Fast Guy Problems: Running by heart at the 2015 Eugene Marathon

There are many ways to run a marathon, each with their own positive and negative attributes. Pacing, fueling, gadgets, and gear are some of the many factors that must be considered when planning for this distance. It’s easy to see them in practice at the event, as hordes of participants are following their own routine and plan within the greater spectacle of the race itself. As someone who has focused on halves and pretty much any race shorter, this was a whole new experience. The concepts of fueling mid run, tapering for the event, and spending days focusing on being prepared was a completely different aspect than my general ‘run easy the day before and get ready to fly’ race prep.

You can read in detail about my training here, as this will focus on the actual event. I drove down with a friend the day before and met a couple other local runners. They were all doing the half, but we have gotten together regularly for Sunday long runs. After stopping by the expo to grab our numbers and wander around the booths, we checked into our hotels. It was decided that pre race dinner was going to be at Red Robin, where we got down to business talking about the runs the next day. We are all seasoned runners, so there were not any big mysteries. They mostly involved clothing, the temperature, and fueling.

My main focus was pacing. I had brought down a container of food to consume an hour or two before bed, and was going to carry Shotbloks, so fueling was planned out. I was still shooting for a 2:40 finish so the plan was to come through the halfway point at about 1:20, but a minute or two slow, to encourage negative splits and conserve energy.  I felt that was a logical and attainable goal. The fun part is that I planned on doing this without a watch, as actually seeing the splits would probably alarm me or focusing on the time would make me forget to listen to my body. The plan was to run negative splits and come through the half around 1:21. If the pace was reined in, I could see how I felt at 20 miles and decide whether or not to kick it up a notch.

Start to 5K: 6:28 pace, 20:04

It was a little cool at the beginning, but still a great temperature for racing. After getting down to my favorite racing outfit (shoes, shorts, and bib), and the last-minute porta potty stop I made my way to Corral A. I originally planned on starting just a couple of people from the start line, but a crowded corral made my change my mind. It wasn’t going to be worth the hassle of trying to squeeze up front. I could see the 1:30 pace sign for the half bobbing in front of me as I stretched out about half a block back from the start arch. I felt relatively limber and ready as the horn blew and we slowly accelerated. I made my way to the left side, trying to avoid traffic and minimize the chance of a collision. This section was mostly through residential areas and I kept my pace laid back and easy while I enjoyed reading the signs held by spectators. I had already settled into a rhythm that had me flowing smoothly past everybody, while at almost exactly the speed I was shooting for.

5K to 10K: 6:22 pace, 39:28 

The mile markers were flowing by smoothly, but I missed most of them. We did an out and back section on two parallel streets that contained one minor hill. Spectator support was still great and the crowd thinned a little as I continued moving smoothly from group to group. I had accelerated a little without noticing, but it still felt effortless. One of the things that made me laugh in this area was a posterboard taped to a street sign with band aids hanging off of it. I am very thankful that I have only once suffered from the awkwardness of chafing. Definitely one of the perks of preferring to run shirtless. By this time I had utilized two aid stations for water, using the method of walking after getting the cup and making sure I get hydrated before dumping the rest over my head. I had discovered that the time lost walking was quite small, especially in comparison to the risk of choking or not getting enough water.

10K to half: 6:13 pace, 1:21:24

As we returned to pass Hayward Field, I began to notice more ‘fast’ runners while continuing to move up. It concerned me a little that I was still moving significantly quicker than the tough looking competition, but I pushed that to the back of my mind. It was a great feeling to pass the turn off for the half and head in the other direction. We got into a beautiful park area, utilizing a blacktop path for most of the rest of the course. It was flat for the most part, with slow curves. I was still feeling great, with no aches or pains and breathing easily. I was not aware that I was right on my goal time through 13 miles, definitely in a good spot to be at the halfway point.

Half to 20 miles: 6:09 pace, 2:02:52

This is where things got a little interesting. I kept catching glimpses of a large pack, which struck me as odd. I figured I was seeing things, as it was unlikely that there would be a group that big. I didn’t catch them until mile 16, but it was actually the top 3 women with about 15 men running with them. The crazy part was, until this point, I had noticed the elite aid stations had one or two bottles on them and thought it was cool to see that for the first time. As I caught up to this group and tucked into the back, planning on letting them pull me along, I marveled in the honor of running with what must have been a distinguished group of speedsters. Then, something weird happened as we went around a bend and I ended up on the other side of the group, in front of someone. Then we turned the other way and I was in the middle. Shortly after I was in front. Much to my surprise I began pulling away and took a couple of the guys with me. This was the first clue for me that I was having a good run. I figured who the group was and had a mild idea of what I was doing. The tough part was to stay strong and not freak out as I hit the next aid station…..and the elite aid station had a row of bottles lined up.

20 miles to finish: 6:23 pace, 2:47:02

The next two or so miles went well, as I caught a couple more men and consumed the rest of my shotbloks. At this point I had moved as far up in the field as I would get, somewhere around 15th place. But it was not to last as I began to hit the dreaded wall. My calves and hamstrings both started to slowly tighten up. After mile 22 it was a tough battle with myself as I stopped to stretch a couple of times, and walking through the water breaks allowed my legs to loosen up for about a quarter-mile. I was not prepared for this feeling, and could not eliminate the issue. It seemed a steady stream of people passed me as we wound through the last few parks. I was not going to give up, but it was a battle to maintain forward velocity that was more than a shamble. I owe thanks to a random cyclist that was pacing one of the female competitors. I never heard what she said as she looked back at me and urged me to run. I was so exhausted my hearing was almost gone and I could see flashes as I ran. I caught back up and tried to finish strong, but the lady was in much better form than I and pulled away. As we got on the track, I glanced toward the scoreboard and saw that it was 9:48. That was my first actual proof of what speed I was going. At that point it was just a matter of finishing smoothly and crossing the line.

The aftermath

Immediately after crossing the finish I took a few steps and then just sat down. I was worn out, physically and emotionally. A space blanket was offered, and water. I took a few minutes to gather myself and recuperate a little before using the assistance of others to get up and find my way to the celebration area. I came across my friends and received hugs and congratulations as I fought to keep my emotions from overcoming me. It was a blur as I got my photo taken and started consuming pretty much anything I could get my hands on. Once my head was on straight I saw my results on the kiosk and couldn’t believe I had actually made my goal of placing in the top 25. The crazy part was I ended up 12th in my age group. I missed my time goal, but easily qualified for Boston, which was exciting. Until I crossed that finish line, I wasn’t even sure I could even complete the distance at anywhere near that pace. That is why I decided to run this by heart. The watch won’t make me faster, knowing the concrete numbers would only distract me. My legs, lungs, and heart all know what they can do, and when it comes down to the act of moving at what seems to be a ridiculous pace for 26.2 miles, I knew that my inner desire would help me more than any inspiring split.

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