23 February 2011

GW Birthday Marathon - Race Report

You know it's going to be an interesting race when the race director says these things in the pre-race talk:
- Well, it was a bit windy yesterday, so if some of the Port-o-Johns are knocked over, just be sure to stand them back up before you try to use them.
- It's pretty likely the mile marker signs were blown around too, so don't count on seeing too many signs out there while you're running.
- Right around mile one, you're going to have to climb around a gate blocking the road (part of the race is run on USDA property). We tried to get them to open the gate before the race, but as of a few minutes ago, it was still locked.

And with those words, I got ready to kick off my 11th marathon (15th if you count the ones I've done during Ironman).

It had been nearly two years since my last marathon (Boston 2009) and in the days leading up to the race, I was nervous. I even had a nightmare about the race (forgetting to pick up my friend for the race and then proceeding to get lost on a very straightforward course). Fortunately, come race day, things went very smoothly. I just wanted to do well, I wanted a PR (sub 3:25), which I knew might be out of reach, given the fact that I missed two weeks of training last month due to the flu and running hasn't been my sole focus. But after a season fully of less-than-satisfying performances in the run department (mostly due to nutritional issues), I wanted this to be an opportunity to show myself that I can still run well. And I did - I ran well. Just not as fast as I would've liked.

The GW Birthday Marathon in Greenbelt, MD has been around for 50 years, but apparently word has not traveled very far about the existence of the race because it is still very small and very local. You can register on race morning. This is the first time they tried doing chip timing (gun time and chip time are basically the same, seeing as it takes about 10 seconds for all runners to cross the start line - which, in years past, I believe was literally a chalk line drawn across a neighborhood street). Most people know each other. Besides the other marathoners and relay people, you see about 5 other people out on the course cheering. It's one of my favorite races - it's just about you and the run, there aren't any extras. No expo, no loud finish line announcer, no crowds. When you finish, they rip the tag off of your bib and thread it on the string - the official results are reported in the order of the tags on the string. Then you hobble back to the youth center for some homemade chili in the cafeteria (this year they even had birthday cake in honor of the race's 50th birthday!) You just don't find races like that very often anymore.

Megan and Rachel (my wonderful friends from high school cross-country, who also live in the DC area) and their husbands, Mark, as well as my co-worker Ebo, and another friend Rohan, all came out to race. Ebo was doing his first marathon and the others were running this race as a relay. There were some fellow Team Z'rs (Gina and Carol) and I ran with Fabrice for a hot second before he left me in the dust. When Megan and I were running together, it felt just like high school cross-country again - out in the countryside, the stink of cows and manure (the joys of going to a high school with a farm). There was even a guy running in front of us whose shirt said "Pain is Temporary. Pride is Forever." That happened to be the same logo that was on our cross-country shirts my sophomore year of high school. I loved that shirt.

So, this race proves that it is possible to have "the perfect race" and not hit the pace you want or get the finish time you were aiming for. The weather was perfect - in the 40s, sunny, light breeze. I wore my Zoot Active compression tights and a tee shirt with arm warmers and my pink visor. I kept the pace steady and controlled, not wanting to blow up in the end. I nailed my nutrition - taking in a Hammer gel every 45 minutes, for a total of 4 gels. I ended up carrying my own water, just so I wouldn't have to wait for a water stop to take a gel. I had a Nuun tablet in my water, just for some added electrolytes. I didn't bonk, I didn't hit the wall. there was no thought or talk of stopping or walking - I felt good during the whole race. It was a hilly course and you can see right from the start, where the hills were in the three loop course, just by looking at my mile splits. My HR was steady, in mid Zone 3 until the last 6 miles when I brought it into high Zone 3/low Zone 4 in an effort to go a little faster. I didn't really get any faster, I just didn't really slow down as much. I was mentally plugged in - focused on the mile I was currently on, constantly assessing how I was feeling, reassuring myself that I could hold that pace and HR all day. And when I realized (by mid-way) that my goal of sub-3:26 was not going to happen, I didn't get down on myself. I was still happy to be out running, spending time with friends, and just seeing how I could do. The course is hilly and challenging, and really pretty. After running the race on Sunday and realizing how hilly it was, I have a hard time believing this was where I PR'd two years ago. I actually like the three-loop format; I feel like it's easier to break the race up into pieces and you know what to expect - there aren't any surprises after loop one (except for the hill at mile 25 - you know it's coming because you ran down it at mile 1, but it feels ALOT steeper running back up it).

While I was running, I didn't keep track of my place. There seemed to be alot of fast girls, but it was difficult to tell which of those were full marathoners and which were relay runners. I ended up finishing in 3:40:44. Turns out this was good enough for 4th girl overall and 1st in my age group. My time from two years ago would've won this race on Sunday. Technically, this is still a 2012 Boston Qualifying time, but only if it doesn't fill up before it's my turn to register with the new rolling registration. To be honest, I don't even know if I want to run Boston next year. It's a great race and my favorite marathon, hands down, but it's right at the beginning of triathlon season. And right now, I like triathlons more than I like marathons - they are just more fun. I was even a bit relieved once this marathon was over - now I can focus more on swimming and biking. Now that it seems I have my nutrition on the run sorted out, hopefully I'll post better running times in my tris this season. Rumpass in Bumpass Oly is less than two months away!

For those interested (and for my own records), below are my mile splits and HR from the race. Not spectacular, but pretty darn steady and even.

Overall time: 3:40:44, pace 8:21/mile, average HR 158bpm
Mile 1: 8:09, 157bpm;
Mile 2: 7:48, 155bpm (there was a nice long downhill);
Mile 3: 8:11, 159bpm;
Mile 4: 8:08, 158bpm;
Mile 5: 8:13, 156bpm;
Mile 6: 8:19, 158bpm;
Mile 7: 8:09, 153bpm;
Mile 8: 8:13, 157bpm;
Mile 9: 8:26, 156bpm; HILL
Mile 10: 8:06, 154bpm;
Mile 11: 7:59, 156bpm;
Mile 12: 8:23, 157bpm;
Mile 13: 8:25, 158bpm; HILL
Mile 14: 8:07, 157bpm;
Mile 15: 8:20, 156bpm;
Mile 16: 8:34, 157bpm; HILL
Mile 17: 8:32, 159bpm;
Mile 18: 8:16, 159bpm;
Mile 19: 8:25, 160bpm;
Mile 20: 8:31, 160bpm; HILL
Mile 21: 8:25, 162bpm;
Mile 22: 8:40, 159bpm;
Mile 23: 8:41, 159bpm;
Mile 24: 8:51, 160bpm; HILL
Mile 25: 8:21, 162bpm;
Mile 26: 9:05, 165bpm Biggest HILL Ever
last 0.2: 7:31 pace, 161bpm.

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