Rocket City Marathon, 2:44:58, 10th place.
Stayed with Jon Elmore and his family the night before in Decatur. They have a very nice family. I felt a spirit of peace in their home. It was a privilege to meet them.
I have been schooled by the reality of having to run a marathon after a recent illness. As I mentioned earlier, I was concerned and prayed to know if I should go to the race, and felt that I should. After the first mile in 5:49 which felt hard, followed by 5:55 which felt OK, but too hard for 5:55 this early in the race, I knew something was up. I prayed for permission to drop out and did not get it. Yes, I somehow I knew that I should not pray for a miraculous healing and a flow of strength.
I was running with Josh Whitehead and Fernando Cabada. Fernando is a 2:12 guy who already qualified for the Trials and was doing a progression workout. Josh was a 2:34 guy but set a PR of 2:31:37 today Fernando invited us to be paced by him for the initial part of his workout.
We did 17:28 (5:44), 23:17 (5:49), and then Fernando went into the next stage of his progression and we did 28:54 (5:37). At this point I had to back off. I continued with the 40:44 (5:55 average for 2 miles), 46:50 (6:04), not a good sign this early even though there was some uphill, but it should not have done that to me if I was anywhere near normal, then I think 52:50 (6:00) and 58:44 (5:54) at 10 miles. OK, at least sub-6:00 for the first 10, so maybe I can get to the finish on my own two feet today.
At this point we were on a long stretch with tailwind, so I was able to keep it sub-6:00 for a little longer. Hit the half in 1:17:25. OK, at least one half of this mess is over. Well, not quite one half because the second half brings more surprises. Two more miles under 6:00. 1:28:30 at 15. Thankful to have gotten this point so far.
Now comes the headwind and a 6:30 mile with it. Another 6:30 mile. A runner passes me as if I were standing still. I think that was Scott Fannining. It must be more than just the headwind. OK, how bad can this get? Another runner comes by - Hirbo Hirbo, and he was struggling enough himself that I was able to latch on. 2:00:56 at 20 miles. This is beginning to look very ugly.
Somehow I managed to run sub-7:00 miles for the next four. I was with Hirbo. George Dewitt who is 53 years old caught up to us and we were able to latch on. Then Zachary Koch went by, no latching, all three of us were too slow and tired.
Then at 24 I found another wall. I began to be concerned about my health. This had not happened to me since perhaps my first marathon. Once I find my wall, I crawl alongside, it is bad, but it does not get worse. But I suppose when your health is off, your marathon gets a couple of miles longer, so anything past 24 is an ultra, or in other words life beyond the grave.
Fortunately I had enough sense to grab two Powerades and empty them out at 25. Half a mile later I found some moderate zip in my legs and passed Hirbo, which put me in 10th place. Thus I was able to find a small consolation in running my slowest marathon in 12 years.
After the race the marathon was not over. I had to get to the airport. Apparently I looked pretty bad as the volunteer kept asking me if I was OK. I ate some food, and headed to my car. There were two ladies in the parking lot waiting for their friend to come in. I asked them if they could give me a ride to my car, which they happily did. Somehow I was able to get dressed without taking forever and 3:04:47 after the start of the race I was driving to Nashville. When I got to the airport, great was my surprise when I saw Steve Anderson already there. He finished behind me, how did he get ahead? I suppose a few things helped him - he did not take a wrong turn, which I did, he might have driven faster, although I did maintain good speed throughout, and he did not have to go through as much airport security as I did as he is a pilot. He was there ready to fly me home! It turned out that that flight was piloted by another crew, but Steve flew on that same plane with me to Denver, and then piloted the flight to Salt Lake while I flew in my virtual private jet to Provo.
Provo now has one commercial flight by Frontier. If more people fly on it, there will be more, so I figured I'll help spread the word.
So what lessons did I learn from this marathon and how am I going to use what I learned to get better? Sickness is a double hit. You lose aerobic fitness, with that you lose fuel efficiency. Those 2 hours 44 minutes and 58 seconds have etched this concept in my mind in a way that I will not forget. Aerobic fitness is very closely connected with fuel efficiency. In the first 15 miles I learned what it is like to run with underperforming aerobic system. In the last 11 miles I learned that my underperforming aerobic system not only made me slow but also ate up all of my fuel - how rude!
So the moral of the story is that to run a good marathon you need to have solid aerobic fitness. It is built primarily through mileage, but you need to be careful not to go into diminishing returns. Fitness cannot be developed or used when health is lacking. Thus the three foundational elements of marathon performance are, first health, second aerobic fitness, and only third specific fuel storage/efficiency conditioning.
In spite of a bad race, I decided I am coming back to Huntsville next year and will make it a routine trip in my schedule. It is a place where they shoot for the stars. Both literally (they have a space center) and figuratively. I find it more than just a coincidence that the Huntsville has a concentration of fast runners that is unusual for the South.