Monday, December 04, 2006

California International Marathon '06, the Novel

Sacramento in early December is a great place to PR at the marathon. Cool temps in the mid 30's (fahrenheit), a very slight breeze, and sunny skies were the order of the day, and a fast, rolling course with a net downhill of just over 300 feet and a last six miles void of any noticeable hills awarded me a great opportunity to run fast. I will most certainly come back to this race and I suggest you check it out for yourself.

I met Seebo, my running companion about two minutes before the start as we both were squeezing around barricades to get a good spot near the start line. I'd only corresponded a few times with him prior to the race and we'd spoken for about five minutes on the phone the evening prior, but we shared a goal of running 5:54-5:55 pace and it made sense to work together. Since I'd had so much trouble with going out too fast over the opening miles of my last two marathons I decided to use a Garmin for pacing help. I used the "lap pace" setting and hit the splits manually at every mile. This seemed a good strategy, though I quickly found out that my Garmin consistently measured short by a few seconds per mile, meaning when I looked down to see 5:52 pace it usually ended up being closer to 5:54.

Seebo and I settled into a very consistent groove early and got to know each other a little bit over the first few miles. I knew how I ran the first 10K would be pivotal later on, and the feeling that I was just cruising along easily and holding back made me smile as we hit the first miles at 5:58, 53, 51, 5:56, 5:52 and 5:53. We were on it and feeling good. I tried hard not to get carried away on the downhills, which meant a very even pace through each mile. Runners were moving backwards and forwards around us, and I thought of Duncan as we were passed by a loud runner who had a bag of Sport Beanz rattling around in his mesh back pocket. I told Seebo here that we were "-1" with the pass, but we would be back to zero when we passed the runner coming back to us with 6 gels strapped to a fuel belt. 55, 53, 55 followed, then I missed the split at 10 and came up with 11:42 from mile 10-12. This was a little fast (5:47 pace average for the two miles), but this section had the longest, steepest downhill on the course. 53 and 51 followed, and we hit the half at 1:17:08 or so as I finished a gel I'd grabbed a bit earlier. My secret goal was to run the first half to break 2:35, then wait to mile 20 to try to get to 2:33 if possible. 22 seconds to the good during the first half was right where I wanted to be, and I gave myself a mental pat on the back for a solid first half. I'd been drinking a little sportsdrink at every stop (and occasionally a sip or two of water), and my fuel level and mental outlook were good.

A 50, 58 and 45 started the second half, though I think mile 15 was a little short and 16 a bit long. Seebo and I drifted a little apart as we each found our own rhythm. He seemed to roll better on the downhills and go slower on the uphills and I tended to do the opposite. He generally ran ahead of me by a few seconds, though we were still in contact. I started to feel the calves at this point, though all the 10 mile efforts with 7 miles close to marathon pace in training ran through my head. It was less than an hour to go at this point, and I was still confident I could squeeze the pace down after mile 20. Mile 17 went by in 6:01, which shook me a little since the Garmin was reading 5:52 or so. When I finally made it to the mark the watch said 1.03 miles, which is one of the faults of wearing one of these damn things during a race. Mile 18 was 5:56 as I came even with Seebo and we soldiered on, though the hip flexors started giving me some pain at this point. I know when this happens my stride shortens, so I tried hard to keep covering the same amount of ground with each step. Mile 19 at 5:57 took a little more effort, but we were counting down to the finish at this point. I grabbed a second gel and when 20 hit at 6:01 I really had to start thinking about things. Seebo and I were both breathing a little heavier now, and the pain from the quads started in, singing in three point harmony with the calves and hip flexors. Still, at 1:58:07 we were in good shape to break 2:35 if we could hold things to 5:55 or so. A 6:02 at 21 found Seebo edging away from me again, and while I would keep him in view he did get further and further away, especially when I dropped a third "insurance" gel I'd been holding and I stopped to scoop it up. A 6:11 at mile 22 found me starting to struggle, the pain in the legs was getting serious and the legs were increasingly locking up. A 6:13 at mile 23 gave me a moment of hope, but a 6:22 at mile 24 really found me suffering. The Garmin really turned into a cruel tool during the last two miles, as what read as 6:22 was really 6:29, and what read as 6:45 for mile 26 was really a 7:04 (note to self, stop looking at the watch when it gets tough). I ran as hard as I was able to the finish and crossed the line in 2:37:32.

