Monday, February 15, 2010

Mission: Accomplished

Race report coming later this afternoon...

Okay, I'm back.

We're Off
My wife and I traveled from our home to Birmingham on Saturday mid-day. For some reason, I procrastinated getting my gear packed on Friday evening, so Saturday morning was an example in orchestrated chaos as we tried to get all of our clothes, race gear and other essentials packed for Birmingham, while getting our three boys' clothes and essentials ready for their weekend sleepover at the grandparents house.

Like a scene from Disney's Animal Kingdom... just plain wild!

We arrived at the Expo in downtown Birmingham around mid-afternoon on Saturday. Since this was my first time running this race, I was completely unfamiliar with the city itself. I don't think I have ever even traveled through Birmingham. At any rate, we found everything and had it mapped out via the GPS, so we didn't have any issues finding the Expo, host hotel, or post-race festivities.

My wife and I had a nice pre-race dinner out on the town and returned back to the hotel to relax.

Race morning
I followed my pre-race nutrition/hydration plan and awoke at 4am. I consumed my typical energy bars and 16 oz Gatorade, but couldn't stomach the thought of a banana. Unfortunately, we had gotten backed into a valet parking of the Humvee at the host hotel the previous night, and some of my nutrition items were tucked away somewhere in the bowels of a parking deck. This didn't concern me much, though. After my 4am "meal", I returned back to bed for another hour of sleep.

My alarm went off again at 5:20am, and I arose, showered and dressed. The forecast for the morning called for about 28 degrees at race start, with gradual warming up to about 40 degrees by race finish. I've made the mistake of overdressing before, and I was not going to repeat it here. I wore a base layer compression shirt with a looser-fitting technical shirt as an outer layer. Race Ready shorts were my only lower body protection from the elements, but I knew they would suffice in the temps once I got a couple of miles underway. I also wore a running visor (my favorite) and a pair of Asics armsleeves and gloves.

Now that I've given you my Project Runway fashion report, let's get down to the good stuff....

"...30 seconds to go!"
That's about all I remember hearing from the Race Director between the time I lined up in the corral, just ahead of the 4:00 hour pace group. Within seconds, the race began. Even with the relatively large crowd (I believe around 4,000 runners), I made it across the Start line timing mat in less than 7-8 seconds. I started my Garmin on Lap 1, but discovered that it had yet to secure a satellite connection. That stank, but I knew it would eventually get synchronization, so I just let it go until about mile 2.

The marathon and half marathon start in the middle of downtown Birmingham, and it's one of my favorite places to start a race. You bolt out of the Start block tear down the streets ahead, trying to get an advantage over the throngs of runners behind you. Mind you, I made it a point not to "tear down" any streets in this race, but I did clip down the first half mile at about a 7:20 pace. That put me well ahead of the majority of folks in the race, so that was good.

As I said, my Garmin didn't secure a satellite link until Mile 2. Basically, I ran those first two miles considerably faster than goal pace, but that wasn't really concerning me. Once I did get link, I settled into about an 8:24-8:37 pace and tried to lock it in.

Around this point of marathon, I usually try to start observing the runners around me and try to find one that seems to be on my pace. I'l eventually find someone ahead and hang behind them about 10 feet or so. I will continue to monitor my pace for the next couple of miles, and gauge how consistently they are staying at the pace. If they hold it well, I am then comfortable just drafting behind them for the next 8-10 miles. The benefit of drafting is two fold:  First, it allows me to be able to simply run by sight without checking my Garmin every few minutes. Secondly, it affords the opportunity (for me, at least) to "zone out" and just simply run.

Because Mercedes is a double-loop course through the city, the half marathoners peeled off from us around Mile 12.5. They hung a left toward the Finish chute, while the marathoners hung a right to enjoy a second helping of hills.

At the halfway point, I began to take inventory of my condition. I was feeling fantastic. My legs felt fresh, strong and the hills had help keep any fatigue from arising. All in all, I was feeling better at Mile 13 than I have felt at mile 8 on hard training runs. Woo-hoo!

Miles 13-17 zipped by with me maintaining, even beating, goal pace. Since the number of runners in front of me had dropped by 80% (most runners are half marathoners, and had peeled off back at Mile 12.5), drafting off any single person was no longer possible. I was able to reel in and pass many other runners in these miles because I was feeling incredibly fresh and strong. It was at this point that I began to realize just how much my training was paying off.

