Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Race report: Marine Corps Marathon

Oh yes, the wordy race report. You were warned.

Since I lined up close to the front, we passed the start line only about 15 to 20 seconds after the gun sounded. Any thoughts of a conservative start was out the door. I stationed myself about 20 feet behind the 3:10 pacer. I kinda let him drift away as I found my pace. I wanted to be comfortable. It was a very cool morning, about 8C and I had just shed my long sleeved shirt. It was a good idea to wear my singlet as it would get warmer. I had these light polypro gloves and was holding one water bottle.

The fuel I bought with me: five gels, shotbloks and a bottle with 8 ounces of Gatorade that would take me past the first water stop.

Within the first mile, we were already headed up a hill and for some stupid reason, I had forgotten how steep it actually was. So we attacked the first of many hills we'd hit over the first eight or so miles. It's sorta hard so hold yourself back at the start of the marathon and it's not a good feeling chugging up your first hills within minutes of starting. The chuffing of heavy breathing is not a good sensation.

I started to take in my surroundings, enjoying some of the crowd of supporters gathered there. I also took note of some of the runners around me since the 3:10 pacer was pretty far ahead. As it turns out, I'd never attempt to give chase or catch up to him. There was a blind runner and his guide going at around 3:10, a guy with a Canadian army shirt, a few female runners. There basically was not much room to maneuvre for the first 8 miles. Not congested, but a big block of fast moving runners.

The turns were pretty tight and we always had to watch for wheelchair atheltes, which is bad for me cause I love to run on the right side of the road. Like last year, we constantly had to shout out when one was coming down at us during a flat or a downhill.

We hit the 5K split and I was keeping up the pace. It was uphill and I felt okay. I started to heat up and I shed my gloves around this point.

5K split: 00:22:29 (NET) @ 5K Pace 7:13 , Predicted 03:09:12.00.

I was pretty surprised I hit the 5K mark on target. My legs were holding but they were starting to feel it on the hills. In my last few days before the marathon, I'd feel tightness in my calves. That, added with the sore right knee, the recovering right hamstring didn't give me too much confidence in my legs for long-distance racing. Middle distance, maybe.

We descended after the 5K mark into the first big downhill. My quads still are in pain now as I walk down stairs. We crossed the bridge into Georgetown and I started taking water and Powerade at the stops. I tried to take at least two cups per stop. I enjoyed the bridge to DC and Georgetown.

I did a few sub 7 minute miles (6:59) going into the downhills but for the most part, I was keeping pace. Hit the 10K just as we were hitting the next series of hills. Oh, they would be painful.

10K split: 00:45:11 (NET) @ 10K Pace 7:16 , Predicted 03:10:31.00.

Was quite surprised to hit the 10K right on pace for 3:10, surprising because we were well behind the pacer. We ran up a slow incline and we were all just grinding out our steps. Quite frankly, the only think I remember is trying to stay comfortable then having to move to the middle of the course to go around the wheelchair athletes. We hit the Reservoir Rd turn and one runner said 'You gotta be kidding me.' Ahead of us was yet another a major hill. So we trudged on. We were running so high that the fog was obscuring the sun but some rays were peeking through. It was really pretty except for the fact that we were in pain!

As we were reaching the top of mile 8, some officers and marines were saying 'almost there' or 'go Marines!'. I liked the almost there as in we were almost at the top of the hill, but it's the wrong thing to say to a marathoner powering up a major incline 8 miles into a race! The 'go Marines', that was pretty cool. I guess for one day, we're one of them, huh?

Even with the ascent, I did the 7th mile in 7:27. Maybe we were going too fast for our pace? The next three miles, on our way back to Georgetown, was pretty much a big downhill. Clocked in a 7:03, 7:04 and 7:07 for miles 8 to 10.

Eight and nine brought us through Georgetown and down Wisconsin, and there was really good fan support as we were running on the opposite lane as other marathoners going through mile 5. Yes, we were already 3 miles ahead of the mass marathon and it was humbling to be moving at such a pace. Through M street, I heard a 'Go Canada' in reference to my little red Maple Leaf on my hat. I pumped up my fist.

15K split: 01:07:33 (NET) @ 15K Pace 7:14 , Predicted 03:09:39.00.

Nice to run the same marathon more than once, you sorta know what to expect. We passed the Kennedy Centre and I picked up an orange slice they were handing out then after I chomped into it, I was picturing the pulp being stuck on my teeth. Funny, the things you think about. I also thought about whether I needed to go to the bathroom because a few weeks ago during the Army 10-miler, it was there where I really had to go. Turns out, didn't need to the entire race.

The new route takes us through to Hains Point in East Potomac Park, so we took a different route than last year. I knew R was going to wait for me at the 10 mile mark, and I was looking out for her, but I couldn't spot her. I like running on the right side of the road so I was looking for her but no dice. As it turns out, she was on the left side on the road, had seen me, and was yelling my name.

