Sunday, January 11, 2015

Race Report: 2015 First Light Marathon

Today I ran the First Light Marathon in Mobile, AL.  This was the second day of my Mississippi/Alabama double.  Yesterday, I did the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson.

I traveled to Mobile on a bus that was arranged by the race organizers for runners who were doing both marathons.  The bus arrived at 5:00 yesterday afternoon.  We were dropped off right in front of the building where the expo was held, but I had luggage, so I needed to go to my hotel first.

I stayed at Hampton Inn, which was the host hotel for the race.  I had to walk about three blocks to get there.  After checking in, I walked back to the expo to pick up my race packet.  I also received this plaque, which went to anyone who did both races.  It’s hand-painted and identifies the artist on the back.  I don’t think any two plaques were the same.

After returning to the hotel to drop off my race packet, I joined two friends for dinner at The Blind Mule, a cajun-creole restaurant.  On the way, we walked down Dauphin Street, which is the same street where the marathon finishes.  The architecture and external décor of the shops reminded me of the French Quarter in New Orleans.  There were even shops with Mardi Gras masks and decorations.

The race didn’t start until 7:30, so I didn’t have to get up too early.  I had time to grab a light breakfast before leaving the hotel, and I got to the starting line in time for the Marathon Maniacs group photo.

The weather in Mobile was warmer than it was yesterday in Jackson.  It was 39 degrees at the start, and I expected the temperature to climb to 50 degrees by the time I finished.  I wore tights, a short-sleeved shirt, gloves and my warm Cheetah hat.  I was originally planning to wear arm warmers, but made a last-minute decision to leave them at the hotel.  When I removed my warm-ups and checked my gear bag, I wondered if I would regret that decision.

I started the race at a pace that felt faster than yesterday, but it turned out to be about the same.  My first few miles were about 8:20.  Right off the bat, my legs felt stiff.  That’s normal for the second day of a double.  I knew the only way to loosen them up was to run, so I didn’t let it dissuade me from running fast.

Other than finishing, my only goal for this race was to break four hours.  After started on pace for 3:40, I felt optimistic I could do that.  The first 10 miles are all flat, but there’s a section after that with some long hills.  I gradually throttled back my pace in anticipation of hitting the hills.  By the time I finished 10 miles, I was averaging about 8:30 per mile.  That put me several minutes ahead of the pace I would need to break four hours.

The first hill was a bridge in the 11th mile.  The first real hill was in the 12th mile.  That was the first of three long gradual hills.  Knowing I was going faster than I needed to, I gave myself permission to slow down on the hills.  In general, I wanted to get through this section without wearing myself out.  I could afford to give back some time.

That attitude made the hills manageable.  I started to become more concerned with the wind.  I expected to get warmer as the race progressed, but I didn’t.  I was getting colder.  I realized it was because the wind was picking up.  It wasn’t strong enough to be tiring, but it made my arms and hands cold.

I got through the first two long hills and some shorter ones without slowing down too much.  My slowest miles were barely slower than nine minutes.  On average, I was still putting time in the bank.

Around 18 miles, I started the last of the three long hills.  About halfway up the hill, I noticed some discomfort in my right hamstring.  That was my “good” leg.  Had it been my left hamstring, I would have been concerned.  Instead, I chalked it up to one of those aches and pains you can get when you run marathons two days in arrow, and you’re in the toughest mile.

That made me realize that other than the general stiffness I had in all my muscles, I had no hint of discomfort in my left hamstring or glutes.  They didn’t even feel tight.  That was really good news, because I was worried about them after yesterday’s race.

After a few more small rises, I reached mile 20 and started a long gradual downhill.  I wasn’t able to pick up my pace significantly, but I also wasn’t uncomfortable running downhill.

Just before the 21 mile mark, I turned left onto Dauphin Street.  That was the street we would finish on.  The last five miles are absolutely flat.  Unfortunately, I also realized that they would all be into the wind.  That’s why I didn’t notice the wind in the early miles.  It was at our backs.

My hands were going to be cold for the rest of the race, but at least I only had 5.2 miles to go.  Breaking four hours was now a foregone conclusion.  Over the last 5.2 miles, I only needed to average 11 minutes per mile.  I never ran a mile slower than 10 minutes.

I never saw the 22 mile sign.  When I realized I missed it, I picked up my effort a little.  I was worried about slowing down and not knowing it for two miles.  As I lifted my effort, I once again left some discomfort in my right hamstring.  That was a bit disconcerting, but I was relieved that my left hamstring felt OK.

It wasn’t until the last half mile that I recognized my surroundings.  I finally reached the section of Dauphin I had walked the night before.  Then I saw the finish line in the distance.  As I got closer, I saw the finish chute was lined by several young southern belles in elegant dresses.

I crossed the line in 3:51:46.  That was my second sub-4 marathon in two days.  Given all the question marks about my health and my recovery from Across the Years, I considered that a best-case scenario.

The finisher medals were hand-crafted and seemed to match the plaque I received at the expo.  Here’s what both sides look like.

Runners who did both marathons this weekend also received an extra medal.  It has a spinner that shows the shape of Mississippi on one side and the shape of Alabama on the other.  It’s a clever design that takes advantage of the near-symmetry of the two states.

After crossing the line, I was handed a Mylar blanket that was still folded up in the original packaging.  Wanting to save it for a future race, I proceeded quickly to the gear truck, so I could put on my warm-up clothes.

In addition to typical finish line snacks like bananas and bagels, there was a tent where each runner got a catered meal.  It included red beans & rice, pasta salad, corn bread, cookies, and beverages.

I stayed in the finish line to visit with other runners.  Every time I turned around, I saw someone else I knew.  That’s one of the great things about reunion races.  I didn’t have to be in a hurry to leave.  My hotel was only three blocks away, and I’m not flying home until tomorrow.

It’s been several hours since the race.  Since finishing, I haven’t had any discomfort in my right hamstring.  My left hamstring feels normal.  That’s saying a lot.  It hasn’t felt normal for about six weeks.

When I scheduled these races, I had serious doubts about my ability to run them.  Now, I’m happy with my times, and I’m getting more optimistic about my next few races.  I don’t have any more doubles for the next few months.  With any luck, I’ll start doing some quality training, and I’ll be able to improve my times.  In the meantime, this was a fun weekend.

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