Sunday, April 12, 2009

Race Report: Illinois Marathon

ORN:  26.2 miles, 4:42:18, R2/W1, 10:53/mile
Quick Summary
How could a marathon have gone any better than this one??  The Illinois Marathon was it for me.  Close to home.  Perfect weather for running.  A big but not too big field.  Enthusiastic crowds.  Beat my target time by over six minutes.  No "wall." No injuries, blisters, twinges or pains.  The best experience ever in my 11 completed marathons.  If I could put this in a bottle and keep it, I sure would. 
The Details
Up at 4:30am and out the door by 5, I made the familiar drive to Campaign/Urbana enjoying the quiet and solitude after a too-hectic week at work, surrounded constantly by people.  The new wind farms I drove by under the nearly-full moon were a silent reminder of progress on the prairie.  My blogging pal Miranda had picked up my packet the night before...I met up with her on schedule and offered her encouragement in her quest to Boston-Qualify in the race (which she did!).  I then headed for a spot around mile 13 on the course, which I knew we would pass twice and stashed a small bag with some extras underneath a juniper bush in someone's yard.  Then, I headed back to the U of Illinois football stadium where the race finished and scored a sweet parking spot.  And it was still 90 minutes before the gun. 
I walked into the stadium and saw the finish line getting set up.  I ended up helping the timing chip guys by dragging a couple of heavy mats the full length of the football field so they could announce people before they came across the finish line at the 50.  Back in my car, I changed into my carefully selected shirts, donning my Marathon Maniac singlet for the first time.  The temperature, according to my trusty digital thermometer which goes to all races with me was 37F.  Great weather to run in.  I headed for the starting line and got in the grid with about 30 minutes to go.  9,000 people there, with 7,000 running the HM and 2,000 going for the marathon.
Since I had done no run longer than 16 miles since the Memphis Marathon in December and I was concerned as to just how this would go, I dialed back to a run walk ratio of running 2 minutes and walking 1.  I planned to do the run segments at a 9:34 pace, which would translate to a 10:53 pace overall, through mile 18.  Then, I planned to allow a slowing to a 10:06 run pace in the 2/1, which would yield a 4:49 marathon. 
The Race
The gun went off on time and we eased out for a 1.5 mile straightaway.  The crowd sorted itself out predictably and we were underway.  I managed to find a rhythm more quickly than normal and fell into a comfortable pace on the sunny and cool morning.  I tossed the throw-away sweatshirt I wore around mile 2 and, for the first time, was a Marathon Maniac actually running a marathon. 
The course was as flat as advertised and so we just ran and enjoyed the residential scenery.  I was really surprised by the number of local residents out to cheer.  By mile 5, I was 2+ minutes ahead of pace, so I just settled into cruise control   I was focusing on hydration, hoping to drink 20 oz of water per hour.  I was pretty close to that early on, creating some internal stress requiring me to find a porta-potty without a line.  Eventually, a city park provided some additional facilities and on we went.  By mile 10, I was 3 minutes ahead of my projected pace and felt fine. 
My 2/1 system created the expected "tag team" approach with other runners.  Most significantly was the rather large 4:45 pace group, numbering in the 40s early on.  Quite a phalanx of runners with a lot of chatter heading down the street, attracting a lot of cheers from the fans. 
The half-marathoners split off at mile 11 and we were down to the long-haulers.  I was still feeling fine and was surprised when I heard spectators saying "You're almost over the top of the hill!"  What hill??  Oh,yes, this is central Illinois.  There was a slight rise and we crested it at mile 13.  I declined the oxygen mask offered to me and kept moving.  By mile 15 I was still 3 minutes ahead of pace.  Around that time a young lady asked me what I was doing with the walking.  I explained and she asked if she could do the run/walk for a while.  We had a nice chat; her first marathon attempt, she was getting into new territory and her hip and quad was really giving her fits.  The walk breaks seemed to help.  Unfortunately, around mile 19, she faded at a water stop and I didn't see her again nor do I know if she finished. 
At mile 20, I was still 3 minutes ahead of pace and trying to pay attention to hydration, a Gu on the half hour and an electrolyte tablet at the top of the hour.  It seemed to be in balance.  I was getting warm as well, so I pulled the long sleeve tech shirt and left the short sleeve tech shirt plus singlet the rest of the way.  Amazingly, the miles just kept ticking off.  By mile 22 we were back near campus, preparing for a final loop to the stadium.  I still felt good and was keeping the same pace I started with.  The miles were still catching the 10:20 to 10:40 range.  Nothing hurt, I felt good and was still cracking jokes with spectators and fellow runners.  Wow, could this continue?? 
After passing the musicians from the International Music Center playing some percussive piece I could not categorize nor recognize, we got the Mile 25 marker.  The day was so nice, I felt so good, I decided to run the rest of the way.  And so I did.  The final direct approach to the stadium was in front of me.  I focused on form and kept moving smoothly, turning in my fastest mile of the day at 9:42. 
With lots of people lining the final 100 yards to the stadium, it was a rush to make the turn, go down the ramp, and onto the U of I football turf.  We ran the entire length of the field along the sideline and then turned under the opposite goalpost and came back to the finish line in the center of the field.  It was a cool ending. 
Post Race
My first clue on the goodness of the day came as I walked up the long flight of stairs
from the field to the concourse level to pick up my drop bag and get some food.  I was pretty pumped and walking normally up the steps.  All the other runners were in the usual post-marathon hobble, struggling with the steps.  I picked up some fruit and water and headed back to the car and realized I was walking normally, whistling, cracking jokes (still) with volunteers, high-fiving other runners.  Thinking back on other marathons and looking around me a little more closely made me realize this was unusual. 
I hopped in the car, called Gretchen, and headed home.  Dry clothes felt good, as did some hot food.  I got home in time for dinner with our three grandkids.  Amazingly, I was able to flop on the floor and build Duplo towers with them, just a few hours after a marathon. 
So, it was a wonderful day.  But why was it so good?  Why this race?  On such little mileage?  I've thought a lot about that and will offer some observations in my next post.  This is enough for now.  Thanks for listening and thanks for all I learn from each of you.
Happy Easter.  And persevere.  On the good days and the bad. 


