My training for the Mardi Gras marathon started about 4 months prior to the race. My wife Lisa and I had made the decision to both try to qualify for the Boston Marathon and knew that it was not going to be an easy task. We enlisted the help of our friend, Laura Magann, who is a certified running coach and founder of our local running club, the Tri City Track Club.
Laura was absolutely incredible to work with, and there's no doubt in my mind that I would not have qualified without her help. She gave me an individualized running plan that had me doing a variety of running workouts - everything from track work during the week to long runs on the weekends. A lot of the workouts were really difficult - I came close to hurling many times. But I definitely saw improvement in my numbers over the weeks, which kept me going.
My qualifying time was 3:20:59, a number that had been scorched in my mind for months. That meant I had to run 7:40 miles or better. My strategy for the race changed from week to week. Before I started training, and knowing my personality, I knew I would have to go out relatively fast and bank some time so that I could let up at the end if I had to. Then, as I trained I realized that banking time really took a big toll on my legs, energy stores, and my mind. I realized that going out too hard was definitely not going to work. But I also knew that I am not a "catch up" kind of person - I could not run slow in the beginning expecting to save it up and make up for lost time over the last 6 miles. Over the months, I gradually decided (very loosely) to run slightly faster than pace and try to maintain this constant pace for as long as possible, knowing that I was going to listen to my body and other factors like the weather. I decided also to break up the 26.2 miles into smaller 6 mile segments, focusing only on getting to 6, 12, 18, 24 (and mentally celebrating at each 6 miles) with the last 2.2 miles taking care of themselves.
Race morning - I got up about 5:00 for a 7:00 race start. I ate a bagel with peanut butter and drank some coffee, then some water. I tried to stop drinking an hour before the start so that I could avoid bathrom breaks during the race. We stayed at a hotel in downtown New Orleans, so we walked about a mile to the race start down by the river. Before we left the hotel I made sure I had everything I needed - race belt with 5 gels, visor, Garmin.
It was on the cooler side - I wore a light jacket knowing I could throw it in a special needs bag at the race start that would be taken to the finish. We walked about a mile to the starting area. This was the first year that the Mardi Gras Marathon was a Rock n Roll event - there were so many people there. One last stop at the port-o-let and I was in my starting corral by 6:45.
Boom!! and we're off. My Garmin was set to tell me my distance, total time, instant pace, and average pace. My first goal was to get to 6 pretty strong. The first 6 miles were through the Garden District and Uptown to Audubon Park. There was a lot of distractions with spectators, bands, and beautiful homes, which was nice. We had nice weather - starting temperature in the mid 40's. I felt really good and got to mile 6 with my Garmin readings of 7:20, 7:08, 7:07, 7:07, 7:08, 7:12. I celebrated by eating my first gel.
I've never run a marathon so focused on pace. In my mind there really was no time for stopping - not at the water stops, not at a port-o-let, not for anything. I took gels as I approached the water stations so that I could wash them down with water as I kept on running. Even stopping for 15 seconds changed a 7:30 mile to a 7:45 mile.
The second 6 miles took me up St. Charles Avenue back downtown through the French Quarter. The sun had come up by then, and I started to warm up. I started the race with 2 shirts and knew I had to remove one before I got too far into the race. I took both shirts off and put my outer one back on, throwing the under shirt in a trash can. I took another gel at 10 - on schedule for a gel every four miles, starting at 6. The second 6 miles went pretty quick, with splits of 7:14, 7:15, 7:10, 7:20, 7:16, 7:17.
The third 6 miles took me up Esplanade to City Park. I was still feeling pretty good. At mile 15 or so, the race reached City Park with wide open spaces - the first wind in my face. I decided to try to tuck into a pack if I could to draft. I ended up behind 2 guys who were running just a little bit faster than I was. With drafting I was able to hang on for a while until we turned a corner and got out of the headwind. Another gel at 14 and 18. I took water at the stations close to gels and Cytomax at the others. I was very happy to reach 18 - splits 7:01, 7:10, 7:05, 7:02, 7:08, 7:15.
I was starting to feel it by now. My thighs were really tight, and I was just starting to be generally uncomfortable. The next 6 miles took me around Bayou St. John and back into City Park. I tried changing my posture to relieve some of my muscle tightness. Mile 19 - 7:18. Tried changing my breathing ratio/pacing. Mile 20 - 7:22. Damn this is really getting hard. Mile 21 - 7:40. I really was not monitoring my instant pace as much as my average pace. I was damned determined to keep the average under 7:40. There was a clock on the side of the road at Mile 21, and I had managed to get there in 2:31:50, an average pace of 7:14. At that point I was a little foggy in my thinking, but could think clear enough to do some basic math and realize that I had 49 minutes to run 5.2 miles. Part of me thought "Keep up the pace - push through it" but a bigger part of me thought "Your goal was a constant pace as long as you could maintain, and finish under 3:20." I was pretty sure I was going to qualify, and I now knew that I did not have to maintain a punishing pace to do it - a sure recipe for cutting back when the body is screaming. Last 5 miles - 8:01, 8:02, 8:57, 9:02, 8:52. I really felt like I had given all I had by the end.
Final time 3:16:31 (4:28 to spare). Average 7:30 pace.
I went through the finisher's chute and was so relieved to stop. My daughters had run the half marathon and were waiting for me on the side barricade. They were so excited that I had reached my time, and I was thrilled, also, but all I wanted to do was lie on the ground and go to sleep. I literally could have gone to sleep right then.
My wife Lisa crossed the line and qualified, also, so it was a really great day for us. But it seemed as though all the stars lined up for us to qualify that day. There are so many things that could have happened that would have prohibited it - 10 degrees warmer, a little more wind, rain, an illness, an injury, etc. We are so fortunate, and look so forward to Boston 2011!
Wednesday, April 28, 2010