Sunday, March 18, 2012

Important rule of marathoning: Always respect The Wall

Courtesy of, the above table shows how my times
compare to other runners in my age group. The third column shows the
fastest times for runners in my age group. 
Executive summary: Marathon No. 27 and Tobacco Road Marathon No. 3 wasn't my best, but given the virus I dealt with in February, a 3-hour, 48-minute, 8-second finish (18th out of 67 in my age group) wasn't bad. After coming in at 3:42:13 in the inaugural TRM in 2010, I had a frustrating 3:50:56 time in 2011 and was a little better than that today.

I had been looking forward to this race for a while. It was my first marathon since my little heart scare last spring. I was eager to put that episode behind me and show that the marathons can and will keep coming and that it still can be fun. Was I too old to still run a PR?

I always had heard that when you taper two weeks before the marathon, the lack of training won't hurt your marathon performance because your conditioning will only fall after two or three weeks. That adage seemed ominous when I came down with a virus four weeks before race day. I lost five running days and seemingly the only breathing exercise I got during that time was coughing. The timing wasn't very good, but certainly could have been worse.

There was more to worry about last week when the forecast suggested a humid race day with high temperatures in the 70s. Fortunately, that didn't pan out and it was pleasantly overcast, in the high-50s with even a bit of a cool breeze at times. It was a bit humid, but not that bad and I hydrated aggressively Saturday.

Without a firm race plan since I wasn't confident about my conditioning, I tried to shoot for mile splits between 8:15 and 8:30 with moderate success as you can see above.

At the 20-mile mark -- otherwise known as The Wall -- I had just consumed my second packet of Gu and chased it with a cup of Gatorade in addition to taking an Advil.

I was feeling pretty good at that point and wasn't happy with a couple of recent 9-minute miles. I suddenly channeled the referees in the UNC Asheville-Syracuse game and made the wrong call.

Since the race starts and finishes at the USA
Baseball Complex, my race number seemed
appropriate: Same as the number of regular-
season games MLB teams play.
Video review wouldn't help, either.

I decided that I felt so good that I should be able to race the last six miles. Why? I hate surrendering to survival mode at the end and sinking to the mentality of just worrying about finishing.

I figuring the best way to do that was to play the +/- game: It goes up 1 when I pass another runner and down 1 when a runner passes me. I passed 12 runners and put up an 8:25 21st mile, my fastest since an 8:21 in mile 13.

That didn't quite put me into the dreaded survival mode, but I simply used too much energy and it showed the rest of the way when I only had one sub-9-minute mile.

My +/- got up to 21 by the end of the race but mile 21 doomed me to some frustratingly slow miles at the end, where I got the largest of my 27 marathon medals. The second-largest was last year's TRM medal.

This medal is nearly 4 inches in diameter.
This really has become my home marathon and that's why I've run it all three years of its existence (although I lived in Virginia in 2010). It is so nice to sleep in your own bed the night before the marathon and to save the money and travel hassles of long drives, flights and hotel rooms.

The race had to deal with some adversity that led the start to be delayed 15 minutes last year. Many runners still missed the start because of issues with buses, and their drivers getting lost. A lot of races wouldn't be able to recover from that setback, but the TRM folks have come back strong.

Last year's issues obviously made runners paranoid. I again bought a parking pass so that I didn't have to take the bus. I arrived at the same time as last year, but instead of a parking place right next to the start, I ended up in bumper-to-bumper traffic for 30 minutes and had to park in an auxiliary lot. I parked an hour before the 7 a.m. race start.

The new course this year is more to my liking.

Just like the first two years, the race started and finished at the USA Baseball Complex and ran up to the American Tobacco Trail. Unlike the previous years, the 2012 course had an up-and-back on the ATT toward Durham County, then an up-and-back the other direction before backtracking the path from the start to the ATT.

There are some hills during that stretch between the trail and the baseball complex, but most of the last mile is downhill. There is a cruel little uphill stretch for the last 100 yards, but it's not too bad.

If you need huge crowds and big-city sights to keep you motivated, this isn't the race for you. There are small pockets of spectators scattered along the course, but it's flat and the course support is good.

Much of the trail is hard-packed dirt, which is much easier on your legs and knees than asphalt.

Where else can you go to a race and see a llama every year? There's a guy who obviously lives near the course who stands next to the trail with his llama cheering on the runners. The first year I saw it, I couldn't believe it and asked. Sure enough, it's a llama.

One runner was was dressed as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle and I saw a couple of guys running without shoes on.

One request I've had many times: I don't know who came up with the idea that a spectator loudly ringing cowbells would make runners happy. But I'd like to have a discussion with them! The only thing that loud cowbells do for me is make me want to run faster so that I get away from them!

Other than that, I have no complaints about this marathon and plan to be back next year. And  maybe I can get through next February without coming down with a virus!

1 comment:

  1. I like your +/- game, if nothing more than something to keep your mind off the last few miles. I'll definitely try it in my next race!