Today I ran the Quad Cities Marathon. The Quad Cities are Davenport, IA, Bettendorf, IA, Rock Island, IL and Moline, IL. The course goes through all four cities, starting and finishing in Moline. I’ve always liked races that go through more than one state. This one goes back and forth between Illinois and Iowa, crossing the Mississippi River each time.
The Quad Cities are about 350 miles from where I live. The drive time, including a lunch stop, is about six hours. I drove to Moline on Saturday and stayed at a hotel near the airport. The start, finish and expo were all by the river, but there was plenty of parking, so I didn’t see any need to stay at a downtown hotel. I was about 10 minutes away by car.
After doing a triple and a tropical marathon the previous two weekends, I was looking forward to doing a race where I could run fast. Unfortunately, I starting coming down with a cold a few days before the race. At first, it was just a sore throat, but by Friday, I was starting to get congested. That’s when I knew the cold wasn’t going to go away before the race. I didn’t get much sleep Friday night, and by Saturday, I was completely stuffed up and starting to develop a cough.
I slept better Saturday night, but still woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep. I finally got up at 5:15. On race mornings, I’m usually pretty focused once I get up. I doesn’t matter how tired I am. I just spring into action like I’m on a mission. Today was different. I could barely drag myself out of bed.
I’ve run marathons with colds before. It usually adds about 15 minutes to my time. I would run as fast as I could under the circumstances, but I knew 3:30 was unlikely. I considered just running easy, but realized that even a four hour effort might be difficult. I didn’t want to be slower than four hours in three consecutive marathons, regardless of the circumstances.
The race didn’t start until 7:30, so I didn’t have to rush. The hotel started serving breakfast at 6:00, so I was able to grab a bite to eat before driving downtown. On my way, I missed my exit from I-74 and found myself driving across the bridge to Bettendorf. The race crosses this same bridge, so I got a preview. I still had plenty of time to get to the start, and finding parking wasn’t an issue.
When I called Deb, I told her how I was feeling. Before a race, Deb usually says “Don’t get hurt.” Sometimes she adds, “Go easy.” This time she surprised me. She was encouraging me to go for 3:30 and told me I shouldn’t have any negative thoughts. She was right.
When I got to the start, it was 55 degrees with clear skies. I expected the temperature to reach the low 70s before I finished. That’s warmer than ideal, but I was OK with that. When I have a cold, cold air seems to cut through me like a knife. I’d rather have 70s at the finish than 30s at the start. After Costa Rica, low 70s wouldn’t seem that bad.
I bumped into a few people I knew. Each time someone asked me how fast I was going to run, I told them I didn’t know. I was going to start at an 8:00 per mile pace if I could, but I didn’t know if I could sustain it. My goal was 3:30. I didn’t really believe I could do that, but I had to try.
The shallow cough I had on Saturday was finally developing into a deep cough. A few minutes before the start, I coughed up a blob of phlegm that was so thick it was almost brown. That didn’t inspire confidence.
The marathon didn’t have a 3:30 pace group, but the half marathon had a 1:45 pace group, which is the same pace. I lined up next to them. The first few miles have some hills. The 1:45 pace leader said he was going to take the first few miles a little slow and then run 7:55 per mile the rest of the way. For him, “the rest of the way” meant nine or ten miles. I decided to find my own pace in the early miles, but notice where the group was.
There were enough different races starting together that the start was somewhat congested. We mostly walked until we reached the starting line. After that, we ran, but the pace was still slow. Usually, I’m pretty gung ho about moving around slower runners and getting into my pace quickly. Feeling somewhat lethargic, I wasn’t in as big of a rush to pass people. Then I noticed that I was already falling behind the 1:45 group. Since they were starting easy, I was starting too easy. I moved around a few people, and picked up my effort. Before I knew it, I was in front of the pace group.
After a few blocks through downtown Moline, we turned onto a ramp up to the I-74 bridge into Iowa. I assumed I was running fast enough, since I was in front of the 1:45 group. Most of the course is flat, but there were some long hills in the first few miles. The bridge was one of them. On the uphill side of the bridge, I stayed in the pack. On the downhill side, I shortened my stride and let myself go fast.
I never saw the first mile marker, but I reached two miles in 15:25. I was surprised to be going that fast. The next few miles were a big loop through Bettendorf. There was another long hill as we climbed away from the river. I maintained a slow but steady effort. Since I was ahead of my intended pace I didn’t mind if I gave a little back. I just didn’t want to wear myself out on the hill.
At three miles, I saw that I was still going the same pace up the hill. The next mile had some smaller hills, but eventually we descended toward the river. I was again passing people on the downhill. Before I knew it, I was right behind the half marathon 1:40 group. That’s equivalent to 3:20 for the marathon. I knew that was too fast, so I eased up and made a point of staying behind them.
After about five miles, we turned onto a paved bike path alongside the river, which we would follow into Davenport. This was my favorite part of the course. It was flat, we weren’t near any traffic, and we had great views of the Mississippi. The water was tranquil.
Most of the hills were in the first four miles, and those were behind me now. The biggest hill remaining was another bridge over the Mississippi, which we would reach after 10 miles. I was in a good rhythm now. I was going a little bit faster than eight minutes per mile, but I felt OK. I was surprised how good the pace felt, given how sluggish I was earlier in the morning.
