Chapter 14: What a run!
Year recap and Pre-race
There were only 8 months between my prior two marathons. This time there were 20 months… but I’m back with my one marathon per calendar year so that is great. Part of this is because my focus went elsewhere a lot at work but also a lot more on living… ‘This was the least prepared I have ever been for a race either with training or a game plan.’ This sentence is an exact cut n’ paste from last year… Something I thought going to the line but actually turned out was not as true as I expected. The last year has actually been very good to me. Things at UAB have been moving along. The lab is fully functional and we are now a team of four full-time and two part-time workers. I’m also still really enjoying Alabama and despite a bit of humidity feel we had a relatively mild summer. That said I was doing most of my running before 6AM or after 8PM so the heat wasn’t as much of an issue. I also balanced work, family, and training a bit better this year and managed to bump my mileage back up. Much more of the running was easy pace. In fact my race ended up being about 2 min per mile faster than my average training pace. For the numbers people out there (see final page) I managed to squeeze in just over the 1K-mark for the 18 weeks prior to the taper week. This put me at my 6th highest mileage for the 14 marathons. However, most of it was at recovery pace and put me at the lowest for actual workouts. I guess in this case quantity beat out quality.
My goal going in on the blog was 2:55. However, that was prior to September when I posted that. It turned out that the whole month (and into October) was some of the hardest I’ve ever worked between university commitments, travel for meetings, and a major grant deadline. This actually led to a taper of well over a month. So I was physically rested (legs missed running), though not mentally rested. When it came to printing up the pre-race splits the day before we headed to TN, I ended up only printing out my fastest goal as 3 hr and then 7, 7:30, and even 8 min paces. So I obviously did not have confidence that this was going to be a good run.
Therefore I focused on this more as a mini-vacation. Saturday we woke up and did a short family run. I will say I had the first inkling that my legs were ready during that run (when in weeks I felt smooth). Then we drove the 2 hours to Chattanooga. Did the packet pickup and then we went to Ruby Falls, very pretty, but too expensive and commercial. That said glad we did it once but do not plan on going back. Ended the day with a nice home-style meal at the Cracker Barrel and early to bed. We were a time zone over so getting everyone up at what would be our 4AM was a bit tough but they did well. Then we were off to the start, a short 10 min drive with a raccoon crossing the road to entertain J…
This is a small marathon (538 finishers this year) but has a good crowd because of the half marathon and 5K races the same day. The organizers did a good job separating the starts so we weren’t tripping over each other. However, the overall organization could be a bit better. Not bad enough I wouldn’t consider doing it again but I made suggestions to the race director on how to improve it for next year. Considering this was my smallest marathon (by half) I will give them credit for an ok job. This is a logistically demanding course. Chattanooga is a hilly place and they manage to protect us from that by keeping us along the beautiful Tennessee River. In fact the namesake “7 Bridges” really makes all the twists and turns necessary. Really only 2 of the seven bridges can be crossed on foot on any other day so we were twisting up and down on/off ramps (IMAGE: final bridge before the start).
Even though all the half marathoners were lined up for the porto-potties the race had enough for the full marathoners to get in with time to spare. There were also ample drinks, snacks, and a DJ to get everyone moving. The great news is that the weather was perfect. Just chilly enough to make you wear gloves but not really need much else. I started with arm sleeves “sock style”, gloves, and a headband but dropped them by mile 5. The start temp was 41F with the finish around 54F. There was a slight breeze but really only noticeable at one point along the course. It was perfectly clear but the sunrise was late enough that I never really overheated. I took a Gu and Beetelite 30 min prior to start.
I did end up starting near the front of the small crowd and when the gun went off, ‘I just ran’. In all honesty I just went by feel that first mile and looked for people that looked like they knew what they were doing. My actual plan was to start at 7 min pace and reassess at the half way mark. My three ladies were by the half-mile mark and by then I already had company. I was running with the most talkative person I have ever met in a marathon, Elias Groft. We went through the first mile in 6:38, way too fast for what I thought I was going to do today. This mile also has the first bridge. Conversation can be draining and I wasn’t sure this was going to be good but by the two-mile mark I had made up my mind that I was going to run with this guy as long as I could. It was his first marathon but he was a seasoned triathlete. Plus he was hilarious and so happy it was a bit contagious. The second mile was even quicker in 6:32 but it felt easy. There is a 180 turnaround at the 2.5-mile mark that a pack behind took early and then was ahead of us. The third mile was 6:31 but everything was feeling good. We overtook the “cutters” again by the 4-mile mark, slight uphill in 6:46. I was really trying not to look at my splits during the race as I didn’t want to psych myself out. These weren’t crazy fast miles but way faster than I felt I should have been running with my training. The fifth mile contains the second bridge and we hit it in 6:38. The next mile I got to see my three girls again and dropped my gloves, sleeves, and headband. Soon after that there was a big mess with one of the turns missing. We found our way back to the course and picked up three other runners. Mile 6 was in 6:39 and we crossed the third bridge. We had company, a seasoned marathoner (with a prior win in 2:35; Powell Grisham), another first timer Liam Emery, and someone who only lasted a few miles and I didn’t catch his name.
