I can’t stop looking at the weather leading up to this race. I should get a weather machine. Wait, are weather machines real things? I should ask a meteorologist. Did I spell that right? Do I know any meteorologists? Maybe I should get a weather station thingy on my roof and be an amateur meteorologist.
Welp, just forget about it. It’s going to be cold. Very cold.
Damn it, how do I dress for cold? I mean, it’s going to be 22 degrees at the start. It looks like it’s never going to get over 32 F all day. I’m going to have that frost beard thing going on, right?
For just a minute I’d like my brain to shut up and quit it with all the questions. That’s what the running is for, dummy. Oh right. Until the RD says “go!” I’ll have nothing but chatter between my ears.
There’s a huge clue as to why I run so much. I’ve heard people say running isn’t meditation, but they’re so very wrong. In my experience, running can be only meditation sometimes. But again, that’s just my experience. If you haven’t had some Zen-like moments during a run, keep at it.
So the drive from New Haven out to Roxbury was as picturesque as it gets- this is that sleepy part of New England, all heavily wooded and cut with streams, brooks and rivers every few miles.
Note to self: get back up this way in the summer.
So I get to Roxbury a few minutes after 8 am, race starts at 8:30. Plenty of time, so I thought. After checking in, getting my bib, getting dressed in the car, setting up my tailgate chair neat the start/finish (it’s a looped course so I would get to access my own stuff five times during the race) and peeling off all the layers of clothing over my racing kit I had literally three seconds before the race started.
Talk about timing everything perfectly down to the last possible second.
And finally, the chatter between my ears stops and I am one with the universe. Psyche, I’m freezing my ass off, holy shit my legs are so cold. I opted for shorts since I’d only done one long run in tights and felt that they’d hamper my stride. I also kind of like being a little bit cold, I’m probably one of the grossest human sweat monsters on Earth, I seriously sweat like rivers in the summer. Disgusting, really.
So I settle into a decent pace, I wanted to be around 7:10-ish on the flat sections. Oh, I forgot to mention that this race has somewhere around 1800 feet of climbing. I stalked a bunch of previous year’s runners on Strava to see the elevation profile, and it’s a doozy. “If you’re looking to BQ this course is not the one.” says one reviewer on marathonguide.com. Another says “a fellow runner cautioned me to add 30 minutes to my expected time…”
Well, this sounds just great! I love a challenge!
Seriously though, I have been obsessed with this idea of running a sub-3 marathon for almost two years now. That’s 6:52 pace for the whole thing. It’s doable, it’s just going to take a level of fitness that I’m not at yet. I think I can get there, but damn it’s going to really push me out of my comfort zone.
I figured for this race I needed to be really close to being in sub-3 shape just to run a 3:12- hills, no matter going up or down, really take their toll on your legs. You probably already knew that if you read past the first paragraph though, sorry if it sounds like I’m runsplaining.
Also, I wanted to go out with the leaders in this race- from stalking previous year’s results I saw that that average winning time was around 2:56, meaning that I wouldn’t win but I had a decent shot to finish in the top five. That goal was secondary to getting a BQ, I was aiming for a 3:12:45-ish time, figuring that in 2015 it was a minus 2:28 and last year was minus 2:09, I needed to run somewhere in the neighborhood of minus 2:15.
If I could keep the leaders in sight for the first maybe 8 miles, I’d be in for a good day (so I hoped). But as road marathons go, you could go from awesome to sucky in a matter of minutes with little to no warning, anywhere from mile .01 to 26.2
So we head out on the first stretch, we’re spotted a little downhill love all the way to the turn-around on Judds Bridge Road, which is dirt and scenic and awesome. I fall in with a runner named Rick, we chat about ultras and races and running and it makes me forget about being in a race for a little bit, which is always welcome. The first 4 miles fly by, I start counting runners coming back to me before we hit the turn around and I notice we’re in 4th and 3rd, respectively.
Well, that escalated quickly.
Rick is strong, I’m feeling strong, so we roll. First woman is right behind us, too. We’d all leapfrog with each other for the first 16 miles- which go by pretty quickly and uneventfully. It got exciting at mile 16. You can skip the next few paragraphs if you want.
Since I was pretty focused on running a BQ, I wrote the splits I wanted to run on the inside of my left wrist. I also didn’t have a black Sharpie so I figured red was just as good. Here’s a pic of that:
It says “29, 60, 125, 151, 217, 244”
Here’s the Ovaltine decoder ring to decipher exactly what you’re looking at: 29 minutes to the turn-around at mile 4.3, 60 minutes back to the start at mile 8.6, then 1:25 after the first loop (each loop was 3.52 miles), 1:51 through the second loop, 2:17 third loop, 2:44 fourth loop and (hopefully) a 3:12 fifth loop to finish. I figured I’d lose a minute or two on each subsequent loop from fatigue, so the lap splits I wanted to run were: 25, 26, 26, 27 and 28 minutes.
First section was pretty good, got back to my drop bag at 1:01:45- thinking I’ve already given away almost 2 minutes against my split chart. One thing I’ve learned in road marathons: do not make surges early to get back on pace. Just be patient. Dropped off my hand-held, grabbed a gel and a 10-oz water/Coke. Once again I drank flat, watered down Coke all day. It’s my thing now I guess. I grabbed a gel each time I hit my drop bag, was in and out in about 5 seconds every loop.
I wanted to run that 3.52 mile loop in 25 minutes, did it in 25:06. Loop #2 was 25:53. Through 15.6 miles in 1:52:44, I was still 1:44 off where I wanted to be. “It’s okay, dude, it’s okay. Still a long way to go.” I remember saying to myself.
