Wow. I've been talking about getting into marathon running for years, and I finally knocked off the first one. I'm ecstatic. The race really could not have gone any better.
Erica and the kids came with me, and we took a long 2-day trip to get up to Louisville. I liked this approach. It's driveable in a day from home, but it split up the trip for the kids and gave me a chance to run the drive out of my legs between days.
The weather was pretty close to perfect. It was around 45 degrees at the start and I don't think it was above 50 when I finished. We had a little wind, maybe 5-10 mph, which was head-on from about mile 15 to the finish. I set my "A" goal to sub-2:28, but I made my race plan to try to guarantee a sub-2:30, and anything faster would depend on a strong 2nd half.
In the first couple miles I found a pack of HM'ers running dead on what I wanted to hit, and they towed me through the first 9 miles in about 5:38-5:39 average. I didn't have to think and they broke any wind that happened to swirl its way in front of us. The course heads through Churchill Downs and the two groups split just after. I was all alone from there and stayed alone all the way to the finish. My left calf started complaining somewhere around mile 5, which is awfully early even by my calves' standards.
I had no idea how many guys were in front of me. I couldn't see anyone, though I figured there had to be a pack up there somewhere. Miles 9-11 continued straight and flat, and I pretty much stayed on pace. I did hit 5:31 on mile 11 and had to remind myself not to go crazy. The first 11 miles were a breeze.
Miles 12-16 headed through hilly Iroqouis Park, and I was bracing for some difficult climbs. The course map calls the first in mile 12 a 240 foot gain over less than a mile, but I found myself cresting it and dropping over a short downhill when I was still expecting it to get worse. I'd budgeted roughly 12:00 over miles 12 & 13, depending on how the hills fell, and I ended up with 11:47. Awesome, gained a few seconds against my game plan. I reached the half in 1:14:36, about 20s ahead of the plan. I was starting to feel the race, but I was getting excited about how good things felt. Left calf was letting me know it was there, but it wasn't getting worse.
Cruising over the remaining rollers and dropping out of the park I was hoping to open up a little from 16-20. But as I rounded mile 15 the wind hit me in the face. It felt strong. The rest of the race would be directly into it, and my conservative gameplan called for not making brave dashes into soul-sucking headwinds. I just focused on maintaining effort. The focus on effort yielded good things, and I continued to notch a good number of on-pace miles.
Mile 17 was one of my planned Powerade stops, but there weren't any volunteers there. I almost ran past it without noticing, but managed to grab a cup at the last second. In my tiring state, I sloshed most of it into my nose and eyes and had to groan out loud at my own clumsiness that had me blinded 9 miles from the finish. My paper cup drinking skills haven't improved since my last practice with them.
Somewhere in 18-20 I passed a Kenyan who had blown up. He looked to be in rough shape. Somewhere after that a spectator told me I was in 4th, and not seeing another body anywhere in sight figured that's where I'd end up. Finishing top-3 was my secondary goal. See, 3rd place is in the money and 4th place isn't. 3rd place good, 4th place bad. It's common sense.
At mile 20 I did another self assessment. All systems seemed to be in decent shape. I felt okay. My left calf was more tender, but other things were getting tender too, and it all seemed to balance out. I didn't have to poo (thank you Imodium), my breathing was regular, I had no sideaches or calf cramps or any of the other nightmares that reach up through the pavement and steal the souls of noobs and veterans alike. The pounding was getting to me, but the wall was nowhere to be seen and I considered making a big push to the finish. Maybe I could hit 5:35s all the way home. But since I was in uncharted territory and still had the wind in my face, I opted to stay on the current pace. If I still felt good at 23 I could try some bravado.
I didn't feel good at 23. 23 sucked. 23 put me up the last hill and battered me with the strongest headwinds of the day. 23 had me thinking I'd be looking at 6:00s+ the rest of the way and be lucky to make my #1 goal of cracking 2:30. Seriously, 23 kicked my butt. This wasn't the wall, but my calves and hammies were letting me know they didn't have much left.
24 had a nice downhill that kept my spirits up, but it was what I saw in my view from that hill that turned those final miles around for me. I saw blood. I saw skinny legs off in the distance that weren't churning nearly fast enough. How could I not have seen him before now? Because he's going backwards. Fast. 4th place bad. 3rd place good. It was plenty of motivation to get to work. So I worked.
I focused on form. I focused on relaxing my face. I focused on not being a pansy. I focused on how disappointed I would feel, even if I ran minutes faster than my goal, if I didn't catch this guy who was sitting right there for the taking.
Somewhere before 25, I got him. He offered no resistance. I figured he was toast, but knowing there's a really fast guy within striking distance was enough to keep me running scared all the way home. I couldn't glance back at any point out of fear that my legs would give out.
On reaching 25, the elation started to come. I was going to finish this thing. The final 1.2 my calves and hammies threatened to cramp. I could feel them still clenched at points of my stride when they should be loose. I turned down the final bend to the finish, did a few fist pumps, and crossed in a very happy and very delirious state.
The hammies seized up almost immediately and stayed that way for a good 10 minutes.
I'm elated. Training has gone very well these last few months. After the Houston Half I gave myself a fairly critical review of my training up to that point (and I still feel that review is correct), but since then I would rate my training an A-. There is almost nothing that I would have changed since then.
Days like this I'm grateful to be a runner.