Sunday, May 13, 2018

Race Report: 2018 Darkside 8 Hour Race

On May 12th, I did the Darkside 8 Hour Race in Moreland, GA.  I’ve been a member of the Darkside Running Club since 2009, and this is the third time I’ve done their annual 8 hour race.  Each time, I’ve used it as part of my training for a longer ultramarathon.  In 2009, I did it as my final long training run before the FANS 24 Hour Race.  In 2014, it was my last long training run before the Comrades Marathon.  This year, I again used it as training for FANS.

I’m going to be race-walking the FANS 24 hour Race, so I also walked this race.  I’ve walked several marathons, but until this race, I had never walked farther than 26.2 miles.  I needed to get used to being on my feet for a long time.  I also needed to learn what I would feel like after eight hours of walking.  Would I have painful blisters?  Would my walking form degrade?  Would a pace that feels easy at first feel tiring after eight hours?  Doing longer workouts (or races) before your main event can help you anticipate the types of problems you’ll have in your “A” race.

The course was a 1.02 mile paved loop at Bear Creek Farm.  This was the same venue that was used for this event when I ran it in 2014.

I flew to Georgia on Friday, drove as far as Newnan, and spent the night there.  Saturday morning, I had to drive about 15 miles to get to the race.

I’ve been sleep well lately, but I have a long history of insomnia when I travel.  I had trouble getting to sleep Friday night.  I eventually got to sleep, but woke up after about an hour.  Then I never got to sleep again.  It’s not the first time that’s happened.  If I was sleeping well during the week, I can usually shake off one bad night.  Fortunately, I was.

When I got up, noticed some soreness in my left gluteus maximus.  That surprised me, since I only did half my usual mileage on Friday, and none of it was at a particularly fast pace.  I assume it must have been delayed-onset muscle soreness from a run I did on Thursday.  I’ve been deliberately holding back on most of my runs, but on Thursday I ran more freely.

When I entered this race, I wasn’t sure how fast I would try to walk.  Usually in a fixed-time race, you try to find a pace that’s just barely sustainable for the number of hours you’ll be running or walking.  A more conservative approach would be to pace myself as if this was the first eight hours of a 24 hour race.  Then I could see how I felt after eight hours and ask myself if that pace would be sustainable for 16 more hours.

When I saw the weather forecast, I told myself I should take the more conservative approach.  It called for a high of 91 with sunny skies.  When I looked at the hourly forecast, it said that the “feels like” temperature at 3:00 (when the race ended) would be 100 degrees.  That’s much warmer than anything I’ve trained in at home, so I had to be careful not to go out too fast and risk blowing up.  It’s not typically that hot at FANS, but last year it was unusually hot.  I told myself to treat this as a dry run of how I would pace myself if we saw similar hot weather at FANS.

That’s what I told myself.  Apparently, I’m not a good listener.

The race started at 7:00, but we were supposed to get there by 6:15 for packet pickup.  I had bib number 3.  I’m not sure, but I think that’s the lowest number I’ve ever had for a race.  It was a good omen.

There was a pavilion next to the course that was used as an aid station.  The race organizers provided water, Gatorade, Tailwind, and a few snacks, such as boiled potatoes and pickles.  Many of the runners also brought snacks.  I brought some bite-size date almond snacks that I found at Wal-Mart.

The temperature at the start was 66 degrees.  The relative humidity was 97 percent, but it didn’t feel at all sticky.  It felt cool and crisp.  I made an impromptu decision to start at a brisk pace, but slow down as it warmed up.  In the first lap, I felt at times like I was working too hard.  That lap was 11:40.  That was clearly too fast.  Over the next several laps, I gradually eased into a slower pace – first 12:00, then 12:10.

Our laps were counted manually by volunteers.  Over the course of the race, I had three different lap counters.  With manual lap counting, each race participant needs to make sure they get counted each time they finish a lap.  I’ve done enough of these races to realize that it’s always possible for a lap counter to get distracted as you’re going by.  That happened more than once, but I was paying attention and always made sure they saw me.

The first third of each loop had a downhill trend and a few shady spots.  The middle section had an uphill trend and was fully exposed to the sun.  The last third was relatively flat, but had enough small bends that I had to pay attention to walking the tangents.

