Sunday, November 18, 2012

Baystate Marathon Race Report

Thanks everyone who asked me how my marathon went! It means a lot that people are curious how things are going in my little corner of the running universe. I was too busy to do a blog post immediately afterwards, then the week got in the way, then I lost power for 3.5 days, and by the end of that I had almost forgotten about it. But it would be lame to go on without any mention of the race, so here it is: the Baystate Marathon race report!

This story is told with the aid of capstone proofs. I actually don't know how "fair use-y" that is--but, well, it's my likeness and I ought to have some say in how it's used. Sorry, Capstone--please reconsider your pricing model! If digital copies were $5 instead of $15 I'd buy four!

I drove up to the race with my friend Andy from pb-runner. It was great to have some company for a trip up to a race for a change! You should definitely read Andy's race report if you're at all interested in how much difference living and training at altitude makes for a non-elite runner when racing at sea-level (answer, it turns out, is quite a lot).

Nothing to report about the start. Conditions were a little chilly before we got under way, but all signs pointed to a gorgeous day. The race set off on time, and we all jogged off to find out what the morning had in store for us.

I soon settled into a groove, running along in a line of other runners as we wended our way through downtown Lowell, and then out westbound along the southern bank of the Merrimack. I wasn't wearing my Garmin--a conscious decision to focus on my body's perception of effort, rather than numbers on my watch. Nonetheless my regular chrono indicated I was clipping along at around 7 minute pace. Perfect. 

I hit the bridge that crosses to the north side of the river still feeling fine (around 12k?). On the other side, as I began the eastward return of the first loop, I exchanged a little conversation with a slightly older fellow wearing a hydration backpack. I mentioned that I was hoping to go under 3:10, which at the time seemed pretty reasonable. He smiled knowingly. "There's still a lot of miles left in this race." Which there were.

Midrace. All systems nominal.

Things continued. I'm a little hazy about what was going through my head at the time. I think I was pretty zoned out. The eastward return has a long rather pretty tree-lined stretch with a few nice views of the river. I remember one of the timing staff was posted out by a clock under the trees, reading a book. I assume he was mainly just there to guard the expensive chrono. I remember thinking that it looked like a pretty sweet gig.

Apropos of nothing, that reminds me: nutrition! I was eating odwalla bars and gumdrops, a combination which use-testing has convinced me is a good compromise between energy and ease-of-digestion. The energy bar might seem like an odd choice, but it's actually kind of a nice distraction--you eat it really slowly over a mile or so and it gives you something to do. I ate two: at 60 and 120 minutes. The gumdrops were just quick glucose in between. It's not super-scientific, but I honestly feel like this works pretty well for me; my energy levels stayed fine throughout the race. 

Oh right, the race. As I said, things continued. I crossed the eastern bridge back to the southern side of the river and began the second loop. Soon I hit half-way, with a split of 1:31:32. Things were fine--my body definitely knew it was in a marathon, but it wasn't complaining. But I and it understood the interesting bit was still to come. Around this time, I saw the guy in the hydration pack again; he gave me a nod as he zoomed past me (the first time during the race I remember being passed, actually). Well, he clearly had a plan!

Passing half-way point. Amusing to compare this pic with the last one--form is almost exactly the same, even to the angle of the thumbs. As it should be!

I made it to the western bridge for the second time, and appropriately enough ate my second energy bar. Glad to be done with that. Just the eastern return--just another 15K or so. 

These last 15K are in fact the remaining 80% of the race.

I felt the first twinge rippling up on and down my calves around mile 18. By mile 19 they were shouting in earnest. "Ah, my old friends," I thought. "Found me again." 

"Of course!" came the cheerful reply. "We found you at Hyannis, in Burlington, in Derry and on Martha's Vinyard. We cut you off on your last 21-mile road run, just a few weeks ago. What did you expect?"

"I expected you," I thought. "But I'm making it to mile 20, anyway. I made it that far at Hyannis; I'm making it further today."

And I did. I knew at this point, however, that the way to maximize my time was not to ignore this problem, but to manage it as best as possible. This meant a deliberate alternation of jogging with timed 30-60s intervals of walking. So, at around mile 20.5 I walked for the first time. My legs wouldn't spring, anymore, but after a minute or so of walking, my calves would support a jog for a few minutes. 

Things continued, as they do. A parade of people I had seen earlier in the race streamed by me. I just concentrated on my plan. 

Somewhere around mile 23, I ran into someone who was in similar shape. "You look like you're on the same schedule as me," I ventured, seeing him stutter into a walk just ahead of me. He nodded, and we introduced ourselves (his name was Benjamin, and you can see him in the results right behind me. Turns out he ran a BQ! Awesome job, Ben!) We ran together in a kind of odd alternation; we were in almost exactly the same state, but a little off phase, so he would break into a jog, get a little ahead, and then fall back into a walk just as I was stepping into a jog again. 

"Let's make it to the bridge," he said.

I think Ben is a little ahead of me at this point.

Why is this bridge so terribly long?

We were now less than 2 miles from the finish, still alternating positions. It was immensely comforting having him around. You always wonder if maybe it's all in your head--maybe if you were a little tougher you would still be running 8 minute miles. But there was somebody else, clearly trying super-hard, clearly also fighting with the same limits I was grappling with. 

When we got to within 1/2 mile of the finish, I resolved that I had walked my last. I was going to run to the finish line, and it wasn't going to be pretty.

No, this is definitely not pretty.

ARRRRRGHHHH! (also, check out sweat beads).

The Boston Marathon has a neat youtube video up of people doing various antics at the finish--cartwheels, push-ups mugging for the camera, that sort of thing. Yeah--none of that for me. I limped off, glad to be done, glad to have PR'd, mostly just glad to be done. Unlike the last two marathons, I was not thinking: "there is no way in hell I am ever doing another marathon." So, by that low standard, I was comparatively up-beat. 

But it certainly wasn't all sunshine and roses, either. I felt like I ended in 95% perfect shape, but that didn't matter at all--not in the face of the missing 5%, the crucial weak link. I had done my homework for this race. It just turns out that I turned in a paper on the history of the Spanish civil war when what was due was a problem set on electromagnetism. The teachers were not impressed. 

This weakness in my legs, I've got to solve it. It's all in my calves, my soleus and gastrocnemius. If I can do 10 hill sprints, I need to be able to do 20. If I can jump rope for 10 minutes, then I need to be able to do it for 20. If I can do 100 toe-ups, then I need to be able to do 200--actually, make that 400. I need to be a lot stronger. I also may need to experiment with cushier shoes. I love my Frees, and I have made it through three marathon training cycles without any injury, running in them. But they may not be what I need for an actual marathon race.

That is all for this race report. I'll try to write something soon outlining my next running goals!

Final results:

 199  68/217  MM3039     DAVID WOODRUFF       Needham MA           31 M   801   59:44 1:31:32 2:10:13 3:18:29.2  7:35 3:18:39.4