Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall Marathons 2014

US Air Force Marathon - September 20, 2014

This is a race I have wanted to do for a few years because my son Matt served in the Air Force and is now in the Air National Guard.  I trained about 3 months for this race and hoped to get a solid BQ time.  I didn't target a PR since my training was not up to my previous top level due to a spring time injury.  I felt confident that 3:45 was within reach and would not require completely exhausting myself.  My schedule had another marathon in a 5 weeks and then a 50 mile race in 4 more weeks.

As the September 20 race date approached I took a 2 week taper to my training.  The race is in Dayton Ohio and I made the 6 hour drive in time to hit the expo for bib pickup.  Then I went on to attend the pasta dinner in the Air Force Aircraft Museum with the Boston Marathon race director as keynote speaker.  I slept better than usual in a hotel bed and was up early for the short drive to Wright Patterson Air Base for the race.

The temperature was mid 40s with a good breeze blowing.  I stayed in the car until about an hour before start time then walked a mile or so to the start area, visited one of the plentiful porta potties.  I found a generator to stand near for warmth while doing my pre-race stretching.  And then I joined the starting line crowd, positioned just behind the 3:45 pace group. Prior to the start the pace leader led the group in a little self identifying cheer: THREE FOUR FIVE!  THREE FOUR FIVE!  This did not inspire me. (smile)

The start was orderly and rather low key; within about a minute I crossed the start line, tracking a little behind and to the side of the pace group leader.  The start was shared by marathoners and 10K runners.  I was a bit puzzled by some runners less than 12 years old until I recognized the combined start.

Before the first mile marker the main hill of the course starts, lasting to about the 3 mile mark.  It is a rolling climb and we were on pace throughout.  The pace leader announced he would walk through every water table area to make sure we could stay hydrated.  I was carrying a throw away bottle so I just cruised through the first couple of those.  This put me a little in front of the pace group, but still within hearing of the leader's voice.  Something didn't click for me with him and I really didn't feel like being too close. 

After the hill topped out, I eased by my effort a bit but ran a little ahead of goal pace.  I decided to keep easing up until the pace group caught me, but somehow that didn't slow my pace enough.  I remember thinking at around 3 or 4 miles into the race that my legs were tighter and more sluggish than seemed good.  I hoped it would soon work itself out. 

My goal of 3:45 called for an 8:36 average pace. My watch was set to track me against an 8:32 pace to make up for the extra 0.1 or 0.2 mile I typically see in a marathon.  My first 6 mile splits were 8:27 8:42 7:57 8:13 8:26 8:32.  After 6 miles I was 79 seconds faster than goal pace.

The course was easy enough: basically flat after the early hill, aid stations at about 2 mile intervals with enthusiastic volunteers and various fun themes.  Around mile 8 the course went into the town of Fairborn for the main spectator area known as the Fairborn Fly Zone.  This was quite the happy place with bands and families, etc.
Fairborn Fly Zone

I followed my plan to take a gel every 45 minutes as I came to a water table where I stopped/walked to drink enough with the gel.  Since the temps were expected to approach 70 degrees, at half way I would take a salt capsule.  By that point I was warm and sweating, so I took both of my salt caps.  I still had not noticed the pace group I started with.  My remaining splits for miles 7 to 13 were  8:43 8:43  8:28  8:36  8:31  8:34  8:43.  I was about a minute ahead of goal pace at the half way mark as my pace had slowed about to planned pace, except for stopping to drink with the gels.

But I was feeling the need to conserve effort and began taking more time at the water tables and walking longer through the water stations.  I thought my breathing was getting heavier and my quads we complaining, threatening to cramp.  I calculated how much effect some slower paces would have on my finish time.  I thought I could hold on to 9 minute pace and be satisfied with something like a 3:50.  My slowing was reflected in the splits for miles 14 to 20 -  8:37 8:35 8:43 8:28 8:43 8:38 8:49.  It seems the 3:45 pace should have passed by this point but I didn't recognize them.

