Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Walk in the Park

Warning: This post is not for the faint of heart. :)

Despite what you may think, the title of this blog entry does not mean that my recent 26.2 mile “adventure” was easy. In fact, what the title refers to is what I was doing during mile 20 of the Clarence Demar Marathon – which just happens to occur in Wheelock Park.

The day started off well enough. My son Casey & I headed out the door super early (5:30am) for the ride over to Keene. A scant 1 hour later we were at the Keene State gym picking up my bib number and a few moments after that I was on a school bus riding up to the 8:00am start in Gilsum. Gotta’ love those low key marathons. No expo, no pasta dinner, no long porta-potty lines, no waiting at the start for hours, and no ridiculous entry fees! Just get off the bus and run.

On the ride up to the start I sat next to Michael O’Hagan from Denver Colorado who was running his 49th marathon and after today’s race he hoped to be one away from completing a marathon in each US state. He would be capping off his 50 race quest at the Chicago Marathon in October. And, he was also hoping that (if his hip held together) he could run under 3:20. I told him my plan for this race was sub 3:00, or bust. Unfortunately, for me, it was the latter.
After a brief warm-up, which included a side trip to the Gilsum woods, I tossed my gear bag into the back of the race director’s pick-up and listened to some last minute instructions. Without much fan fare (any fan fare really) we were off. The weather for the race was near ideal - partly cloudy, cool with fairly low humidity - perfect for running fast! And, that’s just what we did. I came through the first mile marker in 6:50 and I was way back in 18th place!

My plan for this race was pretty simple. Run easy (7:00 - 7:15) for the first 4 miles, settle into goal pace (6:50) after that, then (if things we’re going well) try to pick it up at mile 20 to get under that 3 hour mark. So, I was a bit ahead of schedule at mile 1, but the slight uphill in mile 2 brought me right back to where I wanted to be. The first few miles clicked off easily (including a quick pee break during mile 4) and by mile 8 I was cruising along at goal pace and starting to pick off the quick starters ahead of me.

The first real test of this race comes during mile 12 where there’s a long, gradual hill that rises up just past the Bretwood Golf course. Though my pace slowed a bit, I managed to keep my effort consistent and even ran down a couple more runners. On the backside of the hill I picked up speed and ran my fastest split of the day (6:43) while catching 3 more targets. I reached the half way mark at 1:30:35 (about 25 seconds ahead of schedule) and was feeling fine. Miles 14 through 16 went by without incident. I had my first GU of the day during mile 14. At mile 15 there was a slight hill, but nothing major. I picked off a couple more runners during mile 16 and noticed that the cloud cover had burned off. As a result, the sun felt a bit stronger than it was earlier in the race. 

There was a slightly bigger hill during mile 17 and for the first time all day I felt like I had to press a bit to maintain goal pace. That trend continued during mile 18 and by mile 19 I was working pretty hard to keep hitting those 6:50’s. By the time I entered Wheelock Park I felt I need to “re-group” a bit and grabbed another GU. I walked through the aid station taking plenty of water and then quickly moved on down the path.

Less than a minute later I was bent over in the grass, puking my guts out, trying to rid myself of the Mocha Cliff Shot energy gel that I had just ingested. I guess I should have tried this flavor out during training – it seemed so appealing in the store! After I completely voided the contents of my stomach I was back on the bike path and remarkably was still in the same position as before. No one had passed me during the ½ minute or so that it took me to toss my cookies. 

Unfortunately, that too would change. Just past the 20 mile mark my stomach irritation traveled a bit further down the road and without warning I urgently required a deep woods visit. Now, while sitting in the bushes spewing untold liquids from every orifice, I saw not 1 (or 2) but 3 runners go by me. Crap! (literally). By the time I got back onto the path a couple more guys were right on my tail and I had nothing to hold them at bay. They went right by me on a little rise up to mile 21, said some encouraging (but ultimately disheartening) words and that was the last I saw of them. I tried gamely to get back on track but it was no use. I felt tired & weakened by my little misadventures and just couldn’t get my legs to move - at all!

The last 4.2 miles of this race were unlike any other I can remember. Except for when I first started running, I can’t recall ever working so hard just to maintain 9 minute per mile pace. People were passing me left and right and quickly running out of sight. At one point I think I was even passed by an old guy in a Hoveround. Not kidding. Thankfully, after what felt like an hour of slogging, I was back on Main Street for the home stretch. I lurched across the line in a little over 3:13 and came to a merciful stop on the ground.

Splits – Clarence Demar Marathon: 6:50, 7:06, 6:51, 7:02, 6:51, 6:57, 6:49, 6:57, 6:54, 6:49, 6:50, 7:17, 6:43, 6:51, 6:52, 6:51, 6:54, 6:53, 7:04, 7:51, 8:08, 8:10, 9:26, 8:46, 9:06, 8:49, 1:40  = 3:13:36 (7:24) The Final Results showed I was 5th Master, and after a brief stint in the top 8 I managed to slide all the way back into 21st place overall. It was my worst marathon result since trying to run Clarence & Cape Cod within 3 weeks of each other back in 2007.

In retrospect, I guess I could have taken my foot off the gas a little sooner and maybe coasted to the finish. Instead I chose to push through the tougher miles 16-19 at 6:50 pace with the hope of finally running a sub 3 and I ended up blowing up – big time! Although this was perhaps my most bitter marathon defeat, in many ways I’m prouder of this 26.2 mile effort than any other. Yes, I probably could have run a pleasant little 3:05 (or so) and happily gone on my way. But, at some point I would have wondered if I could have pushed a little harder and gotten that elusive 2:59.

Like I said in my last post, I know that I’ve worked really hard this year to get back into shape and hopefully that fitness will stick with me for a while. I’m currently uninjured and am eagerly looking forward to the end of this recovery phase with an eye towards what’s next. Whether it’s cross country, snowshoeing or another marathon attempt I feel I’m more prepared to face these challenges than at any other point in my brief running life. In other words, life is good!

Quick Postscript: Casey fell asleep in the car (for 3 hours) while waiting at KSC and missed seeing me during the race (except for the last 1/4 mile). But, I was grateful for his company both before and after the race. And, Michael O'Hagan (and his hip) held out long enough to pass me during the 25th mile of the race. He finished in 3:12:09 and is well on his way to Chicago by now for his 50th and final marathon.


  1. Have you considered running 20-mile races instead?
    I'm just saying....

  2. Hmmmm. Would I still get credit for a sub 3?

  3. That is better then I can hope for next weekend

  4. Had almost the same experience at Keene, many years ago. Did the first mile in 6:05 and crashed at the end, without the puking and woods break. Did a 3:10 and upset with myself I didn't do the right things at the start.

  5. Awesome write-up Michael! Sorry it turned out the way it did but it's only money in the bank for later this year and early spring(Exeter in April is calling your name for a super fast PR).

  6. I had many fond memories of this race and course from mypast races, but somehow you just ruined it all with too many of your images! We used to call it "the ultimate track experience" when you tossed your cookies at a race. I don't think there is a saying for what you had!!!

  7. Sorry to ruin it for you Jim. If it's any consolation it wasn't that that enjoyable for me either! :)

    Dan - Exeter?