Monday, February 14, 2011

2011 Mercedes Marathon race report

Having run as many races as I have, I should have known better.
Having spent so many blog posts talking about "pre race strategy", you would assume that I wouldn't make rookie mistakes.
Talking at length to other friends and runners about what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, one would casually attribute some level of expertise to me.

You'd be dead wrong on all counts.

Here goes...

T minus 24 hours and counting...All systems "GO"
My wife and I traveled to Birmingham Saturday around lunchtime. Our three boys were spending the weekend with my parents, so we had a nice Valentine's weekend/Chris-has-got-to-run-another-race adventure in the works. Everything was good. I had been following

my pre-race nutrition plan to include my tried and true 70/20/10 carbs/protein/fat consumption all Saturday. We had a nice lunch in town when we arrived, and I continued to supplement my intake with my Boost regimen.

We made it to the Expo at Boutwell Auditorium around 4:45pm, and I was able to pickup my packet, verify my D-Tag, and make a quick exit. All of this in less than 15 minutes, no less. After checking into the host hotel at the Start/Finish line, we moved our gear/luggage from the parking deck across the property, into our 4th floor room. At least, I THOUGHT we moved everything from the minivan. (Note: this assumption of mine will play a pivotal; albeit catastrophic role later Sunday morning) After some shopping that evening, we returned to our hotel room for the night.

I spent the usual 30 minutes getting my gear laid out for race morning. Plans called for temps around freezing on race morning, so I laid our a short sleeve compression shirt, short sleeve running shirt, armsleeves, race ready shorts, socks, running visor, Garmin, iPod and sunglasses. Everything ready for a nice brisk morning of running the urban streets of downtown Bham. Looking good so far.

It was now about 11pm (or so) and I realized that I didn’t see my remaining 3 bottles of Boost anywhere in the hotel room. At this point, my feeble, pea-sized brain realized that I had inadvertently left the Boost in the minivan.


(Another note: At this point, an intelligent man would realize the potential impact of not fulfilling his nutritional plan, and would quickly scurry the 10 minutes to the parking deck, grab the Boost bottles, come back to the room, and continue with the regimen.)

…an intelligent man would, but not me.

Instead, I decided to myself that I was probably alright not to worry about the remaining Boost regimen. I didn’t want to have to schlep across the hotel property, down into the parking deck, etc…. I’m such a complete moron…At this point in our story, my fate is pretty well sealed. I have made a fundamental error in thinking, and my ability to show up at the Start line with a full glycogen tank is now impeded. As such, my ability to perform is diminished, and I’m completely oblivious to it.

Race Morning: Let’s make a couple of additional stupid mistakes, shall we?
I awaken from a good night’s sleep and start the routine of getting ready now. Nothing unusual here, and everything is going fine. I start to scrounge around looking for breakfast, and decide that I have failed to bring my standard breakfast items of wheat bagel and honey pb.


This combination has always given me the energy I need, without providing any of the potential stomach upset that plagues so many racers on race day. I’ve lived by this breakfast, and I now don’t have it with me. They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and it’s true. I decided to go with a Nutrigrain bar and a package of granola bars. Now, I still don’t have Boost to replenish my glycogen stores, so what do I elect to go with instead?

Diet Dr. Pepper.

No comment needed.

So, that’s my breakfast; a Nutrigrain bar, half a granola bar, and a diet Dr. Pepper. Talk about a breakfast of champions, right?

I proceed down to the hotel lobby, eventually leading out to the Start corral, and find my place amongst the 6:30 min/mile runners. Too fast a crew to line up with? Yep. Did I do it anyway? Yep. Am I courting disaster by not going out at MY needed marathon pace? Yep.

…3…2…1 GO!
The starting gun is fired and the 7,241 runners lurch forward through the widening streets of downtown Birmingham. Because the marathon itself isn’t large enough to justify a corral/wave start, everyone starts together. Now, I’m not a fan of this because you just don’t know where to line up at the Start. Wanting to not get caught up behind slower runners, I chose to start out with a faster group of runners than I should have been aligned with. All of my good intentions of slowing down past the Start line and dropping down to my 8:22 pace never, ever happened. As is the norm for me, I found myself caught up in the first few miles of the race, and was just ripping it up from the outset. The crew I was running with was entirely too fast for my sub 3:40:00 goal time, and running with them was an exercise in spending too much energy on a pace I couldn’t maintain for 26.2 miles.

The downtown area is nothing but uphills/downhills and a few flat stretches. We were blasting the uphills and absolutely screaming down the downhills.. it was definitely a blast being out there. I didn’t really think too much about it until I hit the 5k timing mat. I crossed it only 1:00 off my 5k PR time, and that sounded an alarm in my head. I have been racing long enough to know that setting PR’s in a marathon should NOT happen. It shouldn’t even be close to happening. I should have crossed that 5k timing mat about 4 minutes off my PR if I had been sticking to my pacing plan. But even with this clock staring me in the face as I zipped past it, I STILL didn’t sense the degree of danger that I was running in. I knew I needed to slow down and settle into MY pace, but I didn’t sense the urgency of it.

Fast forward to the 10k mark. I crossed the 6.2 mile timing matt less than 50 seconds off my 10k PR time. Not only had I failed to slow myself down, I actually sped up in the process…

At this 6.2 mile marker, again I knew that I needed to try harder to slow my pace and regulate my effort level so I don’t have issues later. But still again, I just didn’t perceive the significance of my situation. For years now, I have preached to racers that going out the Start gate at even 10 seconds faster than your goal pace can KILL your chances of running the race you have been training for.. and here I am running over a minute and a half too fast?? What was I thinking?? Actually, I WASN’T thinking, that’s the problem.

