Note: Originally posted as a note on facebook.
This one will be short(er). I promise.
Against my better judgment I decided that I would run the Rocket City Marathon just 3 weeks after the JFK 50 miler. I won the marathon last year and I have so many great friends in Huntsville it feels like my home course even though I live in Cincinnati now. I had never run a 50 mile race prior to JFK, so I had no idea how it would affect my marathon. What the heck. I’ll give it a shot and see how it turns out.
After my 2nd place finish at JFK, I felt like I had accomplished my major goal for the year. I usually have no trouble getting excited about a race, but I just couldn’t get psyched for Rocket City because deep down I knew it would not be my very best performance. To make matters worse, I wanted Stefanie to be able to come to RCM, so I waited for her to get off work on Friday at noon (the day before the race) and then I drove us the 6 hours to Huntsville. I hate traveling the day before a race, much less driving that long. I was able to do a 4 mile shakeout after picking up my packet at 6pm and felt fine though.
Race morning temperature was perfect in the low 40s, but it was a little windy. I was seeded first because I won last year, but Daniel Ellis had the fastest recent marathon time on the start list. I considered him the favorite and heard he was looking for 2:20 or better. I was thinking that if I was able to PR in this race, then it would be a miracle. There was no reason to start faster than 2:26 pace. I wanted to be conservative at the start, and if I somehow felt good, I could pick it up gradually.
As the race started I had no trouble letting Daniel and a couple other guys jump out to an early lead. I ran my own pace in the mid 5:30s for the first 9 miles and found a few friends to join me. We had a nice little group turning directly into the southerly wind on Bailey Cove around mile 10. Fellow Auburn alumni, Josh Whitehead and David Wall, were included in this group. The pace was perfect considering the headwind and I was hoping to pick it up when we headed north with the wind at our backs. But I didn’t feel as good at this point as last year. My legs were already aching. Aerobically I was fine; I had the quietest and most controlled breathing rhythms in the group, but my legs just weren’t there.
Kameron Ulmer from Idaho was the first to start pushing the pace as we turned northward and the pack quickly strung out. I tried to go with him, but couldn’t match his pace. He would eventually come within 13 seconds of winning the race, nearly catching Daniel. I ran with Scott Wietecha from Tennessee until mile 20 but eventually he was able to pull away as well leaving me in 6th place. I had no fight. The negative thoughts had been relentless since mile 12. I wanted to quit but I just kept telling myself to wait until the next mile. A funny thing happened though. As long as I didn’t try to run under 5:40 miles, I was ok. So I just kept moving. At mile 23, one of the guys who went out early with Daniel was sitting on the side of the road. Alright, back in 5th and in position to get some gas money! (You know it’s not your day when you’re thinking about gas money.) It was a nice pick-me-up though and it kept me going until another guy who went early with Daniel came into view around mile 24. He was running slowly and I passed him at mile 25 and moved into 4th position where I finished. I had a strong last mile and crossed the line in 2:28:14.
After the race, I tried to analyze what went wrong. Physically and emotionally, it felt like a really bad race. But realistically, it was great. Nothing went wrong. I trained all summer and fall for a different race where I ran great. In training, I ran hilly trail tempos at 7 min pace instead of 10 mile marathon paced runs on the road. I ran a 50k trail race plus 6 miles warmup and cooldown one day for a total of 37 miles in preparation for JFK – not suggested marathon training in case you were wondering. And that training worked great for JFK. Then, just three weeks later I attempted to run a marathon at a pace which I hadn’t trained sufficiently for. My legs just couldn’t handle a turnover faster than 5:40 pace. If I wanted to, I could change that, and I feel confident I still have a road marathon PR in my legs, but I’m not sure that’s what I want right now. When I find out what it is I want to do from here, you’ll be the first to know.
Epilogue: Because of the weather situation on Sunday, Stefanie and I made the decision to leave Huntsville earlier than planned in an effort to beat the snow/wind that was forecast in Ohio. We left Huntsville at 6AM and encountered scattered snow showers the whole way home, but the interstates stayed pretty clear. Shortly after we arrived home, we had 3 inches of snow and counting. Good thing we left when we did. Of course, I still had to run. So I went out and ran in the snow, which was fine because I love snow. Amazingly, I was able to maintain 7:30 pace…in the snow…after driving home 6 hours. After my first two marathons and JFK, I could barely run 9 min pace the day after because my legs were so locked down. If I needed any more convincing this was it. I simply couldn’t push my legs hard enough in the marathon to run my fastest. If you’re reading this and are not a runner, it probably doesn’t make any sense. And I’m not sure it makes complete sense to me, honestly. All I know is that I shouldn’t be upset that I was almost 2 minutes off my marathon PR. But, at some level, I am still disappointed that I wasn’t able to run faster. And that’s why I’ll be running tomorrow.