Fairly early in the race, I noticed that sore left glute whenever I was going uphill.  I think I was working too hard to maintain my pace on the hills.  I eventually backed off to a pace that didn’t cause any discomfort.

By the end of the first hour, the sun was shining over the trees.  I could feel the difference.  Once it got higher in the sky, it was going to be hot.

When I first started running ultras, they were always on hot humid days.  Early on, I trained myself to drink aggressively, so I could replace all the fluids I was losing.  When I started doing ultras with more moderate weather, I had trouble breaking that habit.  On a nice day, I would overhydrate.  Eventually, I stopped trying to anticipate my fluid needs.  I drank according to my thirst.  That worked well, until this race.  This one was too hot for that.

At first, I was only stopping to drink every other lap.  I knew I would eventually switch to every lap, but I didn’t want to drink so much that I would need an early bathroom stop.

Every hour or so, I ate some type of snack.  I probably could have got by with just Gatorade or Tailwind, but I know I’ll need solid food at FANS.  This race was an opportunity to get used to eating.  Sometimes I ate the date almond snacks that I brought.  Other times I ate boiled potatoes.  There were lots of other snacks, but I didn’t want to take too much time looking around to see what was available.  I like to get in and out of aid stations quickly.

In the second hour, I started to notice that the temperature was climbing.  By the end of my 12th lap, my throat was getting dry.  That’s when I switched to drinking every lap.  I shouldn’t have waited that long.  After that, I was always trying to catch up.

I took a little longer at the aid station after that lap.  Besides eating a snack, I needed to refill my bottle.  As I started the next lap, I started to notice a blister on my right heel.  It was on a downhill section at the beginning of the lap.  I wondered if my long stop at the aid station was somehow a contributing factor.

In the third hour of the race, I settled into a pace that was around 12:30 per lap.  By now, I was no longer paying close attention to my lap times.  I just noticed the average over several laps.

It occurred to me that I was no longer noticing any soreness in my left glute.  I think 12:30 was a slow enough pace that I was no longer working it too hard.  It’s worth noting that 12:30 is only slow in comparison to my first few laps.  It was still an aggressive pace for an eight hour race on such a hot day.  It was much faster than I plan to walk at FANS.

After 15 laps, I realized I would easily finish four more laps before the halfway mark.  My goal at this point was fairly nebulous.  I wanted to get into the upper 30s.  Doing 19 in the first half would put me well on my way to doing that.

After another longer stop to eat a snack, I felt hot as I resumed walking.  The early part of the loop was the shadiest part, and it was downhill.  It’s the last place I should be feeling the heat.  Then I noticed that it was always after stopping to eat that I felt hotter.  Muscle cells are like tiny metabolic engines.  They’re constantly converting sugars to energy, so the muscle fibers can contract.  When you take a break, the metabolic furnace keeps running, but the energy has to go somewhere else.  It turns into excess heat.  Once I noticed the pattern, it didn’t bother me as much.

I needed to make a bathroom stop soon, but wanted to wait until I was sure it wouldn’t prevent me from finishing 19 laps in the first four hours.  After my 18th lap, I realized I had plenty of time.

Inside the port-o-potty, it was hot.  I wanted to get out of there quickly, but I took my time to make sure I emptied my bladder as much as I could.  I was hoping to get through the rest of the race without another bathroom stop.

As I left the port-o-potty, I was hot and sweaty.  Fortunately, a light breeze helped cool me down as I began my next lap.  Then I realized it was the first time I had felt any breeze at all.  The sun was now high in the sky, the temperature was climbing into the 80s, there were no clouds, and there was rarely any wind.  I was already feeling hot, and the hottest temperatures were still ahead of me.

Up until now, we were going clockwise.  After four hours, we switched directions.  I was already into my 20th loop, so I needed to finish that one before turning around.

Earlier in the race, the fastest runners each lapped me several times.  Now I wasn’t seeing them much.  All the runners were slowing dramatically.  I was also slowing, but not as much.

In the first half of the race, I was establishing a brisk pace.  I the second half, I had to be careful to avoid blowing up in the heat.  After turning around to begin my 21st loop, I slowed down a bit.  Now my lap times were just under 13 minutes.

