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Race report: Cowtown Marathon - Another PR

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5ksandcabernets: Race report: Cowtown Marathon - Another PR


Sunday, March 1, 2009

Race report: Cowtown Marathon - Another PR

My official time at the Cowtown Marathon was 3:53:28.
I never blogged about how fast I thought I could run this race, but now that its over, I'll admit that I thought I could easily run 3:40 or better, and really thought a 3:30 was in the cards based on my training. (There seems to be a slight controversy about who correctly predicted what I'd run, but that's a subject for another day).
But I won't boo-hoo the effort. Cowtown had howling 25 to 35 mph winds and enough hills to make you think you were running in San Francisco, but my time is a 15-minute PR over my White Rock Marathon from 10 weeks ago.

For those that don't have enough time to read through my (really) long race report, I'll give you some quick stats and a short analysis of my run. I ran the first half in 1:45, started feeling bad around Mile 14, recovered, felt bad again around 17, recovered, then felt bad from 22 until the end. But I took GU and salt every six miles and held on to run the fastest 2nd half of any marathon I've ever run.

And something else: For the first time in any marathon I've run, I had enough in my legs that I could sprint the final two-tenths of a mile, able to raise my hands and jump across the finish line. The feeling was exhilarating. I wish I had video of that.

The hard headed lesson I learned (aside from the fact that I started too fast): The marathon doesn't care about my V02Max. Or my Yasso 800s time. It doesnt care about how fast I can get through 1k meter intervals or what I can do on a tempo run. The marathon is a totally different animal and the sooner I wrap my head around that fact, the better my I'll become at running these things.

The stats: 3:53:28
Overall place 222 out of 921
Gender place: 191 out of 623
Division place: 1 out of 3 (LOL. They listed me as 0 years old. Who knew I'd win my age group!)

The report

Race Day morning: What to wear.
**We had highs in the mid 80s all week long but the Saturday forecast was pretty consistent. Itd be cold and windy. None of us knew it would be THAT cold and THAT windy.
I awoke at 4:30 Saturday morning, hit the weather bug app on my IPhone and it said it was 40 degrees with 20 mph winds. I awoke again at 5:30 and conditions had worsened: 32 degrees and winds gusting at up to 40 mph. I could hear the trees rustling outside my window.
Uh-oh, I thought. It would be 30 degrees cooler than White Rock (and thats good for running long distances) but running when its that cold and windy is not comfortable at all. This would be a day for running tights.

**I packed all my things and made the 10-minute drive downtown to meet Tom, one of my co-workers in his office at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. The building is just a few blocks from the start line. It was 6:30, about an hour before the start. We groused about the weather, wondering if we should put on even more clothes. I ended up wearing three technical shirts, two pair of gloves, and a hat. It was nice to spend those last few minutes in a warm office, able to change clothes or use the bathroom without waiting in line.

**At about 7:15, we took a GU and headed to the start line. It was even colder now, it seemed, with the winds whipping around the downtown skyscrapers. (There are a few in Fort Worth). We tucked into the crowd at the start line, settling just behind the 3:30 pace group. The marathoners, half marathoners, and ultra-marathoners all started from the same spot and even though 4,000 of us where huddled tightly on Fourth and Houston streets, the windchill still found its way to the bare or barely covered parts of my body.

**My nerves were going crazy at this point, but seeing so many familiar faces calmed me down just a bit and I decided to just make this like a training run. By the time the starting horn went off, I felt at ease.
But those feelings wouldn't last long.

Miles 1-6: Can't get my heart rate to slow down
**In my head I was saying, "Hold back, hold back, hold back." But the first mile was all downhill. So how do you stop a freight train of nerves and emotion on a full tank of gas? You don't. So I just let my legs do what they wanted to do and worry about the right pace at Mile 2. Running north from downtown on Main Street, we ran right into the teeth of the wind, but I was no longer cold, and me and my co-worker, Tom, looked at each other and wondered if we were wearing too many clothes. At points in the race when we were running with the wind, I took off my hat when I started to get warm. At one point later in the race, I saw a lady wiggle out of one of her under shirts while still keeping her top t-shirt on. What a feat that was!

**Tom, who has now run 11 marathons and qualified for Boston, had hurt his calf and couldnt run White Rock in December with me and was just hoping to take it easy today. But he had "muscle memory" and was way too fast for me, so at the middle of Mile 2, I let him take off. Gotta run my own race. (Tom wound up running 3:35. I had NO business lining up with him at the start).

