On the afternoon before race start I went to the race expo to pick up a race packet and see what the race coordinator would see. They didn't even have it confirmed that I would pace. We talked for a few moments and then settled on a time. Alarmingly, it was now going to be 3:30. 8 minute per mile pace. Gulp.
Some history with me is needed here - regarding previous marathons as well as previous races on this course. 3 years ago I set out to run a 3:30 marathon here. I trained for it. I started out fine, did great for about 16 miles, then held on for another 3 or 4, Then bonked, faded and eventually finished somewhere in the 3:38 to 3:40 range. I had run 1 other marathon since then that I set out to beat 3:30 in - in Utah, 2 1/2 years ago. That I did break 3:30 in - by just over 10 minutes.
So, after not sleeping much at all the night before the race, knowing I was not prepared well, nor with a good history on the course, and required to run less than 11 minutes off a PR - I lined up with butterflies in my stomach, and a weight on my shoulders. I was also surrounded by people voicing their intent to break 3:30.
It was a crisp start to the day - a beautiful Colorado morning. I was afraid that I would not be able to look up and enjoy it much at all - instead as we started I barely was even watching where I was running, instead just fixated on my watch - the part that displayed the average per mile pace. I was glued to it - trying to settle in as quick as possible to 7:58- to 7:59 pace.
|That's me on the left holding the flag - a daunting task ahead.|
Whew, I let out a long breath. I settled in to a rhythm. As I did I couldn't help but see the shadows beside me as the sun was coming up. A train of 20+ people tucked in right behind me. Watching me, relying upon me. I felt a pressure to perform that was far greater than last year, far greater than in any other race I have been in.
The pace felt okay. I felt like I should be able to carry it for at least halfway without having to really work too hard at it. In hindsight running the Pikes Peak Marathon course 10 days prior - spending 5 3/4 hours on my feet, plus a 22 miler I had run on Wednesday - that at the time was miserable and slow - but had helped me get a bit of endurance training in me. I hadn't however run 8 minute mile pace for any length of distance in many, many weeks. So I was hoping to just rely upon some built up reserves in the past few months.
But it is pretty hard to rely on wishful thinking for 26.2 miles. It also requires some hard work.
The miles clicked by, I stuck metronomically to the 7:58 pace - slowing marginally for the few rolling hills and occasional short and sharp climbs over the first 13.1 miles. I hit halfway at 1:44:20. My knees were complaining a bit but it was tolerable. I was hydrating and fueling well also. The group of runners with me at the half way point was now less than a half dozen. The pressure was still on me - but all but one of the other runners seemed like they were able to hold the pace.
Sure enough, as we made our way through the Air Force Academy and eventually onto the paved trail South of Woodmen Road - it was just me and an Air Force Academy Cadet. We had been talking on and off all morning and I had learned that he had run the Pikes Peak Marathon Course 15 days prior - in 5:18. Kudos for him, but also encouraging for me as it was only a minute faster than my peak time 2 years ago. I recognized a runner of similar ability as me and in reality instead of me being the pacer - he was really motivating to me. We ran together for almost the entire race.
The last 10 miles of the course is not really enjoyable to me at all. Way too much pavement - which after running 16 miles on trails is not kind to the legs - at all. There are a couple of rolling stretches too that really suck a consistent pace right out of me. This days work was starting to take it's toll.
With 4.2 miles to go I was now down to a 7:59 pace and really working quite hard to hold that. Struggling with increasingly sore quads now but even more frustrating than that was a headwind that had started as a breeze about 2 hours prior - now was a steady wind in my face. I was supposed to be carrying a flag showing the 3:30 pace - but each time I tried to hold it up above my head it would start blowing from side to side as well as slow me down. So I just rolled it up and carried it for most of the 2nd half of the course.
The end was nearing, but so was my end. I was tired, so ready to be done and not quite sure how I was still at a 7:59 pace. However - I hadn't really been looking at the mileage markers as I passed them to mentally sync them with my watch. Until mile 25. It was then I realized 26.2 miles on my watch was not going to be enough. I would need to go further to finish the course. The problem was I was now at 8 minute flat pace - and my legs were toast, butter side down.
I tried to push that last stretch, my legs were just not listening however. 26.2 miles came and went (in 3:29:25) but the course wasn't done. I pushed hard one more time only to see the clock tick past 3:30:00 as I came up short.
Grrr. Not blaming the course at all. Blaming me. Fortunately no other runners were with me as I crossed the line - in fact the Academy Cadet had dropped the hammer down at mile 25 and finished a full minute ahead of me. I was stoked for him.
It felt like I failed, because I really did not finish before the time limit. Close is nice. 6 seconds was only a dozen or so steps. Even a day and a half later - in which my quads are still very sore - I have mixed emotions about the race. It was my second fastest marathon ever. A course PR. I came 39th overall (out of about 330 something finishers. Oh and 2nd in my age group gets me an award - which I will pick up later this week. So all that feels nice. It surely was a help for the 50K coming up in 4 1/2 weeks too.
But I missed the time goal by 6 seconds. The highs and lows of a runner......sigh.