twin cities marathon '08
2 hours, 46 minutes and 43 seconds. Seems like a short amount of time for how much goes into it. The long months of training … the countless steps during long runs … the pain of holding on for a few more minutes during speed sessions .. the many hours thinking about race strategy … the mounds of pasta, bowls of cereal and bags of ice… the little set-backs like injury and stiffness and tough workouts that cause doubts … the pile of sweaty clothing, endless bottles of water and rotating through shoes day after day after day … the extra hours of sleep and taking naps to help recover from 22 milers ..and then that two weeks of final taper that causes time to slow down as you wait wait wait for the race day to finally arrive and for the hours to count down to when it actually starts.
And then with a bang it starts. The world speeds up .. the wall of runners ahead of you shoot forward and you get sucked into the vacuum and for the next 2 plus hours all those long months of training and preparation are tested in this weird organic unique thing that is a race of which no two are exactly alike. All marathons are similar in that there is a start, a 26.2 mile journey and a finish but the cast of characters, the weather, the interactions between runners and even spectators is always different.
So this is how this one went down….
At 10 minutes before 8 we stream out of the church basement that served as the elite and master elite staging area and hand our gear bags to volunteers and make our way to the start area as the ‘wheelers’ start their race. Warm ups are carried out in the straightaway in front of the start and after the two minute warning we ‘back load’ the starting area and find a spot to settle in. I go to the back left side and look into the crowd once again searching for a sign of the twins who are supposed to be there and wearing orange singlets. But they still aren’t there and I turn around and face the front. I notice four other male runners wearing 50-54 back tags just around me (USATF Master Marathon Championship requirement). We’re smart enough to know that we’ll get run over if we place ourselves on the front line so we all hang about 10 feet back. We’re racing on official gun time and will lose 3 or so seconds from this position but we know the pecking order.
Finally those last few seconds evaporate and the air horn goes off. The crowd is cheering, the runners moving, the road is filled with controlled chaos at last and the clock has started.
Those first miles always feel great and I was checking my Garmin to see that I didn’t bolt out too fast because of the adrenaline. Unfortunately the high buildings were screwing with the data at times so I just went with the flow and eased into the pace. For the first mile there were three of us in my AG staying together. I got the first real feedback of our pace at the one mile mark .. right under 6:00 and things were good.
My goal for the race was sub 2:44, a 6:15 ave pace but based on my training I thought I could bank a little time for hills late in the course and wanted to let my HR dictate the pace. 160-162 average is what I was looking for but knew it would take a couple of miles to reach that.
About this time I noticed one of my AG competitors pulling ahead about 15 yards. I kept an eye on him but just kept my pace. I took an elite bus tour of the course the day before and knew that was the most significant uphill of the first half started just before mile 2.
On the hill we ran side by side. Turns out this guy (who I met after the race) is from New York and had run a 2:47 this year. Shorter than me and probably weighing 135, he was wearing dark rimmed prescription glasses sported a crew cut and had that 50′s, 60′s retro runner look down pat.
We pretty much stayed side by side or within 10 feet of each other for many miles. At mile 3 the course turned and headed for the first lake, Lake of the Isles, and the road became narrower, twisty and running the tangents became a big focus. Noticed here that the wind was becoming stronger and the very light rain was increasing just a bit. I would tuck in behind other runners when possible but the twists and turns caused a lot of corrections, passing and focus on the course.
The temps were somewhere around 45 to 48. I was only wearing a singlet, split shorts, throw away cotton gloves and a lightweight hat. I had done a 5 mile training run three days earlier in 32 degree temps with frost on the ground and had felt fine except for some mildly cold ears. I didn’t think 45 to 50 degree temps would be a problem once the body got warmed up. In fact I figured it would be great conditions to PR.
Here’s the Garmin splits and HR info for the first five.
1 5′ 54 156
2 6′ 08 161
3 6′ 12 162
4 6′ 01 160
5 6′ 00 163
Somewhere around mile 5 or 6 with Lake Calhoun to the left, Cartman (Justin) comes up from behind and it was great to see him. He quickly explained that they had trouble getting into the first corral, had gotten separated and spent the first mile passing lots of other runners. I hadn’t seen Butters (Tom) and promised to relay any info if he happen to be behind still. And then off he went looking very smooth.
A mile or so later I hear a spectator shout out, “GO TOM!”. A few seconds after that I get a “on your left” as I’m hugging the gutter around a left hand turn. I move slightly and notice someone carrying a gatorade bottle and it clicks. Tee-Pee had just handed off a bottle to Butters. I mention to Tom that Justin is just ahead and still in view but he knew and it was just a few short comments before Tom was off to catch up with him and looking equally strong as his twin. I wondered if the other runners around me had noticed the ‘same guy’ passing us twice and chuckled at the thought. Somewhere around 7 or 8 I take my first gel. Between the water, the gel and hassling with taking one glove on and off, it seems like it takes a good minute to get back in the groove.
The miles were clicking off in that 6 to 6:10 range and the HR was good but the rain started coming down harder. The crowds were lighter than expected but that was understandable. Most were huddled under umbrellas and still shouting out the encouraging words. I tried to avoid the puddles that had been forming to keep my feet as dry as possible but it was a losing effort as the wetness was coming from above.
