Saturday, October 4, 2014

Race Report - 2014 Southern Tennessee Power Classic Marathon


It was Thursday night and I was roaming on Facebook to see if I anyone was looking for a long run this weekend. Pinhoti 100 was only 4 weeks away and I was in need for another long run. When I came across Ryan's post about running a marathon or half marathon race in Winchester, Tennessee about an hour north of Huntsville, I was immediately interested. I looked up the Southern Tennessee Power Classic Marathon to find out more. I was still undecided when I came across a post where a fellow runner offered up her free race entry coupon. Initially, she was asking for a nominal fee, but when we both realized that online registration had closed prematurely, she offered the coupon to me for free in hopes that the race director would still honor it. When I contacted the RD, she did just that. Now I had a free entry and a free ride (compliments of the Chaffin family) along with great company (Blake came along to run the half with Ryan while Aleisha was doing the marathon as a training run), so how could I not go.
Ryan and Aleisha picked up Blake and myself at the local Starbucks, giving us plenty of time to make the hour long drive to Winchester, TN and pick up our race packets prior to the race start. While I wasn't really sure what pace to go and what to aim for, since this marathon kinda came up unexpected  and was mainly meant to be a training race, Ryan and Blake sure had some ideas and they were sharing them with me. Let me tell you, if you ever need to get pumped up for a race and are still in need for a shot of confidence, ride in the car with these guys for an hour and you believe anything:-) I do mean that in a good way.

The course map on the website described the course as flat and the weather was absolutely perfect for a race with temps in the low 40s. Considering these factors, I figured today was as good a day as any to shoot for a PR, even if I hadn't specifically training for a road marathon. I decided to go for a pace of 6:50-6:59 and see if I could hold it. I just didn't not want to go over a 7:00 min per mile pace. If I was training properly, I should be able to hold this pace based on a half marathon I ran in Germany the previous month. I also noticed that the field of runners had been rather small, so there could be a slim chance that I would place, IF I had a perfect race. I know it's just a training race, but I just can't help getting myself fired up just a little even when it's not a goal race for me.

It was still dark out, when we wandered across the town square to an old movie theater to pick up our race packets. We all turned around to head back to the car immediately as it was actually really cold. I had no desire to be cold any longer than necessary and everyone else felt the same way. With about 10 minutes to race start, Aleisha and I decided to try to loosen up, but jogging for a quarter mile really doesn't do that:-) We figured the race would give us plenty of time to loosen up. After all, it was a training race, nothing more nothing less. Yeah right, who am I kidding. I have yet to learn not to go out with effort in any race, even if it's supposed to be "just" a training race.

The marathoners and half marathoners headed to the starting line and while Blake and Ryan hung out a little further back, Aleisha and I lined up in the front. It was a small field of runners, so I started to look around. It was pretty easy to pick out the stronger runners around us and as the start signal was finally given (rather casually), I did not know what race the faster runners around us were actually running, the half or the full. This allowed me to very quickly forget about everyone around me and to just focus on my goal pace from the get go. "Just stay between 6:50 and 6:59 and you'll be ok, and if not, just back off and enjoy the run." I stuck with that and kept repeating it as my mantra, not out loud of course, I'm not that crazy.

A couple of runners quickly disappeared out of my line of sight. I remembered Ryan saying something about everyone running the same course until about mile 6 or mile 9 or something, so I figured I'd continue my pace and not worry about anything else until we hit that split in the road. The first couple of miles went by rather quickly and uneventful. I settled into my pace, but I also realized very quickly that this course was not flat. There were no real hills, but the course continued to roll along, sometimes gently and sometimes not so gently. I kept my pace. I was breathing easy. I remembered Blake's comment before the race: "Just don't go anaerobic too early. You don't want to be breathing hard before hitting miles 20-22." I kept that in mind the entire race. It was around the mile 9 mark that the courses for the two race distances diverged, the half marathoners would cross the highway and turn left while the marathoners continued to go straight down the highway. I couldn't tell how many runners were ahead of me, so when I approached the first aid station after the split, I asked how many runners were ahead of me. "Just two, buddy! Go get 'em!" was the enthusiastic response from one of the friendly volunteers.

