I dialed in my nutrition Saturday morning and started paying close attention to every hunger pang, real or imagined. My water bottle was always within reach and Nuun electrolyte tablets flavored the water. The goal was to start peeing every hour, hydrate the muscles, loosen things up and flush the kidneys.
A whole group of us met at the Expo and after getting our packets and meeting some DailyMilers, six of us headed across the street for an early dinner.
Almost everyone ordered penne pasta; I was the only one indulging in veggies on my gluten-free pizza. For a minute I felt a pang of flakiness rise up; was I about to sabotage myself with a poor food choice? I let that worry go; I’ve never had a digestive tract problem after eating veggies the night before a race and I wasn’t going to worry about that one.
It was an early night and everyone scattered back to their hotel room. My friend Jo and I shared a room; we set to work laying out our gear, pinning race bibs, organizing things, checking the elevation on the race course website, and sending silly text messages to other runners. By 9pm we were spent; time for bed.
By 2:45am we were both up and moving. We were meeting Dave at 4am to carpool over to the bus pick-up area, where we would ride 26.2 miles up the Poudre Canyon to the start line. I immediately started the coffee pot and started munching on my banana, then bagel and almond butter while I pulled on race clothes and slathered sunscreen.
Dave knocked on the door at 4am and helped attach the Splits bracelets he had made for Jo and me. There were 3 columns on the bracelet; Mile, Pace and Overall Time. This way we could look at the bracelet and compare it to the Overall Time on the Garmin, to know if we were on track for our Finishing Time.
Two days before the race I asked Dave to re-do my bracelet with negative splits. I decided I wanted to try for a 3:25 finish instead of the 3:30 that he predicted I would hit. I knew my time was aggressive and also knew that if I went out too fast I would blow up. My proposed splits looked something like this:
8:00 pace for 1st hour
7:53 pace for 2nd hour
7:45 pace for 3rd hour
sprint it out for last 1.5 miles
This goal scared me silly. It was aggressive, hard, and not out of the realm of possible. The only question was if I was willing to try.
Initially I didn’t want to tell anyone about my goal. Finally I told my twitter friend Jeff who’s been coaching and cheering for me, to get his reaction. He thought it sounded good, as long as I let up if it felt like I was going to hurt myself. Another good friend weighed in; he figured out from my vague hedging that I was planning something hard. He never told me to give up the goal, but gave me advice that resonated with my sense of life balance: push hard, but let the mind and body agree on the ultimate outcome.
The bus dropped us off at 5:20. The moon gave enough light in the canyon to see by, and Dave, Jo and I joined the crowd of cold people in line at the porto-potties. A few minutes later we found Nico, Jon, Jen, AJ, Chuck, Rick and Bob, a DMer we had just met the night before at the Expo.
My energy was high and a minute after my first gel I couldn’t contain myself. The group laughed at me jumping up and down; I was bursting at the seams. A minute later at the bag drop I ran into Courtney and Luke; they looked chilly in their singlets, but excited to run.
The starting gun went off and I eased into an 8:00 minute pace. The plan was to keep things steady for the first hour, let people pass and gently warm up.
Sunlight hit the canyon walls and the world got brighter. The road was a gentle grade but the trail runner in me took over and hit the dirt path next to the road. A runner 50 yards ahead of me stayed on it as much as she could; when it got too close to the drop-off she popped back onto the road. I followed her exactly, kept an eye on the Garmin and let the miles roll by.
I popped about 6 HoneyStinger chews into my mouth at 45 minutes and chewed slowly, washing them down with water from my Nathan hydration pack. I had put about 25 oz in the pack, knowing there were numerous water stations on the course. I was trying to find the balance between carrying the weight of the water and utilizing the aid stations.
My right foot was concerning from the get-go. I could feel the pull of muscles that didn’t like the camber of the road and played with my stride. When legs felt fatigued I dropped my shoulders and concentrated on picking my feet up lightly, making sure I wasn’t bending forward into the downhill but gliding easily through the turns. I didn’t want a repeat of the Boulder Spring Half-Marathon, where my foot locked up and I had to stop and stretch it twice on the course, losing 2 minutes overall.
Splits for the first hour: 8:04, 7:56, 7:52, 8:00, 7:52, 7:51, 7:55
I noticed that my Garmin flipped over to a new mile well before I hit the official mile flag. I was about two-tenths of a mile longer than their course markings, and I hoped that nothing would change drastically from this point onward.
Heading into the second hour I felt good. The arm warmers were still comfortable, but I was ready to ditch the $5 Runner’s Roost gloves that I bought the night before.
It was time to pick up the pace and drop into the low 7:50’s. I knew I was moderately on target with my times, but was a little confused by the discrepancy in the distance of what my Garmin said vs where the official mile markers were. Therefore I decided to go roughly off my Garmin and try to push pace just a little to make up for the shortfall.
