This morning, I ran the Circular Logic Marathon in West Lafayette, Indiana. The course for this race was a paved one mile loop through Cumberland Park. We ran this loop 26 times, with an extra out-and-back in the first lap to make the distance right for a marathon.
The course is flat, and it’s certified. When I registered, I thought this would be a good place to make my first serious attempt at qualifying for the 2018 Boston marathon. I don’t have a qualifying time yet.
I thought I would be in better shape by now. Since then, I’ve put speed work on the back burner to focus on mileage and endurance. My fastest recent race was the Cowtown Marathon, which I ran in 3:49:33. To qualify for Boston, I needed to be 10 minutes faster. I knew that would be a real stretch
In recent weeks, I’ve started to notice soreness where the back of my left leg meets my butt. I only noticed it when I ran, but I started to notice it every time I started running. I was worried it might be the tendon, so I took no chances. In the last two weeks, I’ve done very little running. When I did run, it was always at a slow pace. If the soreness didn’t go away after a mile, I would stop. As result, I averaged only a mile a day in the last 13 days before the race. I did so little training that I gained three pounds and went into this race feeling well-rested, but not at all confident that I could run fast. I also didn’t know how my left leg would hold up. As recently as Wednesday, I still noticed some soreness after a short run.
I flew to Indianapolis Friday afternoon. From there, I had to drive a little over an hour to get to my hotel in Lafayette. After checking in, I continued to Fleet Feet Sports in West Lafayette to pick up my race packet.
This race has a small ecological footprint. My race packet consisted of two race bib and safety pins. That’s it. There weren’t any ads, coupons, or product samples. There wasn’t even a bag.
They had race T-shirts, but they were optional. You could pay an additional fee during registration to get a shirt. I have more T-shirts than I really need, so I opted not to get a shirt. I like it when races make the shirt optional.
We had two race bibs, so we could wear one in front and one in back. The one in front had our numbers and timing chips. The one on the back had our names. This is a common practice for races that are multiple laps. It makes it easier for runners to encourage each other. After a few laps, runners going different speeds are constantly passing each other.
I had dinner at Spageddies Italian Kitchen. They’re a family-oriented pasta restaurant, but I discovered they also have brick oven pizza.
For the last few nights, I had trouble sleeping. Friday night was no exception. I was worried about how my left leg would hold up running a marathon.
There were three different start times. I opted for the regular start, which was at 9:00, but early starters were already running. The temperature was still in the upper 30s, and there was a little bit of wind. A lot of my friends love cooler temperatures for running, but I worry about my muscles tightening up when my legs are too cold. I wore my cheetah tights and took the risk that I might be too warm later in the race, when it warmed into the upper 40s. I also wore my cheetah arm warmers and hat.
I was wearing my Cheetah Man ensemble, but that wasn’t the best outfit. There was another runner dressed as a zombie, complete with exposed brains and blood stains on his race bib. He was going for a world record for the fastest marathon by a zombie.
In addition to port-o-potties, there was a building next to the course with real bathrooms. Unfortunately, it wasn’t heated. Sitting on the cold toilet seat didn’t do my left leg any good.
This is a cupless race. Everyone provides their own water bottles, which are kept on tables in the start/finish areas. You label the bottles with your bib number and indicate whether they should be filled with water or Gatorade. You can also fill them with another beverage, if that’s your preference.
As you finish a lap, you grab a bottle and take it with you while you drink. Then you close the bottle and toss it in a basket. Volunteers retrieve the bottles, refill them, and put them back on the tables.
When we registered, we were each asked if we were competing for a top three finish or trying to qualify for Boston. I answered “yes,” so I was grouped with the “Boston” runners. We had a special water table protocol to make our water stops as efficient as possible.
The bib numbers for “Boston” runners were all in the same range, so we could be identified easily by one of the spotters as we approached the end of each lap. We used hand signals to indicate if we wanted water, Gatorade, or nothing. The spotters communicated with volunteers at the water tables, so they could find our bottles and be ready to hand them to us as we ran by.
I felt guilty about being in the “Boston” group and having this special treatment when I didn’t know if I’d be up to running fast. I talked to the race director, and he said not to worry about it.
I didn’t know if I would try to qualify for Boston, but I figured out what my lap times would need to be. To break 3:40, I needed to average about 8:23 per mile. That works out to roughly 10 minutes for the long first lap and then 25 minutes for every three laps after that. I kept those numbers in mind as I started the race.
