Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Breakthrough

Things finally came together Sunday in Columbus!

Prior to this my quest for a sub-3 hour marathon went something like this:

Philadelphia Marathon 2009 - went out way too fast (6:18 pace for first 10 miles!!!) because I got overconfident from running a downhill 1:16:32 half marathon the previous month and crashed & burned in the 2nd half with some cramping around mile 23. 3:15:21

Pittsburgh Marathon 2011 - Much more consistent pacing (1:29 at the half) but things got hard around mile 19, I had to back off a lot then my hamstrings seized up around mile 24. 3:22:38

Harrisburg Marathon 2011 - Went in with the goal of 3:10, was at 1:33 at the half, but the stomach (and then legs) didn't cooperate over the final four miles and more crashing & burning to a 3:22:02

Pittsburgh Marathon 2012 - Thought I had worked out all of the kinks, went through the half at 1:31:25 with the goal of negative splitting, but I got greedy around mile 17-18, it got hot & humid, and I crashed & burned again down the stretch with some hamstring cramping at 25.5. 3:14:07

Columbus Marathon 2012 -
...Well, to back up a few days I had a good week leading up to the race. I stayed off my feet as much as possible, aimed to increase my hydration, did an ART appointment on Monday, and didn't run around like a mad man at our Thursday cross country invitational.

Saturday morning, we headed west to C-bus after dropping off the dog at my parents' house. Beth kicked off her sterling spectathlete weekend by driving most of the way out (and not even getting sleepy!!). We got to Columbus and picked up the packet at the expo. After mapping out Beth's race day cheering/workout strategy downtown, we went over to our home for the weekend with Michelle & Robert and family. We stayed with them back in July when Beth did the Columbus Triathlon.They were yet again great hosts. They treated us to a super pasta dinner and watched The Lorax on their fancy 3D TV.

Race morning arrived and it was a perfect cool low 40's. We parked at the convention center and I warmed up and stretched inside. We went down to the start around 7am (they said you had to be at the corral 30 minutes before the start - kind of crazy). Once I saw that they weren't going to close off the corrals and prevent you from racing at 7:01, I took one more pit stop, gave my warmup clothes to Beth and waited with 20,000 of my closest friends as the sun rose.

The gun finally went off and I tried to work my way through the crowds and find the balloons of the 3:00 pace guy. Found them - nope that was 3:15, so keep going. 3:10, 3:05, ... and in the process I hit the first mile in 6:34. Oops! A little ahead of 6:53 pace. I found fellow Pittsburgher Billy Hughes, who I ran part of the Great Race with, and we ran together up to mile 2. However, when we came through at 13:04 (a 6:30 for me), I told him I need to execute my plan and back off and just settle in near the 3:00 pace guy. We said our good lucks and he was on his way.

When I settled in behind the pace guy (along with 50 or so other people), I turned off my brain and let the pace guy do the work. And boy was he good - 6:52.5, 6:52.8, 6:52.4, 6:53.0, 6:54 over miles 3 through 7. I don't really remember much of this other than our "pack" was pretty quiet and rather business-like. I guess we were all on that mission to hit that sub-3:00 marathon. The other thing I remember is Pittsburgh legend Tammy Slusser came up beside me around mile 3 and was around me through about mile 6, but she got really upset at a runner while near a water station because she felt he slowed down too much and messed up her stride. I saw it coming and was in the middle of the road, but she got a little trapped. After that I didn't see her the rest of the way (she ended up running a very impressive 3:10).

At mile 8, we travelled southward with splits of 6:47, 6:48, 6:54, and 6:50 up through mile 11 as we then headed north up High Street. Error on the pace guy as we did an "uphill" mile with a split of 6:42 for mile 12 but he was so good through the first part of the race, I had no the way he didn't take a water or gel the ENTIRE RACE! How does anybody do 26.2 without any aids?

For the second marathon in a row, I miss the mile 13 split, so at 13.1 I hit my watch and was at 1:29:03. The half people split off at this point and then there was Beth right on cue to see me. I told her things were going well and I had about a minute in the bank.

We proceed the rest of the way up High Street around the edge of Ohio State's campus and made a left until we got to Ohio Stadium. The splits were 6:50, 6:47, and 6:46 up through mile 16. I was right with the pace guy and, maybe he was making a correction, maybe the mile markers were off, but mile 17 was 6:58 and mile 18 was 7:23? Head scratcher.

During mile 18 was perhaps one of the coolest/nastiest parts of the race was that we entered Ohio Stadium (home of the Buckeyes) through a gate, ran right behind the end zone, and then back out.

Very cool atmosphere - fans cheering the endzone stands, the band playing, being within feet of the grass of a major division 1 stadium, but..... getting there involved a 90-degree turn, a quick, sharp downhill slope to get down to the field and a quick sharp uphill to get back out (there were even warning signs about the steep hill). Oh boy was I fearing for my hamstrings cramping. But, they held up.

And, from there the next few miles went well and I started doing math to pass the miles. Mile 19 was 6:46. The math went like this: 7.2 to go (7x7 = 49 + 1 = 50, so I should be there under 2:10) and I was there in 2:09:50. There was a "little" uphill around 20 and 21 so I just focused on staying on the pace guy - 6:47 and 6:44 for mile 20 and 21. 5.2 to go (5x7 + 1 = 36, so be there in 2:24), and I was there in 2:23:20.

