I will not wear a watch in the next marathon I decide to race. I will also likely never run with a pace group.
Yesterday I ran the Monumental marathon as a "training run" (and a hopeful Boston qualifier) for JFK 50. I did not get my BQ time goal, but it was a great run. The weather, minus a few miles of a headwind, was really perfect for marathon running. I like cold weather running the best and this was the coldest it has been so far this fall. Greg also ran the full marathon and Suttan ran the half. It was nice to have company to hang out with prior to the start. The very gracious staff of the Indianapolis Westin hotel allowed runners to take over their lobby and use their bathrooms prior to the start. The starting line was right outside the hotel, so no freezing and shivering for 15-20 minutes in line at the start. It was great!
I decided a while ago not to wear my Garmin, but as I got dressed that morning, I decided I could not forgo the watch. I mean, how would I review my splits afterward? How would I obsess over good miles vs. bad? How would my friends in my GarminConnect group do the same over my run (HAHAHA… you all KNOW it's true!)? So I put it on. Literally 5 minutes before the start I felt the nerves as I powered up my satellite. And then I got this feeling that was overwhelming. I would not wear it. Period. I took it off, powered it off and zipped it into the back pocket of my running tights. Not quite sure where that overwhelming absolute sense of "PUT IT AWAY AND FORGET ABOUT IT" came from, but it was the best decision I have ever made in regard to racing a marathon. I would run this race based on how I was feeling and I would not let my splits begin to freak me out or mess with my head. This, after all, wasn't my race. I actually had to keep saying that out loud to remind myself of it. My plan was to start with the 3:50 pace group since on the website a few mornings earlier, there was no 3:45 pacer. I would start out a few seconds behind pace and then begin to take seconds off after mile 5 or 6. I have never done that before in a race. Usually race nerves and a poor sense of pacing have me starting out a bit faster than one should for a race that long. Greg and I lined up together. I guess tiny Suttan got lost in the crowd of giant people (compared to her :). I then spotted the guy holding the 3:50 sign and right behind him, someone holding 3:45!! Surely that was a sign from God that this would be the day. I was certain he fell from Heaven just a few minutes prior. Well maybe he did and then needed to be quickly reassigned when he was only halfway through the job, because our lovely 3:45 pacer DROPPED from the race just after mile 14!!!
Here is how it went down… I settled into a nice pace after mile 1 as I let the 3:45 pace group catch up. I had crossed the mat maybe 30 seconds before they did and figured I could pull ahead at mile 24 or so (HAAA!). As always, it was taking my body some time to warm up. In other words, I didn't feel my best, but I refused to let it rattle me. For every complaint that popped up, I pushed it away, knowing I would feel better once a few miles were behind me. I do the same thing on my Wednesday speed runs… start out thinking there is no way I will be able to hang at pace that day, but always do just fine. So all those reminders were really helping keep my head in check. Sure enough at around the 10k mark or even mile 7, I was feeling quite comfortable and at ease. The wind was at our backs at that point. I knew all the prayers that I had said and that my friends had and were saying (thank you, Sarah!) were absolutely making a difference. I was running along with the pace team, really feeling good and confident. This was the such a new and delightful marathon "racing" experience for me. The knowledge that it was a training run was huge. It kept me super relaxed. I had no fear or worry of disappointing anyone and really felt this run belonged just to me. I had no watch to look at a million times that would trip me up if I saw a number too fast or too slow. I just figured I'd let this guy do the work and I would tag along.
After we crossed the halfway mat, the pacer said he was going to take off his sweatshirt. Another girl running with the group and I continued on. I figured she was also pacing the group since she seemed to converse with the pacer for much of the first half and also stayed right beside him. I told her I'd stick to her like glue and she replied, "Well I'm relying on him!", and pointed behind us to the pacer. She then told me she was trying to qualify for Boston with a 3:45 and had really trained hard and had missed it by 5 minutes in her last marathon. I'm told her that I knew a thing or two about that and we began to talk about racing and all that fun stuff. The other factor not mentioned is that she also did not have on a Garmin… just a watch with time. We kept running, but she soon began to worry we were running too fast since the pacer seemed so far back. She did NOT want to get too far ahead at this point and wanted to pace very carefully. Smart girl. We even commented that we both felt awesome at the pace we were running… it seemed almost slow! But we knew we had to let the pacer catch up so we walked, yes, WALKED up a small incline. We soon discovered when we looked back that he was GONE. We knew he did not pass us and we knew he was not behind us. We also did not realize how far behind we were at that point. This was a very good thing for me. I had no clue I was nearly 10 seconds off overall pace at that point. I wasn't paying attention to the time clocks at all since that would require some mental math and figuring out stuff. Well no wonder I felt pretty good! I had slowed just enough to fool me into thinking I was more than ready to nail my time and that it might actually be easy.
