Monday, October 6, 2008

The Humbling: My 5th Straight Maine Marathon

First off, let me start with some incoherent mumblings about why I subject myself to the "humbling of the marathon"? Why do I jump into this epic distance year after year, arguably under-prepared, knowing full well that I will suffer? While running distance does awaken senses that otherwise lay dormant in day to day life and the struggle of finishing does make me appreciate my time on this rotating orb even more, I really don't have a good answer for this one. When I feel like a have a good answer it is fleeting and doesn't seem to capture the essence of the reason very well. Maybe this is why I keep running these things, to figure out why I am running them...

So, as even the least astute of you could have guessed, I once more tried my hand at the marathon distance on Sunday at the Maine Marathon and came out on the other side having achieved my goal but in no way without pain. Having said that, I had a rollicking good time, running with new friends from Atayne while wearing one of their fantastically performing running shirts as well as having the pleasure of seeing another friend complete in fine fashion his first marathon.

Let's rewind. Reminiscent of last year, I did not commit to run the marathon until the day before. On Saturday, Kelly, Quinn, and I headed down to Portland and the marathon expo to sign me up. Kelly was already committed to volunteering all day on Sunday, so she wasn't running. I had thought well enough ahead, unlike last year, to not commit to a Saturday morning full of start line set-up with the race director (which totally left my legs cooked during last year's race). So my legs were pretty fresh, too fresh actually from too little training the prior three weeks due to sickness, injury, and travel. But enough with the alibis. Oh yeah, there is one more. Saturday morning I awoke with a cold which left me doubting my ability to hit my goal of qualifying for Boston, and hardly to even run the required 26.2 miles to not be listed as a DNF (aka couldn't finish). The conversation on the way to sign up Saturday went something like this:

Kelly: "Are you gonna run?"
Me: "I don't know. I really want to but I feel terrible and there is no way I can win (!!) the race in this condition."
Kelly: "So what are you gonna do?"
Me: "If I don't race can it will probably save us over $100 including race fees and babysitting during the race. I can then put this money to better use, like getting an iPhone!"
Banker (I mean Kelly): You are not getting an iPhone.
Me: Should I race?
Kelly: I can't answer that for you.

And this dialogue went on the entire trip to Portland (I only asked once about the iPhone) and even into the expo where I proceeded walk around looking for inspiration and motivation for an hour before committing to race. This time was not lost, however, as I chatted with good friends and even met the good people of Atayne, including Rebecca (who seemed to really run the show), Paige, and Mike (who was described as the "sugar daddy" of the operation...I am guessing this has to do with money...I should have asked him about an iPhone). All very nice people whose mission it is to save us from ourselves by cleaning things up and dressing us in nice, clean, environmentally appropriate (meaning less harmful to the mother ship) clothing. And having worn their stuff on Sunday, I give it two thumbs up for wicking ability and for keeping itself looking sharp and crisp during my entire trip around Portland.

Anyhow, I did sign up with about a half an hour left in the expo. On the way home we got some healthy grub from O'Naturals, I dropped Kelly and the kids off at the Cumberland Pumpkin Festival, and I went home and consumed as many freshly picked apples as my stomach would take to help ward off my sniffles.

The apples apparently worked. Also, the fact that I got a few hours more than my standard 5-6 hours of snooze time probably didn't hurt. I awoke a couple hours before the race feeling pretty good but not entirely out of the woods, downed a couple pills, and then headed to the race to get ready for the day. We arrived at 7 AM for our volunteer prep at the Atayne tent (Kelly worked from 7:30 - 2:30 while I joined her at her water stop around noon), our babysitter met us, and then Kelly headed out to do her work. I stayed behind and met Jeremy (check out Sunday's article about him in the Maine Sunday Telegram), the founder of Atayne and native Mainer, who is now living in my home state of Virginia. I was planning on joining Jeremy and his buddy Mark for the 26.2 miles, or as long as we could stay together. Having never run with either of these guys, I had no idea of what to expect. Jeremy apparently had been training hard, and had a marathon PR (destroyed by end of the day) of around 3:23, while Mark was playing it humbly saying he would be happy to hang on with a finishing time around 3:15.

As we lined up, both Jeremy and Mark donned their game faces and iPod headphones, leaving me wondering how this whole thing was going to play out. I had never run with anyone wearing headphones (I am not against them, it just isn't something I use on race day), so I really wasn't sure of the etiquette like do I try to talk to them during the race of just leave them along. (As a side note, I never did ask them about their respective soundtracks. If either of them read this, what were you listening to?) Anyhow, maybe I should have paid more attention to all the pages that Runner's World and Running Times (mirror images of each other now that Rodale bought them) fills with iPod related stuff, but as the race started the iPod thing was no issue as both guys seemed to hear me just fine.

Many of you who have run many miles with me know that I am a talkative runner, hopefully respectfully so and not to the point of being annoying. Well, there was very little rumblings out of me on Sunday as the cannon propelled us to a first mile split of 7:25 which progressively got quicker to a 6:50 by mile 4 and then settled in to an average of about 7:00/mile until the latter stage of the race. All in all the pace was pretty consistent with some mile below and others just above this average pace, but much better than the 7:17 required to hit a Boston Qualifying (BQ) time of 3:10 for the youngest of runners. I had learned just a couple days earlier that my BQ time was now 3:15 since on race day in 2009 I will be 35 years of age. These extra five minutes would prove fortuitous as I paid for these quick early miles over the last 10K.

