Sunday, December 11, 2011

Going Country at the BCS Marathon

It's been a strange running year for me, as I find myself arriving at December having completed none of the races I have run this year.  I DNFed at the Rocky Raccoon 100 miler in February, and dropped to the half marathon in San Antonio last month, so I had a little something to prove with my last race of the year.

On the other hand, this was not really a goal race - that particular honor goes to Boston this coming April - and my training has been sorely lacking in both mileage and distance.  Add in a niggling pain behind my left knee that just refuses to go away, and let's just say I was more than a little nervous about this race.

So with the whole family in tow, we rolled into College Station yesterday afternoon and picked up my packet at the race hotel.  The race is in it's first year, and you always gamble a bit when you run an inaugural event like this, but I'd been feeling really good about it from the fantastic feeling of community they'd cultivated on social sites like Facebook.  I hoped it wouldn't disappoint, and it didn't.  Everything from packet pickup to the race itself went super smoothly, was run very professionally and yet still kept the personal feel of a small town event.  Huge kudos to the RD, race organizers and volunteers who did an outstanding job with no small amount of Texas humor thrown in for good measure.

For the record, the event was capped at 1500 runners - there would be 500 marathoners and 1000 half-marathoners.  I do enjoy these smaller races.

So after checking into our hotel, we drove around Nancy's old college town and marveled at all the things that had changed.  We ended up in a local Mexican restaurant for supper, where I made a complete pig of myself and ate way too much - probably more fat loading than carb loading, but what the heck.  I polished off a bowl of chips with the yummy green salsa that is native to East Texas, ate my super burrito, and then finished off Gavin's, Dylan's and Nancy's meals.

Yeah, like I said, a complete pig.  Getting up from the table was quite a challenge.

Gavin the chip king

After supper, we all felt the need to walk it off so we headed out to the Texas A&M campus to explore. The boys had a great chance to run around and really tire themselves out, and we spent an enjoyable few hours wandering about and playing before retiring to the hotel and hitting the sack.  I watched the Republican debate for a while (which was as hilarious as ever) before falling asleep.

Future Aggies?
Race morning dawned nice and cold (43F at the start), and I decided to hold back a bit in the first few miles and see how I felt.  I kept it around 7:50 pace and tried to ignore all the people who were passing me (it was hard).

I had decided to use the mental trick of splitting the race down into five 5-mile segments, which I imagined as 5 separate midweek runs.  I wasn't feeling it on the "Monday" segment.  What I was feeling was the pain behind my left knee, and I feared it was going to be a long day.

I had 3 gels which I had planned on using at 6, 12 and 18 miles.  As "Tuesday" dawned, I still wasn't feeling it, and the field had thinned considerably when the  half-marathoners split off at mile 4.  But I took the first gel at mile 6, and suddenly at mile 7 I found my mojo.  The pain in my leg had numbed itself by this point, and I slotted quickly into the groove, dropped my pace down to the 7:40s, and started pulling back a lot of the folks who had passed me earlier.

By "Wednesday", I was knocking off sub-7:30 miles that felt so much easier than the earlier ones, even though they were into the wind and uphill.  I had gotten to a place when I had distanced the runners behind me, but those ahead of me were not getting any closer, so I had my little slot of solitude.

And let me talk about the hills and the wind for a moment.  The race surprised me by the number of hills it had (especially in the last few miles).  That's not a bad thing (I do need to do a lot more hillwork for Boston), and none of them were huge, but there were a lot of rollers and it caught me a little by surprise.

And the wind - it seemed for a while that no matter how many turns we made, we were still running into it.  Still, I'll take that over humidity any day, and twice on Sundays!!!

According to the unofficial results, I got through the half marathon in 1:41:07 (7:43 pace).

The aid stations were populated by very enthusiastic volunteers, and as I ran up to each I made the sign of the inverted longhorn, which netted me a lot of cheers.  When I also added in the "sawing off the horns" motion, the cheering got much louder.

Apologies to all my Austin friends (well, not really - hahaha)!!!

The middle portion of the race was run along country roads, with very little in the way of spectators.  That wasn't a problem for me because I usually try to block out the sounds of the spectators anyway, but it can make keeping on pace a little difficult.  I slipped a little, but found that somehow I had started reeling in many of the runners ahead of me.

"Thursday" (miles 15-20) saw me eventually chase down several of the runners ahead of me.  I picked off a few, and was feeling really strong.  As we ran through campus, I had an interesting experience with a car which came barreling out of one of the garages.  I had to slam to a complete stop to avoid being hit.  It didn't stop, and as it swerved out into the street and sped off at a ridiculous speed, I had to bite back the urge to send it on its way with a few choice words it would probably not be wise to yell in the middle of the Texas A&M campus!!!

According to the unofficial results, I hit 20 miles in 2:36:04 (7:48 pace).

However, around here I accelerated to pass another runner, and felt a sudden bolt of pain all the way down my left leg, which then seized up on me.  I stumbled, but managed to keep upright and immediately backed off the pace.

I ran through my checklist to make sure everything was still functional, and it was, but that gave me a real scare, and I decided to back off a little.  Oddly enough, I was still passing folks even though I had slowed down considerably.

Around mile 22 I started to fall apart.  My leg had started hurting again and I switched to a run/walk combination.  I really wasn't too surprised - I'd hardly done any really long runs in training, and didn't have enough miles in my legs to quite make it the whole distance at that speed, especially as most of the last few miles seemed to be uphill.

I dropped to 9 minute miles, and crossed the finish line in 3:34:18 (8:10 average - yeah, those last few miles really took a toll).  Still, very happy with that - given my lack of training I had no right to expect anything near that time.  And somewhat surprisingly, that also makes it my 2nd fastest ever marathon (albeit by 1 second).  Can't argue with that.

The post-race goodies were great, and the medal is a fun little piece with revolving sections that the boys had great fun playing with.  All in all, this was a fun little race that I really enjoyed.

I was very stiff immediately after the race, but by the time we got back to Austin it had mostly gone.  However, right now I do have a lot of pain behind my left knee, which is not good.  It really feels like I've strained something, and I'm hoping it goes away in the next few days.

It's funny, I had planned on Boston being my last marathon for a long while, but this race has me reconsidering that idea.

And speaking of Boston, which really is a goal race, I need to start laying out a training plan for that.  It's probably going to be my one and only chance to run that race, so I need to do all I can to make it a good one.

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