Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Twenty-Four Bridges Marathon

I ran the Three Bridges Marathon this past Sunday. If you want to read about it, scroll way down because there is plenty of backstory coming your way first.

April 2013

The last full marathon that I attempted was Chicago in October 2012. I trained really well for that race and ran my PR of 2:26:31 there. Afterwards, I said that I probably wasn't going to run any marathons in 2013, instead focusing on school and family. Then this happened one Monday afternoon in Massachusetts. I've already run the Boston Marathon once in 2004 (my second and slowest marathon ever), but I've always known I had unfinished business there. But I also had the sense to know that 2014 was going to be a chaotic year in Boston with a tremendous field of people who really had unfinished business-- some of whom need to cross that line for the first time, others who have something to stand up for that is bigger than themselves. I'm also going to have a 7-month old baby at that point, so realistically I knew that training for something that serious wasn't in the cards. So instead, I'll take a 19-month old baby from Logan to the Government Center in April 2015.

Unfortunately, my time in October 2012 wouldn't last until the sign-ups for a 2015 race, so I found myself without a Boston Qualifier. Not a problem, as Parker Lewis would say. The qualifying time of sub-3:05 isn't an issue for me. I just needed to find a race to run. Enter Three Bridges. It is in Charlottesville, it is an easy course that is advertised as being a Boston qualifier, and I would likely be able to round up some company for different segments of the race since Ragged Mountain volunteers at the event. I think I made this decision sometime in the late spring, certainly before the Men's 4 Miler. But with the anticipated crowds in Boston in the years to come following the bombing, I worried about getting in with just a qualifying time. Luckily, a few years ago they started an early registration period. Runners with a BQ of 20+ minutes faster than the standard could sign up 2 days early. So that was my goal. 2:44:59. 6:17 pace. Not a problem, I thought. I remember I was particularly cocky about it early on in this thought process, to the point that I think I actually offended some of my more marathon-novice teammates. Oh well. It shouldn't be hard to run a 2:45 when you've run 2:26 recently enough. Eventually, I realized that running a 2:45 would be very easy if I were in 2:26 shape, which wasn't going to happen. I was having a baby and training was not going to completely dominate my fall. So I settled on getting into something like 2:35 shape or something else arbitrary and decided I could do this off of 16 weeks of training.


That 16 weeks began on August 19. I went running with a group of RMR people who met me early to say goodbye to Chris Post as he moved to Florida. I ran 7 days that week. In fact, I ran 11 days in a row. That shouldn't be a big deal but I'd been pretty lazy in August after getting back from Texas. That first day off was because I was very sick and heavily medicated. I'm sure it was hot too, and I didn't feel like waking up early to run. I didn't run a full 7-day week again until the week of October 28-November 3. Those were the ONLY two full weeks that I ran this entire time. I never took more than 2 days in a row off, except for the 3 days around Henry's birth where I didn't sleep either. I almost ran all seven days the week leading up to the actual race, but took the day off before the race because I thought it would be absurd to run 7 days that week.

Now, you marathon beginners, don't read this next part and think "Hey I should try to run a marathon like that." It's not smart. I'll list my mileage for each of the 17 weeks (since the race was postponed) and include in parenthesis the longest run of that week-- be it a workout or a long run.

56.11 (12.52), 52.30 (15.04), 58.61 (16.22), 37.26 (10.33), 34.27 (12.34 - workout), 45.92 (10.61 - workout), 52.72 (16.20), 58.21 (18.42), 55.51 (18.35), 52.30 (21.63), 57.78 (20.09), 49.24 (18.49), 50.16 (22.34), 49.46 (18.01), 46.58 (12.25), 31.94 (10.45), 54.44 (26.2 - race).

That is 842.81 miles in 17 weeks. Contrast that to the 17 weeks prior to Chicago where I ran 1,171.07 miles. I had 9 days off in those 17 weeks with 7 of them in a row while on vacation. So kind of only 2 days off while training for Chicago. I took 22 off for Three Bridges. Anyway, the point is, I did not train very hard.

