Monday, January 20, 2014

Time Bomb: Charleston Marathon Race Report

I *ahem* have a bit of a reputation for blowing up spectacularly in races. If you've been around these parts, you've seen it in the following events: Timberman 70.3 in 2011; Boston Marathon, Rev3 Maine, Rev3 Cedar Point in 2012; the Mid-Winter Classic, Rev3 Quassy (well, different story, but still), and Rev3 Cedar Point in 2013.

That's a lot of races.

Now, many of these were of my own volition. Outside of Boston, the 2011-2012 campaigns were me being an idiot on the bike and faltering on the run as I deserved. Race like a moron, suffer like a moron.

As for 2013: well, the Mid-Winter Classic featured my left calf seizing at the 7 mile mark and gutting it out to the end. Quassy had my infamous vasovagal response. And Cedar Point was a combo of pre-race exhaustion, stress, and nutrition error, coupled with probably being undertrained.

So, piling all that together, we've been working on a lot of different things: work on the nutrition front and discovering some intolerances; a new coach that has been extremely beneficial; a renewed focus on the process and taking joys in the daily training and not just the focus on the race itself. It's been extremely rewarding so far.

When starting to work with John, he wanted to put an early marathon on the calendar. Outside of Boston 2012 (news flash: it was hot as hell), I hadn't raced a marathon. So really, this would be my first serious crack at the distance and really relished the opportunity to set out a new run PR.

Training went well. I had two hiccups along the way. The first was during my elimination diet with Christine: I got incredibly sick as all of the processed foods and caffeine was cut out of my diet. Crushing migraine, fever, you name it, I had it. Knocked me out for a 4 day stretch in November. But I managed to hit all my workouts from there on out, so I felt comfortable with the amount of training.

The second was a little more worrisome. My left Achilles' had started to act up during one of my weekend long runs in December. I took it easy with it and it seemed to calm itself down. However, in my second-to-last long run, that calf/Achilles seized on up at the 14.5 mile mark. I shut that run down and focused on stretching, rolling, massaging, and otherwise keeping that as happy and as loose as I could. The next week was my last hard week, where everything felt decent again. Crisis averted, I thought.

Taper was a good hard cutdown. It felt really good to recover, do some relaxing, and otherwise bounce back from all of the mileage. Based upon the 800 prediction workout, I was in about 3:05-3:07 shape. I thought that it'd be smarter to go a little more conservative and look for 3:10-3:15 out of the race.

And then it was here: go time. We drove down on Friday to Charleston, about 7.5 hours if you don't stop or 8.5 when you have the dog with you. We brought Dylan along and he was a champ.

Saturday AM: wake up. Coffee. Had a scone. Headed over to the race site; holy crap, this race is bigger than I thought. 5000 of us idiots between the half and the full. Good times.

And soon it was time to get into the starting chute. I opted to line-up with the 3:15 pace group. There was no pace group faster than this. Also, I figured it'd be smarter to run conservatively to start off with and then pick up the pace at the end, rather than be all "bank time up front." There's no such thing.

No real warning given; just a "30 seconds to go" mark. Oh, OK, guess I should get nervous now.

Air horn, and away we go.

Everyone takes off. Sizing people up pretty quickly, you get a decent idea as to who is blowing up their 13.1 and 26.2 mile journeys in the first mile. There are some people who are blowing your doors off, huffing. Then there are others who are also blowing your doors off while having a complete conversation about how sick they were earlier in the week, and how they just want to "jog it in under 3 hours." I hate those guys.

Anyways, the first couple of miles along the waterfront are gorgeous. I felt myself very relaxed, just cruising along, ticking off miles between 7:08 and 7:15. Not focused on pace, but instead on the effort. I want this to feel a little too easy, like I have a lot more to give, like I'm not forcing the issue. I want to be able to really start putting the work in at mile 10. I kept reminding myself that I needed to remain conservative.

At about mile 3 we turn away from the water and into the wind. Charleston was getting a good 15-20 MPH wind out of the west to northwest. This meant this 7 mile stretch was directly into the wind. Luckily, the half and the full courses ran with one another to this point, so there was good conversation to be had and a good number of people to help break the wind and pace with.