The loop felt different going counter-clockwise.  We started with the relatively flat section.  The middle was downhill, but not as much as I was hoping.  The last section was uphill.  There seemed to be much more climbing than I expected.  Did we really descend that much on this section when we were going the other way?

For the next two hours, I continued to keep all my lap times under 13 minutes.  It was getting hotter, and I was drinking more, but I wasn’t slowing down.  I finished my 24th lap right around the five hour mark.  I realized by then that even if I slowed down, I would easily finish 36 laps.  I also knew by now that I wouldn’t have time to finish 38 laps.  I barely finished 19 in the first half, and I was going slower now.  It was still unclear whether I had time to finish 37 laps.  I liked my chances, but I could still blow up in the heat and slow down substantially.

After another lap, I realized I could finish 37 laps if I averaged 13:50 or faster on my remaining laps.  I had yet to walk anything slower than 13 minutes.  I finally had a goal that was more specific than upper 30s.  I was focused on finishing 37 laps.

After two more 13 minute laps, I had 140 minutes to walk 10 laps.  Now I just needed to keep my average lap time under 14 minutes.  At FANS, I need to average 14:24 per mile to reach my goal of 100 miles.  I was already determined to keep all my lap times under that pace.  Keeping them under 14 wasn’t that much harder.

Now that I knew how many more laps I was going to do, I effectively changed a fixed time race into a fixed distance race.  I knew I had time for 10 more laps.  Fractional laps don’t count, so I would be done as soon as I finished my 37th lap.  Now I could count them down.

In the late miles of a fixed distance race, I usually find that the late miles seem to take forever.  They seem longer.  Oddly enough, I found that I not only was counting down the remaining laps, but they seemed shorter.  I was clicking them off quickly.  I think it helped that the first two third of each lap were either flat or downhill.  I just had to summon up a big effort to get up the hills at the end of each lap.

The sun was close to its highest angle.  The pavement was heating up.  At times, I could feel the heat rising from the pavement.  I felt like I was getting cooked in three different ways.  I was getting baked by the air, fried by the pavement, and broiled by the sun.  Still, I didn’t slow down.  I just drank more after each lap.  A few laps were slower than 13, but only because I was taking longer to drink at the aid station.

The volunteers were great. They were filling cups will ice cubes and always asked me if I wanted some ice in my bottle.  In the past, I’ve coped with heat by putting ice cubes in my hat.  I didn’t do that in this race.  I knew as the ice melted, the water would run down my back and legs and into my shoes.  I didn’t want to have to cope with the problems that would cause for my feet, so I had to endure the heat without any ice.

It occurred to me at this point that I never noticed that blister again.  I also wasn’t noticing my sore left glute.  I was hot and tired, but those were my only concerns.

On one of my laps, I noticed the scent of manure.  We were on a hobby farm with dozens of horses. Why didn’t I notice the smell before?  Oh yeah.  There was absolutely no breeze before.  I wasn’t fond of the smell, but it meant we were starting to get some wind.  On balance, that was good news.

They had a leader board that listed the top three men and women.  They updated it once per hour.  After six hours, I was trailing the third place male by three laps.  I was surprised I was that close to the leaders.

Over the next few laps, I realized the wind wasn’t such good news after all.  As it blew across the pavement, it picked up heat.  The wind was making me hotter.  Now I felt like I was in a convection oven.

With four laps to go, I wondered if I could endure the heat that long.  In the final hour, it really took a toll on me.  I told myself I that I just needed to finish three laps and then start the fourth one.  That was a psychological trick.  I knew if I started the last lap I would finish it.

The aid station was getting crowed.  Were the others lingering longer at the aid station?  Were they taking longer breaks?  No.  Either they reached their goals and stopped, or they couldn’t take any more of the heat.  Fewer and fewer runners were still on the course.

After my next lap, I found myself getting short of breath as I stopped to drink at the aid station.  Drinking was difficult.  Actually, just standing there was difficult.  As I started my 35th lap, I felt sluggish.  Within 100 feet, I forced myself back into a brisk pace.  Then I felt better.

The next time I reached the aid station, I leaned against the table with one arm while drinking with the other.  I didn’t get as short of breath that way.  It was again difficult to start the next lap, but once I got into my rhythm I was able to continue.

