Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hyannis Marathon Race Report: Sartre was Silly, Other People are Heaven!

Be forewarned, I have been outlining in preparation for this post and realize I have so many thoughts and observations about my first 'official' marathon experience. Let's face facts, my first marathon happened somewhere during the GAC Mother's Day Six Hour Run, but all I did to celebrate was drink some NUUN and took a walking break. I honestly don't know when I crossed the marathon barrier that day, so I have no reference point or PR for this distance. Enter the 30th Hyannis Marathon.

I must say, I was unaware that this event is actually 4 events rolled into one mass start, and the marathon is the smallest among the siblings. Indeed, one must be crazy to want to run a marathon in New England in the winter, and according to tradition the spring & fall are the typical times to sensibly offer a marathon and have a huge turn out. I guess I am among those in the abnormal category, even among endurance enthusiasts.

This year's edition of the Hyannis races officially attracted nearly one thousand more runners than in 2009, and the start was clearly bulging with the nearly 4000 runners ready to embark on different distances.

The race experience actually started Saturday when I arrived at my Mom's in Plymouth. I had differing feelings about going to the race expo the day before, but I am glad that I did, and learned a critical lesson when it comes to running in a race with a large field.

So Saturday just after I arrived I got a call from my friend from high school who was back home for the race and a family obligation. He survived his escape from D.C., and had a rental car to boot, so we headed off the mainland, over the bridge, and toward Hyannis to the expo. Josh is a seasoned veteran of the Hyannis Marathon, having run it before, and warned that the expo was nothing compared to those featured on race weekends for some of the other the 33 marathons he has run in the past. We both resolved that at the very least having our numbers and timing tags would be good just in case. Thank goodness for the boy scout-like 'be prepared' mentality. I needed it.

The expo was actually a relatively cool experience. I got my bib and met and talked with Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter and Boston running legend Bill Rodgers - both were happy to spend at least a couple minutes chatting with each person in line, which was very cool.

Following the expo we headed to the new running store in Plymouth, B
ayside Runner. I reluctantly bought six packets of GU, 'Espresso Love' to be exact, and mulled over the thought that I'd be trying a new fueling strategy for the race. Though this wasn't an entirely smart move, it was a calculated one. I knew my survival on Sunday would hinge on last minute corrections that I had figured were the reason why I was losing it during my long training runs. The major three:

1.) Respect the run walk strategy - 5:1, early and often, especially because this marathon was on a whim and I didn't have much of a training base.
2.) Calories and Carbohydrates - making sure I was ingesting 30-60 grams of carbs each hour.
3.) Hydration - drinking often and early, 18-20 ounces each hour.

In order to get the right amount carbs and calories I figured the GU and gatorade would work best. I wasn't crazy about the refined sugars packed in both, but I used both during my first marathon training attempt a year and a half ago, and I knew I could tolerate them.

Saturday evening I tried to do all the right things, carbed up with a gigantic plate of Chicken and Vegetable Penne Pomodoro, drank enough water, and then the phone rang at 9. It was my roommate from college offering some good humor at the local pub... ruh roh... So there I was sitting at a table with a glass of Blue Moon, praying this wouldn't be a bad decision! I Responsibly got home before midnight, did a last minute check of everything, and got to bed.

The next morning was a little crazy, as I spent some quality time in the bathroom wondering if my situation was due to bad dietary choices the night before or just plain nerves. Thankfully I had plenty of gatorade and toast to help settle things, and we headed south toward the Cape.

There was virtually no traffic and we were hauling along at a nice pace. Right on schedule. The idea was to get to the conference center at 9, stretch out, test the air to see if it was a tights or shorts day, find Josh, and head over to the start for 'go time' at 10. Then we got off the highway near Hyannis and found the line of traffic backed up almost to the off ramp... trouble! Stop and go, and all of the cars in front of us had the token '13.1' and '26.2' stickers. Not a chance this was the brunch crowd lined up for IHOP.

Having been so very happy I went to the expo, I whipped out my bib and timing tag, fastened everything to the appropriate piece of clothing, and magically changed in the front seat. By the time we reached a location remotely close to the start, I pleaded with my wife to pull over so I could ditch and run to the start. So at 9:41 there I am walking down the street toward the start all geared up. I decided to get in line for the porta-potties since my nerves were back up again, but the RD was screaming that the start area would be closing in 2 minutes. That promptly inspired me to get out of line and head over. Bladder still full, not stretched, and frazzled, I sifted through the crowd and made my way to the very back of the pack. Attempting to stretch in the road, I realized this wasn't exactly how I envisioned things would get started for my first marathon!

Paulie yelled through the bullhorn - we tried to listen; the national anthem was sung - I cried a little. This was huge. 'I am standing at the start line of a freaking marathon', I thought. 'Today it really happens!' Just prior to the gun I got looks of respect from some of the half marathoners that saw my blue bib that read 'Hyannis Marathon' and got the complimentary, 'You must be crazy!' One of the half marathoners understood, as he mentioned he was training for the 100k version of the VT100 later on this summer, and we talked trails for a while, which put me at ease, until... 'BANG!'

