Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

All week before the race I had felt pretty good, but I had been wondering what kind of time I'd be capable of running at the Indy Monumental Marathon.  I had already run two marathons in the two preceding months, and both times I had not done what I hoped or planned on running.  Beaver Island was a good first attempt, but I felt off from the beginning of the Chicago Marathon.  Still, I had done relatively well at each one, so I never felt like I was in a position to complain; at the same time, I knew that I could have done better.  Aside from this twinge of self-doubt, I had been feeling some tightness in the back of my left knee and had a cold.  I wasn’t sure if the knee thing would bother me during the run, but stretching and resting didn’t seem to help.  There was little I could do about it, so I would try to put it out of my mind.  The cold also wasn’t a great thing to catch the week before a race, but I couldn’t change that either.  So I felt pretty good with a couple minor exceptions.

I drove down alone from Chicago to Indy on Friday 11/4, arriving early afternoon.  Checked into my hotel right away then walked a block over to the expo at the Indiana Convention Center.  There, I met and talked with a pacer who happened to be pacing for the 3:05 group and I was quickly interested in running with him.  Usually I don’t end up having a pacer for my target time, or things fall apart early in the race with the pacer leaving the rest in the dust in the first few miles.  After talking with this guy a bit, he had me convinced that he would be a good person to run with: he was friendly, talkative, well-informed, and had a good number of marathons under his belt, both racing for his own PR’s and as a pacer.  Up to that point I had pretty much given up the idea of running a 3:05 at Indy, and had settled on the idea of a 3:06, or 3:07.  Maybe even a 3:08.  I wasn't sure if 3:05 was possible anymore, and 3:06 seemed more attainable.  Self-doubt is a powerful force, but having confidence is equally effective.  This person got me excited to give 3:05 a shot again.  After all, I would have plenty more marathons ahead of me to try again if I didn’t get there this time…

In a more amazing turn of events, he even convinced me to fill out a pace team bib of my own to wear.  He told me, don’t worry I just want to know your name when we’re running together.  I (less confidently) wrote out “Ken 3:05” on it thinking if I did indeed pin this on the back of my shirt for race day, I would really feel awkward coming into the finish with that placard on my back if I didn't run a 3:05.  Who knows, maybe it would be added motivation to run the race of my life… 

All in all, the expo was pretty good given that the race was a relatively small one as far as marathons go.  I purchased a long sleeve tee-shirt for myself and a running cap for my wife who had been looking for a purple cap for a while.  Everything else checked out; I picked up my packet, checked that my race chip registered my name as expected, walked around the expo some more, and then headed back to the hotel.  It was a little after 4 p.m., and I wanted to get a short and easy run in before the pasta dinner at 5.  Back at the hotel, I quickly changed into my running clothes and headed back outside for a couple quick miles.  I immediately found a path that followed a river in downtown.  It was a quiet, serene area to run, I was excited not to have to run on city blocks (I admit I am spoiled running on Chicago’s lakefront everyday).  I ran easy and light, and then did a few strides at race pace, just to loosen up and burn off some excess energy.  Got back to the hotel, showered up quickly, and headed out the door to the pasta feed at about 10 to 5. 

The pasta dinner was organized by the IMM also, so I was surrounded by runners.  As I entered I was told to not sit by myself, so I found a table with an older couple from St. Louis and a man from Toronto, and sat down with my full plate of pasta.  We had a good heartfelt conversation about the reasons we run, the number of full and half marathons we’ve completed, some of our favorite races, and of course the expected weather for race day – about 34 degrees F and light wind – pretty much ideal in my book, as long as I’m dressed appropriately – more on that later.  I ate a considerable amount of pasta and veggies, but not too much.  Then after dinner we all said good-bye and good luck and I headed out.  I stopped to have a beer before heading back to the hotel at a local pub I had passed on the way to dinner, Loughmiller’s.  Indianapolis’ downtown had quite a good mix of activities all within a short walk of a number of hotels.  At Loughmiller’s I checked my email on my iPhone, checked in on Foursquare, and watched the news.  The way I figured, it would give me a few extra carbs for the next day and help me sleep that night.  I finished my beer, paid my bill, and walked back to my room.

