It was a clearly defined goal / responsibility: Finish in just under 4 hours, all the while maintaining a steady and consistent 9:07 - 9:08 average pace per mile for 26.2 miles.
At the start line in Palmer Lake there was just a slight breeze, we started at 6:30 am and got going just before the sun came up. The first mile included a lap of the lake and it was a slow one due to the early race congestion. Not to worry, as we finished the lap of the lake (empty of water for the past few years) we settled in and by the end of mile one I was on track with a 9:07 pace.
Beside me was Bob from Minnesota - today was the last of the bucket list marathons day for him. His 50th state to run a marathon was our state of Colorado and this was the race he chose. Although he fell off the initial pace - he did finish. Congrats to him - an awesome achievement to run a marathon in all 50 states. Also along side was Carl from Colorado Springs and Gunnar, aged 73 from Arizona - who was born in Norway and was a ships captain. Needless to say - not a lot of altitude training for him. Both Gunnar and Carl also finished the race.
As the miles started clicking by and the sun crested the horizon I noticed our shadows running alongside us. Several times I looked beside me and to my surprise I was towing a group of about 20 runners with me. I carried a small flag on a stick with me identifying the pace goal of a 4 hour finish - it was a magnet early in the race for people to line up beside and just behind me. Needless to say I was feeling a little popular.
The first few miles were very conversational as I got to know some of the other runners, with the gradual slope downhill the pace came very easy. In my mind this was a 4 hour training run, with the added responsibility of being an encouragement to those around me who had much more definitive goals and ambitions in this race.
I wanted to stay well fueled and hydrated - carrying with me fig newtons and swedish fish for my calorie intake along the journey. They worked great. I had no issues with bonking, getting hungry or any stomach issues throughout the run. I had left my water bottle in my fridge accidently - but with aid stations every 2 to 3 miles I didn't need it, plenty of water and gatorade available.
The middle section of the course, beginning just North of the Air Force Academy air field has several rolling sections in it and unfortunately many of those who were following me started dropping off the pace through these miles. I really wanted to slow down at times to try to keep them latched on to me - but I needed to stick to the pace.
At halfway the time on my watch showed 1:59:20 - right on target. By this time only a handful of people were beside me unfortunately. People were still spread out though in front of me and most were moving well. We continued through the Air Force Academy and eventually made it to the Woodment Road aid station at mile 17, my son was there handing out water, so I got to briefly chat with him which was good.
A mile or two later we came up to a group of people holding up hand made signs, the one that was brightest was "Free Hugs!!" - I couldn't resist and got a great big hug from a complete stranger - I'm sure she is a lovely lady. The couple of guys that I was running with commented in jest that I needed to do less hugging and more 4 hour pacing. I agreed and kept going.
BY now it was getting warmer and I had began noticing that my mile splits on my watch were .05 or slightly more miles longer than the mile marker posts on the course. So, I realized that I should plan on tracking a 26.3 marathon distance, which for sub 4 hours the pace needed to be closer to 9:05 - 9:06 pace.
By now I was passing people more frequently as my pace stayed steady, but those others were starting to drop off a little. The common mood was less joyful than it had been at the start of the race where it had seemed people were happy to be with me, now as I began to go past people they were muttering and telling me off for passing them. I had to stick to my task though and tried to be encouraging to those I passed.
The 4 hour sign did however seem to be a motivator to a few people and for the last 8 or so miles 2 people leap frogged just ahead of me as they tried to stay ahead of the 4 hour pace goal. As they would start to slide closer to me I would encourage them, occasionally pass them, but kudos to both of them, they didn't quit and managed to both finish a minute or so ahead of me.
By mile 22 I was able to get a good read on mile marker signs verses my gps mileage and saw that I was tracking right at a 3:59 pace. My quads were talking to me with some fatigue by now but it was manageable.
As I entered America the Beautiful Park and the finish area it was a fun atmosphere I got a lot of "Good job four hour pace guy" as I ran the last 1/2 mile and crossed the finish line with a chip time of 3:58:59, gun time of 3:59:22. I had completed my task, achieved my goal - and was not too worse for wear.
All in all, a good long run that was a little more than a training run, it was an accomplishment that left me feeling satisfied and good about the days work.