It has begun.
(Don't worry, I dodged the floating date!)

Officially it took almost three minute to get across the start line, but once I did I was able to comfortably run in the foot traffic. I started following the run walk strategy and found there were others that were doing the same at different intervals, so I basically caught no grief for the self preservation. I started remembering the bladder was full and was hoping the rumors of water and potty every mile were true... they weren't. It was more like every two miles, and when I reached the second mile the line for the lone poopin' stool was 5 deep, and I figured I didn't have to go that bad! Unfortunately, I really did, and it was pretty much all I could think about, but I wasn't about to pull the ultimate and use someone's front yard bushes while their toddlers watch in horror from the porch. Paulie would have found me on the course and fed me to Buddy the Beagle!

I continued to amble the course, staying within myself, and I have to say that the first 1/4 of the marathon was perhaps the toughest because the miles seemed to go by much more slowly than they actually did. I am not sure why it felt that way, but it was weird, and mentally was more of a challenge than the other parts of the race.

I have come to the conclusion that the marathon brings out the crazy in everyone, spectators and runners, alike. As we ran by an apartment building there was a guy sitting in a lawn chair with a boom box, and just as the lot of us cruised by the boom box started playing that fat characteristic bass line of Queen's 'Another One Bites the Dust'. Man in chair cracking up, and I am thinking I only have 23 more miles to go... oh brother.

The sights and sounds seemed to continue. The race became much more of a social gathering as the miles went by. Yes, there were those iPod runners that were off in their own world, but there were so many other faces wearing the blue bib that were easy introductions because there were so few of us 'blue' marathoners among the sea of white half marathon bibs.

I could write paragraphs about each of the faces and the stories, as there were so many out there in the field. There was the Marine carrying a bunch of flags to honor his brothers-in-arms and the rest of the real heroes, there were the middle school and high school runners along the side of the road screaming for us slow pokes in the back. There were the people stuck in marathon traffic, that probably wanted to throw things at us, but instead lavished us with 'Way to go' and 'Nice job' as we passed by. There was the heavy set girl screaming for us to do our best and how inspiring we were... the whole time she's jumping on a trampoline in her front yard. There were fellow marathoners like 'turkey hat man' that kept the spirits light, and 'fuel belt guy' that must have had the same run walk strategy as me, since it seemed like we were connected by a rubber band and would pass each other on our walking breaks for most of the first loop. There was the couple that were running the marathon together, hoping to finish at the same time, but were fully engrossed in a fight at mile 23 because one had bonked really bad and the other still had energy to run. They tried to involve me, with one screaming, "if you really want to run, go with that guy!', but I knew with three miles to go I didn't have time for a couple's counseling session!

So the first half of the race I stayed within myself, abandoned any time goals, and just ran as comfortably as possible. Around mile 11 I started to feel a little soreness in my quads, but nothing too severe. More than anything I just noted it was there and didn't accept the pain since I hadn't reached the halfway point, and refused to suffer at any point on the first loop. It was also at mile 11 that the sun broke through the mostly overcast sky and it seemed like a dream for all the half marathon runners. God was smiling on them, and parted the clouds for their finish line in the sun. It was a nice respite for us marathoners, but right on cue as I crossed the halfway point the clouds rolled back in and the wind kicked up with a chill as we headed away from the excitement of the start finish area, and the party happening with all the half marathoners.
(wait... why is everyone else with the white bibs finishing and the nice man with the bullhorn is telling me to go straight through? Bummer.)

This was one of the only times I looked at my watch and thought about any split times. I was hoping I might run the first half in 2:10 to 2:15, so when I saw that I was coming through in 2:24:44 I was a little surprised, but by that time I was sold on the idea of just finishing.

The second half was interesting because it was much more barren without the other runners, traffic control was down to a minimum - so we were running cautiously, and some of the expected water and gatorade stops were closing up shop as we arrived. There was even a point during the middle part of the second loop where a volunteer was collecting cones and race flags and one of the follower marathoners we had linked up with was hollering that there were still runners on the course. Welcome to the back of the pack!

Though some of the logistics were shifted during the second half, I have to say it was the most memorable part of the race because it produced yet another example of how absolutely amazing it can be when you are a member of the trail running community.

As mentioned, the clouds rolled over the sun and the cold wind started to blow a little more as I headed off on the second loop. Just as I was thinking about how in the world I was going to manage the second loop, another runner pulled alongside me. We briefly chatted about the irony of the higher powers taking away the sun for us, and as we talked I noticed that I was due for a walking break. I decided to just keep running with my new friend, because the company was nice. A few minutes later I resolved I needed to take the break to avoid future carnage, explained myself, and expected her to trot on up the road. My new friend was cool with the idea and instead of running ahead, stayed with me on the walk. I mentioned I was doing the walking breaks as sort of a pseudo ultramarathon training tactic and that opened up a new world of shared kinship.

