Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tobacco Road Marathon: Race Report

This is Jason's race report from the Tobacco Road Marathon that he ran on March 20.  I'm so incredibly proud of him.  He inspires me to do things that I never thought I could.  He reluctantly agreed to let me post this on the blog.  =)

After major competitions I find it useful to write a race report where I can reflect upon my training and how the day unfolded.  There are so many valuable lessons that I want to preserve for future races.  These reports are mostly for myself (I often re-read old reports in the days leading up to a race), but I thought I would share this report in case you are interested. 

The Summary

As always, I am indebted to my lovely wife, Leslie.  She continues to support my athletic endeavors and the training required to complete them.  I would not be able to race without her love and support.  Every Saturday morning she watched the babies until I returned home from my long runs (usually by 10 AM).  Leslie - you are a rock star mother and a great wife and friend.  I love you!

My previous marathon record was 3:18:59 (Chicago 2008).  My goal going into the race was to meet the qualifying standard for the Boston Marathon (3:10:59).  My "stretch" goal (which didn't come about until mid-way through my training when I realized it might be possible) was to break 3 hours.

I crossed the finish line in 3:00:21 (1:30:22 first half, 1:29:58 second half).  The final miles were brutal, but I honestly thought I was on pace to break 3 hours.  It wasn't until somewhere just after 25 miles that I realized I was going to fall just short.  And at that point there was not much I could do change that.

Overall I am satisfied with my performance.  I ran a well executed race and left everything out on the course.  Now I only need to focus on achieving a 22 second improvement for the next race :) 

The Details

 On Sunday March 20, 2011 I competed in the Tobacco Road Marathon.  It was the culmination of a focused 16-week marathon training program.  This is by far the most I have trained solely for a marathon.  It was also my first major competition since Ironman Canada in 2009.  After that race I needed some serious recovery time.  As a result I did not enter any races in 2010 (but in other fantastic news, 2010 was the birth year of our amazing twins Miles and Vivienne).

In September 2010 I started again with structured training (I put it off until the babies allowed us to get consistent sleep at night and the sleep deprivation wore off).  As always, I needed a goal to keep me motivated.  I find it hard to train just for training's sake.  That gets boring real quick.  The Tobacco Road Marathon offered a local race on a fast course, so I signed up.

6 weeks out from the marathon, I competed in the Goldsboro half marathon.  After not racing for all of 2010, it was a much needed tune up race.  Without a taper, I ran a 1:23:31 (6:23 per mile avg) and was extremely satisfied with the result.  Based on this time as well as my longer tempo training runs, I started to believe that a sub-3 hour marathon might be possible.  At my first job 10 years ago my office mate happened to be a sub-3 hour marathoner.  I distinctly remember thinking that it would be near impossible for me to achieve that goal :)

I set my alarm for 5 AM on race morning.  I had half a banana and one vanilla Ensure drink (250 calories) for breakfast.  I immediately started sipping on a 32-ounce bottle of orange gatorade.  At the race site I would nearly finish another vanilla Ensure drink as well as most of my gatorade bottle (needless to say I took a few trips to the port-o-potties that morning).

The race start was delayed about 15 minutes due to shuttle bus issues (luckily one of my friends scored us a VIP parking pass so we didn't have any trouble getting to the race venue with plenty of time to spare).  I positioned myself about three-deep back from the starting line.  After the gun went off, I made a concerted effort to go out easy.  As a result, I was passed by many folks ... but I am not racing them today.  I am racing myself and I am racing the clock.  Besides, there is nothing to gain in the first mile of the marathon.  I would rather be a little slow than too fast.

The first mile ticked off in 7:05.  To hit my goal of sub-3 hours I need to average around 6:52 per mile for the entire race.  After the first mile I slipped in behind a good group of about 5 or 6 runners.  They were running very controlled and I heard them mention something about a 3 or 3:05 goal.  So I decided to stick behind them for a while to see how things went.  The first 8 miles were pretty easy.  Around mile 9 we hit a slight uphill.  Nothing major, but I guess everyone in our group was not paying very close attention to our pace on the hill.  While we had consistently been hitting between mid 6:40s to mid 6:50s for our miles, mile 9 was 7:09 and would actually turn out to be my slowest mile.  I remember that concerned me a little bit but not too much ... I simply resolved to not let that happen again.

We still had a good group together at the half way point.  We crossed 13.1 miles in 1:30:22.  Seeing that time didn't bother me too much, but I did obviously realize that I'd have to negative split the race to break 3 hours.  Negative splitting is my typical race strategy, and it was my plan for this race.  I ran the first half very controlled without a lot of exertion so I was fairly confident that I could bring it home fast enough for a sub-3 finishing time.

Knowing that we'd have to negative split, 3 of us in our group picked it up a bit and left the others behind.  Miles 14-20 averaged 6:43 per mile.  It was also during these miles where we started to pass a few folks that took it out too fast.

A small note about nutrition.  I don't really like taking solids during a marathon.  I was relying solely on the aid stations for my calories. Water and sports drink at every aid station.  The cups were rather small (think Dixie cups) so it made it hard to get a lot of fluids.  And I missed the aid station at mile 16 completely.  That might have turned out to cost me at the end ... who knows.

This course has a turn around at mile 19. It was around 18 miles that I started "feeling it" for the first time.  The miles weren't getting slower, but they were getting harder.  I knew it was too early to really start pushing hard.  But it was around this time I realized how much the final 8 miles were going to hurt.  I was hoping to delay that hurt until 21 or 22 miles, but here it was earlier than expected.  It also didn't help that our group of 3 had broken up.  2 of the guys went on ahead of me, but I was satisfied with my pace and effort level at this point in the race so I didn't chase them (I would ultimately re-pass one of the two at mile 23, but the other guy beat me by nearly a minute).

