Monday, February 1, 2010

2010 Callaway Gardens Marathon Race Report

Apologies for the failure to get this race report completed before now, but yesterday was a recuperation day of sorts, in addition to an 8 year old boy's birthday part for our youngest son.:)

Before I get into the race details, I want to give you the bottom line of what this race day taught (and reinforced) to me. In all, I consider the race and the day to be a success, but not for the reason you may be thinking. What I learned during the race was that yes, my training had paid dividends and I was absolutely running exactly as my plan called for. I also learned a couple of minor hydration and nutrition cues that I will change leading up to my next race in 2 weeks, the Mercedes Marathon. And finally, I learned that these 5,500 + miles have definitely led me to becoming a wiser runner. I was able to make a decision mid-way in the race that my immaturity a few years back would have precluded me from making. All to my peril, might I add.

Enough with the preamble, let's get it started.

Race morning:
I arose early to allow me to eat breakfast 3.5 hours before the start of the race. I then hit the bed again for about an hour. Upon getting up this time, I consumed about 16 ounces of electrolytes and made sure to stop drinking completely at 2 hours prior to the race start. Getting dressed was fairly easy since I had everything laid out from the night before, so no issues there.

Since the race venue is less than 20 minutes from home, I got there in plenty of time to get in place, stretch a bit and try to mentally prepare for the race. This is the time I really try to close myself in and walk through my race strategy for a final time. I really want it to be a matter of reflex rather than conscious thought and decision making on the course. I want it to be instinct. Rehearsal is the key to getting it there.

On your mark...
Lined up between mid and front pack, the gun went off and so did I. Plenty of energy from the runners and the 31 degrees of ambient temperature kept the first mile rather fast! As my plan called for, I made sure that I kept my pace reigned in and on-target. This is not the time for me to rip off another 6:20 mile at mile 1 of a marathon (ah, the lessons of the distance runner:)) Mile 1-3 prognosis looked great.

Miles 3-6
By this time, I had settled into my race pace and was just tooling along. Again, with the headwind at my face, it was chilly. Especially since I was in shorts. As other runners were trying to settle into their respective paces, I started scouting out a pack I could duck in behind and pace off. Found one about mile 3.5. Drafting is such a God-send. You can just checkout psychologically and only focus on keeping your distance from the pack.

Miles 6-9
The course hit about 2 miles of prolonged hills at this point. Since I have done many, many long runs on this course, I knew they were coming and had trained for them. Many of my unfortunate fellow runners weren't as fortunate, and were paying a steep price for their aggressive pace. By the time I hit the mile 9 turnaround point, I saw many winded athletes at the curve in the road.

Around mile 9 I started to notice something. Because of the presence of the hills in this section of the course, I began to sweat much more (apologies for the bio reference, but this is a marathon, right?) Ordinary, you say. Yes. But the sub-32 degree wind chill began to cool my body significantly. While I had several layers of shirt/vest on, the innermost compression shirt was now soaking wet and making me colder as the race progressed.

Miles 9-13
Knowing that the vast majority of the runners would be peeling off soon and running toward the Finish line for the half marathon course, I started feeling great at this stage in the event. Call it psychological warfare, mind games, whatever you wish, but I felt strong, fresh and really ready to take on the second leg of this race.

The problem was, however, I was getting cold. Really cold. By mile 12.7, I was shivering as I ran. In the back of my mind, my thoughts began to fire off the argument of whether continuing in this condition would lead to an optimal outcome for the full 26.2 miles. In a strange sort of way, I conducted this inner debate in the abstract. By that, I mean that it was as though I was a spectator to a civilized argument taking place inside my brain. On one side, the logical, thoughtful me was suggesting that my shivering would only get worse as I became colder and wetter and more tired. On the other side of my feeble mind, the competitive side of me just kept arguing that "man-ning" up was the way to get through it. I literally felt as though I was a visitor watching this colorful debate from the sideline somewhere. Very strange indeed.

Mile 13.39
I know what you're thinking. And you're right. You say, "Chris, you obviously decided to go on with the race if you passed the 13.1 finish line, right?"


I decided to stick it out and proceed with the remaining 13.1 miles, but I was soon overtaken by a very resolute, measured, even subdued voice inside that reminded me of this key point: "Don't continue on if you feel reasonably confident that doing so will produce a less than satisfactory result." In other words, once I decided that the elements I was dealt would very likely prevent me from setting a PR, a course PR, or even posting a respectable time (sub 3:50), pressing on with the race merely served to enforce penalty upon me (physical, mental, psychological) that could then adversely affect my next marathon in 2 weeks in Birmingham.

To put it in the words of the old school-age rhyme; "He who fights and runs away, lives to fight another day"

Am I disappointed that I decided to stop at the half-way point? No. As I have said many times before, each and every race is different. Each has its own set of variables and nuances that you must consider thoroughly. Weather is, unfortunately, one of the things you cannot really address until it happens. I could have elected to go on with the race, and I certainly considered it. But doing so would not have yielded me my goal of a PR. By acknowledging that today was not the day I could reach my goal, I took solace in having the discipline (and hopefully, intelligence) to make the right call.

With my newfound interest in high altitude mountaineering, my experience this weekend reminds me of the importance of making strategic decisions without the adverse influence of emotions, blind ambition, ego massage, etc. The best mountaineers are not the ones that tempt all manner of death and destruction by heading up the hill in the blizzard, the best mountaineers are the ones that have the capacity to recognize when it's okay to go forward, and when it's best not to.

I turned back from the summit on Sunday. But in doing so, I have another chance in 2 weeks.

1 comment:

  1. First off - another marathon in 2 weeks! You're a mad man. Is that really enough time to recover? I know you've done quite a few of these so I'm sure you're used to it, but darn that's aggressive.

    Let me just congratulate you on stopping. It was smart and something that a lot of runners (me included) wouldn't have done and probably would have been much worse off for the bad decision.

    I hope your next race in two weeks goes off without a hitch and you reach that satisfactory result :)!