Of all the miles, I only regret not finding some way to run the last one faster. I feel I let the brain control the legs too much over the last stretch, and glycogen depletion aside I should have saved myself at least 20 seconds here. Between mile 24 and 26 I let a 2:36 race slip away.

I found Seebo just past the chute, and after a quick congratulations I tried to limp to the water table. Something about the way my hip flexors seize up apparently makes me look like quite the insurance risk though, and the medical tent volunteers quickly abducted me against my will and sat me down for the usual interrogation. The singlet came off and a hot towel was draped around me, and as I sat there in pain it was hard to contemplate how quickly and completely the mind can shut down the body. At that moment I doubted I could even take a step, though I'd been sprinting to the chute just minutes earlier. The medic asked me and the runner beside me how many miles we log a week. "Around 90," I say. "About 70," he says. He finished in 2:28, a three minute PR to put him where I'm dying to be. "More than one way to skin a cat," I think to myself.

When I finally broke free of the medical tent and tried to walk to the food table I was followed out and grabbed. "It's just the hip flexors, I'll be fine!", I say, but now the medic who chased after me is handing me off to the massage table where a physical therapist is waiting. He hurts me for awhile and lectures me on how I need to stretch. "See, normally your foot should come back far enough to touch your behind." "Normally as in after you roll out of bed or normally after running 26 miles as hard as you can," I ask. Aside from putting me through some stress positions he's a nice guy, and he does give me some good stretching and strengthening advice.

A long walk to the hotel room and a quick shower later I'm back on the streets looking for lunch. I decide to save the celebratory cheeseburger and beer for breaking 2:35 and opt for a sub sandwich and 10 cups of Dr. Pepper. An early bus to the airport rewards me with two more direct flights and an incredibly quick trip home.

Today the legs are sore and the blisters are all popped, and instead of the usual feeling of wanting to go back to base conditioning and starting over I feel like more racing. My will is good, and the feeling of running smart and owning the race at my pace for most of yesterday has given me a taste of what I can do. There is still far to go, and I feel I'm on the road to get there. Thanks for all the post-race accolades, I urge you to congratulate Seebo once he goes public with his race.

Results

24 comments:

tb1 said...

AWESOME MIKE!! I know the time isn't what you hoped for but all in all you got the positive results that you are seeking with Lydiard. I like your idea about racing some more....have fun with your current conditioning. Again congratulations.

Andrew said...

Very nice race report, Mike. I wish the final miles weren't so tough but you played the race well.

Isn't it something how the first half goes by so easily yet we are tortured in the 2nd half? When the pain sets in there isn't much one can do.

Re: the gels... How would you rate the effectiveness of what you consumed? A good lift or minimal?

Anonymous said...

Great report. I admire your work ethic and determination. I love how you say, "There is still far to go, and I feel I'm on the road to get there." You will get there.

I'm in no position to be giving advice, but I wonder if wearing the garmin was a good choice in a race situation. It appears it was a Saddam Hussein mental torture device......

Mark said...

the secret plan. . . nice touch, good report, I am a bit suprised you pulled the Garmin stunt. Live and learn as they say.

Gotta give you credit you ran a very good race that came with a nice PR!

Did you run the marathon solely on sports drink and then the later gels? As in no water?

Thanks for sharing your story.
-mark

Laurie said...

Congratulations on a great race and a PR! Your work has served you well.

Bart said...

Congrats again on the PR and thanks for the great report.

So far I've successfully fought the urge to wear my Garmin in races. Not because I was afraid I'd look at it every 1/10th of a mile (which I know I'd do), but I was worried about inaccurate readings. Your report confirmed my suspicions.