Just prior to the turnaround at mile 19, I passed an older gentlemen (50 years old).  He looked to be struggling.  But soon after the turn around he popped up again on my shoulder.  We ran together off and on up until about mile 23, and it was nice to have someone to push the pace with.  Somewhere between 22 and 23 I dropped him for good.

There is a long sloping hill for miles 23 and 24 (see the elevation profile at the end of the report).  Once you get through this you are pretty much home free.  These two miles were very brutal.  Looking back at my splits for these two miles, this is where I probably lost the sub-3 finishing time (along with my slow mile 9).  These miles were 7:01 and 7:04... exactly 21 seconds over the pace needed to hit 2:59:59.  But I didn't really realize at this point that I was off the pace.  You see, my Garmin had been nearly perfectly aligned with the course mile markers for most of the early race.  I'd pass a mile marker and my Garmin would beep (indicating another mile complete) and display the time for the previous mile.  Well, somewhere after the turnaround at mile 19, my Garmin and the course got out of sync. But it happened gradually rather than all of a sudden.  So my average pace according to my Garmin around mile 20 was 6:50 ... which should be good enough for sub-3.  After mile 24 it ticked up to 6:51 (and stayed there for the rest of the race).  6:51 should be good enough as well, but the problem is that my Garmin now indicated that I had run farther than the course mile markers indicated.  Thus the pace it indicated was actually faster than my actual pace.  Something I did not really realize the impact of until mile 25... which by that time it was too late.

The course turns off the Tobacco Trail at mile 23 and you are then on the city streets until the finish.  But as soon as I turned off the trail, there was a pretty stiff head wind and a hill.  These two things contributed to the slow mile 24 time.  And also at this point I am now running all alone.  Sure I am passing a few late half marathon finishers, but there is only one other marathoner I can see and they (okay, it was a "she" ... exactly 3 woman beat me on this day) are pretty far ahead of me and I am not catching them ... ah ... her.  So for the final 3 miles it was just me.  Not much crowd support and no other runners to pace me along.  And it hurt ... really ... really ... bad!  There were so many times I wanted to quit.  So many I lost count.  What really kept me going was the hope of a sub-3.  After all, my Garmin told me I had a 6:51 average pace for the race up till that point, and I really thought that was going to be good enough ... even with my Garmin measuring the course as a little long.  I kept thinking how the intense pain was only temporary and how good it will feel to finish.  This is what I trained for.  I did not expect it to be easy, right?  I thought about the post-race meal ... really anything I could think of to keep me from slowing down.

So when I hit mile 25 and saw that I was in real danger to miss breaking 3 hours, I gave it one last effort to pick it up.  Mile 26 was a 6:48 ... and it was all I had left.  Somewhere during that mile I became certain that I would not make it and somehow just knowing that took all the air out of me.  My body starting failing.  My hands were going numb.  I kept hoping that I wouldn't face plant.  I seriously had visions of my body totally giving out and me literally falling on my face during some of the final turns.
Leslie and Babies at the Final Tur

I rounded the final turn just in time to see the official race clock tick over to 3:00:00.  A few seconds later I passed a cheering Leslie on my right.  She was holding both Miles and Vivienne.  But I couldn't even muster a smile or a wave.  I just wanted to get across that finish line as fast as possible.  I crossed in 3:00:20 on my watch (3:00:21 official chip time) and immediately was looking for someone to help me walk.  The guy handing out the finisher medals was smiling and walking towards me with my medal and he soon realized that I needed some help.  He and a friend helped me (i.e., carried me) to the medical tent where I hung out for a while.  But after some gatorade and a few minutes of rest I felt like I needed to at least walk.  So after a rather uneventful stay in the medical tent, I started walking off the race with Leslie and the kids.  It was a fun time as we saw many friends who had run either the half or full marathon.  We stuck around for the awards, but it turns out I just missed getting an age group award (I got 4th and the awards went up to 3rd place).
Family at the Finish Line

Overall I am very happy with my race. I knocked nearly 19 minutes off my personal best, I met the qualifying standard for the Boston Marathon by over 10 minutes, and when it got tough at the end I didn't quit.  How can I complain?

In my last marathon I focused on someone close to me for each mile starting after mile 20.  I started to do the same this race.  Miles 21 and 22 (both 6:53 miles) I focused on my kids.  Mile 21 was for Miles.  To take my mind off the current pain I thought about my precious son the day he was born and how he had to spend 24 hours in the special care nursery.  I remember how much we wanted to hold him but could not.  I tried to put myself in his shoes to feel what he was feeling.  Was he scared?  All he knew was the warmth and comfort of mommy's womb, but now he was out in the world on his own.  He hadn't yet felt the warmth of our embrace.  I also thought about what kind of man he will grow into.  Only time will tell...
Miles in the Special Care Nursery

Mile 22 was for my baby girl Vivienne.  I thought about how precious she was the first time I saw her and thought back to the first days in the hospital.  I also tried to hear her infectious laugh in my head.  It helped power me through the mile.
Daddy and Vivienne After the Race

Mile 23 started out for Leslie but that is also when the hill started and I lost all focus on my thoughts and had to concentrate on just not slowing down.  Sorry babe :)

Now I am just trying to decide what's next.  I am looking into racing in a local open water series this summer (a series of 3 1-mile swims and 1 2-mile swim).  After that, I'll probably start training for a November or December marathon.  And then (if I get in) Boston 2012!

Below are my splits (according to my Garmin) and the elevation profile from the course:

1 comment:

  1. Okay, so the miles dedicated to the twins brought tears to my eyes. You are such a great daddy!