**In training, I could run 8 minute miles without my heart rate getting over 80 percent of maximum. But I couldnt get my heart rate to slow down Saturday. Nerves. Adrenaline. All of it was out of whack, and worrying about it made it worse. It spiked to 82 percent at Mile 3, and 84 percent by Mile 6. I had a choice to make at this point: slow down and get my heart rate back under 80 percent or speedup so my effort matches my heart rate.
Despite all the preaching to myself about starting slow and controlled, what did I do? You guessed it. I sped up.
It was the biggest mistake I made during the race.
But it would take me a while to realize it.

Mile 1: 8:01
Mile 2: 8:30
Mile 3: 8:03
Mile 4: 7:48
Mile 5: 8:00
Mile 6: 7:48

Miles 7-13: This feels good.
My plan was to take a Hammer Chocolate GU and a packet of table salt every six miles. And it had the desired affect during the first half of the marathon.
I ran the Cowtown route in training and everytime I got to the hills around River Crest Country Club, my pace would slow and I'd feel sluggish. Not Saturday. I floated through those little rollers. At about Mile 8, the GU/salt started kicking in and I ripped off four straight sub 8-minute miles. Man, I was feeling soooo good. I clapped when I ran by the kids volunteering at the aid station in front of South Hi Mount Elementary. I eagerly thanked the police men and women for doing patrol.
This is sooo easy, I thought. My heart rate was still a little high (had soared to 85 percent max), but my legs were warm and I felt just like I did in training. I wasnt breathing hard. Everything was clicking.
And when I hit the half way point, I thought to myself: There is no way that I won't run a sub 3:40. No. Friggin. Way."
My legs had other ideas.

Mile 7: 8:04
Mile 8: 8:38
Mile 9: 7:47
Mile 10: 7:34
Mile 11: 7:44
Mile 12: 7:50
Mile 13: 8:03
Official half marathon time: 1:45

Miles 14-20: Uh-oh!
In the space of a few minutes, I went from feeling super to sluggish; from thinking I could run a sub 3:40-marathon to wondering If I'd even get in under 4 hours. I didn't think I'd hit the wall until somewhere in the 20s, but in the mid to late teens, here that wall was, closing in, invading my space. My fuel tank (low to start the race because I don't eat breakfast before I run) was emptying.

**And the troubling thing was, I was not on schedule to have another GU until Mile 18. As we ran through the Tanglewood neighborhood, my min/mile pace slowed from 8 to 8:30. This had never happened in training. (I'd also never run this fast in training) and I was starting to get worried.

**From Mile 16 to 17 is a big hill that lasts one mile and I thought about walking some of it, but just as I started to ascend the hill, I started feeling better. I don't know where. I don't know how. But i got a little bit of energy and I bounded up that hill, passing at least a dozen people. I thought I had gotten over the wall. I thought I was ready to start hitting more sub-8s. And then, right as we are about to turn into Foster Park, my left calf starts cramping.
Shit. A cramp. At Mile 17. The Wall is back, with a vengeance.
I stopped. Stretched out the cramp and continued through the park, which contained another hill. I did not bound up that hill.

*At this point in the race, I paid a little more attention to those running around me, trying to draw some kind of energy from somebody feeling as bad as I was. As I ran through Foster Park, I ran into Brad, a black guy from Arlington who had started cramping at Mile 12 and was run-walking. We bemoaned the hills and the wind. For a few miles, we took turns "taking the lead." He'd feel good and I'd try to keep up and then sometimes I'd feel good and he'd try to keep up. Somewhere around 19, he felt good and passed me and he was out of sight.
Also around the 19.5 mile mark, the 3:40 pace group passes me as we are running by Texas Christian University.
I stop on University Street, hop up on a curve and stretch. I look back, wondering, who/what else is gonna pass me.

Mile 14: 8:33
Mile 15: 8:10
Mile 16: 8:25
Mile 17: 8:03
Mile 18: 9:19
Mile 19: 10:07
Mile 20: 9:57

Miles 21-26.2: So this is how it feels.
*Six of the last 8 miles were into the wind, the 25 mph wind, and the last two miles were mostly uphill. I knew this going into the race. So my strategy here was just to hang on. Take my GU and salt when I'm supposed to. Walk if I need to. Stretch often. I had long ago given up on my "A" goal of finishing around 3:35 and my "B" goal of around 3:45. But my "C"
goal _ of finishing under 4 hours and running across the finish line _ was still in sight.

