Archive for April 5, 2017
Sunday I ran the Rock n Roll Raleigh Marathon. This was my third time running this race, and also the third different course this race has used, although it was pretty much the same as last year with very minor tweaks (read: kept all of the damn hills, shuffled some inconsequential stretches). Three years ago, I was in the process of getting back into some semblance of decent shape and feeling good about my prospects in the days leading up to the race. The night before the race, I got into a huge argument with my then-girlfriend and ended up sleeping maybe two hours and running the race in a really weird mental state. Somehow I managed to PR and break 3 hours for the first (and only) time. Last year, I spent the entire day before the race at a beer and barbecue festival, overindulging in both. I woke up with a massive hangover, very dehydrated, on a few hours of fitful sleep, and ran the race dressed as a pirate. Despite not the best circumstances, I managed to reach all of my goals — don’t puke, don’t die (the bar was VERY low). Going into the race this year, things had to be more promising, and the past few months certainly have gone better than the lead up to either of those races. In fact, I have run more and felt better than I have in about five years. I was really excited to run this year, because I’ve had a not-so-secret competition with 2014 Mark. I have figured that if I can keep beating 2014 Mark, I have a good shot of having a very good fall of racing. I’m off to a good start, beating my Umstead Marathon time by a few minutes. This wouldn’t be a direct comparison as the courses were different, and it also was earlier in April this year, but close enough for me. And that meant that if I’m to stay ahead of three years ago, I’d need to PR at Raleigh. Running a 3:03 on a perfectly flat beach marathon course is one thing, running several minutes faster than that on a hilly-ish course is another. To add a little spiciness to the equation, I ran 140+ miles last week, so my “taper” consisted of two days of easy runs on Friday and Saturday before the race. Oh well, let’s see what we got.
Ari (who ran the half) and I got our bibs Friday night. I was feeling a bit more tired than I wanted from a long week at work. We headed over to Umstead for the pasta dinner and to meet up with some people, then went home for a little jog. Saturday morning we woke up early to get to Umstead for the start of the 100. We basically hung around the park most of the day, watching various friends go around and around and around and around. It was a beautiful day to just hang around the park and I was glad the weather forecast said it would be MUCH cooler for race day morning. I did another shakeout Saturday evening with a few pick-ups to what felt like a sustainable marathon pace. I didn’t fret that I felt pretty damn flat, trusting that a good night’s sleep and race day adrenaline would help counteract some of that.
Race morning I awoke before the alarm, bathroom, food, bathroom, bathroom, dive to Raleigh and park downtown, about a quarter mile from the start, with 45 minutes to go. In the car, I got lubed up, put on my throwaway clothes, and we ambled over to the portapotty lines. With ten minutes to go, we made our way to the front corrals, I kissed Ari and wished her good luck, found a bush to pee one last time, and took my spot just off the front, fired up and ready to go.
The first 5 miles are mostly in and around downtown Raleigh, flat-ish with a few undulations. My plan going into the race was to use the first few miles as an opportunity to settle into a comfortable marathon effort. Of course, despite reminding myself to stay disciplined, I took the first half mile-ish a bit harder than planned before backing off and coming through mile 1 in 6:40 (2:55 pace, way under PR pace, whoops). During mile 2 we ran under a bridge where an awesome marching band was playing. I wish they would have put them later in the race because they really pumped me up. Mile 2 split was right in line with the first (13:20). I was relaxing as people were still flying by in the early goings, knowing most were probably doing the half. Right before mile 5 came the first sorta uphill and I caught up to two or three people here without really exerting myself any more than I had been. Mile 5 was right on 33:20 and I was happy that I felt as good as I did so far.