For the next 5-6 miles, I tried to slow my pace and settle into the 8:22 range. Because of the ongoing ups/downs of the race course, getting an accurate gauge on current pace was difficult. The Garmin just didn’t have an easy time splitting the averages of the slower uphill climbs coupled with the zippy downhill rips we were taking. I approached the 13.1 mile halfway point and was eager to see how much time I had managed to re-deposit into my tank.

Say hello to my new Half Marathon PR.

Apparently, I sped up after the 10k mark. I ran a new Half marathon PR by nearly 2 minutes. And let me say that my Half marathon PR was something I had worked HARD for a couple of years ago. I had trained for it exclusively. I had worked on it consistently. I didn’t expect it to fall for several years, and I beat it badly on the first half of a hilly, marathon course.
Can you just sense what is about to happen in the next few miles? Can’t you just see it coming? 

The Dark Side of the Moon
At this point in our story, yours truly is realizing, in increasing degrees, the errors of his ways. I am now starting to feel some signs of minor fatigue, dehydration, and general lethargy as I approach the Miles 14-16. Aside from these realizations though, I reach the more disturbing conclusion that I am absolutely powerless to influence my own destiny in the coming 12 miles.
That was a slap in the face, and it was completely caused by my own bad decisions. From the night before until the present mile, I had crafted the disaster that was now falling on top of me, and I could do nothing more than shake my head, ask myself how I could have been so stupid, and pray (and I mean PRAY) for strength and grace as the pain started…

Miles 17-18 saw my body start to feel a fairly sizeable amount of leg pain, specifically isolated to my right hamstring. I never hit the wall in this race, and I didn’t cramp up anytime, but I surely felt like it was a possibility. These two miles had me looking off into the distance, searching for any sign of where the Finish line might be. If I had known how to get back to the Start/Finish line, I would have surely left the course and gone there. I would have crossed the line and counted it as a Half marathon. I felt shame for even considering this as an option, but that is the degree of trouble I was completely aware of at this time.

Miles 19, 20, 21 took me to new dimensions of pain and suffering. While I was able to maintain hydration through the Powerade and water that was provided, I realized my energy stores were completely gone. My poor nutrition decisions the night previous were now playing their havoc on my ability to perform in the race. I never felt this at Disney a few weeks back, but I followed my nutrition plan in Disney, so it’s no wonder I had no problems there. Here, I didn’t do as good a job of being smart and fueling smart. And boys and girls, I was hurting for it.

When I reached Miles 22, 23 and 24, I started to feel actual stomach uneasiness. Now, this is a new phenomenon for me and I haven’t felt it more than once in a race before. I have no doubt I simply consumed too much Powerade and water along the course as I tried to supplement my poor pre-race fueling plan. At this point, I had to lay off the Powerade/water for a water stop or two, which only made the dehydration and energy loss worse. It’s like I said earlier, it’s a death-spiral once you get in this situation.

As Mile 25 rolled into view, I knew that I would finish the race, obviously. I began to concentrate on learning from my mistakes over the past 18 hours, and I swore I would NEVER, EVER let this happen again. At this point, the pain actually became a bit amusing. Realizing  that I would have certainly laughed at someone else going through this same scenario, I came to see the humor in being so stupid about race decisions. This humor helped get me through Mile 25 (my slowest mile of the race)

I hit Mile 26 and saw my wife on the sidelines behind the barricade. She yelled, smiled and took a photo of me coming through the Finish chute. I’ve said in earlier blog posts and race reports that seeing her at the Finish line gives me the kick I need to finish strong…

Not this time… (sorry, babe) I just didn’t have anything left in me.
I crossed the line in 3:55:00. Utterly exhausted, completely broken and hurting, thoroughly elated to be done with this torture. I made my way to the food tables and stood over the fruit and GORGED on at least 4 oranges until there was nothing left but the peel…oh my goodness.. they were so, so good on an empty stomach… 

Lessons to Learn
1. Do NOT do as I did on this day. Develop your plan and follow it. No excuses; No exceptions
2. Find your pace EARLY and stick with it. Don’t get caught up in the Start line hysteria. Run your race.
3. Find a pace group, if offered. Take the mental anguish out of pacing and just follow the guy/gal with the balloon on the dowel rod.
4. Plan for the contingencies. Consider what you will do if the unforeseen happens. Trust me; it DOES happen occasionally.
5. Even in the midst of suffering, relish the gift. There are many, many people that would gladly trade places with you and I for the chance to feel something, even suffering on a race course. Let’s not ever take that for granted. We have been given a gift. Lord, help me never to forget that.


  1. Ah yes, a mirror of my own Baystate race report. Perhaps now that I have stumbled upon your blog, we can learn from each other.

  2. Carlee, thanks for the note. Trust me, you can learn ALOT from my mistakes on this blog...


  3. Thanks for sharing your trials with this race, glad you made it to the finish line!!

  4. Thanks for your comment on my race report at Disney. Congrats on your PR there!

  5. Maybe some bad mistakes but 3:55 is still a great time. Well done for pushing through!

  6. Yes, I agree 100%, we are truly gifted to be able to run.

    I also drink Boost before races, and plan to drink Boost during my first ultra in April. The good thing is you were able to analyze your mistakes so you don't make them in future races. Either way, congrats on crossing the finish of a very tough race! :)

  7. Thanks so much for sharing your race report with us! You ran really well nonetheless. I need to find a plan and stick with it myself.

  8. Wow - that's a tough race for you...The most important thing is to learn from this and never let it happen again.

    Still all things said, you finished in a pretty darn good time!

  9. Great time despite it all! Isn't it crazy how you can feel so great one mile and the next your legs just want to shut down?

  10. Even in the midst of suffering, relish the gift. - this is awesome.. how true.. way to see the Light amidst the dark of an unoptimal race day.

    Gotta Run,