Splits for second hour: 7:55, 7:51, 7:58, 7:52, 7:59, 7:54
An aid station appeared at the beginning of mile 13 and I decided to pee quickly. I ran in, grabbed a cup of water, drank it as I peed in the porto-potty, and was out of there in less than 60 seconds. The Garmin auto-paused while I was at a complete stop, but I figured that the seconds I had banked in the first half got me close to my ball-park target.
For me, the hardest part of the marathon is between miles 13-20. The first Half is over, and there’s a “settling in” period where there’s just some steady running. The real mental and physical toughness comes at mile 20, when you have to dig in and get through the last 10k. If I’m going to fall off pace, this is where it happens.
The downhill was mostly over at this point and the course flattened out. For a trail runner, this is not incredibly fun. I concentrated on my breath, paid attention to the rhythmic in-and-out of my chest, and peeled my arm warmers down to my wrists.
At miles 14 and 15 I pulled past some runners. One girl said her quads were killing her; another looked like she wanted to cry. The temps were heating up and we were starting to see a few spectators.
At mile 16 I could feel it starting. My foot got tight and I lost flexibility in my ankle. After a minute the hamstring and glute got tight as well; things were cramping up again. I pulled over and did a full hamstring stretch, losing about a minute on the side of the road.
When I started running again it was looser, and a few minutes later as I passed someone an arm came out of nowhere and knocked me. I looked over; it was Courtney. She didn’t speak; her breathing was labored. I told her to anchor on if she wanted me to pull her in. She just shook her head and let me go.
Finally, finally, the one and only hill on the course appeared. For this trail runner it was a breath of fresh air and I hit it with gusto. Immediately tight muscles loosened up, my form settled into place and I was rejuvenated. At the top of the hill a group of people lined the curve and I pumped my fist at them. It was good to hear the cheering.
I ate more chews, went to wash it down with a swig from my pack and came up dry. I was going to have to start using the aid stations now. They were closer together, but it meant slowing down, drinking and speeding up again.
Splits for the third hour: 7:52, 8:04, 8:04, 8:00, 7:52, 7:58, 7:56
We were on a concrete bike path now, mixed in with the last of the Half-Marathoners that were walking. I knew my splits had fallen off and I wasn’t hitting the negative numbers like I wanted. The foot cramp had cost me, though it was hard to tell at that point how much.
My mouth felt sticky from the chews and gels and 6 oz cup of water wasn’t washing enough away. The aid stations were 1.5 miles apart now and I walked through each one, speeding up again at the end.
I passed a few marathoners now, along with more Half-Marathoners. The course had more spectators and I focused on keeping pace. I had given up long ago on hitting the 3:25; now I just wanted to come in under 3:30. Anything under 3:30 would be fine.
At Mile 23 I walked through the water stop and drank two cups, one of water and one of Heed. The Heed made my mouth sticky again. My breathing was hard; the sustained effort was getting to me. I wasn’t going to have a lot left for a push, but I was going to try.
At mile 25 I ramped up, dropped pace and headed in. Crowds cheered. There was no smile on my face. I was too close to 3:30 and couldn’t take time to look at my watch. The aid stations had cost me dearly; those splits had tanked. I wasn’t going to make it.
I got off the concrete bike path and started pounding down the road. People lined the road and I sprinted in. A semi-truck was being directed through the intersection by a police officer. I gritted my teeth and ran as fast as I could towards it; the cop stopped all traffic again and let me through the intersection. My pace had increased again and I held on, passing more Half-Marathoners.
The finish line clock said 3:32 and change. I stopped my Garmin. Dave and Nico cheered wildly not 10 yards from the finish line. Someone handed me a water bottle and I made a beeline to Team Alpaca.
Final splits: 8:16, 8:10, 8:33, 8:08, 7:51, 7:19
At the time I thought that the pee break and foot cramp had stolen my sub-3:30 time. Now that I really look at the splits, I can see that my slowest consistent miles were the ones where I walked through the water stops. I had built in time for the pee break and recovered from the foot cramp by hitting the hill hard; the water stops were the splits that I couldn’t salvage.
The official time was 3:32:08, well below the 3:40 time I needed to qualify for Boston. There was some good learning in this race as well; next time I’ll carry ALL my own water. A pit stop is ok, as long as I build it into the plan. Anything else is wasted effort.
I’m completely happy with this race, and thrilled with my post-race recovery. Less than 24 hours after the race and my legs are about 80%. Stairs aren’t a problem; my quads have forgiven me. I’m hydrated, not starving, and looking forward to my first run on Wednesday. When October rolls around and registration opens for Boston, I’ll be ready.