That someday, I will run a good marathon.
This weekend was not one of them. Fortunately, I did start my 2012 campaign by accomplishing one of my goals: qualify for Boston 2013.
With the Boston Marathon changing its qualification requirements (chopping 5 minutes off previous qualifying times per age group), and me not having run an open marathon since Boston 2009, I was going to have to run at least one marathon this year. And, with a new registration process, I knew I'd have to run it before September. While I am planning on running NYC Marathon later this year, it would be too late for next year's Boston.
That left me a couple of options: look to something like VA Beach's Shamrock Marathon or DC's National Marathon in March, or try to get it done in Charleston. The races in March were appealing because of their proximity to Baltimore, field size and support, and it would give me plenty of time to train. Charleston was appealing because it was a place I'd never been, an "easy" course and a Saturday event. But it was also just 7 weeks after Ironman Arizona, and after the long 2011, I needed a break.
Immediately following the Ironman, I was still undecided about what race to target, and figured I needed a good month of running before I could commit. I ran 6 miles post-Ironman week, and then weeks of 30, 44, 53. I decided I felt good enough to be able to get through the marathon in Charleston. I felt like 7 minute pace was a good goal, which would be a 3:03, and give me a comfortable cushion for the Boston registration process later this year.
I ran a few workouts during December, but was not going to try and cram workouts and long runs in. The two longest runs I did were 17, one on Christmas day and one on New Year's Day. 17 miles is not even close to what I should have been doing, but I didn't have time to worry about it by the time January hit. It then became "rest up enough so you're feeling good on race day."
Alyssa and I flew down to Charleston on Friday morning, leaving a cold, windy Baltimore and arriving to a cold, windy South Carolina. We ate a great bbq lunch at Nick's BBQ on King St, and then tried to drive the course. The maps provided by the race did not include road names, just colored lines and approximated turns, so needless to say we got lost. After running the race, we wouldn't have been able to follow the course anyway. This was the first sign that this race was not going to be well-organized. We then stopped off at the "expo" to pick up our stuff, and scooped up Andy, Ed and Conrad from the airport. The four guys went for a dangerously dark shakeout run, which was Conrad pace (quicker than I would have liked). We were all hoping the wind would die down, because we knew the temperature was not going to magically rise.
Race morning came and the wind had calmed down a bit, but not much. And it was cold. 34 degrees is what the thermometer read. Conrad and I got dropped off at the marathon start at 7:15 and stood around until 7:40 when we went to warm up for a few minutes. Since it was so cold, I was going to start the race with my singlet, and two light/longsleeve tech shirts, and was wearing shorts and gloves. In my haste to get out of the car, I forgot to grab my little EFS liquid flask. Oops. I would see the others around mile 9.5, so I could grab it from them then.
The race starts on East Bay Avenue, and runs a mile and a quarter south to the end of the peninsula. I made sure to not get caught up in the race and go out comfortably, but I could tell we were still moving quick. 6:23 at the mile confirmed that. I told Conrad I was going to back off, and as we headed north it was obvious we were going to be going into the wind for most of the day. Mile 2 was 6:29. Still too fast. Tried to ease into the slowing rather than just stop dead, so mile 3 was finally more in line at 6:37 and mile 4 was 6:40.
About the course: the first 3 miles were in the downtown area, which is nice. It quickly becomes more like Baltimore (see also: pretty hood) and for miles you are just running on some boring deserted road that parallels the overhead highway and a train track. It's very unattractive, and super quiet. I didn't expect any crowd support, so I was able to deal with that, but it was just so boring. Very flat, but the wind was negating any of that benefit. Every so often Conrad, who was using the marathon as a long run, would turn around and jog back towards me, run with me for a minute, and then take off again.
Miles 5-8 were: 6:32, 6:43, 6:28, 7:16. I think 5 and 7 were a tad short, and that 8 was a bit long, because I felt pretty locked into 6:40-6:45 at that point, and we were running in a straight line. Until Mile 8, when there was a little bridge to run up and over, but we had the downhill so I figured it zeroed out.
I guess it was around 8 or so that we sharply doubled back on ourselves, and as we headed south for a few hundred feet, it became so quiet and you felt, for the first time, what it was like to not fight the wind. That disappeared when we Zorro'd our way onto another road headed north. This was around 9.5 and I could see, and hear, Ed, Alyssa and Andy. They had all run the 5k, which started/finished at the marathon finish. Ed and Alyssa each won, and Andy had run with Alyssa to help pace her to her first sub 20 5k! The Shrimp and Grits 5k, as it was called, was 3 miles, but with a 15:12 for Ed and 19:05 for Alyssa, we put their time estimates for the right distance at 15:45 and 19:45.
I passed off my top layer shirt and grabbed an EFS flask and continued on my way. The half marathoners were about to split off, and all of a sudden it went from a couple dozen people around to 3. Seriously, there was nobody around. It was dead quiet. The road also stopped being pancake flat and began to roll a little bit. It was also at this point that I realized, since Mile 8, we hadn't had a water stop in a while. It was over 3 miles without a water stop, and the volunteers were poorly executing their distribution strategies. Of course, it's always on the athlete, but as I would approach a water station, I would point to a person and a cup, and say "water" or "gatorade" - and without fail, each one would literally pull their arm back towards them at the last second. Of course the teenaged volunteers always think this is pretty funny, but I assure you, it's not. They were also holding the cups in a really stupid way, so I was barely getting any water at each stop.
