2010-11-27 - Northern Central Trail Marathon

26.2 miles @ ~9.8 min/mi

First five miles: average pace ~8:45—visions of a 3:45 Boston Qualifying result. Next five miles: average pace ~9:00 min/mi—fantasies of a solid sub-4-hour marathon. Next five miles: average pace ~9:15 min/mi—dreams of gutting it out for a time like last year's 4:01. Mile 15: reality sets in. As I pick up my foot to step over a stick on the pathway my right calf begins to cramp. The old quads are weak, the hip flexors are tight, and the goal becomes merely to finish. By mile 20 it's time for walk breaks, about one minute every five. At mile 25 during the final climb up from the valley I manage to start "running" at ~11 min/mi pace to cross the line with some shreds of dignity.

It's better than five hours ago, when near panic strikes. Half an hour before the start of the NCT Marathon, in the auditorium of Sparks Elementary School: I can't find my car key! It was in the tiny pocket of my shorts before I visited the bathroom—or was it? I search around the table where I sat, retrace my path, then go to the announcer. He's about use his microphone to call for help when I suddenly feel something bouncing around in the liner of my pants. (No, not that!) My face is as red as the crimson outfit I'm wearing. I carefully thread the key onto my left shoelace and knot it in place. Every few miles during the race I look down to check that it's still there.

Weather today is near-optimal, temperatures in the mid-30's at the start and rising only into the lower 40's. The Northern Central Railway (NCR) Trail is crushed stone, well-packed, clean and dry except in a few slightly soggy spots that are easily circumnavigated. Volunteers and spectators are uniformly helpful. My scarlet garb and full beard yields "Hi Santa!" banter every few miles.

Within the hour before today's event I drink a cup of coffee and take two Succeed! e-caps and a Clif Shot energy gel. I suck down half a dozen more gels during the run. At mile 15 as cramps loom. I swallow another pair of S! caps, and at mile 20 yet another duo. The sodium and potassium ward off catastrophic breakdown, but I've still got weakness in the major leg muscles. I drink Gatorade at every aid station and, judging by the kidney activity that commences after the finish line, am well enough hydrated.

A loud bang! startles me at about mile 10—hunting nearby? Music on the radio during the drive up—"Lightning Crashes" by Live—plays through my head during the race. I invoke the spirits of running friends Caren, CM, Kate, Mary, et al., but to no avail. Jennifer Weiland of Rockville, wearing the same red MCRRC Parks Half Marathon shirt as I do, runs with me for a while during the first several miles. We chat about upcoming winter/spring marathons in the area. I blitz through aid stations and get ahead of Jennifer, but she passes me in between. Eventually she runs on ahead, to finish at my fantasy pace of near 9 min/mi.

Official result: 234th place overall, 15th of 19 in my age/sex group, chip time 4:15:34, my second-fastest marathon ever. But why did I break down? Perhaps I should have tapered more: recent ultras include the 28 mile 2010-11-07 - Potomac Heritage 50k, the 44 mile 2010-10-23 - Quad State Quad Buster, and the 45 mile 2010-10-09 - Andiamo 2010. Maybe my pacing was bad: the first (partly downhill) half marathon takes me 1:55, close to a PR. The second half is 2:21.

For whatever reason(s) the four hour marathon goal remains an open issue. Maybe next year!

(cf. 2009-11-28 - Northern Central Trail Marathon, ...) - ^z - 2010-12-06