You know the elation you feel when your training, pre-race nutrition and race-day strategy coalesce into the perfect race? Well, that feeling eluded me in Victoria this past Sunday. Mind you, I was still able to pull a BQ out of my sorry arse, but it sure twasn’t pretty. Even though this was my 44th marathon, the experience proved you just can’t take the distance for granted. Get too cocky and you risk getting chewed up, spit out and left on the curb licking your wounds.
For those in race report overload I’ll cut to the chase: I finished in 3:57:40; not the PR I was hoping for (needed to beat 3:54:34), but good enough to be invited to the 2012 Boston party should finances allow.
I was determined to follow a more regimented training schedule for this race, at least as regimented as a Marathon Maniac could be. My goal was to PR, but I also considered going for a 3:50. After my BQ at Seattle Rock ‘n Roll (3:55:42) at the end of June I ran “only” one other marathon — Missoula on July 11. I was pleasantly surprised with my time — 4:04 — given it was only two weeks after Seattle. (I probably could have run a sub 4 if it weren’t for two bathroom breaks). I vowed to concentrate on speed and shorter races for the rest of the summer.
Most of my longer runs for the remainder of July and August were in the 9- to 13-mile range, however, I did run/hike two 25-milers and ran/walked a couple of 19-milers. (The first two were on the White River 50-mile course, a mountainous single track. The latter two were on carriage roads in Maine; while I was able to run the first 10 miles of each run, the heat and humidity slowed me to a slog during the last half. So I don’t consider any of these long runs to be quality runs, although they did give me time on my feet).
My August mileage was also very low — 136 — compared to the 175-200 miles I had been averaging. However, I PR’d in a half marathon in early August, shaving almost 5 minutes (ran it in 1:48:52). I was encouraged to see McMillan predicted a 3:49:36 marathon time based on the half, but I also knew that’d be a stretch. I also raced a 10K in mid-August (got 3rd in my age group) and was on a competitive women’s team for Hood-to-Coast (we placed 4th in our division). Still, I knew I had a lot of work ahead of me to reach my goal, including upping my mileage and getting in more long runs.
My first race in September was a trail 25K which I took very easy. I followed that up with a road half the next weekend; I was on track for yet another PR through mile 9, but the rain and headwind got the better of me. Still, my 1:50:03 time indicated a PR was not out of the question at Victoria. I also got in two 20-milers, another half and a couple of 12-milers, finishing up the month with just over 180 miles.
I traveled to Victoria with five other women, all who were running the half. In the week leading up to race day I cut out all alcohol, plus I made sure to eat healthy. However, since this was a girls’ weekend I allowed myself some adult beverages the day before — a bloody Mary on the ferry to Victoria, a beer with lunch and a glass of wine (okay, two) with dinner. But for every alcoholic drink I probably downed 2-3 glasses of water (drink ’til the pee’s clear was my mantra).
We had just over four hours to kill before we could check into our condo, so we dropped off our bags and headed to the expo to pick up our packets. The expo was rather small, so we got through in less than half an hour. We then hit an Irish pub for lunch where I had a chicken wrap, some fries and a small green salad. While I didn’t get the chance to go on a short run, we probably walked about four miles. We had a light pasta dinner at the condo and got to bed by 9:30 p.m.
I actually slept fairly well and was up by 6 a.m. The half marathon started at 7:30 (an hour and a half earlier than the marathon), so the rest of the women were up as well. I offered encouragement as I enjoyed a breakfast of black coffee, yogurt with granola and a bottle of Perpetuem. Soon after they left a Maniac friend came by to drop off her bags (she had to check out of her hotel before the start). We both were going for BQs, so we tried to calm each others nerves as best we could.
While the wind had been blowing strongly the night before, we were happy to see it had died down. Although rain was in the forecast, there was nary a drop. I stepped outside to gauge the temperature and decided to forego my arm warmers (turned out to be a VERY good call). I wrapped myself in a throwaway mylar blanket and we walked the half mile to the race start.
After stopping at the port-o-potty we met up with several other Maniacs. Like us, many of them had high hopes for the race but weren’t sure if they’d be able to pull it off. The wind was starting to gust ever-so-slightly, and we knew it could get nasty along the water. After making one more pitstop I lined up just ahead of the 4-hour sign (there were no pace groups).