Just after Mile 17, my left hamstring began to feel tight. It wasn't bad and it didn't cause me to alter my stride or anything like that, but I could feel a small ache at the headbone of my left fibula. Recalling what my Physical Therapist had showed me a few weeks previous, I quickly zipped to the side of the road and gave a good 30 second stretch in the standing position. I bolted back onto the course, and the tightness was gone. Hallelujah!

I am now cruising past Mile 19 on the outskirts of downtown Birmingham. I'm noticing that there are a fair number of other runners that are now walking the hills (and some of the flats, too). I'm feeling even better than before because this infuses me with energy. Not because others aren't able to continue running, but because seeing them just reinforces how much more prepared I feel this season. At the end of Mile 19, however, the hamstring ache returns, in the same degree. Again, I quickly zip to a sideline curb, stretch for about 30 seconds, and pop back on the course. Pain is now gone, and doesn't return at all.

We start to re-enter the downtown area around Mile 21 or so. I'm still feeling great and now realize that the dreaded "Wall" will not be visiting me today. Actually, I have only encountered "The Wall" once in my running life. My first marathon back in 2006 saw me demolished by it, and it forced me to settle for a first marathon finish time of 4:54:20.

I began to notice that my pace had slipped about 10 seconds per mile since Mile 21. When I reached Mile 24, I realized that my goal was definitely within grasp, and decided to push Mile 24 through the Finish. I picked up my leg turnover and brought my pace into the 8:03 range, which I kept until I crossed the Mile 25 marker.

I was now entering Mile 25 and the only thing bothering me at this point was my feet. They didn't hurt, they were tingling for some reason. It wasn't uncomfortable, but it was getting distracting. I tried to ignore it, but my pace slipped above the 9:03 mark and I didn't have much more energy in the tank to reign it back into target. When I was about 1/8 mile away from the Mile 26 marker, my running stopped for a second and I put my hands on my head and took a few walking strides. A fellow runner came up beside me, slapped me on the back, and said " way. No walking on this course!" I quickly snapped out of my lethargy, sprinted into a run and thanked him for the motivation. I crossed the Mile 26 marker with only a few more minutes to go until I reached the Finish line.

As I started to enter the Finish chute at Mile 26, I heard my wife shout out to me from my right side, which was awesome. Seeing her and knowing she was there waiting on me gave me the burst of energy I needed to pump my arms all the way down the final street and through the Finish line with a chip time of 3:52:58, a new marathon PR.

It's Monday evening now, and physically, I feel great. My left knee aches a bit, but my quads, calves, feet and thighs feel fine. Once again, I know the many miles of hard training have paid dividends in this area. In seven marathons, I have never felt this strong following a race. Not even close.

That's a wrap...
Mercedes Marathon 2010 was a great race. Through prayer and perseverance, I was able to accomplish the goals I set out for myself, and learned many things in the process. Knowing that God had brought me through the training, the injuries, the uncertainty made it that much more satisfying.

It doesn't really matter what your goals for running are, because they're going to be different than everyone elses. Whether you are shooting to finish your first 10k, or your first 100k, the most important thing is to set a high goal. God has gifted us all with so much ability and potential, it's only fitting that we strive to reach our full potential. It is far better to reach farther and fall short, than to succeed easily at something that doesn't require much effort in the first place.

Whatever it is you dream of accomplishing, go for it. Own it. Make a plan on how to make it happen. Accept your shortcomings and expect them to take you off track from time to time. It's part of life's journey. Work around the pitfalls. Stay focused on your target.

Reach it.

Then, start it all over again.

You CAN do it.


  1. Wow - I'm so impressed! Great job on the new PR!!!!

    Sounds like you had a fabulous race. I hope my next half marathon goes half as well as your race went!

    Thanks for the motivational ending too. I've been lacking momentum and you helped me put it back in perspective!

  2. We all feel that ebb in motivation from time to time. It's important to realize that and even expect it sometimes to happen. The key is to know it happens to EVERYONE, and all we need to do is get back in the middle of the road, and put one foot in front of the other.

    Run long and prosper