Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mount Desert Island Marathon - Race Report

There's something special about the weekend of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, and that something is what induced me to register the day after the 2010 race. After running the race with D in 2008 as my first marathon and watching Jamie get his first Boston Marathon qualifying time last year, I knew I wanted to be a part of this race again. However, I never could have predicted the outcome of Sunday's race after either of those two events.

Race weekend started with a fairly pleasant drive, including a stop for lunch, on Saturday. While the kiddo slept quietly in the backseat, I sent D off on a run on Acadia's carriage roads and headed for the marathon expo. I have to admit, I was a bit jealous that she was getting to enjoy a no pressure jaunt in arguably my favorite running destination. Sam eventually woke from her nap, and I hung out with Jamie for a short bit at the expo also chatting with Mindy, Pete and Tim and Bob Dion while Sam dragged my red bag schwag bag around...literally. Sam and I headed off to check into our hotel and do a diaper change, then back to pick up D and then back to the hotel to meet my parents, who were part of my amazing support crew. I snuck off for a drive of the refresh my memory/confirm my fears, and then we all headed out dinner. It wasn't the most relaxing pre-race afternoon and evening, especially after Sam threw pizza all over me at the restaurant—"Sowwy, Daddo," but I did manage to get to bed around 9:30.

We stayed at the Bar Harbor Inn—only a two minute jog from the starting line—which worked out perfectly because as I went out to warm up it started raining. Since I was chock full of pre-race jitters, I needed to pee again, so I took it as a sign to shoot back to the room. This turned out to be a shrewd move as I was able to drop my warm up clothes, which were also my finish line clothes, since I wouldn't see D or my parents again before the start. I was cold and lamenting the rain as I went to the start line, but saying good mornings and good lucks to a number of folks, including Blaine, Jim, Tom Trytek and Peter Keeney to name a few, kept my mind off the conditions.

Trail Monsters ready for the roads.
Before I knew it, Thunderstruck was playing, and we were off.

The start. Look at my shoes!
Jamie and I lined up in the second row, and I have to admit that adrenaline got the best of me as we ran a comfortable 6:00 pace for the first quarter of a mile. Jamie wisely mentioned that we should tone it down, and we passed the first mile in 7:07, which was right what we wanted, as droves of runners went passed us. Jamie and I had chatted a bunch during the week about race plans, and he convinced me that we should run together for as long as possible. His plan was to try to hit 7:10's for the first 20 miles. Knowing that he'd slow down towards the end, he felt this gave him a great shot at his reach goal of sub-3:10 and set him up really well for his main goals of re-qualifying for Boston and setting a new PR under 3:12:30. Since I hadn't been able to put in the marathon-specific training I'd hoped for, I really had no idea what was realistic for me. A lot marathoners can say, "I'm in 3:02 shape," for example. All I knew was, I'm in "I know I can finish this thing faster than the last time" shape, so I decided to run with Jamie for as long as it felt comfortable. I honestly didn't know if that was going to be one mile or twenty-six. I just hoped we'd both have good days.

Early in the second mile Jamie commented, "See most of those guys in front of us? We'll see them again later." Outwardly, I agreed with him, but I really doubted my ability to run this pace for the entire race. I even dropped back a bit a couple times, and each time, Jamie would motion for me to jump back on board. "Yes, sir!" In the early miles, we started chatting with two other runners, Ty and Anita, and we soon became a pack of four. The conversation was free flowing and often off color, but it was just what we all needed on this day. Well, I know I did anyway. It really was a fantastic vibe, and it totally took the pressure off. Even if the pace was too fast, I wasn't overly concerned because we were having so much fun.

I have no idea when it stopped raining, but it wasn't the prominent weather feature du jour. That honor went to the wind, and it was really blowing as we passed the Tarn just after the two-mile mark. The wind would continue to remind us of its presence from time to time in the early miles. No one wanted to really talk about it aside from a few groans here and there, but we all knew that it would be in our faces in the final miles.

Mile 5
Just past mile 6, I took my first gel, and, predictably, I had a bit of a bad patch. I guess I can't eat and run at the same time. It was short lived, however, as I didn't want to lose my crew, especially at the start of the climb on Cooksey Drive. From 2008, I remembered that I didn't really enjoy this climb, but this year it passed quickly thanks to more great chatter. Mentally, this was a big boost for me to not only get through a bad patch so quickly, but to also not feel a hill I remembered distinctly from three years ago. Of course, the mental ups and downs are unavoidable, and I would battle them for the next few miles. After crossing the not-bridge at the construction site at Seal Harbor at 8.5 miles, I had my first real "uh-oh" moment of the race. We started climbing the hill, and I felt terrible. I obviously hadn't been running the tangents because my Garmin was starting to hit the mile markers before they appeared, but I knew we were still right in the 7:10 range. (I stuck with the Auto Lap function because I didn't want to have to worry about hitting the lap button at each mile mark. Lazy? Perhaps. But, I really had enough on my mind.) I just put my head down on the uphills and tried to stay with my crew.

