Frederick Marathon 2010

May 9, 2010

The banner said “Start”, but it may as well have said “Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter”.  After having mild temperatures all week, suddenly we had summer-like temperatures and the humidity characteristic of the Mid-Atlantic.  It was only 6:30AM when the race started, but it was already in the mid seventies.  I had warmed up very lightly, but was already sweating profusely.  Packing in closely with other bodies generating one hundred degrees of heat made it feel like an oven.

I was in perfect position, right behind the 3:10 pacer when the race started.  With the half marathoners starting with us, the crowd was rather thick, and I found my position was not so perfect after all.  It wasn’t even the first mile, but I could still feel that heat.  I needed to get out, find some open space away from the pace group.  I knew I’d loose the effect of drafting, and the comfort and steadiness of a pacer, but these were trade offs I was willing to make in favor of getting some separation from other mobile heat-generators.  I found my opening, ahead of the group.  I’d stay here for a while, and let the pace group catch up to me, hopefully when it had thinned out a bit.

My first mile was a 6:51.  Of course this was unsustainable, it was just part of the maneuver I made to get away from the group.  I needed to slow down.  7:03.  Fine.  7:11.  Perfect.  7:00.  OK.  7:09.  I was starting to put some time “in the bank”.  The first half of the course was rather flat but the second half was hillier.  It was also going to get hotter.  Having some cushion for a second half slow-down was not a bad idea.  This was the way to do it – a few seconds at a time.  7:13.  6:55 – perhaps a downhill mile?  I drank at every aid station along the way.  I’ve mastered the art of drinking while on the run, so even though I drank every 2 miles, it hardly slowed me down.  The key is to pinch the top of the cup shut, leaving only a small opening at the bottom.  That way as it’s splashing, it stays in the cup.  The small opening makes it like drinking out of a water bottle.

7:14.  7:02.  I was steady.  7:22 for mile 10, after a slight uphill.  If this hill was insignificant, then the hills in the second half must have really been something.  I focused on keeping my form light and easy.  If it doesn’t come easy, it can’t be sustained.  7:06.  7:04.  Another slight hill getting back into the Fairgrounds for the halfway mark -7:32.  I had built myself a cushion, but it was a measly 1 minutes, 13 seconds.

There was a a turnaround in the park along the canal.  This gave me a chance to see how far ahead of the pace group I was.  Not very much at all.  I knew they were trying to also build a cushion before hitting the hills.  I knew it was only a matter of time before the pace group watch catch me.  7:26.  I was slipping.  7.20.

When I had swung by the pace group table at the expo, I saw 9 people on the list.  That’s how many had signed up at the time.  At this point of the race, there were 4 people.  Two of them were pacers.  The group paced me, and then one of the pacers dropped out.  I swung behind the remaining pacer, latching onto his pace.  I knew I had to keep in lock-step or I’d be dropped.  7:14.  We thanked our pacer for being spot-on.  There were only two of us behind the pacer.

We hit the first major hill.  I stuck right behind the pacer, but could feel myself laboring to keep up.  My heart was pounding, breath was hard.  I was clearly entering an anaerobic state.  All that just to be 7 seconds off pace: 7:22.  After that, there was a major downhill.  I have a tendency to run downhills faster than other runners, so I thought this was a good time to put some distance on the pace group, before we’d be going up again.  7:13 – I had passed the pace group and the person ahead of them.  We then made a turn toward a residential area.  The volunteer said “the next three miles are the steepest”.  He wasn’t kidding.

One of the best-known characteristics of the Boston Marathon course is Hearbreak Hill.  It’s around mile 20.  It’s not the steepest hill, but it earned its nickname because of the its placement in the race – it’s right around when runners are hitting the wall anyway.  It’s somewhat ironic, and fitting, that a similar hill in a similar part of the Frederick Marathon would determine my fate.

As soon as we headed uphill, the pace group caught me.  I tried to keep up, but lost a little ground.  I figured as long as I could keep them in my sight (at this point it was the pacer and one other runner) I had a chance.  Either they’d be a little ahead of the 3:10 pace, or I’d be able to make up the lost time with a made dash at the end.  7:42 – it was obvious the damage the hill did.  They were still in my sight, I tried to close in on a downhill, but I had spent too much getting up the hill.  I had no energy to close with.

7:56.  I came in 20 miles at 2:25:04, still on pace for a 3:11:50.  If I could get through these hills, and make up some time on the final stretch, I’d have it.  But I had been here before.  In fact, doing the Tucson Marathon two years ago, I arrived at 20 miles 26 seconds faster.

I could hardly see the pace group.  8:45, Uphill.  I didn’t feel pain in any particular spot, nor was I directly feeling the effect of the heat.  My body simply wouldn’t move forward when I’d tell it too.  9:50.  At this point, I figured a 3:10 was out of reach, unless I had some incredible rebound.

Somewhere around mile 23 I reached a water station.  I had stopped for water at every aid station, and at this point, I wasn’t sure how to make myself feel better.  Was I not feeling well because I was dehydrated?  Or because I had drunk so much water?  Was water intoxication a concern?  I took a small bit of water, but knew I couldn’t handle any more.  I knew I had to just hold on a little bit – maybe I could come in under 3:20.  I hit mile 24 in 9:47.  I was starting to feel somewhat better suddenly – why couldn’t this have come sooner?

I hit mile 25 in 8:36, and soon after the 3:20 pacer passed me.  I had nothing left in me after that.  1.2 miles might as well have been 12.  I was able to put together something that resembled a sprint at the end.  The finish line at Frederick is perhaps the best in any marathon I’ve done – it’s on the horse track in the Frederick Fairgrounds, where the roaring crowd cheers on runners as they bring it home.  I finished in 3:23:47, 27th overall out of 731 finishers, 5th in my age group out of 56.

It’s hard to say whether I would have qualified for Boston if the weather were better.  A bank sign along the course around mile 25 said it was 82 degrees.  I certainly felt like I was fit enough for a 3:10, as indicated in my previous post.  I can take some solace in some of these stats:

  • Only 8 runners in the whole race came in under 3:10, two of which were in the 25-30 age group (my age group)
  • In the year prior, when they weather was more favorable, 24 runners came in under 3:10
  • The overall winning time was 7 minutes slower that last year
  • Last year’s average finish time was 4:16:29, this year it was 4:38:52

What’s Next?

I’ve had a pretty good recovery, which I attribute to having done so many 26 mile training runs.  I’ve decided to once again do the North Face Challenge, but this time just the marathon.  I also may be doing a 5k next weekend.  Additionally, I’ve been doing some light barefoot running and walking.  I hope to experiment further with it this summer.  I still want a Boston Qualifier… Steamtown will fall on my birthday this year… hmm…

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