Friday, September 21, 2007

09/16/07 Lewis and Clark Marathon

Now, that's a grim picture. Am I mad? In pain? Having a bad day? Actually, I wasn't any of the above. They took about 10 pictures of me at this race and I have the same exact grim face in all of them. So, kids, your sister was right. If you make an ugly expression, your face really will freeze that way.

A significant race like Air Force takes a lot out of the runner. Not all races involve that level of symbolism. Not all races involve helping injured runners or running across ski slopes or setting a new PR. Many races.... actually, when running tons of races, most of them... don't involve nearly so many thematic story elements. You go out, you try to meet your goals, and that's that. Lewis and Clark was one of those days. While it may not make for a dramatic page-turning (or mouse-scrolling) read, it was perfectly okay by me that this race was merely a "let's go run" race. After Air Force, I needed something much more basic.

Right. The Lewis and Clark Marathon. Turns out, there are at least three different marathons known as "The Lewis and Clark Marathon". Those guys covered a lot of territory. One is in Montana, another is in Iowa, and the one that I ran is in Missouri.

The Missouri version is a half point-to-point, half out-and-back course held in St Charles, a suburb of St Louis. The race starts near a concert amphitheater, winds through 7 miles of industrial park boredom, crosses the Missouri River, and then meanders through 5 miles of countryside. The 13th mile is through the old downtown area in St Charles. After passing the finish line (why is the finish line around M13? I'll get back to that), the course dumps out onto a rails-to-trails path and heads along the river for 6.5 miles before turning around and tracing the same path to the finish. The course isn't pancake flat, but there's really only one hill in the middle... aka, a bridge... and just a few longish inclines in the second half.

I originally signed up for this race because the logistics seemed pretty straightforward when coupled with the Air Force Marathon. The website and the people I asked led me to believe that Lewis and Clark was a smaller affair - 600-800 runners. This was true for the full marathon, but I missed an important piece of information. The real race here is their half. And 4500-5000 people register for the half! As a point of reference, the race is held on roads which have lanes closed to traffic, but they are not particularly wide roads. 5500+ people on this course made for some seriously crowded running during the first 13 miles... not the type of running I enjoy. Check out the picture at the top of this page. It was added after the race; had I seen it in advance, I would have known what was in store. But it wasn't there, and I didn't know until I showed up. The course started out crowded and stayed crowded until the half marathoners finished at the end of the point-to-point section. Then, a much smaller group of us ran the out-and-back.

The forecast for race day had changed a lot over the preceding days. It was supposed to be cool but not cold. It was supposed to rain unless it did not. Race morning showed up pretty chilly and overcast, but without rain. My hotel was walking distance from the start, which was nice. However, they had accidentally given my room to another guy with my last name... and all they had left for me was a smoking room. That wasn't so nice.

I walked the 10 minutes to the start, and that's when I noticed the huge swarm of people. Uh oh. My goal for the race was a simple "about 4". I ran a 3:44 the previous day at Air Force. Breaking 4 hours on both ends of the double seemed like a reasonable goal. The weekend before, I ran a sub-4 on the Sunday after slogging through a very challenging 5:38 on the Saturday. So I should be able to beat 4 the day after "only" spending 3:44 on my feet, especially on an easy course. On the other hand, there was this large swarm of people. Plus I've only broken 4 on both ends of a double once. PLUS, this was the last race in a three week chain: 7 in 3 weekends. That's a lot of racing and a lot of travel. More, in fact, than I've ever done before. Finally, this was my last long run in a series leading up to the Quadzilla (4 in 4 days) at the end of September. I decided not to be aggressive. I would be fine with "about 4", meaning if I was a little over, I'd be ok with it. Just a long run.

The race did not start out on the best of notes. Despite all the warnings on the website requesting that racers get to the parking lots early to avoid congestion, the police asked for the race to be delayed because the roads were still packed with inbound cars as the start time approached. A 15 minute delay wasn't that long, really, but it was a very cold 15 minutes. Just before the new start time, the announcer told us that we had "90 seconds" and reminded us to listen for the sound of an air horn, not a gun. Maybe 15 seconds later, the gun fired and we were off :-). Not sure what happened there. At least it wasn't raining.

It was crowded and the industrial section was boring. There was a brief out-and-back section between M3-M5. I recognized a few people and said hello. Somewhere in here, Dean Karnazes and his entourage passed me. This guy has a larger-than-life personality (and in writing, a larger-than-life ego... but in person, not so much), but he's a small dude like me. I almost tripped him when he went around me. Ooops. No, it wasn't on purpose. The course was really crowded.

