SteamTown Marathon! PR'd by a half an hour? What the what what? What an end to a spectacular family vacation! This course is point to point, and has @ 900' of elevation loss. My pre-race strategy was to shoot for 3:29ish. I devoted a considerable amount of time to my plan for this course. I know because of the way this course is laid out, a negative split was not in my future. Besides, I have faded late in my previous 3 marathons. Why would this one be different? I had 4 Gu packs with me. I planned on taking one every 45 minutes, also drinking water for the first half, gatorade on the second half of the race. Sweatsocks on the hands, 2 cut-off t-shirt sleeves over my ears, and throw way t-shirts over my race shirt. I had it all figured out. I sent an e-mail to my friends that this race would be a showcase of my perfectly excecuted plan.
It was a freakishly long bus ride to the start. Earlybird that I am, I was on the first bus. It felt like more than a marathon distance away from the finish, where we got on. We were greeted by cheerleaders getting off the bus. I was a star! We were brought into a gym, where they had signs on the wall, so you could meet up with folks running your pace. I sat down with the 3:20 crowd. Nice guys. One guy travelled from Seattle. Another guy was local. Both of them had run this race before. Everyone you meet that talks about this race advises against banking time on the early downhill. They say you will destroy your quads before you need them on the uphills at the end. This is a redundant theme, discussed over and over again. I stepped outside to hear the national anthem, a few words from the mayor, and then they fired a civil war cannon. It was really loud! If you see footage of the start of this race, the cameraman shakes at the fire of the cannon.
At the fire of the cannon, all of my pre-race strategy went completely out the window.
Generally speaking, I was in a free fall nosedive for the first mile, to the point where I wondered if my legs could keep up with me, without falling on my face. After that, I had abandoned my excellent race plan. I don't have individual splits for the race, but I'm guessing that first mile is my fastest mile ever. The first 20 miles are downhill, then you have 3 flat miles, then up and down for the last 3. At 11 miles, I was running 7 minute pace. I knew what I was doing was crazy, but I decided to ride this horse as long as possible. Local fans were everywhere along the course cheering, sometimes with boomboxes. I tried to say "thank you" to as many as I could. Then the course goes on to a riverside trail with beautiful fall colored leaves. I didn't really prepare for trail running, but I found it to be a nice break. I knew that if I could be @ 2:27 at mile 20, a BQ could be possible. If I was @ 2:37, my pre-race goal was possible. I was under 2:27. The hills at the last 3 miles are substantial. After going up the worst of them, they have the disabled children that this race is a charity for at the top. I'm thinking that is a strategic move. I mean, you don't want to stop in front of the people you are raising money for, that can't run themselves, right? There was a band in the front yard of someone's house @ mile 24. They were playing "born to run" as I went by. That gave me a little kick. I took off the T-shirt headbands, Sweatsock mittens, and remaining overshirts @ mile 25. (My bib belt was loose for this whole race, and I was constantly adjusting it. That was annoying as all get out.) The last tenth of a mile is a slow downhill, so I had some energy left in the tank to pump my arm to the crowd as I came down the stretch. I adjusted my shirt so that the race announcer could clearly read my number, butcher my last name, and crack a joke about "cold enough for you?" when he found out I was from Florida. I was nearly crying when they took my picture with the medal (mostly because my wife was crying). You know, you devote so much to this, and then you surpass your expectations, and then things get emotional.
After the race, I sat with a nice 64 year old man, who was proud of PR-ing by 6 minutes. After I told him what I had done, there was some fatherly advice to "cherish this," because I will never PR by a half hour again.
Is beating your qualifying time by 1 minute 45 seconds enough to get into Boston? I guess we'll find out in September 2013. I look forward to seeing how fast I am on a flat track (like Baton Rouge in January).
BEST FAMILY VACATION EVER!