10 Mile mark reached in 72:55. That was only 41 seconds slower than what I ran the Mid-Winter Classic in last year. But this time, I felt strong rather than stumbling my way on down to the finish. At this point I started to lift my effort ever so slightly. At this point, we split away from the half and onto an out-and-back; two miles down, two miles back. At 11 the mens leader was on his way back. So I was only two miles behind, which really gave me a lift. 12 was a nice clip as well.

Then we turned around and hey, what do you know, here's the headwind again. I look around and realize I'm three minutes up on the 3:15 group. Score! Halfway home and we're still feeling strong. One of the guys I'd been running with decided to put the afterburners on. He said he thought he'd see me again. He was wrong. We meandered our way back towards where we exited, and got a little shield from the breeze.

At 14 we re-joined the half course. It was easy to let the pace drop here, as we really came back into the headwind again and we were mixing in with the 10:00-11:00/mile half athletes. Luckily, it is a four-lane road so it wasn't too crowded. There were four of us in a row making our way through the crowd. I was determined to stick with this group as, after conferring, we were all looking to run about the same time. That and, well, the scenery wasn't so bad, either. (I apologized to Hannah later.)

Mile 16 and we're still ticking along. The half course splits away again. Eight miles up in here and I'll see this point again. Liking it.

We're about to roll towards an aid station when...

The left Achilles goes. It wasn't a pop, or a snap. But something just went right, along with the sudden increase of what felt like something warm, like a rush of blood, to the area. It slows me down immediately. But the pain isn't unbearable. It just sucks.

I take stock of the situation. Every step hurts, but it doesn't stop me. I'm finishing this race.

I hit the aid station and make sure I get some Gatorade, some water, and some of my own calories into me. And we keep running.

At 18 the 3:15 pace group makes its way past me. They're friendly, asking how everyone's holding up. I try with every ounce of my being to stay with them. At first I'm towards the front of the group. I'm grimacing but hanging tough. I start to slide backwards through them as the pain becomes a little more intense. Soon I'm barely hanging on. I'm digging so far down into the depths of pain tears start to roll out of my eyes. I'm grinding my teeth.

And I still fall backwards out of the group and the gap starts to open. I dig further. I'm tempted to scream. But it does no good. They're pulling away.

When the elastic snaps, it snaps. Try as you might, you won't quite get there.

I re-assess. We're 19 miles in. I can survive for 7.2 miles of torture. Each and every step will be a lesson of how far I'm willing to go down the rabbit hole. Give everything you have. Empty the well. Run as fast as you can for every moment.

I grind my way through the next 5 miles. I'm in no-man's-land: I'm faster than the majority of the race but been left behind by the truly fast. I get picked off by three or four people, and pass a few others that had blown up and were walking.

Mile 24 moves us onto a twisting concrete path. This is agony. I contemplate why I do these things in the first place, but immediately find the answer: to learn more about your character and your desire. And dammit, this is fun. Most of the time.

We now move off the concrete and onto a dirt path. Oh, God, my calf is gone. Just chop it off. I won't notice. It can't hurt much worse.

At 25.5 I pick up a guy who looks like he's been miserable for a while. He told me he'd gone out way too hard and has been Gallowalking the last 4 miles. We both were in an equal amount of hell. But one look to one another at that point sealed our fate: we were going to race each other to the line.

It must've been hilarious to watch, as the pace says our "racing" may have been more like crawling. But we were going to leave it all out on the course. He took the lead to start, and then I really put on the gas as we made our third-to-last turn.

I'm pretty sure you can see how miserable I am. Also, OW.
We came into town, weaved around the block, and made it. In the end, I nipped him by two seconds. Final totals: 3:28:49, 85th OA, 10th M25-29.

I crossed the line, immediately cramped on that left side, and had to grab onto the crowd fencing. Managed to work it out enough so that I could take a finisher picture. I then got an immediate ticket to the massage and PT tent, which was awesome. Got me to a point where I could actually move a little bit.

And, of course, the reward for a hard day's work:
Michelob Ultra will never taste this decent again.