I attended the pre-race carbo dinner the night before the big day. The guest speaker Bob Schwartz, author of "I Run, Therefore I Am -- Nuts!” made the dinner worthwhile as he entertained us with his hilarious running quotes. After dinner I headed back to my hotel. I laid out the race clothes, but before doing so I tuned in to the weather channel. I knew it was supposed to be cold. Cold? More like freezing! Forecast was 20 degrees at the start (8am). When I ran Austin earlier in the year I froze just wearing shorts and a singlet. Remembering how painful it was, I decided to wear a long sleeve coolmax underneath my singlet along with some throw away gloves (which was never thrown away) and a beanie.
I like to run the first few miles of the marathon a little slower than goal pace to warm up then settle into goal pace. When the gun went off a pack of about 10 runners took off at what was probably 5:30-5:40 pace. There was the lead pack, a couple runners about 15 seconds behind them, and then me and 3 other runners about another 15 seconds behind. I ran along with the 3 runners and we came across mile 1 in 6:13. It was only mile 1 and my toes and fingers were already starting to feel numb. I didn't want to fall behind very much so I began increasing the pace a little to get into some type of rhythm. It didn't seem like the 3 runners were willing to set the pace, so I decided to do it. We ran the next five miles in 5:59, 5:58, 5:57, 5:57, & 6:01 with the 10k at 37:15. If I didn't set the pace we probably would have continued to run around 6:10 pace. I started to hear an increase of breathing in a couple of the runners.
Mile 7 was a slight down slope which was the cause of a 5:51 split. Right after the mile 7 marker we ran through a tunnel for about 50 meters. This caught me by surprise. It almost seemed like someone had turned off the lights and then turned it back on. Once you're out of the tunnel it is a gradual incline for about 3/4 of a mile. I tried to run with the same effort and not the same pace. A 6:03 8th mile on a gradual incline was a little too much for the guys running with me. Using my peripheral vision on a turn, I could see that the guys were slowly fading. I had to make a decision at that point. I either slow the pace and let the runners catch up to me so that we can work together or leave them and begin working my way up to the next group, a couple guys about 50 meters ahead. I knew the guys slightly behind me were not going to sustain a sub-6:00, so I began working my way up to the next group. Let me tell you, 50 meters sounds easy to make up, but it damn sure isn't when the guys you're trying to catch are running the same pace as you.
Miles 9-13 are fairly flat and on a long stretch of highway. Just when I thought the 2 runners were coming back to me, they would put in a little surge to maintain a lead (at least that's what I thought). Just before mile 12 I encountered a side-stitch on my right ribcage. I couldn't believe this was happening to me. I was fighting hard to get rid of it, breathing in and holding it and then contracting the abs. The thought of my race going down the drain crossed my mind. I regrouped, and tried to stay focus and positive while fighting the side-stitch, which finally went away midway through the 12th mile. I'm not sure what the cause of it was. I had been taking in fluids alternating water and gatorade every 2-3 miles. I also took in a gel at mile 10. My splits for miles 9-13 were 5:55, 5:58, 5:57, 5:59, and 5:59. During that stretch of 5 miles, I thought of just running a fast mile (probably 5:48 - 5:50) to catch up to the 2 runners. I decided not to because we still had lots of running left.
After reaching the half-way mark at 1:18:28, I put in a little surge to catch the guys. I asked them what kind of time they were shooting for. Both said that they wanted to break 2:40. I said "shit, you guys have been running 2:37 pace the last 13 miles and shouldn't have a problem meeting that goal". One of the guys decided to back off of the pace after we hit miles 14 and 15 in 5:54 and 5:55. George, who I ended up running most of the 2nd half with, and I worked together taking turns setting the pace. George is from the Huntsville area, so he knew the course by heart. He was very helpful in letting me know when a turn was coming up and also when there was a gradual incline.
Miles 16 & 17, which we hit in 6:04 & 6:05, was a gradual incline. I was still feeling good at this point and had no problems with the next 3 miles (5:57, 6:00, & 6:00). My 20-mile split was 1:59:44, still on 5:59 pace. About a half mile into mile 21, which was also a slight incline, the legs started to feel a little heavy. I knew at that point that I needed to begin digging deep. A 6:09 & 6:08 split for miles 21 & 22 put me at 2:12:01, exactly 6:00 pace. George was still feeling good and he ended up leaving me. I thought to myself, all I have to do is run 6:00 pace for the last 4.2 miles and I’ll end up with a low 2:37 and a PR. Of course, I knew that wasn’t going to happen after working very hard only to run 6:08 for the previous mile. As the last few miles slowly came along, the legs began to feel heavier and heavier. Checking my splits became as painful as how the legs were feeling.
Miles 23-25 were 6:23, 6:29, & 6:41. These 3 miles seemed to take forever. It felt like I had nothing left in me. I still had one gel (I took 1 at mile 10 & 17) left, so I decided to use it at mile 23. I tried to pull the gel out of my pocket around mile 22, but that became a difficult task and I said screw it. Well, when I got to mile 23 I realized that I really needed the gel. I think the gel may have kicked in around the last mile because I started to feel a little strength in the legs. After hitting 6:29 for the last mile, I knew I was going to come in under 2:40. A spectator at the 26th mile mark said I was 9th overall. This actually made me feel better because I was seeded number 11.
All in all, I was somewhat disappointed with my time, but satisfied with my performance. I know for a fact that I left everything on the course. Thoughts of whether I should have held back a little cross my mind, but I don’t regret a thing. This race will serve as a motivation to train harder and run faster.