I debated and debated the exact outfit I would wear.  It was going to be cold at around 32 or 34 degrees and a slight wind, and it wouldn't warm up much by the time I would be finishing, around 43 degrees.  The race start would be before sunrise, so the sun would not be much of a factor until the second half.  I would be running hard so that would generate extra heat, but also running long and exposed to the cold for a considerable time.  It would also be the coldest temps I’d be running in since this past spring and cold hands had already been troubling me in warmer temps.  After much consternation, I decided to go with the same red sleeveless Zoot jersey I wore at Chicago as my core usually stays quite warm; a pair of Asics arm warmers that I could easily take off if I did get warm; the warmest pair of gloves I own (Pearl Izumi PRO Barrier WxB gloves); my usual running shorts as my legs rarely get cold; a light and thin Nike skullcap that covers my ears and would also be easy to tuck away if I decide to take it off; my usual pair of socks; and of course my newest pair of Saucony Kinvara 2 shoes with about 37 miles on them – decently broken in, but not too much.  I also would stash a pair of Tifosi sunglasses in the back pocket of my jersey in case the sun did come out, which I expected it would later in the morning; the last 13 miles were generally heading in a southerly direction, so facing the sun.  It was all settled and I felt good about my choices.  The rest of the race prep was more typical and mainly involved organizing things into little piles around my hotel room.

I slept pretty well.  I woke maybe a couple times, but pretty sure I fell back to sleep fairly quickly.  Relief.

Race morning.

I got up around 5:15, ate my oatmeal, banana, orange juice, and of course had my coffee.  I packed the car in case I didn’t get back before check-out at noon, and then ran outside for a very light wake-up run to get my legs awake and loose.  Everything seemed like it was coming together.  I was a little nervous but still relatively calm.  I got over to the starting line around 7:30 and because it was a smaller race, I had no issues getting to my corral and finding our pacer.  At 7:45 I downed my Gatorade Pro Prime.  The National Anthem was sung, and sung well.  At 7:50 I took off my throw-away long sleeve tee-shirt that was keeping me warm before the race.  At 7:55 I took several swigs from my bottle of regular Gatorade and dropped it off to the side of the road.  The race began promptly at 8 o’clock with little fanfare, but the buzz was in the air.  We took off at what seemed like the correct pace even though our pace leader warned us he might go a little faster than normal the first mile or two because of the cold.  We clocked a 7:00/mile split for the first mile, so we were only a few seconds faster, I felt good, confident, and strong.  We didn’t go out too hard and that helped.  We went along at a steady clip and the pace felt comfortable.  Some mile markers seemed to be slightly off based on our splits, but I knew we were running pretty consistently.  The water stops were frequent enough that it seemed like there were too many, so that was good.  I tried to drink at each stop and didn’t worry too much about hydration. 

The Monumental Marathon wound through downtown Indy, went north up to Broad Ripple, then headed back south passing through more neighborhoods, past the Museum of Art, and back into downtown.  The spectators were not numerous but there were quite a few people cheering from their front lawns, etc.  Every so often I would hear cheers like, “Go Get Boston!!” and that would give me a shot of adrenaline because it was as if they were there cheering for me.  But I was part of a pretty large pace group – there must have been 25 or 30 of us running with the 3:05 pace leader.  For the most part we stayed together pretty well and were moving along steadily.  It was a tight enough and large enough group that I think we overwhelmed several of the water stops with too many of us all showing up at the same time.  I could get water easily enough, but Gatorade was more of a challenge, as it seemed like fewer people were handing it out.

I was glad I chose to wear my warm gloves because my fingers were not working well in the cold.  Despite having them, I still had some difficulty handling gels, hitting the split button on my watch, putting on my sunglasses when the sun was in my face, adjusting my cap, etc.  Some guys had no gloves on, and I can’t figure out how they could bear the cold. 

We hit the halfway point at 1:32:13 according to my watch, which was where I had hoped we’d be for that point.  We were running at a consistent pace.  I still felt good and strong but a little nervous that by mile 18 or 19 I would start feeling tired.  But we kept knocking out the miles.

During the second half we continued to notice that several of the mile markers seemed to be off, some more than others.  It could have been that we simply just slowed down for these miles, but we seemed to be moving faster and not slower.  It could have been that our GPS was glitchy due to surrounding buildings or uneven terrain, but the displayed pace matched up with what we felt we were running.  We all noticed that some miles were definitely longer than others.  We kept moving along, but if the miles were longer in this half, we were having to run faster to keep on pace with the official race markers/clocks.  Obviously, our official race times would be based on the official clocks, not our individual watches.  But according to my GPS watch, we were averaging a much faster pace the second half, well below 7:00/mile, which was starting to worry me, but I wasn’t feeling tired yet. 

