To quote a famous, and furry, author, "It was a dark and stormy night..."
The primary alarm went off at 4 a.m. I jumped out of bed and turned off the back up alarm. Neither was really needed, as Monster Girl had woke me up at 3:30, and I hadn't really gotten back to sleep. Staying in bed was really just an act of defiance, and a vain attempt at getting the last few minutes of sleep.
I put on my shirt and shorts and headed to the kitchen, hoping that none of the kid's toys would trip me up in the dark. Breakfast was a bagel with peanut butter and a bottle of Gatorade while checking the weather. The temperatures looked great (55-60F) and the forecast of possible showers was more disturbing. Oh well, Iron Wil (along with a great many others) biked and ran in worse. The weather is what it is.
I threw on my sweats, and went through the gear that needed to get to the starting line. Most important was the timing chip and bib for my co-worker. After stretching and refilling the Gatorade bottle, I headed out the door for the finish line.
I was amazed at how quickly buses were filling up for the ride to the start line. It was barely 6 a.m. and two busses were being loaded. Both were full within a few minutes. The only thing more suprising was the number of runners already at the start line when I arrived. Most were in a pavilion huddled around a fire pit. For those lucky enough to get close to the fire, it was a neat way to spend the hour and a half until the race.
After locating my co-worker and getting him situated, we headed to the start line. Soon enough, it was 8 a.m. and the gun went off. The logistics of this race always leads to a slow start (at least for the main pack), and I just bided my time as things opened up. I missed the first mile marker, and completed the first two miles in 17m18s. That was pretty close to my target pace, so I eased off just a bit, and kept going.
Somewhere around mile four, I ran down the 3:50 pace setter, and fell into the group running with him. This would be my cohort for the next 12 miles. It was a good group. They were all talking about various goals, past races, and other such nonsense. It helped make sure we were all staying aerobic, and passed the time.
At mile 6, there was a Clif Shot gel station, and most everyone was getting Mango. I trained with Gu, so pocketed the gel and used my own. Good call, as the overall reaction to Mango was a resounding, "Bleccchhh!" I mentioned that I had six Gu gels with me, and another six available, so was willing to share. A couple people took me up on that offer.
Mile 9 was a good mile, as a co-worker and my wife were both waiting there. B-Boy wanted to run with me, and was upset when I had to run on without him. After picking up all my gels, I caught back up with the pace team.
Around mile 13, the 48 oz of Gatorade consumed prior to the race became a factor. Normally, that much is needed just to fend off dehydration during a marathon. Today, however, was much cooler than prior races. I'm not sure the temperature ever hit 60F, and there was enough breeze and cloud cover to keep sweating to a minimum. Little sweating with lots of hydration equals one very important potty break. And another race to catch the pace team.
At mile 16, I was faced with an important decision. Stay with the pace team, or pursue my secondary goal of breaking 3:45 to qualify for preferred starting if I run the 2007 Chicago Marathon. George Schweitzer once commented in an e-mail that, in an "A" race, I should leave it all out on the course. So, I picked up the pace, seeking to put an additional 5 minutes between myself and the pace team. It was an "all or nothing" decision.
Miles 16-18 include a monster hill that leaves many walking, both during and after. I managed to keep a good pace during that stretch, and seeing my co-worker, who had moved from mile 9 to mile 19 helped keep me going. Just after mile 22, another co-worker's wife saw was working an aid station. A nine time marathoner, she left the station and ran with me for several hundred yards. She did the math on my pace, and gave some much needed encouragement.
Between mile 22 and 23, I hit the wall. The 3:50 pacer caught and passed me, becoming instead my rabbit. At mile 23, I had to stop and stretch, trying to slow the buildup of lactic acid. I managed to keep running, though my pace was slowly dropping from the 8m 30s pace to just over 10m per mile the last couple miles. My goal was to keep that 3:50 pacer somewhere in my vision, knowing that the 4 hour marathon was a given if I did that.
At mile 24, I knew I had 30 minutes to run 2.2 miles.
At mile 25, I knew I could still run 10 minute miles.
At mile 26, I was passed by Superman and Robin (the Girl Wonder). It felt good to know it took those two superheroes 26 miles to catch and pass me.
At 26.2 miles, I crossed the finish line in a total time of 3 hours, 55 minutes, and 19 seconds (chip time).
And for the first time, I was plainly dazed in the finish chutes. Though physically capable of standing and moving, I was just completely zoned out and barely able to function with the surroundings. A volunteer made sure I got my timing chip returned, received a medal, and got my finisher's bag.
Only time will tell if I have anything better than a 3:55 in me. That was an improvement of nearly 50 minutes over my previous best time. I knew I could break 4 hours. I'm less confident about any major improvements on that. I will, however, wait a few weeks before I make any decisions on training for future marathons. There is a half-IM in the near future, and every training decision from now until July will be focused on that.
Thanks for following along and for all the notes of encouragement. It really does make a difference.