Speaking of volunteers, while this race was a rather small event, the support was absolutely amazing. It seemed that every branch of the public services departments were involved in some form or fashion along with numerous private citizens spending their free time out there for hours to support our efforts. I'd like to thank all of them, because they really made this a memorable event.

At this point, I noticed a male runner I hadn't seen until now, which probably meant that he had started out fast, disappearing out of my sight right from the start and was now possibly beginning to fade. About a mile later, I ended up passing this runner while continuing to run at my pace. The highway ahead of us continued to roll, which actually made it less intimidating and less boring all at the same time. I was now running in second place overall with one runner ahead of me. The front runner was a younger female runner, who had been a quarter of a mile ahead of me from the start and she continued to stay there throughout the morning. It seemed like she'd widen the gap on the downhills, but I would close it back to a quarter mile on the uphills. Two police motorcycles were following closely behind her and that's what I started to focus on rather than to keep checking my watch.

When we finally turned left across the highway and onto some country roads, we had reached the halfway point of the race. I was still running my goal pace and I was breathing very relaxed. I could not believe how good I felt. Any minute now I would crumble, I was sure of it. And if not now, than surely at mile 20. I kept running my target pace. I had started to take a couple of sips of Gatorade every two miles starting at mile 6. Coincidentally, that was also the spacing between aid stations along the course:-) Ryan and Aleisha had given me a couple of GUs. I had eaten one shortly before the race and the other right after mile 20. That and the Gatorade was all the nutrition I needed. I never cramped or bonked, not at mile 20 or any time thereafter. The extremely cool temperatures definitely helped.

As miles 20-24 ticked by, the gap between the front runner and myself started to shorten. She seemed to slow down ever so slightly on the uphills and I started to push a little on the hills and then relax on the backside on the downhills. Slowly the gap continued to shrink and I actually started to think that I might have an opportunity to try to pass her at some point in this race. She had been running very strong and until this point, I hadn't even considered trying to go for the win. But as the gap continued to shorted, I became more and more confident. At first, one of the police motorcycles dropped to get behind me and as the gap got shorter, both police bikes were now behind me and her. As we were approaching mile 25 with me now directly behind her, who do I spot near the aid station? Ryan and Blake, high-fiving me as I am passing them and shouting: "Don't get chicked!" I had to chuckle, but I also felt another jolt of motivation. As we continued to run, Blake shouted one final time: "There's one more hill after you cross the bridge!" That's all I needed to know. I tugged in behind the front runner and I decided that I would try to make a pass at the bottom of the final hill, give it all I had and hold on until the finish. If she would pass me again, I would be beaten and I would have nothing left to pass her again and I would be okay with that, but I had to at least try.

One happy runner crossing the finish line.
As we got across the bridge, I saw the final "climb". It's now or never I thought and as I passed her, I gave her a thumbs up and said "great job". I really didn't know what else to say or do. I started my push. I decided that I would go hard as long as I could and when I finally heard one of the motrcrycles behind us speed up to get directly behind me, I knew the gap had widened enough for the two police officers to split duties between the runner behind me and myself. I continued to run hard. I felt awesome! A couple more turns and I finally approached the finish line. I could not believe my luck. I was actually winning a road marathon. I crossed the finish line in 3 hours 2 minutes and 30 seconds, a 34 minute PR. Now I was confident that I could possibly break the 3 hour mark with some proper speed training. For the moment, I was just enjoying crossing the finish line first for the first time:-)

Group shot of the top 2 male and female runners.

3 comments:

  1. Congratulations Kraut! I was the male runner in second you passed. I was on pace for last years time of 3:07. You said you had no cramps but I sure did starting around mile 16. I did indeed fade. I finished 7th with my slowest marathon time ever 3:25. I don't know what went wrong. I did a 50k this march and finished it in 3:50. I guess I should have carried pickle juice with me according to what I have read since. Good luck to you on your future runs!

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    1. Thanks very much. I've had a pretty bad race experience this summer as well, where I was reduced to a 9 mile death march at the end of a 50K due to severe cramps in both quads and calves. However, that was on an extremely hot and humid day and I was running too hard. I can highly recommend "SCaps" by Succeed or a similar product. It will help you stave off cramps if taken on longer distance runs and prior to cramps appearing. NFI

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  2. Gratulation. �� Es muss ein unglaubliches Gefühl sein, solche Leistungen zu erbringen und dabei soviel zu erleben.

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