Thursday, May 08, 2008

Race report: Flying Pig Marathon

Here's my race report for the Flying Pig Marathon. It's loooong. Pre-race here.

The sun was just rising above the horizon when the starting gun went off and after a few seconds of standing still, we quickly passed the starting line. I think Eye of the Tiger was playing on the speakers, but I had a lot of other things on my mind as we winded our way through the first quarter mile. I was pleasantly surprised to see fireworks explode over the suspension bridge -- it must of lasted at least 20 to 30 seconds, and I soaked it all in. There's nothing like the start of a big race, and this race was just beginning.

Miles 1 to 5: A explosive start then in and out of Kentucky

We rounded a corner, then another. I was on the lookout for R., who said she'd camp by third street, but no sign of her. Other than looking for her, I had a few immediate worries. The toe, it was not hurting that much but I was on guard. I was silently thanking the extra rest I gave myself (no run on Saturday) cause I was feeling fresh. The other immediate worry was Chris, our 3:20 pacer. He was just ahead of me and I had to spend a little bit of time winding my way through the crowd of half marathoners and slower runners who lined up in the front. Another cause for concern was that I was running on the right side of the street, and that's where they had drainage sewers. I would become very familiar with the drainage system in two states over the first 7 or 8 miles.

Mile 1: 7:26 (Marathon pace was 7:37)
Mile 2: 7:27

We crossed into Kentucky over the bridge and travelled through a very pretty street with small storefronts. There was the first of many bands and absolutely fantastic crowd support. I was very impressed so many people were out there with bam-sticks and Grunt T-shirts applauding. By this time, I had a good read on our pacer so I was just keeping up my running and keeping up within reasonable distance. I controlled my breathing, settled into a good pace and started to test out my toe. It felt all right. As it turns out, although I worried about it throughout the first half, it gave me no trouble for the rest of the race! Thank god for that ibuprofen cream.

Mile 3: 7:31
Mile 4: 7:20

Our tour through Kentucky was short lived. The fourth mile saw us cross a bridge and again, I was playing hopping the gutter on the right side of the road. By then I had solidly hooked on to the 3:20s. We were going at quite a good clip, a little faster than pace as Chris had promised at the Clif Bar booth on Friday. I was starting to spend a lot of time making sure the left side of my RaceReady shorts wouldn't keep on slipping. I'd have to pull up my shorts every 15 seconds or so. The weight of my fuel was definitely making it hard to keep my pants up. That was hilarious, but I knew as I ate my way through my gels and Shot Bloks, my shorts would hold up.

I packed five gels (four Powerbar gels and a Carb Boom), a pack of Clif Shot Bloks (6 pieces of electrolyte chews with a 'cramp buster', 3 times the sodium) and I carried an 8 ounce bottle of Gatorade.

The fuelling strategy was this: Use up the Gatorade during the first three miles so I didn't have to battle the crowds to get to the water stations. I did this in DC last year and it worked great. I would discard the bottle after I used it and then would switch to water stations.

Gels: I knew I bonked last year partly because I fuelled up so poorly, only eating TWO gels in total. This year, I planned to take them at mile 5, 9, 14, 19 and 23. I would take water with gels and Gatorade at other stations, even if it was small sips to keep me hydrated. I was absolutely convinced that gels could make a huge difference this time around.

The Shot Blok I chose were margarita flavoured with salt, and I would chew them in the miles between gels, just to have some sort of carbs and sodium getting into my system to supply more energy and to prevent cramping. They would also act kinda like salt tablets.

Mile 5: 7:32

By the time we entered the fifth mile, the crowd had thinned quite a bit. We were entering downtown and the rising sun was shining right in our faces. R. and I looked at the course map the night before and with the state of her ankle, we decided that she could spot me around the 5 mile mark, then stake me out near the end. So if I couldn't see her now, I wouldn't see her until almost three hours later. I took another gel and the crowds were pretty deep here. I quickly saw R., traded a high five, smiled and went right on to work, because the hills, they were approaching.