The "Uh-Oh" Moment at Seal Harbor
This would be the theme through the roller coaster hills through mile 10. It was also in this stretch that I really started to notice how much the downhills were taking out of me. My hamstrings were starting to tighten, and all I could think about was my lack of speed training and my hammies blowing up in the final miles. I would have moments of feeling OK, but mostly I just tried to keep our group a pack of four. And, amazingly, I did.

Much like mile 7, I remembered feeling really bad during mile 11 in '08. I mentioned this out loud, and Jamie and Ty both agreed that they disliked this mile. I took comfort in the fact that no one else was feeling particularly frisky, and it bolstered my spirits a bit to the point that I felt pretty good again. Also, I was really looking forward to seeing my crew at around 11.25 for both the mental boost and a new bottle of Nuun, since I drained my first 10oz bottle by mile 9. I wasn't disappointed on either front as D executed a flawless hand-off and the crowd was pretty loud at this corner. I felt great coming through here and was excited to soon be at the halfway point.

Team No Filter
One of my takeaways from my course drive on Saturday was that miles 12 through 15 were the flattest of the race. (Not flat, mind you. This is MDI, after all.) And, I wanted to make certain that I was feeling good and moving well through here. Unfortunately, our pace slowed to a 7:23 for mile 12, which was a shock. Jamie realized it, too, and said, "Unacceptable," and we ticked off a 7:11 for mile 13. I knew we were a bit shy of the 7:10's Jamie had wanted, but I was happy about how we were running. As we approached the half marathon mark I said, "Raise your hand if you're about to PR in the half!" Only my hand went up as the four of us hit the marker in 1:34:57. Jamie grumbled about being slower than last year, and I know just what he was thinking. "This is not a negative split course." And, shortly after he said, "Well, I guess I'm not breaking 3:10 today." I told him that it was still a possibility since he was clearly running very well and relaxed.

Through the half marathon
The half split really lit a fire under Jamie, and he pressed the issue a bit. I told him, "This is pretty much what I have right now." In other words, "It isn't likely I'll be hanging with you through 20." He got a bit ahead of me, and I was really starting to feel uncomfortable. Not bad, but it was no longer a pleasant run on the island. The marathon had turned to work, and I was having a really hard time making the mental shift.

At some point around mile 14, which was a lackluster 7:17, two guys, Red & Gray Shirt Duo, motored by me. Jamie was a few seconds ahead, so I made a fateful decision to latch onto these guys and try to catch back up to him. This turned out to be a brilliant move. Within about a minute or so, I was back with Jamie, and Red & Gray Shirt Duo were just ahead. They had pulled me to a more respectable 7:05 for mile 15. I was stoked to be back in the picture, but I told Jamie, "I'm having a really hard time making the shift from running comfortably to working. This is starting to hurt." He replied, "It's all in your head." Those words were a giant turning point in my race. He flipped some kind of switch in me, and I was totally locked in.

R&G were a bit ahead of us now as we ran along Sargeant Drive, and I motioned to Jamie and pointed to them. In other words, "Let's stay with these guys." I tucked right in behind them, and they pulled me to a 6:45 mile 16. It certainly didn't feel like a 6:45. In fact, it felt easy. I thought, "Well, if I'm feeling this bad, but easily clicked off a 6:45...well...maybe...let's do this." I also hoped that Jamie would hop on board knowing that I wasn't feeling great, but he stayed a bit back. I just focused on R&G and stayed relaxed.

I made my next critical decision at around mile 17. I'd been downing the Nuun at a faster rate than I had anticipated and I only had a few sips left. I had planned to drop the handheld with D at mile 21, but I decided to take a gel right at 2:00, instead of 2:15 on my every 45 minutes schedule and drop the bottle with her at 17.5. I figured if things went bad and I needed another gel, which I was still carrying, I could grab water from an aid station. This was another great decision, as it felt great to run unencumbered for the final 9 miles. In fact, I didn't need another gel and bypassed all the water stops.