Miles 9-13: 13:33 (9 + 10), 6:42, 6:45, 6:50. Half split est: 1:27:45
I felt good about that, it was right where I thought I should be. I figured 1:28-1:30 would be where I needed to be to buffer a slower second half, but, if I felt good, and could double it, would put me in a place to break 3 hours. But a few things were starting to worry me.
1. Since the start, I had been more than aware of my hamstring and piriformis. It is never good in the cold, and there were a few times when it would lock up mid-stride.
2. I had to go to the bathroom. I thought I could maybe make quick pit stop and relieve myself, but I was worried about starting up again, and how much time it would take.
So I forged on. And now the course was just getting ridiculous. It was a lot of running around circles, figure 8s, and running on little walking paths behind schools and through neighborhoods. As each mile passed, I was sure that my pace had to have slowed to over 7s because of all the turns. I remember one point, behind a school somewhere in the 14th mile, that I turned around the building and just got blasted in the face by the wind. Yet somehow that mile was still 6:50.
I had come through 10 miles at 1:06:42, and thought if I could hit 20 miles around 2:15, that would put me in a good place for a 3 hour race. I was feeling very full, and was having trouble eating anything. Miles 14-18 were annoying, but got through them in 6:50, 6:47, 6:51, 6:53, 6:53.
By that point, I've now run longer (excluding IMAZ, where I didn't really run) than any run since the end of October. 2.5 months without a run over 18 miles is a long time! It was around this point in the race that we also merged back up with the half marathoners. So now I'm stuck behind 2:30 half marathoners as we entered this ridiculous little neighborhood, and I can pinpoint the exact moment where I lost my momentum. It was when I got to a water table, and the volunteers were not holding the water, it was just sitting on the tables. I had to get water, but had to zoom around a few half runners and try to grab whatever I could. It was ineffective.
On the path, I got stuck behind a group of people taking up the width of the path. They were running and carrying something. I could see a body, and these guys all had the same shirt on that said something I couldn't read. I thought maybe it was a disabled person or wounded soldier, and was touched by the display. Until I made my way around them and saw it was a CPR dummy, and they were EMTs. Now I was pretty annoyed that they rudely took up the entire path when they didn't need to. It was as if the race organizers didn't bother to inform the slower half marathoners that they were going to be caught.
Miles 19 and 20: 7:11, 7:13 (2:15:40)
Holy crap. I still have a 10k to run, and have now gone right by the finish line for the 2nd time in this race. Doing the quick math, I realized at 7 minute pace I would run a 43:30 10k, and that would be good enough to get me under 3. Only problem was, I wasn't running under 7 minute pace. I knew I needed to keep the carnage under 7:30/mi to make sure I achieved my only goal. Around 21, I saw the gang again, who encouraged me to keep going. I had an out and back 5 miles. Out with the wind, back into it to finish the race. Uh-oh.
I've been through this before, it's an all too familiar feeling. I just can't go any longer. But I had to keep my head in it. I did not want to miss by a few seconds, or get it, but have it be barely under 3:05 and then still not get in. I watched as the few runners ahead of me were heading back into the finish, and they all looked terrible. Except for the girl and her two pacers that had passed me at 20 like I was standing still. They put 5 minutes into me in 5 miles. Ouch.
Miles 21-Finish were not pretty: 7:24, 7:20, 7:34, 7:43, 8:00, 8:17, 1:45
I realized I was going to run under 3:05, but I knew if I tried to press it at all, it could seriously shut me down, and I just had to keep moving forward. I allowed my body to slow down and, like the Winter Warlock, just tried to put one foot in front of the other.
I crossed the line in 3:03:43, which is a full 7 minute PR (sadly) from my first marathon in NYC. Not happy about the super positive splitting, but all things considered, it's what I should have expected. I was 15th overall, and the winning time was a "slow" 2:45. Much slower than last year. After the finish line, despite the temp barely clipping 44 degrees, no mylar blankets! I could definitely have used one to keep whatever heat was in me, in me. I was freezing.
The gang came over and we went into the tent, where I sat down and shivered. There were a few angels though, like the lady who was a massage therapist and came over to help get the cramping out of my legs, and the guy who handed me a dry shirt to wear, and the lady who kept trying to feed me this allegedly magic water. The Shrimp and Grits were, as advertised, delicious. And since we were all winners in some capacity, we all took home some hardware. It always reminds me of moon rocks, particularly in Apollo 13 when they were confused why the plane was coming in off trajectory, and it was because they weighed less than expected - since they expected them to be carrying moon rocks.
Conrad was a great help out there, as he probably ended up running 28 miles at least during his 3:00:01 run. And the cheering and support from the others was also great. We then got to watch the Olympic Trials on Saturday afternoon at the restaurant we ate at for lunch. They were a little confused as to why we wanted to watch Running, but we excitedly watched all 2 hours while eating bbq.
Ultimately, I'm pleased with a PR to start the year, but wish I had prepared better and run a little faster. I'll have NYC later this year to redeem myself maybe, but I still sit as one of the fastest half marathoners with the slowest marathon times that I know! Even though I liked Charleston, and would return (perhaps for Cooper River Bridge 10k), but would not go back for this race. I hope they can make the changes necessary to grow their event, but it wasn't my favorite race.
I'm also really glad I didn't stop to go to the bathroom. 3:05 minue 3:03:43 = 1:17. It could have made the difference.