John said...

Great report, Joe! Fantastic how it all came together for you. Plus, to be able to run into the stadium, straight through the last mile, is an added bonus.

Thanks for the details..helpful as always.

Hope your Easter was fun!

Backofpack said...

That is just awesome Joe! I'm sitting here smiling and imagining your perfect marathon! Love the singlet - you look great in it. Wow, that's all I can say. Wow!

david said...

Sounds like it was a perfect race day. Congrats!

crossn81 said...

Awesome, awesome, awesome. Being able to walk away is always a nice feeling!

Wes said...

Well done, Joe!! How amazing and wonderful for you! I think its time to change your blog header. We can let that one go now ;-)

Midwest said...

Congratulations on a great race!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic! And on my way through this post, I noticed that you have a Lean Manufacturing bug,'re REALLY speaking my language!

GREAT race! You really nailed it!

Mir said...

What a great run, Marathon Maniac!! I can't imagine running so many that close together. You are awesome.

LOL, I noticed that too about the spectators and hills...people kept saying, it's flat from here, etc. etc. I'm all, wait, but wasn't it flat up until now also? Teehee. Sometimes training in hilly Bloomington is a blessing.

Great race and I'm so glad you had such a good time!

Tammy said...

Great race report!

It makes such a huge difference being able to function normally after a marathon. This was also the first one for me where I wasn't hobbling afterward.

Will said...

Joe! Way to go. It felt like I was there for your victory as I read your story. When I run in Louiville in 10 days, I'm praying for that same good feeling around mile 20!


Darrell said...

Really cool! Having run this one on only 16 miles long run is truly worthy of Maniac status.

I can totally picture you enjoying the day and engaging with the other runners and the crowd.

The finish sounds just like the finish of the Marshall Marathon in Huntington, WVA.


OH, and belated Happy Birthday to Gretchen.

David said...

If that don't beat all!

What an inexplicable performance. It always amazes me when you find that gas in the tank at the end, and can go negative (in a good way).