Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Details: 2006 Flying Pig Marathon

Okay. I'm finally taking time to sit down and write a little bit more about my marathon story. If all you want are details, scroll down to the bottom paragraph titled “DETAILS”. If you want the juicy gossip and my perspective of the trip then just read on.

As you know, I traveled to Cincinnati this past weekend to run in the Flying Pig marathon. It had been several (many) years since I had run a marathon and I have been training differently than before. I trained harder and longer (since last November). After many runs between 10 and 22 miles, I felt that I was in the best shape of my life. It was draining, both physically and emotionally, especially with the passing of my wife of 15 years, Mona, on Christmas night. Most likely, she helped to provide most of my motivation since.

I did have a friend go with me. Before everyone gets all upset and tries to pass judgment, let me say that this was a runner's trip and it always helps to have a fellow runner to hang out with during events like this. I've told you that I had been trying to help my friend Susan get ready for some upcoming 10ks. The Flying Pig 10k was one of her races. I went to run my marathon and she went to run her 10k and we both supported each other's efforts. That being said . . . .

We flew into Cincinnati Friday afternoon. Cincinnati is sort of a screwed up airport. Take a bus from one concourse to the next. THEN, take a train to the next concourse. THEN, take another bus to the rental car place since they have no rental cars at the airport. Reminded me of the movie “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”. If you plan to fly to Cincinnati, plan on spending at least an hour AFTER you arrive to finally get out of the airport.

After getting the rental car, we decided to hightail it to the convention center where the EXPO was being held to pick up race packets. That would keep Susan from having to deal with that on Saturday morning and I would have mine two days ahead to make sure everything was correct. Made it to the EXPO in time to get our stuff and that was about it. Checked into the hotel which was across the street from the convention center. Then we went to dinner a couple of blocks from the hotel. All said a fairly successful first day without any major glitches. Good enough . . . nothing to screw up my run. . .yet.

Saturday morning came early (I always hate losing the hour due to the shift from central to eastern time). We got Susan across the river and to her race without a hitch. The course was a big loop that ran on both the Ohio and Kentucky sides of the river, thru Cincinnati and Covington. I was able to trek back and forth across the bridges and take pictures several times and places. Of course I had to do some running to get where I wanted to be. She started off slower than I thought she needed to but she ran the race she wanted to run and kept picking up her pace every mile-a sure sign that you’re holding back too much. Susan . . . you better be busting it next 10k!

We then proceeded to violate all that is sacred and holy for marathoners . . . I spent the entire day Saturday on my feet. Not only did I run a couple of miles scooting around the 10k course, I also went to the museum of art, the conservatory, and walked around downtown, sight seeing-the whole time knowing that I am probably ruining my race. The first real sit down was at the pasta dinner. Thank goodness I took the 4:30 seating! The dinner was good and I met several folks from around the country and enjoyed talking race histories and strategies. The amazing thing about the whole Saturday ordeal was that I really never really got nervous or jittery like I normally would before a race. My plan was to get out of bed at 3:00 am Sunday (6:00 am race start) and stretch, sip some coffee, eat a half a bagel. Though I went to bed prior to 10:00, I tossed and turned (as expected) and maybe got 4-5 hours of sleep.

I was up before the alarm and did my morning ritual. After checking the weather I made a final decision on shorts and singlet. No gloves needed. The temperature, which was expected to be low 40s, was in the low 50s . . . a little warmer than I would want for a perfect race but it beats the 70+ degrees I've been running in the last 4-6 weeks at home. Since I was staying on the Kentucky side of the river, I had to catch a water taxi to the starting line near Paul Brown stadium. I got on the boat at 5:00 and was in a port-a-let next to the start line by 5:15. Perfect timing! I had decided that I was not going to get caught up behind a bunch of walkers and slower runners, not that there is anything wrong with walkers or slow runners. So as soon as the corrals started opening up, I jumped into the front of the 9 minute/mile corral and sat in the road for 40 minutes.

The start was fun and exciting . . . very festive. However, while standing there IN THE DARK I kept wondering . . . where is the sun???? Did Ohio not pay the power bill to God? Why do I have sunglasses on top of my head when the sun is nowhere in sight? Anyway . . . . we started with a cannon shot which, along with caffeine Cliff gel, will get you going.

The first 2 miles or so was in the dark but run on city streets so the lighting was good. We finally started seeing sunrise prior to mile 3 as we were crossing a bridge from Kentucky back into Ohio. I even stopped long enough to take a picture for another runner who was trying to take a picture of himself with the sun and river in the background. HMMMM . . . . did that waste a valuable 30 seconds? After 5 miles, the pack was spreading out and I was finally able to hit a decent stride. I was running with a man that I had been talking to for a mile or so when we ran up on a man holding balloons on a stick . . . . a pacer. I never really look for pacers on a race course since I figure that they are holding an even pace all through the race and I have never run that way. What was that written on his balloons? 3:50? You have to be kidding me! I was running way too fast. I wanted to break 4:00. Maybe 3:55. Why am I about to pass the 3:50 pacer before the 6 mile mark? Am I insane????

We started into the “hilly” part of the course after mile 6. According to the elevation plat that the website provided, we had about 3 miles of all uphill running to contend with and the locals I had talked to on Saturday described it as torturous. I did slow slightly, knowing that I was running in the dreaded hills. The funny thing was this-these terrible hills were much milder than what Chip, Animal, the Dominator, and I run in our neighborhood on a daily basis. So much for the fear!

