I'm beginning to realize that when you go for marathon quantity, you give up marathon quality (time-wise), at least at my age. That's one clear conclusion after logging my worst marathon time in 13 years on a course that wasn't tremendously hilly. I love running marathons, but I crave good times even more.
I was stubborn enough to believe that I could maintain sub-3:40 times (or be close) for most of my marathons this year. One factor obviously has to be heat. It's been a bit hot for all but the Tobacco Road Marathon in March.
It's not the miles as much as the wear and tear that this many marathons produce and the lack of proper tapering. My times didn't dip like this over my 5 marathons in 2013, and I actually ran slightly more miles by this time in 2013 than I have in 2014. My times for training runs have been clearly slower in August and September this year compared to last year and this August in North Carolina was milder weather-wise than it was in 2013.
The progression of my 6 marathons this year shows a gradual slide in performance.
In March, I just missed a PR with a 3:30:42 at the Tobacco Road Marathon. My times pretty much got worse with every marathon (as you can see from my race schedule on the right sidebar on this page). Although my Loonies Midnight Marathon time was slightly better than my Hatfield-McCoy Marathon time, I walked a bit at Hatfield-McCoy and didn't walk at all at Loonies, which was much flatter.
There are many of my fellow Marathon Maniacs who run marathons for a good time and don't worry about putting up a good time. Maybe I'll get to that point in the next 5 or 10 years. But I still very much love the exhilaration of logging a terrific marathon time. Maybe I'm just stubborn.
How frustrated was I with my Darlington time? For the first time in any run — much less a race — in years, I forgot to stop the timer on my Garmin Forerunner when I crossed the finish line. I realized it 3 or 4 minutes later. (Not that it mattered because I was unable to upload the data to my computer. When fooling with it, hoping it would allow me to upload it, I did a hard reboot, which deleted the data.)
Given my training times in the last couple of months, my expectations were modest and I was hoping to run in the 3:40s. I felt good in the first few miles and was maintaining a pace of around 8:15 for much of the first half. It wasn't long before I realized that the heat would be a factor. On top of that, there weren't many clouds in the sky.
By about mile 19 or so, my pace got slower and I eventually regressed into walking for a bit and running for a bit because I just didn't have much left. Mentally, it didn't help when I took a wrong turn at a point late in the race where there were no volunteers and I had to backtrack about 300 yards to get back on course.
Before this year — with the exception of the challenging Grandfather Mountain Marathon in 2001 and 2013 — I had not walked during a marathon since the 2001 Baltimore Marathon (and that was only in the last mile). I've now walked in 2 of my last 3 marathons.
I'll keep up the quantity by running the Bull City Half Marathon on Oct. 19 and the Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon on Nov. 2. I'm leaning toward turning my complete running focus after that to training for a good time for the March 15 Tobacco Road Marathon.
'The Track Too Tough to Tame'I took an odd route to this marathon. I intended to run its inaugural edition in 2013 before I won free entry to the Asheville Citizen-Times City Marathon, which was run the same day.
I originally registered for the 2014 Darlington Marathon in late February under the previous management. When administration of the race shifted to the Darlington Raceway officials, I got a refund in March. When track officials reopened registration in June, I again signed up.
The big lure of this race: It starts on pit row at the Darlington Raceway and finishes at the start/finish line of the speedway. Even though I’m not a NASCAR fan at all, it still was pretty cool.
This was my second marathon this year to finish at a famous sports venue. In June, the Sunburst Marathon in South Bend, Ind., finished outside of Notre Dame Stadium. It usually finishes inside the stadium, but I missed out on that experience since the university was installing FieldTurf.
This wasn’t my first race at a speedway. Years ago, I ran a 5K that featured 2 loops around the North Carolina Motor Speedway in Rockingham (now called the Rockingham Speedway).
So I did “The Rock,” and now it was time to make a run at “The Track Too Tough to Tame.”
|Here is a prerace photo of some of the Marathon Maniacs who were in|
Darlington, including Larry Wesson (third from the right) who was featured
in the local newspaper on Sunday (mentioned at the end of this blog post.)