We entered the park and the weather was perfect. The park could be brutal when it's windy but it was such a nice day. I was pacing behind a group of runners and we hit a good pace. Mile 11 in 7:08, 12 in 7:12, 13 in 7:20. We hit the 20K mark in 1:30 and slowed a wee bit to hit the half marathon mark at perfect pace for 3:10

Half marathon split: 01:35:07 (NET) @ Half Pace 7:15 , Predicted 03:10:05.00.

On our way back to the Mall, I had the first doubts of the marathon. I was feeling pretty spent. I remembered how fresh I felt at the half way mark in Toronto a month ago, as it should be. Clearly, the 3:10 pace was taking more out of me than I wanted. The weather was good yet I was already thinking 'wow, I have a long way to go'. So the miles out of the park and back into the Mall felt really long.

Back into the Mall we went and I was dying for a water stop. It finally arrived and I grabbed two cups. I almost felt like I wanted more. I was taking the gels but again, it never quite synched up with the aid stations. I really have to research the courses and actually plan when to take my gels.

25K split: 01:52:58 (NET) @ 25K Pace 7:16 , Predicted 03:10:31.00

Unlike last year, we entered a much less crowded Mall. I think that the spectators were on the other side waiting for people who were at the 10 mile mark. As a result, the fan support for us was kinda sparse. I was really hoping for an energy rush but there was not much of one. I remember running by, seeing a sign about the White House and realizing that to my left, there it actually was. Hilarious how during the race one phases things out. (I love this picture by the way because it looks like I'm ahead of a whack of people!)

I think I knew by mile 16 that it just wasn't there. We had passed two runners who was walking and I heard an official ask him 'are you okay' to which he said 'no, not really'. It hit home that the uncomfortable feeling I had was telling me something similar. I wasn't okay to be running at this pace. At the next water station, I slowed to a walk to take in more fluid. I drank two cups. Mile 18 was done in 7:44 and the mile before it in 7:25. This is well off the 7:15. As I hit the 30K split (18.7 miles) you can see that my pace had dropped dramatically.

30K split: 02:16:38 (NET) @ 30K Pace 7:29 , Predicted 03:16:12.00

We were still on the Mall at this point and I remembering seeing the Smithsonian building in the distance. I was hoping that there would be another water station near there so I could 1) take water 2) walk. Such a weird feeling to be wishing for a water stop in order to take a break. I knew that if I just started walking right there, still on the Mall, I would not have a good day. As it turns out the next water break was well after I had wanted it. I took two cups and we were headed toward that infamous and hated bridge, ready to hit the concrete.

Here's how my marathon went from run to walk.
Mile 19: 7:20
Mile 20: 8:04
Mile 21: 7:36

The stretch from mile 20 to 23 is a pretty brutal 3 miles. It's all on highway with no near end in sight. There's also no aid stations for that three miles. I just tried to tell myself while on mile 21 that I just had to make it past the bridge and I'd be okay. Other runners were starting to walk. I passed mile 21 and suddenly I just gave into it. I felt so tired. I was being hit by small cramps. I was really thirsty. So I walked. A woman went up to me with a bottle and said 'do you need water'? I gratefully accepted the bottle with thanks and took a swig. It felt great. I walked some more and started to run again, but by walking for a bit gave an opportunities for cramps to set in.

This is when the desire to compete faded and the desire to complete with everything intact emerged. I didn't feel bad, I just felt it called an end to the day. I looked at my watch and saw I was still in the two hour plus range, closing on three hours. I thought, 'Hey, I could walk and jog this thing and still have a respectable time' And so I took it easy. I walked, enjoyed the fact that I wasn't dizzy, wasn't hitting a wall, just resigned to let my heart rate settle, and let the cramps die down. I stretched. This was the longest mile of the entire race at 13:08.

35K split: 2:46:13 (NET) @ 35K Pace 7:38 , Predicted 03:20:08.00.

At some point after that, I decided to bring in jogs into the routine. I mean, I could still run, so I did. Everytime I got into a jog, I'd either feel the urge to take it easy, or a slight leg cramp (calve, knee, you name it) set in and I'd start on a walk, just hobbling a bit. We hit a water station (I jogged to it) and I walked, taking a few cups and refilling my handy little water bottle with it.

I saw R across the street and I jogged a little, beckoning her to follow me (she had running shoes on) but she didn't get the drift. I ran a bit more and saw a guy with a big ass Canadian flag on his back and that motivated me to actually run a bit more. We turned around and a few minutes later I was jogging towards R. I stopped right in front of her (and a runner behind me almost smashed into me -- opps, but in my defence, I wasn't exactly running). And I chatted with R. a bit.

