A.M. Rocket City Marathon, 2:44:17, 9th place.
This race was an odd experience. Unlike last year I was feeling good at the start and ready to race. I did have a sore throat and some nose congestion, but it was not affecting my energy levels, and I thought I could run well at least for the first 10 miles or so. What I underestimated was the degree to which I was susceptible to humidity. The temperatures started at 60 F and climbed into 70 F towards the end of the race, but that alone did not bother me. I felt that I could have handled a warmer temperature just fine. But I just could not breathe. To make things worse, I could not quite figure out what was going on for a while and that gave me a good scare.
I do not have the time for mile by mile report, plus I think for this race mile by mile detail is not going to have a lot of value, so I'll be more general.
We went out as a large pack at a pace that felt slow, but I thought being at a lower elevation this should have given us around 5:50-5:55. It was 6:11. I wondered maybe if the mile marker was misplaced. Next mile was 6:00, it felt harder, a bit too aggressive in fact, and at that point I knew something was up. The pace increased in the next mile which had some downhill and the split was 5:36. It felt super aggressive, completely unsustainable, but I went with it anyway in hopes that maybe I am just not warmed up, and a little surge could wake me up and get me going. But I quickly realized I needed to slow down, which I did, losing contact with the lead pack forever.
I made it to 5 miles in 29:54. That was very much not a good sign. I could not understand this. This had never happened to me. I was not feeling weak. Nothing was really hurting out of the ordinary except 6:00 pace felt faster than what I could have run for a half-marathon try as I might. I've had nightmares like that, but never in real life. Just on Tuesday I ran quite comfortably for 1.5 miles on a net uphill at 5:38 average alone at 4700 feet elevation wearing tights and a jacket. How could it have felt more sustainable than 5:55 at essentially sea level elevation wearing shorts and running with a pack? Am I just getting old? Well, yes, but not that fast. Is there something wrong with my heart with this being the only symptom? If I am feeling this way this early, what is going to happen when I get to 20 miles? Am I going to live? Will I be buried in Alabama? Should I drop out before it is too late?
I reviewed my personal dropping out policy. If I take a comp from a race director I owe him to finish the race unless I feel that there is a serious threat to my health. I did have a case for my health. However, the only symptom was that perceived effort did not produce the expected pace. Otherwise I felt just fine. I decided to keep running until other symptoms appeared. They never did. The problem was not my health or lack of fitness. It was the lack of being used to high humidity. I had not raced when it was this warm and this humid for a very long time - probably over 20 years. This made me too scared to breathe like I ought to so I was not getting adequate amounts of oxygen. This shifted the pace spectrum by about 20 seconds per mile. But I did not quite understand this until the last 6 miles. So I ran most of my 57th or so marathon, in spite of all of the experience, completely perplexed, somewhat panicked, and rather discouraged. It was a trial of faith.
My 10 mile split was 1:00:24. I got passed by Patrick Whitehead around 6 miles or so, tried to latch on, but for the life of me could not. At around 9.5 we got onto a road that was straight and open to the wind blowing in the wrong direction. Things were bad enough already, however, and the wind could not have made them much worse. I suppose it could, but it did not. Around mile 12 I got passed by a group of 3 runners, one of them was John Piggott, do not know who the others were. I again tried to latch on, but could not. My split at the half was 1:20:01, with that :01 to mock my pain. I did surge too to avoid it, but still could not. As far as I recall I have never opened a marathon that slow since 1992. Since coming to the United States up to this point as far as I can remember I started every one of my marathons under 1:19. The second half is a different story, but I have always been able to run a decent first half even in my worst ones. My inability to latch on to the people that passed me going not that fast suggested that I was working at my limit. I have had many races where I felt much more relaxed in the first half, and yet still crashed in the second. With that history, I was plain scared about the future. 2:50 maybe today? There are many things that are much worse than a 2:50 marathon, though. My family is still with me, I can still feed them, we are still all in good health, my children are succeeding in many things. Most important, I have a testimony of Jesus Christ, and so do my wife and children. We know about His plan for us. We have a vision and we are following it. That's what is important. If we have that we can deal with anything. So I can definitely handle a 2:50 marathon that happened for reasons not understood.
I did however notice some positives. My pace was slow, but it was not slowing progressively. Though my spirits were low my energy levels were fine. I just could not run a normal pace for some reason I did not understand at the time. But I could run for I which I decided to be thankful.
My 15 mile split was 1:32:06. No more headwind. Around 18 miles I passed Justin Leach. He was not having a good day, but for a different reason - stomach problems. Almost got lost at one point but did not lose more than 5 seconds on it. My 20 mile split was 2:04:08. I did the math and realized that if I did not lose steam between now and the finish at all it would be 2:44 low. But I thought it was a hypothetical if. Certainly I would lose something, so maybe 2:45 low would be a good optimistic (in these circumstances) goal.
Shortly after mile 20 there was a music station that played some country song performed by a female singer. Right when I was passing it I heard the word "whiskey". I thought - she sings well but she needs to learn about the Word of Wisdom. For the next mile I thought about the entertainment culture in general and realized that in high probability the singer might need to learn about the law of chastity as well. Somehow these thoughts distracted me from the usual matters in that stage of the race and I just ran without fretting about my level of fatigue.
Amazingly with each mile I was hitting splits in the 6:20-6:30 range, which is on track for 40:00 or so in the last 10 K. This cheered me up. Around mile 24 I passed John Piggott back, and shortly after passed Patrick Whitehead. I realized that what I thought was impossible at the half was going to happen - I was on pace for beating my time last year. Now, my last year's time of 2:44:58 is nothing to brag about, it was done after a fever. But it was something to beat, and when you struggle you need to have something to beat, even if it is a standing pole. Patrick to some extent represented me from the last year except I think he was a little slower at the half and he was a little faster at the finish with 2:44:47.
I ended up running the last mile in 6:20 with the last 10 K in 40:09. This is actually the fastest last 10 K I've ever run on this course. My splits by half were 1:20:01/1:24:16 - 4:15 positive split, which is actually strong for me. That is the type of split that, adjusted for the terrain difference, I have historically run in my best marathons. At the end I finally understood the reason for the slow pace. So in spite of a slow time unlike last years I finished the race in good spirits.
Immediately I headed to the car to drive to Nashville to catch my flight. Clocked 3:03:47 from the start of the race to being dressed and having the key in the ignition.
P.M. I certainly thought I was done running for the day, or at least I thought that I deserved to be done running, but I was wrong again. My flight from Nashville to Denver left late. When I got out of the gate in Denver I had only 3 minutes or so to make my connection to Provo, that is 3 minutes to the time the plane is supposed to leave, which is 10 minutes after they close the gate. My legs were sore when I finished the marathon, and they were still sore on the plane. But the thought of all the consequences that missing this connection would bring made me forget about the pain and the post-race fatigue, so praying for mercy because the law of justice had me hopelessly locked out already I dashed from gate A-34 to gate A-64 greedily inhaling the dry air of the airport terminal and wishing I could have breathed like that during the race. It was about 600 meters or so. When I got there they had already closed the gate, but the plane was waiting for me. They took me in through a special exit, and all was well.