So who wants to hear about the race? Ok, maybe soon. Last week the race got postponed and I realized that my blog had lost 40% of its readership when two people texted me this week to ask me how it had gone. So I "trained" for one more week, including two runs with the jogging stroller, and was starting to wonder how long my "fitness" was going to hold up. I hadn't done anything hard since the Turkey Trot. Hopefully suffering through a 5k at 5:06 pace would be a good indicator that I could run 6:17 pace for close to 3 hours. Aside from the fact that I had to continue to run for another week instead of staying home with my baby and eating nachos all week while studying for my exams, the biggest blow from the race delay was that Charlie Hurt wasn't going to be able to pace me during the last half of the race. I would certainly miss my best friend, and his shoes are big ones to fill.

Helpful Friends

Luckily, I had a lot of help on Sunday. I am tremendously grateful to have had company from Rachel Ward for the first 7 miles, Seth Hutchinson from mile 6 to 18 (is that right, Seth?), Alec Lorenzoni from mile 8 to 19 (with a small break in the middle), Cass Girvan from mile 13 to 19, and Lee Gabler from mile 18 to the finish. You five made the morning so much more enjoyable than it could have been. I can't even begin to talk about the race without making sure that every last one of the people who haven't stopped reading this boring post knows that I couldn't have done it without each one of you. So thank you. I owe you each a drink. And Rachel, yes, you actually owe me the pleasure of watching you drink that drink. No flaking.

Race Day

Back to my story. After postponing the race for some sort of snow emergency, it was looking to be pretty cold on race day. The day before, they were calling for lows in the 20s during race time. So I was anticipating wearing full-tights and a t-shirt with gloves. The night before I started to worry about being over dressed, and luckily packed alternatives. The morning of the race was perfect. Mark said that temperatures were 37 and 41 degrees at each end of the course. How he knew that, I'm not sure, because he must've measured them at 3am with his own thermometer, because I didn't have any cell service out there.

I arrived at the race site at 6am and was one of the first few cars there. I was directed to park at the far end of the White Hall Vineyards property and then began the almost three-quarters mile walk to the portapotties. Using my cell phone as a light, I relieved myself and caught a ride back to the parking area with some strangers who were smarter than I am and stopped at the bathroom on their way in and then were able to park closer to the starting line by arriving at the parking area later. The early bird caught no worm today. So then I walked back to my car and changed into my warm up clothes and warmed up back to the bathrooms again. I returned to my car barely 10 minutes before race time and was in a frenzy. I hadn't eaten a gel, I wasn't dressed and didn't have on the right shoes. I'd hoped Mark was still parked at the Vineyard to catch a ride, but he was gone already. Luckily someone was driving around offering rides to people and I threw my bag in his car and rode with him and some other strangers (who were lucky enough to sit on each others' laps in the back) to the starting area/bag drop location. After some confusion involving where bags go, I was dressed and on the starting line ready to go. After some debriefing and hoopla at the line, the race was off.

The Race

Yes, I actually ran the race. It probably took me less time to do it than it has to write about all the stuff that came before it. If you want to know if the story has a happy ending and you've made it this far, I will tell you that it does. Now hang in there!

The race started and soon enough, we had reached the critical 1/2 mile marker in 3:14. Rachel was worried that we'd gone out too fast despite having been dropped hard by Dave Hryvniak and Charlie Ban. I think there may have been another person or two in front of us at the time, but I forget. Passing the cars, I saw several had left their lights on inside. I felt bad for them and wondered if they would stop to turn them off if they noticed. Rachel, being far more altruistic than I am, wondering if she should try to turn them off for them. I asked Rachel how long she was going to run with me and she was unwilling to commit to a number, simultaneously fearing and embracing the unknown that was our quest. It was at this point that I realized that the race was about to be a total disaster... I'd forgotten to put Body Glide onto my upper body! I couldn't stop at my car to get it because, a) I didn't have my keys and b) the Body Glide was in my bag (with my key.) This didn't end up being a problem during the race, but it has certainly made showering a problem for the past few days since... Past the cars we found ourselves under attack by two loose dogs. My company at the time assured me that she was a dog whisperer, but it didn't sound like a whisper to me when the dog was barking and biting at our heals. This distraction almost caused me to slip on the lightly snow-covered dirt road, but I managed to hold my ground and not ruin the day in the first mile.