*At this point in my previous three marathons, I was like Dead Man Walking. In the last 10k of my 2008 White Rock Marathon, four of the miles took me longer than 11 minutes to complete. I averaged a 14-minute mile during the last 10k of my 2007 marathon and a 13-minute mile over the last 10k of my 2005 marathon. On Saturday, I finished 20 miles in about 2:46. Doing some quick math, I figured I'd get under 4 hours if I could do better than an 11:30 pace over the last 10k.
So that became my goal. "Don't run slower than 11 minute mile. " And I got a big cushion because Mile 21 was mostly downhill. I popped a sub 9-minute-mile on that one, my first sub-9 in four miles.

**But things were still hurting. I took my last GU and salt around Mile 22 and gave up trying to run the whole way. Instead, I resorted to run-walking. I'd run a few minutes, walk a minute and stretch if I needed. This seemed to help. I had a little more bounce in my legs during the run-part of run/walking. Still, though I was cutting it awfully close on my goal of not running slower than an 11-minute-mile over the last 10k. And again, it didnt help that I was running into the wind.

*Miles 14 and 21 go down the same street, with Mile 14 going North and Mile 21 going south. When I got to Mile 21, I saw a ton of runners going the other way. "Man," I thought, "These are the people with guts, to be out here so long in these conditions."

*Near the end of Mile 24, a friend of mine _ Blair _ who was pacing the 3:50 marathoners, passes me. "Kevin," he yelled out. "You better get your ass in gear." I turned around and replied, "Fuggg you, man." We both laughed. He asked if I wanted to tag along with his group. I said I was fighting off cramps and couldn't go any faster. Blair, who has run sub 3:15 marathons, gave me his last two electrolyte stamina pills and took off. I put them in my mouth just as I hit the Mile 24 water stop and mentally prepared myself for the last two miles, which included THE steepest hill of the race.

*Somewhere between Mile 24 and 25, I ran into Brad again. His cramps were really bad. I passed him for good when he ducked into a porta-potty on Henderson Street. (Brad still wound up with a faster chip time than me because he started several minutes behind me). I also ran into this old black man who was running with the National Black Marathoners Association. Now this guy had on a half-marathon bib, which meant my pace was twice as fast as his. When I saw him, he was stretching out his legs, trying to regroup for the last bit of the run. At Mile 25, as we go up the Lancaster Street hill, this man passes me with this power-walk/run trot thing going on. I was no match. He kept getting further and further away from me. I gave up trying to catch him.

*Even though there were mad hills at the end, my mood had brightened by this point. I said hello to all of the police officers doing patrol, telling them, "I didn't know what I was thinking when I signed up for this." I knew I was going to break the 4 hour barrier. And now, it was all about having enough energy in my legs to be able to sprint the last two-tenths of a mile, which is about the length of three football fields. (I had to walk across the finish line at the White Rock Marathon and it was all caught on video.)

So, before the last turn on Main Street, I hop on one of the curves and stretch as good as I can stretch. Calves. Groin. Quads. Hamstrings. It looked like I was stretching to run another 5k, but I just wanted to muster all the strength I could to run hard through the final part. I make the final turn at Mile 26 and I can see the finish line and all the people on both sides of the street and I start jogging. And I realize my legs are still holding up. With a 1/10 of a mile to go, I decide to sprint. It feels good. I pass a few runners. People cheer. "I'm going to make it," I think. I raise my hands in the air and see the photographers with their cameras, their aim on me. I smile. I leap across the finish line. I'm looking for somebody to share my elation. There's Blair. We chest bump.
I was ecstatic.
And most importantly, I was done.

Mile 21: 8:55
Mile 22: 10:06
Mile 23: 10:47
Mile 24: 10:42
Mile 25: 11:04
Mile 26: 10:58
26.44: 4:35

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Blogger Victoria said...

Congrats on a PR! Sounds like you are continuing to learn about what keeps you going in races. I'm still standing by my 3:35 as a possibility-- nay, a probability-- as you continue to run more marathons.

p.s. Really sounds like a lot of it is about fuel/eating enough. Especially if you're not eating breakfast, you're asking your body to run 26.2 miles HARD on very little caloric intake. As someone who is very slightly hypo-glycemic, I can't do that and expect to run well.

