Saturday, March 30, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Carmel Marathon

On March 30, I ran the Carmel Marathon.  Carmel is on the north side of Indianapolis, and the Carmel Marathon is the second largest marathon in Indiana.  I had never done this race before, but it was recommended by friends who live in Indiana.  Also, since I’m working toward a fourth circuit of 50 states, I needed another Indiana race.

I flew to Indianapolis on Friday and stayed at a Hampton Inn that was about two miles from where the race starts and finishes.  After checking in, I went to the expo at Carmel High School to pick up my race packet.

Two of my friends drove from out of state to lead pace groups.  Aaron was leading the 3:35 pace group.  Sandy was leading the 5:45 pace group.  I had dinner with Aaron at a local pizzeria.

The race started and finished next to the Center for the Performing Arts.  The course was like a figure eight.  The first half was a big loop through neighborhoods on the east side of Carmel.  The second half was a different loop through neighborhoods on the west side of Carmel.  The half marathon just did the first loop.

The website for the race had a map of all the parking areas near the start and finish.  The most convenient was a public parking garage attached to the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.  I wanted to make sure I knew how to get there in the morning, so I drove there after dinner.  It only took a few minutes to get there.  The parking map on the website showed where you enter the ramp and where the street would be blocked off in the morning.

Later, I met Sandy for beer flights at one of the local breweries.

I got to bed at a reasonable hour, but struggled to get to sleep.  At first, I was sleepy, but I was too hot, and I was distracted by the bright LED display of the alarm clock.  Eventually, I peeled back the blanket and covered the alarm clock with a sock.  Now, I didn’t have any distractions, but I was no longer sleepy.  I eventually nodded off, but woke up again after only 10 or 15 minutes.  I never got back to sleep again.

When I eventually got up, I felt pretty crappy.  I did what I always do.  I started getting ready for the race.  Sometimes I sleep poorly and feel tired, but still have a good race.  I was skeptical, but sometimes you just have to start the race and see how it goes.

A cold front moved through on Saturday, bringing cooler temperatures.  When I got up, it was 56 degrees, but that was the high temperature for the day.  By the time the race started, it had cooled to 55.  During the race, the temperature dropped into the 40s.

Ordinarily, those temperatures would be fine, but it was also raining.  From the hourly forecast, it seemed possible it would rain all morning.  It seemed equally possible that the rain might come and go.  That made it hard to know what to wear.

I wore tights and a T-shirt, and also wore a plastic rain poncho.  I was taking the risk that I might get too hot if the rain stopped.  Since I knew we would start in rain, that seemed better than risking being underdressed.

I got to the parking ramp early and had no trouble finding a place to park.  About an hour before the race, I left the ramp to go to the bathroom.  The only bathrooms available were port-o-potties near the start corrals.  I had to walk about a block in the rain, but there weren’t any lines yet.  After that, I wanted inside the atrium of the Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre.

In my last race, I broke 3:35 and qualified for Boston.  The natural goal for this race was to see if I could improve on that time.  Even a small improvement could enhance my chances of getting into next year’s Boston Marathon.

In my last two races, I had good success running with pace groups.  Aaron was pacing the 3:35 pace group, so my plan was to start the race with him.  If I had a good race, I’d go ahead on my own in the late miles.  If not, I would hang on for as long as I could.  I was feeling weak and shaky from the lack of sleep, so I had serious doubts about whether I could have a good race.  Since I already had a qualifying time for Boston, I had nothing to lose by trying for a faster time.  The worst thing that could happen is the pace would break me and I’d struggle in the second half.  At this point, my only goals were improving my qualifying time and extending a streak of four consecutive sub four hour finishes.  If I couldn’t run 3:33, I’d be happy with 3:59.

About 15 minutes before the race, I went outside and made my way into the start corrals. I spotted Aaron and lined up near him.  By the time the race started, my shoes were already soaking wet.

