Sunday, December 09, 2007

Race Report: Rocket City Marathon

ORN: 26.2 miles, 4:56:12, R/W various, 11:20/mile

Quick Summary

The Rocket City Marathon was a fantastically well-run race, exceeding my expectations. I had a wonderful experience with friends. And my own performance really stunk.

The first 16 miles went very well, the wheels came off the wagon over the next and I was reduced to a miserable shuffle for the last five. I felt really rotten at the end, the worst of any of my marathons.

I did recover after the race and have much to ponder. As I’ve said before, the marathon is a great teacher; I’ve just been schooled.

All the Gory Details


I left the house Friday morning with an inch of fresh snow on the driveway. During the 7.5 hour drive, I got to a very different land! From lead-grey winter skies with slush on the ground, I came to blue skies and upper 60s; what a treat!

I met Darrell at the hotel and it was truly great to see my running pal again. We immediately started gabbing and it never stopped all weekend. I grabbed my packet at the expo and we joined up with other runners for a very easy 2 mile run through some of the historic neighborhoods of Huntsville Alabama. The tour was a lot of fun and got a view of the “Old South” in many ways. And, after three days of long-distance car driving, the very easy run felt great on my legs.

We went to the group spaghetti meal and met up with Wes and Dee Dee who had just arrived from Atlanta. The conversation level jumped up another couple of notches, then ratcheted up further when we were joined at our table by a pair of triatheletes who live very near them in Atlanta, plus some grizzled veteran runners from Boulder, Colorado. The food was good, the people were great and we had an excellent speaker in Jeff Galloway, who actually ran the marathon. I had a chance to talk with Jeff a bit and I have much more to say about him. Later, David walked over from another hotel and the five of us had a great time chatting in the hotel lobby. David is a cool guy, a sincere, self-effacing man of significant substance.

Race Day—early

In what was probably a harbinger of the day to come, I woke up around 4am with, shall we say, some “intestinal distress.” It finally resolved but I was awake for good. Not wanting to bother Darrell, I pulled on some clothes and slipped out of the room. I found several other insomniac marathoners in the lobby; we had instant empathy! I then walked outside to view the finish line. I always like to have some idea of exactly how the ordeal is going to end. It also turned out to be a great source of merriment for Darrell, me scouting the finish line in the pre-dawn darkness.

As I walked around, I realized I was perfectly comfortable being outside at 4:15am on December 8 wearing shorts and a T shirt. What was the temperature going to be like by late morning, in the last few miles?? For about the 10th time, I changed my plan of what I was going to wear, shifting to the very lightest of the 8 shirts I had brought along.

Breakfast was two packs of instant oatmeal, a diet Coke for the caffeine (I hate coffee) and a bottle of Gatorade. I wondered, in retrospect, how wise this was. Race time finally rolled around but since the start line was just outside the front door of the hotel, we sauntered down around 7:30am and had plenty of time to be part of the 8am start.

In the pack, we met David again and met Lana and Michele for the first time. It was great to meet more fellow running bloggers. We chatted a bit but then heard the National Anthem, then the gun, and off we went.

The Good

I started out with Wes, as we both hoped to run a 4:15 race and had agreed on a 9/1 run/walk ratio. Darrell stayed with us until the first walk break, as well as two of the guys we met the night before from Boulder. Wes and I then had a nice time through mile 4. I needed the port-o-potty, Wes went on and I thought we’d reconnect. However, I missed him a mile or so later but he let me go on, noting I appeared to be in a “zone.” I’m not sure how much of a “zone” it was, but the first 15 miles did go consistently, all coming in at 9:40, plus or minus. I felt fine and was enjoying the run.

The first point of concern came around mile 12 when I felt a hot spot on the ball of my right foot and a corresponding “less than cool” spot on my left. I have never had blisters with my current sock/shoe combination but now I had one forming. I knew I had to deal with it. Fortunately, there was a first-aid station at mile 14. I swooped in asked for some tape and covered the blisters. The left foot was fine the rest of the way; the right foot was reasonable. I was thankful for the great folks at the station.

At mile 15, we reached the far end of the course and turned to work our way back to the finish. I was only a minute behind pace for 4:15 at this point, even with the foot repair stop.

The Bad

Going towards the turn around point, we were running into a mild breeze. It felt good in the muggy morning. When we turned, that breeze was now at our back and, in effect, we were running with no movement of air. It quickly took a toll. I sensed my heart rate creeping up, noted many other folks starting to walk. The trip back was going to be a lot harder.

I rolled back to a 5/1 run/walk ratio and held that for a couple of miles which checked in around 10:45. Yet the grind was on. Modifying the ratio to 3/1 seemed to work so I held that pattern through mile 22. I knew the 4:15 was gone, as well as a 4:30. Yet I was moving and seemed to be not much different than other runners around me.

The Ugly

The day’s temperature continued to rise. The humidity rose as well, yielding some intermittent light drizzle mixed in with the heavy cloud cover and thick air. It was taking a toll. Coming up the one moderate hill in the entire course just past the mile 21 marker, I found I was struggling with the 3/1 ratio. I relented and cut back to run a minute, walk a minute.

