Monday, November 17, 2014

Potomac River Run Marathon.

Short version: 
I ran a marathon on November 16th. My finish time was 3:21:39, a 32:21 PR. 

tl;dr version:

Prior Races
This was my fourth marathon.  Prior results were
4:29:54, 3:54:51 and 3:53:18. My most recent marathon was Marine Corps Marathon (MCM) in October of 2013.

The Race
The Potomac River Run Marathon is a very small race (capped at 300 runners) held twice each year. The race is held on the C&O Canal National Park towpath. The course begins and ends at the Carderock Recreation Area and consists of a 6.55 mile out and back. Those running the HM run it once, those running the full run it twice.  The trail is mostly flat and smooth except for the occasional rocky patch.  I chose this race primarily because of the location.  I run on the towpath regularly and it is without a doubt my favorite place to run.  There are two access points a short drive from my house. It’s flat, quiet and I really enjoy running under the trees and catching a glimpse of the river every now and then. Although I had never run the section of the trail where the race is, I know the trail very well.

Injury and The Fat
After a disappointing finish at MCM 2013 I learned that I had a couple of what the doctor called “stress reactions” in my left leg.  I had to take some time off to heal and wasn’t able to run regularly until the end of January.  During my layoff I thought a lot about trying to qualify for Boston eventually.  I thought for me to have a decent shot at a BQ I would need two strong training cycles and (most importantly) I needed to lose weight.  I spent the early spring easing back into running but I didn’t do anything about my weight.  I ran a HM in May weighing 187 lbs and did OK but something clicked and I decided to get serious about trimming down.  I didn’t go on a “diet” but I just stopped eating like crap and increased my running a little bit.  Over the next couple months I dropped 20 lbs.

I chose Pfitz 18/55 for the third time.  Unlike in the past I actually followed the plan pretty closely.  I also joined a local running club and started doing group runs with them.  We did long runs on Saturday morning and tempo runs on Tuesday night. The marathon training group was small and consisted mostly of newbies that were running slower than I wanted and a few faster people that I couldn’t keep up with.  There was one lady that wanted to do her long runs a little bit faster than I did so I decided to run with her.  I discovered that I was able to keep up with her just fine and we ended up running a lot together.  On one of our first runs together she told me flat out that she thought I was underperforming and I should target my fall race to try and BQ.

I also picked up a copy of Anatomy for Runners by Jay Dicharry after seeing how much it helped others.  I used the evaluations in that book to identify some areas of weakness and started targeted exercises to work on those.  Between the weight loss and the exercises I had the best training cycle so far. I needed to average 7:50 to get a 3:25 marathon so I ran the MP miles that Pfitz calls for early in the training cycle at 7:35-7:45.  To my surprise, I was able to maintain that pace consistently.  That pace wasn’t easy but felt what I think of as “comfortably hard”.

I have a history of getting injured during marathon training but I thought I had escaped that this time around until right at the tail end of it.  On my last week before taper started, my right Achilles started giving me trouble.  I blame this injury entirely on the fact that I stopped doing the exercise routine from the book. No excuses. I was just tired of fitting it into my schedule as the weekly mileage increased. I believe 100% that if I had stuck with the routine I would not have gotten injured.  The injury wasn’t bad, but painful.  I could run without pain until I got past 12-14 miles and then it would start to ache.  It was also really painful in the morning.  I went back to doing the prolonged stretches (3 minutes on each side) and heel drops but the damage was done.  

Big Mak
A few weeks out I posted on the Facebook page for the race that I was shooting for sub 3:25 and wanted to form an informal pace group.  I didn’t get any response until about a week before the race. A lady asked me what I thought my HM time would be because her daughter was running the race. The race director wanted her to find someone to keep an eye on her because of her age.  Intrigued, I asked a few questions and learned that her daughter is 7 years old and was attempting to break the single digit age world record in the half marathon!  The record time she was trying to beat was 1:41:12 which was right around my targeted HM time.  After exchanging a few messages with her Mom I said I would be happy to run with Makenzie and her older sister (13) for the first half of my race.  Another runner (RS) commented on the thread that she was also running the full marathon with a similar goal as me so we agreed that we would try to meet up before the race.