Turning off Sargeant Dr. at 17.5. Looking bad, feeling good.
After nearly decapitating D with the fling of my water bottle, I was feeling really strong and focused through the turn off Sargeant Drive at 17.5. I actually moved around R&G just as we turned onto Route 198. I don't remember looking at any of my splits from miles 17 through 20. I was really in the zone. Mindy and Pete were yelling for me at around 18.5, and I didn't even realize it was them until I had gone by. I had been dreading the hill at mile 19—it's nasty—but it didn't really phase me. I knew it was nasty while I was running it, but I sort of didn't care. R&G were still right behind me, and they eventually passed me for good just before the left hand turn onto Route 102 in Somesville. As it turns out, I averaged 6:57 for miles 15 through 20. Perhaps not the shrewdest marathon strategy, but I didn't even really realize it. It just sort of happened. But, in hindsight, it was really the crux of the race as I banked time for the final stretch without blowing myself up. And, again, I'd gone into this stretch feeling terrible, so by the time I came to at the 20-mile mark, I'd passed I have no idea how many people and set myself up for a decent time...assuming I could hang on for 10k.

Mile 21 is sneaky hard, and I slowed to 7:22. As I was rounding the corner to go through mile 20, a spectator yelled, "Up the hill and head for home!" Well, that's bullshit. You're not running home. You're running the hardest miles of the marathon, and at MDI, those miles happen to be some of the hardest of the entire race. (I would argue 3, 4 and 5 are harder than the final miles, but they're early, so no one is hurting there.) I distinctly remember passing one runner here, and I knew he was in for a rough final 5 miles. "Don't be that guy," I thought. I got another boost at the mile-21 mark, as D and my parents were there yelling. Of course, D's voice quivered she attempted to spur me on, "Go, honey!" I yelled back, "You don't sound very confident!" But, really, she confirmed what I already knew. I was hurting, I looked terrible, and I had some big hills ahead of me.

Mile 22. Looking bad, feeling bad.
The good part about this stretch of road is that there are long, straight sections on which you can see the field in front of you. At around mile 17, I had picked up a view of what I thought were the lead women. (As it turns out, the first-place woman was well ahead, flirting with 3 hours.) I had seen them sporadically throughout the next couple miles, but once on Route 102, I could see that they were a little closer and running with a decent pack of 4 or 5 men. This group proved to be a good motivator, and I hoped I could close in and pick off any stragglers. Deep down, I never thought I'd catch a group 2 minutes or so ahead, but mind games are part of...well...the game. R&G were still there, too, but after passing me, they dropped the hammer and just crushed it.

I did managed to pass a couple guys before the "Top of the Hill" Restaurant just before the mile-25 mark, but I can't really recall the order of the events from these final miles. I do know that the wind was blowing in our faces, and I actually flipped it off with both hands at one point. After I did this, I felt instantly better, and I also thought, "If you can do that, there must be a little more there." It actually made me run faster. Contrary to popular thought, there are a couple short downhills in the "all uphill" section from mile 21 to 25, and these do nothing but destroy your quads that much more for the remaining climbs. Trust me, MDI is a fantastic race, but the final miles are just brutal. Among those, mile 24 is the worst. This mile was easily my slowest mile of the race: 7:56. I couldn't believe it when I saw that split. I felt like I had been pushing so hard and gotten so little in return. It was also at this point that my thoughts of a Boston Marathon qualifying time went out the window. I didn't arrive at the starting line with a goal of qualifying for Boston—even though the entire marathon world is obsessed with the concept—but my split at 20 miles, just under 2:24, gave me a glimmer of hope that I could get 3:10:00 or better. However, it was also at this split that I got the biggest boost of the entire race. Mindy and Pete jumped out of their car at this point to give me one final push homeward. Like I said, things are pretty hazy, but I remember Mindy running across the road and asking me some type of question to which I replied through my thousand-yard stare, "This hurts." She jumped behind me and yelled "GO!" for what seemed like 50 times. I was so confused—"Why is she yelling so much?"—I could do nothing but follow her orders. I was really somewhere else, but I started running faster. Only 2.2 miles to go...

I did remember one key landmark from Saturday's course drive, which was the backwards sign that signals the start of the final climb to the "Top of the Hill" Restaurant. I'd told myself on Saturday that this point marked the "put the hammer down" spot. I did the best I could and passed through 25 miles a few seconds after 3 hours. "Hmmm...maybe Boston is in play." From 2008, I knew that the downhill that starts just before mile 25 would be excruciatingly painful, and it didn't disappoint. I passed another runner here, even though I was really just trying to keep it together. Then, the final slight uphill and then "little bump" at mile 26...well, yeah...they're horrible. You'd barely notice these features on a easy training run, but they're indescribable at the end of this race. Cresting that little bump, though, you do get a slight downhill to the finish. It was here that I spotted the clock, 3:09:56...57...58... It was at this point that I passed D who was screaming wildly. I pointed at the clock, and said, "There goes Boston!" But, really, I didn't care. I pumped my fists and crossed the line in 3:10:11, 21st place.