Bart

Duncan Larkin said...

I like the idea to keep racing. Increasing the sample size while you are in tip-top shape will lead to more PRs. Reap the harvest; the field isn't fallow yet.

Mike said...

The gels: First one gave me a boost, and while I didn't feel I needed it I take that as a good sign as I've found if I wait until I'm hurting it's too late. Gel two came at the right time, but didn't give me as much of a boost. When I took a third I just took a tiny taste of it every 1/3 of a mile for a mile or two more for something to do than anything. At that point it was too late to do anything and it really didn't help or hurt. I haven't found a gel yet that stops the legs from hurting.

The sportsdrink was VERY diluted, so I mostly stuck to that at each station, with occasionally a cup of water to chase it (1 of every three stops or so).

The Garmin: It really helped me to mile 18 or so, and it kept me from going out too fast. I will probably never race with it again (I've previously only used it once in '04). After hitting the "lap" button I found the first half of each mile was very inconsistent, starting out around 5:30 pace and steadily slowing down to close to actual pace only after about 3 or 4 minutes. This happened over and over, so I just didn't look at it until I knew we were more than halfway through each mile.

crowther said...

I think the best possible race result is one that rewards you for your hard work, yet suggests that further improvement is still possible. Sounds like that's pretty much what you got. Congrats!

Anonymous said...

I loved the bit about "singing in three point harmony", a great way to paint a picture.

What races have you got in mind?

Greg said...

You went for the glory and there is no shame in that. When I was running my last marathon, I went out so conservatively in the first half, that I never even gave myself a shot at my super secret goals.

You went for it and still came away with a nice PR, so you should be proud. Slow steady progress wins the race.

Anonymous said...

Mike,
Take a lesson from Geb at Fukuoka and find a Feb race (Birmingham?) and take another crack. If one day after a PR in the marathon has you thinking about racing, you shouldn't mess around.

Dallen said...

Congragulations! Any day with a 2 minute PR is a good day, even if it's nat quite perfect. Keep the good races coming.

tb1 said...

Mike, I just thought of something. How much of a factor, if any, do think your taper had to do with your PR? I'm just asking since "everyone", including myself, made a big deal out of it.

Marc said...

Mike - A very well written report following a very well run race.

There's not much that I can add here that hasn't already been said, but you worked damn hard for the 2:30 PR and I am sure you'll work just as hard for the next 2:30.

Perhaps you'd like to join me an Andrew at Sugarloaf? I'll ask the mice to make room for you.

Anonymous said...

congratulations Mike outstanding job!! well done!!and what an awesome race report!!!

robtherunner said...

Nice job Mike and I am sure we will see more Pr's from you in the future.

Anonymous said...

Great PR Mike. Your early smart pacing gave you a real shot at negative splits. Just was not meant to be today. Look forward to reading more great race reports!

Phil said...

Great race report Mike. No lecture from me on the Garmin since you are the one that got me to STOP using mine during races. You had a fabulous race and a fantanstic PR. I appreciate you continuing to provide inspiration to those of us in the middle of the pact.

angie's pink fuzzy said...

woo hoo, way to go mike!!!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Awesome race. Great time.

Joe said...

Great race, Mike and thanks for taking us all along for the ride all these months. What a different perspective for you than after San Diego, eh??

Garmin...I geeked out on mine and actually calculated that it suggests a pace about 5-6 seconds too fast per mile. If yours was 3 seconds off, that's better. Good for training...perhaps less good for racing.

Very cool that you are ready to race again...a good sign.

Sasha Pachev said...

Congratulatons on a PR! A PR is never bad - you ran faster than ever before. A marathon is a very difficult distance to perform to your full potential perfectly. So if you are ready for let's say 2:34, you should realistically expect 2:37 at first. After a while, you learn enough about how your body works in the marathon (and everybody is different) to run what you are really ready for.

Ewen said...

Good race and PB Mike - congratulations. I enjoyed reading your story. Came here via Phil's blog.