I crossed the 30k mat pretty sure I was still on pace. It was not until after the race that John told me my split at the 30k was an 8:46. For me, however, it wouldn't have mattered if it were an 8:36 or an 8:46 at that point. At mile 21, the infamous wall jumped in front of me. It was the dramatic and immediate feeling that I was out of gas and out of fuel… glycogen depleted. This didn't rattle me either, though. Running this race at the pace I did was a bargain without the traditional 3 day carb load. I discovered that it matters a lot for me. Since running a mid 8 pace for that long truly is a race for me, I was using up my stores faster than I could replace them. I did one 26.2 mile training run at a slower pace several weeks ago and I never got depleted. Sore and achy, of course! But not glycogen depleted, therefore despite the annoying discomfort of running that far, I could hang on to my pace. This time, I couldn't. I definitely tried to run hard through the crash, but I couldn't run hard. I probably dropped a minute off my pace per mile from that point on. It wasn't pleasant, but it wasn't as horrible as it normally is for me because I was still very happy. I know this is part of marathoning. I know it isn't recommended to run back to back 20 milers two weeks out or do a 10 mile tempo run 1 week out. I also know a 3 day carb load is recommended and although I did rest a lot this past week, sleep was not a luxury. So I was so ok with it all and still gave it my physical all to the very end. Even without our fearless pacer dropping out, I would not have hit a 3:45.
I am not so sure about my friend though. When she discovered we were way off pace and when the 3:50 pacer passed us, she absolutely crumbled. Her mental state crashed and her body followed. I never saw her again after mile 21. I felt horrible for her. I knew exactly how she felt but I also knew nothing I said to her would matter at that moment. So I just shut up and ran on. But not before I told her marathons are a dime a dozen and she would get her time. Although she was angry at the pacer, I felt it best not to mention that the pacer is not responsible for a runner's racing success. You are bargaining that the pacer, who is human, WILL have a good day. Well the marathon is a fickle bitch, as my husband likes to say. No one is immune from a bad race day. Not even a pacer. So every racer has to have a back up plan to run his own race when a pacer has a bad day.
I crossed the mat in 3:54:45… 10 minutes off my goal time. Suttan was waiting at the finish for me after running an awesome half. Greg was on target to cross soon and came in at 4:04:04… an incredible PR for him. The cool thing is that he didn't train specifically for a marathon. He ran one 20 miler with me 2 weeks ago and much of his racing success yesterday has to do with his half ironman training, which he built an awesome aerobic engine by cycling mixed with running. He also expected nothing from himself, which helped tremendously.
Yesterday's race was a huge victory for me. I have never raced a marathon feeling that strong mentally, especially when I've fallen off pace. I did keep it a race and did plow hard through the final miles, though it wasn't enough. I think that is why I cannot fathom running my second back to back today. I am so sore and my right knee is bothering me. With my real race only 3 weeks away, I can only screw things up by too much at this point. It is a shame to miss the Mason half on such a gorgeous morning, but I know it is for the best. When my alarm went off and I tried to go down my steps and needed the banister this morning, I knew it wouldn't be wise to even attempt it. It has been a long time since that has happened after a long "training run". I need to recover a bit.
I'd like to thank all those who sent up prayers for a good race for me. On all saints day, there was certainly a whole host of heavenly saints keeping me mentally on target, no doubt in preparation for the next time I train for that goal. You know, the one I have said many times over I am not doing anymore? Yeah, that one. I ran the best I was able yesterday, no doubt about that. For that, I am really, REALLY grateful and happy for that awesome training run.