R: Hi K!
I give her a kiss
R: How's it going
K: I have leg cramps. I'm going to walk most of the rest of this with a smile on my face.
She asked me to pose for a picture which I did, then I jogged my merry way.
Mile 23 in 11:54.

I then started to attempt running again to the finish. I would run for a few minutes, take a break and a swig from my bottle, then run again. It actually wasn't that bad. I did the next two miles in 9:58 and 9:25. I was passing other runners only to have them pass me when I took a break, then I'd pass them again. We hit the 40K mark and I remember that it was 3:19. I knew that I it would take two 5 minute kilometres and change to get a 3:30. That's a very respectable time and I decided to go for it.

40K split: 03:18:55 (NET) @ 40K Pace 8:00 , Predicted 03:29:45.00

At that moment, the 3:30 pace group (a group I probably should have been running with from the start) was creeping behind me and it was the part of the race when the pacer says '.. we got 30 seconds in the bank, and if you liked what we did, email the marathon so they'll bring us back.' 'For sure,' said a runner.

I smiled at this because that's what I heard my pacer say back in May in Cincy when he guided us to a sub 3:20 finish (3:18 and change, actually). The pace balloon he was carrying was making that familiar sound -- the only sound you hear when you're running that late with a pacer, a big group whittled to a merry band of survivors.

They got away from me when I took a little breather, but then I decided to up my pace. I felt that I could do a few strong kilometres to finish at 3:30.

The last few miles of last year's MCM was brutal for me. I hit the wall and really tried to keep on moving. Today, I basically rested for four miles plus, then ran again in the last mile. I ran mile 26 in 8:26 (yeah, that's hilarious) and the last 600 metres, which included the big hill, in 8:05 pace. I really enjoyed the last kilometre. Sure, I was fighting off a cramp that could all of a sudden get worse, but I was soaking in the crowds. I looked up at the big hill and it didn't seem that bad. The announcer was reeling in the 3:30 group, congratulating them on a job well done, and I saw that my watch read 3:29 and change. I had a minute to scale that hill and I fought it. No walk breaks any more. Just take that hill.

I crossed the finish line of my fifth marathon with my hands held up high. My heart rate was normal, my breathing fine, my legs were not great but I was walking straight (never got a Charley Horse!) and was well enough to smile and thank all the Marines stationed at the end.

03:30:28 (NET) @ Finish Pace 8:01

I ended up the marathon running a 8:01 mile or 5 minute kilometres, a much more conservative pace than the 7:15 miles or 4:30 kilometre that I ran the first 25 kilometres in. Do I regret doing that? No, I don't think so. I think there are not many opportunities to run long distances at your marathon pace so why not try it if you have the chance. Sure, I could have tried for a negative split but it didn't feel like the type of race that you find your own pace. Too crowded a race to find room, I think.

I think I've come to terms that I'll run my next marathon with water bottles. I think it's important to have your own supply, even to take your gels at the right moments. I have to hydrate better, especially given that I was able to down that bottle of water that the woman gave me. I, like other runners, get too ansy that i'll have to go to the washroom. I have to find a balance on that note.

Most of all, I think that 3:10 to 3:15 is really within my reach. I think properly trained I can make it. I came oh so close to it in Toronto and I've learned a lot from that race. This one, I've learned it's not exactly smart to go for your peak performance so close to another attempt and with injury.

Anyways, most of all, I love this distance. No race is easy but no race is like the marathon. Other races test guts, speed and training. The marathon asks a lot more of you. What that stuff is, well, you only know when it's asked of you during those final miles. I'll strive for that next spring when I run my next one.

Chip time: 3:30:28
Race details


Quinto Sol said...

You went for it... it did not work out. BUT you cannot look back at this race and wonder what if??? Great effort and wise of you to shut down at the right time.

Nice medal BTW. I got the dog-tag medal. Interestingly, when I ran it back in 2001, the course seemed flat to me.

Marlene said...

Excellent report! Congratulations on finishing strong, with a smile. Sounds like you made a smart choice and learned a lot of lessons along the way.

It's so interesting to me that someone who runs so much faster than me, with so much more experience, faces many of the same physical and mental battles. The marathon is a beast! Congrats on number 5!

Marky Mark said...

Gripping as always and excellent job!

Maybe you should have done Toronto so that you now also could do Hamilton this Sunday for a fall trilogy. Next year?

Sonia said...

Great report Kenny! Seems like a great marathon experience for your 5th, especially after last year'S disastrous ending in Washington! Also happy there was no fire this year and that the course was 42.2 and not more!!

Marci said...

Great race report. I agree about carrying your own water. I like the hand held water bottles. It helps ensure you always have water when you need it. Congratulations!

Arcane said...

Well nice run anyways. You'll get it next year. It'll motivate you to train through the winter. I think I will always carry a big gatorade bottle with me during fulls. I jsut find that there aren't enough water stations.