Many of my friends are runners and they have some of these thoughts. The marathon is tough; I hope that is not news, but a really good marathon is really tough. There's deciding, training, nutrition, staying healthy which you can influence and plan for. Then there's course selection and weather and contemporary feelings, niggles, sniffles, mental preparedness and anxiety. There a lot of things that make up a marathon, and they almost all have to go right for you to hit an aggressive target. Often, only one thing off kilter can really kill the marathon.
I've been doing OK at this running thing, but I never had the perfect long race. Perfect isn't gonna ever happen, but the typical end of a race is:
- Woo hoo
- 5 seconds pass
- What if I had...
- or what about...
I'm a typically optimistic and aggressive at goal setting and many people probably roll their eyes when I state what I want to do. Hell, at the end of these stupid words, I'll set another goal.
Anyhow, I ran CIM this past December. I wanted to train well for it, but got an injury last summer that really thwarted any training effort. The injury was part of it, but mentally I just kept delaying getting serious about it. Then when I decided to try it was kinda late, maybe 8-9 weeks out. I really headed into CIM well under optimal training, but I made a commitment to friends that I'd go and I went.
Long story short, we ran some hills floated into Sacramento and I had a shiny new PR. That was until Bob looked up my times and realized I was about 10 seconds slower than my PR. Regardless a new PR performance on that training had me very excited. Immediately, I was in what if mode. Could you imagine what you would have done with a good training cycle, etc...
I knew my training partner was gonna race Illinois and he's a legit sub-2:40 guy. I'm a wannabe 2:40 guy, and while not a lot of people think that's possible, I do. At the end of the day, that matters. So now the opportunity presents itself, my training partner is gonna be there, it's a flat course and I wanna go faster.
Now that we know I'm gonna run Illinois, how will I train. I decided I was gonna do a Hansons' type plan. The Hansons typically have a quality over quantity philosophy and that agrees with me. My imaginary friend Ben is coached by a Hanson disciple, and I have access to Ben's training logs. I am not anywhere near as fast as Ben, unless we are in a bar post race. At that point, I'll challenge Ben to anything: mile, 100 meters, quarter, anything. So since Ben is faster than me, I will just prorate his times to fit my goals.
After a few days, I've created a plan, and it's awesome, IMO. It's always good to have a plan. However, as Mike Tyson has said, "everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face." My punch in the face was some work-life stress, a terrible winter and a weak mind. I just didn't dedicate myself as much as was required. They all led to another lack-luster cycle and I was upset with myself.
About the Race
Illinois is a close race, I can get there in 2.5 hours. It's also a Saturday race, which I like. The weather forecast was getting dicey for most. The temps would be great, low 40s. There would likely be rain. Some don't like rain but I love it. It keeps the body temps in check and it's flushing the salty sweat from your eyes. Unfortunately there was supposed to be winds in the mid-teems. No runner likes wind.
The drive down was mostly uneventful. As I got to Champaign, I saw an RV trying to navigate under a bridge. The bridge won. In other news, it was two of my training partners in the RV. All that was lost was an nonoperational AC unit. We got to the expo to pick up numbers.
Then we went to the pasta dinner, parted ways to separate hotels and waited for morning.
The race starts on first street SE of Assembly Hall. We have a moderate downhill to the first turn. During this section I see a 5:30 on the watch. Downhill and race start adrenaline. Francesco and I immediately back off. The 1/2 and full start together, so naturally there are people here who are not doing our race.
We take the first turn and are straight into the wind. The pack is still dense so I tuck in. Francesco and I wanted to start in the 6:15-20 range, but we were already at 6:0x. I made the decision to find a big guy and draft even though it meant a faster pace. The energy trade was well worth it. Francesco called to get me to slow down, but I wanted the protection. It stayed this way for about 6 miles when Franceso recaptured me around 8-9 mile. I took a stint blocking wind for him and then we hit the park. The park section of the race has a lot of sharp turns, too many for a marathon for sure. As we exit the park we captured the lead female. We were rolling a lot of 6:10s and it was comfortable. We approached the 1/2 at 1:20:52. So I did 6:10 for first 10K, 6:11 for first 10M and 6:10 for first half.
Just after the half there is a viaduct that we go under. There was a very load band, and as we ascended, Francesco was feeling spry. He threw in a 6:03, and I knew that our run together was coming to an end. 6:10 was comfy, 6:03 was working. The next section was crowded. We were sitting in 10-12th place, but we were approaching the walkers for the 10K. They took over the entire running lane, so we had to move outside the cones to get through. It looked like Francesco was just running my pace, I was staying the same gap back. Part of that was probably a tail wind, but I'd definitely recovered from the fast mile at the half. In the middle of mile 15 we turn back around and hit the wind. My times rise to 6:20. I know this is all I should put forth because the wind was gonna use all the extra energy. I also did some math and felt that just finishing in 6:20 (seemingly easy) would still be a great time, 2:45ish.
The way back to the finish broke up the wind better than the first 6 miles did so there was a constant game of suffering the wind till the next corner then relaxing. This game was fun through about 20. In the 21 mile there was a bit of wind and it really showed in my time. Looking back, that might have been a mental weakness; seeing a 6:44 (became a 6:55 at miles end), really put a chink in my armor. For the first time I was thinking bad thoughts. I started to look ahead and just keep Francesco in sight. It helped, but not enough. I was having some wild split swings these miles: wind, tired, hurt, whatever.
In the 22 mile, I just kept thinking get to 23, then you're at mile zero trying to get home to the gazebo. That's the final segment of my Sunday runs. You can always make it home from the zero mile mark. In the 25th mile we run along a golf course and there is a hill, nothing big, but after 25 miles it affected me. I stopped. I walked about 4 steps before I realized this hurt more than running, so I tried to get my shuffle on. At this point, the last of the people that would pass me came by. I decided that I could suffer the next 1.5 miles no matter what, and I just tried to trick my mind into thinking I was gonna make it. It was a painful slog but I eventually got back to 6:30, and went into horses to the barn mode. Once I saw Neil Street, I knew the stadium was near, then the soccer fields. Now just get to the corner and run to the stadium. Damn that stadium kept moving away from me. I entered the stadium and saw 15 seconds below 2:47. Ok, ramp it up, break 2:47. Alas, no. 2:47:01
Done in 2:47:01 and a new PR. That's awesome, but...
I'm a runner. I was on 2:43 pace at 20; 2:45 at 23. So I really feel like I let a big one slip away.
- 12th overall
- 1st in age group
- 2nd master, to only my great training partner.
I'm gonna keep targeting 2:40 even though many think that's beyond my capabilities. Some day I'll have the training cycle, the lifting, the diet and a good race day, and on that day, who knows.