This is a double-loop course, basically running the half-marathon course twice. They altered the full marathon course so that we didn’t cross the finish line twice. It really wouldn’t have been a big deal for me considering that I crossed the finish line 6 times at the Loonies Midnight Marathon in July!
This is a small race that caps the marathon field to 100. I'm used to having low bib numbers because most races number runners alphabetically. But the No. 10 was the lowest number that I've had for any marathon.
How small was it? The first time I started walking, I was walking for 3 or 4 minutes and nobody passed me.
The race starts at 7 a.m. I arrived at 5:30, which allowed me to snag a good parking spot in the infield that left me with a very short walk to packet pickup, the bathroom — an actual bathroom, which is always nice — and the start/finish.
The race starts on pit row, then we ran around much of the track before going to the infield and running through the tunnel and out of the speedway area. That tunnel features a HUGE downward grade, followed a HUGE upward grade.
After a brief stretch on the Harry Byrd Highway, we take a left and stay on Smith Avenue for quite a few miles. It seemed like a gradual, but not daunting, upward grade for most of the way before taking a right as we get to Darlington High School.
One of the nicest stretches of the course was on Williamson Park Drive. The road is roughly the width of the American Tobacco Trail and featured nice scenery on both sides. Next, we took a right on Cashua Street, which took is through a couple of decent hills and to the beautiful downtown area of Darlington and the historic district.
|Here I am running through downtown during the first half of the marathon.|
(Photo courtesy of the Darlington News & Press)
After exiting the downtown area, it was back onto Harry Byrd Highway to run back toward the raceway. At the end of the first half, we took a right before the tunnel while the half-marathoners went through the tunnel toward their finish.
|I make my way toward the tunnel as I finish the first half of the marathon.|
(Photo courtesy of Michael Schilling)
We proceeded through some small roads on the other side of the track, and passed a few huge fields used for parking during NASCAR races. They featured lots of signs to help fans remember where they've parked. They had a number and a letter, but also a picture of a NASCAR legend. That was kind of interesting.
We eventually ran through a side tunnel and back to the infield, through the main tunnel and back out to run basically the half-marathon course a second time. When we ran back through the tunnel at the end of the race, we then ran down pit row before running around the track to the finish line (which was the start/finish line of the Darlington Raceway.)
I walked on and off during that last loop of the raceway. I looked at each of the 3 or 4 men who passed me as I tried to figure out if they looked younger than 50, hoping that I still could snag an age-group award. I actually asked the last guy who passed me if he was younger than 50 and was happy to hear him say yes.
I did indeed finish 3rd in my age group, which tells you 2 things: It pays to get older when you're a runner and this is a small race.
Some age-group awards just aren't that impressive. I remember when you used to always get nice trophies. When I finished 2nd in my age group at the All-American Marathon in May, my award was a water bottle that doesn't even note that this is an award. A nice water bottle. But a water bottle. At Darlington, the award was cheap-looking medal that wasn't as impressive as the finisher medal. And there was no ceremony announcing your name. You just came up to a table and picked up your age-group medal. That did save time, however.
If you need crowds and other runners to motivate you, this is probably not your race. That is, unless you happen to run with certain Marathon Maniacs, as reported in the Florence, S.C., newspaper, the Morning News.) The story does incorrectly say that Elizabeth Withey already was a Maniac. In fact, she qualified as a Maniac in this race. Mentioning that would have made this an even better story. It's a terrific story of the spirit and kindness of Maniacs.
There were very few spectators along the course and the only cheering you heard was at aid stations and from volunteers at some intersections. Although we passed quite a few houses, few residents didn't come out to support the runners. This is a big contrast to a race such as the Outer Banks Marathon.
I had a nearly 3-hour drive back to Durham after the race, so I was delighted to find that there was a shower in the men's bathroom of a building next to pit row. That sure made the drive back more pleasant!
Not my best day at "the track." But this still was a fun race to run.