This pack was great; we kept up the conversation and the core of four ran most of the race together (IMAGE: Pack coming through at 12 miles). The addition of the new guys didn’t alter our pace one bit. In fact mile 7 was also in exactly 6:39. This stretch was along the road and although past reviews complained about this I did not see it as much of a problem. There could be worse and there really wasn’t much traffic early Sunday morning. At the mile 8 mark I took a quick pit stop, that mile was in 6:32 with a minor surge to get ahead and I picked up the pace a little to catch up with them again by mile 9, that was in 6:28. We settled back into a comfortable pace as we got on the Tennessee River Walk. Some is scenic (bridge 4) some less so. But overall nice running and no traffic control issues as the next two miles flowed by (6:46 and 6:45).
By this point we were reaching the next family viewing spot and I anxiously looked for my three girls. They were there helping direct the runners and by the looks of things having a great time. The rest of the crew appreciated the cheering section. At this point we did another loop and then up and over bridge number five (miles 12 and 13; 6:46 and 6:55). We then had a nice little reprieve of downhill for mile 14 (6:27) and then the racing started. Conversation dipped a little but didn’t completely go away. In an unsaid manner we were rotating the leader now, mile 15 (6:39). The next mile was up and over bridge number 6 and it strung us out some. Elias took the lead and the remaining three more or less bunched up, mile 16 (6:46). Coming down the backside of the bridge was nice (mile 17; 6:32) but then we turned back toward the river and the only real stretch of headwind. This bunched us up again for mile 18 (6:49), although Elias was still ahead.
We got back onto the River Walk and somewhere along here got back with Elias resuming from a pit stop, mile 19 (6:59). I got that split and was just thankful to have still been under 7. I was struggling and conversation was definitely at a standstill, mile 20 (6:58). Saw the girls one more time and then knew it was just the run to the finish. I was really feeling it but was blown away by my splits. I’m 20 miles in and still hadn’t gone over 7. That was the pace I thought I’d be lucky to get any miles at… The next two miles the pack started to go a part. Elias was back in the lead and I started to put distance on Powell and Liam, mile 21 (6:44). This is really the make or break it point in a marathon. I was feeling good and the scenery along the river was beautiful. I was alternately chanting thanks to God in my head and that I had to push harder for my friend Josh who had been injured the month before and not able to run his fall marathon. That being said it was really taking all I had to stay under 7 but I was determined. I knew I more or less had sub-3 in the bag and was now just focused on placement. Enough of the spectators had filled us in that we were all in the top 10 but exactly where was a little less clear, mile 22 (6:57). At this point I joined Elias and we also were joined by the half marathoners (who started 30 min after us), mile 23 (6:48). We were told we were in 5th and 6th place and I really wanted that top 5 finish. I put in what I thought was a surge but actually slowed, mile 24 (6:55). We next had a steep climb that put me to what I felt was a standstill and my only 7+ min mile (almost 8!), mile 25 (7:50). But from here on out I knew I only had bridge seven and the finish. The bridge is old and wooden (IMAGE: Girls scoping out the finishing bridge for daddy).
It has what can best be described as speed bumps that I had joked with the girls were going to feel like mountains on the last mile. They didn’t feel that bad but I did notice them. I was however determined to finish strong. I had the downhill and was feeling good. I put everything else into that final mile, mile 26 (6:19). Yes, my final mile in the marathon was my fastest!!! There should have been another .22 miles but with the missed turns and botched logistics of the course I’d have to settle for the even 26. My final time 2:55:26. This was encouraging because even with the .22 I would have been under 3. The even better news came across though that I was 5th overall. I really couldn’t believe it. (IMAGE: Post-race family pose)
We had plenty of time until the 1PM award ceremony. I waited the few minutes for the rest of the pack to finish. Introduced them to the family and then went to breakfast at the Waffle House. I had steak and eggs. Then went to the hotel and I iced for 10 minutes, showered, and checked out. We made it back to the race by 12:45PM and waited around for the ceremony. Now here is the one rub in this story. Even though I finished 5th overall I was 2nd in my age group. Turns out my age group had the most finishers. Also turns out that the 4th place guy (that we lost contact with at mile 9) was in my age group. The other three in the pack all won their respective age groups. I received a nice beer glass as my award and we headed out to finish our mini-vacation.
On the way home we stopped at Cloudland Canyon State Park in GA, a truly beautiful place. We hiked for three hours (yes I’m crazy, the three hour run wasn’t enough). However the 1,200 steps both down and up from the falls helped loosen up my legs and work out some of the stiffness. (IMAGE: us at the falls)
From park website: “Waterfalls Trail: Begins on a paved section, at the main overlook, and progresses into the canyon on a 40-degree slope. Most of the trail consists of gravel and stair steps, numbering over 1,200 in all. Both waterfalls cascade off sheer faces at 60 and 90 feet, and are among the most beautiful in the state. A strenuous and time-consuming, two-mile hike, swimming and climbing on rocks are strictly forbidden, and regulations are enforced.”
For the numbers people: