i absentmindedly cleared my watch after the race and now my splits are gone forever. i'm hoping there will be time checkpoints listed in the results, but for now i will just have to go off memory...[official results here] [camille herron's race report (i'm in one of her pics!)]
first things first: why am i in texas? why am i running a marathon in early march? how did i hear about this race and why did i travel 1,200+ miles to run it? well, i have bonnie to thank for everything -- she had the idea and she made it possible for me to come out here. of course, everything that comes from bonnie is brilliant, so when she suggested this marathon i didn't have to think too hard about it before making the decision to go for it. it fit perfectly into my training -- i started racking up the miles in january, and history would tell me that i only have so many weeks in a marathon training cycle before i'm either ready to race, or ready to crash and burn in my training. in this case i had about 8 weeks, which has worked out well for me in the past. i was also drawn to the warm weather and the two-loop course. it just fit, and i'm so glad i did it. many thanks, bonnie.
on to the race: it was warm and breezy at the start. the temperature was hovering right around 55 degrees and there was a bit of cloud cover, with darker clouds looming in the distance. the forecast called for warm and windy, with gusts up to 20 mph. i was concerned by this before leaving my hotel, but once outside it didn't seem to be too bad.
the start was uneventful -- i was running just ahead of a group of three women who were all in the marathon (the half marathoners started at the same time). i went through the first mile in 6:48 and was not feeling particularly great. however, i wasn't too concerned with this pace, as my plan was to go out conservatively. i didn't really know what i was up against since i was unfamiliar with the course, so my plan was to use the first loop to assess and the second loop to really race if i had it in me.
by mile 2, the three women caught up to me. just as they approached, there was a metal "clinking" sound on the pavement. women A said: "what was that?" and women B quickly responded with: "that was just the screw that was holding my hip together." perfectly executed deadpan. it was then that i knew i wanted to hang with this crowd for as long as possible.
our pack of four stayed in place through mile 5. they were all very friendly and i was enjoying the company. two of the women fell back a bit just before the 10k mark, and i continued on with gayle. we were rolling along (not literally) at about 6:50 pace, and i wasn't feeling particularly good. for one thing, my right leg seemed to be knotted up (something that has been bothersome over the past month, but nothing major). i was hoping the taper would sort this issue out, but it did not. i was also faced with a mental challenge in that i was running 20 seconds per mile off of my PR, and i could tell i was not going to speed up any time soon.
we went through the half in just under 1:30 (i'll get the official split later). i had now seen the entire course and knew what was coming in the second loop. what was coming? lots of beautiful views of the woodlands, several thousand orange cones, and a flat, flat course. there were some tiny undulations, but they were hardly detectable -- easily the flattest marathon i have ever run (that's not saying much with all my utah racing, but still...it was flat).
just after passing the 13 mile mark, i started to push the pace a bit. being dataless, i don't have exact splits, but if i remember correctly there was a 6:43 and a 6:36. that was more like it, and i was feeling better at this point. my leg had loosened up and i was feeling strong. gayle started dropping back at 15 miles. she stayed fairly close through 16, but then she dropped back at an aid station and i didn't see her for the rest of the race.
now i was alone, just as the wind picked up and it started to rain. RAIN! i'm sorry, but i checked four different sites this morning and none of them said anything about rain. even google was wrong. it was the little pellety-type rain that forces you to squint your eyes and run hair first. when combined with a wind that drives the droplets into your eyes at 20 mph, it makes one wish they owned a pair of sunglasses.
fortunately, the rain only lasted for a few miles -- but it got to me. i did not slow down, but i felt like i was working twice as hard. i hit a bit of a lull between 18-20, but the pace stayed between 6:45 - 6:50.
mile 20 -- i found a spark. i sped up. or at least i thought i did. my splits were indicating that i wasn't speeding up at all, but i felt like i was flooring it. my HR shot up and i started breathing a lot harder than before. basically i was just putting in a lot more effort to keep the pace the same. i was being stubborn about the sub-3; i knew it was going to be really close.
i hit 22 right at 2:30 -- as long as i kept the miles under 7:00, i could hit the sub-3 time. that became the ultimate focus for the rest of the race -- to not see any 7:XX splits on my watch. i wasn't too worried about placing at this point, as i was pretty sure i was locked into second.
i continued to speed up (again, i wasn't speeding up), and by the final 5k of the race i was breathing like i was in the middle of a 5k. i had to dodge and weave through a few half marathoners, but for the most part there was adequate room for both races and it wasn't a big issue. it was actually really nice to have a long string of people cheering for the marathoners -- everyone was really enthusiastic and encouraging. it's amazing how important that becomes at the end of a race. even the smallest "way to go" brings some life into dead legs.
miles 24 and 25 were tough, but not nearly as tough as i have experienced in past races. i would say this was one of the strongest finishes i have had in a marathon. my splits went up to the high 6:50's, but that wasn't all that different from the beginning of the race. i usually slow down a good 15-20 seconds per mile in the final 5k, but today i wavered by 5-7 seconds per mile, and i had life at the end for a tiny, tiny kick.
the finish line was exciting -- lots of people with plastic clappy hands. it was also exciting because i was racing the clock. 2:59 and change -- i needed to get to that line before i saw a 3! i came through in 2:59:31 (unofficially) -- happy to break 3, but pretty far off my "A" goal of sub-2:55.
post-race: i'm telling you, the woodlands knows hospitality. before i even had time to bend over to put my hands on my knees and weep, i had a water bottle in one hand and gatorade in the other. i downed both of them very quickly, as i only had a drop or two of any liquid during the race (i tried, but i failed). a kind woman led me through the crowds up to the elite tent and made sure that my every need was taken care of. they even offered to help me remove my shoes.
the tent was well-stocked with fresh fruit, water, bagels, bon bons, balloons, and massage tables. i even spotted a bottle of champagne, and i was hoping someone would pop the cork so i could at least once in my life experience the cliche of getting bubbly all over my new shirt after an athletic event.
i hung out in the tent for a bit as i hydrated and regrouped. camille herron was the winner of the race (2:37!), and i saw her sitting at the opposite end, so i went over to say hello and congratulate her. she is a two-time olympic trials qualifier (she ran a 2:37 at houston in january -- and led in the first mile!), and she is one of the nicest people i have ever met. she immediately congratulated me on my race (the 2:59 claw-fest) and encouraged me to keep working at it. she told me that she used to be a 19:00 5k runner, but over the years she has been able to bring that time down to the low 17's by making the right tweaks in her training and figuring out what works for her. she told me to keep working and the pieces will fall into place, and she encouraged me to not give up on my goal for the trials. this meant a lot to me. all around, she's just a great person and i'm glad i was able to meet her.
post-post race: i walked back to my hotel, feeling stiff but not overly sore. although i didn't meet my goal for the race, i am happy with the result. i now know exactly what i need to work on through the summer: speed. the race today was just the opposite of top of utah last september. at TOU, i felt like i had the speed but lacked the endurance. today, i had the endurance but i lacked the speed. i didn't have a 6:30 gear. not even close. i think i had three sub-6:40 splits for the entire race, and i was really pushing it in those miles. the encouraging thing for me is that i have a good starting point for the rest of the year. i've built a good base while training for this marathon and now i have that to spring off of for des news and top of utah later this year.
i'm still chasing that sub-2:50...