Monday, May 18, 2009

Marathon #2: Check

After months of long runs, early mornings, doctor appointments, dessert hiatus and yammering about marathon strategy and not much else, I was hopping in place listening to my 3:40 pace group leader at the Cleveland Marathon. Finally! And as the announcer counted down to the start, I fixed my eyes on the pacer’s balloon-festooned pace sign, where I planned to train my eyes for the next three hours and forty minutes.

The best laid plans.

E, G and Landon at the top of the morningLet’s call the pacer Marlon. (Just because.) So, Marlon’s getting us pumped to start, explaining that he takes downhills fast so we can catch some “free” speed. We waddled to the starting line, and he shot out the gates.

Good for Marlon.

Not so good for the 50 people trying to weave through droves to find him. We sped down East Ninth Street toward the Rock Hall to swing a left on Erieside.

Hello Marlon and good bye.

Three-quarters of a mile into my 26.2 race, I had lost my pacer. What now?

Landon and I stop at the aid station before reaching E and SaltyThe day started out swell: I drove downtown with E-Speed and Landon, found bathrooms fast and didn’t feel crippled by shin splints and tight calves for the first time in weeks. E helped get me sufficiently warmed and somehow Salty found me at the start. It was my day. I could feel it! I just had to stick with my pace group.

Why the desperation? We all know I have no ability to pace myself. Even with my Garmin. I’m either all or nothing. No smart in between. I knew I could physically run 8:24/mile for 26.2. But I hadn’t arrived ready to do it on my own.

Imagine my panic when I crossed mile 1 at 8:40 with no Marlon balloons in sight. I was 1/26th of the way into the race and I was already 16 seconds behind! By mile 2, I couldn’t even spy him up the straightaways and fell 37 seconds back.

Logic would have weighed me down in a marathon, so I left that part of my brain at home on Sunday. Thirty-seven seconds isn’t an impossible thing to make up over 24.2 miles. Nor is it impossible over 2-3.

It just isn’t a smart thing.

I inched up my pace on the Lorain-Carnegie bridge and through the west side, pulling within striking distance by crossing mile 4 at 33:52 (8:28/pace). But where was Marlon?

Turns out I wasn’t the only one hunting for the 3:40 group. By mile 5, I had run with at least 20 people (4-5 at a time) who saw the 3:40 goal pinned to my back and latched on a few miles at a time. Even the appointment as pseudo-pacer, however, didn’t sharpen my pacing skills. Panic held me and picked up these first nine splits:

Mile 1: 8:40
Mile 2: 8:45
Mile 3: 8:20
Mile 4: 8:07 (33:52, 8:28/mile)
Mile 5: 8:13
Mile 6: 8:10
Mile 7: 8:18 (58:33, 8:21/mile)
Mile 8: 8:36
Mile 9: 8:50 (1:15:59, 8:26/mile)

Somehow after getting ahead of 8:24 pace, I still couldn’t catch even a good rumor about where Marlon might be waving his balloons. And as I turned onto the highway, into the sun, I felt totally deflated. I gave up. My hammy tweaked and super-tightened as we climbed the first highway hill and I crossed…

Mile 10: 10:16

Lucky for me: I have the world’s most incredible friends.

This is a dramatization: Salty and GAll but socking myself in the face, I was slumping hard when Salty (who rocked the 10K hard!) appeared on the bridge through downtown to help me through some hard miles. She talked me through my self-pity, blocked the wind off the lake and helped get me to the half mark with these splits:

Mile 11: 9:15
Mile 12: 8:52
Mile 13: 9:52

Not even the joy of halfway would make my hamstring quit. At first I slowed down, took a 30-second walk break and eventually paused to stretch. Then it was 5:00 on/:30 walk for three miles. Nothing. Until I heard the 3:50 stampede heading my way.

Landon and GPained but excited, I flipped around every few seconds to scan the group, and in the middle of it all, I found Landon!

(I’ve wanted to run a marathon with Landon since the day I started running. Somehow it all worked out!)

We knew by miles 17-18 we weren’t meeting our respective goals, and once I knew my hammy could hold pace with Landon, we decided to finish the race together. And what could have been a dreadful experience turned into one of my favorite days.

Over the river and through the Rockefeller Park woods in search of few and far between aid stations did we go!

Shade along East Boulevard and MLK served us well, but I would have taken aid stations over trees. Don’t get me wrong: the volunteers were top notch! But the aid stations every 2-2.5 left me parched and floopy as we flopped from one station to the next.

But where there wasn’t Powerade, there was power support. Like my mom and Neil hanging on some shady parts of St. Clair (I was so loopy when we passed that I didn’t recognize Neil until he was running next to Landon for several seconds), and then E and Salty waiting for us around mile 22 or 23!

For weeks I’d envisioned reaching E (the day’s half-marathon superstar) and taking off for an incredible 3:40 finish! Unfortunately, this wasn’t the race.

E and meE kept us alive those last miles. While I felt bad we couldn’t pick it up for her to really run us to the finish, I couldn’t be more grateful for her motivational spirit that stretch (her parents, from Mich., were even there cheering for everyone!).

With the last 0.2 to go, she hopped on the sidewalk and rooted us the whole way, and Landon told me to take off if I had it in me. Too tight to really pick up pace, I bid him to go… and go he did. Landon took off in an incredible sprint to the finish.

And what a finishing stretch: my mom and Neil cheered from one side, my dad shouted from the other and E rooted from the sidewalk. Then I waddled across the finish in 4:11:20 (9:35/mile) 4:12:19 (9:37/mile). Great race.

Even 4:12 gets a prizeNot only did I get to run a marathon with Landon, I had way-rad family out to cheer and outstanding friends run me through one heck of a race. Sure, I didn’t run a great time, but I had a great time running it. And how can I complain about a learning experience and a PR?

On my way out, I stopped by the medical tent to thank my doctor for getting me to the race (and thanked my massotherapist for her part of the magic online) and headed home ready to heal my aches, sprains and all the new ouches.

But it’s nothing a little pie can’t cure (click to replay):