My muscles tend to tighten up when they’re cold. Even wearing tights, my legs got cold while I was waiting for the race to start. Just walking from the parking lot to the start area, I felt some discomfort in my left leg. I also kept that in mind as I started the race.
I lined up behind all the other “Boston” runners. I didn’t try to keep up with them on the first lap, but I wasn’t that far behind them. I didn’t like the way my left leg felt, but I waited to see how it would feel as I warmed up. I ran that lap in 10:13, which was faster than I expected, but slower than a BQ pace.
As I started my second lap, I eased up a little and let the other “Boston” runners pull away. About halfway through that lap, my leg started to feel a little better. Then I started to speed up again. By the end of that lap, I was on pace for a BQ.
To some people, running the same loop over and over might seem boring or monotonous. It’s not a problem for me. I enjoy the variety of scenery in a point-to-point race, but I don’t need it to run. Once the race starts, I have plenty of other things to think about. I focused on my pace, my effort and how my legs felt. I also had a lot of things to remember at the end of each lap.
First, I had to check my time and figure out if I was on pace. Then I had to signal to the spotter what I wanted to drink. I also had to signal if I was skipping the water table. I made a habit of drinking after all the even numbered laps. Finally, I had to decide if I was going to adjust my effort in the next lap.
What I found challenging was setting my own pace. In a point-to-point race, everyone around you is going the same pace, so you can maintain your speed just by running with the pack. That’s easiest in large races. In a race like this, there are very few people going the same pace. After a few laps, you start to pass the slowest runners, and the fastest runners start to pass you. Before long, you’re surrounded by runners going all different speeds.
We quickly got so spread out that I had trouble finding other runners going the right pace. I didn’t trust my ability to run a consistent pace. Ideally, I wanted to follow someone. I ended up following another runner who was going just a bit too fast. I could keep up, but it took an effort. We were going a little faster than I needed to run. I had to decide if I would keep following her and risk blowing up later, or fall back and set my own pace. At first, I continued to follow. I knew I was rolling the dice.
Most of the course was paved, but there was one section where the path was curved, and we took a more direct route across the grass. The grass was covered with several sheets of plywood, so the grass wouldn’t get muddy. Whoever placed the plywood did a good job of fitting the edges together. There weren’t any gaps.
I found the plywood sheets to be bouncy, but other than that, it was a reasonable running surface. There was a volunteer nearby who told us we could take the slightly longer paved path if we preferred.
I ran the plywood section without incident for the first seven laps. In my eighth lap, the sole of my shoe grabbed the plywood and wouldn’t let go. My shoe stuck to the wood like Velcro.
That caused me to fall on the plywood, but I tucked my shoulder and rolled. I did a complete summersault and got back onto my feet quickly. My tights and arm warmers saved me from having bad scrapes on my arms and legs.
At first, it took the wind out of my sails. I easily could have used that fall as an excuse to retreat into my comfort zone, but I didn’t. I made an effort to get back into my previous pace.
I didn’t lose too much time, but I lost contact with the runner I was following. Now I was on my own to set my pace.
In my next lap, I noticed one corner of my race bib had come loose. That probably happened when I fell. That made me wonder if my timing chip could have been damaged when I fell. The chips are on the back of the bibs.
I stopped worrying when I remembered that each bib had two separate chips. It’s common for races to have redundant timing mats at the start and finish, but it’s unusual to have redundant timing chips on the bibs. They do that because the chip timing isn’t just used to record our finish time. It’s also their system for counting laps. They use double redundancy to all but eliminate the possibility of a lap not getting counted.
In my tenth lap, part of my shoe caught the edge of a sheet of plywood, where there was a seam. I didn’t trip, but it made me wonder. Is that what happened the first time? After that, I watched where my feet were going to strike. I made a point of always landing squarely on one sheet and never hitting a seam.
During that lap, I also caught up to the runner I was following earlier. Then I passed her. At the end of that lap, I discovered we had both slowed down, but she evidently slowed down more.
There’s a rule of thumb that if you don’t still feel fresh after 10 miles, you’re going too fast. I was going too fast. I was working to hold the pace, and I couldn’t hold it any longer.
There wasn’t a halfway point, but after 13 laps, I had run 13.2 miles. I got there in 1:51:00. I was still pretty close to a BQ pace overall, but more recently, I had been running about 10 second per lap too slow.
