Monday, April 7, 2008

20th Marathon complete: Thoughts and a Review

With a bug to "officially" attempt a qualifying run for the Boston Marathon, I toed the line of the 41st annual Athens Marathon yesterday (Sunday) at 9am at the College Green of Ohio University in Athens, OH...a small, very cool college town near the Ohio River in southeast Ohio. The race has been heavily praised by many on as a very well-done race and a great place to qualify for Boston. It is pancake flat and fast. I was a bit skeptical, though. How does a marathon that attracts around 200 marathoners and between 400-500 half-marathoners each year survive for 41 years? Looking back, I can see why. This is a no-frills, low-profile, high quality, extremely well-executed event. With registration at only $35, I wasn't sure what I'd get. That's dirt cheap in today's marathon market.

I had prepared according to the book with a decrease in fiber-rich foods in the last 24-48 hours (ie: Kashi!) and increased the carb consumption, topped off my fluid levels, plenty of sleep and rest, and mentally prepared around the clock...just picture "3:15" on the finish line clock......

We arrived in Athens Saturday afternoon after an easy 3 1/2 hour drive and visited the packet pickup. expo here. Just a packet pickup with nothing more than the quality long-sleeve cotton shirt and race number. Oh yea, no chip in this race, either. That was another surprise...a race today that is certified but doesn't use a chip. Keepin' the costs down! The next part was really cool: for $5 a person, they offered a pasta feed. Basically, we were in a small elementary school's cafeteria and we were told to just find a seat and one of the kids would come take our order. We could choose meat or meatless sauce over spaghetti, salad, bread, dessert, and a drink. Pretty darn cool to have the kids doing this. The pasta feed was partnered up with the school's annual PTO fundraiser. Afterwards, we drove around and headed out to the 13 mile turnaround where Marjie will wait for me between 1hr, 34min and 1hr, 37 min (3:10-3:15 pace)...piece of cake for her to get around. From her perspective, this was a perfect spectator-friendly marathon as compared to the big-city marathons we've visited in years past. Ironic is that there is ZERO spectators!...except for runners' families, of course! We then headed back to the finish line to trace the steps she'd take to get there on race day. No problems so back to our Holiday Inn Express to rest.....turns out, you really DON'T get smarter by staying at one of these hotels (re: remember their commercials?)...Marjie whooped me at a game of Scrabble.

RACE DAY: the forecast called for mid-50s at the late 9am start and upper 60s and full sun very soon thereafter. Outside of being a bit warm for my liking (I prefer low 40s and overcast), it was a great reprieve after the snow belt beating we took this winter. My race day nutrition strategy was as follows: up at 6am, head to the Starbucks down the street for a quad-shot of espresso, a banana, small bowl of cereal, 20 oz. of Hammer's Heed, and one Hammer electrolyte tablet 45 min. before the race. Done. Instead of drinking water race morning (which flows straight through me when fully hydrated), I tried drinking Heed to help prevent having to go to the bathroom early in the race. This strategy worked perfectly as I didn't go again until back in the hotel after the race. It was easy to get in the front of the field due to it's size to ensure I could lock into my pace immediately.
The race started at 9am to a Ohio University's ROTC firing off a cannon...reminiscent of the Steamtown Marathon held each Columbus Day weekend in PA. (RECOMMEND!) The plan was to hit 7:20 - 7:25 per mile. A 7:27 average pace equals a 3:15 finish. With a steep downhill 50 yards into the race, my first mile was quick at just under 7 but I quickly zoned into my target and held it dead on for the next 18+ miles. At mile 1.5, we turn on to the local bike way which is a blend of our local Towpath Trail and the Summit Bike and Hike Trail. All paved and runs alongside a canal and old railroad. Gorgeous area and I'm sure even better once everything blooms. I could tell the bike way falls under a canopy once the trees get their leaves. The water stops (every 2-3 miles) were very well done. Always well stocked and manned by volunteers who had a smile on their face and always announced what they were holding (ie: Gatorade or water) BEFORE we arrived at the stop. No congestion and no need to slow down one bit. At 6.5 miles, the 1/2 marathoners swung around and headed back. You know that cricket sound effect you sometimes hear on TV? The one where it's dead silence and all you hear is the cricket? That's what it felt like one step past the turn-around. All of a sudden, the next runner was a good distance ahead of me and nobody near from behind. That was OK, though. No need to be chasing half-marathoners when I need to stay on the task at hand...continue to hammer out 7:20-7:25 miles.
During the race, my nutrition consisted of a margarita Shot Blok (3x the sodium) every 2 miles and an electrolyte tab at the 1 hr and 2hr point...and of course, Gatorade at each stop...trying to always get about 8oz. and the occasional water. That all worked out well except that I was left with one Shot Blok at the somewhere, I missed taking idea where that happened! At mile 13, there was Marjie and I was dead on schedule. Her perception of me at that point was that I looked strong but looked like I was mentally defeating myself. I remember telling her I was on-target but it was tough going. She shouted words of encouragement to not mentally defeat myself and I held tight onto those I would need to a few miles later.
The mental component: the lack of hills or variety made it somewhat difficult to create distraction from the passing miles. I tried everything to take my mind off the clock and just keep the legs turning over at the same pace. That worked for the majority of the race. At one point, I found my thoughts writing Monday's newspaper headlines outlining my failure to qualify...let's just say I had a few choice words for myself when I realized what my brain was trying to do to me! I re-focused but when I crossed the 19 mile marker, I passed it in a 7:55 mile. That's 30sec deficit that I can't afford to give up more than once or twice. I tried my absolute hardest but could not get the pace back up and it slipped more into the 8min range and eventually over 9min per mile. That was as slow as I'd get. I didn't walk and I didn't give up. I constantly put myself in check to be sure I left NOTHING out there. I wanted no regrets or the "woulda, coulda, shoulda" excuse later on.