One of the advantages of running with a pace group is you don’t have to think too much.  As we started running, I just followed Aaron.  I didn’t bother checking my pace.  I let him worry about that.  I mostly worried about staying with him.  In the first mile, I had to work to keep from getting bottled up behind slower runners.  The first mile of every race is like that.

Shortly after the start, we turned and headed south.  I could really feel the cold wind.  I also felt the insole moving inside one of my shoes.  This sometimes happens when water gets in my shoes, but I’ve never experienced it in the first mile of a race.

When we reached an aid station, I was reluctant to drink anything.  I was cold and wet, and I didn’t feel the least bit thirsty.  I drank some Gatorade anyway.  I reminded myself I might get hot later if the rain stopped.  If I overheated later, I’d be glad I started hydrating early.

Just past the two mile mark, we turned left and headed east.  I immediately felt relief from the wind.  By time we got to three miles, the rain seemed to be stopping.  Now I felt too warm.  Aaron discarded his rain poncho.  Two other runners in the 3:35 group discarded trash bags they were wearing.  I didn’t want to throw away my poncho, but I pushed the hood off my head, and I took off my gloves.

At five miles, we made another left turn and headed north.  I still wasn’t feeling any wind.  I started to get really hot on this stretch.  I regretted wearing the rain poncho, but I still didn’t want to throw it away.  By the time we got to six miles, it was too much work to stay with the group.  I had to slow down and run my own pace.

To find a pace that felt sustainable, I had to slow down a lot.  I started to wonder if I could even sustain nine minute miles.  I felt like I tried to stay with Aaron too long, and now I was blowing up.  I still had 20 miles to go.

At around seven miles, we turned into the wind again.  Now the wind made me feel more comfortable.  I forgot to check my time at seven miles, but at eight miles, I saw I had slowed to 8:53 per mile since dropping back from the pace group.  That’s a little faster than a four hour pace, but it still felt tiring.  I expected to continue slowing down.

Before the end of the next mile, a big group of runners went by me.  It was the 3:40 pace group.  That was no surprise, but it made me realize how many runners were passing me since I slowed down.

My ninth mile was 9:02, and it still felt too fast to sustain.  I now had doubts about whether I could even break four hours.

This part of the course had some zig-zags.  Sometimes we ran north and sometimes we ran west.  The wind was strongest when we were headed west.  At about 10 miles, I started to notice cold wind gusts.  Then it started raining again.  At first, it was just drizzling, and it felt good.  Over the next few miles it turned into a steady rain, and I started getting cold.  Earlier, I regretted wearing the rain poncho.  Now I was glad I had it.  I wondered if other runners would regret getting rid of theirs.

I was tempted to put my gloves on again, but that’s easier said done.  They’re a snug fit when they’re dry, and now they were wet.  To put them on, I’d have to stop, and I didn’t want to stop, even briefly.  I pulled the hood back over my hat.  That helped keep some heat in.

I started to feel a blister in the arch area of my left foot.  That’s the same shoe where my insole was slipping forward, which no doubt created extra friction.  The same thing happened during the Little Rock Marathon four weeks ago.

At around 11 miles, we turned onto a paved bike path.  We crossed a bridge with an aluminum bridge surface.  With the rain, it was slippery.  After another mile, we turned left and merged onto another paved trail.  I saw a “25” sign.  We were now on a segment of the loop that overlapped with the loop we would run in the second half.  For the next 1.2 miles, I was getting a preview of how the race would end.

We left the trail and crossed Main Street.  We were in the arts district now, and I recognized businesses I had driven past on Friday.  After a few more turns, we came within sight of the halfway point.  Half marathon runners kept right and ran to the finish line.  Marathon runners kept to the left and began the second loop.

I reached the halfway mark in 3:53:01.  Apparently, I had picked up my pace a little.  I could break four hours just by running 9:30s the rest of the way.  My recent miles had been faster than nine minutes, so I was now confident I would break four hours.

After running through the start/finish area, we made a few turns and ran across some brick streets and patios.  It took some work to navigate around the puddles.  Then we were on the paved trail again.