One lap to go.  I drank as quickly as I could, so I could launch myself into that lap before getting too short of breath.  Standing still bothered me much more than walking did.

I had 21 minutes to complete my last lap.  I did it in about 13.  When I got to the last short climb to get back to the aid station, I struggled to get up the hill.  I don’t think I would have been able to do another lap.  I was completely spent.

I crossed the line and stopped my watch.  It took me 7:52:12 to finished 37 laps.  That’s 37.74 miles.  I found a chair and immediately sat down.  One of the volunteers handed me my bottle.  She had refilled it with Tailwind and ice cubes.

One of the other runners brought watermelon balls as a snack.  There were quite a few left over, so he asked me if I wanted some.  I ate five or six.  They were ice cold.  That really hit the spot.

They updated the leader board for the last time.  The same three men had been in the top spots for the last few hours.  They updated their lap counts.  Then they added another name.  My 37th lap lifted me into a tie for third place.  My bib number foretold how high I would place.  As a walker, I never expected to compete with the runners.

After the race, everyone got Darkside insulated mugs.

When I was able to get out of my chair, I visited with a few of the other runners.  A few asked me how long I’ve been race-walking.  I told them about my back surgery and how I couldn’t run for 12 weeks but still needed to finish marathons within the time limits.  Not being able to run was no excuse.  That’s the motto of this club: “No excuses.”

When I was ready, I made my way back to my car.  I still wasn’t noticing any blister pain.

When I got back to the hotel, the woman at the front desk asked me how my race was.  I said, “Hot!”  She asked me if I wanted a bottle of water.  That was nice.  I was dehydrated.  I was also covered from head to toe with salt crystals.

I had another bottle of water in my room.  I put the new bottle in the refrigerator and immediately drank the one that was already cold.  Then I took off my shoes and socks.  In contrast to my last race, there wasn’t any blood.  I had blisters on the heels of both feet, but they weren’t blood blisters and they weren’t unusually painful.

Now I needed to pee.  That was a good sign.  My kidneys were working, and my urine wasn’t dark.  I pushed myself right to my limit in this race, but I was going to be fine.  I just had to work on gradually rehydrating.  I also needed to replace electrolytes.

I had a good effort under tough conditions.  I established a PR for an eight hour walk.  It was also a PR for the farthest I’ve walked.  I answered a few questions about FANS, but not all of them.  After eight hours, my blisters weren’t bad, and my form was still efficient.  Could I have walked for another 16 hours?  Not at this pace.  Can I get through the hot afternoon hours, recover, and keep on through the night?  Not at this pace.  In that race, I need to start at an easier pace.

Race Statistics
Distance:  37.74 miles
Official Time:  8:00:00
Actual Time on Course:  7:52:12
Average Pace:  12:31
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  353
Darkside Races:  8

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Race report: 2018 Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon

On April 28th, I race-walked the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in Louisville.  This was my third Kentucky Marathon, which brings me one step closer to completing a third circuit of marathons in all 50 states.  I ran my last two marathons, but decided to walk this one.  I’m training to for a 24-hour walk, and I needed to start doing some longer workouts.  The last time I walked as far as a marathon was early February.

Earlier in the week, I came down with a mild cold.  On Tuesday and Wednesday, I felt a bit sluggish in some of my workouts.  By Thursday, I was feeling closer to normal, but I still went into this race with low expectations.  I didn’t think this was likely to be a PR.  Aside from the cold, I also wasn’t that confident in my training.  I’ve been doing lots of mileage, but I haven’t done any walking at a fast pace since the Surf City Marathon in early February.

I flew to Louisville on Friday, arriving around 1:00.  I was getting hungry, so I drove over to Skyline Chili for a quick lunch.  Everyone knows my favorite food is pizza, but three-way chili also ranks pretty high.

After lunch, I picked up my race packet at the Kentucky Expo Center.  I found out where the gear check trucks would be located, and then I looked for the pace team booth.  The 4:45 and 5:00 pace teams were both starting in corral E, which was also my assigned corral.  It wouldn’t have been a big issue if they were in a different corral.  The corral assignments are just guidelines.  They’re not enforced.