That mile was reached in 6:31 and I was satisfied. The second mile was rolling dirt hills followed by a long descent down to Sugar Hollow Road, where I'd spend the next several hours of my life. I missed the marker out of ignorance or excitement by the crowd welcoming us to the playground and headed west for the first of my four trips towards 2/3 of the race's namesake and a bright orange cone marked "4/10/16/22". Rachel and I hit the 3 mile mark in 12:31, indicating that our pace had picked up somewhere, but that we were also right where we belonged. This mile marker comes at the base of a small hill and would ultimately be the one mile most resembling my intended pace throughout the morning. We were running in 3rd place, and after crossing the western-most bridge the second time, we were overwhelmed by two unusually warm pockets of air. We both noticed it and commented on how strange it was, but that was the last I'd feel it. We saw the race leaders, Dave and Charlie, coming back to us, and Dave had a small lead.

Around the cone and 6:12 for mile 4, I was happy. Rachel said that we should slow it down as the miles heading east would be easier and faster, so we should be careful. The pre-race information sheet even said the same thing, so it must have been true. Heading back up the hill, we ran a 6:02, so I found myself inclined to agree with her! Before the next mile, we picked up Seth coming through the finish line area. Just before mile 6, there was a woman reading a book in a chair on the side of the road. I asked her what page she was on, and decided that she would be an excellent distractor during the race to keep myself in check. So she was on page 219 as we hit a 6:08 6th mile. I was a little bit concerned that we were running so far under pace and encouraged my entourage to scale it back a little bit. Approaching the eastern bridge, Seth and Rachel took the lead and let me slip onto their shoulders for some drafting. We saw that Dave's lead on Charlie had decreased a little bit as we headed towards the 7th mile. Being my first trip East that morning, I had no idea how quickly this mile was coming and I forgot that I wanted to take a gel. Having 3 GUs in my back pocket was a little uncomfortable on the starting line, so Rachel was carrying one for me. When I announced that I needed to take one (more for myself than to anyone else), she was anxious to give it to me and had trouble getting it opened. Now, I'm not completely helpless and could have opened it myself, but again, I said that Rachel is very selfless and actually stopped to get someone to open it for her before handing it to me. The whole ordeal was a bit over the top and I'm happy to say that the rest of my supplements didn't require such an effort throughout the day.

Shortly after this turnaround, Rachel decided that she'd had enough of these fast miles and decided she was going to join Nicole's pace group instead. I was not long without a third amigo, however, as when we arrived at the starting line area, Alec joined the party. I informed him that we'd just run an 6:06 8th mile and that the woman who was reading had somehow mysteriously not known what page she was on when we ran by. She fumbled for an answer and started flipping pages trying to figure it out. Seth and I didn't know what to think of it; was she embarrassed of her reading speed? Either way, my measurement standard was out the window. Running away from the finish area and towards the hill at mile 3/9/15/21, we finally found our pace! 6:17 for mile 9! Hooray! I was satisfied to have built a large buffer for my pace and happy to be settling into my planned running speed. The three of us headed across the western bridge and saw that Dave and Charlie were now running even with each other. We encouraged them to work together, but I was letting my imagination run wild with the possibility of the two of them hammering each other to bits, leaving me to pick up the pieces over the last 10k and roll away with the victory. Then all of the sudden we ran another 6:05! What the heck?! How come we can't run slower?

