Followers of this blog know that I lined up for the IMM with hopes of finishing in about 2:50. At registration I typed 2:49:59 as my predicted finish time. After dinner the evening before the race I told my road trip mates, Jeremy and Nick, to go to lunch when the clock hit 2:50, stay and throw things at me, or berate me after lunch.
Well, it was close, but I reached the finish line in 2:49:33. This is a result that I am really excited about because it came in the midst of my longest battle with sciatic pinch in years. Furthermore, the time was a lifetime PR achieved just days before my 48th birthday.
Jeremy, Nick, and I were lucky enough to stay in a hotel just a couple of blocks from the start line. The room was great, but the soft bed only worsened the pain in my back and right leg that had developed during the drive north. I don't believe that I ever fell asleep. It was a little after six in the morning when I began to stretch and rub my leg, back, and piriformis.
We jogged into the a stiff, near freezing wind to reach that start line in the predawn darkness. In a scene that was completely against my "last minute" nature, I found myself hopping and shivering and swearing a ridiculous twenty minutes before the start of the race. This was a result of finding myself behind at least one thousand people last year when I could not shimmy my way through the crowd fast enough.
Jeremy and Nick, competing in the half marathon, quickly disappeared in the mobile mob soon after the start. It took only a couple of turns and less than a mile for me to find myself running smoothly in my own space. I fell into a large group that reached the first three mile markers in 6:18, 12:30, and 18:34. It was during that 6:04 third mile that I felt my hamstring twinge for the first time. Though the pace came easily and though I wanted to stay with that group, I yielded to the pull of the hamstring.
The next eighteen miles were a rare roller coaster ride for me. The course was exceptionally flat, but my pace was not. One or two miles 6:0x miles were followed by one or two at 6:2x. I stayed within my fitness, even during the faster miles, but the pace was controlled by the bitchy hamstring. When it was fine I was fast, but when it whined I slowed.
Somewhere around the nine mile mark that I realized what was going on. Whenever the course dictated that I run on the right side of a crowned road the hamstring would strain and tighten. I slowed because I didn't want to injure it. My dealings with the issue in the past have taught me that I can run through the sciatica without worsening the back condition, but only if I didn't damage the resulting tight hamstring. So, I ran as fast as the muscle would allow me.
I sweated little while running in gloves, a cap, an Ultimate Fit race kit over an Under Armour t-shirt, and Scott T2's. Still, I snagged cups of water at 12 aid stations. I also consumed one GU Espresso Love a minute before the start and four others I had stored in my gloves at thirty minute intervals. The cool temperatures definitely aided a fast time for this heavy sweater.
The headwind in the closing miles was not as kind. Combine that wind with the fact that the hamstring remained tight throughout the last five miles and you have a recipe for slower running. I reached 21 miles in 2:13:40, but slowed to a training pace of almost 6:50 for the remaining five miles. Maintaining that 6:25 average pace would have brought me home in about 2:47.
My legs never reached that lethargic, heavy feeling that accompanies a bonk. Stiffness in my lower back and hamstring slowed me by shortening my stride length. In fact, I felt relatively fine. I actually smiled when I compared my condition to what I had experienced in CO during the summer 50-mile mountain races. A discouraging moment occurred, though, in the 20th mile when Superman was passed by Spiderman.
Throughout the closing miles I weaved back and forth between hundreds of walkers finishing the half marathon and six hobbling or stopped marathoners. Three of those marathoners had passed me during the fourteenth mile - which I covered in 6:08.
Jeremy and Nick were waiting four blocks from the rectangular finish where they could take a shortcut to the finish. I gave them a thumbs up after glancing at my watch. Nick had set a PR in the half marathon while Jeremy, though he had beaten Nick, had come up less than a minute shy of his mark set last month at the Evansville half. I would be lying if I tried to deny the fact that Nick and I created many opportunities to remind Jeremy of his "lackluster, embarrassing, and hairless performance" for the remainder of the day. "Walk behind us . . . sit over there . . ." And there may have been references to the color and fortitude of testicles . . .
A long chat with good friend, Laura, in the hotel lobby gave us a chance to size up four Kenyan runners who had dominated the day. Those tiny racing machines lacked even an ounce of excess matter to slow them down. And they were humble and polite.
We picked up my pint glass trophy and gift certificate for an AG win before enjoying a leisurely lunch at the Ram Brewery. The drive home through the remaining fall colors while engaged in laughter inducing conversation served as a fitting end to the road trip. Even Jeremy's brother, living in northern IN, got in on the action by texting about the two-out-of-three PRs. I would travel with those two anytime! I could not find more wholesome people to experience life with.
After reviewing the data from my Polar RCX5, I know that my average heart rate of 162 was significantly lower than normal. In fact, it was lower than my average HR during the first half (four hours) of my Silver Rush 50 effort during July. So, despite the fact that I declared I would stop running road marathons if I ever broke 2:50, I now know that a sub-2:45 is within the grasp of my sub-30 miles per week training. And that seems like a suitable challenge. Besides that, a 2:49 is still well out of line with the rest of my PRs from shorter race distances (McMillan predicts 2:29), so I would like to see how much more I can lower the time using my low mileage training formula.
For now, though, I rest - and think of ways to convince Jeremy and Nick to run the Leadville Marathon and the full IMM with me next year.
LATE EDIT: CONGRATS TO DAKOTA JONES FOR SETTING THE GRAND CANYON R2R2R RECORD ON 11/5 WITH AN INCREDIBLE TIME OF 6:53:38. DAKOTA IS AN INCREDIBLY NICE GUY AND SUPER ATHLETE.