Tuesday, November 1, 2011


There’s something about the days leading up to a marathon that makes me question whether I truly have what it takes to conquer the distance. Maybe it’s the fact that I never actually run the full distance in training. Maybe it’s the memory of hitting the wall in a past marathon. Or maybe it’s the two-week taper after months of high mileage that leaves me feeling restless and uneasy. The Marine Corps Marathon would be my fourth marathon since the first in 2008, yet the same fears and anxiety I felt running my debut marathon would still race through my mind. Sure, I had increased my training mileage, added essential quality workouts to the rotation, and improved my 5k and Half Marathon PRs since last year…but it’s still the marathon, and everybody knows that “anything can happen in a marathon.”

In the beginning of 2011, I set three goals for myself: Run a sub 18-minute 5k, Win a road race, and Run a sub 3-hour marathon. With two goals checked off the list, only one goal remained. And so, after months of tempo runs, Dilworth Speed Loop workouts, and CRC Group Long Runs, I made the trip up to D.C. with my site set on achieving a new PR of “2 hours and change.”
My wife and I arrived in D.C. with the threat of rain, sleet and snow in the weekend forecast. After being snowed out of the Myrtle Beach Marathon in 2010, I was not about to miss another marathon due to snow. Fortunately, all signs pointed to the storm clearing out by Sunday which put my worries at ease.

Since Saturday’s conditions were not conducive to site-seeing, I decided to map out a race strategy in the hotel room while Kristen ran 9-miles around D.C. in the cold rain to prepare for her first half-marathon (so proud of her!). Based on my current fitness level and past experience running marathons, I went into this race thinking 2:56 to 2:59 would be an acceptable target finish range. I wrote down the following pre-race goals:
1) Take it easy the first mile to warm up the muscles, lock into a nice comfortable rhythm around 6:40 pace and hit the half between 1:27-1:28.
2) Stay concentrated on maintaining pace during Miles 14-20 and aim to hit the 20-mile mark around 2:13. Don’t let goal pace slip away by losing focus.
3) During the last 6 miles, visualize running “an easy six down to Freedom Park and back to the house.” Count down the miles to go rather than the miles already run.
4) Fuel with Clif Bloks at 6.5, 10.5, 15.5, and 21 followed by water (since these points precede the water station areas).

Saturday afternoon we met up with my in-laws and took the Metro downtown to pick up my bib and do a little site-seeing in the city. While they wanted to check out the Spy Museum, I convinced them to go to the “Museum of Crime & Punishment” instead. I figured if I saw some of the crazy things they did to torture people back in Medieval Times, maybe 26.2 miles wouldn’t feel so bad the next day? Afterwards, it was off to eat some pasta downtown and back to the hotel early so that I would be well rested for the big test the next morning.
I woke up at 5:30am on race morning after a surprisingly good night of sleep, downed a Clif Bar with some coffee and toast, and got ready so we could leave the hotel by 6:30. All I have to say is good thing we left early! Getting to the start line took a lot longer than I thought as thousands of runners made the 2-mile walk from the Metro stop through security and to the start line. Fortunately, we had timed everything perfectly as I got to the front corral with 15-minutes to spare. After a short welcome speech by Drew Carey (who actually jumped in and ran the marathon), the starting WWII Cannon fired away and we were off and running….let’s do this!
As amped up as I felt at the start, I remembered my race plan and decided to take it easy for the first mile to get warmed up. I hit Mile 1 in 6:43…perfect! Next on the agenda was to try lock in goal pace. I stopped looking at my watch and tried listening to what my body wanted to do. Mile 2 was an uphill which I hit in 6:35 (Wow, 6:30’s never felt so easy after tapering!). From this point on, I assumed 6:30’s would feel less and less easy…not the case at all. Miles 3 and 4 flew by in 6:24 and 6:10. At this point I decided to ditch 6:40 goal pace and just run based on feel. When I crossed over Key Bridge into Georgetown, I got an extra boost of confidence seeing Chad & Danielle Crockford cheering “Go CRC!” (Very cool seeing some CRC representation out there!).