Since I had run this race in 2008 I meticulously planned out my splits based upon the terrain. Garmin had registered a 26.5 mile course, so that’s what I planned on again. I figured out splits for both a 3:50 and 3:54 marathon with the intent of writing my target range for every 5 miles on my hand (while the course is marked in kilometers, they also included mile markers every 5 miles). Of course I forgot to print out the sheet, so I ended up writing out the ranges based on even splits (8:42-8:50/mile). Having bonked in Portland the year before for not taking in enough calories, I planned on taking a gel every 5 miles, in addition to taking fluids at most of the aid stations (they were spaced approximately 3K apart).
While I was determined not to look at my Garmin every few minutes, I did want to ensure I started off at a conservative pace. I figured I’d know if a 3:50 was possible within the first 10 miles, but when I hit the 5-mile mark at just over 44 minutes I started thinking I should give up on that and concentrate on a PR, which was still very much within reach.
As we were leaving Beacon Hill Park I saw some half marathoners heading toward us. I kept an eye out for my friends, but figured they probably had already passed by. I could tell the halvers were starting to struggle against a headwind — something we’d be dealing with later in our race. I took advantage of the tailwind, hoping I could perhaps bank some time (yes, I realize that’s not the best strategy). Still on pace to beat my PR by at least a minute.
I was still feeling good through these miles, although they were by no means easy. Since parts of the course are an out & back we got to see the front-runners screaming by (Philip Somoei from Kenya won in 2:23:23). I also saw the checker from our local grocery store who was shooting for a 2:30; alas he missed by a couple of minutes. I was psyched to hit the halfway mark in 1:55:03, but knew the true race would begin once I turned into the headwind, which happened just before mile 15.
In addition to the headwind the sun decided to make an appearance. We had all anticipated rain; clear, sunny skies were not part of the equation. (I thanked my lucky stars again for leaving the sleeves at the condo). By now I was starting to get fatigued running into the headwind and the increasing temps weren’t helping. I finally succumbed during lap 20 and took my first walk break (I was not alone).
3:44 (8:54 pace)
As you can see, this is where things started getting ugly. It seemed everyone around me was struggling; they were either taking several walk breaks or stopping on the side to stretch. About mile 21 I hear a guy behind me yelling, “Cut! Cut! You cut me off!” and he then starts hitting me with his arm. WTF? I yelled back at him, “No I didn’t!” then followed it up with, “Way to hit another runner. That’s really cool.” Mind you, I very well could have cut him off, but it certainly wasn’t intentional. By then I had tunnel vision, but I still think I would have been aware of cutting someone off. Still, there was absolutely no call for hitting me. I let the asshole get ahead of me, but took great joy in passing him on the next hill.
I knew a PR was now out of the question, but I still could BQ. Thing was, I got to a point where I just didn’t give a rat’s ass. I wanted to be done; I didn’t care what my time was. Mile 24 was the worst as the course was right on the water with the full headwind (and a couple of hills). I kept willing myself to run at least a half mile before a walk break, but it seemed I could go only a tenth of a mile before I caved.
With just over two miles to go I saw I had about 26 minutes to still get my BQ. I yelled at myself to pull up my big girl panties and start RUNNING. I knew once I got going I could keep at least a 10-minute pace, but if I continued to cave in to the walk breaks all would be lost. Fortunately the course flattened out and included a coupled of small declines, so I soldiered on. However, the urge to walk again was quite strong (fortunately I had some power songs on my iPod to keep me going). My friends were on the sideline just before the finish line cheering me on; I gave them a feeble thumbs up as I staggered across.
I was totally spent and started looking for volunteers on which to collapse. However, I regained my composure, got my medal and a carton of chocolate milk. I found Jessica, who unfortunately missed her BQ by less than a minute. We met up with some more Maniacs in the finish chute and I sat on a milk crate until my dizziness subsided.
In terms of race-day strategy, I’d give myself an A-. I don’t feel I went out too fast, and I kept myself well-hydrated and fueled (given the sun I also took a couple of salt tabs). I also don’t think the alcohol the day before contributed to my downfall in the last 10K. While I’d like to say the heat and the headwind were the main culprits, I know my not-so-consistent training played a huge part. I believe I would have fared better if my mileage was closer to 200 for both August and September, and I should have gotten in more mid-week runs in the 10-14 mile range. But that’s what I love about running marathons, there’s always something to learn.