Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Rocket City Marathon 12/10/11

Alarm was set for 4:45 am.  And 5. And 5:15. I was awake at 3:30. My two week taper had gone as well as I could expect considering the chronic fatigue I had dumped into my legs over the last 16 weeks since the knee quit me.  As always, taper sucked, but the last two days the "caged freak" was beginning to show. I stared at the ceiling and repeatedly cycled through the visualization exercise hocus-pocus of breaking 3 hours. The taper weeks always have me second guessing myself, and I was looking for any edge.

  4:45 AM I put my feet to the floor. 2 cups of coffee & 2 Ensures got me "open for business." Despite my best efforts, I hit 165.2 on the scales.  Without the cycling, I had gained ~9 pounds for a four month high right on race morning.  No confidence builder there.  So I began running through the dance of waking sleeping beauty, strapping on the battle rattle, double checking, clothes for the day, did I forget anything, double checking, and finally out the door. 

 The idea of staging inside a hotel sounds nice on a butt-cold morning until you see 1190 athletes trying to share 3 bathrooms with only a pair of #2 seats each. The pre-race chaos of packet pick up, back and forth to the Jeep, pee outside, and across the street to the neighboring hotel john for a last jettison managed to soak up all my spare time.  Finally I rush to the starting line as I hear "3 minutes to race start!"

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.  

Mile 6
 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. 

Dad points the way as I pass "shirt dress" man at mile 7.

Mile 7 official: 48:55! 
  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. 

Mile 10
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, 6:256:33. 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. 

Mile 20
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. 

"Control what you can control, focus on form, forward lean, controlled breaths, eyes up, land on your forefoot, run proud, quick cadence, this is the why you train. Hold It Together!"

Well, just until mile 24, then I'll let you run a 7.  Well, 7-ish. 

The bargaining had started.

2 more miles. Maybe I'll just walk a little at 25. Just 30". 

Mile 25. Official looks at me as though he's lost. "TiME! TiME!" I struggle to yell. No response. Mile 25 is probably the best place for the mute guy to keep time. In the distance I see another runner, maybe 150 yards up. He is running as if his knees were on backwards. I thought what if that dude is between you and an age group award. Are you going to let him cripple his way across the line ahead of you? Okay, maybe I've lied to myself for the last hour to get here, but I know I can run down Forrest before he shakes his leg braces loose. 

"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."

As I am about to enter the chute
withDad in the Carhart, just post Hi-5
I see the finishers' chute. I hear the music. I turn the corner and read 2:58:38-39-40. I see Mom jumping up and down and Dad rolling his arm saying: RUN!  But I had exercised my demon for the day. I had made my last deal. I let myself soak it up. I slowed down and gave Dad my best Hi-5. I stopped under the clock and pointed up to the heavens like the hero I was. I walked across the timing mat and collapsed into Dad's arms, completely spent. The dragon was slain. 

2:59:09, officially.
33/1090 works out to top 3%
5th 30-34M gets me a dinky award
that I couldn't be happier about.

At this point, Dad and the volunteer are the
only thing keeping me on my feet.
She always looks cute, doesn't she?
This little one rocked a 20 minute PR today!

Thanks for baby sitting Dad!
See the little white rectangle in the floor beside me?
That's an ice cream sandwich.  I ate 4. 

You know we had an after party!
Runner-esque tacky Christmas
with chocolate milk.


  1. So excited about our new blog! I love it already! Thank you, Chris, for creating it! You are the best and I love you to the moon and back! As one half of the two Bordens, I promise to post a report soon:-)

  2. Found your blog from RA. I'm one of the old guys you passed somewhere after turn into the wind?

    Great race report.

    1. I guess it's easy to remember the guy dressed like a highlighter? :)

      I'm glad you liked the report. The wind really made it a tougher course than I expected. Hope you had a good race!

  3. Borden I would like to commend you for finishing this race like that with the start. I have run it three times and each time the pacers just straight suck. This last time I ran with the 3:05 guy and he went through the half 2 minutes too quick, last year I ran with the 3:10 and he ran thru 2:40 too quick at the half. I love the blog.

  4. Ken, I was shocked that the 3 hour pacer bailed on us. There were quite a few of us counting on having a pace group. I know I was shook up when I found out. It completely blew my whole strategy.

    In his defense, I later heard that he had shown up at registration the prior day to meet with his pace group (per the directions on the website) and no one showed. I heard from another source that he was reassigned to a different group.

    I plan to volunteer for a pacer in one of the local races, maybe Rocket City. I think it would be an interesting challenge.

    Glad you liked the report!
    And thanks for posting a comment!