After hitting Mile 5 in 6:24 and Mile 6 in 6:35, it was time to climb up the long hill on Canal Rd. I took my first installment of Clif Bloks and starting climbing. Since I knew this was the last significant climb I would experience, I decided to take it easy on the way up and crush the downhill section. The plan worked out great as I ascended Mile 7 in 6:48, followed by a fast 6:29 (M8) and 6:17 (M9)…feeling great!

My wife and in-laws were waiting for me just before Mile 9. I passed my gloves off and continued onward out of Georgetown. Shortly after seeing Kristen, I was greeted again by Chad & Danielle at the 15k mark where they snapped a photo of me. If you notice, I have a big smile on my face. This is not only because I saw my friends from Charlotte, but because the digital clock behind Chad was displaying 1:00:52 (6:32 pace!)…so much for 6:40’s!
At this point, I knew the course would be mostly flat the rest of the way so I decided it would be a good time to try and be more consistent with my pace. My strategy worked well as I hit the next four miles in 6:33 (M10), 6:28 (M11), 6:31 (M12), and 6:37 (M13). [Note: Stone Temple Pilots cover band at Mile 11 got me fired up which might explain the slightly faster 6:28 split...props to MCM for delivering some quality live bands!].

At last, the half-way digital clock greeted me towards the turnaround point…1:25:47!! Talk about a confidence boost. I was way ahead of my 1:27 goal and feeling confident. Next, the course would head north where I immediately noticed a headwind in my face which made it slightly harder to maintain pace. Despite the wind, I managed to roll off some steady splits hitting 6:36 (M14), 6:37 (M15), and 6:39 (M16) while taking my scheduled Clif Bloks along the way.

With the headwind behind me, it got a whole lot easier heading east towards the National Mall section. Not only did I get to see Kristen again, but I got to see all the famous D.C. landmarks up close. Fan support was excellent during this section as well, which covered Miles 17 to 20. Feeding off the energy of the surroundings, I hit my splits in 6:31 (M17), 6:32 (M18), 6:39 (M19), 6:45 (M20).

Just before the bridge, the 20-mile mark displayed 2:11:45 (6:35 pace!) which was well ahead of my 2:13 goal and 6 minutes ahead of sub-3 hour pace. At this point, I knew Sub 3 hours was pretty much in the bag. Not only was I way ahead of goal pace, but I still felt really good (which had not been the case at Mile 20 in past marathons). I took my last portion of Clif Bloks and headed over the bridge for the last 6.2 miles….almost there!
The last 6 miles were pretty much whatever my body gave me. I didn’t want to get too greedy since I knew I’d hit my goal, so I decided to hit the cruise control at a “comfortably-hard” pace. Not too ambitious, but not too easy. I hit my next four miles in 6:46 (M21), 6:46 (M22), 6:39 (M23), and 6:54 (M24).

With only 2 miles to go, the cumulative effect of 24 miles on my legs combined with the headwind in my face heading up Highway 110 started to take its toll. I tried my best to just zone out and slug forward hitting Mile 25 in 7:08 and Mile 26 in 7:02 (these would be the only splits over 7 minutes for the entire race). Finally, I could hear the crowds cheering as I turned towards the Marine Corps Memorial. Time to finish strong!! …Well, not exactly. It turns out there’s a nice little climb to the finish which ruins any attempt to step up the pace. I would have to settle for 7-minute pace at the finish, but I didn’t care at this point. At last, I crossed the finish line in 2:55:01, a full five minutes under 3-hours….GOAL ACCOMPLISHED!!!
Overall, my performance exceeded all expectations. Considering all the things that could go wrong in a marathon, I would say the day couldn't have gone any better. I'm not sure what my next goal will be in terms of marathoning. For now, I am going to sit back and enjoy accomplishing a huge milestone!

Special thanks to the Charlotte Running Club community for supporting and motivating me throughout my training. And of course my awesome wife who has always been my #1 fan!
Garmin Stats: http://connect.garmin.com/activity/125455727

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