The hay was in the barn. I had trained hard--perhaps too hard, and had a logistically perfect opportunity to meet my sub-3:05 goal on an undoubtedly fast and flat course in Wilmington, NC. Running buddy Joey Noto volunteered his dad's beach residence at Kure Beach (~30 minutes from the race) as a home base for a group of us who would be running the Half or the Full. That group included Joey, Roberta (running the Half as a Boston training run), Amy (looking for a Half PR), Johane, and Jenn (both looking for BQ's). Johane's husband Marc graciously chauffeured us on the road trip, and Joe Noto Sr. gave us the utmost hospitality, including a delicious, homemade pasta dinner. After a pleasant, crisp evening walk on the beach, and a decent night's sleep, I was as set up as I was going to be for success.
|Team DARTbag! From left, Joey, Amy, Johane, Roberta, Jenn, and yours truly, in our cozy trash bag tunics.|
Race morning came early with the usual jitters. The weather was good, though not ideal. Mid-50s temps at the start and high humidity were in the back of my mind. More on that later. At least the wind was blessedly calm for a coastal race. Near the front of the starting corral, I found fellow Charlotte area runner John McCormick, with whom I had connected on Facebook and found that we were both planning to run the same pace for the same goal time (7:00 pace for a 3:03:xx finish). Olympic marathoning legend Frank Shorter took the MC mic before the start for some brief words of encouragement, and then we were off to a nice, punctual start.
Almost immediately, John and I settled into our planned 7:00 pace. There was no adrenaline-fueled jump-then-pull-back. We were relaxed, and my legs felt more fresh than they had in weeks. Pacing with John was easy, and the time went by quickly. Conversation was minimal but welcome, and we naturally followed one another through the tangents and tacitly took turns drafting, for which I probably fared better, considering John's substantial height advantage over me. I could recall and list the splits, but it would be an exercise in copy-and-pasting. We maintained 7-minute-miles +/- 1 or 2 seconds for every split. We passed mile 5 at 35:00 and mile 10 at 70:00.
|Me and John at mile 5. John remained consistent throught the whole race and finished very well.|
Miles 6-12 took us off the 4-lane thoroughfare that was Military Cutoff Rd (which we would run twice more) and into a residential area. This winding route had the closest thing to rolling hills that one might find on the course, which were virtually nothing compared to our Piedmont region rollers. John and I agreed that when we would have to run this section a second time in a little over an hour, it would be a lot more lonely and a lot less enjoyable. By mile 10, despite my best pre-race efforts, I knew I was going to have to make a stop at a Port-O-Potty. I told John of my plans and that I may or may not catch up to him. Around mile 10.5, I found my salvation. Sparing you of the specific logistics, I was out the door in about 30 seconds, and the brief rest and physical relief enabled me to run better. Within a couple of minutes, I saw John ahead of me on the course. I resisted the urge to catch up as that would have been an unnecessary waste of energy. I was still maintaining the same pace as he, just from a distance.
My split at the half was 1:31:40ish, which was spot on considering my bathroom stop. On a side note, fellow DARTer and running buddy Dustin Branham was finishing the Half at about this same moment in time to the tune of a 5 minute PR, though I wouldn't know it until later. I completed the 2+ mile loop around the small Wrightsville Beach community where the first couple of miles of the race took place and then settled in for the course's second loop. A hard left turn at mile 15 (1:45 into the race, still precisely on pace) steered me back in the direction of the course's larger loop. On this second outbound section, I crossed a small drawbridge on which I had the opportunity to use the sidewalks before. However, with two-way foot traffic and most of the lanes open to car traffic, I now was forced onto a coarse metal grate for about 30 feet, which was very uncomfortable on the feet. At around this time, I crossed paths with Joe and Johane on their inbound leg--right where I predicted I would see them if we all were on pace--and they looked happy and strong! We exchanged cheers and ran on in our respective directions.