While I was at the expo, I saw a sign for a post-race event called Pig and Swig.  It was a post-race party with free admission if you have a Pegasus Pin.  I had to ask someone what a Pegasus Pin is.  There are several events going on in the two weeks prior to the Kentucky Derby.  A Pegasus Pin costs $6 and gets you into several of these events for free.

I stayed at a downtown hotel that was near several shops and restaurants.  I was about a mile from where the marathon starts and finishes.  After unpacking and getting my clothes organized for the race, I went out to explore the downtown area.  I didn’t have to go far to find a store where I could get a Pegasus Pin.  There was a CVS across the street from the hotel.

Next I went to Fourth Street Live, which is a dining and entertainment district that was just a block away from my hotel.  There, I discovered a restaurant called Birracibo that specializes in artisan pizza and craft beer.  Naturally, I had dinner there.

In the morning, I walked to the starting line, allowing a little extra time to check a gear bag and make a bathroom stop.  On the way, I bumped into my friend Andy, who was on his way to one of the nearby hotels to meet his friend Joe.  I hung out with Andy and Joe until we needed to line up for the race.  Then I checked my gear bag and found some port-o-potties that didn’t have long lines.
The temperature at the start was 50 degrees, and it stayed in the 50s for the whole race.  That’s a nice comfortable range.  I walked in shorts and a T-shirt, but had warm-up clothes for before and after the race.

The last time I walked a marathon, my time was 4:46:07.  I wanted to line up between the 4:45 and 5:00 pace groups, but I didn’t see them at first.  There was a 2:20 pace group for the half marathon, so I stayed with them until I spotted the 4:45 group.  Then I moved back to join them.  I never saw the 5:00 pace group.

There were two pace leaders for the 4:45 group.  One was named Christina.  She was the one holding the 4:45 sign, so she was easier to spot.  I lined up behind her.  There was also a male pacer, but I never found out his name.  I didn’t have time to ask them if they would be running an even pace or doing some kind of run/walk mix.

I didn’t even realize the race had started until we all started walking.  We were in the fifth corral.  Each corral was a full city block, so I couldn’t even see the starting line until we had walked at least two blocks.  I stayed right behind Christina.

My plan was to stay behind the 4:45 group, but keep them in sight until I established my pace.  After that, I assumed I could maintain a good pace by keeping up with the runners around me.

As we crossed the line and Christina started running, I walked fast enough to stay right behind her.  After a few blocks, she suddenly sped up to move through a gap between some slower runners.  I got bottled up behind them and had to work hard to catch up.

That’s how the first mile or two went.  There was an ebb and flow.  At times, I could keep up easily.  At times, I had to really work to keep up.  Either we were going too fast, or I just wasn’t in good enough shape to walk at this pace.  I suspected it was the former, because the pace was sometimes fast enough to make my shins sore.

We started near Waterfront Park and made several turns as we wound our way through the downtown area.  I was working so hard to keep up with the pacers and avoid the congestion that I couldn’t look for the mile markers.  I overheard the pacers say that we started too fast.  I asked what our first mile was.  It was 10:30.  That’s faster than my 10K pace.  No wonder it felt so tiring.

They said they were going to slow into the 10:40s.  We needed to average 10:52, so even 10:40s was a bit fast.

At six miles, I finally looked at my watch.  We were averaging 10:33.  We didn’t slow down much at all.  We rounded a corner and reach the 10K mark.  My time was 1:06:07.  That was only 48 seconds slower than my 10K PR.

Now we were on our way out of the downtown area.  I probably should have slowed down, but I didn’t want to have to set my own pace.  It was difficult to keep up with the group, but psychologically, it was easier to just follow and group and let them worry about the pacing.  Water stops were difficult.  The course was still congested, so I usually slowed down going through the water stops.  Then I had to work hard to catch up.

There were only about four other runners in the 4:45 group besides the pace leaders and me.  As we left downtown, I started talking to the other runners.

Somewhere around nine miles, we ran through Churchill Downs.   I was carrying a camera, so I stopped briefly so get a picture of the gate.  I was on pace for a PR, but I still expected to slow down.  I never would have stopped for pictures if I expected to set a PR.

