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Monday, June 4, 2012

2012 Sunburst Marathon: Personal Experience

I at least trained correctly this time, even if I didn’t race that way.

This morning, in the early morning sunlight of Chicago, I went for a four mile run, exploring the slight differences in the streets that I called home for three years. Some bars had closed while others had just changed names. At least one structure was completely new, but most of the neighborhood looked the same.

The real difference was me. When last I lived in Chicago, I was by no means a regular runner. I got into a rhythm for a few weeks once or twice, but invariably, the weather would take a turn for the awful, and I’d give it up. What had always been a challenging three mile jog was, this morning, a nice, easy part of a four mile recovery run. It reminded me just how far I’ve come as a runner, and just how well as I was trained for Sunburst.

After all, I haven’t been able to walk correctly within five days of a marathon before, much less actually go for runs. At times this morning, I was actually moving at my usual pace with relatively low amounts of pain. I’ve already done six miles since crossing the finish line, a recovery that is unparalleled in my racing past.

It’s great that I’m feeling good now, because it makes me a little less concerned with how I felt during the race. As I mentioned yesterday, I ended up running with a group that was much faster than they had advertised themselves to be. For the first three miles, though, I barely noticed. We were running well, a bit ahead of the pace that I had planned to do, but without pain or overexertion, so I continued on happily.

As it turned out, we were being paced by a guy whose PR is in the 2:30 range. His friend wanted to run a 2:57, and was following him. When our guide stopped for a bathroom break shortly after the 5K mark, I thought we were on our own. Not so. He caught back up within the mile, barely breaking a sweat.

We made it to the northernmost point of the course and headed back down the path by the river. At this point, there were five of us in a tight group, joking and laughing with one another as though this were any old group run. We talked about where we were from and shared racing horror stories while griping about the difference between our GPS numbers and the mile markers on the course. We headed into the more business-oriented part of town together, trading off the lead and getting a course preview from one of our number who had run the race before.

Together, we moved down the hill (that would loom large at mile 24) at around 12 miles, still strong. Unfortunately, our pace guide (who had taken another pit stop at around 7) felt his hamstrings start to give out, and he left our number. Without him, the friend he had been pacing dropped back with another member of our unofficial group. That left me and the course guide by ourselves. I checked our pace. We were going faster. This might be a problem

My first half had been the fastest half marathon of my life, and while I still felt strong, I knew that I would be fighting for the later miles. The path narrowed, and we continued on a seemingly endless out-and-back. At around mile 15, I finally started to drop back from my partner, still maintaining a pace at or above my intended goal. Almost immediately, one of the guys we had dropped passed me back and caught up with the guide, leaving me in no man’s land between groups.

By mile 18, the Wall approached.

I finally got to the turnaround (in 12th place at the time), and I could feel that I was going to have trouble. My hamstrings were starting to tighten up, and even though I had energy, it wasn’t transferring to my legs. Coming back across the bridge, I stopped to walk for the first time, unbelievably mad at myself.

Still, I got back up, so to speak. I was able to get my legs going again, and I did a run-walk alternation for the next four miles. With only four miles to go, I knew – and told myself – that the next time I stopped to walk, it would be giving up on a Boston Qualifier. I pushed as long as I could, and then the hamstrings went.

I remembered, in that moment, very sharply, the feeling of pulling my hamstring in the final mile of last year’s Marine Corps Marathon. I knew that if this happened to me with four miles to go, I was done for. So I stopped, knowing that it would render my chance at qualifying impossible. I did it in order to ensure that I would finish. I could still get a PR, and I did not want to risk that. I gave myself a minute to walk, at which point my legs cleared up, and I was able to continue.

Finally, at around mile 24, I came upon my friends. We had agreed that this would be the place to meet, since it gave them a chance to see me on the course without taking them out to the middle of nowhere. They cheered loudly for me, and I got a high five from a security person, which I had promised we would share many miles earlier. All of this incredible help did little to ease my journey up that hill that I mentioned earlier. I walked through the water stop at the base of it, and would not walk again.

What I’ve learned this time around will, I believe, genuinely help me out in my training. First, I think I have to push the pace of my long training runs a little more. I’m not saying I will run them really fast or anything, but at least faster than I have been, hopefully within a minute’s pace of my goal. Second, I’m going to do a lot of work on my hamstrings. My running style does not do much to bolster the strength of the backs of my legs, so when I use them continually for three hours, they get exhausted. By doing more of the high-impact workouts that I’ve found, I will develop those muscles and not have to worry about wretched hamstring cramps next time around.

Finally, I must learn to run my own pace. I want to run with groups, but the second I lose contact, I’m done. That can’t happen. I must increase my own mental toughness and pace awareness, assuring that I can do this on my own.

And I must also find a September marathon.

Monday’s workout:
Sunny, relatively cool
4.06 miles

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