So I thought I would document my memories of the Marshall University Marathon while they are still somewhat fresh on my mind. I've seen others do this and have read lengthy descriptions. Hopefully this won’t be too long and will prompt a few more entries for other memorable marathons. This marathon was memorable because things came together. Others have been memorable for other reasons.
My training for this marathon was improved since running a few marathons at the end of last year and earlier this year (Maui, Des Moines, New Orleans, and St. Louis). My training was improved because I was going for a PR at the Monte Sano 15k on October 9. Because of that goal, I spent time at the track and doing intervals and tempo runs. I felt my fitness was improving and noticed my 5k race times were steadily decreasing between the Cotton Row 5k (19:56, I was happy to be under 20) until the Marshall Running Club 5k (18:45) where I missed my PR at the 5k distance by 6 seconds. My focus in general improved. I was eating better and cross training. And I started improving the quality of my long runs thanks mainly to Teddy (he kicked the long runs into overdrive and was a positive influence on my marathon training). Mostly by accident, I ended up doing two 23 mile long runs. The first was because I ran a loop at Wheeler Wildlife Refuge twice that put me at 23 miles and the second was because of ignoring my Garmin during a long run with Teddy and Patrick that put me at 23 by the time I ran back home. So I was feeling pretty good going into this one. My legs seemed ready to go during the taper time, but I did a decent job resting up.
Things just seemed to come together for this race. Even the trip to Huntington was restful and carbo loading went well (including the free spaghetti dinner the race provided). Several other runners stayed at our hotel and I enjoyed conversing about the race, past marathon experiences, etc... For some reason I spent more time studying this marathon during the final weeks. I memorized the course including the sections that repeated a dirt path through Ritter Park (the first time through was a clockwise loop and counter-clockwise the second). I noticed there was a hill (not much of one, but a "hill" for this course) that was repeated. It came in at miles 8-10 the first time and about miles 19.5-21.5 the second time. I strategized that I would use going down these hills to start two pushes. The first push would be to pick up the pace after starting conservatively and the second would be the final push to the finish. The weather was also close to ideal. It was a bit cool at the start (26 degrees F and we scraped ice off the minivan before leaving the hotel parking lot), but the Marshall University recreation center was just around the corner from the start. It was warm and had ample space and bathrooms. Katie and I left the car near the finish line and at the same time only a block or two from the start. I also found my sunglasses, that I had given up on finding, between our seats just before locking up the minivan to go to the start line. Things were just coming together...
I didn't really have any expectations for a finish time. Teddy and I talked about and I thought 3:20 would be nice, but didn't know how realistic that was. So I made a promise to myself that I wouldn't run any faster than 7:40 splits for the first 10 miles or so, and then see what happened from there. Well that's where Katie comes in. She starts fast and usually doesn't slow down much. She stayed true to form at the start, and I ran a slightly faster than 7:40s keeping her within sight. I felt pretty good when the "downhill" came in around mile 10 and picked up the pace some as planned (with a brief pause at a port-a-potty). I maintained the pace and was joined by "Josh" at mile 15 or so. He said he'd been chasing me since mile 11. We ran together and talked some. He provided a nice distraction and kept the pace honest. While we were running together I saw an ideal temperature, 38 degrees, displayed on a bank sign. Josh and I were running in the low 7s for about five miles and then he pulled away around mile 21. I kept a decent pace going and then felt the fatigue slowly creeping in. I welcomed it because I knew that meant the finish wasn't far. My last two miles slowed to low 8s, so I feel like I sufficiently emptied the tank. I didn't make the extra effort to take one of the flowers being offered to drop in the fountain that is a memorial to the plane crash victims. And I didn't carry a football that was offered across the finish line. I did enjoy finishing by running through the stadium and down the length of the football field to the finish line. I even raised my arms a bit when I saw that I was sub-3:15. I finished with a 3:14:52 which is a little over a minute and a half off of my previous PR. This time was a nice improvement from my last marathon (St. Louis in 3:39:45) and a Boston Qualifying time for a 35 year old (I'm 34, but registration is closed for 2011. I'll be 35 in April 2012). I was proud of running a negative split too. My first half marathon was 1:38:13 and the second half was 1:36:39. It is nice to Boston Qualify, but it feels a bit like cheating because the bar, for me, has been set at 3:10 for all ten years I've been running marathons. I'd still like to run that time, but I couldn't be happier with this PR and my first BQ time.