Yes, I talk to myself while racing.
So what happened at mile 16? It was actually 16.4, on Hemlock Road just after the road crossing on that long, mellow (but windiest part of the course) uphill section before the awesome dirt road downhill, I wasn’t feeling particularly great right here but I figured I always play it so conservatively, and what is a marathon if it’s not one huge risk?
So I gambled right here, basically said to myself, “it’s now or never” and just went. It’s not that I wanted to shake my nearest competitors, I was locked deeply in a battle with myself. I wasn’t thinking about a podium spot (yet), I was thinking that I always play it too safe, too conservative.
Part of me wanted to force the dreaded wall on myself to just get it over with, hit it and then see what I had to work with. I blew up at the LA Marathon right around 17, and I blew up at Santa Rosa at 23. I thought it’s going to happen, might as well get it over with!
I suddenly and inexplicably felt great, on that long down hill right around the 2-hour mark, I was ripping down at low-6 minute pace. I had this mantra going in my head, I think it’s a Molly Huddle quote from a few weeks ago after she finished 3rd at the NYC Marathon (paraphrased): “we don’t do all this training to run the first 16 miles, we do all of this to run the last 10.” My plan was to just hammer until the wall came and then figure out what to do next.
Welp, the wall never really came. I pushed it all the way back to the start/finish area, finally taking a second to look behind me. No one. Loop #3: 25 minutes and 35 seconds. Only 1:19 off pace now.
I fumbled through my drop bag for my iPod, I don’t train with music very often (I maybe listen to music once every two weeks or so on a run) and I figured it would give me a huge boost. Music is definitely a PED and I was pulling out all the stops today.
After about 10 seconds of rooting through my shit I said “F it” and left. I’ve got 2 more loops, I’ll get it on the last one. I leave with a new set of gloves, a new hat and a new neck buff. So back out into the wind and that long, mellow uphill section, I was really struggling to hit pace here. Then that long dirt road downhill- turns out that the 6:31 mile I ran here was my fastest of the race. Then a 7:17 on the uphill mile and another 7:06 on the rolling section back to the start.
Through the start/finish one last time and 2:44:02 through, last loop was 25:43.
I just had to maintain now. I have just under 29 minutes to run the last 3.5 miles. I didn’t stop at my drop bag, didn’t need to. Rick’s friend Brian told me that 2nd place was only about four minutes ahead and did not look as strong as me. The hunt is on!
I would give it everything I got here. Still haven’t hit the wall, but was quite deep in the pain cave now, but I’ve been here so many times and welcomed the familiar feeling. “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.”
Wind. Cold. Hill. Tree. Snot rocket. Everything was slowing down (except for me). I think this is what’s called “the flow state”. My brain was now on autopilot: “breathe in, breathe out, left foot, right foot, drive the knees back, swing the arms, land on the midfoot…” I put going for second place out of my mind and just stayed in this moment.
Then a 7:21 mile, still cruising. Then that downhill mile: 7:03. Still haven’t hit the wall. Still maintaining. Went through the aid station at the bottom of the hill and had my left sleeve pulled up a bit, by now it had warmed up to a balmy 29 degrees. One of the guys just past the aid station was like, “dude, your arm is bleeding” but I was moving too fast and just waved. Maybe next time I use black Sharpie.
Also I had a running (pun intended) joke with the guy at the end of the dirt road, first time I went by he was like, “man those are some short shorts!” and I was like, “I was gonna wear those triathlete panties today but they weren’t clean…” so every time I went by he was all, “yeah, panty man! You’re killing it!” I think I flashed him some leg here. I’m usually in a really shitty mood at mile 25, but not today.
I was like a marble in a groove, y’all, just rolling through the miles.
Mile 26: all uphill, all fucking guts right here. 7:29. Hardest mile of the race by far, finally was hitting that wall. Barely, but it felt like I was running sub-6 pace just to maintain that mid-seven.
Hit the turn back to the Finish, told the crossing guard there that he was the man- he was another awesome volunteer that had me smiling all day as well, just kept rocking.
Had some tears well up in my eyes as I am wont to do in the last stages of a perfectly executed race, which promptly froze on my cheeks. It’s a combination of everything below my waist hurting so acutely and the flood of emotions from the last few months of working my ass off to get to this moment.
I’m pretty sure I was groaning, grunting, making all kinds of weird dying animal noises- oh, and this whole race I’m lapping people so I’m starting to recognize them and still trying to yell “good job” and “on your left” and all that stuff. You all were awesome- what a tough day to be out there this late in the season!
Hit the finish at 3:10:27 (lap time: 26:25) for Third Place Overall, and one of the most satisfying and amazing experiences of my running life. First time on a podium, and it felt awesome. I’ve done some age group top 3’s but this was really special.
I also get to go back to Boston in 2018- that was the main goal. Stay tuned in the upcoming days/weeks for me to finally finish and post that race report. It’s taken a long time to come to terms with my terrible performance in that race from back in April.
Anyway; I came up with 1,752 feet of climbing for the race- I felt like I needed to be right around sub-3 shape (on a flat course) to run a 3:10 on this course. I can not stress enough how much stronger I felt on the uphills than I’ve ever felt before, and I’m pretty sure I owe that to a few factors: a solid block of threshold runs on hills and doing a decent core and stretching routine 5 days a week. If you’re a runner, and you’re getting older (I just turned 40 less than a month ago) then get on a core routine. Your hips and glutes will thank you.
So that wraps up a really awesome year of running and racing. I’d like to thank all of you that have read these blogs, I know they’re super pedantic and all but I enjoy writing them- wish I had more time to write- and more than just race reports.
Hopefully 2017 presents some opportunities to write more.