14 December 2014


Lots of anticipation 2 minutes before the race start.
This race probably would've worked out as I had originally planned, had I not decided to take care of a bucket list item three weeks before RCM. I had just completed my big 2014 goal race, the Pinhoti 100 Miler, on the first weekend of November and was still feeling giddy when the opportunity presented itself to run the JFK 50 Miler, the oldest and largest ultramarathon in the US, just 3 weeks after Pinhoti and 3 weeks prior to RCM. Adding a 50 mile race sandwiched between a 100 miler and a marathon PR attempt is probably not a good idea, but I decided that I could not turn down the chance to run JFK, even if that meant not being properly rested and prepared to PR at RCM. There were a few experienced runners who said as much before I toed the starting line at RCM. Regardless, come race day, I would still try everything I could to achieve that elusive sub 3 hour marathon time. I had fallen just 150 seconds short 9 weeks earlier, when I ran another local marathon as a training race, so I felt that I might still be able to get it done on less than perfectly rested legs. I had stuck to easy running for the 2 weeks leading into the race, hoping that it would help my legs to recover and regain some of their "spring" in time for the marathon. However, I wouldn't know if that was the case until I actually ran the race.

A week or so before the marathon, there was some reassuring news. I hadn't really expected an official pacer, but Andrew Hodges kindly stepped up to the plate to help those who were striving for that sub 3 hour finish. As it turned out, there were about 20 of us trying to break 3 hours, so at least I wouldn't be out there on my own...at least not at first:-)

My wife Anya and I arrived about an hour before the race start. She was attempting her very first marathon and her training group was meeting up at the race hotel, so after I dropped her off, I looked for a convenient parking spot which I quickly found. I wandered into the hotel lobby searching for some familiar faces before deciding to head over to the Von Braun Center (VBC). The doors were open, so lots of runners were mingling inside to stay warm as long as possible. The temps outside were just above freezing and would not go higher than just above 50 degrees by the 6 hour cutoff. I caught up to lots of fellow local runners and we discussed the race before us.

I realized that I wasn't going to go sub 3 about a minute before Keith took this pic.
The race start went off without a hitch, I quickly fell in behind Andrew and alongside Jon Elmore, who had also planned to stay at this pace. There was a large cluster of Birmingham runners with us as well and everyone stayed together for the first 20 miles. Our field of runners never really stretched far until we reached the Botanical Garden. Until that point, the race was fairly uneventful for me. I wasn't really working hard or breathing hard until about mile 17. However, that was 4 or 5 miles sooner than during my last marathon, so I knew it would be a serious effort to reach my goal.

The RCM course was entirely new and it now included most if not all of the local sights, including the Botanical Gardens and the Space and Rocket Center. In fact, runners would be running through both, which was much more exciting than the old course. However, none of us knew how the new course compared to the old course in terms of pace, e.g. is it faster or slower than the old course.

After having run this race, even considering that I felt less than fresh, I feel that this course is definitely slower than the old course, not quite as flat as the old course. However, I still like it better now than before. It just has so much more to offer to the runners and spectators and families alike. But at the end of the day, this somewhat slower course was not to blame for my failure to hit my PR goal. It was clearly a matter of not having had enough rest between serious race efforts. I am completely ok with that. I have had a lot of great races this year and I am just lucky to be able to be back out there and at it, running as much or as little as I want.

We all arrived at the Space and Rocket Center in one pack, but the sub 3 hour group started to stretch as we left the Space and Rocket Center towards the Botanical Gardens. I continued to hold pace, knowing that there would be a short challenging gravel section with a gradual incline before leaving the Gardens again. Just before we reached that section, Jon started to drop off a little and the Birmingham runners pulled away a little with me being stuck in no mans land right in between. At this point, Andrew had been dealing with some GI issues and a tweaked hamstring, so I was just keeping an eye on my watch to try to hold pace. As I excited the Gardens I was still on track, but that did not last very long. Over the next 2 miles, I started to feel like I could not hold on. I was struggling to hold pace and as I entered the final 5K stretch of the race, I was starting to slow fast. My left calf started to twitch and I developed a light side stitch, which meant that picking up the pace was out of the question. It didn't matter, I didn't have it anyway. I did the math in my head and there was no way I was going to run a sub 21 minute 5K right now. Instead, I wanted to just keep it respectable and hold on and I managed to do that as I was passed only once in this section.

Two very happy finishers.
 The RCM now finishes within the VBC and as I made the final turn around the backside of the arena, I could hear spectators shouts and clapping echo off the walls of the VBC. It was a pretty cool feeling to cross the finish line inside the arena and I was also extremely glad to be done. This one hurt physically more so then mentally for not accomplishing a PR. This was my last race of the year and now I could focus on watching my wife accomplish her goal of finishing her first marathon. I'm happy to say that she accomplished her goal...of course...I never doubted it. She did so in an amazing 3 hours and 50 minutes, no less than 35 minutes faster than my very first marathon a few years earlier:-) I am super proud of her and it is a lot of fun to be able to share the same interests and goals with the person you love.

My favorite first time marathon finisher smiling ear to ear:-)

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