I wanted to get a picture of the clubhouse, but there were some tents that blocked my view.  They were getting ready for the Kentucky Derby.  After two turns, we came within sight of some horses on practice runs.  I again stopped to take a picture.  I lined up my shot and waited until the horse was directly in front of me.  Then a runner crossed in front of me. I tried again with the same result.  I had to give up and try to catch up to the pace group.  On the way, I spotted my friend Abbi.

I stopped one last time to try to get a picture of the clubhouse.  This was the best view I could get.

Now I could barely see the pace leaders. I had to work hard for a long time to catch up to them.  Along the way, Abbi caught up to me.

After leaving Churchill Downs, the marathon and half marathon courses separated.  After the split, there were far fewer runners on the course. That made it easier to see the 4:45 pace leaders, but it look several minutes to catch them.

A few miles after leaving Churchill Downs, we started a loop through Iroquois Park.  Most of the course is flat, but this section is hilly.  The biggest climb was right after we entered the park.  As we made a sharp turn, I passed a few runners.  One saw me walking and tried to emulate my stride.  He kept up for about three strides and had to return to running.  He said, “I can’t do that.  That’s cool that you can do that, but I haven’t got that.”  I left several runners behind on that hill.

I fell behind the pace leaders briefly, but eventually caught up to them after cresting the hill.  Nobody else from the pace group could keep up. After that first hill, I never saw any of them again.  About the time I caught up to the pacers, I stopped one last time to take a picture of the park.

There were a few more hills, but the trend now was downhill.  Walking downhill was easier, but I started noticing more friction within my shoes. I was developing blisters.

From time to time, my nose started to run.  At the time, I thought it was a new cold symptom.

After one of the water stops, I started to fall behind the pacers again.  Then they took a walking break.  We were three or four minutes ahead of a 4:45 pace.  I think they realized that and decided to slow down.  I continued ahead at my own pace until they resumed running and caught up to me.  Then I went back to following them.

Before we left the park, I noticed the pacers talking to each other.  Then the male pacer rushed ahead.  I assume he was going to make a bathroom stop at the next aid station and wanted to get ahead of us first.

I found it harder and harder to keep up with Christina.  We were on a long downhill section as we left the park. My blisters were painful, but I worked hard to keep up.  I started to get out of breath.

I seldom get short of breath when I walk.  I’m usually limited by my mechanics, not by my aerobic capacity.  As the road leveled off, I was working harder than ever, but Christina kept getting farther ahead.

I checked my watch at the 16 mile mark.  I didn’t completely trust the mile markers, but my time from 15 to 16 was 9:38.  To put that in perspective, in January I walked a one mile race in 9:39.  As fast as I was going, Christina was still getting farther and farther in front of me.  I knew she was going too fast, but I tried to catch up, if for no other reason than to ask her what she was thinking.

The other pacer passed me from behind.  I asked him if Christina knew how fast she was going and told him we just did a sub 10 mile.  He said, “I know,” and shouted to her.  She stopped and waited for us to catch up.  Then they both took a walking break.

I couldn’t slow down as much as they did.  If I did, they would drop me as soon as they started running again.  I had to go ahead on my own until they caught up to me again.  They never did.

I was still walking at a brisk pace, but I relaxed a little.  I no longer had to work to keep up with anyone.  I checked my watch again at 17 miles.  That mile was still too fast, but I had to wait another mile before I could see how fast I walked when I was setting my own pace for a complete mile.

I did mile 18 in 10:58.  That seemed much more reasonable.  It was unclear, however, if I would stay on that pace.  I was tired, and all the runners around me were going at different paces.  I was passing some, but others were passing me.  After Iroquois Park, nobody seemed strong.

By now, my nose was running constantly.  If my cold was getting worse, it should have been affecting my performance.  I had a good shot at a PR, in spite of poor pacing and four picture stops.  I think my nose was starting to run because of my exertion.  That’s happened to me before in races where I was pushing incredibly hard.

The mile 19 sign was at an aid station.  I was focused on taking a drink and forgot to look at my watch.  In mile 20, I picked up my effort.  I was afraid I would drift into a slower pace.  As I worked harder, I felt like I had a faster turnover rate.

