Saturday, December 10, 2011

Race Report - 2011 Rocket City Marathon

Cool race swag for finishers!
If I had to sum up today's events in one sentence, I would say: "The last 6 miles were just plain ugly!" But this wouldn't be my race report, if I said it all in one sentence;-) Due to the ankle injury I suffered about three weeks ago at the Dizzy Fifties 50K (tear/strain of right peroneal tendon), I had already taken the goal of attempting a BQ off the table before I even toed the starting line on Saturday morning. As the race went on, my secondary and tertiary goal had to be tossed out as well.

My better half was kind enough to roll out of bed at 7AM to take my butt to the starting line at the Holiday Inn in downtown Huntsville. Luckily, we only live 2 minutes away. I arrived at the hotel with plenty of time to spare, so I went into the lobby as usual, mingling with the other 1300 or so runners. I saw a couple of familiar faces, some first timers and some veterans getting ready to race. I double-checked the shoe strings on my Brooks Defyance 3's and my ankle brace to make sure nothing was rubbing. I had opted to use my cushioned road runners rather than my minimalist Brooks Green Silence to give myself some extra cushion for my battered ankle. I had also picked up an old long sleeve t-shirt and a pair of cheap gloves at the marathon expo the night before, so I could toss them during the race once I warmed up. I actually remembered to bring a yard trash bag to use as a heat blanket at the starting line and that worked like a charm.

As I walked towards the starting line ten minutes before eight, I started looking for the 3:25 pacer. After letting go of the BQ goal of a sub 3:15 marathon, 3:25 was my "A" goal. I spotted him very quickly along with a follow coworker of mine, who was attempting this race as his second marathon in preparation for the Kona Ironman next year. I also had a brief chat with Christian Griffith, who had his own handicap to deal with for this race, coming back from quite a serious ankle injury. As it turned out, he did hit his target. Congratulations, buddy, well done!

When the start of the thirty-fifth Rocket City Marathon was signaled with an old fashioned riffle, I embarked on my third running of this event in the last 4 years. I decided to stick with the pacing group as long as I could, or, in other words, as long as my ankle would let me, hopefully all the way to the finish. I was feeling pretty good, breathing well and chatting with fellow racers in the early miles. After 3 miles, I had warmed up enough to drop the long sleeve t-shirt. Pacers were instructed to take fluids at every water station, so I decided to follow this regimen by taking just a few sips at every aid station. Our pacer kept it pretty steady all the way and I never felt like I was struggling except for a couple of slight course inclines were I did have to push to keep up the pace.

The miles ticked by and I felt good. I took my first gel at mile 12 and continued to run loose without any muscle or joint pains. I reached the half way mark at 13.1 miles right on pace. If I could maintain this pace until mile 22, I felt I would definitely PR, e.g. run under 3:36. Everything continued to go great, until around mile 15. This is the part of the course where runners turned back towards downtown Huntsville. Unfortunately, the weather served runners a very strong headwind all the way to the finish and that was an unexpected obstacle on tired legs. I continued to stick with the pacing group for another 4 miles when my ankle started to flare up. I also started to realize why my legs started to burn.

I had run a 50 miler in early October with a lengthy recovery period. Afterwards, I decided to focus on shorter distances and speed work mostly on roads. I wanted to get faster. My last big races were all long ultras and I felt I had slowed significantly over the last 6 months. It was time to get faster again, especially if I wanted to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Unfortunately, I realized that I had not spent enough time on long runs. Somehow, there was always some reason why I could not make it, so when I rolled my ankle at Dizzy Fifties just a month before the Rocket City Marathon, I had only done two long runs since the Firetrails 50 Miler in October...bummer. My speed work had paid off, but now 19 miles into the marathon I was paying the price for having neglected my long runs. Lesson learned.


Around this time, I spotted Jason Shattuck along the course. He stood on a street corner a couple of yards from his house cheering on the runners. While I never like to show weakness in front of my fellow running buddies, he wasn't running this one anyway, so I didn't get the motivation I had hoped to get from spotting him on the course;-) I slowly dropped off my target pace and I started to forget about my "A" goal and focus on my "B" goal, a finishing time under 3:36 to achieve a new PR. I kept slowing down and before I knew it the 3:30 pacing group passed me.


Just as I wanted to give in and walk, I spotted Jon Elmore about 100 yards ahead of me. I didn't expect to catch him...ever...in any race, so I knew he had some type of problem. I had to push to catch him and when I did, he told me that he was struggling with cramps. Luckily, I had a couple of SCaps to share. Now we just needed water. When we arrived at an aid station just past Airport Rd, they were giving their last bottle of water to the runner ahead of us. Really, I couldn't make this up. So Jon was still cramping, not able to get any water to wash down the salt pills. We finally got fluids at the next aid station, but by this time, the 3:40 pacing group had passed us as well. Ugh! Well, I actually blurted out something else under my breath. So long, PR, it was nice thinking about achieving you:-(


Thankfully, Jon pulled me right out of my funk. "Well, we are definitely gonna finish and we will finish under 3:45." He was right about that. When I spotted the final turn and the clock indicating the final quarter mile, I pulled out a final push. As always, I crossed the finish line completely exhausted and extremely elated with my better half Anya waiting on the other side of the finish line. 

Are my eyes closed? Weird!

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