After a lot of internal back-and-forth last week, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase an aeroplane ticket to Duluth for the USATF Half Marathon Championships, which will be held on June 16. I am very excited to finally have a big goal race I can set my sites on. Up until now (including this Sunday’s Pike’s Peek 10k), since I’m still not back in PR form, all my races have simply been steps towards a bigger, better TBD goal race somewhere later down the line. That line now ends (for now) in Duluth, Minnesota. Fortunately for me, my half (as well as full) marathon PR is somewhat soft – 1:09:30. According to calculators, I “should” be capable of running 1:07:30ish IF I were in PR shape. My recent Cherry Blossom mark places me about two minutes back from that, but I feel that if I continue to make exponential gains week in and week out I should be able to run much faster than that. As of today, I’ve got just under two months to get in the best 13.1 mile shape in my life and every step I take over the course of the next 7+ weeks will be with that race in mind. In an ideal world I am hoping I can break 1:08. Worse case scenario, I will try for a PR. There is a large window here so hopefully I can land somewhere within those two marks.
There are three factors that will determine whether or not I can succeed:
1. Whether I can stay injury free. Despite the “blip” a couple weeks back, I’ve been quite fortunate with respect to staying healthy. I still have pain, especially when I run 15+ miles and/or run too fast, but the pain (as George Kennan would suggest) is “contained”.
2. Whether I can continue to make fitness gains. I don’t doubt I can, but I’m nervous of causing a “number 1” in my pursuit of a “number 2”. Therefor, I’m going to continue to “cautiously advance” with respect to training harder…and harder. Continuing what I am currently doing will yield advances, but if I uptick my weekly long run ever so slightly and do more race-focused workouts, this objective should be accomplished even more so.
3. Whether the weather cooperates. I can’t control this. We all saw what just happened in Boston, what happened in Chicago in 2010 and what happened to me, here at this same course, back in 2007 when I attempted my first marathon (I dug up my old race report and pasted it below – for shits and giggles since I didn’t have a blog back then). So, for now I won’t think about weather.
Grandma’s Marathon Race Report – 2007
I completed my first marathon on Saturday in Duluth, MN. My goal was to run close to 2:32...break 2:30 if I had a good day, run 2:36 if I had a bad day, and muster out a sub-2:40 if all hell broke loose. I was very tapered and itching to run. I wanted to run 6 min pace for a mile or two and then hit 1:16-1:17 for the half and try to run negative. In my training I got up to 21+ mile long runs and 94 miles in one week...not as consistent as I liked, but a handful of good quality weeks. I ran 12 miles 2 weeks before my race a bit quicker than marathon pace (1:09:30) and felt great. I was ready to go! The weather was spotty and it was either going to rain/t-storm or be hot! I went to bed early and got ready to wake up for the 7:30am start.
The sun was out and the temp at the race start was 66 degs. It was "sunny hot" but not really "hot hot" yet...if that makes sense. I didn't think the heat would be much of an issue since we ran along Lake Superior for the first 1/2 of the race and the air that comes off the lake is generally cool in the morning. The gun sounded and I went out in 5:52...I quickly settled into 6 minute pace and ran with a couple of guys from Philly and a runner from St Paul. We talked and started to walk down people in the first 3 miles who had went out hard. I took fluids at EVERY stop and at mile 7 decided to surge ahead of the 2:36 group I was running with b/c I knew I had to make up for lost time. For the next 7 miles I passed scores of runners...maybe 60 people. Some looked beat, others looked as if they simply settled into a (new) groove. I felt great and continued to move forward comfortably just under 6 minute pace. This was fine, because I thought I could easily start working and negative split the second half. I hit ten in 59:30 and the half in 1:17 something. Somewhere around here I saw Al Franken on the side of the course in which I said "Al Franken?!" Soon thereafter, with no thanks to Al Franken, I started to think that 2:32 might not happen. By mile 16 (1:34:30) my stomach had cramped up, but my splits were only a little over 6 minutes. I thought about calling it a day here, but I was still hitting close to my splits. It was painful, but I knew it would eventually go away and it did. By now, the course moved slightly inland and away from the water (the cool relief). It started to feel very hot. I continued to pass people...Kenyan women, even a few Kenyan men...some of these people were cooked. Lots were falling from the fast early pace. Mile 19 was when I started to hurt and when I was passed for the first time in the race. At 20, I was 1:59 something (still under 6 minute pace). Somewhere around mile marker 20, there were a couple of people cooking burgers on the side of the road and the smell nearly caused me to throw up. I stopped and gagged and then started to run again. I tried to drink Ultima (faux Gatorade) but that taste also made me nauseous...water seemed to be the only thing I could drink and handle. I am not sure what prompted this (sun/heat?) but I now knew that I was racing to finish, not for time. I still thought I could sneak under 2:40. My body, especially my calves, were pretty beat up, but I still could run. The only thing stopping me was throwing up. I'm no scientist, but I knew barfing all over the road would probably due me in. I'd lose much needed water etc...so I couldn't puke. Every time I tried to pick it up, I felt nauseous, to the point that I no longer looked at food/oranges/Ultima..all I stopped for was water and sponges. If I exerted myself I would throw up, so I had to keep the pace a bit slower. I stopped twice more between miles 21 and 24 to pour water over my body, soak in sponges and drink as much as my stomach could handle. Crowds were silent as they watched me soak myself and stagger back and forth in the road. I gagged for a moment and then started up again. I was probably passed by 10 people during the last 10k but remarkably I was STILL passing other runners! So some were much worse off than me!
Between mile 24 and 25, as a climbed a small incline, a 3 year old boy put out his hand to slap me five. I was pretty tired, but mustered the energy to reply...only to have the young lad pull his hand away at the last moment and "diss" me. That sort of summed up how I felt around now.
All I wanted to do was finish...it was brutal. The last 1.2 took forever and, to top it off, some clown was trying to "race" me in the last 1/2 mile...as if I cared who beat me at this point. I finished and immediately soaked myself in water and drank until I wasn't thirsty. My calves were screaming...so I leaned on a park bench to stretch and then I wept...openly. I composed myself and dipped my legs into Lake Superior for 10 minutes while I thought about the race. I ran 2:42:30...WELL off my goal time, but while reflecting I realized that probably NO ONE ran their goal time per the heat. My last 10k was 42 minutes...a shuffle jog at best. But, the race wasn't about time...it was about personal survival. The mercury read 85 F at 11:30am...I finished round 10:15 so it was probably in the mid to upper 70s then. It was the second hottest in the 31 years of the race. The elites ran for place and only 4 guys ran the "B" Standard of 2:22:00...some of those trying to make that time finished after me and a great deal of people simply dropped out. I'm not sure if I should have dropped out or not. It's nice to get one under my belt and to "tough it out" but maybe I could/should have saved it for another day? The day after the race, yesterday, the temp was 55 degs and overcast...ideal I would say. Errrr, go figure.