Race Day
I didn’t sleep well for a couple of nights because of nerves but managed to get a solid 5 hours the night before the race which is pretty good for me.  The race offered two options for start time at either 8:00 or 9:00.  I opted for 9:00 but still got up around 5:00. I ate a bagel and had a cup of coffee to get things moving.  I took care of business a couple times and then took two Immodium tablets at 7:00.  This has worked great for me in the past and it worked again today with no PM attacks during the race.  I packed 6 GU Lemon/Sublime energy gels in my bag.  I planned to take one about 15 minutes before the race and consume 4 more on the course. I kept the 6th one in case I needed it. 

Parking at the start was very limited so the plan was for Cindi to drop me off at about 8:30 and if all went well she would be there with the kids to pick me up at 12:30.  I checked my bag, took a couple of short warm up runs, downed my first energy gel and headed to the start.  I met up with Mak, her sister and her Mom at the start line but couldn’t find RS.  It didn't help that I couldn't remember her bib number!

Timing for the race was old school with no chips.  Just a big clock running and people checking off bib numbers at the turn arounds.  When I got to the start the clock was running and read about 0:50:00. Since they offered an early start for those that wanted it, the 9:00 folks would start when the clock said exactly 1:00:00.  The race director said anyone trying to qualify for Boston or a set a world record (with a wink at Mak) should move to the front of the line so we did.  Some announcements were read, a guy played the Start Spangled Banner on the clarinet and we were off.

First Trip Out
As we started I realized that I forgot to turn on my Garmin! I can’t believe I did something that stupid.  I turned it on but it took a while to sync with the satellite.  Once I got it started I asked another runner how much time had elapsed. I was almost exactly one minute behind.  Once I got over the panic I realized that Mak and her sister were going too fast.  I caught up with them and said something but they weren’t slowing down.  I ran the first couple miles with them but I needed to slow down a little so I let them go.  They pulled ahead but eventually they slowed too and were maybe 150 yards in front of me through most of the first trip out.

I have read that the first few miles of a marathon should feel easy.  I was thinking about that as I was running those first few miles and it didn’t feel easy at all! I thought this meant trouble for my later miles. I also thought about something Shalane Flanagan posted to her FB page the night before “If it isn’t hard, you aren’t dreaming big enough”. Keeping that thought i mind I said screw it, if I blew up then I still had plenty of time to BQ for 2016.  I kept on my target pace but found that I was gradually catching up with Mak and her sister.  

Splits: 7:37, 7:40, 7:48, 7:42, 7:50, 7:47.

First Trip Back
When I got to the turn around I was suddenly right behind Mak and her sister.  Her pace had dropped quite a bit so I said “Hey Mak, it’s time to pick the pace back up just a little. Not all at once but we need to go a little bit faster”.  She said OK and we moved up a little.  Her older sister was really struggling and fell off the pace right away.  I really wanted to tell big sis that she did her job and we would guide her the rest of the way but there wasn't time. I wondered if she was upset that she wasn't able to keep up with Mak and I felt bad for her.  Having two daughters of my own I know that kind of thing can be difficult sometimes.

After hearing me talk, a runner right in front of us asked me if I was Scott and introduced herself as RS.  We exchanged pleasantries and then the three of us started running together.  We stayed on pace for the next couple miles but Mak was starting to have trouble.  We slowed our pace a little but she was still struggling to keep up.  RS and I encouraged her as best we could but there is only so much anyone can do for you out there.  In the end either you can do it or you can't.

