Thursday, November 11, 2010

Race Recap: City of Oaks Marathon

DARTer Matt Williams, along with DARTers Terry Ake and Tim Richter recently completed the City of Oaks Marathon in Raleigh, NC.  Below Matt recaps his experience.  To check out all of Matt's posts, to go Matt's blog.  Great job, guys!

The Whole Marathon

The City of Oaks Marathon is coupled with a half marathon which probably had three times as many runners, something over 2000. A race photographer was getting some candid shots at the starting area. I asked him to get a picture of my two running buddies and me. We lined up and he took the shot and then said, "That's great. And wow, you guys are doing the whole marathon!"
We promptly found our way to a comfortable spot fairly near the front of the pack. Each of us had different time goals. Although I knew Tim, my main running partner for this training, was capable of keeping up with me, he wanted to run a bit more conservatively. His BQ goal was about 20 minutes slower than mine, so he had less pressure.
With little fanfare, we were off. My plan was to stay as close to the 7:20 pace for as long as possible with a BQ goal of 7:26 overall pace. The first six miles took us through downtown Raleigh and around the state capitol before heading west. The hills through this section were short and rolling. And because it was early in the race they were not difficult. I had eaten one gel a little before the start, and took another just before mile 6. I also took water or sports drink at each station. I liked doing that because I never got majorly thirsty and didn't feel like I had to gulp down a lot each time. A few ounces every two miles was plenty without getting the sloshy stomach.
The first six mile splits were 7:23, 7:13, 7:11, 7:18, 7:26, 7:31. Predominantly uphill miles make themselves obvious.
There were not a lot of spectators, just a few pockets here and there. And then there was the occasional random person alone, giving supportive words as runners went by. One such spectator offered me the words every marathoner at about mile 8 hopes to hear, "Enjoy your day!" Heh, yea, maybe in about 18 more miles.
Miles 6 - 12 were uneventful and less hilly: 7:20, 7:23, 7:14, 7:16, 7:17, 7:11.
The next three miles were primarily uphill. I had taken a Gu in preparation for this and it powered me past several fading runners. Fortunately it allowed me make a final pass of one particular guy that had been passing me on downhills and falling back on uphills. The worst thing he did was cut right in front of me in order to get to a gel packet hand-off. He did so just as I was taking a drink of water and caused me to inhale instead of swallow and thus I was coughing and hacking for the next quarter mile. But I'm a nice guy - especially if you're behind me - so I let it go.
At the top of that hill my amazing wife and three children were waiting to cheer me on. "Go Daddy Go!" I was on a high - partly because I had finished a long climb and partly because I felt good and was about to hit mile 15. At this point the course entered Umstead State Park and changed from roads to trails. It is a wide, smooth trail of fine gravel and lined by fall colored trees. In fact, while riding the high and hitting a long downhill I hit my fastest mile.

Just before mile 15, feeling good.
At the bottom of that I crossed a bridge over a creek and then hit a wall. Not "the wall," but a very steep, short climb. Ouch. But it leveled out and eventually went back down for a bit. A little after the 17 mile mark, The Climb began. Except for a couple of short sections that either leveled or went downhill, The Climb lasted for the next 4 miles. I suppose if you were to go for a 5 or 6 mile run that included this section it would not be so bad, but doing it after 17 previous not-so-flat miles was a challenge. One web site course review claimed that this hill brought him to a walk.
Miles 13 - 18 splits: 7:19, 7:30, 7:19, 7:03 (fastest), 7:30. My overall average was right about 7:20 at this point.
I ate a mint chocolate gu just before The Climb, again timing the gels well. I never like to drop my trash just anywhere, I usually hold it until a water station, sometimes changing which hand is holding it. A few minutes after eating it I look at my hands and they have chocolate all over them. I didn't empty the packet very well and managed to squeeze the remainder out without knowing it. I tried to lick some of it off but couldn't get them very clean. I avoided wiping them on my white top. When the trail exited the park there was a water station where I managed to drink a little and use the rest to rinse my hands.
At that park exit there was a barricade that we were funneled around and then the water station volunteers lined a narrow path just after. I started thinking, "Sweet, this is just like a finish line. I can stop now." But I couldn't and didn't. There was a short downhill but the climbing was far from over. My pace slowed as did a few other runners that I managed to pass. Near the end of this climb I again saw my wife and kids cheering me on. Some more "Go Daddy Go!" shouts are just what I needed to get the rest of the way up The Climb. They were such troopers to drive around and wait in the cold for me to run by.