The finish was at Pruitt Field on Ohio University campus...a gorgeous track. Once we entered the track, we had to complete 1.5 laps to finish...yea, that meant passing right by the finish line. From Marjie's perspective, it was the easiest finish to get to and the closest she could be to me at the end of a marathon. She was standing there as I entered the gate and followed me around the track from the infield. I have to say...I felt so darn bad when I first saw her because I knew she was waiting for me 11 min earlier and I couldn't wait to tell her I was sorry. With that said, she was awesome about it at the finish and offered her never ending support and congratulations.

Final Time: 3hrs, 26min, 7sec
2nd fastest marathon (out of 20) and 18 sec faster than last November's Richmond Marathon

Post-race: the National Guard was grilling track side for runners and their families (FREE) hot dogs and hamburgers and let me tell you, the smell of grilling, the sun shining, and the race being done was absolutely perfect. There were also a few Gatorades, pretzels, waters, and some pizza. Massages were offered for $15 for 15 thanks....I'm seeing Lori this Wednesday!

While chillin' out, I caught up with a runner who I'd met out on the course...we had passed each other multiple times. He ended up finishing one lap on the track ahead of me. I'm guessing he was in his 50s. Turns out, he has his second pacemaker and will get his third one 2 weeks from now. Talk about inspiration! Here's a guy whose heart simply doesn't function worth a darn but continues to knock out these awesome accomplishments. He's trying to hit a Boston-qualifying times in all 50 states...17 down so far.

We headed back the hotel, showered, and headed for home. With the goal of ingesting lots of muscle-building protein, we stopped at our favorite sushi bar in North Canton (next to Sam's Club behind "The Strip") where I had lots of tuna, salmon, yellow tail, eel, and octopus...YUM!

So where to now? The Buffalo Marathon is in 6 weeks. Before yesterday, I planned to go for Boston again if I failed yesterday. Given that I gave it all I had and wouldn't change a thing, I've accepted that Boston just isn't a possibility for me right now. Instead, I'll still run Buffalo and run it strong, but toeing the line as I did yesterday won't happen. I'll just soak it in, run a good race, and mark New York off my 50-state to-do list. Now it's time to shift training to trails, trails, TRAILS and get ready for the Burning River 100 this THAT is something that inspires me!

Happy Trails, everyone! Time to head out for an easy recovery run...


Jim said...

Nice job in Athens. I wanted to do the half there this year but it was too close to Boston. I graduated from OU and it has been years since I have been back. Maybe next year. Good job again.

Nick Billock said...

Thanks, Jim. This was my first visit to Athens...really cool college town. We arrived early evening on Saturday night and the kegs were rolling around town and the fronts of houses were full of partying students.
Amazing how an extremely hilly town can have a pancake flat marathon!

Kim said...

Great Race report! You still did great, 2nd fastest race!
I ran Athens 1/2 marathon in 2004 as my first 1/2 marathon and have fond memories of it, I want to run the full thon sometime.