By now, I had already given up on breaking 3:40. I could still break 3:50 if I averaged nine minutes per mile for the rest of the race. At this point, that would probably take an all-out effort, and I didn’t know if I wanted to fight that hard. My pace continued to deteriorate rapidly. After another lap, I realized 3:50 wasn’t happening.
I could still break four hours by averaging 10 minutes per mile the rest of the way. I was willing to fight for that. I broke four hours in my last two races, and I wanted to keep that streak going. My pace stabilized around 9:30 per mile. I was determined to keep my remaining lap times under 10 minutes.
It’s worth noting at this point that I was no longer noticing the sore spot in my left leg at all. My left hamstring felt tight, but there wasn’t any soreness where my hamstring met my pelvis. Either it was genuinely feeling better than in any of my other recent runs, or I was running hard enough to completely tune out the discomfort.
Every lap, I recomputed the pace I needed to break four hours. With seven laps to go, it was 10:30. With three laps to go, it was 11:20. With two laps to go, it was 12. I was still determined to keep all my remaining lap times under 10.
Besides the marathon, there was also a marathon relay. Late in the race, I saw a young girl on a relay team running with her father. Just as I was about to pass them, a friend of theirs took a picture. As I passed, I told them they just got photobombed by a cheetah, and I asked if that was OK.
In a point-to-point race, the early miles go by quickly, and the later ones seem to last forever. When every mile is the same, you start to get a good feel for where you are in the loop. That familiarity can give you a better sense that you’re making progress. I actually thought the last few miles felt shorter.
After finishing my 24th lap, I reached the spotters and held up two fingers. The guy on my right said, “I also have you at two laps to go.” That puzzled me. He was correct that I had two laps to go, but I was holding up two fingers because that’s the signal for Gatorade.
With one lap to go, the same guy said, “Last lap.” That answered a question that had been on my mind. I’m pretty good at keeping track of my lap count. Most runners use GPS watches. What about other “old school” runners who don’t use GPS, but also aren’t good at keeping track of their lap count? 26 is a lot of laps. The race volunteers were keeping tabs on us and let everyone know when they were starting their last lap.
I was going to break four hours by a wide margin, but I still wanted to break 10 minutes in that last lap. I was picking up my pace. Then I reached the plywood. I fell again! This time there was absolutely no doubt in my mind. I didn’t catch a seam. My foot landed squarely in the middle of a board, but it stuck like Velcro again. There must have been something about how my foot struck that made me susceptible to that.
I can’t emphasize strongly enough that I don’t think the plywood was unsafe. I’m not aware of any other runners falling. It was just me. It fits a recent pattern. In early December, I fell twice during the first race of the Four Corners Quad. In early February, I fell twice during the Rocky Raccoon 100. Now it’s early April, and I fell twice during this race. I was due. This is a bad omen for June. I only have one race that month, and it’s the Bighorn Mountain 100.
My right elbow hit the plywood. I could tell I scraped it, but the arm warmers saved me from having worse scrapes. I was slow to get up, but quickly resumed my previous pace. I didn’t know how much time I lost, but I didn’t want this fall to keep me from breaking 10 in my last lap.
I lit a fire under myself and ran that last lap in 9:08. Overall, my time was 3:54:38. I was nowhere close to qualifying for Boston, but I managed to keep my average pace under nine minutes per mile. I was happy with that.
The finisher medal was also optional. I didn’t pay for a T-shirt, but I did pay for a medal. This is one of my favorites.
I don’t know how fast the zombie had to run to get his world record, but he was running pretty fast. He lapped me five times.
After the race, I stopped at the water table to retrieve both of my Gatorade bottles. Both of them had been topped off by the volunteers. Not wanting to waste it, I was drinking Gatorade for the rest of the day.
As I was walking back to the car, I still didn’t notice any soreness where my left leg meets my butt. All of the muscles in both legs were stiff, but that’s normal post-race stuff. I don’t know how my left leg will feel in the next few days, but for now it seems like I dodged a bullet.
I scheduled this race because it fit into my schedule nicely, and it was my third Indiana marathon. Now that I’ve run it, I recommend it. I don’t think of multiple loop courses as being fast, but they do everything they can to make it possible to run fast here. This is a place to qualify for Boston. It helps if you’re actually in shape to run that fast. I wasn’t.
Distance: 26.2 miles
Average Pace: 8:57
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 331