Thursday, November 15, 2012

OBX Marathon Recap

For the last 3 months, I have dedicated my running to a single goal. OBX would be my main race in the fall of '12. Sunday morning, standing at the starting line, the butterflies in my stomach told me that I was about to find out how well that I had prepared.

However, before recounting my race adventure, I want to back up a little. The weekend was more than a little interesting even before the race.

For nearly 4 ½ hours, my drive was anything but eventful. The last hour or so of the drive to the Outer Banks is along mostly a two lane road. Mind you, I have run OBX four other times and never had anything like what I am about to describe happen to me.

First, I am going through one the small towns along 64 to the Outer Banks. When I say small town, I am talking about maybe one grocery store, gas station, and maybe a few other businesses.

Just leaving the interstate, I have driven maybe 10 minutes and I am coming into the first town. I see what looks like a tractor and trailer attempting to cross through an intersection. Wait no, it isn't crossing through the intersection, it is setting in the intersection. As I get closer, I follow the flow of cars first slowing and then, turning right into the gas station parking lot and going around the back of the gas station. Then, they were merging back on to the road. As I passed by the tractor trailer, I could see that a car had crashed into the mid section of the trailer. Police, Ambulance, and Fire Rescue workers were attempting to extricate the driver. How awful I thought; I hope everyone is alright.

The rest of the driving remained peaceful for the rest of the long road to the beach.

Darkness had set-in as I headed for the expo. Parking some distance from the expo, I made my way into the building, picked up my number and goodie bag, and then proceeded to make the circuit of the expo.
I am just in the process of purchasing an item when suddenly the lights go out. Inside the building it is completely dark. Then, like something out of a commercial, lights begin to come on. No, these were not emergency lights. The light was coming from people's phones. Every person seemed to be carrying a Smart Phone and was using their flashlight app.

Luckily for me, the vender where I was making my purchase was using an iPad with a Square. I had no problem getting my stuff. From there, I decided to skip the rest of the expo and head out. I needed to look for some dinner. Walking out the expo, I suddenly realized that it wasn't just the expo that lost power, it was the entire island. It was dark everywhere.

My stomaching was beginning to ache and I wondered where I was going to find dinner. With no electricity, restaurants would not be able to serve any food. Well, I thought, let's get to the hotel. They should have generator for power.

But as I am driving along, like a beacon in the night, I see the Harris Teeter sign. Yes, Harris Teeter must have generators because they have power. No effort needed on this decision, I ducked into the parking lot and headed into the store. At least, I thought, I can resolve the issue with my growling tummy.

I figured a sub might be good so I headed for the deli counter. I asked the lady making sandwiches for a grilled chicken sub on white bread. She proceeds to tell me that they are all out of bread and they only have flat bread. Hummm, a grilled chicken sub on flat bread, well, I do have to eat so I agree.

I pick up a few other things for the rest of the weekend and headed for the hotel. All of the traffic lights are out so the only lights on the island come from the car head lights. But people are being extremely nice and letting others turn and pull out. Everyone seems to be in a good mood this evening.

Following the navigation system on my phone, I proceed to drive by the hotel not once but twice. It takes me this long to realize that the hotel doesn't have generators so it is completely in the dark. My mind then begins to wonder what this is going to be like.

Heading inside the hotel, they are doing everything with flashlights. They check me in by taking an etching of my credit card with a crayon. Thankfully, they have already assigned me a room so I gather my stuff. One of the workers with a flashlight leads me up to the room and opens the door with a master key.

So there I was setting in a dark cold room. Things could be worse, I guess.

I pop out my notebook and turn it on. It gives me at least a little light in the room. Then, I remember that I brought my head lamp. What seemed like a dumb idea at the time? I know felt like a genius now. So by light from my head lamp, I enjoyed my flat bread grilled chicken sub and two bananas. I crawled into bed to get warm and tried to pass the time by surfing the internet on my Smart phone.

The lights did come back on later in the evening. And, I was most thankful. That room was starting to feel pretty cold.

Fast forward to race morning, Michelle and I were hanging out waiting for the start after Thomas dropped her off early. He was running the ½ marathon. Jason M. comes by our van and joins us so we all hang out together until it is time to head to the starting line.

We all talk about our goals for the race. Michelle wants to run 2:56 to 2:57. Jason wants to break 3 hours and well, I want something like 2:45 to 2:47. We finish our prep for the race and headed for the starting line. Jason notices that I have a breath right strip on my nose and he ask me about it. Then, he asked if I have any more. Thus, he is breaking the first rule of racing – "try nothing new". Of course, I give him one. He puts it on this nose and asked me if he has it own right. I try to hide my smile and say "well, you have it on a little high". He really has it a lot high. It needs to be lower toward his nostrils and not between his eyes. But we get him fixed up and the three of us jog toward the starting line.

The start is 10 minutes away so I am doing some very easy strides on a side street. I flash by this guy and he looks familiar. I realize it is Martin. He and I ran together during the mid 90s. I hadn't seen him since that time. I also see Heather from the TrySports store in Raleigh. We met last year when she ran OBX.