Now that I was more than halfway done, I felt more confident.  My pace had stabilized and the remaining distance seemed manageable.  My hands were getting really cold, but they still had color.  As long as they were a bright pink, I didn’t need to be too concerned.  It they turned white, that would be worrisome.

I didn’t check my watch again until 16 miles.  Since the halfway mark, I was averaging about 8:40 per mile.  Now I started to wonder if I would break 3:50.  That was encouraging, but for now I only had three goals.  I wanted to finish; I wanted to break four hours; and I wanted to take a hot bath.

Along the trail, we were somewhat sheltered from the wind.  Shortly after 16 miles, we turned onto a road and headed straight into the wind.  I kept telling myself we would eventually get a tailwind.  Until then, I just had to tough it out.  I also had to tough out the blister pain, which was getting worse.

The course zig-zagged a few more times.  We’d head west, then north, then west, then north.  I think we had a headwind going west and a crosswind going north.  They both felt about the same.  Anything other than a tailwind was freezing.  The rain eventually let up again, but I was still cold.

Running into the wind, I felt the wind blowing into my hood.  It helped kept me warm, but I had to push it off my head to eliminate the wind drag.

I was no long getting passed by anyone.  Now I was passing other runners.  I started working harder to make sure I kept up with the strongest runners around me.  From 16 to 18, I averaged 8:51, but then I ran several miles in the 8:40 range.  There was no longer any doubt I would break 3:50.  Now 3:48 was a realistic goal.  Eight weeks ago, I ran the Surf City Marathon in 3:48:03. At the time, I was happy with that time.  If I could beat that time on a day when I was having a bad race, that would be something to feel good about.

Carmel has lots of roundabouts.  The race included several of them.  Most of the time, we were continuing on the same street, but it was a challenge to run the tangents.  At one, we were effectively making a left turn, but we had to going around on the right.  I was annoyed that we had to take the long way around.

In the late miles, I wondered when we would finally get a tailwind.  Sooner or later, we had to go east to get back to the center of town, but for now, we were mostly running north.  I had a vague idea of where we were, but I wished I had taken a longer look at the course map.

Just before 23 miles, we turned right, and I finally felt relief from the wind.  Unfortunately, it didn’t last long.  We made another turn and headed north again.  I had no idea where we were until I saw a runner on my right going the opposite direction.  At first, it looked like he was on a road that ran parallel to ours.  Then I realized it was the same paved trail we would finish on.

We continued north a bit farther, and then we made a 180 degree turn onto the trail.  Now I knew what to expect the rest of the way.  We would run south on the trail for about a mile and then repeat the section we ran at the end of the first loop.  I started to pick up my effort.

I reached the 25 mile mark in 3:35:24.  By now, Aaron and his group were already finished.  Then I realized my 25th mile was eight minutes exactly.  That was my fastest mile of the race.

As I left the trail and ran though the arts district for the second time, everything looked familiar.  I tried to keep up my pace, but my blister was killing me and my hands were freezing.  Each turn was now familiar.  That helped.

I don’t usually check my watch at 26 miles, but I was curious to know if I ran as fast as the previous mile.  Not quite.  This one was 8:05.

I made the last turn and raced for the finish line.  I finished in 3:45:09.  I didn’t just beat my Surf City time.  I also beat my time from the Hong Kong Marathon.

Nine miles into this race, I felt like I was coming apart at the seams, and I expected to have positive splits by more than ten minutes.  I still had positive splits, but by only 1:07.  I really limited the damage after blowing up at six miles.

The finisher medal is in the shape in Indiana.  I like that, since I chose this race, in part, to get another Indiana race.

After I got my medal, a volunteer wrapped a space blanket around me and asked me if I wanted her to tie it in place.  I said, “That would be great.  My hands don’t work.”  She said, “I know.  I’ve been there.”

As I rounded the corner, I got a carton of chocolate mile.  Another volunteer handed me three donut holes.  I passed a table with lots of other snack foods, but I didn’t feel like eating anything else.