Mile 6 - 9: The hills, they're alive

This was the dreaded climb that would see us go up a series of hills. Our strategy, we were told, was to take these hills with purpose. Mile six was a teaser, as it included a brief rise over an interstate overpass, followed by a downhill. We did that one in 7:13. Then came the mini mountains. Over three miles, we were about to climb 272 feet, with 159 feet in the first. Unbelievable. I've raced up steep hills, I've done long inclines at the Marine Corps Marathon and the Around the Bay 30K, but this was pretty freaking challenging. True to his word, Chris slowed down the pace, advised us to pump up our arms. I shortened my stride, and matched our group's advance. During those hills, a lot of the marathoners and relay racers were dropping behind. We weren't doing them that fast and as a result, we weren't tiring. The hills would take back some of the time we banked, but we'd give it back. Chris told us to look out for the view from the top of Eden Park. I had seen it the previous day when we toured the course and I knew it was breathtaking. So when we curved our way out, we looked out, enjoyed a 'woo hoo' then got ready for the plunge downward. We soon reached the splitoff from the half marathoners started going back. Or, as I remember thinking, the happy people went left (halfs) and the rest of us went right, with much work to do.

Official 6 8M split 52:33 (7:43 pace or projected 3:22:37 finish)
Mile 7: 7:59 (159 feet climb and my slowest mile)
Mile 8: 7:48 (71 feet climb)
Mile 9: 7:33 (42 feet climb)

Mile 10 to 14: What goes up must come down (and up again)
True to my fuelling plan, I took my second gel just before the 9 mile mark. I also started to chew on the ShotBlok. The next three miles were just pure joy. We had given up quite a lot of energy and time to climbing these hills, but now we were about to get some payback. We plunged down streets named Madison and Erie. I was so impressed by the neighbourhoods. There was great fan support and the houses looked beautiful. People were out there cheering us and it was so much fun to see them out there. One of my favourite sections were the relay exchange points. We reached them early enough at our pace that there were quite a few relay runners with their bibs on standing there waiting for the exchange and they were very encouraging, clapping really loudly for us. I guess in a way they appreciated that we were going the entire distance. We must have looked pretty serious. The few miles just clicked by and I felt like we were at the running forever pace. I can only describe running in a pace group like being a part of a pack, a flock, stronger as a whole than each of its individuals. We fed off each other, we jockeyed, we separated at water stations but always came back together. We were getting back those seconds we lost on the hills. Mile 10 in 7:15, 11 in 7:16, 12 in 7:29, 13 in 7:26.

Official 12M split 1:32:12 (7:41 pace or 3:21:26 finish)
Official 13 1M split 1:39:47 (7:36 pace or 3:19:34 finish)

By the halfway mark, Chris had taken us to a perfectly paced half-marathon, just a few dozen seconds of banked time. Mile 14: 7:25

Miles 15 - 18: Beautiful neighbourhood, ugly highway
I took my third gel at the 14 mile mark, which already was one more than I'd taken during my last marathon. There were so many water stations in the course and I appreciated it. I took cups at most stations, even if it was to take a few gulps of water or Gatorade. I took water with gels, and Gatorade the other times. My drinking on the run has definitely improved in the last year and I can manage a near-pace run while drinking.

We entered really pretty neighbourhoods of Madisonville, Mariemont and Fairfax, which seemed to be made up of older houses and had great fan support. It was also during miles 15 to 17 that there was a mini out-and-back so we were able to see runners who were about a mile and a bit ahead of us. We ran a lot of corners and at one point, Chris noted we had about 10 miles left. I remember him at some point saying 'we've got only 80 minutes left'. That seemed like a little too far away to start counting down minutes but it was nice to know we were knocking down time. He would repeat this later '50 minutes,' '30 minutes'. There were a few hills in this area but nothing we couldn't handle. Chris was so great during the hills. He'd warn us they were coming and we'd prepare by taking them slow. And when hills were followed by downhills, we got the benefit.

My splits show we were going at pace or faster. We did 15 in 7:25, 16 in 7:40, 17 in 7:29 and 18 in 7:40. The 18 mile mark was pretty important to me because I reminded myself that I did a 30K (18.7 mile) road race and that I turned up the pace over the last 6 miles. I ran strong that day and I wanted to remember what that felt like. I also reminded myself that my longest run was 23 miles only three weeks ago so I had not reached 'noman's land' yet. I was trying to steel myself out for the next sections, which would include a possible encounter with the wall. We hit the highway overpass and ran on the parkway for a bit. It was a largely boring mile but it was a good time to take stock of where we were. By this time, our group had thinned a little. There was definitely more space. Chris told us there was a gel station coming up and I grabbed a Raspberry Clif Shot, which I quickly took before the 19 mile mark. It was my fourth gel.