The three of us, Jeremy, Mark and I, got along swimmingly as we progressed from Portland through Falmouth, Cumberland, and then Yarmouth. Mark had a tendency to surge forward at points (which could be indicative of smoother pacing on his part) but we always tended to come back together. At the half way spot we were all together with a split time of roughly 1:33, well on pace for a sub-3:10. The trip home is a little tough with a few good uphills but overall a net descent which for me left my quads absolutely destroyed. There is one hill around mile 17 which rises only a couple hundred feet but completely squashed me on Sunday. After that hill things seemed to disintegrate for me. Mark pulled ahead of Jeremy and me while we slowed our cadence trying to save our legs for the top. At the top Jeremy was in much better shape than I was. Shortly after that he kept up his pace while I fell off mine enough to lose touch with him but keep him in my field of vision.

My splits from mile 19 on are very telling. Other than seeing Kelly, Riley (who apparently was the star water stop person of the day), and Quinn at the Mile 23.1 water stop and Jamie and Heather hollering encouragement (thanks guys) somewhere around mile 18-19, the last 7-8 miles were torture. After the 7:00 average pace we had held through mile 18, I slowed slightly to a 7:14 pace in mile 19 and the hemorrhaging started there. The following are my respective splits from Miles 20-26: 7:18, 7:46, 7:33(!), 7:53, 8:06, 8:05, 8:59(!!). The last 0.2 miles was run at a respectable pace of 7:30 for the adoring crowds that always gather at the finish lines of these things. In my mind during these last few miles I was witnessing a bloodbath of epic proportions. I was cursing myself for getting into this mess, constantly asking myself why I didn't commit to harder training, while at the same time I was entertaining the conflicting emotions of relief and happiness that I was almost done.

During the last few miles I lost sight of Jeremy but could see Mark only a few hundred yards in front. He was stopping intermittently to stretch out the cramps that were dogging him and I even resorted to a couple walking breaks to stretch out my legs (hence the 8:59 in the 26th mile). In the end, Jeremy busted his PR by over 13 minutes to finish just over 3:09 while Mark came in at just under 3:13 (just shy of a BQ which I am sure he will get next time around if he really wants it) and I finished about 30 seconds behind Mark. So we all got what we wanted: Jeremy and I BQ'd while Mark beat his 3:15 goal. All in all a pretty good day. But next time I will train better! I promise. This is what I said after last year's Maine Marathon debacle but I mean it this time.

Finally, I want to thank Jeremy, Mike, Rebecca, Paige, and the rest of the Atayne team and volunteers for all they did to clean up our race course and training grounds. They left Maine a better place than they found it, which is what all of us should aspire to do daily. Cheers.


Jamie said...

Well done, Stephen! Really enjoyed waking up and reading your report with a nice big mug of coffee in hand.

I know your modesty, but still, I continue to be impressed with your athleticism. Very impressive how you finished with a fantastic time like that, despite feeling underprepared and also struggling the last 10k. Simply awesome!

Congrats and rest and recover well. Hopefully see you around soon.

Ernesto said...

Congratulations on the BQ -- great run! Maine was my first marathon, and I can't imagine doing it with so little prep and still running such a fast race.

Jeremy said...

Great recap Stephen. This was without a doubt my most enjoyable race. I am sure my time had a lot to do with that, but the company was top notch.

This was actually the first time I have taken my ipod on a race. I took it out of fear of loneliness if we were to get separated.

I ended up listening to it for about 10 miles. I turned it on at the start of one of the big hills to help get me through. When I pushed play I was graced with a little Bon Jovi. That definitely got me up the hill. Can't really remember what else I heard, but I do remember Modern Love by David Bowie and Paradise City by Guns n' Roses.

My playlist typically consists of:
Pearl Jam
Bon Jovi
G n' R
My Morning Jacket
Kings of Leon
Ray Lamontange
Cold War Kids
Colin Hay
The Killers
Rusted Root
Snow Patrol

Can't wait to run with you again. Do you have anything planned around Thanksgiving?

Mark said...

Awesome write-up, Stephen and I would agree with jeremy that the race was by far my most enjoyable - attributable to the company for the first 21 miles. Any time you want to run another race just let me know.....I'm in. Great to meet you and hopefully we'll cross paths again.....cheers.

Paige said...

Congrats on the BQ, Stephen :) It was great to meet you! Sunday was a blast, I've never seen so many Gu packs in my life...and some other unmentionables along the course, haha. Our race clean-up turned into a nice long run when it was all said and done, but I was totally jealous of everyone racing :) Happy running!

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mike said...

Congrats on the BQ! I really enjoyed reading your recap of the weekend - well done. As for the 'Trash Run', we had a great time taking a tour of Portland. The people we met along the way from police officers, athletes, aid station volunteers, to people sitting on their front lawns, were so welcoming and gracious with their comments/cheers it really made the effort a blast. Thanks to all the volunteers who helped us keep Maine beautiful and special thanks to Ian and Jeff who relieved me of the 'trash stroller' for much of the run :)

Looking forward to seeing you again in the near future. Keep in touch.

sn0m8n said...

Congrats on the BQ! Of course, you realize this means you have to do another marathon.

UltraFlash said...

Thanks everyone! I appreciate you reading and leaving your thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Nice job ace. Sorry Katy and I did not make it out there to cheer you on. I still am not sure how you do so well despite the lack of training. Must be good genes.

Rest up!