Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Mother Road Marathon 2012 – A Hard Won Success !

Wow…what an amazing experience! I’d like to say that everything just went my way, it was nearly effortless, and I ran fast enough to qualify for the next Olympics. But that would take all the truth right out of it (not to mention the thrill of victory and the agony of de-feet). I WILL say this though…I had an amazing time at the race, and would definitely do it again. The race organizers did an absolutely fantastic job, and my hat is off to them. Very well done !
The morning started at the Joplin Athletic Center which is on the west side of Joplin, Missouri. I got there about 5:00 a.m. and just chilled in the car for a while, then slowly got outfitted for the race. There was a series of buses that left from there to go the approximately 26 miles to the starting line in Commerce, OK. They started leaving about 5:30 a.m., and one left every 20 minutes or so up till about 6:45 a.m. I skipped the 6:00 bus and got on the one at 6:20, since it was chilly outside and I didn’t want to just stand outside at the starting line until the 7:30 a.m. start. The bus ride should have taken about 25-30 minutes.

As far as the course was concerned, for the first 5 miles from Commerce to just outside of Quapaw (pronounced “O-Gah-Pah”…it is an American Indian word) the roads were completely closed so we had the entire highway. From there, we had probably a six foot shoulder to run on the vast majority of the time up till the 16 mile mark, where we had the shoulder of the highway AND a full lane. The shoulder was really good for the overwhelming majority of the race, free from rocks, holes, and other debris (at least for the most part). Back to the bus ride though.

We were happily tooling along toward our destination when, just on the other side of Quapaw, there was a police car blocking the road. No worries I thought (as did the rest of us undoubtedly)…they closed the road the first five miles specifically for the runners, and WE were the runners. They would simply let the buses pass on to their destination, and we would be good to go.

Au contraire.

The police officer “had his orders” apparently…the road was CLOSED. Logic would NOT rule this day my friend…that type of thing might be done in the big city, but not out in these parts. The bus driver of the bus I skipped earlier had been “having the discussion” with the police officer about this for quite a while, and by the time we arrived he was somewhat flustered to say the least.

But thankfully the situation didn't escalate, and to the best of my knowledge, the officer did not have to fish the bullet out of his pocket.

At the conclusion of this discussion, the bus drivers decided to execute a three-point turn using a narrow gravel road and find another way to the start line, which ended up being a little over 15 miles away from that point based upon the way we had to go. We arrived at the starting area about 7:20, which in retrospect was just about perfect. I walked the three blocks to the line, used the facilities, stripped out of the throw-away sweats I had on, listened to the National Anthem, and 178 of us started at 7:35 a.m.

The air was nice and cool, and everyone seemed relaxed and happy. The clouds had some amazing morning colors, and we were at mile 2 before the sun crested the horizon. The first couple of miles were easy and very pleasant. From about 1.8 to 3.7 it was a very gentle and steady incline, gaining about 50 feet. It was so gentle, it actually seemed flat. I was a little concerned that I was moving too quickly at this point, averaging 8:47 minutes per mile. I had planned on being more in the 9:15 to 9:30 range. I kept trying to ease off a bit by just taking slow, deep breaths and relaxing, but I seemed to be on auto-pilot from a pace perspective. I averaged 8:46 per mile through the first 6 miles, and things still felt nice and relaxed, although I was still concerned about the pace. This same type of thing happened to me at Cowtown in February (back then I was aiming for 9:30 and my average pace through 6 there was 9:03), so I wasn’t overly concerned at this point.

The next few miles were uneventful and fairly flat, with just very gentle rolling hills all within about 20 feet of elevation. From mile 9.5 to mile 11 the course gained another 50 feet. Shortly after that, there was a short, abrupt downhill and uphill right about the 12 mile point, but it wasn’t bad. About this point I tried to make a more conscious effort to slow down, since I had a growing concern that I was going too fast. I was averaging an 8:50 pace up to this point, so had slowed down only slightly. As a point of reference, at Cowtown I was averaging an 8:59 pace at this point, so while there was some concern, I wasn’t freaked out or anything. I passed the half-marathon point at 1:56:40, just shy of three minutes ahead of my Cowtown halfway mark.

Then, the wheels started to come off.

