Monday, November 23, 2009

Philly Marathon Race Report Part 1 - The Race Itself

….and other lessons learned from the weekend in Philly

Much like the Pittsburgh Pirates must first become a .500 team before becoming a playoff contender, I learned that I should probably shoot for a sub-3:00 marathon before aiming for a sub-2:50 race….the hard way.

FYI—this is going to be a long one since I don’t run big races too often. Lots of thoughts going through the head. I’m going to break it into two parts: the race and the reflection. Let me first start off my saying that, while I was pretty bummed out about the end result, there were many positives to pull out of this experience and I hope to convey those along the way as well.

Okay- the facts first:
*Finishing time: 3:15:21 – 639th out of 7464 finishers (including me…barely)
*Big time hamstring cramp right before mile 24 preceded by increasing levels of tightness in both hammies AND calves from about mile 19 until the end.

Part 1 – Race Report (Part 2 Reflections to come either later tonight or Tuesday)

Here were my goals going into the race (sorted by increasing difficulty):
1. Finish the race
2. Not walk during the race - walked for parts in previous two
3. Set a PR (previous best 3:22)
4. Better my AG's Boston Marathon Qualifying Time (3:10) even though I have no thought of doing that race since it’s in the spring—meaning training through the winter (yuck!) and in the middle of track season
5. Crack 3:00
6. Crack 2:50 (6:29 pace) and finish in the top 100

My last marathon was in 2006, just when I started at my new school and hadn’t done any of my training with the XC and track teams like I’ve done the last three years. I trained on my own and ended up running a 3:22 out in Ohio. I had a couple of rough miles near the end and had to walk a little, but beat the previous PR of 3:37 at my first marathon.

So, on to marathon #3. Beth and I left on Friday night after meeting up with my dad for dinner and went half of way. Then, on Saturday morning, we went the rest of the way, picked up the packet and settled back in to our hotel to watch the PSU football game in the afternoon. After a pasta dinner at Tony and Joe’s, it was off to bed and ready for race day.

It was such a beautiful weekend in Philly. On race morning, the temperature was in the low 40’s with a forecast of it going up in to the 50’s. No rain, no wind, no clouds….just about perfect. Beth performed excellently as the spectathlete, holding my gear and waiting around as I did my pre-race stretching, striders, and preparations (aka visits to the…nevermind). My ‘preparations’ were complete with about 10 minutes until the race start, we said our goodbyes and I worked my way up to my color-designated bin. Planning on running a fast time, I was in the bin right after the ‘elite’ wave. Not realizing where we were since it was dark out, I had to work up through about 8,000 people (no joke) to get up to my wave. Fortunately, I made it up there with about 2 minutes to spare. I did a couple of final stretches and it was time to go.

I had made up my mind to get out a little fast just to get away from the crowds. I also didn’t want to get stuck back at a pace I didn’t want to go and have to waste a lot of time weaving through slower traffic. So, I’m off in the race and split 6:17 and 6:00 downhill to the Delaware River. After a 6:12 third mile, I finally threw on the brakes and tried to settle in to my race pace rhythm.

Miles 4-8 were 6:29, 6:22, 6:22, 6:20, and 6:26 and we worked through Center City, over the Schuylkill River and past Penn, Drexel, and the zoo. A downhill mile towards Franklin Park yielded an OOPS mile 9 at 6:06, but then settled back in to a 6:27 mile 10 as I was on the bike course loop of the Philly Tri up to the Triathlon ‘Expo Area’ and back down the hill to the river. So, 1:03:00, or 6:18 pace, through 10 miles….a little fast, but I felt VERY comfortable and wasn’t breathing hard or feeling any fatigue.

Miles 11 and 12 were 6:22 and 6:19. I was a little mad at the 6:19 because I had a feeling some of the people around me were picking it up as they were finishing the half marathon (same course). I should have let them go a little more and backed off.

Mile 13, I came back by the Art Museum and Rocky and spotted Beth. I gave her the thumbs up as I split a comfortable 6:31 and then split a 13.1 time of 1:23:11 (6:21 pace). I went in assuming I wasn’t going to run even splits and was shooting for a 1:24, so my split caused me no concern and gave me some wiggle room to run a 1:26+ (6:35 pace) on the way back.

Mile 14 sent you up a hill on the eastern side of Fairmont Park and I split a 6:42. It was during this uphill that the #2 and #3 females passed me. I didn’t for a second think of going with them because I wasn’t going for 2nd place in the women’s race!!!! I was just backing off a little and settling in to a rhythm for the second half of the race.

Mile 15 was back down the hill and on to Kelly Drive along the Schuylkill and I split a 6:30 and was right where I wanted to be. Mile 16 was a head scratcher. I saw the women gaining ground on me and going back and forth and perhaps backed off of their duel a little too much. I split a 6:51 and wrote it off to losing a little focus and getting caught up in watching a good battle for 2nd place instead of focusing on my race. However, Mile 17 was also 6:54 and things didn’t quite feel right. I could definitely feel some tightness….not necessarily fatigue….cropping up in BOTH hammies and calves.

Trying to fight that off and not complicate things, I backed off for the next mile and split 18 at 7:10, hoping the tightness would work itself out. Unfortunately, it still just lingered. Again, not necessarily fatigue, but more of just like when go do a hard track workout on a cold day and your legs feel a little tight. I had this same feeling a few Februarys ago when I did a 10-mile race with Beth and it was 10 degrees out.

Mile 19 was slightly uphill into Manayunk and I split a 7:45 and could feel that I was losing ground both on the competition, my goals, and my muscles located on the back side of my body. There was a water station a little before Mile 20 and I got some water and gave in to the tightness signals and stopped to stretch both calves on the street curb and bend over to stretch the hammies. With the water stop and stretching, I split an 8:38.