The next mile of Wrightsville Beach Rd and the following couple miles of Military Cutoff Rd put me in a bit of a mental lull. There was plenty of crowd support, and I was passing dozens of half-marathoners on their final leg to the finish, but my consistent pace required a little more conscious effort. I was beginning to feel the warmth and humidity, and I was finding it harder to quiet the mind. At mile 18, when I had separated from the Half-Marathon finishers completely and re-entered the residential section, I began to feel very lonely. There were runners within view, but they were not in my space of influence. The second loop of the course added a 1/4 mile out-and-back where Full Marathoners would pick up a sweatband that would be evidence of our completing our second loop. On this out-and-back, I saw some familiar faces who were struggling, except for John, who looked strong, focused, and relatively relaxed. Seeing the struggling runners made me more aware of my growing discomfort. I was breathing quite audibly and actively pushing to maintain my pace.
Somehow, I hit mile 20 at exactly 2:20:00. Up to this point, this had been the most evenly paced race I had ever run. However, the cost for each mile was piling up too quickly. I simply could not sustain my pace any longer. Somewhere between mile markers 20 and 21, the wheels fell off. My running friend Allen Strickland calls this point of the marathon "The Darkness," but what I felt wasn't exactly dark. Rather, I was assaulted by a vivid, technicolor nightmare of agony and hyperventilation. I broke down and walked. I recognized my blow-up for what it was and admitted defeat. Seconds later, I had made peace with it and decided to carry on. After my 30-second walk break, I eased back into a running stride with a determination of enjoying as much as I could of the rest of the race and still finishing with a respectable time.
The last 5 miles of the race weren't exactly enjoyable, but neither were they excruciating or unnecessarily injurious. I drank when I could, tried to throw up once or twice in vain, walked 2 or 3 more times, but kept a reasonable mid-7's pace when on the run. Volunteers continued to cheer me on, including some of them who recognized the glazed over look I must have had on my face. A few runners passed me, but only a handful. Once I came out of the neighborhood and back onto Military Cutoff for the final time, I began weaving in and out of groups of marathoners who were on their 16th and 17th miles. Fellow DARTers Lori and Ashley Ackerman cheered me of and photographed me at around mile 24.5. I did my best to smile for them, but the long, straight, busy highway was just interminable.
|Circa mile 24.5. The tilt of the camera makes me look like I'm going so much faster than I really was! Photo courtesy of Lori Ackerman|
Even after making the turn into the Mayfaire shopping center, the driveway leading to the final turns to the finish just...carried...on! One volunteer shouted "...doin' great! Only half a mile to go!" A quarter mile later, a different volunteer shouted "Only a half mile left!" C'mon, people!
Somehow, I mustered the gusto to run hard around the final two turns and come across the finish line looking strong (I think). Official chip time: 3:11:04. Marc was near the finish and let me into the car so I could get quick access to my sweat clothes and food. Seemingly in no time at all, I was in comfort mode and out on the course to help Marc cheer on the rest of the DARTers in our group. Joey had a perfect race; he paced himself perfectly and felt great enough to pick up his pace at the end and finish with a 3:45, which was right at his A-goal for his first marathon. He was smiling ear-to-ear! Jenn had a rough day, similar to my own. She did not make her BQ goal, but she ran a very respectable 3:48--not too far off her beaming Richmond time. Johane gave everything she had and finished with a 3:48:59, BQ'ing by just over 6 minutes, and earning her 3rd place in her age group to boot! Roberta's training run for the Half inadvertently won her 1st place in her age group, and Amy's Half time came very near to her PR, but fell just short.
I'm going to have to stew on this one for a while. Was my goal just beyond my fitness, or was I not peaking when I should have? Did the humidity play a large role? Lots of questions remain. However, even though the end of the race was a bad passage of time, 80% of the race was great! This still was the 2nd fastest marathon I've ever run, and it's encouraging to think that I can blow up completely, and still manage a 3:11. I can't complain about this performance...it just was what it was that day. At least I'll get 5 extra minutes of wiggle room for a new BQ attempt in the Fall. It'll happen... Until then, Run Reckless!
|...aaaaand here I am with Gumbi...because why not? Photo courtesy of Marc Hirschfield.|