felt so good. The thing about the whole experience that does disappoint me is that the sports drink did not have any calories. I learned the hard way that I do not tolerate gels well at 5:40 pace, but sugar water I can drink at that pace. Had I even been able to get in a cup or two of sugar water the race might have turned out better for me the last four miles.
I headed strait for the chocolate milk and then the massage tent when I had my calves and hamstrings stretched. I talked to Kenny of Boulder Running Company who ran 2:19 a 3.5 minute PR, and while he missed out on the Trials, he was really happy with such a big PR. Someone else ran 2:30:04 and was really disappointed about missing the 2:20s but a few seconds. Soon enough I walked the four blocks to my host G's car. We stashed a quart of chocolate milk, orange juice, chocolate croissant, and water there which I proceeded to down on the way to the airport.
Already less than an hour after the race ended I knew I wasn't done. The way that race went down I feel like I have so much more running ability left in me. My training was mediocre at best. Even on my best weeks I only managed two strong workouts. My mileage, while good, could have been better. There was a conspicuous lack of 12-18 mile medium pace tempos (5:55-6:10 pace) that would have been better included weekly. Plus, I went through 10k about 25 seconds away from my PR, and less than 40 seconds off my half marathon PR. That is ridiculous. Had I been totally crazy and ran with the pack that I started with I would have PR'd in the 10k and likely half marathon if I managed to stay with them. I would of course faded harder than I did, but it is not reasonable to set personal records in the 10k and half marathon during a marathon. In other words, I need to get faster at the shorter distances.
How do I feel about not making the Olympic Marathon Trials for 2012? Not terribly bad. I've only had two marathons a 2:34 and 2:30, both with big positive splits, and less than optimal training. I am running marathons 10 seconds per mile faster than I raced the 5k in high school. The progress has been rewarding.
Overall, I had a great weekend in California! I ran a great race (probably the fastest in the US). I spent time with amazing hosts. And I know I can do better in the future. Since I can't help my self I will tell, I am going back to the track for 400-3000m training during indoor season and then outdoor probably 5k/10k and after a trip to Alaska around June, there is a little 100 mile race in Leadville in August that I have been thinking about for eight years...