It took me three and a half years but I finally bettered my PR that I set at Grandma's Marathon in 2006. My previous best was 2:58:37. Today I ran 2:57:11! Here is the story (I may be wordy here but I don't want to forget any details).
We woke up at 4:30 am (actually Clay was up even earlier...not by choice), to catch the bus to the starting line at 5:00am! We met up with the rest of our group (Dale, Michael, Dan, and Chuck) easily and boarded a bus quickly. It was around 30 degrees. We were able to stay on the bus to keep warm and go back and forth between the port-a-potties. We finally left for the starting line around 6:30 and got close to our pace groups. My plan was to say behind the 3 hour pacer for a while to test my right leg and then decide what to do. I was dressed perfectly. I had a skull cap, arm warmers and gloves with shorts and a sleeveless shirt. I wore my injinjis (socks), which I found out the hard way that they don't keep your toes very warm. I felt like I was running on stubs for the first two miles.
The gun went off and we took off down hill for the first mile. The three hour pacer really took off and was 10 seconds ahead of me right away. After mile one you turn right and head up a short hill and then start a series of short wavy hills for four miles. My first five splits were 6:50, 6:42, 6:35, 6:41, 6:39. The three hour pacer was still ahead of me. He took those poor guys out way too fast.
We turned south after the five mile mark and were welcomed by a stiff headwind for the next five miles which also had a series of short wavy hills. By mile seven I had passed the 3 hour pace group, which was still ahead of schedule, and I was powering up the short hills then cruising down the other side. The hills almost seemed to be strategically placed. Just when my quads were getting tired we were going up, and just when my calves and hams were tiring we were going down again. Things were going really well. The wind did not seem to affect me at all. I had no right foot pain and no right leg tightness at this point. I couldn't believe it! My next five splits were 6:39, 6:43. 6:42. 6:42, 6:25!
We then turned right (west) and the head wind became a cross wind. The hills continued but were longer for the next four miles. I continued to power up the hills and really started to pick it up on the downhills. I was going from one pack to the next. Everyone seemed to be coming back to me and as I passed more and more people I was a little worried that I was going to fast. Still feeling relaxed, I decided to maintain my pace. My splits were 6:17, 6:40, 6:42, 6:42. That 6:17 was me trying to keep up with another runner that was obviously too fast for me...I let him go. My half marathon split was 1:27:36 (right on pace for a 2:55).
Just passed the half way point my right calf started to tighten a bit but not enough to affect my stride or slow me down. I kept grinding. We turned south again to an even stronger headwind for the next five miles. I got stuck between packs for a few miles and was all by myself in no mans land with no one to help me. I was continuing on pace focusing on groups ahead until I finally caught one, and then another. My spits here were 6:50, 6:35, 6:39, 6:37, 6:33. I went through mile 18 I remember just over 2 hours (2:00:20ish). Knowing that I was still on pace for 2:55 I decided there that I hadn't come all this way and put myself in this position not to finish well.
I took two powerbar gels (strawberry-banana) with water. One at the half way point and one at mile 20. I took one cup of Ultima around mile 10 and one other sip of water some where along the way. That is all I needed.
There is a bridge around mile 21 that I was waiting for as a landmark and it seemed to take forever to get there. "Where is that darn bridge?" I kept thinking. That is really the last hill on the course. By mile 19 the headwind was now a cross wind again and didn't seem to affect me the rest of the race. It did keep temperatures down though. I passed a bank around mile 22 and the clock outside read 39 degrees. By my Garmin (which was a little off) I went through 20 miles in 2:12:55. It was actually just over 2:13. Mile 20 was 6:36, mile 21 was 6:48, mile 22 was 6:55, and then the legs started to get a little heavy.
6:40 is the average pace to run a 2:55. They were calling out average paces almost every mile and by 20 I was 6:41! After 21 miles the course starts to flatten out, but because my legs were tiring it felt like I was still running up hill. We hit 56th street and had to run down to 9th street. My legs were getting harder and harder to lift and I was pushing off the ground less and less. I was trying to do the math and calculate how close I could be to running a PR as 2:55 started to slip away. Last four miles were 7:05, 7:07, 6:58, 7:04 and a last finishing kick for the last .2 miles gave me a 2:57:11! Those last four miles were probably the hardest four miles I have ever run. That is where my extra 1.5 minutes came from. I realized with about a mile to go that I was going to PR for sure and I was pumped up!
Once I stopped running I could barely move. Both of my legs seized up with cramping and I hobbled around the finish area. I kept waiting around but never found anyone else from my group. I finally ran into Michael who shook his head. He was hoping to run sub 3:10 and ended up 3:18 (still a PR). He said he lost Dan at around the half way point. I couldn't find anyone else so I shuffled back to my hotel room. It took me at least 20 minutes to walk a quarter mile to the hotel.
The conditions where tough out there and only got worse as the day went on. Dale was the only other runner in our group to PR with a time of 3:19:48. Chuck (two weeks after running the Route 66 marathon) ran 3:22:00. Clay and Dan both had a really rough time out there. Clay said he caught up to Dan around mile 22 and they were both walking. He said Dan was weaving back and forth on the road. They got together and walk/jogged it in at around 3:45. They both battled calf issues. Don't let it get you down guys. You are both better than that. It just wasn't your day.
I checked the official results when I got home and found that I had just cracked the top 200 runners finishing in 197th place. I was 36th in my age group 30-34. There were a number of talented runners there. My 2:57:11 is averaging 6:45 pace! This may also be the first time that I ran under 1:30 for my second half of the marathon. Since I went out in 1:27:36 I came back in 1:29:25. This was my 8th marathon and they don't get any easier. I don't know when I will take shot at this new PR but I know I have more in me. 2:55 is certainly possible, then who knows.
Tomorrow will be a tough day at work. My legs are extremely stiff and sore, the right leg is worse than the left.
It was a great trip. One I will never forget (especially after this LONG blog post).