And it seems the wheels came off after I took my first walk break between water stations.  I tried several mental tricks to try to prevent and then stop the downward spiral.  It was too late.  I had misjudged what pace I could hold for 26.2 miles and then even pushed a little faster than that in the first fourth of the distance.  And it became time to pay the price.  I walked more and more, probably half of the last 3 or 4 miles.

I reprimanding myself for overconfidence and then giving in; spent time feeling sorry for myself; tried to think of something to pull me out of this trudging walk/run down time.  About 2 miles from the finish, I saw the 3:55 pace group go by.  It seemed their pace of 9:07 should have been attainable for me, but I couldn't do it.  It is really difficult to know where the limits of one's body and mind separate.  If I could summon the will to do it, could my body have done it?  I don't know.  The combined team of mind and body did not have what it took that day.  My final splits were: 9:20 10:41 11:32 11:45 10:55 11:40 1:52(9:22 pace)

The finish area is a really inspiring place.  I had checked it out before the start that morning.  It seemed to be an old runway that was lined with aircraft from cargo planes to fighters; current equipment to historic museum pieces.  The wings of some of the planes extended over the runners coming to the finish.  I managed to run the last quarter mile with no more walking.  After crossing the finish I received a finisher medal from an Air Force member in uniform.  Finish time 3:58:49.

Marine Corps Marathon - October 26, 2014

I signed up for this race in the spring because my son Matt suggested it after he registered during the military registration period.  I was looking forward to running this one together as we had 2 years ago.  We drove to the DC area race morning and parked in Pentagon City, then walked 20 some minutes to the runners village to wait for start time.  Matt's girlfriend Katherine came with us and planned to meet us in a few places on the course.

After final porta-potty visits we walked to the start area in time to catch the national anthem.  There was also a skydive team including the recent Medal of Honor recipient, jumping in with huge US flags unfurled.  Just before start time a pair of V-22 Ospreys flew over, once with props up and again with props forward.  We heard the announcer call out 'runners on your mark' and then the howitzer fired to signal the start.  Almost 8 minutes later we crossed the start line.

The crowded start carried on for miles

Matt had decided to start off with a 4:15 finish time in mind.  He was not sure if the 9:45 pace would work for him and was ready to adjust if needed.  The start was crowded and many people lined up far forward of the pace they would run.  We spent the first three or four miles getting up to pace and picking our way through people going slower than we planned. Because of the crowd we couldn't really stay side by side consistently or even move at the planned pace.

We met up with Katherine around the 10.5 mile area.  After a quick greeting we went on.  We were able to go through halfway on pace as planned, but gradually slowed through the second half.  The day got warmer and running continually required greater effort.  Our run pace slowed and we added walk breaks.  Taking energy gels and drinking at every water station didn't replenish everything we were using.

The spectators were fun and encouraging through most of the course.  There were some bands.  Many people were holding posters with funny or encouraging messages.  Some were for specific people, some for 'random stranger'.  And some people also handed out help in the form of candy, orange slices, pretzels, etc.

We missed seeing Katherine around mile 17.  It turned out that people had crowded in front of her, even out into the street and we just didn't see her.  We did see her about a half mile from the finish. 

Running a marathon changes you and it can be less than fun

Eventually our running was simply an effort to survive and finish.  No more thoughts of a goal time.  Finally we turned for the steep uphill to the finish.  This area was lined by young marines offering encouragement.  Some runners charged this hill, some walked/limped the best they could, and we kept our pace to run up the hill.  And in a couple of minutes we finished.  The time was 4:36:43.  After resting a while, we went on to receive our finisher medals, take finish photos, get recovery food and drink and meet Katherine again.



mile splits - intending to average 9:45 per mile, finished in 4:36:43 / 10:35 average
10:09 09:52 10:18 09:25 09:51 09:17 10:20 09:17 09:19 09:20 09:25 09:24 09:32
10:06 09:57 09:56 10:31 10:56 10:47 10:52 10:50 12:08 12:41 11:37 11:57 12:51 3:21 (final 0.2 mile)