Miles 19 to 23. Pushing us on, and right through the detour
19 7M 2:29:09 (7:34 pace or 3:18:30 finish)

By the time I had hit the 20 mile mark, we had run a well-pace race. By the time the 'second half' of the marathon began at mile 20, we had paced ourselves for a sub 3:20 finish. But this was a point i'd been before. I knew I had to fight off bonking by fuelling, by running relaxed and strong, and by summoning inner strength. We ran through the Old Eastern Avenue that has some gradual hills.

Our pack started to lose some of our runners. Some went ahead, only to be reeled in later, and some faded a little. We were starting to catch up on runners who'd either injured themselves or had gone out too fast. Each time, Chris commanded people to stick with us but they were on the verge of hitting the wall. I felt up to the 20 mile mark that I'd been doing a simple pace run. I had not hit a massive fatigue level, but I was a little tired. But I knew that running 10K at marathon pace after running 20 miles was not not an easy weekend run. Chris told a joke, started to remind us that we should be drinking at water stations. In between miles when I had gels, I'd force myself to eat the Shot Bloks. I had six and damned it, I would eat them all.

We hit mile 19 at 7:45 and mile 20 in 7:37, pretty much on pace. I remembered that I put up a post about my mother and when it got tough, I reminded myself I was doing this for her. That if I started to bonk, I would run through it because what I'm going through during this race is, in the larger scheme, nothing (but everything, at the same time, if you know what I mean). We hit mile 21 in 7:44 and mile 22 in a fast 7:21 (there was a 58 feet decline, my Garmin shows).

Then we hit the detour caused by the three-alarm fire that turned .47 miles into .74. I didn't know we hit it until Chris mentioned it. They had set up a water station and had spray painted all the pot holes (there were many). We ran through a bike trail and I nearly tripped over a speed bump that was spray painted. The two volunteers there were too busy clapping for us to tell us that there was a bump (they warned us after I almost tripped). As we rounded the final corner of the detour, I felt the dreaded mini-cramp, a slight twitch in my upper leg followed by one in the lower leg. I hoped the salt I consumed would prevent massive cramps. I also kickd up my heels to stretch out my legs a little. We finished mile 23 in 7:27, the same point that my meltdown happened last year.

Mile 24 to 26.2 and beyond. The wall? What wall?
Hitting mile 23 and feeling still strong bolstered my confidence. I kept on telling myself, hey, this is only a 5K race now and all I had to do is to run it with a consistent pace. We saw the clock and it was almost close to 3 hours. We passed a checkpoint and the volunteers told us we were on pace for a 3:20 or 3:21. The memories of the 24-25 just melt at this point. I was really in a zone I'd never been in before. I do remember these moments

-I reminded myself to keep on running strong and stick with the pacer. At this point, I was running beside Chris. We shared a short conversation, me mentioning that I flew down from Toronto and how today was just the perfect day for a run, starting around 7C and up to 13C (40s to low 60sF) and sunny
-I took my fifth and final gel at mile 23. A little while later, I went into my pocket looking for a Shot Blok to chew on, but there were none left. I cursed myself but I was also happy I finished them all. I had met my fuelling plan.
-I missed a water station almost on purpose, but our pacer had an extra cup and gave it to me. He reminded us we were still a ways from the end and we had to drink. I gratefully accepted it and drank, happy in the end I took it.
-I repeated to myself a few times, 'Mom, this is for you', or I remembered how strong she's been. That gave me a boost every and helped me surge at certain points.
-At the frequent water stops, we had a sense of urgency. Our pack was small now and we spaced out behind each other to grab water, but then we all caught up to each other to form a tight group again once hydrated again.
-Chris shared tips with us: 'Kick up your heels to stretch your muscles' and was generally motivating

And so the next two miles, so much was going on. I could see the city emerge from around corners and it was an amazing sight. I was not fading. We did mile 24 in 7:24 and mile 25 in 7:34, both faster than marathon pace.

Chris told us throughout the last few miles how strong we all looked and that if we had an extra umph, that we should take off. I wisely decided to stick to pace and remember that my goal for this marathon was to fuel smartly, run strong and steady. I had done this, but hitting mile 25 and feeling relatively fresh, I knew I could have the energy to turn it on.