When I finally got to the 21 mile sign, I was distressed to see that my combined time for the last two miles was 23:34.  That’s an average of 11:47.  Could I really have slowed down that much?  I expected to come unglued at some point, but I didn’t feel the way I usually do when I slow down dramatically.  I tried to pick up my effort, but my confidence was shaken.

From time to time, I got encouragement from both spectators and other runners.  A spectator said, “I.  Am.  So.  Jealous. Of.  You.  That’s great walking.”  That lifted my spirits and helped me to keep up the effort.  Mile 22 took 10:58.  That was encouraging.  A few more miles like that and I would have a PR.

As we got back into the downtown area, we had several turns.  I kept watching for the 23 sign.  I saw it, but somehow forgot to check my watch.  I was mentally fatigued.  Now I had to wait another mile to know if I was maintaining my pace.  I fought for it.

Mile 24 seemed to take forever.  I was almost afraid to look at my watch.  The last time I went two miles before getting a split, it was surprisingly slow.  I was so relieved to see that I sped up slightly over those two miles.

I was sore and tired, and at times my stride felt awkward.  I poured on the effort.  Now I was passing most of the runners around me.  Eventually, I heard someone in the crowd say, “One mile to go.”  Then someone else said, “25.”  Did I miss the 25 sign?

After making a turn, I saw it.  After checking my watch, I realized the signs had to be badly misplaced.  Either that or I just walked an 8:37 mile.  The only thing I knew for sure is that I probably sped up.  More importantly, I didn’t slow down.

I had no idea what pace I was walking.  I also had no idea how far it was to the finish.  In theory, it should have been 1.2 miles.  For all I knew, it was 1.5.  I didn’t trust the mile markers at all any more.  I just kept up my effort and told myself it was going to be a PR.

I started recognizing the downtown buildings.  Eventually we turned onto Main Street.  It was still several blocks to get back to where we started.  The finish line was a little farther.  We still had one more turn.

I heard someone yell my name, and I turned in time to see Joe taking a picture.  After another block, I felt a sharp pain in my left heal.  Evidently, a blister had popped.  This was just like the last mile of the Surf City Marathon.  I was in too much pain to walk normally.  I had to keep my left heal off the ground.  Fortunately, I only had a few more blocks.

As I made the final turn, I saw the finish line.  The crowds here were great.  I wonder if they noticed how awkward my stride was.  I just tried to get there as fast as I could.

I finished in 4:39:51.  That’s a walking PR by more than six minutes.  After getting a heat shield and my finisher medal, I looked for the closest bathroom.  For at least nine miles, I wanted to make a bathroom stop, but I didn’t want to lose any time.  I was also worried that I would never be able to get back into the same rhythm again.

I went back out to wait for Abbi, who I knew would only be five to ten minutes behind me. Then we made our way through the finish area to find the post-race food.  I had some mini muffins, a banana, and some chocolate milk.  Then I retrieved my gear bag and started walking back to the hotel.

At first, I was warm enough with just my heat shield, but eventually my legs got cold.  I found a bench and sat down so I could put on my warm-up clothes.  I couldn’t get my pants on over my shoes, so I had to take them off.  I was able to put my right shoe back on without any trouble.  The left shoe was another story.

Around my left heal, my sock was bloody.  I took a spare lens from my sunglass case and used it as a shoehorn.  After a few seconds of blinding pain, I got the shoe back on.

I decided to go to the Pig and Swig at Fourth Street Live before showering at the hotel.  Now that my shoe was back on, I didn’t want to take it off again.

At Pig and Swig there was a live band, a BBQ Station, and several Swig Stations with either craft beer or bourbon.

My race bib got me a souvenir beer mug and a token for one free beer sample.  I bought additional tokens, so I could have a pulled pork sandwich, bacon on a stick, and more beer samples.  Then I sat down and enjoyed the music. You know you’re in Kentucky when you’re eating barbecue, listening to a bluegrass band, and drinking a beer called Shotgun Wedding.

I’m glad I attempted to stay with the 4:45 group, even when I knew we were starting too fast.  At the time, it seemed reckless.  Sometimes you have to get reckless to find out what you can do.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:39:51
Average Pace:  10:40
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  352
Kentucky Marathons:  3