This slow pace gave me much time to think. I was passed repeatedly by people who were shuffling as I was, yet going faster. The last four miles all came in at 15 minutes even; I felt as if I was an embarrassment to the world of marathoning. I know it is hardly all about me; yet the mind plays funny games when fatigue sets in.

It took a full hour to cover the last 4.2 miles. Mercifully, the final 0.2 was on a gentle downhill slope, from which I could clearly see the finish line, the crowd, the flags and hear the enthusiastic announcer. He seemed to get everyone’s name and hometown announced. It was a rush to my tired mind to hear my name too. I saw Dee Dee smiling and waving and kept running over the line. It was over, just barely beating the 5 hour mark.

Immediate Post Race

The organizers had a marvelous system whereby each and every runner had someone walk with them through the chip removal, medal placing and food area. In so doing, they could see the condition of each finisher. I’m not sure what I looked like at this point; the lady who walked me along looked like my mother when she asked me if I had a fever or not; she knew I did and didn’t really believe my protestations to the contrary. Yet, this lady was not my Mom! I told her I just wanted to walk, so she congratulated me and let me gimp away.

I hobbled around the parking lot, working back to the spot I had seen Dee Dee. I really and truly wanted to see Wes come in. This was his first marathon and I wanted to help make it a big event for him. I chatted with her for a few minutes when I started to get foot cramps and felt nauseous. Dee Dee, acting as another surrogate Mom, urged me to head inside and sit down.

I tottered inside, feeling worse as I went. I grabbed some Gatorade and a pile of salty crackers and asked the organizers where I could simply sit. I couldn’t imagine even making the walk to the elevator and up to our room. I finally plopped down and just had to sit for nearly a half hour to collect myself. The nauseous feeling continued; I feared eating anything. I felt chilled, shaky and my feet were cramping. I remembered this feeling however; I had exactly the same problem after the St. Louis Marathon 18 months ago. That memory was a relief; I knew the feeling would pass with time; I only needed to wait it out.

Eventually, I decided to head back to my room. On the way through the crowd, Darrell spotted me. He had rocked his run and, as a friend will do, was looking all over for me. He helped me to our room and let me get into a cool bath. That seemed to help. I cooled down, started eating salty crackers and drinking water. Conditions improved.

By evening, I was feeling much better. We went to dinner with Wes and Dee Dee, recapping all the day’s events. After we wished the two of them a safe drive back to Atlanta, Darrell and I walked a mile or two in a nearby park which also felt good. On Sunday morning, I took Darrell to the airport and then made the drive home.

The Summary

It was a marvelous weekend. On the drive home, I figured out much of what happened and how I think I can approach future races. I laid out my goals for 2008. I analyzed much about Jeff Galloway and his methods. I’ll leave each of for future posts; it would be cruel and unusual to ask you to read further. Pictures will also follow.

Persevere. I was reduced to that and that alone in the last four miles on Saturday. And it was enough.


David said...

GREAT report. Yesterday was a tough day. Who would have thought that humidity would have been a factor in December? You finished and did it when things were not going as planned. That is the victory. You really did persevere.

Lana said...

Persevere is a great way to describe it. I have to wonder if we didn't see each other a few times along those last 6 or 7 miles. I finished in 4:45, and was doing the shuffle some/walk some as well. It was a tough day for sure. But hey - we crossed that finish line, and that's what counts! Many congrats to you for hanging tough and finishing what you started even through adversity!

Darrell said...

You can certainly take comfort in knowing that you were't alone out there in the suffering. You never really know what race day will bring.

I certainly had a wonderful time hanging out with you again. It was good to see you recover fairly quickly from the race finish trauma.

I hope the long drive home was good to your legs and Thanks for another great marathon adventure.

Wes said...

I was going to say the same thing as Darrell. Every one of our blogger friends, maybe with the exception of Darrell, had a really tough race out there Saturday. I think we can suck back in a little of our pride on that one.

Dee Dee told me about your situation at the finish line. The thought was truly wonderful, but I was happy that you went inside to take care of yourself. You, Darrell, and Dee Dee couldn't have made the weekend any more special for me.

Glad you made it home safely! Now, we need to figure out how we are all going to get together next year!!! :-)

Sarah said...

I'm sorry to hear it was a tough race for you! But glad that you were still able to enjoy your weekend.

Looking forward to reading about what you figured out and plans for your next marathon! : )

WADDLER26.2 said...

What a race report.

It sounds like the pre-race was a great time with alot of neat people.

You can never tell on any given day what a marathon will hold. One thing guaranteed is that you learn from each one. That is why we keep returning to do them.

Have a great recovery!


Tri4Christ said...

Great job sticking it out to the finish. I admire anyone who can stick it out that long! Hope you're recovering well. I'm still sore!

Bob Gentile said...

Great Report Joe & way to CLOSE It out on a tough day!

april anne said...

You finished--that is a great accomplishment no matter what! Congrats!!

Lisa said...

Like everyone else says, YOU FINISHED! We survived to do yet another. As the pain subsides and the memory of the heat/humidity fade, we plan another. :)


Anderson Runner said...

Great review and thanks for your thoughts as I think about a marathon in 2008. Congrads on finishing and being willing to share with us.