The next two miles were one of the longer and bigger climbs in the race, up past Cameron Village. The spectators were, as with most of the course, pretty sparse, and there wasn’t much in the way of music either (except for a cool drum circle group). I accepted that I would slow a little here and knew I’d get some of it back later. Running under where I thought I’d be already helped with this thought. I took a honey stinger at the top of the hill, around mile 7.5. When we got to mile 8, the half runners split off and I was surprised how many made the right to continue for the full. Last year, despite being way further back in the field, it was quite lonely once the races split off. But here, I could see at least three or four runners strung out ahead of me. As we turned onto Hillsborough St for the out&back stretch to Meredith College, I passed a guy with a great beard and told him so. He seemed less appreciative of the compliment than I would have been two weeks ago. For the next mile and a half out, I was slowly working up toward a pair of guys. Right before mile 9, the leaders started running back toward us and I decided to pass the time by counting how many were ahead of me. By the time I got to the turnaround I counted at least 18-19 people including the lead female. I thought to myself, either some people went out too fast (I hit mile 9 in 1:00:10) or this race attracted A LOT more fast runners this year. Coming back, I caught up to the pair just after 10 (1:06:48) and briefly considered tucking in with them as there was more than a gentle breeze blowing at us. I quickly scrapped this idea as I was feeling pretty good, had found a rhythm that was working for me, and didn’t want to mess with that to stay with them. So off I went back down Hillsborough. We met back up with half marathoners here and ran side-by-side (on separate sides of the street, thankfully) for about a mile. I could not, for the life of me, do the math necessary to figure out if I should expect to see Ari somewhere in this crowd, or if she was still behind, or way up ahead. Even now, I’m still not sure, but nevertheless, I didn’t see her. It was cool getting some cheers and cheering on half marathoners I DID see, although it was even cooler getting a nice half mile downhill where I let my legs stretch out some. Up a baby hill, then down another little out and back, this time on NC State’s campus, I hit the halfway clock in 1:27:04 (the website has a different time, and there was a mat a little ways beyond the halfway clock, but that mat was definitely not halfway). I thought to myself, ok, that’s a bit under what I planned (PR pace would have had me at 1:28:25), but at least I can run 1:30ish and still have a chance to PR. I figured I was, at the worst, looking good for sub-3, and, best case scenario, I only slow some on the second half hills, run 1:28ish, and try to kick to get under 2:55.
The next 5ish miles were the part of the race I first told myself I needed to be strong during, both mentally and physically. There was a nice downhill as we left campus before turning on Avent Ferry Rd. It’s not the steepest and there are some downhill stretches, but it FEELS like it’s a long uphill grind, probably stemming from this being very barren (the people waiting for a bus or just generally looking unenthused or actively annoyed by the race outnumbered spectators 3:1) and winding and there’s still so much race left to run. I again knew my splits would slow, but I had some time banked even from 2:55 pace, so I wasn’t gonna stress. Still, I managed to push a little on the downhills and grind on the uphills and not lose quite as much time as anticipated. There was a string of runners up ahead that I was just focusing on reeling in. Toward the top of the hill, I treated myself to my second honey stinger and managed to get about half on my singlet and hands. Typical Mark. I just had to laugh. Avent Ferry bottomed out at Lake Johnson and I unsuccessfully tried to grab a cup of water here, which at least had the benefit of wetting my hands to get rid of the stickiness. The next mile and a half we wound along on a flat trail beside the lake. This was the worst I felt all race. I think the cumulative effort of working hard on the previous 16+ rolling miles (both up and down) hit me and I started to question whether I should have eased up and run slower like originally planned. Pffft… too late for second guessing, onward ho! At 17, I was at 1:52:30, still almost a full minute under 6:40 pace (I liked thinking in terms of 6:40 pace, because it’s really easy to do mental math, even in the latter stages of a marathon it turns out), but started feeling like my legs just didn’t have the pop or drive they did even ten minutes prior. I had to really call on some mental reserves here to stop from slowing considerably, asking myself to just push to 18 and then maybe I could take it easy on the next uphill. Around this point the lake trail goes along a dam and I caught sight of two more runners, one was the lead female, the other a guy I thought might be Owen Bradley, who had run 50 miles at Umstead the day before (DAMN!). The sight of them not so far off, plus the short, steep downhill, helped re-energize me a bit.
As soon as the trail ended, we turned right and were met with another short, steep uphill. At the top of the climb, we made a left and were greeted by… another hill! I was gaining on some of the people in front of me which helped take my mind off how blergh this stretch felt. This is the most desolate stretch of the race, back on NC State’s campus, running by a golf course, and some far off buildings. What passes for the Raleigh skyline comes into view around here, but at mile 19, it feels like more of a tease than an encouraging beacon. Just before mile 20 (2:12:56 — the hills had slowed me to just about 6:40 pace), I caught up to the lead woman and went by her, trying to grunt out something along the lines of, “stay strong.” The bike escort she had reminded me I now had a decent downhill which was very much appreciated, despite knowing what came next. I caught up to Owen, asked him if it was indeed him, and told him how friggin’ ridiculous and amazing it was that he was out here now. As we turned to start another mile and a half uphill grind to Dorothea Dix Park, we also caught up to a guy in an ECU singlet and I led the three of us passed the mile 21 marker. It was here, in the midst of this hill, that I made an important decision. I was still under even my dream goal pace, the last three miles were a bit easier, this stretch was exposed and I was feeling it. I thought about easing up, letting the two guys behind me go by and maybe trying to just keep in contact with them. But instead, I started pushing a little harder, trying to get some separation. I knew I wasn’t near the front, and never really felt like I was racing anyone but the clock, but I got competitive. I thought about the 25 hill repeats I did in the midst of my fourth 20 miler in four days last week, I thought how this was not even close to as bad as that felt, and I pushed up the damn hill into the park. For my efforts, I was rewarded with a little separation, a boring out and back stretch, and views of a few more runners ahead of me.
