One cool thing about the Rocket City Marathon is that they offer pacers. One bad thing about pacers is that they are volunteers. The 3 hour pacer decided to sleep in today. Aces, great way to wrench my race plan before I even hear the first beep of my watch. Now there stands 8-10 mostly underdressed dudes and 2 terrified chicks trying to decide who should lead the pace. I knew at this point my place in this group was at the back. A 3hr pacer is a guy that can comfortably run well below 3 hours. Our guy's credentials seemed to be limited to some snazzy shorts and race singlet. Just before we worked it out, I heard the bellowing of a Santa looking fellow starting up his best go at FS Key's 1 hit wonder, "The Star Spangled Banner," followed by an immediate BANG!
"How can it be mile 3 already?!? We just started. Wow, I'm a hero. I knew I should've brought a cape. 3@6:30s? Our pace is supposed to be 6:52." At this point, I feel that our fearless leader may not realize he is about to deliver us into the marathon hell that awaits poorly paced runners. He wasn't really interested in discussing it and simply replied "Then. Slow. Down." So, I pulled the chute and 8-10 dudes and 2 terrified chicks put 100 yards on me in a matter of minutes.
I've trained by my Garmin. My Garmin is my ally, and we share a mutual trust in each other. I faithful hit my pace as it spits out the distance and time. My Garmin and I mocked the stupidity of the 3hr pace group that steadily were dropping us. We have a plan.
An official belts: 41:45! Gears turn as my ability to do math and run are yin&yanging me to a ~7 pace. The Garmin reads"6:45 pace and mile 6.25," not 6; the course must be wrong.
At this moment, I come to the realization that the little gremlins in the Garmin must have taken a nap. I began reassessing. I am ~150 yards off what is left of the pace group as they have atrophied half of themselves leaving barely a handful of dudes and the 2 terrified chicks. I know that if I apply "hammer" I will burn some match sticks that I will need when the Lion* shows. The lie-o-meter on my wrist tells me I am jamming out a 6:44 average so I plan to hold a steady 6:42 and reel them in. As I began to catch folks I asked about their pace and distance. Everyone is convinced the course is marked wrong, but it will work out at the end. I am thinking "yeah, keep telling yourself that, chief."
*the Lion-the line where everything beyond is dramatically more difficult than anything preceding it. The line is different for every runner and every race, but it always marks where the "make it hurt" begins or the will succumbs to the quit.
I reach "Just Slow Down" guy with his snazzy shorts and 1 chick. Chick #2 had picked it up and was another 75 yards up barely avoiding her inevitable grenade. This was all that remained of our sub-3 group. I sat behind our leader until I felt rested, then pulled beside him to ask about his pace. He began fumbling through the math aloud and came up with a 90" cushion. Awesome, I thought. I knew I hadn't done too much damage. If we stayed on track we would make the first half at just under 1:30, a nearly perfect set up for negative splits.
13.1 @ 1:29:56
And into the headwind we go.
I began to allow myself to believe I could just stay with Snazzy Shorts and all would be well as I pulled along side for another chat. My immediate concern was his goal, but attempting to be polite, I asked about his snazzy shorts. After an "appropriate amount of time" had passed, I asked about his pace. Turns out, our pace rabbit completed his goal of a Sub-3 just two weeks ago and wasn't really sweating Rocket City. It was just for funzzies. I could tell our pace had slowed, and I knew what was coming.
Mile 15 aid station
Snazzy Shorts drops an anchor and starts walking. Now I'm on an island with no one in sight. Just me, the liar strapped to my arm, and my inability to do math while running. I realized I would have 10 miles remaining at the next marker and I would need to be under 1:50:00.
Mile 16 1:50:10
Awesome! ( read: sarcasm.) I am about to blow this, and I'm not even at the hard part. Just before despair set in, I realized I was really running a perfect race and only 4-6 miles from the Lion guarding the last 10k. I knew the line would be at 20-21 for me, and I was ready for him. I barely caught a glimpse of him at B2B, and I felt cheated. "I am trained, rested, and hungry. I am a monster. Today, I am the hunter!" I spun my visor around backwards as I shifted into predator mode.
The Garmin started beeping miles off 6:35, 6:25, 6:33. I just switched it over to total time; the pace numbers were screwing with my race joo-joo. I began to think how best to manage my pace. I had survived 3 collapsed plans and was now running on fear. I needed a better program. I focused on counting my respiratory cycles as I do for hilly races, making sure I stayed below threshold but above my easy pace. I settled in and felt great. I was attacking. I knew mile 20 marked the real race. I needed a sub-42 10k time to stay on pace. That left me looking for the official to say anything less than 2:18:00.
Two fifteen-thirty two! thirty three! thirty four!
Did I hear that right? I have 45 minutes for the final 10k? Could I go 2:55?" I thought. "Wait, I must have spent some mojo to get this far ahead. Time to reassess. My form is good, pace feels easy, breathing isn't labored, nothing hurts, I must be a rockstar." I remember thinking "I brought my whole tool belt, but all I really needed was the HAMMER!" I ran through the crowd and saw Mom cheering. Some guy in the crowded yelled "It's all down hill from here!" Unfortunately, I knew just what must be next.
Mile 22-23, the hill.
"Ah, there's the Lion. See, I thought that I saw you chasing butterflies back at mile 20. You are so much more intimidating perched atop this wall at mile 23."
Official yells: 2:37:38! Just a 5k!
Where did my extra time go? I've now only got 22' to cover 3.2. That's barely slower than my average pace. (Later I discovered either mile 20 guy got it wrong, or I heard it wrong). No worries, I've just got to hold it together for a 5k.
"Come on, man! You got this. Sub-3 is right there!" I scream as I pass.
"Man I passed that dude fast. He must have stopped to look for clovers or something. I hope he didn't look like that at the start."