Ten seconds per mile. That's all I needed.
My negative split plan went all weird after the fourth mile of the Akron Marathon. I told myself to stay patient, don't panic. But I hit the 10-mile mark too fast. My 20-mile split was right on target, and I stayed confident. I told myself to hold on. However, as the final 10-K went uphill, my performance went down hill.
First 10 miles: The plan was to start off with 9:21-9:26 mile pace and hit the 10-mile mark between 1:33:30 and 1:34:20. I knew my first mile or two would probably be slow because of the crowd. I lined up about 30 feet behind the four-hour pacer and planned to stick close to him until things settled. My first two miles were 9:30 and 9:35, but I didn't panic. I just kept close to the pacer and hoped he would help me make up time.
Mile three was 9:59, and I was starting to get antsy. The pacer walked through the next water stop, and I passed him. I heard him say he was 18 seconds behind pace. I tried to keep my pace even and waited for the pacer to retake me, which he did about five minutes later. My fourth mile shocked me: 7:42. I still don't think I was running that fast, and I wonder if the course was a little mismeasured here. Regardless, I tried to back off.
My next mile was 9:18, closer to my goal, but that's as close as I got even though I had let the pace group open a significant gap. I hit the 10-mile mark at 1:31:38, right at my marathon goal pace. Don't panic. I calmed myself by thinking of all your comments, that I was so ready that I wouldn't have to log too many 9:20-ish miles. The clock was almost right at my goal time, so I thought maybe I'd beat four hours gun time. That would be cool, right?
Second 10 miles: The plan was to pick up the pace to 9-9:10 per mile and hit the 20-mile split between 3:03:30 and 3:06:00. Mile 11 contains the demonic Howard Street Hill. I've tried every which way, including loose, to approach to this hill. I don't have an answer for what works. That mile was 9:01, so I backed off and ran the next mile at 9:22. I repeated this pattern -- 9-ish mile, 9:20-ish mile -- for most of the next eight miles.
I made it through the lonely stretches of the Towpath and the difficult uphills of Sand Run (where my legs seized on me last year). I knew I was struggling a bit, but I was relieved to see the clock read 3:03:52 at 20 miles. I was still on target with 9:12 per mile, despite the positive split. Hold on to that feeling.
Final 10-K: The plan was to run all out to finish in less than four hours, which meant 57:07 or less. I didn't get off to a good start, logging the 21st mile at 9:23. It only got worse as I trudged up the Bastard Garman Hill. By the top of it, I had logged my first mile over 10 minutes. I recovered slightly for a 9:25 mile, but then fell off again for a 10:29. A new pattern. An unfortunate pattern.
I already knew I wouldn't make it. I would have had to cover the next 2.2 miles of rolling hills in less than 15 minutes. I grit my teeth and pushed on. By this point, I was audibly talking to myself between grunts: "Come on! ... Go legs! ... Don't stop!" I had no gears left to kick in. I covered the final 10-K in 1:00:55.
The clock read 4:06:xx when I crossed the finish line. My chip time was 4:04:xx. A very significant PR by 18 minutes, but a frustrating 10 seconds per mile too slow for my ultimate goal. Again, I succumbed to Start Too Fast Goblin.
I didn't achieve THE goal, but it's not the end of the world. That was my post-race beverage, along with a couple Duvels and some Sierra Nevada Torpedo.
Thanks to all you imaginary friends in my computerwebs for cheering me on, reading my ramblings, and giving good and bad advice throughout my training. But most of all, thank you to those who were there in person.
I had great race day cheering sections, including my usual group of friends at the 23rd mile marker, my folks and other folks near the finish just before the turn into the stadium, and my biker companion who dropped Martini and I off at the start, cheered me on throughout the whole race, and had my post-race beverage on hand at the finish. It doesn't get better than that.