I must admit, I'm a bit hesitant to post this as a race report, because I went into it and ran it with the mindset of just a usual training run, my last good long run before Mountain Mist, just two weeks away. The course could have been a very fast course for those trying to set new PR's, but with two 50k's only 10 and 18 days ago, respectively, and another in two weeks, I figured that running this one hard would probably only do more harm than good. In any case, since it was an actual race that I was lucky enough to win (barely), I guess I ought to give account, so here it goes:
First off, it's cold. When I left my apartment this morning it was something like 16 degrees outside with a solid wind, and when I heard someone give the temperature after I was done, it had only risen to 21 degrees. Not the most ideal running conditions for a born and bred Southerner...
After picking up a breakfast of champions, consisting of a chicken soft taco and 5-layer burrito from Taco Bell, I met up with a couple of friends in Auburn around 4am CST, and we made the short drive over to the race site, which took us into Eastern Time. When the race got underway at 7 (Eastern), it was still dark, and we could tell by the occasional gusts through the city streets that wind would be a major factor of the day during the long miles along the riverwalk.
From the get go, a guy jumped out front and sped off into the distance, and I tucked into my natural long run pace. I struck up a conversation with a biker who was nice enough to ride beside me for the first few miles before peeling off to go help others find their way along the course. Truth be told, I'm pretty sure he was suffering from the cold worse than many of the runners, because the wind he had to deal with must have been brutal. When he began to turn around, he told us that all we had to do was follow the riverwalk we were currently on.
Once our biker friend had departed, I, along with a guy who had been closely tailing me, put things on auto-pilot for a while. We almost got off course when the riverwalk forked, but fortunately we both had the presence of mind to suspect that the fork following the river more closely was probably correct, and our suspicions were soon confirmed by another mile marker. A mile or so later, my running buddy began to fall off the pace a bit, so I nestled comfortably inside my own head, assuming that since the guy in front was pretty far out there and no one was too close behind, it would be a while before I had anyone to run with.
The miles came and went, along with feeling in my hands and face, and before I knew it, I was at the turnaround. The marathon course was simply two loops of a half marathon course (the half marathoners started an hour later than we did), and the turn around was just past the 8 mile marker. Shortly before the turnaround, I saw the leader, along with his bike escort, and judged them to be around a half mile in front of me, looking strong.
Once I made the turnaround, it wasn't long before I began seeing other marathoners on their way out, so I tried to give encouragement to everyone I saw. Soon enough, I began to see the half marathon leaders as well. A few more miles clicked on by, and just like that, I was at the start/finish line again, ready to turn back around and do the whole thing over. At this point, the leader was far enough in front of me that I never even saw him during my jaunt around town to get back to the start/finish and then back out to the riverwalk.
While rerunning the first few miles of the course, I felt like a rock star, because (since the leader was so far in front) I had two cop cars leap frogging each other to lead me through town, stopping cars at green lights (the drivers must have wondered about why a lone runner in shorts in 18 degrees was getting such treatment....) as I made my way through the city. Soon enough, though, I was back out on the riverwalk alone.
At this point, I had been out in the cold long enough that my double layer of gloves wasn't cutting it, and my hands were completely numb, along with most of my face. The wind, which was an ever-present nuisance on the first loop, proved to be a veritable gale during the second loop (or at least that's what it felt like). As before, I just tried focus on staying at a relaxed, comfortable pace and put on foot in front of the other. A difference on this loop, on the other hand, was that I was constantly seeing other marathoners finishing up their first loop as well as throngs of half marathoners, and again I tried to offer encouragement to all; some were having a tough time with the wind (and, perhaps, the distance).
Yet again, I made it to the turnaround, only 5 miles to go... I had noticed that the leader was about the same distance in front of me on this loop as the last, and he didn't appear to be as comfortable as I felt - he was not in distress by any means, but just not comfortable. I decided that I would just maintain my speed and see what happened (the
thought temptation was there to kick the pace up a notch, but my thoughts kept returning to possible repurcussions involving Mt. Mist and possibly health, considering that I only got fluids at two water stops and took in no food or electrolytes - I was in no condition to "race").
I thought that the wind had been bad earlier, but I was mistaken. On the return trip, the wind was almost all I thought about. My thighs were a funny reddish white color, and I couldn't feel my hands or my face at all. I love distance running.
I kept an eye out for the leader, and when I got to mile 24 without seeing him, I figured that he had pulled through and was going to take it, having lead from wire to wire. However, right as I was about to cross the 25 mile mark, I noticed his bike escort pop back onto the path, and then noticed that the leader was a mere 150 yard or so in front of me, obviously hurting. I maintained my pace and overtook him relatively quickly. If he had sped up to match me, I probably would have let him take the race, since he was clearly putting forth considerable effort, but he let me slip on by with less than a mile to go.
The lead bike was somewhat surprised to have a new leader, and he almost missed me, but he noticed my race number was one designated as a full marathon number (1-100 were marathon race numbers, 101+ were half marathoners, and there were around 230 half marathoners...impressive). He led me back into town, announcing me to everyone he saw. As I came into the final stretch, an announcer called out my name over a loudspeaker as "your marathon winner," which, I must admit, felt pretty cool to hear. True to form, I airplaned around the last corner and, since I know you all were hoping for it, I jumped up and gave a heel-click across the finish line for a time of 3:16:28.
It was a fun race, and I accomplished what I set out to do: get another relatively relaxed but solid long run in before Mt. Mist, negative split the second half by a couple of minutes, and I got an added surprise bonus of winning. The 25-mile leader came in a few minutes behind me, but I found out that this was his debut marathon. Pretty darn impressive to lead the vast majority of your first marathon in frigid temperatures, with who knows what wind chill.
All in all, I felt good post-race. No real muscular soreness at all; a bit of joint stiffness and foot tenderness befell me the next day, but that's about par for the course with any long road run, and they were gone by Monday.
On to Mountain Mist...