Well, we've reached 10 miles now in 62 flat, 55 seconds ahead of schedule. Not bad, a good cushion for when I expected to inevitably blow up at the end and start walking or something. The next three miles are uneventful as we head East to the half-way point. My reader isn't reading her book anymore and we cruise through in 6:03, 6:06, and 6:05. As we get towards the end, we see that Charlie Ban has taken sole possession of the lead and that Dave has fallen very far back. It must have been a rough few miles for him since mile 10. It occurs to me all of the sudden that we're almost half-way through, and I feel like we've only just started to run. That's the beauty of the marathon though... Alec jumps ship to go help Dave out and Seth and I pick up Cass at mile 13. Cass had already been on the course earlier taking some photos, and provided some new energy in the group with tales of his Saturday night escapades.

Second Half

I took a GU as we went through 14 in 6:10. Cass has helped us resume control of the pace and we're heading in the right direction. At the finish area, Alec joined us again as Dave had dropped out. With the leader running alone, I wonder if he too will pay the price for the hot early pace and start coming back to me. Our 6:18 15th mile did not indicate that he would be. Cass dropped back at this point to rest for his second two-mile interval he would do with us, so it was still me, Seth and Alec. We were having a nice Sunday long run. The leader extended his lead coming back around the western cone and I started to doubt that I'd catch him after all. He looked like he was working pretty hard, but he also looked like he was running pretty fast. The 16th mile was a 6:05 and I'd pretty much given up worrying about running too fast at this point. We were running consistently and it didn't seem that hard, so I just conceded to the pace.

The next mile was by far the hardest. I started to feel a pain behind my left knee that I was unfamiliar with, and my left foot was starting to feel the burn of the pavement. I kept this to myself as we headed up the hill to pick up Cass again, and then it made perfect sense as to why I was in pain... sub-6. I did not want to run any sub-6 miles today, but there I was at mile 17 with a 5:57. I told my three amigos that we needed to back off. So heading into the finish area, Seth said goodbye and we picked up Lee at Mile 18 (two miles earlier than I was expecting him!), which we reached in a more controlled 6:03.

Going back out east, the leader was even further ahead than before. This was when I really accepted the fact that I wouldn't be winning this race. I mean, I'd already accepted that the day before and the weeks before when I found out that Dave was going to run it and run it hard, so it wasn't that big of a concession. Still, you get out there and things happen, and now I really felt like I was running for second place. (Spoiler alert: third place ran 3:23.)

Mile 19 would be the last mile with Cass and Alec. Rounding that cone for the second to last time after an accelerated 5:55, I felt a really big pull in my right hamstring. I actually hobbled through the next few strides to regain my composure, as this was not what I wanted to happen. I knew I was way ahead of things and told myself that it would be OK to slow down if I needed to so that I wouldn't cramp up badly and could at least finish the race. Heading back in, Lee and I wondered where Nicole was. We didn't notice her on our way through mile 20 (6:05) and assumed that the marathon had claimed another RMR runner.

10K Race

So here I was at mile 20 with Lee. 10,000 meters to go. My total time was 2:02:51. I had 43 minutes and 8 seconds to cover that distance. My legs were hurting and I knew I still had to turn around a cone two more times. Perfect time to decide to phone it in the rest of the way. I could run 6:55s the rest of the way and make it just fine. But that's why we get out of bed in the morning. Sure, I planned to run no faster than 2:44:59 and just cruise through the 6:17s all day long, but that just isn't how the morning had unfolded. Clearly I was supposed to go faster. I wasn't going to win the race but that doesn't mean I couldn't enjoy myself the last few miles. So I said in the back of my head, "Let's see if I can go under 2:40." I didn't even really do the math to figure out if it was possible or what I needed to do, I just made a new goal and went for it.

