Monday, January 19, 2015

Race Report: 2015 Marathon Bahamas

On January 18, I ran Marathon Bahamas in Nassau.  This was the second time I did this race.  I also did it in 2011.  I like to keep visiting new countries, so I don’t typically repeat races in countries I’ve already visited.  I made an exception for this race, since it was an annual meeting/reunion race for Marathon Globetrotters.

Marathon Globetrotters is a club for runners who like to run marathon in different countries.  The goal is to run marathons in as many countries as one reasonably can.  So far, I’ve run marathons in 16 countries.

Marathon Globetrotters was able to get a block of rooms at a discounted rate at the British Colonial Hilton.  I stayed there in 2011, so I knew it was one of the closest hotels to the start and finish of the marathon.  Naturally, I stayed there again.

The club meeting was on Saturday, so I flew to Nassau on Friday.  I had to take an early flight out of Minneapolis, so I could make a connection in Atlanta.  As I was leaving the airport in Nassau, I met two other runners from Minnesota, and we shared a cab ride downtown.

My room at the Hilton had a city view, but the lounge has a balcony facing the beach.  Here’s a view from the lounge.

After checking in, I did some window shopping in the downtown area.  One of the places I visited was the Nassau Straw Market.  This is an open air market with dozens of vendors selling clothing and souvenirs.

Later, I had dinner with two Globetrotters I met in the lobby.  We went to Café Matisse.  This is an Italian restaurant that uses innovative combinations of ingredients.  It was tough to decide what to order, because many of the entrees sounded intriguing.  I opted for this pizza, which included pumpkin and bacon.

Saturday morning, I had breakfast at the hotel, and then started bumping into other runners in the lobby.  Most of the other Marathon Globetrotters were also staying at the Hilton, so I kept seeing people I know.  That set the tone for the whole weekend.  Every time I turned around I either saw someone I knew or had the opportunity to meet other Globetrotters.

I split the rest of the morning between the beach and the downtown area.  On one of my trips to the beach, I bumped into Justin Gillette, who introduced me to his wife Melissa.  Justin and Melissa were the defending champions in the marathon.  On another trip to the beach, I bumped into three more friends.

Saturday afternoon was filled with club business.  First, I attended a brief board meeting to prepare for the club meeting.  Then a few of us went over to the marathon expo, where Marathon Globetrotters had a booth.  In the late afternoon, we returned to the Hilton for the club’s first annual meeting.  It was a busy agenda, as we had to adopt a set of bylaws, elect officers, and introduce everyone.  While it was mostly a business meeting, I think it was also fun.  Many of us were meeting each other for the first time.

After the meeting, several of us went out for dinner.  There are numerous restaurants in the downtown area, but many of them close as soon as the cruise ships leave port.  We went back to Café Matisse, because aside from having excellent food, we knew they would still be open, and Italian food was a safe choice for a pre-race dinner.

Weather was mild both Friday and Saturday.  The highs were in the mid-70s, and the overnight lows were in the mid-60s.  Sunday was warmer.  It was 71 degrees when I woke up, and it was forecast to reach 80 by 10:00.  The race started at 6:00 AM.  I was hoping to finish by 9:30, but with the hot weather, I could see taking longer.  At the very least, it was going to get into the upper 70s.

The marathon course spans two islands.  Most of it is on New Providence Island, but it also crosses briefly onto Paradise Island, which is connected by bridges.  The race starts at Junkanoo Beach, which is about two blocks from the British Colonial Hilton.  The first seven miles are a loop through the downtown area.  Then there’s a long out-and-back that follows the shoreline past several beaches on the west end of New Providence Island.  The race finishes at Arawak Cay, which is only a few blocks from the start.

When I did this race in 2011, I had an excellent result.  I placed third overall and first in the Masters division.  A few days ago, I posted my race report from 2011.  I’m not as fast as I was then, but now I’m over 50.  I felt I should still be able to compete for first in my age group.  With that in mind, I was determined to compete.

Had I not been trying to relive my glory days from four years ago, I could easily have settled for breaking four hours.  After all, I haven’t had much quality training lately.  I wasn’t too confident that I could break 3:30 under ideal conditions, and this race was going to be hot.

I wore a desert-style hat, with a shroud that covers the back of my neck.  My strategy for coping with the heat was to pour water over my head at the aid stations.  That worked well for me at the Cayman Islands Marathon, which was much hotter.  The water filters down through my hat into the back of my singlet.  Unfortunately, it also runs down my legs and gets my shoes wet.  I wanted to wait until after the loop part of the course.  I didn’t want my shoes getting wet before it was light out.

I arrived at the start about 30 minutes before the race. Once I was ready, there was no reason not to walk to the start.  It was as comfortable outside as inside.  In the start area, they were playing the Marathon Bahamas theme song.  I don’t know of any other races with their own music.  You can listen to it here:

There were roughly 30 Marathon Globetrotters doing the marathon.  That’s about one in four runners.  About 10 minutes before the race, we had a group photo by the starting line.  The club was also mentioned in pre-race announcements.

Mindful that awards are based on gun times, I lined up farther forward than I ordinarily would.  In addition to the marathon, there’s a half marathon and a marathon relay.  They all start together, so there’s lots of people starting at a fast pace.  I needed to start faster than I did in my previous two marathons, but I tried to set my own pace and not keep up with the leaders.  After the first mile, I saw that I was only partially successful.  I ran the first mile in 7:36, which was too fast.

In the second mile, we turned to cross the bridge onto Paradise Island.  It’s a long arching bridge, so it’s a significant hill.  I used the bridge as an opportunity to settle down into a sustainable pace.  Climbing the bridge, I focused on my effort, and didn’t worry about my pace.  I made sure I got to the top without wearing myself out.  On the downhill side, I relaxed, shortened my stride, and let gravity do the work.  Although it was still before sunrise, there was enough light that I could recognize the Atlantis resort.

Right after the bridge, we reached the two mile mark and an aid station.  I slowed to 8:03 in that mile, but I was already getting sweaty.  I drank a cup of Gatorade.  I was tempted to also pour a cup of water on my head, but I waited.  I still had one more steep bridge, and I didn’t want to run it with wet shoes.

Just one block after getting onto Paradise Island, we turned onto the bridge that would take us back to New Providence Island.  It’s a shame that we work so hard to get there, but don’t stay on the island long enough to see much of it.

I also ran cautiously on the second bridge.  The next time I reached an aid station, I poured a cup of water on top of my head.  I continued to do that for the rest of the race.  Because it was still somewhat dark, I had trouble reading my watch at the next two mile markers.  When it got light enough, I discovered that I was running pretty close to 8:00 per mile.  Overall, I was slightly ahead of that pace, because of the fast first mile.

At six miles, we completed a loop that brought us back to the Hilton.  The next mile took us past the start and finish areas.  Then we began the long out-and-back.  I settled into a nice rhythm here.  I didn’t know if my pace would be sustainable as it got hotter, but I was recognizing all the beaches and remembering the 2011 race.  My familiarity with the course and the good memories from 2011 put me in a positive frame of mind.  I felt optimistic, and the pace started to feel easier than it had in the early miles.

After another mile, I started seeing the fastest half marathon runners coming back.  Around the ten mile mark, we passed the half marathon turnaround.  After that, the runners ahead of me were all doing either the marathon or relay.

I kept drinking and pouring water on my head.  It was working.  It took an effort to sustain my pace, but it didn’t feel like I was in danger of overheating.  I reached the halfway mark in 3:44:25.  I knew the second half would be hotter, but I was excited to still be on pace for 3:30.  The last time I ran that pace for more than four miles was over a month ago.

