Summary: On a hot and muggy day, the first 7 miles went great; the last 6 were tough. Each race teaches much. This one was no different. The experience was great, though the time was not.
The Race Itself
Tony, a friend from our local running club doing his 44th marathon, and I headed to South Bend Friday after work. We got our bibs and packets before they closed at 8pm, grabbed some dinner and were then pampered at every turn as we stayed in the lap of luxury at Motel 6-South Bend (note to self; next time at Motel 6, bring your own towel). We slept well.
With Tony’s marathon starting at 6am, we were up and heading for the start line by 5am. We scored a primo parking place near the start line at that early hour, still well before sunrise. We found a nice park bench near the start area and had a wonderful 35 minutes sitting, talking, enjoying the music and energy of the 500 or so marathoners gathering. We knew that since it was so comfortable before sunrise that the day held quite a bit of heat for us, yet we chose not to think much about it. I saw Tony off at 6, then had 90 minutes before the HM started at 7:30. So, I went back to my car, listened to one of my favorite CDs and got ready.
At 7:30, we were off. I was determined to hold to a steady pace and had my splits in large font to remind me. I took it easy at first and felt comfortable. I did notice, though, even before the first mile marker, just how much I was sweating. That was a clue to the day I tried not to notice.
The entire course wound through wonderful older residential areas. Many residents put out sprinklers for us to run through, which really helped. My first five splits were at 8:47, 8:54, 8:37, 9:01, 9:02. I had a little over a minute in hand on my 1:59 target.
After a turn around, I found my stomach getting a bit queasy. I stopped for a short pit stop as well and the next two miles were still OK at 8:56 and 9:20. We then crossed the St. Joe River into another attractive residential area. By this time the local time was about 8:45am and the temperature had moved through the 70s, into the low 80s. And it got tough. Miles 8,9 and 10 deteriorated to 10:02, 9:30 and 10:47. I could feel it slipping away. The heat and humidly (over 90%) was taking a toll. I tried to find a run/walk rhythm, as my original 5/:30 ratio was no longer working. Eventually, I reset my watch to a paltry 3/1:30 ratio. It seemed to work. While miles 11 and 12 stunk at 11:24 and 11:44, I pulled mile 13 in at 10:21 and finished at 2:07:23. So I missed not only my A goal of 1:57, and my B goal of 2 hours, but also just missed my C goal of 2:06.
What did I learn?
Once more, as if I need to learn this again, it was so evident that weather is a huge influence on performance. Person after person I talked to afterwards spoke of how their runs crashed about the same time of day. Tony was on track for a 4:10 marathon until he hit mile 18, also at about 8:45 am. He then struggled to get hit home, doing 13 minute shuffles, finishing in 4:35. He said of all his 44 marathons, he has never hit the wall as hard as he did today. As modern people, we think we are not governed by the weather as our agrarian forbearers were. Not so, when we choose to go outside.
When I got home, I pulled out Galloway’s Book of Running and noted that in these weather conditions, I should have added 1:10 to 1:48 per mile to my pace as an equivalent effort. This encouraged me. Since my actual finishing pace was only 0:41 over my A goal target, I had some assurance that I was at least fit enough and ready enough to have hit the target.
A very pleasant result of the race was the non-factor of my knee or ITB. It was such a non-factor, that I didn't event think about it until my sister asked me about it after the race. Very encouraging.
The other big learning was about dehydration. I’ve dehydrated a few times before and it is no fun. This time was early-stage dehydration. Again, when the weather is this hot, I have to increase the fluid intake. During the second half of the race, the Gatorade I had in my fuel belt tasted lousy to me. I need to cut the concentration in half and make it more palatable on a hot stomach.
While the running itself was tough, I enjoyed of the day. Most significant was some wonderful memories of my Dad, particularly as I ground through the last four miles, approaching the Notre Dame campus. On my back I had his photograph from the leather helmet days of 1930s college football. I thought about what practices in August must have been like for him. I could only imagine the hot, dusty fields without any of the amenities modern college athletes enjoy. And it was fun to think of him as a young man grinding through that, proving himself, earning a place as a key lineman. It is at moments like this that I miss him the most; not being able to pick up the phone and call him and describe the day. I could almost hear him laughing at me struggling with the heat and saying “You think YOU struggled?? Let me tell you about the time…” It was special. Blogging buddy Will wrote recently about parental influence as he mused on his daughter’s high school graduation. As a parent, we never stop influencing, for good or for bad. My Dad is still a marvelous influence, despite being gone for over 13 years. And the amazing hip is just starting his influence.
The finish of this race is just awesome, as I have described before. Running along the outside of ND Stadium, one can sense the finish nearing and the drama building before the turn into the tunnel and down onto the field. In the tunnel itself, they continuously play the Notre Dame Fight Song, with huge crowd noise in the background. And they crank it up. So much so, that in that mere 10-15 seconds in the tunnel, I almost expected to pop on to the field and find the stadium filled to capacity. Making the run to the 50 yard line and the finish is a rush. The link to my Dad’s playing on the same surface makes it all the better.
As we entered the ND campus, we ran past the Notre Dame Mendoza College Of Business. I’m sure it is a fine department. But, as a baseball fan, it made me laugh out loud to see the sign. I instantly made the link in my mind to famous (in baseball) Mendoza Line, baseball’s derisive term of ineptitude. At that point in the race, I knew I had the running equivalent of a sub-.200 batting average and thought it a funny but cruel reminder.
After the race, I saw a marathon runner finish his race wearing noting but running shoes and a very small, leopard-skin Speedo. Seriously. He had his race number gingerly tucked into the side. It was pretty gross, as we’ll just say this guy’s physique was not “displayable” like that. Rather, it made you want to avert your eyes. Oh my.
Three years in a row I’ve run this race now. My times have been 2:09, 1:53 and 2:07. The experience has been awesome. Weather matters. And running always teaches much.
Persevere. No matter the weather.