The Marathon Race

The morning activities preceding the race, I described in my previous post. This post will reflect on the race itself. Despite the large number of runners, around 25 thousand registered, everybody could access the time-allocated corral without a problem. I reached it 10 minutes before the start. For comparison, participants in New York City marathon have to be in their corral 45 minutes before the start, or else they are sent to the following wave.

Few minutes before the start, I started taking some layers of clothes off. It was breezy. According to the forecast, we could expect wind gusts of 9–15 mph. The wind bothered me more than near freezing temperatures.

At 8 o’clock, the actor Drew Carey started the race. The opening 2.5 miles were in mild uphill followed by a steep downhill, followed again by an uphill. And the course continued to be rolling hills up to the mile 8. The elevation chart, due to its small scale doesn’t reflect the terrain accurately. Despite the hills, this was my split for 10K in 0:41:20. Pace: 6:39. Est: 2:54:21. I maintained a few seconds time reserve that I kept constant from one mile mark to another. Every so often, I sipped water or Gatorade at the tables with volunteers and I used the 1st gel at mile 6.

At this distance, the runners already spread and were running in smaller groups. We had to watch for slow wheelchair riders or riders with a mechanical problems as their start was only 10 minutes ahead of ours. They were slow up the hill, but I was uneasy hearing the sound of tires speeding down the hill. It lasted about to mile 10, then the course flattened and the mutual interference ended.

Also around mile 10, I started looking for Janette, as I wanted to give her a T-shirt left from my layers of clothes. It was one of the uniform shirts so I didn’t want to throw it away. When I didn’t see her till mile 12, I got rid of it. I passed the 20K split in 1:23:54. Pace: 6:45. Est: 2:56:58. Comparing the splits, you can notice the hills and wind already took their toll. I used the 2nd gel.

I passed the half marathon point in 1:28, still maintaining a 2-minute reserve to the 2nd half. At that section, the course was taking runners through pedestrian paths alongside the Potomac river, open to wind. I tried to draft behind other runners, but didn’t find it very helpful, as the wind was turbulent. Running behind competitors didn’t provide any protection. It rather served as a psychological help. It created an impression that, at least, I wasn’t losing speed while maintaining a contact.

Mile 14 mark was the first one I reached exactly on predetermined time. The constant few seconds advantage maintained at each mile mark so far evaporated. It didn’t bother me. Now, I was on the planned time. It also was here when a woman reached me and we ran together for the next 4 miles. Later from the results, I learned she was a year older than I. I licked a bit of salt and took the pain killer pill.

Around mile 16, I heard Janette shouting my name and taking pictures. She asked if I needed something from the stuff I prepared before the race. I just waved that I was O.K. I wasn’t missing anything, but faster legs.

As I was passing the mile marks, I noticed I was reaching them later and later. It was just a few seconds, but the gap kept increasing with each mark. I was thinking if the 2 minutes reserve would be sufficient with the continuous time bleed. I still had over 8 miles to the finish. I passed the 30K in 2:07:18. Pace: 6:50. Est: 2:59:09. For the first time, I doubted I would reach my goal of running the marathon under 3 hours. I lost a minute of the reserve in just few miles. I used the 3rd gel, hopped behind a runner who was passing me, and left the woman behind.

Now, with the new partner, we crossed a long and windy bridge connecting Washington DC with Arlington (I-395) around mile 21. The pace seemed faster and we were taking turns in leading. I think it was rather necessity than cooperation, as the leader always slowed down and the runner behind jumped forward thinking he could run faster. The involuntary collaboration was, evidently, working as I reached the 40K split in 2:51:19. Pace: 6:54. Est: 3:00:54. My pace slowed by 4 seconds only as opposed to 5 seconds in the past two previous splits.

We were running past runners who were limping or standing along both sides of the course and stretching cramped muscles. A lot of them. This view of carnage opened around mile 22. My muscles were tingling at this point and I new any unusual, or lateral move would cause cramping and thus losing more time, than just steadily running forward. It happened in Boston in 2010.

I didn’t know the accurate splits at the time. According to my watch I was close to the predetermined time, so I was pushing myself to the hardest ever marathon to date. Approximately a mile to the finish, I thought I had enough strength for a strong finish. I detached from my companion and didn’t hear him behind. I didn’t have strength to turn my head to verify. About half a mile later, he reached me and created a gap that I wasn’t able to reduce and finished few seconds behind him in the final time of 3:01:23.

Conclusion

Although I didn’t meet my goal of running a sub 3-hour marathon, I know I ran my strongest marathon so far. My age graded result shows 75.5% effort. I placed 17th out of 1,500 runners and 217th out of 21,000.

Several circumstances contributed to the slower than anticipated time. The wind was the most significant one. Then, I would say the elevation chart in the published small scale doesn’t reveal all the hills and mainly ramps.  There are many ramps, some pedestrian, other highway. They are short but steep. Also, I started running in more layers of clothes than necessary (see the photo caption) and holding a shirt in my hands for more than 5 miles was reckless. The post closes series of reflections on Marine Corps marathon. The training for 2012 Boston marathon starts now.