And now, the short story made long.
I Need a Medic!
The parking for the Towpath Marathon and the starting line were much farther apart than anticipated, about a quarter-mile. And of course, I was running late and therefore running there. However, I could have avoided this predicament.
Martini and I were walking toward the start at about 7:55 a.m., and the man in the golf cart was driving back and forth between the start and the parking area, yelling through a bull horn that the race was about to begin. Just then I realized I had forgotten to tape the nips.
For a moment I considered running without protection, but Martini brought me to my senses, which is a good thing because it wasn't pretty the last time I raced without taped nipples.
So, with only a few minutes to spare before race time, I jogged back to the parking area, where the ambulances were, to ask a paramedic for tape. Usually, I prefer to warm up during the first few miles of a marathon, but instead I warmed up running back to the start.
Some other runners asked me as I passed them, "How far away is the start?" I told them I had no idea.
I had somehow managed to convince Martini that the negative split was a good plan, so we planned to run together for as long as possible, keeping each other in check for the early, slow miles.
Oddly, my right ankle felt wonky for the first three miles, but I ran it out. Overall, I was in good spirits and feeling strong. We linked up with a young woman who had goals similar to mine ("I'd like to come in under four hours, but I'll be happy with 4:15," she said), and when we told her we were attempting a negative split race, she said, "That's what I do."
The three of us ran together for the next 10 miles, forming our own little pace group when two others latched onto us. We hit the halfway mark at 2:02, feeling good about our 9:20 per mile pace.
Our five-runner group started to break up at the next aid station. The experienced negative splitter dropped us when Martini and I walked to drink our water, and we in turn dropped the other two runners when we started up again.
Our negative split plan was predicated on the two-thirds rule. That is, we'd run comfortably for the first two-thirds of the race and then pick up the pace for the final third, at the 17th mile marker.
However, I started to fade before then. Part of the reason, I think, is because we started to pick up the pace a little too soon. While we ran the first half at a 9:20 pace, we started clocking consistent sub-9:10s immediately afterward. One of my fastest miles (at 9:00) was mile 15, which concluded at the site of the finish line, where the biggest crowd was. My cheering section, apparently, amped me up.
Martini started to separate from me just before our two-thirds mark. I saw him look back for me when he passed the marker, probably intending to say it was time to kick it up. He started to gain on the experienced negative splitter. Meanwhile, I started logging slower and slower miles.
Regrouping to Finish
My last sub-10:00 mile was the 18th at 9:38, but the next mile smashed me in the mouth. Mile 19 was my last sub-11:00 mile. I was starting to feel the wear and tear. Had I not decided to switch to Nitmos's War of Posts method, I probably would have been fine. But as it was, I saw my four-hour goal slip away.
However, I still had other goals and challenges to meet. And thankfully, I had my lucky PR charm at the race, and I knew that I'd set a new personal best if I just kept it together from point to point. Regardless, those last miles were a slog-fest.
From there, I did my best to stop focusing on the way my body felt. Instead, I started paying attention to the other runners.
Miles Per Character
The old man and the lean: I had passed him so long ago that I'm not sure what mile it was. But approaching the next mile marker, I heard a voice at my left ear. "Twenty miles and I finally passed someone," the old man said. He hobbled past me in the same leaning shuffle he'd been running with since I had passed him before. I wish I could tell you I regrouped to re-pass him, but chalk him up as another old-timer who's faster than I am.
Martini and the experienced negative splitter: After mile 21, I saw Martini again -- going the other direction -- and he had caught up to the young woman we were running with earlier. They looked strong and we exchanged motivational shouts. (Martini ended up finishing behind her but still under four hours.)
Delusional first-timer: On the final leg of the marathon, with about 3.5 miles to go, I passed a young man walking. I must have motivated him to run again because he crept up behind me, and I heard him chirp, "Don't worry, man. We got this." I think those words were more for him than for me, but I kept up the conversation. He was running his first marathon and was a student at my alma mater. He asked what my goal was, and I told him four hours, but I'd be happy with 4:25. "And I think we're on a good pace to beat that," I added. He agreed and said, "Yeah, I think we're doing about a 3:50." I didn't have the heart to tell him that we'd be lucky to hit 4:10, which I was still on pace for at that time. Soon aferward, he fell behind.
A slower old-timer for once: Around mile 24, I came upon a older man who kept alternating running and walking, running and walking. As I came alongside him, he looked at his watch and said, "I'm supposed to be finishing right now. I don't think I'm doing too good." I told him he was doing great and to stop worrying. Apparently, I was Mr. Motivational again. He started running to pass me, and then I passed him as he slowed down to a walk. He refused to stay passed, but after a few more attempts to stay ahead of me, he fell behind for good.
To the Beer Tent!
I managed to pass a few more people before the finish, which makes me feel like the negative split is possible. (Take note, Vanilla.) I just need to practice it more.
One nice thing about a small race is the announcer has time to look up your number and call out your name. I crossed the finish with 4:23-something on the clock, and didn't stop my watch until 4:24:16. I'm still awaiting official chip-time results. Either way, it's a new PR.
I walked around in a daze for a few minutes. I had managed to keep running for a lot more of this marathon than my previous two. I felt the slight tinge of disappointment for not hitting my ultimate goal, but then let it wash away as I considered the race and the goals and challenges I had set for myself.
- Break four hours: Not this time. Result: FAIL!
- PR: I held it together. Result: Success
- Find a race strategy that works for me: I had more in the tank during those final few miles than I had in my previous Akron experiences. Martini's success and meeting someone else who was using the negative split approach and succeeded in her goals makes me feel like I too can pull it off with some more practice. Result: Success
- Enjoy another run in the park: The Towpath is usually very nice, but this weekend the leaves were in full color-change mode. Those trees were beautiful. Maybe too beautiful. In fact, they probably slowed me down! Bastards! But I guess it was a nice run. Result: Success
- Leggo my ego: As soon as I knew four hours was out of reach, I let it go and regrouped to acheive my next time goal. Result: Success
- Run the best race possible: I PR-ed didn't I? Result: Success
- Be satisfied with the result no matter the number: I admit I had some feelings of disappointment at the end, but I quickly got over it. I took comfort in the fact that I've now PR-ed at every distance I've raced this year. Result: Success
All in all, I'm happy I ran the Towpath Marathon. It was a nice race and well-organized. However, I'm not sure I'll do it again. (Certainly not if I run a marathon two weeks before.) The out-and-back course got really crowded near the the turnarounds and the finish area was a bit jumbled. But it's a very nice small race with a very scenic route. The volunteers were great and the spectators, though few in number, were mighty in spirit.
Thank you, everyone who dropped by to wish me luck for this weekend. Cheers!