My PR in San Francisco (a much tougher course) was 4:45. Thinking if I ran a similar race on an (advertised) faster course, my goal was to come in between 4:30-4:39. Still, in the back of my mind I knew I was ill-prepared for such a run... but as I have said often, we runners are stubborn and sometimes (read most times) logic takes a back seat to determination.
The day started off with a late connection with fellow runners at their hotel adding a sense of urgency before the race. The morning was extremely cold and I was glad to have my gloves and head/ear warmer with me. (they wouldn't be removed until mile 24 when I needed a change of mind set).
The plan was to run 10 min. miles until mile 18 — evaluate how I felt over the next 4 miles, then make a decision at mile 22 to pick up the pace if I had it in me. The course had rolling hills the majority of the first 10 miles and less frequent the rest of the way. Translation: rolling hills for the first half, less frequent, but smaller rolling hills the rest of the course. Luckily I was prepared for the course layout via a link a fellow runner sent me that described every mile of the course by a long-distance champion, Tim Twietmeyer. That put me in the right frame of mind and the course layout was not a surprise race day.
At the halfway mark, I was at 2:18 which was on pace for my goal. Especially considering I had a bathroom break mixed in there (which was the first time I have had to stop in a race, what a complete waste of time). Seeing family and friends along the course at miles 10, 17 and 20 was a big pick up as usual. Familiar faces can really get those legs moving.
Around 17-20, I could feel the legs getting tight, but my focus was to get to mile 22 knowing that was a distance I had recently run and could get there safely. Sadly, mile 21 ate me up and chewed me up quite a bit. About halfway thru the mile, I had a severe cramp in my left calf and to top things off the minute I stopped to stretch it, the Black Eyed Peas song "Meet me Halfway" came on. Which is fine, I put it on my iPod, but the second you are cramping and are forced to stop, the first words of the song you don't want to hear are: "I can't go any further than this. I want you so badly, it's my biggest wish." LOL. How horrible is that? I've been shooting for 4:30 for half the year and I'm 5 miles away on pace from getting it. It killed me.
After stretching it out and having to plod along to work it out over the next half-mile it felt good. I decided to run it out and kept running at a decent pace all things considered and was maintaining a sub 11 min mile. I kept looking at my watch thinking that if I can keep this pace and sneak in some low 10 min miles I could come in around the high 4:30s. Hope creeps in.
Before I get to this, allow me to lay some context: All of my marathons start off with a steady pace until around mile 18, then get progressively worse until the end. I have never been able to maintain my pace the entire way. So to still be running 10-11 min miles over miles 20-26 was huge for me. Knowing how badly I wanted to break into 4:30, even if it was 4:39:55 I decided that now was my time. I gave myself some extra motivation by talking to myself and asking if I really wanted this. I'm sure you can relate. A lot of telling the legs to “pick it up” and “keep moving.” For those readers under age, close your eyes — there was some swearing, but it was used as a motivational technique, so I feel it was justified. At mile 24, I clocked a sub 10 min. mile, my fourth fastest mile for the entire race. But the success was short lived; at mile 25, both legs seized up and I knew it was over. I needed another sub 10 min and a strong finish for the .2 to make the goal and I could feel my time slip away with each agonizing step. But those steps kept coming and I ran the last mile with both legs cramped and it felt as if the finish line would never come. I saw my family at the final stretch, looked at my watch and saw it turn from 4:39 to 4:40. I crossed the line at 4:40:41. A PR by 5 minutes.
It was very emotional to be that close, but finishing with family and friends (we had 16 total runners participate from our training team, 2 relay teams of 4 and 8 people doing the full). The encouragement and mutual “congrats” made the day a success. All in all, I am walking away knowing that it is the best marathon (in terms of pace) that I have ran to date and the sub 10 min mile that late in the game is glimmer of hope. However, I am still left with mixed emotions because I demand so much of myself and am my very own harshest critique, but it keeps me motivated as I continue to strive for glory (read sub 4 hr. marathon).