Pouring water over my head was having the desired effect, but there was also a consequence.  When my shoes get wet, I have trouble with my insoles.  I could feel the insoles slipping forward in my shoes.  Under my heels, I didn’t have any cushioning.  Under my toes, the insoles bunched up.  It was uncomfortable, but I just had to live with it for the rest of the race.  By focusing on my pace and my surroundings, I was able to tune out the discomfort.

Eventually, I saw the first relay runner coming back from the marathon turnaround.  Marathon runners wore orange bibs, and relay runners wore green bibs.  I started looking for the orange bibs.  I knew I wouldn’t place as high as I did in 2011, but I still counted the runners ahead of me.

The first marathon runner was Justin.  That was no surprise.  As the next five men went by, I tried to discern their ages.  They all looked like they were younger than 40.  Then I saw Melissa.  She was leading the women and all but six of the men.

As I got closer to the turnaround, I saw more and more runners coming back.  I lost track of the total, but there were probably 15 ahead of me.  I saw one runner with gray hair.  He was clearly over 40, and he was probably over 50.  The runner behind him also looked older.   I no longer had any illusions about winning the Masters division again.  I had serious doubts about winning my age group.  There were awards for the top three in each age group, so placing in my age group was still a realistic goal.

When I saw the two older runners, I was still a half mile from the turn.  That meant they were about a mile ahead of me.  The only way I would catch them is if they blew up and came back to me.  There was still plenty of time to blow up in the heat.  Of course, I could also blow up.  I was running a pace that was barely sustainable and ignoring the fact that it would keep getting hotter.

The turnaround was between 16 and 17 miles.  Before the turn, there were two small hills.  The hills must have slowed me down.  When I checked my time at 17 miles, I was no longer on pace to break 3:30.  I was only seven seconds off the pace, but the last nine miles would be increasingly difficult.  It was now in the upper 70s, and the sun was high in the sky.  I could feel the radiant heat.  In the next mile, I gave up another seven seconds.  I worried that this was the beginning of a downward spiral.  I began to accept that 3:30 probably wasn’t a realistic goal under the conditions.

One of the nice things about an out-and-back section is that you see all the runners going the other way.  Before the turn, I recognized the leaders.  After the turn, I started seeing all the other Marathon Globetrotters.  I probably knew half of them before this weekend, but I could recognize the rest because they were at the meeting on Saturday.  I’ve done races in the US where I recognized lots of 50 staters or Marathon Maniacs.  It was exciting to be running in another country and recognize about one fourth of the other runners.

In mile 19, I was passed by runner in a gray shirt.  I had been passed my relay runners, but he was the first marathon runner to pass me.  He was probably older than 40.  I couldn’t say for sure that he wasn’t in my age group.  For all I knew, I had just dropped out of the top three in my age group.  He was running strong, so I couldn’t stay with him.  Subconsciously, however, I must have sped up.  I was staying close to him.  Then I started to notice a burning sensation in my quads.  I seldom do short races, but it was like the feeling you get in the last mile of an all-out 10K race.  I wasn’t running that fast.  I was hot and tired, but I shouldn’t have been exceeding my aerobic threshold.  Then I remembered how the heat can affect blood flow.  With more blood going to my skin to shunt excess heat, I had less blood flow to the muscles in my legs.  That effectively reduced my aerobic capacity.

I had to back off a little.  The runner in the gray shirt gradually pulled away. Then I got to the next mile marker. I sped up more than I realized.  Now I was once again on pace for 3:30.  That lifted my spirits.  I wanted to break 3:30 if I possibly could.  It seemed possible, so I had to try.  I started digging deeper and deeper.

My next four miles were 8:07, 7:53, 8:01 and 8:00.  I was doing it.  I was staying on pace.  I only had 3.2 miles to go, and I had a 22 second cushion.  I was falling farther behind the runner with the gray shirt, but I had a real shot at 3:30.

