19 May 2009

Marathon #2

January, that was my last post? What a lame blogger I am! I'll type up a report on the triathlon training soon, but here's my race report from my second marathon.

Colorado Marathon
Fort Collins, CO
3 May 2009

The course is mostly rural and scenic, similar to the Steamboat Marathon course in that it runs down a river valley into town. It starts about 17 miles up the Cache la Poudre River canyon, 3.5 miles up from the Mishawaka amphitheater. After exiting the canyon there are a few boring miles before the last 6 miles run down the Poudre river bike trail and finishing in Old Town Square in downtown Fort Collins. The course is almost entirely downhill. The net downhill is 1128 feet with only one real hill the entire way. The average downhill grade is 0.8%.

Pre-race nerves weren't as strong as last year, before my first, but they were still there. Friday evening was the worst, I think I kept busy on Saturday and avoided some then. It's hard to describe exactly what the nerves are from, as even when nervous I knew I was going to finish, just general nerves about a big task ahead I guess. I do think during the taper you notice every ache and pain, but that doesn't seem to bother me too much. Though I based my training plan on a 4:05 finish (predicted by a half marathon time last November), as my training went on I wasn't confident that was realistic. I didn't decide on a race plan until Saturday afternoon. I decided to go out at a 9:40 pace (4:15 finish) and adjust at 10 miles if I felt stronger. 16 miles is more than enough to make up the less than 3.5 minutes I would have lost at that point.
Race day started early with oatmeal and a banana and then a car ride to the buses. I love the feeling arriving at a race, especially a half or a marathon. Looking around at the other fit athletes I sometimes have to pinch myself as I forget I'm not just with them, I'm one of them. The bus ride up to the start of a marathon can be a little daunting. It's dark, daybreak just coming as we got to the top. And on a windy road it takes about 45 minutes to get to the top. The camaraderie with the other runners helps time pass and the nerves calm. I finished my coffee as we got to the top with about 40 minutes until the start. I got in the portapotty line which moved quickly for once, and then walked around and soaked in the atmosphere. It was just past daybreak, there was wispy fog around the tops of the peaks on the sides of the canyon, and light dustings of snow here and there, overall very pretty. About 10 minutes before the start I shed my pants, downed a gel and some water, and checked my bag.
Before I knew it we were running. It is amazing how strong you feel the first mile or two of a marathon. I started at my 9:40 pace and felt almost guilty for running so slow. I was in no way going to go out too fast though, even with the downhill course. I did that last year, it doesn't work. The first 10 miles actually felt easy. I crossed the 10 mile mark on pace for a 4:12 finish and feeling very strong. I stopped for the first time here, watered some bushes, turned on the MP3 player for the first time, and got back to it. I was feeling incredible at this point, quite happy with my performance. I picked up the pace a bit for a mile to make up for the stop and then at 11 I slowed back to around 9:40-9:45. I found some people to pace off of and just kind of zoned out, listening to tunes, taking in the sights, and running along. When I say zone, I mean it, as from mile 11 through mile 19 my mile splits fell within about a six second window. That may be the steadiest I've ever run. It wasn't as effortless as the first 10, I did have to concentrate on keeping my pace up, but physically everything I needed to call on was there. At mile 19 I was on pace for a 4:17 finish. The confidence I gained during that stretch was immeasurable, especially since the second half of my last 20 miler was tough. Miles 14-18 or so were also the toughest of my first marathon, at least mentally. I had no trouble with focus this time.

Mile 19 ends on top of a hill. As I started up the hill a girl came up next to me and started to pass. The two of us pushed on together and got each other up the hill without slowing too much. We exchanged high fives at the water station on top and then continued on with smiles. Not long after I started feeling tight in the calves. I pushed through it, but it didn't go away. A halfassed attempt to stretch at mile 21 didn't help, but it was still more just a little discomfort at this point. The going was certainly starting to get tough, but I was able to keep up the pace. At mile 22 it got hard. It took everything I had to keep going. And I did, for about a mile, keeping my pace towards a 10:30 pace, still thinking a 4:20-ish finish was in reach. About mile 23 the cramping hit my calves though. Between the physical and mental fatigue I was running at about an 11:30 pace. The last 3.2 miles were all at about that pace, all pure guts. It probably sounds strange but pushing on through those miles, though they were the slowest of my race, was what I was most proud of. I finished at 4:28:35, bit ahead of my “worst case” goal of 4:30. I finished with a smile though, dreaming of holding pace the whole time instead of “just” for 23 miles next time.

It's 5 days later now, and I'm still on cloud 9. The confidence I gained, the sense of accomplishment I feel is incredible. You other runners, maybe only you other marathoners, are about the only ones who understand this. Most people, my wife included, just think I'm nuts for wanting to run for 4+ hours. I'm not sure what's up next on the marathon front, but I want to give breaking 4 hours a serious run next spring.