After two miles at 7:50+ I needed to make a decision to either stay with her or head out on my own.  I felt very conflicted. On the one hand I had I had my own goal for this race that I had worked toward for the past 18 weeks and on the other hand there was this adorable 7 year old kid working her tail off to try and achieve something incredible. Fortunately, RS made the decision for me.  She told me to go ahead and she would hang back and run her in and try to catch me later.  I picked the pace back up and hoped that Mak and RS would use me as a rabbit to chase.  I turns out that is exactly what they did.  As I neared the HM finish (and turn around point for those of us running the full ) I heard Mak’s mom yelling for her.  I hit the turn around and cheered Mak on as she crossed the finish line.  I learned later that she set the world record by 12 seconds!  Huge props to RS for guiding Mak those last few miles.  I spoke with RS after the race and she told me they both sprinted a few times to reach the finish in time.  I can't imagine doing sprints in the middle of a marathon and still finishing with the time RS had.  She is a very strong runner and was just the person Mak needed to be running with on that particular day.  Some people might say that's a fortunate coincidence, others just say serendipity.

Splits: 7:49, 7:46, 7:51, 7:54, 7:49, 7:49, 7:46
If you look down the trail, you can see Mak coming in for her finish.

Mak and RS. Mak is flying!

Turning off the trail to cross the finish line! 1:40:00 even and a new world record!

I borrowed this pic from Mamma Mak's Facebook page. Is that smile worth a million bucks or what?

Second Trip Out
I missed seeing RS and wasn't sure what happened to her. I guess we must have passed each other while I was watching Mak finish.  I thought about slowing a little to wait for her but decided to just run the second half alone unless she caught up to me.  I passed Mak's sister about a half mile back down the trail and cheered her on.  From there I just got to work and headed back down the trail. I took my third GU at mile 15 and got a nice bump from that.  I decided I would use both of my remaining gels on the way back.  Somewhere in mile 17 or 18 I started to feel confident. 
Splits: 7:40, 7:41, 7:43, 7:43, 7:48, 7:47

Second Trip Back
I hit the turn around and made sure my bib number was called out.  Thanked the volunteers and told myself that all I needed to do was run 7:50's all the way back and I had it in the bag.  The only real problem I had was my vision.  My eyes were filled with gunk and I was having a hard time seeing the trail so I was landing on a lot of pointy rocks that I would ordinarily adjust for.  I was also having a hard time seeing my Garmin.

There is a gradual climb of about 40 feet that starts at mile 25.  You pass 5 canal locks in a little less than a mile. The trail at each of the locks has a little bump and is typically somewhat eroded. The climb itself is nothing but hitting the loose gravel passing the locks is a little extra work.  I ran up that "hill" four times in training so I knew what to expect. Once you get clear of that and pass under the I-495 bridge you have one mile to go.  I was surprised to see that I still had enough energy to run the last mile hard. I passed a lot of people in this stretch, I think most of them were slower runners that started at 8:00.  There were a few that were running at about my pace that I managed to pick off in the last mile.  That felt really good.  One of them was a guy in a Superman t-shirt that I saw several times at the turn arounds during the race.  He had to be at least 6' 5" tall.  So yeah, I beat Superman.

Adidas hat and Mizuno shirt. Is that a fashion no-no?

Crossing the finish and staring in disbelief at the clock.

My Garmin only has the distance as 25.8.  Most of that is from the fact that I forgot to start my watch at the start but not all.  I suspect that running under the trees has something to do with it, but I'm not sure.

Splits: 7:51, 7:49, 7:50, 7:50, 7:49, 7:48, 7:28

I met up with RS at the finish line.  She finished in 3:24:xx.  She said she had me in sight for much of the race but couldn't quite catch up.  It was great running with both her and Big Mak and I hope to get the chance to run with them again.

Post Race:
After the race I called Cindi and she, Logan and Samie picked me up. We drove up to Germantown to meet up with Lauren and Bryan at Cafe Rio where I inhaled a chicken quesadilla and some chips.

My Achilles is pretty messed up right now, a bit more than 24 hours later.  It's very sore and painful to walk on.  On the good side the rest of my legs don't feel too bad.  I'll take at least a week off from running and then try to ease back into it slowly.