Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Thunder Road Marathon Race Report

A word of warning: This is a long post. It will be a lot more fun for you if you take a drink every time you read the word "Garmin".

The day started with me waking before my alaram went off at 4:00. Early for me even! I tossed and turned for a while but just got up anyway. As I sequestered myself in the bathroom (so as not to wake Phil and Leopold who seemed to be sleeping soundly) I was pleasantly surprised to find this waiting for me:

Awesome sign! But not as AWESOME as the sign Leopold made for me:

Leopold's sign at Mile 18 is a great memory. Later, Phil told me that a lot of people commented on the sign and seemed to really enjoy it. (The next day it occurred to Leopold that perhaps the faster runners had a different take away: Maybe they were so fast that all they had time to read was, "Runners Faster Than 7:00 Will Be Shot" ?)

If this happened to you, speedy front-runners, we're sorry!!

OK, back to my story. I promise to say "Garmin" soon, so you can start drinking.

So after drinking plenty of coffee, next came my favorite part of the pre-marathon morning ritual -the application of the temporary tattoos! As I put them on, I remembered thinking that the 3:50 PaceTat would probably end up being worthless (except for how cool it looks), and that sometime during the race, I would at least think about the tattoo that reminded me to honor my training. Little did I know then that the exact opposite would be true. I would end up relying on my PaceTat and watch to indirectly calculate mile splits after Garmin(pNbtn)* died, and that honoring my training would be a total non issue on this day.

After getting dressed, and having more coffee (and water), and I put everything I might need in to my race bag, and headed down to the lobby for breakfast. I made sure to get a pic of the elevator sign that had cracked Leopold and I up so hard the night before. ("Indoor Poo". BWAAAH HA HA HAAA HA!!!"). We're so mature.

Down at the Lobby, I had a big breakfast and walked outside to guage the temperature. It seemed warmer at 6:00 am than it had the night before when it was 28 degrees. Just to be sure that it didn't seem that way because I was close to the buildings, I walked down the block to the Finish Line that was being set up. I was surprised to feel an unexpected wave of emotion hit me. Jesus, am I going to cry? I felt like Renee Zelweger's older sister in Jerry McGuire as I thought, "Don't cry before the race, cry after the race."

I headed over to the Convention Center at 7:00. As race time drew near, I couldn't help thinking if anyone would be adversely affected by the change in the Start Time. 7:50 is a weird time for a race to start...

With five minutes to go I moved outside and began looking for a place between the 3:45 and 4:00 pace groups. It was 32 degrees with no wind which was better than we had expected so I shed a layer or two and went with single layer shirt, pants, and Dollar store gloves. Then it was time for the National Anthem which is a great touch at the start of the race.

All of a sudden we were off. 24 weeks of dedicated training and it came down to this, no turning back now. I'd run more than 1,350 miles preparing for this race, including three back to back 75 plus mile weeks, long runs of 22 and 24 miles (with the 22 miler run at 3:59 marathon pace) and a 'marathon pace' 13 mile run that I had blown out of the water. I thought I was in at least sub 4:00 shape and if I had a perfect day, sub 3:55! The plan was to hold back as much as possible on the tougher first half, go through in around 1:56-1:57 and negative split the back half. The pace per mile plan was roughly as follows:

  1. Mile 1-2 @ 9:06 pace
  2. Mile 3-9 @ 8:56 pace
  3. Miles 10-17 @ 8:48 (average pace)
  4. Miles 18-26.2 @ 8:38
Of course, nothing worked out like that.

Not even close.

Here's how it actually unfolded:

Mile 1 - 9:06
Mile 2 - 9:33

Average Pace: 9:19

Mile 1 is downhill. . Mile 2 is uphill, but even so, I was shocked to see that an "even effort" yielded a 9:33 2nd mile. I also noticed that monitoring Garmin's (pNbtn)* "current pace" window was going to be useless. I was running as slow as 10:25 pace on the uphills, and as fast as 7:30 pace on the downhills. So at this point, I decided to only monitor Garmin's (pNbtn) the "average pace" window for the rest of the race.