We gathered at the starting line and they started giving us the final countdown.

I wish Michelle, Jason, and Martin luck and then turn my attention to mentally setting myself for the task ahead.

I took several long deep breathes because I knew it was be the last time for next several hours that my breathing wouldn't be labored.

Finally, we are off. The first few miles are slightly uphill at OBX. The first thing I notice isn't my breathing but my hamstrings. Both of them feel extremely tight. I can only hope that they loosen up after a few miles.

My first mile is 6:15 and my second mile is 6:05. I fall into this group of 3 guys and then Martin joins us. I look over at Martin and he says "I want to stay with you through the half way point". I nod "okay, that I understand", but I begin to listen to Martin's breathing pattern. We are two miles into a marathon and sounds like he is running a 5k. Not long afterward, I no longer hear Martin's breathing off my shoulder.

I try to settle in with these guys. The mile splits are faster than I really want to run, but on the other hand, my only other option would be to drop back and run solo. I go with running in the group even if it is too fast for me.

We proceed to click off the miles. By 10 miles, I realize that I have just run faster for these 10 miles than I did 2 weeks ago at the ATT 10 miler.

We hit the Nags Head Trail. After a couple of miles one of the guys bolts ahead of us and starts pulling away. The other two pick it up a little so we are starting to string out.

By the time we exit the trail section, I have perhaps 40 meters behind the two. Knowing the open roads during the 2nd half can be windy, I make an attempt to close the distance.

But after a couple of miles, I am not closing. If anything, I am losing some distance. Mentally, I think I am starting to fall apart.

But my Garmin flashes up that I had just ran a 6:04 mile. No, it isn't that I am falling apart; they are running faster. We make a right turn and I take the opportunity to check behind me. There is no one insight.

I have 10 miles left to run and it doesn't look like I am going to catch any of these guys. It is time to focus on nursing this one home.

Now that I am running solo, I notice every little pain. Mainly, it is my fore foot. They both hurt and I suspect they have blisters forming.

My splits are staying consist until I hit the bridge. I feel like I literally "hit the bridge". This mile is 6:43 and my quads hate me as I push them to climb up this steep long incline at 23 miles.

I cross the top and look to my right. I can see downtown Mateo and know that I have a little more than 5k to run.

Heading on the downhill side of the bridge, I feel like I can pick up the pace a little so I try. Oops, this was a bad idea. Suddenly my hamstrings are starting to balk. The downhill side of the bridge might have been worse than the uphill side.

Mile 24 was 6:58. Mile 25 was 7:02 and mile 26 was 7:15.

Mentally, I realize 7:15 isn't exactly slow so but after running so hard for so long, it feels like I am crawling. Add on top of it, my body is beginning to stiffen up from this effort.

I make the last two right turns and head for the finish line. I want to pick it up but my legs are having none of it. I cross the finish line in 2:46:05.

This was pretty much right in my target range. I wanted to run something between 2:45 and 2:49. I finished 8 overall and was the 2nd Master runner to finish so I finished 2nd in the USAT&F-NC and RRCA-NC Master's Marathon Championship.

Walking away from this race, there are some good takeaways for me to remember. The temperature was between 52 and 54 degrees at the start with 87% humidity. By 5 miles, I'd say the temperature had hit 60 degrees. We came over one hill and it felt a dryer was blowing heat in our faces. We followed the shade of the course as much as possible. I suspect it was well into the 60s by the end of the race. I felt little like I was baking during the 2nd half of the course. If you look at my race pictures, you will see that I had my jersey unzip the entire way.

The other observation is that I ran with a group of guys that were obviously faster than me. After the race, I was chatting with them and they were mostly 1:12 half marathoners. In hind sight, it is always about gut feel. Running with a group even if they are running faster can be a huge advantage over trekking the miles solo. Where the rubber meets the road is how much faster. In this case, I was running probably 20 seconds faster per mile than I really need to be running. The tough part to stomach is that once you commit to this race strategy, you cannot really pull back from it. On that day, you have already burned that energy and that effort has went into your body. The reality is that I lost a lot more time over the last 3 miles than I gained by running the early miles 20 seconds faster.

No race is perfect and you have to make split second decisions about who, where, and how to run the race. If you are not willing to take some risk, you will never see any of the reward.

One last bit about the race, I was running somewhere around I think 15 to 17 miles when I see Thomas coming toward me. He had run the ½ as I told you earlier and was running back to check on Michelle. He tells me that I am looking good and to keep going. Then, after the race, he tells me the truth. I looked bad and didn't know how that I held it together. I had to smile on the inside because what Thomas told me was exactly how I felt. But also makes me feel good that even thou my body was not performing at its best, I still mustered a decent effort from it.

Also, I need to give a big shout out to Michelle. Not only did she PR at 2:55 but she also won the race and picked up the USAT&F-NC and RRCA Women's Marathon Championship. Big congratulations to Michelle on her awesome effort.

Sharing one thought at time,

The Cool Down Runner


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