Pre-race Training and Stuff
Last year was a sore showing on the marathon front. I missed a BQ in both of my two attempts the first at Boston with lousy training with a double-down on hypothermia, then got slammed by humidity in a midnight July race that went south before the first 10k was done. I instead focused on ultras and then was injured from October with ankle damage from my shoe hitting my right ankle. When that was healed I was injured again trying to get back into training too soon. I had done something to my knee and I believe it stemmed from ITB connection as well. That injury took me out from December through March. I made it worse trying to test it hoping to train for the Georgia Death Race. Because it was a golden ticket race for Western States and sold out in a day I really wanted a shot at it, bad idea to try that. I set myself back a lot but finally was able to hike and do some strength training. Aerobically I lost a ton of fitness not being able to run. The second week of March i was able to start doing some running again but with a moderate amount of pain and very slow with 8 minute pace feeling difficult and uncoordinated. I continued hiking and jogging through April and finally was able to run pain free.
In March I was very low mentally and needed something to motivate me to get out the door for 20 or 30 minutes. I set a huge goal, which was an ultra in mid-June. I used that as motivation but as I worked my way into training I realized I needed to be thinking about when the best time for a BQ would be. I didn’t want to do like I did in 2013 and wait till September because that leaves no time for a revenge race, and obviously last years 1 am humidity-fest was a terrible experience. I found a race not too far and it seemed small and local so I registered and continued my training hoping to get my aerobic level up and hopefully some pacework. It had been since fall of 2014 since a PR, so my legs were not exactly marathon pace ready and being injured even more so. I let how I felt each day determine my training and was able to get one solid month of training in. Splitting up my runs and with some hiking I was able to get my miles ramped up in no time to about 100/week with some long runs on trails. I was really surprised I was able to do this, but I was hyped being able to run at all without pain and everything felt solid with my fitness returning slowly. Knowing the marathon was around the corner I wanted a few weeks to let the training sink in, so i extended my training another week and really got fatigued. My legs were very tired but fortunately I now had two weeks to relax and get the muscles race ready.
Race morning was normal. My subconscious jumped myself up and awake at 3:30 AM and i struggled to go back to sleep for a few hours. Everything was strewn around my car and I had a hasty breakfast as I made my way over to the race Saturday morning. Since I had pulled a hamstring on Tuesday slightly I wanted to get a good warmup in, but not too much to tire myself out before the race. I did all my drills interspersed with light jogging that added up to about a half mile and some walking here and there, pinning my bib, getting my heart rate monitor on, using the facilities and check a bag. Going into this race I had a system set up as one should always have as far as goals go. Number one was to get a BQ, which I estimate will be 3:07, number two was a goal time 2:59:59 which I felt aggressive, and number three was a realistic goal time of 3:05. I thought that was very likely given my lack of training at this point. I wanted to go out in 1:29 and then hold on for the final half, even a large positive split would be enough to meet my A goal. Because of this I really had nothing to lose by going out hard. I also wore my heart rate monitor just to be sure I didn’t go out entirely too fast.
I jumped around the start and was as focused as one can be considering what little confidence I had going in. I was prepared for a very tough race. The gun went off and we started off at a good rate. Two men shot out of the gates and were gone, a half mile ahead in no time. I knew one was a halfer, but the other was maybe a marathoner with a college tank on. I wrote him off right away becuase there was no way I was ever catching him save some disaster. I settled in and got comfortable the first mile. It was overcast and around 60 degrees, which felt very cool to me. I checked my watch and was definitely not on the 6:50 cruise zone that I should have been, but a quick check at the heart rate and I was fine so I just maintained. There was one marathoner who passed me and a small group behind for the first few miles. They ticked off slowly but surely and I was feeling good today, the legs weren’t tired which gave me optimism that I hadn’t overdone anything leading into the race. Right away the mile markers were way off, the first one was at .89, the second wasn’t close, and the third was long. I didn’t worry about that too much but it was a bit disorienting.
At this point we were cruising and there were lots of gradual climbs and descents. Because this is a loop course I tried to remember some part, but mostly it just goes up and down with really no flats other than the valleys on the way back up. I drove a little of the course the night before, and I had watched the course video, so I knew it was hilly. Thankfully I live in the middle of hills, but I could tell others weren’t faring so well.
A few guys from the pack behind caught up to me, one took off and the other Dan chatted with me for a while. This made the miles go by rather quickly and effortlessly, but at the same time I didn’t chat much just trying to focus on my race. Dan was an ironman, or at least his tatoo said so and he was coming back from injury as well. His goal was 3:02 but we were all moving faster than our goal times today. The third guy hung with us for a while, then went on up ahead to catch a guy. I hung out with Dan for a while, but he said his hamstring was preventing him from going downhill as fast and I gapped him relatively soon.
I continued checking my hr and was right where I should be, a little higher on the hills, and a little lower on the downs. I felt good and the miles kept ticking by with two runners up ahead a half mile. Hills just kept piling up. There was a runner who crept up to me and passed me, really working on the uphills. Working so much in fact I wasn’t sure if he would make it to the halfway point. It was interesting yo-yoing back and forth for a while. At one point I just ran on his shoulder and it was a polar opposite situation with him huffing and puffing while i was cool and calm just trying to be as smooth and effortless as possible.