Finishing it up.
Going into the race, if you had told me those figures, I would have rolled my eyes. I'm still having a little trouble believing it. I did put together some goals before the race, and I figured that I could break 3:20. That was about what I ran the marathon in during the Gator Trail 50k in March, and with the pavement pounding and crazy hills, I figured this was realistic. However, I would have been happy with anything under 3:30. I thought if I had an exceptional day, I could run about 3:12. So, obviously, I'm ecstatic with my time. But, here's the thing: I don't feel like I had an exceptional day. I didn't feel great for the whole race. I really struggled on the downhills and flats. I slowed a ton in the final 10k to about a 7:30 average and was sort of a mess. (I almost crashed into one of the firefighters directing traffic in Southwest Harbor.) It was a good day, but it wasn't exceptional. And, that's a really good thing. I know that I could run faster. Having not been able to get in much specific training for this marathon, I wonder what could have been. Additionally, how much was I slowed by the wind? There's definitely more there.

Some point that evening, D asked me, "Are you going to be upset about those 11 seconds?" I'm not at all—for the reasons she was asking. Again, I never went into this race with a goal of qualifying for Boston, and I stick to what I said to Jamie post-race: I'm glad I don't have the pressure of having to run Boston in 2013. Honestly, I think it's a little sad that so many people measure and limit themselves by a marathon time that a group of guys with calculators in a board room have determined is what I need to enter their race. I'm a little upset about those 12, not 11, seconds because it would be awesome to have dropped my PR to 3:09:59. But, honestly, I gave it all I had on a really hard marathon course. Could I have found a half second per mile? Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, it was an awesome day, and I'm really proud of my 3:10:11. Really proud, and despite what the BAA says, I think I should be.

Leg flush!
You mean I have to stand up now?
It always hurts less when you run well and seeing my friends, new and old, do the same was awesome. Jamie earned a new marathon PR and crushed his course PR with a 3:12:09. Anita wasn't far behind, winning her age group in the process. Ty was right behind her. D found me in the crowd for an emotional hug, and my parents were right behind. Sam wanted nothing to do with me, "Daddo sweaty," but she had no problem eating my hard-earned ice cream. Jamie and I headed for the beer tent (We were in the top ten in the "get your post-marathon beer" race!) and were soon joined by Blaine, who rocked a 3:03, top ten finish, Jim and NJ Dave. Spirits were high as everyone was pleased with their efforts, but we all agreed—we'd rather be on the trails. Trail Monsters for sure!

Trail Monsters in their natural habitat.
Thanks to everyone out on the course cheering for me: Mindy, Pete, Kate and her parents. Each yell was much appreciated. Huge thanks to my parents for helping us keep Sam in check all weekend and helping D while I was racing. And, finally, thanks to D for pulling off another amazing balancing act allowing me to get out and race—definitely the most impressive performance of the weekend.

My crew at Sand Beach.


Jamie said...

Excellent race report. And your posting was timely, as my students had just left. Great work man. I concur, with a bit more specific training you could do much faster. Sub-3 is very, very possible, I do declare. Thanks for being great company.. that was a really fun race.

Sparkplug said...

Very proud of your race, Ryan, and great write-up too. Happy to be able to be there to cheer you on! And I agree with Jamie, I think you can run a faster road marathon, if you want to. Or, you can stick to the trails and rock those too :-)

middle.professor said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
middle.professor said...

Great race and report. Ian and I want to check your training logs; we don't believe you were "sick" this spring and summer. You and Jamie should experiment with different gels and see if any work. They are one of the perks of modern marathoning. That and the aid stations that, you know, provide water.

Jeremy Bonnett said...

I'm quite sure your hat weighed you down for those precious seconds.

Fantastic race man and you should be super proud. Told you you'd have an awesome fall and winter coming off of deathness...

sn0m8n said...

Thanks, y'all.

Jamie & D - The key with the faster road marathon is "if I want to." Hmmm...

Jeff - Actually, I was very happy with my fueling. Started with a smoothie for breakfast, which is key. Then three gels: 1 Gu Espresso and 2 Clif Razz. And, a total of 20oz of Nuun. I didn't bother with the water stops because I'm completely inept at the grab, fold and drink. I'm a runner: not known for my hands

Jeremy - How dare you?!?! That hat has powers. Plus, it's the "you're getting smoked by a dude in a flowered hat" hat.

mindy said...

Awesome report. You were flying up that hill before mile 24 even if it felt like hell. VERY stoked for your PR. Good thing about knowing you may have left a little something on the course is that it's a great motivator for the next one... Way to rock out a fantastic run!!!

sn0m8n said...

Thanks, Mindy, but I was definitely not flying at that point. Maybe flying for a hippopotamus... Seriously, though, your yelling at that point was so amazing! THANKS!