On the other side of the street, I saw people sitting at tables under a large canopy.  They were eating something.  I forgot.  They have post-race pancakes and sausages.  I still didn’t feel like eating, but I had to have at least one pancake and at least one sausage.  They had blueberries and maple syrup for the pancakes.

I’m not usually a big fan of breakfast sausages.  They’re too salty.  After a race, however, they taste great.  Eating the pancake was difficult.  My appetite came back quickly, but my hands could barely hold onto the plastic utensils.

I was sheltered from the rain, but I was still eating outside.  I had to eat quickly, because I was getting cold.  I overheard one of the volunteers say the temperature had dropped to 43 degrees.

When I stood up and started walking, my blister hurt more than ever.  I wondered if it popped.  Between the blister and the insole scrunched up inside my shoe, walking was painful.  I stepped in an awkward way that made my Achilles tendon uncomfortable.

I hobbled through the Booth Tarkington building to get to the parking ramp.  Getting into the car took a minute.  Putting on my seatbelt also took a minute.

Driving back to the hotel was easy.  Hampton Inn was inside the course, so I didn’t have to cross the course to get there.  Walking from the car to the entrance wasn’t so easy.  I was freezing, and my blister pain once again made me walk in a way that made my Achilles tendon tighten up.

It took time to get out of all the sopping wet clothes.  I was surprised to see my fanny pack was just as wet.  It was underneath my rain poncho, so it was never exposed to the rain.  It was wet with sweat.  Even though I was cold, underneath the poncho, I was sweating like crazy.  That probably explains why I drank Gatorade at almost every mile yet didn’t need to pee.

All of my fingers were turning white.  After a few minutes in a hot bath, the color came back, but they felt tingly as they were warming up.  The painful blister on my left foot was a blood blister the size of a quarter.  Surprisingly it didn’t pop.

I didn’t get a faster Boston qualifier, and I’m no longer improving with every race.  That streak couldn’t last forever.  I think my recent string of good race results made me overconfident.  There’s a reason I love marathons in a way I’ll never love shorter races.  No matter how many you’ve done, this distance can humble you.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:45:09
Average Pace:  8:35
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  370
Indiana Marathons:  4
Consecutive sub4 finishes:  5

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Shamrock Marathon

On March 17, I ran the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, VA.  I ran this marathon once before, but that was 17 years ago.  I had a tough experience that year, because of unseasonably hot weather.  I didn’t realize how hot it was going to be, so I went out at a fast pace.  By the halfway point, I was already experiencing symptoms of heat stress.  The second half was a struggle just to finish.  I also had a bad airline experience that year.  My first flight had a long delay because of a mechanical issue.  That caused me to miss my connection, so I had to wait five hours for the next flight.  Then, on my return trip, I discovered the airline had cancelled my ticket.  After that, I vowed never to fly AirTran again.

None of the problems I experienced in 2002 were the fault of the race organizers.  I’ve heard from others who had a great time at this race, so I decided it was time to go back.  Also, I knew some friends who were going to there this year.  Sadly, two of my friends couldn’t make it.  Their flight was cancelled because of the grounding of all the Boeing 737 Max 8 planes.

I flew to Norfolk on Saturday.  I had to make connections in Atlanta, so I didn’t arrive until mid-afternoon.  I rented a car and drove to the Virginia Beach Convention Center to pick up my race packet.  Then I continued to my hotel.

Other than the expo, all of the other race activities were in the downtown area, near the beach.

I stayed at one of the beachfront hotels.  I had a balcony overlooking the beach.  I could even see the finish line.

After unpacking, I went outside to explore the area.  At first, I didn’t know if I could get onto the boardwalk. It was already fenced off for the race, since that was our approach to the finish line.  Then I found an opening near the King Neptune statue.

I had dinner at a nearby brewpub with two friends who I bumped into earlier at the expo.

This year, I didn’t have to worry about it being too hot.  A cold front moved through on Saturday.  Friday afternoon, the temperature was in the low 70s.  By the time I arrived on Saturday, it was only 55.  Overnight, it got down to 40.  It didn’t warm up much during the race.

The temperature was similar to my last race, but there were two important differences.  On the plus side, there wasn’t any rain.  The wind, however, felt much colder than I expected.  That’s something I noticed on Saturday too.

This race was held on St. Patrick’s Day, so we were encouraged to wear green.  I wore my green Seattle Quadzilla T-shirt and a pair of tights.  Ordinarily, that would be warm enough for these temperatures.  Wary of the cold wind off the coast, I started the race wearing a Tyvek jacket and gloves.

I’ve been trying to improve my times by a few minutes in each race.  I ran my last marathon in 3:43, so 3:40 seemed like a reasonable goal.  There wasn’t a pace group for 3:40, but I saw a 3:35 group at the front of my corral.  I decided to keep my eye on them, but I wasn’t planning to run with them.

I was hoping to average about 8:20 per mile.  My first mile was 8:09, which was a little fast.  I was right behind the 3:35 group, so I eased up a bit and let them get farther ahead of me.

By the end of the second mile, I was once again right behind the 3:35 group.  That mile was also 8:09.

We started out running parallel to the coast, and the wind was at our side.  In the third mile, we turned left and started running away from the coast.  With the wind at my back, I immediately started to feel warm.  I took off my gloves and stuffed them in my fanny pack.

My third mile was a bit slower at 8:19.  That was the pace I had intended to run, but now I was disappointed that I slowed down.  I was trailing the 3:35 group by about half a block.  I made an impulsive decision to gradually work my way back to them, so I could try to keep up with them for the rest of the race.  That was an ambitious goal, but I’ve had some encouraging training runs recently, and this is a flat race.

When I reached the chip mat at the 5K mark, I wanted to make sure my jacket was unzipped far enough that it wouldn’t obscure may race bib, which held the timing chip.  I had intended to keep it zipped at the bottom, but I accidentally unzipped it completely.  I couldn’t get the zipper started again without stopping, so I left it that way.

By the end of the fourth mile, I caught up to the 3:35 group.  That mile turned out to be eight minutes even, but now that I was back in the group, I could throttle it back to their pace.

The first time I reached an aid station, I was still cold, so I skipped it.  At the second aid station, I drank water, before seeing there was Gatorade near the end of the aid station.  I skipped breakfast, so I needed to start drinking Gatorade, as much for the sugar as to get fluids.

Midway through the fifth mile, I saw volunteers with Gatorade, but each time I was about to reach for a cup, the runner in front of me grabbed it.  I was almost past the Gatorade tables when I finally had to stop and grab a cup off the table.  That caused me to fall behind the 3:35 group again.  I worked on gradually catching up.  I got back into the group just as we were finishing the fifth mile.

Between five and six miles, we made a sharp turn onto a road that took us through Fort Story.  More importantly, we were now headed into the wind.  It felt cold and slightly tiring, but I was able to mitigate the effects of the wind by drafting behind the large pace group.  There were about 50 of us running together.

There were traffic cones in the middle of the road.  One of the pacers was warning us each time we approached one.  I chose an inopportune time to cross over to the left side of the road, and I didn’t see we were coming up to another traffic cone.  The pacer yelled, “cone,” and the runner right in front of me narrowly avoided it.  I brushed my knee against it, before adjusting my trajectory so I wouldn’t trip over it.  That caused me to expend enough energy that I suddenly found it difficult to stay with the group.  I worked to keep up the pace, and after a few minutes the pace got easier.

The group had two pacers, and they each did a good job of talking to the group.  They yelled out the time at each mile marker, told us when we were approaching aid stations, and also kept us informed about other aspects of the course.  As we continued through Fort Story, one of them pointed out the Cape Henry Lighthouse.  There are actually two lighthouses.  The original lighthouse was built in 1792.  It was the United States government’s first federal construction project.  It’s no longer in use, but is preserved as an historic site.  Near it, there’s a more modern lighthouse that’s used today.