I pass the turnaround and know that I’ve got a 10k to go and it’s mostly downhill and flat. I begged the legs, which were now starting to fight the fatigue on top of the tightness, to hold on a little more. A stop back past the same water stop (now at 20.5) and another stretch of the calves and hammies.

I split 21 at 8:20 and 2:21:02 overall and started to do a little bit of recalculating of my goals knowing that 2:50 was out the window. If I could just get the tightness to cooperate and hold off for only 5 more miles and split 8:00 pace, I could still be around 3:00. Heck, maybe the tightness would work itself out and I could even still crack 3 hours.

But, it was not to be. The tightness only increased as did the number of runners blowing by me as I slowed down to an ugly 8:36 (Mile 22) and 9:16 (Mile 23) pace with some more curb stretching along the way. Somewhere around here the 3:00 pace group roared past me and that was a depressing blow.

However, I still had my goals 1(finish), 3 (PR), and 4 (Boston Time), so onward I went. My overall time at 23 was under 2:39. I figured I had a 5k left and if I could even shuffle 9:00 miles (keeping the math easy - 9 x 3 = 27 + 2:40 = 3:07), I’m still under 3:10.

Then, as I’m getting within 50 meters of Mile 24 and the clock turning to 2:48, I’m doing some more calculating. I’m thinking to myself, “Okay, keep this 9:00 pace and you’ll….” WHAMO!!!! All of the sudden, my right hamstring became a pretzel, knot, or whatever analogy you want to describe the fact that it totally contracted on me and I was in severe pain. As it hit, I screamed and immediately started hopping on my left leg, did a 180-degree turn, and actually was hopping backwards over to the barriers by the sidewalk.

Fortunately, some (including me) may even say that it was God’s perfect timing, a pair of medics were driving up the road in their medical golf cart. As I’m still screaming, the medic asks me what I want him to do. I said to just get my leg up in the air and to stretch it on the cart to get the knot out. After stretching it for about 30 seconds, the knot went away, I said thank you and lowered it back down to the ground, when…..

WHAMO! The moment I set it back down, it seized back up again. The pain! We stretched it some more and set it down and nothing cramped. They asked me if I wanted a ride back, but I figured I was only two miles out and I wanted to finish even if it meant I had to walk. They documented my number for their paperwork and went on their way. I shuffled/walked the next 50 meters and angrily slapped at my watch to split a blazing 12:28 for mile 24. No timeouts in running! I was so frustrated at that point knowing that my race was over and I was just in survival mode to get to the line.

Each stride forward was carefully placed with nearly-straight legs in hopes of preventing another tangled mess of muscles from occurring in either of my hamstrings (or calves for that matter). As long as the knee didn’t bend, the hamstring couldn’t contract and possibly cramp. I would shuffle for a couple of lamp posts and walk a couple when I could feel the tightness increasing. The crowd was great, but I sure didn’t want to hear any “Let’s Go Oscar” or “Pick it up” chants at that point. I just wanted to finish and was very angry at my legs.

Mile 25 was a mercurial 12:21 and then my last 1.2 was 11:37, so I must have picked up the pace to a speedy 9:40 pace cheered on by the crowd. I saw Beth as I rounded the final bend and know that I gave her this huge look of disappointment and frustration.

So, across the line at 3:15:21, grabbed the finisher medal out of the hand of the volunteer, snatched my food goodie bag and water off the table, walked hastily away and did everything I could to not be a bad sport and conceal my near anger at how things finished. With it being such a big race, it took about another 10 minutes or so for Beth and I to catch up. She knew things obviously didn’t go as planned and offered a lot of support.

So ended my day. A PR, a finish, but not much else in my mind at that point. Part 2 to come is the analysis of what to do differently next time and to put a positive lining on the weekend and moving forward.


Beth said...

Oh man, reading about the cramps now I think they were even worse than I had envisioned! I can't believe you finished. I would have taken that cart ride home... ;)

Steve said...

I think I thought about you going for 3:00 hours first, either this morning, or perhaps last night. 3 hours is an elite group. It took my cousin Rudy 4-6 marathons to break 3, and this year he P.R.'d 10 minutes or so for a 2:47.

I had no idea your muscles balled up. I have had my share of cramps. Neared several times for the balling up of muscles, luckily never happened. I do have some ugly pictures of my face battling through it though. I feel for you there, that had to be horrible.

You have the 3:00 marathon in you, and probably the sub: 2:50.

Too bad training in the winter isn't a good option for you. Pittsburgh is a spring marathon.

Best of Luck

Marit Chrislock-Lauterbach said...

Oh wow Oscar- that sounds absolutely awful. I'm so sorry that happened! The worst leg cramps I got was after finishing IM CDA... I made my way to the med tent and IMMEDIATELY my left hamstring seized up. It was so painful... but thankfully I was done. I can not (for the life of me) imagine running an additional 2.2 miles with BOTH hammy's seizing and jumping.

You have GUTS, determination, and a will like no other. Even though you didn't get the result that you had in mind...this race shows A LOT more about who you are and how much you're willing to push to make something happen. I have no doubt that you'll achieve your sub 2:50. If anyone can do it - based on how you held up under some excruciating circumstances - you can.

Can't wait to cheer you on when it happens!

BriGaal said...

Oww, my hamstrings hurt now! Way to be tough and finish. Still a great time.

Charisa said...

Congrats on your PR, even though it wasn't quite what you'd hoped for.

Mira Lelovic said...

Congrats, Oscar. You should be proud of yourself, you finished and with a PR. Looking forward to reading part 2. Hope your hamstring has recovered.