Mile 3 - 8:45
Mile 4 - 9:02
Mile 5 - 9:25
Mile 6 - 8:24
10K - 55:56

Average Pace: 9:00

This is where I notice the hills from the 2008 race are STILL THERE in 2009. For some reason, I had repressed the memory of these hills and convinced myself that this was a relatively flat course. I know.... stupid, but true. I had also forgotten how a hill has the uncanny ability to sneak up on you EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN SEE IT COMING.

Mile 5 is a long climb up to Providence Road that completely screws up your running mojo and (unbeknownst to you) robs you of the PR that you SOOOOO deserved. However, you are rewarded with a sweet downhill before entering into the Foxcroft neighborhood.

First Gu at Mile 6. At this point, I was exactly on pace for the first 1oK. I was doing a great job of staying focused and breathing correctly and keeping my form in check.

Mile 7 - 8:44
Mile 8 - 8:31
Mile 9- 8:41

Average Pace 8:50

I honestly don't remember much about Miles 7,8,9. I hope they were flat, because it looks like I was hauling ass.

Mile 10 - 8:45 (1:28:56)
Mile 11 - 9:02
Mile 12 - 9:19
Mile 13 - 9:24
Half Marathon: 1:57:50

This is the section where I'm passed by Costumed Runners (three guys in red long underwear and Santa Hats). I realize that if I were running the half I'd be done by now. I do the math and realize I am a negative split away from a 3:55 marathon

Mile 14 - 9:12

We interrupt this race report for the following IMPORTANT BULLETIN from GARMIN:




This is the point where I find myself thinking that the half marathoners might have been the smart ones and f#ck that whole negative split thing. Sub 4:30 here I come! This section is pretty desolate and that, combined with the lack of crowd support, really made it a tough section EVEN THOUGH IT IS FLAT.

Garmin .
Garmin .

You're welcome.

I spotted a guy ahead of me who seemed to be running my pace and was doing a phenomenal job of running easy and relaxed. I tucked in behind him as we went underneath the overpass next to Panthers stadium where a steel drum band is cranking out an amazing racket!

A slight boost of energy later, we roll through mile 16, then mile 17.

At Mile 18 I am completely over the slight boost of energy. At this point I realize that running 8 more miles is really going to suck and I wish I had contracted the Swine Flu on Friday so I could have gotten out of running for public safety reasons.

Mile 18 is never going to end. We head up Trade Street, and this hill is a lot tougher than I remembered. I'm now conscious that I'm having to work hard not to give in to walking. I bet this was my slowest mile so far.

Miles 19 and 20 are the "I'd be just fine with ANY PR today" and "what the f#ck happened to my pace" miles. Seriously, I was kicking butt not 20-minutes ago and now I'm pushing to run 10-minute miles. Oh, and the really smooth runner guy helping me with my pace? I think he just dropped out with leg cramps. I have officially entered the BITE ME miles.

At Mile 20 I'm busy planning my lawsuit against the Race Director for not coming clean about the rolling hills. I figure I have enough people to make it a civil lawsuit (did I mention the effin' rolling hills???).

Mile 21 is the start of the "you're almost there" crowd. Seriously. Just 200 yards into Mile 21 and a guy yells, "Just 4 miles left! It's all down hill from here!" Learn to count, buddy! 26 minus 21 is NOT 4!!! I mentally abuse him for the next 2 miles. I re-direct my lawsuit towards him and imagine getting a million dollars in punitive damages. I imagine stopping, and saying, "Well, since we're so close to the finish, why don't you just put that sign down and pace me? No? That's what I thought." For the record, if you can't see the finish line YOU'RE NOT ALMOST DONE.

At 23 I had nothing left. I don't know if I hit the wall or what but I do know that my legs were tired and vetoing my request to pick-up the pace. I finished in 4:12:11, with a solid PR (over 7 minutes better than my previous) and I learned a lot about racing. That's all I know for now.

P.S. If you took my advice, you're 11 drinks in and think I'm pretty funny.

* = (pNbtn) = Praise NOT Be Thy Name!


  1. Excellent job! Any PR is a good PR! Not to mention the whole running a marathon thing. It seems everybody thinks this course is deceptively slow. That percussion band near the Panther's Stadium was a real highlight for my day- there were some otherwise quiet footsteps out there.

  2. You said it, brutha! A PR is a PR is a PR...It's all good. Indeed, there were sections of that race that were quieter than Tiger Woods (yes, I went there).