Between miles 8 and 10 I kept fighting to stay behind the 3:50 pacesetter. I was keeping up with my splits and saw that I was well on my way to my 3:55 goal if I could hold everything together. Somewhere between mile 10 and 11 I made the decision to pass the pacesetter and not look back. At the halfway point, I had clocked my split at a few seconds over 1:55 and I thought that would put me close to my 3:50 goal, IF I COULD HOLD MY PACE for the second half. I had trained all my long runs running negative splits. But would it work for 26 miles the way it worked for 22 miles? The miles have seemed to click off and I was in a comfortable zone. I had been running in the 8:30s and 8:40s and felt good. I thought that I’d go to mile 15 and make a decision there. It wasn’t like I needed to speed up; I just needed to prepare myself mentally to bear down.

Somewhere between mile 15 and 18 the emotions started kicking in. I was shocked at how good I felt compared to past marathons. I started to realize that maybe I could break 4 hours. Maybe even break 3:55. But I was still reluctant to think in terms of 3:50. By the way, I have not seen the 3:50 pacesetter recently . . . did he sneak past me at some point? Should I look back over my shoulder to see if he was closing the gap? HECK NO . . . . just keep running. Run like your life depends on it. I had promised myself and Mona to do the best I could do, regardless, and I was not going to let the mind start playing tricks on my body! Between 18 and 20 miles the emotions got worse and I kept having mini breakdowns. Ever see a man run 8:30 miles and blubber at the same time? It is not a pretty scene!

The last 10K. In the past, this has been the hardest part. However, this time there was no “give up” in me. There was no wall. I had determined in all my training that I would not become a dish of melted butter in the last miles. I really think that running my long runs on Saturday and then running another 5 or 6 miles on Sunday really helped my mind cope with the discomfort. There were four of us that had been running together and talking between mile 18 and 20 and we had taken turns running as lead in a pace line. When we hit mile 20 in 2:55 my mind went bye-bye. I announced my intention to run a 50 minute 10k. If we could turn 50 minutes, I could get to 3:45 marathon. I asked who wanted to go with me and everyone grunted an affirmative grunt. We picked up the pace and we did an 8:17 mile. Not fast enough for a 50 minute 10k. At that point I realized I could not make 3:45. In fact, during the faster mile, I lost two of my buddies whom I am sure are still cussing me today. There were two of us left and we had stopped talking. The effort to speed up this late in the game was overwhelming. I can at least brag and say that I finally got away from my remaining buddy around mile 22. We wished each other luck and he started walking. I’m on my own for the last 4 miles. The legs are hurting. The hips are hurting. The back is hurting. The FATMAN is screaming at me . . . “you can break four hours, even if you start walking now”. NO. Not this time. I will not walk. I have never run a marathon start to finish without walking. I would love to tell you of heroics but I cannot. But, I did not walk. Unfortunately, my pace did fall off. The last couple of miles were a blur. I remember more crying and thoughts of all the Saturday morning runs. I remembered how Mona used to brag to our friends about what I was doing (I would not tell our friends about my training, so she would brag on me). The realization that I no longer had my biggest fan hurt. All I ever wanted was to be someone's hero. Such a mix of emotions, all culminating in the struggle of the last mile of a marathon. Epic battle? Perhaps. More likely, a dehydrated, chemically imbalanced brain playing tricks. I managed to pull it together and saw Susan about a half mile from the finish. She and thousands of other spectators were cheering me to a strong finish. For a brief moment, I was superman. When I saw the finish line and the clock reading 3:48:10, I kicked it in the rump and crossed the line in 3:48:16.

As I crossed the line, I realized that my life has indeed changed. I’ve been searching for a way to define myself. Athlete? No. Runner? Not really. Confused? Always. Lonely? Yes, but not in a devastating kind of way anymore. Proud of myself? Kind of, but I’m not really that way. Have I been running from my past? No, there is nothing there to run from-it is who I am. Perhaps I am running towards my future. As I walked through the finish line area with my medal and mylar blanket, stuffing orange slices into my mouth I concluded that I am just another ordinary guy who by the grace of God and with proper motivation was able to do something extraordinary. Thanks to all my family and friends who have supported me. Thanks also to my blogging friends for supporting me as well. I will be here for you as you were for me. Count on it!

Here are the details:

1 9:18
2 8:59
3 8:17
4 8:28
5 8:36 43:38
6 8:49
7 9:03
8 8:58
9 8:21
10 8:36 1:27:25
11 8:39
12 8:55
13 8:46
14 8:50
15 8:48 2:11:22
16 8:31
17 8:41
18 8:32
19 8:34
20 8:37 2:54:16
21 8:17
22 8:38
23 8:45
24 8:46
25 9:29
26.2 10:08 3:48:16

Best mile: 8:17

AVG pace: 8:43/mile. That is averaging 6.88 miles per hour.


Ashville said...

What a story, maybe you should consider writting along with your running. Had us in tears and laughter and made us want to be young again.
young at heart

Wilson's Whiskers said...

Jim, What a story!! When you said that your are just an ordinary guy who was able to do something extraordinary, well, that is what a hero truly is. You are more than a hero. Congrats!

Oh, by the way, the Wilson's Whiskers is from my classroom blog. I didn't want anyone to think I'm growing whiskers!

Phil said...

Great race Jim! You held a great pace for 24 miles and have accomplished what many of us average runners can only dream of doing. I know you have a 3:45 in you on a flat course.

You've got a lot of heart and have certainly provided lots of motivation and inspiration to many of us out here in the blogsphere.

Keep up you running and keep writing your blog. The world needs more runners like you.


Amy said...

That was a great post!

I agree with Phil...the world needs more runners like you. You have been constant inspiration and motivation for me. You are a hero to me and to many more I'm sure of it.