And the crowd was really bugging me. I felt ok, but I struggled with my pace. I needed to run 9:0x miles to be around 4, and I was running lots of 9:15s. We crossed the river at M7. The map of the course does not do this bridge justice. It is a crowded highway far above the river, and the traffic whizzed by at top speed. And there we were, running against traffic in our little coned-off lane while cars and big trucks did 60 mph in the other direction. Yikes. It was a long bridge too!

As we exited the bridge and approached M8, the spectators urged us on with a "only 5 more miles!" cheer. Yes, this race was really a half marathon with the full marathon feeling like kind of an afterthought. Around we went. Somewhere near M10, a lady passed me and complimented me on my tan legs. Normally I wouldn't write about this, but it was funny. A few feet in front of me, I could see the wheels turning in her head. After an odd pause, she added "I'm not coming on to you", and then she ran off. Heh. It was one of those situations we all find ourselves in... as we're saying something out loud, our brain hears it and says "What are you saying? That sounds weird!" And so we quickly come up with a way to cover and/or explain our seemingly inappropriate comment. "I'm not coming on to you." Well, okey doke. My legs are tan.

As we entered downtown St Charles, more spectators encouraged us to push hard to the end. The end? I wasn't even halfway done. There was the finish line. Practically all runners were siphoned off, and then I was on the rails-to-trails path in the trees. This was a totally different race. I hit the half at 2:01. A little slow, but not horribly slow. However, I could tell that I was slowing down even more. People started passing me.

The "out" part of this out-and-back was a nice wide trail through the woods. The river was nearby, but the trail didn't offer many views of it. I struggled. My 9:15s had become 9:50s and 10s. Fooey. About M18, Dean K passed me going the other way. His entourage must have been running the half because only one guy was chatting him up. I did the math in my head; Dean was running slowly for Dean. Turns out, he'd finish in 3:28 (he can be a sub-3 marathoner, though his claim to fame is running hundreds of miles at once). Had I been trying for a PR... basically a 3:30 attempt... I could have run this race with Dean. That would have made for an interesting story.

I hit M19 at the 3 hour mark. On a normal day, I'm usually at M21 by this point. On a PR day, M22+. On an "about 4" day, I should be at M20. Hmmm. M19 implied a 4:10 day, which is not "about 4".

As I approached the turnaround, lots of people were coming back the other way. I recognized a few more people I hadn't seen previously. M20 was just after the turnaround. I wasn't exactly angry, but I was a bit bummed with my day up to this point. I decided to salvage it by turning the rest of this race into a workout that I'm planning for my October races: a "fast finish" long run. In this type of workout, one runs the first miles of a long run at the slower long run pace, and then attempts to run the rest at marathon pace. In my October version, I'm going to try the fast finish in the last 10k of a double weekend (actually, two different double weekends), which will make for a very challenging workout. For me, this means fast finish miles in the 8:15 range. That's for October. For this race, I wanted to readjust my pace from the 10:0x it had become back to anything under 9:30.

I pushed it. And interestingly, I felt better. It is amazing how mood can affect running. I like out-and-backs because I like to see people going the other way. I provided encouragement to the people still heading out, and I saw a few more people I knew. I also started passing people. Lots of people.

I sped up a little more as I got closer to the end. M25 was 9:00 exactly. M26 was an 8:42, my fastest mile of the day. Running my last mile faster than the rest is a fun little quirk I developed earlier this year. I had been doing it in most of my spring races, but I got out of the habit during the summer months. I've been trying to add it back to my routine.

There was a right turn 100 feet before the finish. This is where we merged back with half marathoners, and there were still a few half walkers coming in beyond the four hour mark. I almost ran into a lady carrying a big pumpkin. I did not hallucinate this - check the picture at the top of this page.

4:06. Well, huh. As a time, yuck. This wasn't "about 4" and I struggled for much of the day. However, I felt good about the last 10k, and I felt really good about that last mile. Considering my 4:10 prediction at M19 (and really M20), I made up 4 minutes in the last few miles. That's good.

Next up: after a weekend of recovery (taper?), it'll be time to face the Quadzilla.

I have no idea what will happen. My running goals will be "finish upright and not hurt." I'm doing it, though, just to experience it. Hopefully I will remember my thoughts and emotions, especially during the 4th race. I have no idea what will happen.

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