My legs were feeling the effort, but I didn’t want to just ease up and recover. I could see a sign for mile 23, and it felt soooo far away as we did this weird clover-y loop in a section of the park you’d imagine they’d find a body at the beginning of an episode of SVU. Right at 23, we met back up with the half marathon course, and I was even more glad than before that we had separate courses and that it seemed everyone was obeying the line of orange cones, because I did not have any extra energy to weave in and out of traffic. I appreciated the encouragement they were sending our way, but something about being around a lot of people again caused me to become acutely aware of the effort I was putting forth, and it sucked. Before the race, these last few miles were the ones I’d planned on hammering. “Empty the tank” is the term I like to use because that’s exactly what it feels like. Now, though, I was worried there would be nothing left in the tank to draw upon, having gone a little quicker than planned thus far. I was glad we had driven this section a few weeks ago, because I could mentally check off landmarks. At 24 (2:39:20 — when I saw it at the time, I wasn’t able to process that I had sped up), I caught up to another runner and told him let’s finish strong. Coming out of the park we made a left and got a nice downhill. I pushed, hard. I remember some people here and there cheering. I remember splashing myself with water somewhere in here. A right turn and then the last uphill of any significance as we approached mile 25. I felt like I was running in sand but somehow made it up the hill. Three years ago this was the spot in the race where I grew genuinely worried about collapsing because I was so overheated and exhausted and the idea of running even one more mile felt insurmountable. This time I felt better than I did there, but only marginally. Once on Boylan, I saw two more marathon guys and used them to force myself to keep the pedal down instead of easing up and coasting to the end. I went by them with about 3/4 mile to go and a guy on a bike pedaled up next to me, telling me I looked like I was finishing really strong. If only he knew how I was feeling! A turn brought me Nash Square, where our car was at, so I knew it was only a few minutes of suffering left. The course turned one more time and we were on McDowell, the finishing stretch. I could see the finish up ahead and started whatever passed for my finishing kick. I ran so hard, my peripheral vision started going black. I haven’t been this deep into the well in a long time. I was, essentially, scraping the bottom. As I approached the line, I thought I heard Ari yell my name. I just kept reminding myself to run all the way through the damn line. And I did. I ran right across the finish in 2:53:29, a PR by 3:23.
I staggered for a moment, stopped my watch, awkwardly took my medal, caught my breath and composed myself. Looking up I saw Ari on the sidewalk looking excited with tears in her eyes. I may have let out some sort of guttural noise and, once outside the transition zone, gave her a big sweaty hug and we both started sobbing. The stress and effort of the past almost-3 hours (and the distance traveled the past eight months, both physically and figuratively) caught up with me and I needed a minutes to compose myself. Turns out I was wrong at halfway… I split 1:27:04 for the first half and came back on what I would argue was the more difficult, hillier back half in 1:26:25. I think that was quite probably the best I have ever run a marathon. I got my finisher’s jacket and we headed back to Umstead to see the last few finishers and then home, where I [edit to add:, errm… ARI and I (sorry love!)]… spent the rest of the afternoon moving my furniture from my apartment into Ari’s. (Thankfully, I was able to coerce Stiner and Strunk into helping us with that endeavor).
So, I kinda already beat my A goal for Seattle. Hooray?!This week, I’m going to recuperate from the race and, once I feel recovered, I’m going to start trying to figure out what to shoot for there. In the meantime, we’re heading up to Rhode Island next weekend to run the Newport Marathon, and then we’ll be at the Boston Marathon(!). I’ll be dipping my toes back into the ultra world with a 50k in SC next month, but one step at a time, right?