Monday, October 20, 2008

2:59 at the Columbus Marathon

All things considered, the Columbus Marathon could have gone much worse for me. I ran a 2:59--my second consecutive sub-3-hour marathon (my first was a 2:58 at Cleveland)--and managed to hang on despite right hamstring problems. But before I go any further in my race report, I want to congratulate the following SERC members/friends, who finished the marathon in fine fashion:

Yours truly with my son Noah, who along with Anne is my greatest source of inspiration. That medal is all his!

Jim Chaney: 2:55
Steve Godale: 2:55
Jeff Ubersax: 2:56 (PR, grand masters winner)
Joe Vishey: 3:05 (PR)
Jeff Tanchon: 3:12
Dave Morl: 3:12
Adam Shane: 3:20
Richard Oliver: 3:28
Dawn Malone: 3:33
Ted Friedman: 3:53
Gerri Kornblut: 4:15:54
Christina Seman: 4:29:02


I drove down to Columbus with Jeff U. and Steve G. We talked running the whole way and ate lunch at a pretty good place called Noodles. It’s off the (nauseatingly overdeveloped) Polaris Parkway exit on the northern outskirts of Columbus. I stayed at the Hyatt Regency with my father-in-law, Doug, who was there to walk the marathon for the seventh time (which he did in 6:15!). After I watched my beloved Clemson Tigers lose to Georgia Tech on ESPN, we went to the expo a few hours after our arrival. The expo was a train wreck—awful “traffic” flow and narrow walkways made it a pain in the ass to navigate. You had to go past all of the vendors before picking up your number, chip, shirt, etc.

This year the official marathon shirts were gray Nike Dry Fit—the kind that looks like cotton but really isn’t. In years past, the marathon has provided really nice Asics long-sleeve technical tee-shirts that you can actually wear on a long run. I have always worn my race shirts on runs. If you wanted an official marathon long-sleeve tech tee, you had to fork over $50. No thanks. Though I was disappointed about the shirt, I didn’t get bent out of shape. As for the expo, it’s always been a weakness of the Columbus Marathon and you just have to take the good with the bad.

That night we went to Martini’s for dinner. There were about 10 of us and the dinner was organized by Jeff T. Even as it took an hour and forty minutes to get our dinner, we had a great time, exchanging stories over some good pre-race carbs. Most of us were back in our hotel rooms by 8:30. I was asleep by 9:30.


Now, for the marathon…. As with all Columbus marathons, it was well-organized and the course was excellent, with lots of crowd support. I think the field included 11,000 marathon, half-marathon and 5K runners and walkers. This year the course changed quite a bit, but the changes made it even better. The new course was more scenic and had fewer hills.

The marathon organizers also get props for the prerace hype. Just seconds before the gun went off as we were crowding the starting line, they played the greatest song ever recorded by AC/DC--"Thundestruck"--which is also one of the greatest rock 'n roll songs of all time. No song gets me more fired up than "Thunderstruck," with the possible exception of another great AC/DC song, "Shoot to Thrill" (AC/DC happens to be one of my favorite bands. They're often described as a medal band, which couldn't be further from the truth. They are a pure rock 'n roll band. Furthermore, I think the band got better with the addition of Brian Johnson, though Bon Scott was great, too. Enough with my rant....).

Another change was starting the runners and walkers at 7 a.m. In previous years, the walkers started an hour earlier and would move to the side of the street when the runners passed them. I prefer the old starting times because then there's still some decent crowd support for the walkers at the finish (a 6-hour walker is going to come in at the same time as a 5-hour runner). When my father-in-law finished at 1:45 p.m., the finish area was mostly empty except for other walkers coming in--pretty lonely, I would imagine. Unlike many marathon runners, I don't have a problem with walkers because someone I'm close to (my father-in-law) is a marathon walker and I know how much the experience means to him. Anyone who completes a marathon, whether by running, walking or wheelchair, deserves crowd support in the end.


