Sunday, March 7, 2010

In the Zone at the Little Rock marathon

Enjoying a beer after the race

I woke this morning with a determined calm and a feeling that it was going to be a good day. I don't know why - my foot injury and family commitments have prevented me from putting in much mileage, and I haven't run a really good fast marathon for quite some time.

But something told me this was going to be my day. Several friends had sent me encouraging emails over the last week, and I had another secret weapon I could call upon - my lucky shirt!!!

This was the $7 running shirt from Wal Mart that had seen me strongly through my first 100k, my first 100 miler and had taken me to massive PRs at both marathon and 50 mile distances. I have never run badly while wearing this shirt, and hoped it still had some magic in it.

I left the hotel to walk the mile or so to the start line and got talking with a guy called Phil who was a member of the 50 States marathon club. We chatted about this and that, and we both remarked that the temperature was worrying mild - not good for running a marathon as we expected temps to rise rapidly once the sun came up.

I got to the start line and made my way to corral B (I was seeded in a high corral based on some race results from early last year when I was running really well). I got talking to the 3:40 pace leader who was an interesting fellow. The first thing I noticed were his tatty shoes - lots of holes where his toes stuck out. Surprise surprise, he was a trail runner.

He didn't believe in negative splits, so was going to go out fast for the first half and then pull back. I figured that worked for me, so I decided to run with him for a while.

But strangely, the 8:16 pace seemed a little too easy, so after about a mile of holding myself back I took off and caught the 3:30 pacers. One of them was explaining that the course was actually 26.4 miles since to be a Boston qualified course it has to be 1% longer than the advertised 26.2. I'd never heard that before, but the 26.4 distance was borne out exactly by my Garmin.

Anyone else ever heard this?

Anyway, I ran with these guys for a few miles and was hitting 7:40-7:50 miles. I had decided beforehand not to run with any handhelds or gels, so I kept stopping at the water stops and walking through them as I drank, then chasing the pacers down again. I did this for about 3 miles before I wondered why I was doing it and decided to just run my own race.

This was the best decision of the day because I very quickly dropped into the zone. That hasn't happened for a while and it was a great feeling - that mystical place where your body and mind are completely in sync. I had a great rhythm going, and it seemed I was slightly detached from myself - just watching the pavement speed by as I ran.

I was knocking off regular 8 minute miles and they seemed extremely comfortable. According to the results page I went through 10k in 49:55, and I figured I'd just go for it until the lack of miles in my legs told.

The race passed right by our hotel at mile 8.5 and 9, but I was going much faster than I'd anticipated so Nancy and the boys weren't there yet. But they did pop up at mile 12.5 - I veered off, dispatched 3 quick kisses and was on my way again.

I was in a very chatty mood and was having a great time - I danced to the music that was playing along the course, encouraged all the early starters as I passed them, and bantered with the volunteers and the spectators.

I went through the half marathon distance in 1:46:07.

Then the hills began.

There was one in particular that started just after mile 13 and climbed solidly for 3 miles. Although my pace dropped into the 8:30s, I found that I was also reeling people in and felt very strong. I wondered again how far my legs would last, but when I reached the top there were some fun downhills that I flew down. I did my airplane impressions as I went and was enjoying myself - all smiles.

I remember one aid station in particular that was decked out in an Irish theme. I put on a stage Irish accent and called out something silly like "kiss me quick, I'm Irish".

That was the only aid station I actually stopped at, but it was well worth it!!!

At mile 18 we turned onto a straight road that was a big out-and-back. This was the worst bit of the course - I had enjoyed the challenge of the hills, but this was just boring. It went straight ahead for over 2.5 miles and never seemed to end. I'm sure my pace suffered here, just because it was so mindless. I kept telling myself "don't let it go" over and over - I synced the chant to my cadence and it kept me in the mid-8s.

I eventually hit the turnaround at mile 20.75 and the run back seemed to go by much quicker. I kept repeating "don't let it go" all the way to the finish line, except for one place.

That was at mile 25. We took a left turn and there was a big hill stretching ahead of us. I laughed and changed my chant to "you bastards"!!!

But the fishing rod was out and I was still reeling folks in. And then I realized that my legs had never given out and weren't going to - I still had plenty left in the tank and I was about to run a really good, fairly effortless marathon.

I zoomed through downtown and crossed the finish line in 3:38:28. A year ago when I was running really well, I could run a marathon and feel like I'd just done a 5k. I was pleasantly surprised to recapture that feeling.

And it felt good.

I got my super big medal and complementary beer, then met up with the family. Gavin had been a really good boy all day, and he wanted daddy to carry him back to the hotel. I was feeling great with zero soreness, so up on my back he went and we galloped away, bantering and having a great time.

I got some very strange looks from several other finishers who were doing the Frankenstein walk, but I had run a really smart race, kept my energy at a constant level and never really lit up the afterburners. I wasn't sore at all.

I really enjoyed this race, and it seemed as if the whole city had embraced it. The course could have been ready made for me - plenty of twists and turns to keep it interesting and some nice hills in the second half.

Not quite a PR, but maybe the most enjoyable marathon I've ever run - for the first time in a long while my head was completely in the game. I had fun the whole way (with the possible exception of the boring out-and-back), never bonked and really enjoyed myself. Everything about it was so well done and I'd love to come back and run it again (though as Gavin starts school this year that probably won't happen). Does make me want to sign up for another marathon though.

Kudos to the lucky shirt.

We went out for beer and pizza tonight (well, just pizza for Gavin and Dylan, though Gavin did have a sip of daddy's beer) and little Dylan is just about out on his feet, so it looks like we're in for the night.

I think we'll all sleep well tonight.

Tomorrow we leave Little Rock for our cabin in the woods at Petit Jean State park. In the meantime here are a few photos from today.

with Gavin at the hotel on race morning

Mile 12.5

relaxing with Dylan on the balcony after the race

Nancy and Dylan


Derek said...

Great race and love the medal; you always seem to run the ones that have huge medals. Enjoy the rest of your vacation!

johnt said...

congrats dude, thats a hellva run. good story too.

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Ashlee Wetherington said...

Congrats on a fantastic race! You are just amazing... I can't imagine ever even running a marathon, and you compare it to a 5k! Your boys are just adorable :)

DavidH said...

Awesome Mark! Sorry for not responding sooner, I have been behind on my feeds.

What a well executed day. It had to feel good. Nice pics as well. Quite a fish lure around the neck. :)