Since I started running marathons in 2011, Grandfather Mountain Marathon has been on my list. With well over 3000 feet of elevation gain on the point-to-point course, GMM has a long and notorious reputation as one of the most challenging road marathons in the country. Needless to say, it's not a PR course, but I intend to show up to compete. The race field caps at 500, and while I don't have any concrete time goals, I think a pretty ambitious stretch goal would be to land in the top 10 finishers. After looking at the results from the last 10 years, 10th place has ranged anywhere from 3:05 to 3:38, so that goal is kind of a crap shoot depending on the conditions and the competitive field.
More than an arbitrary time or place goal, there are two other wagers that depend on the outcome of this race, both involving different respective sometime nemeses, Sam and Dave (no, not the soul duo). Sam, against whom I settled the score last December, will be using GMM as a training run for Grindstone 100. As a sub-term of his penance for losing our bet, he will be racing in a skirt...okay, well, a kilt. Considering the GMM is a prelude to the Highland Games, he will not be the only one in a kilt. However, if Sam bests me during this race, I will have to wear a skirt (or kilt) during a requisite number of public group runs for the remainder of the year. So whether I'm competing or not, I certainly can't lollygag.
Also in my mind will be newly re-branded triathlete Dave Munger, against whom I will be racing from afar. Dave will be racing the Stumpy Creek International triathlon (like an Olympic distance tri, but with a slightly longer bike). GMM will start at 6:30am in Boone, and Stumpy Creek will start at 7:00am (+9 minutes for Dave's start in the 4th wave) in Mooresville. Whoever finishes first wins. Dave is shooting for a 2:45, and assuming we both start on time, I will have a 39 minute head start on him. So a 3:24 would have me finish on par with Dave's A goal, but that's assuming he's not being too conservative with his predictions. Also, a 3:24 at GMM is no regular 3:24. For comparison, here is a link to my Strava record of the very challenging Ellerbe Marathon, and here is a link to a friend's Strava record of GMM. As you can see from the silhouettes of the respective elevation profiles, I have my work cut out for me. If I lose, I will have to do a triathlon, something for which I've never trained. If that's the case, I hope Dave takes it easy on me and keeps my obligation to a sprint tri. If I win, Dave has agreed to do the Murph WOD (run 1 mile, 100 pull-ups, 200 push-ups, 300 squats, run another mile; all for time), an undertaking for which he feels equally uncomfortable.
Since this is not a PR or BQ attempt, but rather a don't-screw-up race, I will have a very different strategy from a conventional marathon. In the precious few flat sections of the race, including the first couple of miles, I'm going to try and dial in a 7:20ish pace, which is significantly slower than my usual marathon pace, but conservation is the name of the game here. As I negotiate the upward trend of long, steady climbs, I will try my best to maintain the same effort I dialed in for the flat 7:20s and let the pace fall where it may. Experienced GMM runners always warn about one particularly steep climb up a gravel road in the 17th mile. I have absolutely no expectations for this climb. I'll just low-gear it, walk if I have to, and try not to be breathing too heavily once I reach the top. Hopefully, by mile 20, will have maintained a sub-8 minute overall pace (about 2:40 or less on the race clock) and have enough juice left for a 10k kick. On a perfect day, I would pick up the pace and take that last 10k in 43 minutes, but that will be a daunting task considering all the climbing I will have under my legs at that point. That would give me a 3:23 or under. I'd be happy with slower than that, but not with Sam and Dave looming in the back of my mind.
It will be a challenging day, but I'm not ready to go shopping for skirts or practicing brick workouts just yet!