Summary: On the most perfect weather day ever for distance running, the race went well in the plan for an attempt at sub 4 in three weeks. I also had three profound observations which surprised me.
The race was straightforward. Jon and I were on the road at 5:30am, got to the race site, picked up our packets (meeting two fellow Marathon Maniacs from Pullman, Washington for the walk in the dark to get our bibs), and had an unhurried time to get set for the 8:30am gun. We met up with other Maniacs and Half Fanatics for the obligatory group photo before the start.
This was the final time this marathon will happen. Tough story, but after 20 years, the organizers just couldn't keep this race going with other races in the area (non existent until 5 years ago) siphoning off much attention. They did a class job winding this race down. Jon and I wanted to support them in ending well a local fixture.
As a reward, we were all blessed with spectacular, perfect running weather. It was 40F at the start, 53F at the end, with clear blue skies, little wind and fabulous fall scenery. What a treat to be outdoors in all that.
My plan for the race was simple; this was the final long run in anticipation of the Monumental Marathon effort in 3 weeks. Take it easy, enjoy the day, get in the miles. My secondary plan, if I felt decent, was to do a "fast finish long run", switching gears to my planned marathon pace for the final 5 miles or so. Jon and I stood in the start grid, reminding each other that this was just a long training run, albeit with a lot of other folks and getting a T shirt and a medal for our trouble.
We started right on time and it felt good to get going. The organizers had several timing mats on the course, which explain the race. At mile 5, I had held a 10:21 pace...nice and easy. The field opened up from there and I went through the halfway mark at 2:14:18, quickening slightly to a 10:16 aggregate pace. We dropped off all the half marathoners just before the HM spot and went out for a long out and back for the second half of the marathon. It was fun to just knock off the miles. The turnaround was at mile 19 and the timing mat there said my pace was still at 10:16/mile...encouraging. My only concern in this section was not seeing Jon in the passing runners...I was concerned for him.
Heading home and feeling quite good, I decided to go for the fast finish long run at the mile 21 marker. When that marker came into sight, I walked again, switched my watch from the 4/1 run/walk to my target pace pattern of running for four and a half minutes and walking for thirty seconds, or 4:30/:30. At the 21 mile marker, I hit the stopwatch and got the legs turning over at an 8:45ish pace, to see if I could carry this to the end.
The final 5 miles went by quickly. The course was generally uphill over this portion of the course. I recalled vividly how these hills had chewed me up in prior years. Yet, it went better this day. The mile splits were encouraging, even in the uphill portions. Along one flat section, I spied my Garmin telling me I was running at an 8:05 pace...whoa, how did that happen?
At the top of the hill, with only two turns to go, I had a first. A driver (in a red Lincoln, I remember vividly!) was frustrated with the road closings and eased, slowly, over into the lane marked off for runners. He was driving at just same speed I was running but eased over and over and forced me off the road and onto the grass!! I've never had that happen!! He wanted to turn the corner, forcing me to walking in the grass, around the bushes and navigating the turn on my own! It was actually kind of funny, as I was locked in, focusing on the finish, there only a half mile away. But better to walk in the grass than to don tire tracks on my calf muscles!!! Oy!
The rhythm quickly returned, the crowds were around the finish. I made the final turn and headed for the finish line. Alas, there was Jon, who had had to drop out at mile 9 with a strained hamstring. He did pull out his phone, though and took these photos. Mega thanks, Jon, for capturing my stride in the infinitesimal moment of time when both feet were simultaneously off the ground :-) .
I hit the finish mat at 4:24:08, an aggregate 10:05/mile pace and a 5:32 negative split. The math showed I ran the final 5.2 miles in 46:43, exactly 9:00/mile for the "fast finish". The astute reader will understand "fast" is a very relative term!
Overall results had me 274th of 586 total finishers, 168th of 301 men and 5th of 17 in the 60-64 year old geezer-lite age group. I was very pleased.
I crossed the finish line, got my medal and started telling stories to volunteers. You see, the song playing as I finished brought back clearly an otherwise undistinguished high school junior varsity basketball game I played in 1968. For some reason, this momentous event seemed worth telling the innocent, unsuspecting finish line helpers. Yeow, what running a long distance will do to the brain.
I met up with Jon, got the bad news of his disappointing day, grabbed a burger and we headed home. It was quite a day, made even better by a phone call on the way home of a good mutual friend who set a new PR in a half marathon in a different race the same morning.
On reflection, three profound things happened during this race.
The Training is Working. I've never sensed a marathon was "easy". Until this one. This one truly felt "easy", just a nice day to be out running....and running...and running. Especially once past mile 8 or so, the miles just clicked by. Having run this race three times before, I knew what the course held. The long out and back has always felt like it would never end. Not so this time. They clicked off, we turned around and clicked them off in reverse. All the miles this summer and fall have paid off. By the time I finished, I was actually sorry the race ended, I could have gone farther.
The run/walk really works. It struck afresh just how powerful run/walk is, in three ways.
First, I wanted/needed to go "easy" for the first 20 or so miles, to save the tank for Monumental in 3 weeks. By dialing in a 4/1 from the start, I held myself back. The walk breaks felt very generous and I didn't push it. With my pace chart in hand, I knew at each mile marker I was in the 4:35 range and that was just fine. Then, since I was feeling good, I could make the shift at mile 21 to a marathon pace to the end, switching my watch to a 4:30/:30 and speeding up the turnover on the run sections. Amazingly, that worked too. It governed my pace. And gave me the structure for a really good workout.
Second, the walk break allows space for the "administrative" tasks during a race. Taking a drink. Taking some nutrition. Checking the pace. Refilling the water bottle. Wiping my runny nose. Looking around and taking in the scenery. Finding a spot to pee. All this is necessary in any race but the walk break gives the logical spot for it to happen without disrupting the running.
Third, the R/W markedly "shortens" the race. I first sensed this in the final 4 miles of the BOMF marathon two weeks ago. As I got tired in that race and was going up the long hill at mile 25 in this race, I found it far easier, mentally, to focus solely on the completing the current run sequence. Two more minutes, one more minute. Take a walk, then do it again. I was never running four more miles. Just four more minutes.
An amazing compliment. I'm still amazed at this one. Around mile 19.5, soon after we turned around on the long out and back along Fall Creek Road, I was slowly passing a lady who turned to me and asked "Didn't you run the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend?" I smiled, said I did, and asked her how on earth she remembered me. She said "Well, I remember you being very encouraging to others at that race and you are doing the same thing here." Amazing...I was really stunned and grateful. Shoot, I'm just having fun and trying to help others keep going. And she remembered it from a race 5 months ago. Blew me away, still does today.
The marathon is a fascinating teacher...further lessons from this one. Thanks for listening.