Wednesday, March 23, 2016

B&A Trail Marathon, Severna Park Maryland March 20, 2016

B&A Trail Marathon
(in this case trail refers to a paved rails-to-trails course)

My goal time was 3:45/8:35 per mile and I finished a couple minutes faster.  I wanted to get a time that would allow me to register for the 2017 Boston Marathon.  Technically I need a 3:55, but with entrants exceeding available entries, I felt I should beat the requirement by 5 or 10 minutes.
Results 3:42:51  Overall 63rd of 180; 1st of 12 in age group M60-69

The whole story…

My general pacing plan was to aim for 8:45 pace for a mile or two then 8:40 to the first turnaround at 7 miles. After clearing the only hill by mile 8, I wanted to run 8:30 pace for the remainder.  It was cloudy and about 35 degrees at the start, rising to low 40s.  There was a little wind but never enough to be a factor.  I wore shorts, a long sleeve winter weight compression shirt, fleece cap, gloves, merino wool compression socks, Brooks Launch 2 shoes, UltraSpire vest to carry my gels.

As usual, the singing of the National Anthem before the start choked me up.  I stood there hand over my heart, jaw clenched, and sniffing away the sobs that tried to form. 

And then we started.  We had about a mile and a half in neighborhood streets until we reached the rail trail.  This allowed runners room to spread out before the six foot wide trail.  There was never any time in the race that runners in front of me were obstructing my progress.  The first mile was a little fast but no concern as this is normal. (Garmin info below)  I really just coasted along, expecting my pace to reflect a little slowing and get me to my planned pace.  As it turned out I was always running faster than plan and for the first half, with less effort than expected.

Just after my first drink of water there was a puddle on the trail from the prior night’s rain.  Having just spilled water on myself, it seemed silly to go out of my way to avoid the puddle – so I didn’t, but I tried to keep the splashing to myself.  I ran a mile or two with a man who appeared to be near my age.  His 3:50 goal time was near mine, but he said he wanted to stay far enough from a BQ to not be tempted to try too hard and risk falling apart.  That was a clue to me that he was in a younger age group with a quicker BQ requirement.  And my easy effort pace had me moving ahead of him.  I thought from viewing recent results I could be in the running for an age group award.  But making my BQ goal was top priority so I decided not to look for other gray hair guys.  Well, at least not before reaching 20 miles.

On this portion of the trail there were often wooded areas on one side and residential neighborhoods on the other.  Spring was starting to show with some daffodils, magnolia trees, and other things blooming.  Some backyards had steps leading up to the rail trail.  One property had horses or maybe they were ponies.  Another place had 3 little dogs out back barking to keep all those strangers away.  A little after I reached the 5 mile marker the first runner passed on the way back from the turnaround.  This was a half marathoner nearing his 8 mile mark.  Soon the return traffic picked up, but I didn’t try to distinguish between those doing the half or full marathon.  I made a point to smile at anyone who made eye contact.  I was having a happy run.

Easy miles in the first half
I took my first swallow of energy gel with water around the 7.5 mile point.  I stopped to walk while drinking the water.  From this point I would walk through each water station to drink a cup of water.  These were located at a little under 3 mile intervals.  I planned to take more energy gel at alternating water stations for the remainder of the race.  At the 10 mile mark I calculated that my current average pace would yield a 3:40 finish and I consciously slowed to get closer to plan.  As I approached the halfway mark, a few runners passed – half marathoners I supposed.  They would make their turn for the finish a little before my 13 mile mark.  There was a water table there and I took a second swallow of my energy gel with 2 cups of water.  There was a timing mat at what seemed like 13.1 miles and I was on pace or a little ahead at that point. 

The course setting changed to a more suburban/commercial aspect as we went into the north half.  The road crossings were busier and there were a couple of shopping malls.  I occasionally overtook a runner and asked how they were doing.  Mostly they were getting to the hard part of the marathon experience.  Within a minute or two I moved on.  I remained very comfortable till about 17 miles. My shoulders were tired and tight, something I don’t remember from other races.  I was maintaining my planned pace but a little more focus was required by mile 19.  At this point my watch showed 2:44 and I thought ‘I can do the last 7 miles in an hour’ which just meant holding pace.  I took more energy gel and water here.  On the next check of my watch the screen was blank – the battery went dead.

I realized pacing would be more of a challenge as the later miles always take more effort just to hold pace. The need to deal with this seemed to boost my pace for a while.  Over the next mile or 2 when catching up to a runner I asked for pace info and eventually decided to hang behind 2 runners up ahead who I was told were doing 8:30 pace. One was pacing the other.  I didn’t intrude on their interaction, I just used them as pacers, so I never really knew their pace and whether they were slowing or not.   I tried to keep up my practice of smiling at other runners.  Now smiling had a double purpose – to encourage others and to lift my own spirit.

Before the turnaround at 19, I had noticed my breathing was becoming more noticeable.  This would continue to advance.  My upper legs were getting sore and increasingly tight/crampy.  Around mile 23 I took the last of my honey mix.  As it got harder to hang with my pacers, it didn’t matter if they were slowing, I didn’t think I could go faster for the remaining distance.  I was counting down the miles and just working to hold pace.  My thoughts alternated between thinking ‘there are only this many more minutes/miles’, praying for strength to hold on, and deciding to keep trying for this mile - for now.  The thought of watching for age group competition was completely gone; I was in a struggle with myself to keep pressing on. 

Eventually it was less than 2 miles then 1, then .2 at the turn from the rail trail, soon I could see the finish banner.  As I approached the finish, the clock was hidden from view; when it became visible I could only see 3:4x:xx with the minutes/seconds hidden. With about 50 meters remaining I could see 3:42 ticking away and then it was 3:43 before I finished. There was no finish line kick, just surviving the last steps. 
The Finish Line!
I think my watch problem actually resulted in a faster finish time, since I most likely would have settled just to meet my goal time. And I think the runners I paced with were maybe picking up the pace a little in the last miles.
The race results show my average pace as 8:31.  If my watch was accurate I ran the last 7 miles a little faster than the earlier miles.  The half marathon split showed as 01:52:12 which would mean I ran a slight negative split.  This would be my first time to do that.
This 3:42:51 finish gave me a BQ that I hoped for and that was within a minute of my first BQ, almost 6 years ago – 3:42:01.  These two marathons are the only ones where I got age group awards.
Miles splits from my watch to 19 miles 8:31 8:38 8:38 8:34 8:32 8:29 8:16 8:32 8:46 8:23 8:26 8:32 8:49 8:31 8:36 8:26 8:31 8:27 8:31 average 8:32
For race nutrition I used a homemade honey/coffee mix with some salts added for sodium/potassium. 5 ounces honey, 3 ounces coffee. This mix was in small bottles that I carried in a lightweight vest more often used in ultra-distance trail races.  I drank only water on the course except for one cup of Gatorade.   I ate one gummy bear because a cute little pre-school age girl was offering them at a water station.

Race premium lightweight fleece jacket, towel was age group award.
Bottle opener style medal.