The 3:00 "pack" had disintegrated over the 2nd half and it was a scattered group either ahead or behind the pace guy. I was keeping my distance behind him and passing people along the way who were hitting the wall. At this point, it was either flat or a little down hill. Miles 22 and 23 were 6:50 and 6:55 (3x7 +1.5 = 22.5, so be there in 2:37:30) for a total of 2:37:05.

I remember from my trial run of the 2nd half of the course, mile 24 had some up to it. It wasn't as bad as I remembered but the hamstrings were starting to let me know they were there, much like at the Great Race. I didn't feel like they were going to go, but I wasn't about to take any chances so I backed off just a little bit. 7:18 for mile 24, 2:44:23 overall and, holy crap, I only have 2.2 miles to go and still a legitimate shot of cracking 3 hours. While the legs were tugging a little more, I urged the body on and just kept saying in my head "just give yourself a shot with the last 0.2" and "you're still in this game!" Mile 25 was a 7:19 and 2:51:43 overall. Just over 8 minutes to do 1.2.

Maybe, just maybe.

There were a couple of 90-degree turns and I swung as wide as possible through those to avoid any leg cramping from sharp turns as in years past. I was getting close to a course banner/marker when I heard a girl cheering from the side saying "only a half mile to go!" I was thinking, "Silly girl, this is the 26 mile banner and 0.2 is less than a QUARTER mile, not a HALF mile." But, sure enough, it was a "1/2 mile to go" marker. Bummer. I didn't look at my watch. Just kept pressing on.

I get to mile 26 and peek at my watch, just looking at the overall time - 2:59:16. Bummer. Well, I knew I wasn't going to drop a 44-second nearly 400m so my new outlook was, "Let's get a 3:00:xx!" and "Get there before 3:01." So, with the help of a downhill, the leave-it-all-out-there-and-so-what-if-the-hammies-go attitude, I did a 1:30 for the last 0.2 and crossed the line at 3:00:46. Whew! I'll take it!

No walking the entire race. No cramping (at least until I went to the post-race massage area...sorry to my PT massage guy!). I mostly kept my pace up until those last three miles. A good effort to be very satisfied because it was 3 years in the making, but at the same time keeping me hungry to know I can hit that 2:5X:XX in the future.

A huge thanks to Beth for being such as great supporter and inspiration. It's tough for one to whine and complain with training about getting up early for workouts or having a "long" day when your significant other consistently gets up at 4am during the week and puts in 8-hour training days on the weekend. What an amazing role model that has pushed me from "used to be happy to crack 20 minutes in a 5k" to low-17's 5ks and a 3-hour marathon.

It was also great seeing Billy Hughes crack 3 hours (2:57:44) after coming so close last year at Columbus.

Big thanks to Michelle, Robert, and family for being great hosts and congrats to Robert for walking his first ever half marathon in 3:27:01.

Another big thanks is to our pastor at Cornerstone (and God's timing) for the perfect message the previous weekend about three P's when dealing with life's storms - Patience, Positive Attitude, and Praise. There was definitely patience involved with not only Sunday getting through the first 20 miles and to the end but more the patience of failures in Philly, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, and Pittsburgh (again) leading up to this race. I was really trying to work on the positive attitude when things got rough and just work through the tugging hamstrings and that seemed to work. Most of all, I had my "mental music playbook" going in my head including "Forever Reign" by Hillsong (they did it was part of the worship music set last weekend) when things were getting tough as well.

One final thanks to all those out on the internet with all of the encouragement for not only this race but for the highs and (a lot of) lows over the past few years of racing, especially the marathons. I know that I have been inspired by many other people's journeys and I hope that I can reciprocate, even a little, some positive encouragement to others in their lives.

....After Beth got some laps in at the local YMCA, we grabbed what is now becoming our traditional post-race meal at Five Guys Burgers & Fries. Then, we got some Timbits from Tim Horton's for the ride home.

Now it's rest and recovery time for me as Beth has two more races to go - this weekend in Austin and November in Phoenix (which I'm going to be at!). Also, our XC team has their district championships Thursday so more fun there.

Good luck to everybody out there and may you have your breakthrough experience while being patient, positive, and praising!


Steve said...

Good Job Oscar. Funny you mentioned the last 3 years some low points in races. I don't recall you ever really being that low.

Guess that means you got the positive thing down.

Good luck on your next one which hopefully comes in at less than 3:00.

Perhaps the most impressive thing on this entry is doing good math at those later miles. Now that is crazy. :)

Math teachers are impressive. :)

Beth said...

I'm with Steve -- doing math when you are that tired, that late in the race, is probably the most impressive feat of the entire weekend! :)

Can't tell you how happy I was to see you finishing so strong. Had to be so satisfying after all those previous attempts!! So proud of you!!!

Dawn said...

Oscar! It took me a while to find your race recap but all I can say is a huge congratulations! To someone who has inspired me not only with your talent, drive, dedication, and ambition but also your incredible attitude and never-say-die spirit. Not to mention guts! Wow. You and Beth. What a special team :)

Dawn said...

Oscar! It took me a while to find your race recap but all I can say is a huge congratulations! To someone who has inspired me not only with your talent, drive, dedication, and ambition but also your incredible attitude and never-say-die spirit. Not to mention guts! Wow. You and Beth. What a special team :)