When you run with a cold, most of the symptoms diminish after you run enough miles. Endorphins are natural decongestants. I could breathe OK, and I wasn’t coughing. Before the race, I felt weak. I was surprised that my pace didn’t feel more difficult.
I did have one symptom that I didn’t notice before the race. Whenever I went around a bend or through some shadows, I was extra cautious about my footing. This was subconscious at first. Then I realized what was really happening. When I turned, I got slightly dizzy. Apparently, there was still enough congestion in my ears to affect my sense of balance. It was a bit disconcerting, but I was able to manage.
After eight miles, the half marathon separated from the marathon. They crossed a bridge onto Arsenal Island, while we continued west for two more miles. We eventually crossed a different bridge which brought us into Rock Island, IL. This bridge was the last hill of any size. I was careful to go easy on the uphill side. I apparently made up the time on the downhill side. I ran that mile in 8:01. Overall, I was two minutes ahead of my goal pace, and the largest hills were behind me.
The next few miles were through downtown Rock Island. There was good crowd support there. Just before the halfway mark, we crossed a small bridge onto Arsenal Island, where we eventually merged with the half marathon. Because we had run several extra miles, the crowd we merged with was on a slower pace. They outnumbered us, making it hard to see the other marathon runners.
I had been running with the pack. Now I had to avoid doing that, since most of the runners around me were on pace for a 2:20 half marathon. I spotted one runner about a block ahead of me who seemed from his pace to be doing the marathon. He was wearing black shorts. I worked hard to keep him in sight. We were only with the half marathon for about a mile before we diverged again. That mile was tiring. Surprisingly, it wasn’t any faster than my previous miles. I actually slowed a little.
We were on Arsenal Island for about six miles, eventually merging with the half marathon again. By then, I was started to run miles that were slower than eight minutes. My slowest was 8:10. The good news was that I had enough of a cushion that I could now afford to average 8:14 the rest of the way.
After merging with the half marathon, I again tried to follow the runner with the black shorts. Suddenly I was gaining on him. Then I passed him. I didn’t speed up, but he evidently slowed down. I had one more mile surrounded by slower runners before they would finish. I was glad when I saw the bridge that took us back into Moline. We ran down a steep ramp. The half marathoners turned right and ran to the finish line. We turned right to begin a six mile out-and-back.
With six miles to go, I could afford to average 8:19 the rest of the way. By now, it was about 70 degrees, and I was noticing the sun. Heat was going to be a factor, but I only had to endure it for six miles. I eased up a little. My intent was to make sure my effort was sustainable. I was content to run 8:19 for the next three miles. If need be, I could pick up my effort after the turnaround.
I ran the next mile in 8:26. I tried to pick up the pace, but I couldn’t. The next one was 8:29. I was fading fast. My hope was to hang on until the turnaround and then fight hard to pick up the pace coming back. I now needed to average 8:15.
I could tell I was slowing down in that mile, but I didn’t have any energy. My pace had broken me. We ran a big loop before turning around. At 23 miles, I was shocked to see that I had run that mile slower than nine minutes. I needed to average 7:55 for the last three miles to break 3:30. That wasn’t going to happen. Suddenly I was slow as molasses.
As I rounded the next corner, I saw something that looked like a brick wall with an opening through it. I had seen something labeled “the wall” on the course map. This was it. I’ve seen this sort of thing at other races. Usually, they’re made of cardboard. This one was inflatable, but from far enough away, it actually looked like bricks.
As I finished the loop, I saw the 3:35 pace group starting the loop. Realizing I would be lucky to run 10 minute miles, I knew they would pass me before the finish. At this point, I was doing a “survivor shuffle.” I couldn’t move very fast, but I was progressing toward the finish. The bright side was that I was no longer moving fast enough to overheat.
I saw a large bridge over the river and hoped we didn’t have to run all the way to that bridge. Then I realized it was the I-74 bridge we had crossed earlier. We had to go past it. It was awfully far away, but I could see it was getting closer.
I never saw the 24 mile sign. When I reached 25 miles, I saw that I ran those two miles in 21:05. The 3:35 group passed me, and I still had over a mile to go. I eventually reached the I-74 bridge. After running underneath it, I saw another bridge a few blocks further. That was the bridge onto Arsenal Island. We would have to pass under that bridge too, before reaching the finish. When I saw the finish line, I could see that my time was going to be close to 3:40. I picked up my pace as much as I could and finished in 3:39:18.
After getting my finisher medal, I tried to keep moving slowly through the finish area. I had to stand in place briefly while a volunteer removed the timing chip from my shoe. I was only standing still for 10-15 seconds, but I got light-headed. When I was able to start moving again, I started to regain my balance.
They had a wide variety of food and beverages in the finish area. I was very selective, but still got plenty to eat. I found a place to sit down while I ate. Then I located the results tent. I didn’t think I placed in my age group, but I wanted to make sure before leaving the finish area.
The results slips showed your place within your age group at the various checkpoints with timing mats. I finished 5th in my age group. Surprisingly, I was also 5th at the 20 mile mark. As much as I slowed down, nobody in my age group passed me. I think everybody slowed down at least a little. In my case it was probably because my pace just wasn’t sustainable with a cold. I think other people slowed down because of the heat.
It’s a shame that I wasn’t 100 percent for this race. With the hills mostly in the early miles, it seems like a fast course. I don’t regret trying for 3:30, even though the pace wore me down. You never know what you can do unless you try.