At the 13.9 mile mark, I just simply ran out of gas seemingly all at once. I felt like I had to take a walk break…I just felt drained and out of breath. At this point, the participants had really spread out, and that was very different from Cowtown, where there were people around all the time. From this point forward it wasn’t uncommon for me to be able to not see another runner in front of me, and then turn around and not see another runner behind me. I didn’t look back more than a few times (wasn’t going that way ), but it was a bit lonely. It wasn’t that way at all times by any means, but there was certainly never a crowd around me, and no one on the side of the course except at the aid stations every 2 miles. I did a run / walk type of thing, running whenever I felt the energy return and power walking when I couldn’t.

At a little past the 17 mile mark, I started to have muscle spasms in my calves and quads. Since I’m definitely NOT a fan of full-on locked up cramps, I would switch to a power walk whenever the muscle spasms would start (never in more than one leg or location at a time thankfully), and run when I could. Unfortunately, this is also where the elevation profile of the course really banks up, rising from about 800 feet at 17.6 to 1040 feet at 25.8. It was a real challenge to keep going at this point, because I REALLY would have preferred to just keep running, and the walking breaks would normally have been a bit demoralizing. However, for some reason I seemed to just switch to an ultra-running perspective (walk the uphills, try to run the downhills and flats, and keep moving forward), and just kept making the best forward progress I could make. I averaged 11:20 per mile from 17 through 22.

Just shy of the 23 mile mark I once again attempted a run segment but my body shut me down immediately, like within two or three steps, with rolling spasms in my calves (and sometimes thighs). I got the message loud and clear. I could either power walk it in, or lay on the ground in a full-on cramp. My body didn’t seem to care which one, and left the decision to me. Being the chicken that I am, I chose the less painful course of action and just focused on walking. I did try twice more over the next 3+ miles to lightly jog, but was shut down just as quick. It really felt weird to be walking across a finish line, especially when at Cowtown I really put the hammer down and sprinted across the line, but it was a true battle to just keep up the walking pace at that point. Even at that, I did manage to average 13:04 per mile over the last 3.2 miles of the course, and finished the race with a time of 4:29:30.

This was my third marathon, but I have to say that I just may be the most proud of this one. I actually ran a marathon distance in training by myself on December 29th of 2011 in 4:12:45, and I ran my first official marathon at Cowtown on February 26th of this year in 3:56:06. My second official marathon was on April 1st of this year, but I had to DNF that race at a little over the 12 mile mark due to heat exhaustion. Rolling back spasms and disorientation was just something I couldn’t work through. So this one was my third official marathon, as well as the third time I’ve covered the marathon distance. The difference here though was that it really felt like a true struggle on the back half, almost like a war at times, and I’m quite proud to have risen to the challenge. I honestly feel like I put forth the best effort possible for me that day.

I know that I left it all out on the course on Sunday, and there wasn’t any more to give really, so I’m pleased that I was able to rise to the challenges this race offered. After all, I knew going into it that it would be a challenge, having to deal with a sinus infection that started a week prior to the race, as well as not being able to train consistently due to a chronic calf strain that hung on for 8 solid weeks and that prevented any long runs not to mention cutting my mileage by a good third. I also didn’t get the best possible rest the night before the marathon, since there was a lot of yelling, door slamming, laughing and talking till nearly midnight outside my door.

Based upon my fitness, I could have and probably did go out too hard in the first half. Dialing it back in early might have at least staved off the run/walk segment for a mile or several, but that is just a guess. I felt well hydrated throughout, and drank plenty over the course of the run, so I don’t think dehydration played any role.

My plan at this point first and foremost is to just be gentle with myself, and return to training slowly. I won’t be doing any running until Saturday. I plan to do gentle walks or bike rides to keep things loose and flush out the system. The number one goal being to NOT repeat my typical pattern, and set myself up for another injury that I have to train through for months. On Saturday I’ll start with just a couple of miles, and I’ll ramp back to my normal mileage slowly. I have a feeling that just staying healthy and injury free will be a giant stride toward a better experience at my next marathon. From there I’ll probably be a LOT more diligent about keeping the early miles slower by at least 20-30 seconds per mile, then speeding up if things still feel good.

I placed 52nd out of 156 total finishers (top 33.33%).
Out of 83 male marathoner finishers, I came in at 40th place (top 48.19%).
There were 11 men in the 50-54 age group that finished, and I placed 4th among them (top 36.36%).

These were my splits...


Thanks for stopping by, and Happy Running Everyone !!!