Around mile 20, feeling not as good.
Miles 19 - 22 (end of climb) splits: 7:24, 7:44, 7:33, 7:29. The overall average was rising, 7:22 now.
I turned left onto Hillsborough (the least hilly road) for the remaining miles which were primarily flat and downhill. But thank goodness that left turn yielded a headwind to keep these miles from being easy. My legs were beginning to complain more and more at this point. My quads and calves were saying, "Stop! Walk! Please?" I passed some half-marathon walkers who were just happily going along, chatting with their friends and enjoying themselves. Some would shout encouraging words as I went by. I just wanted to see the next right turn which meant less wind, downhill and the last 2 miles.
I made that right turn, and tried to pick up the pace on the downhill, but the legs were not having it. I looked at my time and calculated that if I could just keep it under 8 minute miles I should be able to make the 3:15 time goal. I had not stopped or walked once so far, but my legs were winning their desire to walk. Just after mile 25, on a slight uphill, I gave in and walked, but only for a few seconds. "Just keep running," I thought. I noticed my stride had majorly shortened. I was doing more of a shuffle and could only manage a 9:30+ minute pace. Another short rise in the road and I slowed to a walk again. I didn't care about the BQ time anymore. Ok, maybe I did, but these short little uphills were hurting me badly.
Miles 23 - 25: 7:35, 7:36, 7:50. My average pace had already crept up to about 7:25.
Then I heard a voice from behind. I recognized it without looking. It was my running partner Tim shouting, "Come on Matt! You can still do it!" I glanced back and started to run again. It hurt, but I knew I had to give it everything I could. Tim soon came up beside me and said, "I'm not passing you. You're going to do this." We pushed around the last couple of turns and even passed another runner. Tim reminded me that the Boston Qualification has the 59 second grace, so I had until 3:15:59 to qualify.
We reached the top of the downhill finish. One -half mile to go, downhill. My Garmin time was 3:11:38. I felt like I was flying. The pace was not necessarily super fast, but I was giving it all I had. My mind went back to the 800 meter track workouts. My legs would scream to stop on those. "Just slow down," they would say. But I couldn't and didn't. The marker for mile 26 went by - less than a quarter mile. I could see the banner over the finish line.
Mile 26 split was 7:57. It included the walking, but the downhill balanced it out.
The crowds started cheering as we got closer to the finish. I saw my wife and kids again. I think I was happy, but there was too much pain to realize it or show it. I was entirely focused on crossing that timing mat and of course, stopping my Garmin. Tim, who was obviously feeling a bit better than me, must have thought some more crowd cheering would help. He pumped his arms and shouted to the crowd, "The two best looking guys right here!" They loved it and cheered louder.
A few weeks ago, Tim and I had agreed that we did not need to run together in this marathon. I had said we may be together for a while, but will split up at some point. I even said, "I don't feel like we have to cross the finish line holding hands." Instead, we did not run together for almost the whole marathon until the last ten minutes. We crossed the finish line side by side.

Tim and I bringing it home.
The last two tenths of a mile were at a 7:10 pace. My official finish time was3:15:13 for an overall average pace of 7:26. Immediately after crossing Tim said, "You did it! You got that BQ!" We hugged for a second and got our medals.
I could barely walk and laid down on the first patch of grass I found. A race volunteer said, "You don't want to do that. Keep moving." She pulled me up and Tim helped me hobble to the food tent where I grabbed a water. I slowly walked around, saw my wife and kids again and began to take it in. It was done. I had finished the whole marathon. Some water, half of a banana (shouldn't whole marathoners get a whole banana?), and two pieces of pizza later and I was feeling better.
My wife got me in line for a massage. It hurt, but helped. The best part about it was simply being able to lay down.

On the massage table.
After that I met back up with Tim and Terry, our other running partner who beat his time goal of 4 hours by about 8 minutes. He looked great.

Matt, Terry and Tim, the Whole Marathoners.

The kids who helped me through with their "Go Daddy Go!" shouting.
When I first considered attempting for a BQ I had calculated the needed pace of 7:26. I thought about that number a lot. My work computer password has 7:26 in it. I would even do a double take if a digital clock read 7:26. A couple of recent races and long runs had me thinking this pace would be attainable, maybe even beatable. But the course drive through we did the day before and the hills we discovered had me worried. I knew I needed to aim for 7:20 and hope that I'd have a little time to spare if troubles came. That is exactly what happened. I wonder if I had just run with Tim would I have felt stronger at the end. He probably had more even splits overall. Regardless, I finished with that 7:26 and that BQ.

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