Around 11 miles we turn back and head to the start for a second loop. I dropped the breather and continued looking ahead two the two runners and just kept them in my sights. As I did I saw one starting to come back to me. I remember a distinct point where I was moving well here and felt like my stride was long and efficient. I was eating up ground and he was losing ground. Two miles later i was right on his heels. He was cramping and said good luck. I said “halfway home” as I passed and he said “yeah” clearly not as optimistic as I was at that point. I had now completed half the race. First 13 mile tempo done, another to go. The mile markers were ludicrous. I passed 13 at 13.5, then a half mile later the timing guy was there to record a split…. at least it seemed that way all I know is that things weren’t jiving. Fortunately that was no concern as I was just trying to catch the next guy and keep things under control. My gut wasn’t feeling to great and I contemplated stopping a few times, but was able to get it under control and maintain.
The next runner was up ahead a half mile or less. He was starting to slow, or at least it seemed that way, but I never made up any ground as we continued out on our second loop. All I was thinking was just a 13 mile tempo, just a half marathon workout. I was extremely happy at this point because I felt really good. I didn’t really feel like I was working hard at all, but my legs were moving much faster than they had in a long long time. The next miles slowly clicked by and I did make up ground on mohawk, the guy ahead. I was hoping to “eat up ground” like before but this was much slower. To my surprise and out of nowhere around 16 miles I see Dan come up beside me! I honestly had written him off but there he was with a huge stride and cruising along. He passed me in a hurry with a word of encouragement and I let him go, needing to keep things conservative. He passed mohawk a few miles later and I had closed the gap by 18 miles. So far I’ve failed to mention the various horse farms and horses. There were on after another. It was a beautiful place to run and cool to see a rider out taking her horse for a morning stroll. Most of the horses just looked at like we were crazy, and rightly so.
I kept checking my watch and at this point the wind started to get to me. It had been windy but there were some stretches here that I felt my zip starting to fade. It started to rain at this point and was windy, my shoes began to slip every now and then going uphill. I knew I could catch mowhawk at this point and began thinking about passing by 20 which is a short out and back with a 180 degree turn. As we made the turn he was only meters ahead. I worked my way toward him over the next mile, and passed just before 20. He said “that section was rough” I agreed and said something about wind and hills, then moved on wanting to get a gap going. That was difficult because the next sections were mostly uphills, looking down I saw 6:50’s and really started to feel my hamstrings tightening. That smooth turnover wasn’t so smooth anymore, and despite my HR being at the lower end my pace was dropping. My left toe undoubtedly had a blister at this point, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as the ache in my legs.
I increased my effort, knowing I had to hold 6 more miles, then a half mile later reminded again when i passed another mile marker that nope, your watch was wrong, NOW it’s 6 more miles, haha. Joking aside the race got real in a hurry. I was still worried a bit about my random GI issues, and focused on keeping a consistent pace. I was really working hard to maintain and thought if anyone caught up to me I may not be able to fend them off. Apparently I was second and the guy who shot out of the start was a half marathoner. That was a really cool bonus and a little more incentive to keep my position, I could see Dan up ahead but unless he fell apart there was no way I was going to catch him with my legs giving out. Another tough mile, I was working with one of the bike leads, who did an excellent job by the way, and now was focusing more on pace. Low 7’s, not good.
Finally at mile 24 I had hope, I could maybe get back down into 6’s for these last few and finish out. I knew if I could do that I had a good shot at a 2:56 maybe, but it was hard to tell between the random mile markers and my brain focusing on keeping my legs moving while doing math. I looked over and a foal was running and it was almost like we were racing for a moment there. We had been passing half marathoners for a while, and it was great to get encouragement from them. I wished I had that wonderful turnover from earlier in the day, but it was long gone. Now it was just time to hold on and finish this thing. I finally hit mile 25 marker and slowly began to move a little faster. The final stretch runs through a really cool horse farm, but the road pavement was gone and it was a mixture of paved and gravel. I kept pushing and everything felt like going uphill at this point. I kept my arms moving, hoping the legs would coincide. A half mile away, keep legs turning over, maintain. Quarter mile out and I could finally see the finish area in the distance.
I started my final kick and gave what little my legs had left. I rounded the corner and nearly ran over a little girl who was slowly walking across the finish area with her mom. Thanks mom! I put my hand out and patted her head as I rolled by and then kicked to the finish. Elation. Pure and simple I couldn’t believe i ran two minutes below my goal time and got my BQ. It was awesome and to actually place it was just to much to wrap my head around. I was so damn happy. Dan ended up running 2:53 for the win, which is just amazing considering he had similar circumstances, and third came in not long after I did. It was a great race overall. I like small local races and they had free beer afterward! I don’t drink, but gave mine to one of the volunteers and got a lot of other schwag. So I’m thrilled with this return to running and know exactly where I am at and where I’m going. Now to use this race as a stepping stone to gear up for an ultra, where I feel my strengths are best translated. Thanks for reading, keep training hard and set your goals high, you never know what can happen!