I was a little disappointed that our pace group had begun to shrink.  By mile 20, we must have dropped several people.  There were at least two girls running in our group, and I no longer saw them with us, and several guys had dropped behind.  Was that a sign of what was to come?

I started to drop behind the pack a little bit and I knew then I could let it go one of two ways: keep drifting until I was running solo well behind the group, or give it a little bit more juice to catch them and try to stay with the pack.  It wasn’t exactly easy, but I chose to speed it up a tiny bit and gradually met up with the group again.  It can be like playing a game of chess.  Everything you do throughout the race has a butterfly effect of consequences, and you want to be thinking what I do in this moment may very well determine where I am and what I have left in the tank for those last miles and yards.  The pace leader said at the beginning of the race we would pass people who go out too hard in the beginning.  I am well aware of this mistake.  Sure enough, we passed some people who sped up earlier at the halfway point because they were feeling good, but then didn’t look so good as we went by them later.

Somewhere between miles 21 and 23 the miles began to blur together and I started to feel fatigue building.  It was not yet complete exhaustion, I was just getting tired.  Our pace leader asked me again how I was feeling, and I replied, “I’m ready to get this thing finished.”  With that, I was determined to hang with them to the end.

In those last 3 miles, our group got even smaller.  I felt sort of sad for those that had dropped off and for our pace leader as he watched his group dwindle, but in the end he can only do so much for the group and people have to run their own race.  There were probably about 4 or 5 of us left in the main group that started out together.  I could see 1 or 2 guys that had gone on ahead.  I would not catch them, but felt good for them that they were doing well.  I stuck with the group until about the last 1.5 to 2 miles, and then I started to give the last bit of energy I had left to pushing ahead on my own.  Regardless of the actual distances between mile markers, I think my GPS was fairly accurate at this point; I kept picking up the pace and I know I was moving along pretty quickly by the time I reached the last mile.  In my head I tried to do some math to estimate where I might finish.  It seemed like I was going to finish with a time just a bit slower than 3:05.  I was good with that.  I was excited to be done.  It would be a solid time, and a great effort.  It was quite a difference from Chicago and Beaver Island where I was completely exhausted by the end.  In contrast to those races, I was sprinting the last full mile, at least that’s how it felt.  The last .22 miles I was going full out.  There were half marathoners on the left side of the road finishing at the same time, so there were plenty of people around.  Full marathoners were on the right side.  I saw a few of them ahead of me and went after them, even though I wasn’t racing anyone but myself.

Around the last turn, it was full-steam ahead into the last stretch of road.  I saw 2 runners ahead of me and things went into slow-motion at that point.  I felt like I was seeing only the few items in front of me that mattered:  the finish line, 2 runners, a clock somewhere above me.  The crowds around me were barely visible through my tunnel vision, though I am sure I was aware of them.  Barely looking at the clock, I seemed to see 3:04 and some seconds ticking above me and I think I registered a tiny bit of joy in my exhausted brain, but swallowed and throttled it for the last few yards passing 2 people just before hitting the timing mats. 

Tunnel vision into the finish

And it was over.

I had a hard time stopping my watch with my gloves on and fingers still cold.  I think I saw 3:04:30 or something like that at the finish.  I had not only qualified for Boston, but I qualified with over 5 minutes to spare!  I was so excited to break 3:05, when days before I had settled on sticking to a pace that’d bring me in around 3:06. Nothing like the feeling of ending this year of training on a high note.  It was surreal and almost unbelievable.  It was my 10th race of marathon or longer distances, but it also felt like the first in many ways.

After the race, I congratulated several others I recognized from our pace group.  For those moments I felt a bit of a bond with these people and just hung around the finish area for several minutes doing nothing but looking around, taking in the scene, and thinking about all we had just done.  I found my pace leader and thanked him several times for pacing our group.  I felt like I owed him considerably more than a simple thanks, but that was all I could offer.  Cool guy. 

I went over to the results tent, and they printed me out a receipt with my times on it, it read 3:04:25 as my finish time.  It was party time.  I found a hot cup of chili, some soda, then sat down and ate.  It was going to be an interesting drive home thinking about this day.

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