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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tallahassee Marathon

So, marathon (attempt, as I called it until it was completed) #2 was last Sunday.  I had chosen Tallahassee not for any one major reason, but for a variety of smaller ones: it wouldn't take too horribly long to get there, early February would give me enough time to train and enough time to recover before spring races, the weather was typically decent, the course was relatively flat, and it had gotten good reviews regarding organization, etc.  Also, some prize money was awarded (5 deep), but not so much that I'd have no chance at it.  Going into it, I had been feeling pretty good, until the previous weekend.  I'd run a Freezeroo "10k" (really, somewhere around 6.4mi) on that Saturday, on really the most ridiculously hilly course I've run in the Rochester area.  It wasn't even the uphills that did it, as I hadn't killed myself on those, but then I'd pounded the downhills.  12mi the next day turned from a short long run to another exercise in limping my way home, as my right quad had decided it didn't want to work anymore.  Visions of a Casino Niagara repeat danced around my head; I spent much of the next couple of days stretching, massaging, and foam rolling the dang thing, but still could feel a little funkiness with running.  In a way, it might have been good, because I ended up taking it easier last week than I otherwise would have.  Anyways...

The weekend began with a fairly uneventful flight down to Panama City Beach (cheaper than Tallahassee).  To my surprise, Panama City Beach is in central time; Tallahasse, on the other hand, is not.  We (Dave and I; he was running the half) drove a little bit Friday night, then got up and headed out the rest of the way the next morning.  After packet pickup (the shirts have a groundhog on them, which makes them awesome in my book), I went for a brief 30min jog-definitely was stiff then!  I probably never went outside of a mile radius of the hotel, but still got a bit lost...oh well.  We were right by the FSU campus, which is huge (and gorgeous); plus, I wouldn't be me if I was good at finding my way on foot.  We wrapped up the night with my new go-to prerace feast: large amounts of pizza, this time from a pretty tasty clearly college-aimed joint called the Mellow Mushroom (I know-didn't feel any different after though, haha).  I had gotten everything set that night, from gels to gatorade to clothes; and for once, I slept well the night before a big race!

Sunday morning, I woke up to a dark but clear and cool morning-42 degrees when I got up, pretty perfect in my upstate New York book.  It was still dark when we got to the course, but I felt pretty good warming up.  It reminded me of the morning of Musselman-for once, I was tapered enough for running to actually feel relaxed and easy.  I was some combination of nervous and focused, of course heading to the bathroom a trillion times.  Before I knew it, we were at the line.  I couldn't help but scope out the women around me, and as usual decided that most of them looked super fast.  At that time, I just told myself to stick to the game plan, and not to worry about place; if there were faster women, there was nothing I could do about it.  My original plan had been 7:00 pace for the first half (go through around 1:31-1:32) then try to pick it up the second.  I figured if I had an awesome day, I could maybe negative split and go under 3, and if not, hang on and still finish under 3:05.  Well, that didn't end up happening exactly as planned...

I went through the first mile in 6:40ish.  Oops.  I tried to calm down the second mile, but still was running 6:40 pace.  The thing was, it felt...good.  Totally calm, totally comfortable, and, in some way, enjoyable.  I spent the better part of the next four miles hitting 6:45's despite an effort to slow down, and just hoping that I wasn't entirely screwing myself over.  One man was pacing off me early on-I actually turned to him at one point and told him that if he was actually shooting for that pace, he likely should take off, as I thought that I should slow down to 7 flats.  He assured me that 7:00 was his goal pace too, and we reach an unspoken agreement that we might as well continue on with our possible recklessness.  During that time, my ambitious water/gatorade drinking prior to the race caught up to me, though.  The port a potty at mile 6 quickly became my friend.  20 seconds later, I felt a lot better, and within the mile, I was back up to the runners I had been with prior to the pee break.  We continued on uneventfully.  Shortly before the half, I came up on the 4th and 3rd place women.  I debated whether to hang on them for a bit, or just go past.  Another guy warned me to be patient, that there was a lot of running still to be done, but, feeling pretty good still, I decided to just go for it.  Something in me was triggered in that time-I just had this feeling that the misery of the Casino Niagara experience wasn't going to happen again, that I was setting myself up for a good day.

 I passed the half in 1:27:4x, and quickly calculated that I could break 3 hours, my reach goal, with room to spare if I could just maintain 7:00 pace for the rest of the race.  A combination of this knowledge, as well as a quick glance at the strong women behind me after we made the turnaround, spurred me on.  The next several miles were a blur-without making a conscious effort to do so, I picked up my pace, telling myself I was banking seconds for the inevitably painful last few miles.  The out and back course ended up being much appreciated, as the other marathoners shouted encouragement to me as our paths crossed.  By mile 18-19, I was running entirely alone along an open stretch of road.  Fatigue was setting in by that point, and I tried to tell myself that it was just me and the road, that 7-8 miles were nothing.  The miles ticked on...20...21...22...getting there, getting there, less than half an hour left...23...working my way past some of the half marathoners now, getting some encouragement...24...slowing down a bit, but still under 6:50, just keep running and I'll be under 3:00...25...a little uphill, slightly slower again, but this is it...someone telling me "you've got 2:54"; in my delirium, I'm thinking that means how much time until I finish, not my finishing time...26, I'm into the stadium, I'm on the track, I'm on the final straightaway, I see the clock, I'm simultaneously laughing and panting and crying with some combination of pain, disbelief, and joy, and finally, I'm across the line.

I held onto my 3rd position, running a 1:26 second half of the race to finish in 2:54:06.  I'll never be a world beater, I have no delusion that makes me elite, but heck, with a lifetime marathon goal of sub-3, that race was above and beyond what I'd even allowed myself to imagine I could do.  I was congratulated at the finish by the 2nd place finisher, pro triathlete Nina Kraft.  I wish I had known how fast she truly was at the time; I would have shaken her hand a bit longer, just because.  I enjoyed some post-race gatorade and a massage, shoved my bloody toenail into Dave's face, and then just sat on the infield of the FSU track, taking in the sunshine while waiting for awards.  I ended up with $250, a pretty sweet platter, and some good-natured chiding about "walking too well" (the immediate post-race high was replaced with some major soreness soon after that).  Later that day, Dave and I traveled to Panama City Beach, limped on a boardwalk for a bit, sat in a hot tub, went to dinner overlooking the ocean where I consumed 2 very large, very tasty adult beverages, bought (and ate) a bunch of chocolate, and fell asleep to the Super Bowl.  All in all, the weekend was amazing.  Tallahassee was so well put on, with great volunteers, a nice fast course, and enthusiasm from fellow competitors throughout.  In retrospect, I couldn't have chosen a better situation to set myself up for the kind of day I had, and I'm so grateful to have had that experience!