6 6′ 04 161
7 6′ 08 160
8 6′ 06 159
9 6′ 12 159
10 5′ 59 157
I knew at this point that I was under my goal pace by a good bit but the running was easy. My only concern were my toes that were starting to get cold and numb. I would try to scrunch them up while running but that only had a limited effect. Somewhere along here I pass some spectators and one of them shouts out, “IRUNFORBEER!!” I turn my head and see Tee Pee and elisaj cheering me on. That lifted my spirits in a big way.
The rain and wind increased. I thought wow .. I wasn’t expecting this but who cares .. it’s only rain and we all have to deal with it. A runner pulled up to me and asked what my goal was. I said 2:44 and he said he was shooting for 2:40 but just couldn’t seem to find his rhythm. He fell back for awhile, caught up later and then jumped ahead. I noticed I was slowing down and that my HR was dropping. My quads were really red and getting early signs of tightening along the sides and couldn’t feel my toes. This was pretty early in the race to feel this stuff and it was discouraging. I started to doubt my training .. had I done enough long runs? Why couldn’t I keep my HR up? Am I low on energy?
11 6′ 08 156
12 6′ 15 156
13 6′ 11 156
14 6′ 19 154
15 6′ 19 154
Around 14 I pulled out another gel but decided to just take little hits over the course of a mile. This worked out much better in that I didn’t go into distress. The toes and feet got worse. I couldn’t feel the ball of my foot as I hit the ground and my toes were completely numb but I was determined not to slow down if I could help it. I tried increasing the pace to see if that would help but could only keep that going for short stretches.
I approached a large underpass, I think around mile 15. Crowds of people are under there staying out of the rain and a full high school or college band is playing. Running alone at this point and with a slight downhill the band is playing and the crowd is cheering as I approach. I decide to ‘work the crowd’ and flap my arms in an upward gesture for them to increase the noise. The decibels double and then as I run through the heart of the crowd I pump my fists over my heads to more cheers. Man, I love this place!
Around mile 18, the section along the Mississippi River I saw a 40′s master runner I know from California moving slowly along the side of the road holding his hamstring. I yelled out, “Hector!, come on man!” and he said something about it locking up. Hector placed second OA at the Big Bear Marathon in September and I know he’s one tough runner and it was a bummer to see him apparently out of the race.
16 6′ 21 154
17 6′ 17 153
18 6′ 26 151
19 6′ 23 152
20 6′ 25 153
The drift on the times and on my HR continued. I ran with an elite woman for a while and she joked that she was glad she had done a long run in the rain but it wasn’t nearly as cold as this. I said something to the effect of just wanting to get to the finish line as quickly as possible and she agreed. I kept repeating the quote from Roger Bannister’s coach to myself, “It’s only pain” and that helped to put things in perspective. I could tough this out and finish if I put my mind to it. I wasn’t going to kill myself in the process or do any permanent damage it was just uncomfortable as heck and then it would be over.
At the same time I was being extra careful to spot cracks in the road or anywhere else that required foot flexibility since I couldn’t feel the road.
Psychologically it felt great to head over the bridge at 19 and the rain had let up. At 20 we were treated to a short hill and it actually felt good to grind up it and generate a little heat.
21 6′ 30 153
22 6′ 50 154
23 6′ 45 155
24 6′ 33 156
25 6′ 42 156
Summit was a long straight stretch and included the most significant uphill grade of the course. I just tried to keep the turnover as high as I could muster and not lose much more time. I could see sub 2:45 slipping away but told myself not to give up and stay focused. I still had a chance to win this thing and the best strategy was just to keep pouring it on .. don’t let up.
Finally saw the Target Tunnel at less than a mile to go and attempted to pick up the pace. I must have got a shot of adrenaline after seeing the cathedral and in the last .4 miles I recorded a 6:11 and my HR finally got above 160 again. My vision started to blur and I could barely see the clock on the final stretch but I crossed the line and slowed to a walk and the world started slowing down again.
26 6′ 47 156
end 6′ 11 167
chip time: 2:46:43 (5 second PR)
overall: 92 out of 7969
division: 1 out of 472
20 mile: 2:04:58
Ran into the twins while being escorted to the elite tent and was floored and overjoyed with their amazing PR’s given the course conditions. Their efforts were super human and inspiring beyond comprehension. As they excused themselves to get to the med tent I ducked into the heated elite tent and drank a few cups of hot broth to bring up the core temps. I ran into the guy from New York and he said he dropped out at mile 11 from uncontrollable shivering. He had experienced something similar in below freezing conditions once and knew he couldn’t pull himself out of it.
My DW found me in the tent and I got a quick message and talked with some of the other runners. Everyone I talked to said they were affected by the cold wind and rain and dropped time out there. Hector was able to finish in 2:53 on a bad hamstring which proves that he’s one tough runner.
Got a ride back to the hospitality suite for pizza and beer. Then borrowed Hectors room to take an ice bath. A quick taxi ride over to the FE gathering spot and had the great pleasure of meeting all the formites, family and friends who made it out to run or spectate on an epic day.