March 1, 2009 at 11:09 AM  
Blogger rundangerously said...

awesome job on bringing it in under 4 - and the huge pr - kevin. you'll grab that 3:30 at your next marathon!

March 1, 2009 at 12:12 PM  
Blogger DawnB said...

congratulations again outstanding job.

March 1, 2009 at 12:16 PM  
Blogger Runner Susan said...

Those winds were out-of-control. The buildings downtown created a wind tunnel, I've never run in wind that bad. You did so well, congrats on a fabulous time. And you are so right, the marathon is a totally different beast.

March 1, 2009 at 12:24 PM  
Blogger Reese said...

Great job, sorry we didn't get to meet. Nice to P R even with the issues you had. Just lets you know what is possible at the right race.

March 1, 2009 at 1:11 PM  
Blogger Just_because_today said...

loved your report

March 1, 2009 at 4:19 PM  
Blogger lindsay said...

great report and great race! controversy? i admitted from the start i cheated... lol. i read your post about your unofficial time before the one about guessing it.

you're starting to get the hang of what you need to do to succeed at the monster marathon. enjoy a little break before tackling another?

March 1, 2009 at 5:25 PM  
Blogger sara said...

congratulations on the PR and what sounds like a very tough race with the hills and the conditions. it sounds like you have a faster marathon in you, based on your 10k and half-marathon times ... maybe you need to tweak your fueling strategy for longer runs. i agree with Victoria that running 26.2 miles with no breakfast is a lot to ask of your body. also, it sounded like you had planned to take Gu later than your body was asking for it ... maybe next time around, bring more Gu than you plan on taking?

great report and congrats again on the sub-4 and your PR :)

(btw, i fully agree with you about the marathon being a different, crazy animal--but it sounds like you're learning how to tame it!)

March 1, 2009 at 8:21 PM  
Blogger Billy Burger said...

+1 on what Sara said for the most part. I'd also probably pull the reigns back a bit in the first part of the race next time and work on the negative split for the back half.

Still, a great job in tough conditions man. Proud of ya. You've got faster times in those legs man, no doubt. Meanwhile, enjoy the PR.

March 1, 2009 at 9:46 PM  
Blogger Ewen said...

Congrats on the PB and sub-4 Kevin. You're right about the marathon being a different kettle of fish. The calculators don't mean much really.

Plenty of long runs and weekly long runs of 20-22 miles finishing strongly is my best tip - but then I never ran a great marathon.

March 1, 2009 at 10:45 PM  
Blogger Ewen said...

Oh yes... re the pacing - start (and stay) at the right pace and never start racing until after 20 miles (but you knew that).

March 1, 2009 at 10:47 PM  
Blogger Mike said...

Awesome run, Kevin! Great storytelling too. Makes me want to go out and run right now!

March 2, 2009 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger rolf said...

Great Job! Enjoyed the race report, and glad to hear you got your PR!

March 2, 2009 at 2:20 PM  
Anonymous Jess said...

You should be proud of that PR! Don't worry about your A and B goals--the weather was crap and you ran a very SMART race (by running your own pace, monitoring HR, stretching, etc.). Great job and great report! A very good read.

March 2, 2009 at 4:14 PM  
Blogger Kevin said...

Thanks for the love, guys (and gals). I definitely think I need to do a better job eating in the days before the marathon if I want to run in the 3:30s. Now that I think of it, every time I took a GU, I felt a little better, if only for a half mile or so.
As far as the pacing goes, well, I just have to work harder at holding back. I get wayyyy too excited at these events. Im much more calm during shorter races.

March 2, 2009 at 4:53 PM  
Blogger Run For Life said...

Congrats on the sub-4! I find it's always hard to control the nerves on a race day. Great job, and that's awesome you were able to finish with a sprint for the last 0.2.

March 2, 2009 at 10:40 PM  
Blogger cwheat said...

Nice run/post Kevin.

I have been addicted to marathons and half-marathons for about 3 years now, and I love every race more than the previous. The most important thing I have learned is to try and enjoy the run, the day, and the overall experience. I took that thought going into the half-marathon last week and had a personal best by 6+ minutes.

Don't worry about times, and intervals, and paces - run your run and enjoy it, the rest will work out.

Keep up the rockin' blog and hopefully our paths will cross on the trails/streets at some point.

March 5, 2009 at 9:54 AM  

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