The 2017 Two Rivers Marathon Race Report

For those keeping score that’s two bad races in a row to start the year; after ending 2016 on such a high note (another BQ and a 50-mile PR) I’m left wondering WTF?

Not really, I know exactly what went wrong. I’ve had the last 3 days to settle down, get over myself and really sit with the discomfort of knowing that my training has been not great. Taking an extended off-season complete with the killer flu and then another weird cold PLUS spending way too much time on the treadmill (lack of specificity) PLUS trying to cram in too much threshold work without proper recovery between workouts EQUALS recipe for disaster.

Let’s put it this way: at the Colchester Half on February 25th I ran a strong 10k before imploding, meaning I was adequately trained to run a decent 10k, but not a half. Then four days ago at the Two Rivers Marathon I ran a somewhat strong 13.1 before imploding, meaning I was adequately trained for a strong half showing but not a full 26.2. The holes in my training are there like Swiss cheese, I just didn’t want to smell it, because then I’d have to admit it was very stinky and moldy.

Lessons learned:

#1- The greatest teacher I’ve ever had is failure: this is the thing that gets me back out there every day. Setting new goals, putting old goals on hold for the time being, re-evaluating what I’m doing to get me towards my goals, failure is important. I recommend everyone try failing at least once in their life.

#2- The greatest achievement I’ve ever had is progress: this is the other thing that keeps me referring back to #1. I didn’t hit my goal but I learned something about myself out there last weekend, that when it gets unbelievably hard and I want to quit more than anything else in the world, that I can re-focus and get it done, albeit very slowly. That’s the progression, I used to just quit things that were too hard, like art school or that job that made me wake up at 9 AM. And another thing- more often than not progress is not linear. It’s kind of an arc overlapping a circle wrapped around a bent fish hook. It might not look like what I wanted it to look like, but there’s so much more value in gutting it out than getting what you want all the time. That’s how I get what I need.

So here’s the pedantic “actual race report” part: had a great night sleep, 8+ hours, woke up gently to the chill iPhone alarm. Made strong coffee (always bring your own if you’re a coffee snob, do not ever trust or rely on the hotel/motel/Holiday Inn to satisfy your fix), ate about 400 calories of what’s lately become my preferred race day breakfast; about a cup of white rice, cooked with a tablespoon of sugar and 2 tablespoons of coconut oil.

Drove to the finish line in Lackawaxen, a sleepy little burg tucked in between the deep folds of the Pocono Mountains at the confluence of the Lackawaxen and Delaware Rivers. Hopped in the shuttle, tried to find the other ultra runners (sadly they’re the only folks I relate to) and sat with this guy Steve from NYC that’s done a bunch of silly long-distance races just like me; he well as doing the back-to-back marathons with the Maniacs (the Two Rivers has a Saturday & Sunday marathon, I think 30+ folks were doing both days).

Steve was funny, he tried to get me to do the NYC 100 in June, 100 miles on roads/sidewalks thru all of NYC. Told him “I’m done with roads after today… the trails have been calling me, and I must go.” He totally understood what I was saying, for he is a member of the same wacky tribe.

So about that goal for the day: I was all about trying to get that 2:58 NYC marathon qualifier, I didn’t care about “just squeaking under 3” or “improving my Boston corral seeding”, I was going totally for broke.

Having that BQ already for 2018 took the pressure off a lot so I felt that I could go out really hard, and if I blew the F up royally, then I’d just blow the F up and chalk it up to trying to do something that’s probably just outside of “reasonable” for me.

Go big or go home. No “safe” times here, no “gentle, even pacing” to just slide in under the bar, I was either going sub-2:58 or was gonna die trying. #realtalk #thuglife

The check in was in the theater at the Woodloch Resort, nice place.

Then cut to: the start, we’re off and it’s 8.5 downhill miles, they felt effortless, easy, flowy.

I went out with the leaders of both the full and the half, wanted to run somewhere around the top five until about mile 20, then start my kick.

Little climb at mile 8.5-9, pace dipped to 8:00, no big deal. Wanted to hit mile 10 at 1:08, was about a minute off right there and things started to go awry at about 11.5- wanted to hit the half at 1:27:30-ish, hit that at like 1:32.

Then things got really rough, from mile 12 to the turnaround on the out-and-back at mile 18.7 there’s a mellow, slight uphill, gains like 20 feet per mile but I just fell apart, completely. Could not generate power, I watched my pace sag, and sag, and sag.

Tried taking twice as much Gatorade at every aid station here, had my flat Coke on me, was chugging that, taking gels- body just would not cooperate. Quads felt great, too- it wasn’t an issue of taking that long downhill too hard, I love running downhill. The little specificity I did do in the build before the race was some downhill stuff, really hard.

Somewhere along that out-and-back as i started counting runners coming back to me, I started to laugh as I realized 1) that 2:58 NYCQ was gone, 2) sub-3 was also gone, 3) it would be a battle to best my 3:07 PR and 4) you better fucking enjoy, NAY– embrace this level of suck right now, because you paid money for the pleasure of this suffering.

Kept telling myself “regroup, regroup” and that I could still turn it around. At the very least this was a really great tune up for my 50k in three weeks, I mean- a 26.2 mile supported tempo run is a great workout!

Tried all my mental tricks and mantras: focus on your breathing, in through the nose, out through the mouth. Land on your midfoot, drive the knee back, pump the arms. Nothing. Execute, dammit, execute! Nope. You’ve hurt way worse than this, this is nothing! Nada.

Turnaround at mile 18.7 to the finish was back down that slight hill, tried to start kicking, had a decent 7:30 mile in there but that just finished me. Last 10k was a nice cooldown: 8:27, 8:28, 9:06, 9:14, yeah- you see where this is going…

…then an 8:51 and a 9:32 (yuck) before the YUGE finishing kick over the bridge with a 7:52 for the final 400 meters.

3:24:35, 12th place overall, 5th in the 40-49 age group. A really solid result on paper, but I know that it wasn’t my best effort. You absolutely cannot fake the marathon distance, no matter how many times you’ve run the distance, it will chew you up and spit you out if you disrespect it. I’ve said it before- you can fake almost any distance up to about 20 miles but there’s something very difficult and inexplicable that happens around mile 20 when you’re running at your aerobic threshold.

There are changes taking place, not only physical but psychological, that just break you down. I didn’t have the emotional capacity to handle feeling that lousy that early in the race to overcome it. By the time I figured out what was going on, it was too late.

I tried to fake the distance, and it showed me exactly what it thought about that.

In hindsight, salivating profusely over seeing the elevation profile was the hook, definitely thought I’d cruise to mile 12 and then the real work would start- it drops like 800 feet in the first half. I was done at 12 though, should’ve just done the half. Maybe the 1:25 NYCQ was doable today. Might never know. But I gotta let that go, ain’t nobody got time for that…

…oh well, I’m ready for ultra season. Traprock 50k in less than three weeks!

Strava stats

Post script: …and about that goal of qualifying for the NYC Marathon; it’s definitely on hold right now. I might make another go at it come October at the Hartford Marathon, but for now I’m shelving it. It’s still a goal, I’m not abandoning it, just gonna move it to the back-burner for now.

I had two really great runs this week back on the trails of West Rock and I realized that I had missed this place so very much, here under the evergreens, amongst the rocks and roots, splashing in the mud and puddles and patches of leftover snow.

This is my happy place, this is the place where I don’t care about what pace I’m running, where I don’t care about having to hit a certain mileage for the day, a place where I can just be. The place where the process is so much more important than the outcome.

Thanks for reading.

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