Going into the marathon, I was aiming for a 2:55. Unfortunately, my hamstring dashed those hopes. Having done some pre-race striders, I went out of the gate warmed-up even as the temperature was about 35 degrees. I was dressed perfectly. I wore Race Ready shorts packed with 6 gels, two Advil and 10 e-caps (all of which I took except for one Advil and one gel); a tight, long-sleeve base layer shirt; my SERC singlet; gloves; a Mountain Hardwear "beenie"; and my racing shoes.

My 10K split was 41:56 (6:44 pace)--right on target. The first sign of my hamstring problem came at mile 7 when I felt some moderate pain. With 19 miles to go, I thought I was in serious trouble and experienced a certain amount of despair and near panic as I wanted so badly to do well. But then by mile 10 the discomfort had subsided and I was in full stride with Jeff. Both of us looking strong, we crossed the halfway mark at 1:28:54 (6:46 pace). For Jeff, a.k.a., Mr. Negative Split, this was on target. For me, this was about a minute too slow.

At mile 17, my hamstring again started to act up. I had to make a decision: Should I continue to press hard and risk a serious leg injury (i.e., a torn hamstring) and DNF going for a 2:55, pull back just a little and go for a sub-3 with moderate risk of further-injuring my leg, or just go for a Boston-qualifying time of 3:10? I chose to dial it back just a little and go for a sub-3 time.

So I slowed just a little to 6:50 pace as Jeff continued his assault on a PR and grand masters title. By mile 18, he was more than 100 feet in front of me and there was no way I could catch him. I was still at about 6:50 pace and would hold that pace give or take a few seconds for basically the rest of the race as Jeff slowly but surely disappeared.

By this time I was noticing something kind of odd. My GPS splits were not lining up with the mile markers. More on that later….

I hit the 20-mile mark in 2:16:06 (6:48 pace), leaving a little less than 44 minutes to complete the last 10K. This meant I had no margin for error. Overall, I was pretty strong during the last 10K. My leg hurt a little, but I hung in there and kept up with my 2:59 pace. Like any marathoner, I experienced a few dark moments but they were fleeting. My experience with two 100 milers has helped me to deal with pain and discomfort late in races. The biggest challenge I faced was dealing with the fact that there was no margin for error. I had to stay on pace and ignore the fact that I had to pee badly, or else I wouldn’t break 3.

I ran the remaining 6.2 miles at 6:55 pace, crossing the finish line in 2:59:05 in decent but not great shape. Running down the stretch, I tried for 2:58:59 but unfortunately missed it. At age 53, Jeff won the grand masters division (and he won it at the 2008 Cleveland Marathon, too). Amazing.


I trained hard for Columbus and wish I’d done better. But I broke 3 and am proud of it. In the grand scheme of things, few runners ever qualify for Boston (this I know) and even fewer break 3 hours. The craziness of the past few weeks, which wreaked havoc on my training, may have taken a toll on my conditioning, but the bottom line is that I should have run a 2:55 and I didn’t. My hamstring went south on me, I dealt with it and fortunately I clocked a decent time. No excuses. My time is what it is—an underachieving time and yet my second-fastest-ever marathon.

Interestingly, my GPS measured the course at 26.46 miles. Jeff’s GPS had the course at 26.42 miles and another runner’s GPS had it at 26.45 miles. We’re all experienced marathoners who understand tangents and hit them for the most part. Our GPS results lead me to think the course was, in fact, long by .2 miles. Which means each of us would have finished about a minute faster. But in the end, everyone ran the same course and the standings would have been the same for the most part, so the extra distance really doesn’t amount to much.

My next race will likely be the Nov. 23 Fall Classic Half Marathon, where I may go for a time of sub-1:20. I ran a 1:22 on that same course in the spring, so a sub-1:20 is possible with continued focus.

Onward and upward!

1 comment:

  1. Well done. As you said, sometimes you just have to tough it out, under less than ideal circumstances. You did that, and still kept it under 3. Congrats!