Last February I was training for the Napa Valley Marathon in hope of qualifying for the Boston Marathon when the BAA threw me a curve ball by announcing the new registration procedures. Basically if you did not have a qualifying time lower than 5 minutes, your hopes of registering would be slim. I qualified at Napa Valley, with a time of 3:18:52 (race report), but with a little bit more than one minute of cushion, this meant that my hopes of registering for 2012 would have be to be revised. So I decided to sign up for a marathon that would take place the week-end before the registration week, on 9/11. I chose Skagit Flats in Washington Sate, because the course is flat, the weather usually good, and staying on the left coast meant less travel and no jet lag.
I trained throughout the summer using a training plan from McMillan and averaged about 60mpw. Most of my weeks were above 60 miles, with one down week at 43 when I was vacationing in Hawaii. The cycle did not go smoothly initially. I dragged a minor foot injury throughout the training cycle. This problem started in June after a race and an interval workout using Saucony Kinvaras, and the issue progressively moved from the foot to the right ankle. It did not prevent my training, but I felt limited on some of the runs because of this. This issue was somehow offset by the great weather we had during the summer, with temps usually in the upper 50s and low 60s in contrast to most of the country. During August, I started to feel the benefit of the training. My tempo pace dropped by 5-10s, and I had a great steady-state workout late August when I ran a 14 miler with 9 miles at steady state closed to 7:05. My fast finish long runs averaged about 7:24-7:25 min/mi, which meant that this was the pace that I would shoot for.
I flew to Seattle on Friday, and drove to Burlington 80 miles north. The weather for the race was not optimal - high temps around 80s, but these usually do not come until the afternoon, so high 60's-low 70's would be expected during the race. I checked in on Friday night at the hotel, and stocked up on banana and gatorade. The next morning I drove the course to get a feeling of it, and to also run 20 minutes on it, so that I have a better idea of what to expect for the temperatures. The course was nice, bucolic and rural and completely flat. Not much spectators to expect, but that's OK. However it would likely be a warm day as there was no shade on the course, since the race was run on country roads in open fields.
In the afternoon I went to packet pick-up, and talked to Terry Sentinella the race director. Great guy, who just ran Badwater this year. On the parking lot, I spotted some marathon maniacs car - including this one, who apparently belonged to Bob Dolphin, an 80+ year old man who keeps on running marathons ! After packet pick-up, I spent the afternoon at the hotel trying to get as much rest as possible.
|No doubt, I am in Maniacs country...|
I woke up around 5am, drank one last carboforce bottle and ate a muffin, showered, checked out of the hotel and headed to the high school for the start of the race. I hung around school, used the facilities in the locker room and took a picture in front of the school bell.
For this race I decided to wear a USA singlet as a modest tribute to the victims of 9/11.
|45 minutes before the start, at the high school bell...|
Near the start, I met Stevie Ray Lopez and Luv Pre from the forum, it was nice to talk just before the start. I dumped my sweater 5 minutes before the start, and at 8am sharp we were up and running.
The first few miles went well. However after mile 3 I started to have issues sustaining my goal pace of 7:25. It was an out and back course, and once the course reached open fields, I faced a significant head wind on the roads going west. I felt I had to work harder to maintain 7:27-7:28 than what I used to do in training because of the 5-10 mph headwind. The HR data showed that since I averaged ~ 167 for the early miles, and in training I would hit these paces at 160-164. So I definitely had to put more work than expected on the first half... but I kept thinking that things would be easier on the way back because of the tail wind. A few pictures of the course are posted here, which were taken the day before when I drove the course, but the weather conditions were identical.
|Mile ~2/24 (Pulver Road)|
|Mile ~2.5/23.5 ?|
Past mile 6 we lost the half marathoners who turned around, and the crowd got definitely more spread out. Around mile 6 I saw Betsy (EatDrinkRunWoman), who was directing traffic, but she did not see me.
|Near Mile 9/17 (D'Arcy Road)|
At about mile 11 I saw Bob Dolphin, 80+ years old who, having started at 5am was on his way back and was running marathon #400+ ! Inspirational...I ended up passing him around mile 15, encouraging him when I passed him.
Mile 13 was the turnaround, and at that point I benefited from the tailwind. Unfortunately, I could now feel the heat, as I was no longer cooled by the head wind and the temperatures were ~ 70+ with no trees, no shade, and no cloud cover whatsoever.
|At the turnaround, mile 13|
I saw SRL and Luv Pre on my way back, they were probably 5-7 minutes behind me at that point - I appreciated the shout-out from Stevie, especially since he can pronounce my name correctly !
I was able to pick up the pace a little bit but I felt that if I pushed too hard, I might have bonked or cramped. Whenever I slowed down at the aid stations, I could feel my hamstring tightening up, which told me that I was close to the limit. After mile 14-16 I started to pass many runners - probably 15-20 and did not get passed by anyone. I saw several of them death marching, probably because they started too fast or succumbed to the heat. I dumped water over my head at every water station, which I think helped cool me down.
Miles 18-21 were around farms, and I got some companions around there, a few flies that kept flying around me probably smelling the GU and wanting some....Around mile 20 I saw EDRW again, and her significant other Weegee, who ran a few seconds with me and got me sprayed with mist and refreshed. They gave me a mental boost by encouraging me.
|At Mile 21, feeling good but not great|
I was planning to try and run harder after mile 22, but I felt that I was already to close to max effort by that time and got scared to blow up with the heat or cramp up. I picked up the pace significantly in miles 25-26 (7:11, 7:07) but at that point it was too late to regain the time lost in the first half because of the head wind. Interestingly I felt limited during the last 2 miles not by the legs but by the breathing, which became harder and harder, almost to the point of a side stitch, and I felt out of breath when trying to accelerate in the last 1.2 miles.
I saw the clock in the last 0.1 mile, entering the stadium and realized I couldn't beat 3:15 by then. I still ran as fast as possible on the track, trying to get as much time on the clock as possible, despite knowing that 3:15 was out of reach:
|At the finish, trying to garner as much time as possible...|
One thing that got me during the race is that my Garmin measured short, and I estimated my time based on the Garmin splits, so by the time I figured I was off-pace it was too late. I am not sure I could have run much faster anyway...
I still negative split the course - based on my calculations, the "real" first 13.1 miles took 1:38:00, the last 1:37:14. Overall I am really happy with the effort. I think I was in shape for sub-3:15, but the conditions weren't optimal for racing. I did not blow up in the second half, compared to many runners I passed after mile 14, which is a great satisfaction. Despite not reaching my A-goal, I was extremely satisfied with the race and being able to beat my personal best by 3min 40s. Here are the detailed splits and HR data:
Mile Time Heart Rate
1 07:23.7 189
2 07:27.1 174
3 07:23.1 165
4 07:27.3 167
5 07:28.4 167
6 07:27.0 166
7 07:27.0 167
8 07:27.9 166
9 07:24.8 167
10 07:28.8 167
11 07:29.1 166
12 07:26.0 165
13 07:21.6 164
14 07:24.5 166
15 07:27.4 165
16 07:27.8 164
17 07:31.3 167
18 07:24.1 173
19 07:24.3 168
20 07:24.2 170
21 07:25.9 171
22 07:22.0 172
23 07:26.3 171
24 07:20.7 173
25 07:17.4 175
26 07:11.4 177
0.35 (6:51 pace) 179
|After the race, really happy with the 3min40s PR...|