a nice day to run – just a bit farther though

This morning I completed the Columbus Day Marathon down in pastoral Elma Washington.  The race was a small one, but it will be particularly memorable for a couple of reasons.  I set a new PR (personal record), and as luck had it I was the first finisher overall.  I never imagined I’d do that, even in a smaller event.  I’ll talk a bit more about the PR later.

I’d originally hoped to fit in another 50k this month, but the timing didn’t work out.  In searching for a marathon, I considered several others close by, but ultimately was drawn to the Columbus Day event for several reasons.  First – it was a lot less expensive than some of the other races.  And it had an unusually late start time, which meant I’d be able to drive down just before the race, without having to decide between paying for lodging or getting up incredibly early to make the 2 hour drive.

So – I found myself driving through the hinterlands of Grays Harbor County heading to the race.  Packet pickup took about 15 seconds, which gave me about 40 minutes to snooze in the car before the race.

Apparently a number of runners had taken off early, to avoid having to run midday.  I’d seen a number of them on the way into the park.  We’d see each other a number of times along the way.  The course was a simple twice out and back course from Vance Creek Park, along flat roads.  I think there was just one turn to keep track of, so it was pretty simple.  There were also 5k, 10k, 10 mile, and half marathon runs along the course as well, so the aid stations turned out to be pretty frequent (located at the respective turnarounds for each distance).

Our race director counted down, and sent us off, just before 10:30 am.  There was a really fast guy who bolted off going at least 2 min/mile faster than me.  He got small pretty fast.  I settled into a good pace, as the second one out of the gate.  I figured that it was a matter of time before I was passed – I’m used to that.

I’ve taken a simpler approach to running marathons this year.  The fanciest gadget I wear is a Timex Ironman watch – no GPS, no Heart Rate Monitor.  So when there are no mile markers, I have to rely on how I feel in order to decide whether to speed up or slow down.  I’ve noticed recently that I’m tending to pick up a bit more speed.  This has been true for some of my low-mileage runs during the week.  I’d look at my watch after finishing, surprised at the time.  And that happened today, in a very good way.  Although I never actually measured it, my cadence felt faster – possibly above 85 strides per minute.  And my core felt nice and strong, possibly owing to the fact I’ve been doing my crunches more regularly.  So – when i forced myself to lean forward a bit to pick up speed, it seemed to work nicely.

Still – I didn’t believe that I hit the turnaround for the 5k (about 1.55 miles) in less than 12 minutes.  That would put me under an 8 minute per mile pace, which I simply didn’t believe.  I hit the 10k turnaround in about 26 minutes, which was about an 8 minute per mile pace as well.  Either I was having a really great day running, or the course was just a bit short.  Hm – perhaps both?

I hit the turnaround for the half distance at about 52 minutes.  This essentially put me on pace for a flat 8 minute pace, which I still wasn’t really believing.  I hit the halfway mark in just over 1:45, which meant the same thing.  Each of my course lengths was completed in about the same amount of time – 52-53 minutes.  If nothing else, I was being consistent.

By the time I rounded the last turnaround, I was feeling fatigued.  By now, I thought there was a reasonable chance I’d finish first overall, and that I’d also probably push the 3:30 mark.  This time is especially interesting to me, as it is my qualifying time for the Boston Marathon.  While this particular race was not a qualifier (not a certified course), hitting this mark would establish that I could probably do it again.  Wow.

So, by now I was pushing myself a bit too hard.  I felt a bit dizzy, and out of breath.  At the same time, you can’t take yourself out of a race when things are going this well.  So on I pushed.

When I hit the final aid station, about 1.55 miles from the finish, I had given up the illusion that I’d be able to kick hard for the final mile – already did that.  My steps were becoming more stilted and erratic as I struggled to focus.  By now, it was all about trying to get in under 3:30.

As I turned the corner into the park, and found the finish, I saw that I’d come in just 15 seconds over 3:30.  They got my name, and handed me the trophy as the top finisher.  Wow again – I guess the superfast guy in front of me was running the half marathon.

As I settled down a bit, I asked the woman at the finish whether they were sure about the course length.  I had just PR’d by 10 minutes, which was a big surprise to me.  She said "well – it’s about 0.4 short".  Oh.

I got up and told her I needed to round out the distance.  As I stumbled along for a 4 minute easy run, I was surprised at how annoyed I felt by this.  The reason is that I’d PR’d, but now had no real way of determining what my new PR was.  And while I was pleased to have finished first overall, I race against myself and my own goals, rather than others.

So – I think the way I’m viewing the PR is to add the four or so minutes I ran afterwards to my official time and call it good.  I took it pretty easy, but then my legs were also cramping, so it’s unclear that I could have run faster during the race.  Let’s call it 3:35 and think of it as a good day.

Whatever the time really should have been, it’s clear that I’m running stronger than I did before the bike accident.  Qualifying for Boston is within reach – but will require me to throttle down the racing schedule, and do some focused quality speed and strength work.  Unclear whether I’m willing to give up the marathon per month routine to do this.  Need to think about it.

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