And so I did. I upped the pace slightly and just ran by feel. My run turned into a tempo run from a marathon paced run. We were now running on highway and there were half marathoners walking back toward us after they finished the race. They were cheering for us. The crowd was getting louder and I was picturing the finish. I stepped it up again, spurred on by the moment. I ran a 7:19 mile (the third fastest of the marathon so far and it was on flat land) and I had more to go, but I felt it was in the bag.

As I reached the final three-quarter miles of this course, I could see a ramp followed by the final 800 or so metres. I saw a lot of people walking and I used that as impetus to run even faster. I was thinking about the diversion, I was thinking about my mom, I was thinking and looking out for R. who promised to be near the end, I was thinking about the wall, and why hadn't I hit it yet, and in the distance, I could see the finish line, which said "Finish Swine" and it hit me that I would run this entire race without stopping to walk and never slowing outside of the hills. A small smile crept into my face.

And so I ran faster than I'd run the entire race. Within 800 metres of the finish, I saw R. waving at me, looking happy, and at that time, I exploded. I raised both arms and let out a big 'yeah!' and then I turned it on even more. The crowd was loud and I was soaking it in. I pumped my fists. I saw in the distance that the clock was still showing 3:20:xx and I knew I had a chance of getting a gun time (let alone chip time or adjusted time) in the 3:20 range and so I broke out into a near sprint.

I'll tell you what, I felt like a runner possessed. I must of looked like a relay runner because my last three quarter miles were 1:46 (7:04 pace) 1:40 (6:44 pace) and 1:36 pace (6:28). Quite simply put, I ended my marathon, this 26.47 journey, by running interval speed. I was so happy that I raised my arms before I hit the finish line.

This was the finish I had aimed for. Strong, happy, fast, and on target. This race was everything I hoped it would be. The weather was perfect. The course was challenging (25% uphill, 25% downhill, 50% flat). Last year, I cramped up and felt dizzy and defeated from bonking. This year, none of that. This year, just for three hours, 20 minutes, 25 seconds, I ran my perfect race. Chip, gun or real time, you can't adjust that feeling.

Chip Time: 3:20:25* (for 26.47 miles)
Official adjusted marathon time: 3:18:31
Overall: 228/4728 (95 percentile)
Gender: 212/2720 (92 percentile)
Division:30/333 (91 percentile)
Pace 7:35 miles

For me, this marathon marks a 'mission accomplished' for a goal I had set way back in January, 2006. Back then, based on my other race times, I felt I was capable of a 3:20 marathon. Chicago in 2006 saw me hit the wall hard and finish with 3:35:15, well short of the goal. The next year, I signed on to the Pfitzinger program (thanks to the blogging community who are so hooked on it and turned be on to it) and knocked off 10 minutes with a 3:24:23. On the way to that, I set a whole bunch of PRs. This year, I didn't train as long, but I put in all the quality work and built on the 2007 experience. And so now I've come down to the 3:18 range. My next goal? Aim higher, go faster. More on that another day.


Triseverance said...

That got me fired up. I knew you were ready to run a great race and you did not disapoint. Excellent job and congrats on a great race. Next up.....BQ.

Arcane said...

I had the same thing happen to my race ready shorts. Does yours have the weird loop thing that prevents it from being tied? I guess you're suppose to knot them to secure them, but I nevery do it cause I always think it's going the chaff. I might have to try the shot blok thing for salt intake. I ws thinking of using salt pills, but I like your idea better. You seem to have had quite a bit left in you. Did the pacer carry that stuff the whole way??

peter said...

Wow, you ran a great race and really brought it home at the end. Congratulations. You obviously reaped the benefit of a long stand of training. That's a nice medal, isn't it? You earned it.

(Man that stupid word verification is hard to see! I'm gonna try for the 5th nope, 6th time to publish this.)

Run For Life said...

Great race report - congrats on finishing BELOW your goal and a well run marathon!

Quinto Sol said...

Damn good race report... Congrats on exceeding your goal... you definitely have faster times ahead.

Dave said...

Nice Job - congrats on a great race!

Marci said...

I am running Flying Pig this May (2011), just came across your race report. Thanks for the detailed recount.