Since January 13th I don’t think a day has passed where I haven’t thought about my DNF at the 2013 Houston Marathon. It’s not like I’ve been dwelling on it for huge amounts of time, but I guess the disappointment of how the race panned out is still lingering. I do know, however, it was 100% the right thing to do. The Rocky Raccoon 100 was just 3 weeks away when I lined up at Houston, so doing-no-damage was always in the back of my mind.
The fact that I was able to far exceed my goal at Rocky Raccoon is partly due to the “smart” decision to pull out of Houston when things were going bad. Since Rocky, I’ve been fortunate enough to recover quickly and run a couple of solid local races – the Distance Series 30K and Mettle Events 15K – both of which turned out to be Personal Records. However, despite these relative successes, the main thing I’ve been looking forward to is a return to the marathon distance and another crack at 26.2 miles.
Enter the Shamrock Marathon – a local marathon that I’ve run 8 times since the year 2000, with finish times ranging between 2:52:55 and 3:07:30. I guess I kind of knew a few weeks ago I’d be running Shamrock this year, but didn’t actually sign up until last Friday night at the pre-race expo. I left it late as I had to be sure there were no lingering issues from Rocky Raccoon, and be positive that my mind was 100% up for running another marathon. As race weekend approached, mind and body were good, so I took the plunge and signed up with the following goals in mind:
- Break 3 hours to keep my sub-3 marathon streak going. Not hugely important, but I’ve run at least one sub-3 each year since 2004 and am curious to find out how long I can keep it going.
- Run my fastest Shamrock Marathon. As mentioned above, my fastest Shamrock to date is 2:52:55 set back in 2007. On current form, I felt like I had a shot at something in the 2:50:xx range. We’ll see.
- Finish as high in the Masters Division as possible. Always an unknown, as you never know who will be lining up against you on race day.
- Have fun. Houston was definitely not fun. I typically race with a smile on my face, so it was important to have an enjoyable marathon and regain my love of marathons.
So, onto race day. Conditions were cold and windy – pretty typical for the Shamrock Marathon – but at least it was dry. Parking at the Oceanfront wasn’t too problematic, and after hanging out in the Holiday Inn lobby for a while, we made our way to the 44th Street and the start of the 1/2 Marathon where I said my goodbyes to Ally and Michelle. Despite a slight delay due to some timing equipment issues, it was fun to watch each of the 10 corrals start their 13.1 mile journey, which left me about an hour to prepare for the start of my race.
I headed back along the boardwalk to help visualize the final half mile of the race. The wind was whipping up nicely, so it was good to get back to the car to warm up for a while, get my head straight and go through some pre-race leg-loosener exercises.
All that was left to do was pin a couple of gels to my shorts, pull on the armwarmers and head to the start line.
The marathon start was also delayed about 5 minutes, but time passed pretty quickly as I chatted to several of the local runners. The plan for most of us was to use the tailwind and get into a rhythm for the first 5 miles, and then hope that the wind had died down a bit for the almost 10 miles heading north to the relative shelter of Shore Drive.
Finally we were off and running, and, unlike at Houston, I was relieved that 6:30/mile goal pace felt comfortable. The first 4 or 5 miles were uneventful. I enjoyed listening to all the banter from the runners around me, but focused on conserving energy and settling into my own race.
At mile 5.5 we made the 180 turn at Prosperity and for the first time in the race experienced the brisk north headwind. I’d counted at least 50 runners ahead of me at the turnaround, 9 or 10 of which looked to be aged 40 or over (i.e. in the Masters Division). Some looked to be coasting. Others already looked under pressure. Plenty of folks to chase down. Just the way I like it.
Thankfully, this early in the race I was still feeling strong, and maintaining goal pace was no real problem. The mile or so around Camp Pendleton broke things up nicely and before I knew it I was heading over the Rudee Inlet bridge and passing the 10 Mile marker.
As is typical of the Shamrock Marathon, the Boardwalk section was tough. If you push the pace here against the wind, chances are you’ll waste valuable energy and suffer in the latter miles. Been there, done that. A couple of times. I leaned slightly into the wind, relaxed my shoulders and focused on a quick, efficient cadence. The mantra for the next mile or so was 1, 2, 3, 4…. 1, 2, 3, 4…. 1, 2, 3, 4, until we made the sharp left, then right onto Atlantic Avenue.
Still feeling good I pressed on to Mile 12 and hopefully a sighting of Ally and Shannon who should have finished up their races and would be waiting with words of encouragement. They didn’t disappoint, and the boost from seeing them really helped. I took the opportunity to ditch my gloves, and once again pushed on into the wind.
The halfway mark came in just over 1 hour 26 minutes – a fraction slower than I’d hoped for, but with the brutal wind, probably right where I needed to be. The next 3 miles were a straight shot north on Atlantic Avenue – another tough section into the wind, but with the added bonus of seeing some of the half marathon runners finishing up their races. I always get a boost along this stretch, and this time I got to see Michelle and local runner Christopher having fun as they headed south to the finish line.
As soon as I reached the left turn onto Shore Drive I realized for the first time that fatigue was setting in. The headwind really sucks the life out of you, and I started to wonder if I’d used too much energy along the toughest section of the course. I mentioned to the guy I was running with that I’d probably use the next 3 miles on Shore Drive to regroup, before trying to pick up the pace for the final 10K. I glanced down at my Garmin and noticed the average pace had only slowed by a second or two – I just needed to hang tough and get things back together.
Surprisingly the Shore Drive section passed quickly, but as we made the right turn into Fort Story we were greeted once again by the nasty north-east wind. I’ve run many miles in Fort Story over the years, and despite the wind, I felt strong and in control. I thought back to some of the great Tidewater Striders Distance Series battles I’ve had in the past and used those thoughts to drive me on. At Mile 20 I was flowing and ready for the final push.
I can’t say the last 6.2 miles were easy, but I do remember feeling happy and very much in the zone. Step by step, block by block, and mile by mile, I made my way to the finish line. With about a mile to go I thought back to Shamrock 2009, where I’d faded badly and been passed by a constant stream of fast finishing marathoners. Not today. Today it was me who’d been doing the passing from early on in the race.
Finally I made the turn onto the boardwalk where I’d walked and visualized the finish just 4 hours previous. The only difference now was that spectators lined the bike path and the noise was incredible. My legs felt great and I had no problem whatsoever kicking it in to the finish for a new Shamrock PR of 2:50:53.
Official finish time: 2:50:53
Overall finish position: 22nd
Masters Division position: 3rd
Mile 7 – 49th overall, 9th Masters
Mile 13.1 – 34th overall, 6th Masters
Mile 18 – 28th overall, 5th Masters
Mile 26.2 – 22nd overall, 3rd Masters