In the next mile, we passed the half marathon turnaround and started moving through the back end of the half marathon field.  That made it harder to see the guy in the gray shirt.  I maintained my effort.

When I reached the 24 mile mark, I was dismayed by my time.  I lost almost a minute.  As hard as I was running, I didn’t seem possible that I could have slowed to an 8:59 mile.  It occurred to me that the mile marker might be misplaced.  It was also possible that the previous mile marker had been misplaced, and I had started falling off the pace a mile earlier.

I was on a mission to break 3:30.  As long as I had a realistic chance, I would fight for it.  To maintain my motivation, I needed hope.  I chose to believe that the previous markers were all accurate and the 24 mile sign was misplaced.  If that were true, I might still be on pace.

I fought hard for the next mile.  When I reached the 25 mile sign, I nervously looked at my watch.  I gained the time back, plus another 15 seconds.  The 24 mile sign must have been off.  I had a 37 second cushion with 1.2 miles to go.  That seemed safe, as long as I kept up my effort.

I could still see the runner in the gray shirt.  He was pretty far ahead, but I seemed to be closing the gap.  I did my best to follow him in.  We both passed a few other runners.  I recognized the spot where we finished in 2011.  We ran past it.  Obviously, the course was a little bit different now.  I still couldn’t see the finish line.

Eventually, I saw a runner turn into a parking lot.  Then the guy in the gray shirt made the turn.  As I followed him, I saw him continue turning and running back through the parking lot.  The 26 mile sign was right at the turn.  I could see now that 3:30 was in the bag.  Then I realized I could catch the runner in the gray shirt.  I reminded myself that he might be in my age group.  I flew by him and never looked back.  I ran hard to the finish and crossed the line in 3:29:08.

I qualified for Boston on a hot sunny day.  I was happy with that.  I fought hard in the late miles.  I was happy with that.  I ran the second half two seconds faster than the first half.  I was very happy with that.  I’m not as fast as I was four years ago, but I still managed to recreate the magic, running another strong race in the Bahamas.

I don’t usually fly home on the day of a race, but this was one of those rare occasions.  It was 9:30.  I needed to leave for the airport at 12:30.  No problem.  The awards ceremony was at 11:00, and I probably placed in my age group.  Problem.

I grabbed a bottle of water and a bagel with peanut butter.  Then I started walking back to the hotel.  With sore legs, it seemed like a long walk, but I got there as quickly as I could.  Instead of soaking in a hot bath, I took a quick shower.  I hastily stretched, got dressed and finished packing.  Then I walked back to the finish area.

While I was waiting for awards to start, I saw several of my friends finish the race.  I also got to chat with a few who finished earlier, but were still in the finish area.  When I checked the results board, I saw that I was first in my age group.  I guess the runners I saw ahead of me were in different age groups.

Being there for the awards gave me a chance to congratulate Justin and Melissa, who each repeated as marathon champions.

My award was a conch shell mounted on a plaque.  Second and third place got cow bells.

Getting a fragile award just before leaving for the airport presented a new challenge.  I had to check my suitcase instead of carrying it onto the plane.  My award became my carry-on.  It made an interesting conversation piece at the airport.  The customs agent loved it and asked me all about the race.  Later, the flight attendants on both of my flights were able to find safe places to stow it.  Otherwise I would’ve had to hold it in my lap during the flights.

Since I didn’t get much food after the race, I ate lunch at the airport.  As I was deciding was to order, I looked at my award, which was sitting on the table.  It spoke to me.  I ordered conch fritters and conch chowder.

I regret that I didn’t stay another night in the Bahamas.  It would have been fun to party with the other Globetrotters after the race.  We had a fun group, and I heard they were going to Senor Frog's.  I’m looking forward to the next reunion race.


1 comment:

  1. I'm getting ready to run the Bahamas Half this coming weekend and found your race report! Congrats! And I love the travel home carry-on story! Best of luck in your continued running adventures!