Mile 21 had been my slow mile all day long. I don't know what it was the first time, but then I'd run 6:17 and 6:18 on my other two passes. This time was a 6:03. Better. 5 to go. Going into the penultimate cone,  I did not want to cramp up, so I backed off as I approached it and pretty much walked around it in a 6:07. I tell Lee that we've just missed the Olympic Trials "A" standard by running 2:15:03, regardless of the fact that we still have 4.2 miles to go. Geez, that is daunting. OK, good, those are all the slow miles, out of the way. Running east is faster, so let's go. Over the western-most bridge for the last time, my shoe came untied. I'd been watching it for miles and this is just when it happened. Great. I'm going to have to fix that. Back up the hill for the last time to mile 23, 5:46! Nice! Perfect time to stop and tie the shoe, since I just earned some cushion. Lee took my gloves so that I wouldn't have to waste extra time while stationary and we were back on the move. Going through the finish area, I felt like I was finally running, and I was just focused! The next time I'd see this place, I'd be finished.

Half-marathon runners are walking around on the course now, some heading back to their cars after the tailgating. I hit mile 24 in 5:53, including a break to tie my shoe. I should have clocked that too, just so I'd know how fast I actually ran that mile in. If I were really racing, I'd be finished already. Over the eastern bridge, cars are coming behind me trying to leave, but I take the tangent in front of them. Hit me now if you want to, I dare you. I tell Lee that I'm going to walk around the cone at 25 just because I can feel the lateral motions catching up with me and my right quad is starting to lock up too. The chalk arrows on the ground all morning have been directing us to go clockwise around the cone, directions I've obeyed on the East side up until this point. My obvious flight to the right confuses the volunteers, who start shouting at us curious as to whether we're race participants or not. I ignore them, split another 5:43, come to a complete stand-still, and then slowly lurch back forward like an earthworm inching across the sidewalk. Last one. Let's go. The gloves are coming off. Literally.

Despite the tremendous tightness in my legs and a terrible burning on the bottom of my left foot, I really want to run fast for this last mile. But the cramps are too powerful. Several times I felt pulls like I was a puppet on a string holding me back, driving my knees in the wrong direction. I dialed it back a little and just tried to get to mile 26. It went by rather slowly in 5:56, and I decided to try again. I surged a little, with Lee running stride-for-stride, but then the real pull came in my right leg. If anyone was watching, they would have seen me jump straight up. But the finish line was too far away and no one could tell. I hobbled through the last 400 meters, trying to look good, and saw the clock ticking away. 32, 33, 34, 35, 36... I managed to reach the line in 2:39:43. A full 5 minutes faster than I'd planned, and under 2:40 to boot.

Getting there
6:05 pace, just over 12-seconds per mile faster than I'd planned. And with a few exceptions and a bunch of leg cramps, it was just as easy as I thought it would be. 2:45 would have been easier, for sure, but I'm happy to have run faster. Now I can pay $150 to sign up for the Boston Marathon in 2015, 11 years after my first attempt.

After the race, I got dressed, talked to some people, hung out a little bit eating hot dogs and bratwursts, then got a ride back up to my car from Heidi Johnson. I wouldn't have made it if I'd tried to walk, so thank you to Heidi for being my chauffeur. I didn't have any cell phone service out there, so I just drove home quietly, basking in the mediocrity of my morning's toil.

I'm sure I had planned something profound to say throughout this write-up, but I spent more time writing about the race than I actually spent running it (and almost as much time as I did training for it), so I've lost a bit of steam. Also, writing this over the course of several days is a bad idea... I need to just sit down and get it done, but that's easier said than done.

I ran up and down a single road for 24+ miles, and somehow was never bored. It was great to have company the whole way, which is something that I hope I can recreate in my next marathon, assuming I can convince Charlie Hurt to join me in Hopkinton in 2015. Last time I went to Boston, my PR was 3:00 and I wanted to run 2:48. If my goal were to PR by 12 minutes now... that would be absurd. I'll settle for 32 seconds this time around.

1 comment:

  1. Nice report.I love those roads out near Sugar Hollow. Long ago I used to go there all the time.


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