As it turned out, Pamela, who was from the Sacramento, CA area, and was here in Boston for some training for her job, was a fellow trail runner and ultra dreamer! Instead of calling me crazy for my desire to run ultras, she mentioned she is running the American River 50 in a few weeks, and we babbled for the next few miles about races, places, and the wonderful people we have found on the trails. Talk about kismet!

We ran and walked together and I swear the miles just rolled by effortlessly. I was so frightened of the second half, but having someone to share the miles was magical when it came to getting through those mentally tougher moments. We stuck together for about 9 or 10 miles, and we caught up to 'turkey hat man'. It was here were I asked Pamela if it would be cool if I sped up a little and ran a little more between walking breaks, as I felt decent, and didn't want to offend by just hauling off.

With the permission to go, I tapped into what I found was an amazing hidden well of energy. For most of the second half my mile pace had dropped from 10:45/mile to 11:15, but these miles felt so easy. I felt like even with the soreness in my quads, I could have run 50 or 60 kilometers on the day, and at mile 22 I went for it. I kept in the walking breaks, but instead of 5:1, I increased the run pace and the time between walking breaks to 6:1 or 7:1 or 8:1. I figured if I blew up I could slow down and hobble home.

I proceeded to rattle off mile splits of 10:03, 9:46, 9:21, and 8:50 for the last 4 miles of the race! This allowed me to run the second half faster than the first (2:22:28).

The last mile was probably the most surreal experience I have ever had in a race in my entire life. I got this surge of energy. I cried a little, but couldn't produce any tears because I was dehydrated a little. Finishing this race was the pinnacle of the accomplishment of so many goals I had set for myself when I realized I had let myself get into a place physically and emotionally that was embarrassing and depressing:

To many it was just another marathon, to me it was so much more.
I sprinted to the finish and remember the emcee having trouble finding my name and number as I crossed the finish line, but I didn't care, I wasn't there for the pomp or even the medal. I was there to show that ANYTHING is possible.

(Pointing out something to Pamela post race)(Me and Josh, this was his 34th marathon and he ran 3:45 without any formal training base - amazing! He stuck around for my pokey behind)
(Photographic evidence of 'Turkey Hat Man')

I know the time isn't blazing, and there are so many proponents of running that preach that the marathon is only for the fast and promising, but the lack of soreness and hang over I have from the race is enough to make me a believer in just finishing endurance events at a preserving pace. The distance is such a physical and mental challenge that it can be a huge accomplishment for anyone, no matter their speed or age or goals. Yes, the marathon distance has elements like Boston Qualifier times and Olympic Trials times, but I firmly believe there is something to be said for finishing a race like this, no matter how long it takes.

Negative splits at the end is pretty cool, but it isn't everything. Sure, the goal is to go out and improve from 4:47, but I am more excited about the next adventure and moving on to 50k and beyond.

Some closing thoughts on the race. I thought the course was fun. Double loops can be daunting and boring, but the second time around you knew where the landmarks were, and had a chance to know how to break the course down into sections to help break the monotony. The volunteers were AMAZING. I can't say enough about how much I appreciated those folks that were there to hand us crazy runners cups of water and gatorade, and made sure to thank every single one that served me. I was a little disheartened that the vendors were packing up as we at the back of the pack were finishing up, and even some sections of the course were being cleaned as we were still going, but I can understand why. I am also a little upset with the choice of the 'd-tag' timing system. I know it is easier than the chip system, but the environmental impact of giving out strips of plastic to 5000 people to throw away post race is a little backward. Perhaps they can find a way to reuse or at least recycle these?

Hyannis is definitely a neat marathon, very well run, and certainly worth the mid-winter training. The course is super scenic, and I never found it boring. The course also has the potential to produce a fast time, with only a couple sizable climbs, and a handful of nice long descents.

So, what is next, you ask? I am not entirely sure. I have signed up for the Eastern States 20 Miler, because what more could an endurance junkie want? It isn't quite as epic as Western States, Hardrock, or Leadville, but when else can one say they ran from Maine to Massachusetts? :-)

It also appears I have enough time to train for Pineland Farms, the 50k, but I have been circling back to the possibility of running the USATF-NE Mountain Series, instead. I have also signed up for the Mount Washington Road Race lottery, and will also sign up for the Marine Corps Marathon lottery. I'd like to put in some better training and run another road marathon this year, but an ultra is also on my list of goals. JFK 50? Stone Cat 50? VT50? I am still up in the air and hoping I can do one or more endorphin addict events with the rest of 'The Gang' very soon and often in 2010.

The bottom line is that these adventures are fun, but they are nothing if you don't have anyone along to share the journey.

Anything is possible my friends, ANYTHING.