These are the kind of reports that I don't relish writing - the ones where things didn't go as well as I had hoped, and I have to think about what I might have done better. Nevertheless, I think this sort of exercise is useful, so, without further ado, I give you the 2011 Baltimore Marathon, as seen by a 3:20 pacer . . .
By way of explanation (and not at all intended to excuse), the 2011 Baltimore Marathon was just a week after my 27:30:55 finish at the Grindstone 100. So I was still a little tired from that, although, on the whole, less beaten up than I usually feel after a 100-miler. 2 easy miles on Sunday, 7 easy miles on Monday, 2 easy miles on Tuesday, 1 easy mile on Wednesday, 12 miles on Thursday, and 6 miles on Friday . . . Or 30 miles on the week coming into the marathon. The 12-mile run and the 6-mile run felt iffy - I felt good enough to be running at a decent pace, but not entirely confident that I could sustain the pace for longer than the run. While 3:20 should have been well within reach for me, it was questionable as to whether or not I could pull it off.
I jogged the 4-ish miles from my house to the starting line, and didn't feel all bad, in spite of the cold. After the obligatory pacer photo, I had nothing in particular to do for the next half an hour, but the time seemed to move quickly, since the walk to the starting line was relatively slow, due to the huge number of people. I got to the starting line about 20 minutes ahead of time, and 3:20 hopefuls began to congregate around me, Rich Lavene, and Brian Hsia (of 2011 Beast of Burden win fame). It was a little chilly, but the energy was definitely there, and I was feeling optimistic about this.
The gun went off, and we, predictably, went through the first mile a little bit fast. No big deal, because that happens in just about every one of these. The race was fairly uneventful for about three miles, until somebody tripped over a cone on the way up to the zoo, which prompted shouting "CONE!" at the dozens of cones that we would come across for the rest of the race (mostly Brian would shout it first, in between taking pictures of everything, and I would echo him). The run through the zoo was mostly downhill (a pleasant surprise), and volunteers were parading animals around - a rooster, a rabbit, even an alligator! This all sounds a little silly, but honestly, if they never put the run out to Fort McHenry back into the race, I won't be too disappointed, as long as this replaces it.
And so it went for the rest of the first half of the race - mostly downhill, good crowd support through Mount Vernon and the Inner Harbor, and a very brief tour of the Under Armour corporate headquarters. Soon we were heading for the dreaded second half of the race . . .
And this is where things started to fall apart. Around mile 15 or 16, the hills start getting serious, and you have to get serious in response, which Rich did by pushing on the uphills. I followed, but my legs were not enjoying this. I wanted to hang back and go a little slower, and try to save myself for the downhills, but in the spirit of "one group," I went anyway. I could feel myself bleeding out a little more on each hill, and now I was just hoping that I would be able to hold on for the rest of the race . . .
Unfortunately, around the back half of Lake Montebello, a stiff headwind kicked in, and we were surging against it (and my legs were complaining), and so, when we got around the lake and began the climb up 33rd Street, when Rich asked me if I was okay, I said "no," and that may have been a mistake. Sometimes, like that darn coyote and his running off of the cliff, if you don't realize that there's nothing under your feet, you won't fall. So that was the setup, maybe, because as soon as we started up that hill, between the 20 mph headwind, and the incline, my legs and butt hurt so bad that I was temporarily blinded with pain.
I did the only thing I could, and I pulled off of the course, and, per instructions, waited for the 3:30 group. Probably standing still, although technically the correct thing to do, was a mistake, because as soon as I began running with the 3:30 group, I could feel that the 10 minutes of standing had caused my legs to stiffen, and I felt uncomfortable (in a different way) at what would ordinarily be a manageable pace. After about a mile and change with them, with less than three miles to go, I pulled off to the side of the course, saw Pete DeCapite (a friend of mine going back to grade school) on his way to a 1:45 half, run past, then decided to walk towards the finish, pacer shirt and visor off, and pick up the 3:40 group when they passed.
I picked up the 3:40 group with about a mile and a half to go, and things still didn't feel good, but at this point, it didn't matter - there wasn't much left, and I was going to finish. I ran it in on tired legs, with Bruce Yang, who I paced 3:20 with at Louisville, and ended up pulling him along towards the end, now pulling me along - kind of nice how that worked out. I proceeded to sit around at the finish for about 2 hours, at the pacer tent with my parents (who had surprised me by showing up), making small talk about running with whoever was passing by. Eventually, after a few sodas, a sandwich, and a really awesome blue crab cupcake, I felt recovered enough to put my all-black Asics 2150s back on and head over to the "Celebration Village" for my Maryland Double medal, and then walk my parents back to their inconveniently parked car - a good head-start for my run home.
That all capped off a 65-mile week, 35 of which was on marathon day. That's been about par for the course volume-wise for me in the past month (although I've been doing a terrible job of keeping track - this will need to improve starting this coming week). Arguably, this is all one of the more boring things that I've done and that I've written. But I still think there are a few take-aways here - I will continue to second-guess my decision to pull off when the pain became blinding. It was awful, but in retrospect, I almost wish I had attempted to push through, just to see what would have happened. Maybe I could have made it to the top of the hill and struggled through the rest of the race (easy to say now, of course). But even still, I'm glad that I got to pace a group that allowed me to test my limits. For what it was worth, I ran nearly 22 miles at a solid training pace before I fell apart, which isn't bad. And of course, I helped some people get through what is a very difficult road marathon, so there is that satisfaction.
I feel as though there might be more to say about this, but for now, I'll leave it as I was happy to participate in the biggest running event in Baltimore, and happy to have the opportunity to connect and re-connect with friends through this event, and I look forward to running this in the future.
Okay, lame, lame (although heart-felt and true), so for real, I'll leave you with this:
BLUE CRAB CUPCAKE!