We eventually turned back onto Atlantic Avenue to return to the downtown area where we started.  As we got close to the halfway mark, runners doing the half marathon turned to run toward the finish on the boardwalk.  Those of use doing the marathon continued south.  We also made a turn onto the boardwalk, but not until after passing the finish area.

Before reaching the boardwalk, we passed the halfway mark.  I got there in 1:46:56, putting me on pace to break 3:34.  We started out right on pace, but now we were about 30 seconds ahead of schedule.

Along the boardwalk, the wind was stronger.  It was blowing inland from the coast, so we didn’t have to run right into it.  By now, it was a few degrees warmer, and the sun was higher in the sky.  I was starting to feel warm, but I was hesitant to take off my jacket.  Then one of the pacers said we would be returning to Atlantic Avenue, where we wouldn’t feel the wind as much.  That’s when I decided to take off my jacket and tie it around my waist.

After a few turns, I found myself getting a little ahead of the group.  I started talking to another runner who was also a little ahead of the pace group.  Exchanging stories made the miles go by easier.  I wasn’t as conscious of my effort.

Soon, we made another turn and ran over a big bridge.  This was the only hill on the course, but we would have to run over it twice.  Because I was ahead of the group, I could afford to slow down on the bridge without having to worry about falling behind the group.

After running south for several miles, we reached the southern turnaround.  It was a 180 degree turn around a traffic cone.  As I made the turn, one pacer was right behind me, but I could see the other trailing by about 30 seconds.  He was there to help stragglers stay with the group.  The two pacers made a good team.

As we reached the 20 mile mark, I joked that the 20 mile warm-up was over and the 10K race was beginning.  A spectator saw the 3:35 group passing and yelled, “Good work.”  One of the pacers responded, “Not work.  Only fun.”

After my 10K remark, it occurred to me that I actually did feel like I could pick up the pace.  I wasn’t going to go crazy with six miles to go, but I sped up by a few seconds per mile and gradually pulled away from the group.

Next, we ran through Camp Pendleton before eventually turning back onto Atlantic Avenue to run back toward the downtown area.

Soon, I saw the bridge in the distance.  I had a lead on the group, so I could afford to slow down a bit.  I didn’t want to wear myself out climbing the bridge.  At the beginning of the bridge I saw a sign.  It had a picture of a pink flamingo and said something like, “Run the Flocking Bridge.”  At the high point of the bridge there was a large group wearing pink tutus and holding plastic flamingos.

On the downhill side of the bridge, I tried to pick up my pace.  After crossing the bridge, we retraced our route back to Atlantic Avenue.  As I reached the 23 mile mark, I looked at my watch.  I could still hear one of the pacers talking to the group.  He told them they had a one minute cushion.  I was ahead of them, so I was easily on pace to break 3:34.  I just had to keep it together for three more miles.

After a few more blocks, we were back on the boardwalk again.  It was the same section we ran before, but now we were going in the opposite direction.  I tried to keep up with the fastest runners I saw, while passing everyone else.

When I got to the 24 mile sign, I could see a large white tent in the distance.  That was the finish area.  I knew it wasn’t two miles away, so we would have to leave the boardwalk again before we got there.

Eventually, I saw where we left the boardwalk.  We returned to Atlantic Avenue.  We had to keep running north until we were well past the finish area.  Then we would return to the boardwalk to approach the finish line from the north.

At 25 miles, I checked my watch.  I ran that mile in 7:56.  That was encouraging, but I couldn’t let up.  Knowing I could break 3:34, I now had a more important goal.

I still didn’t have a qualifier for next year’s Boston Marathon.  I could qualify with a time of 3:35, but just qualifying doesn’t guarantee you’ll get into the race.  They always get more applications from qualified runners than the number of available race bibs.  This year, to get into Boston, you had to beat the qualifying standard for your age group by 4:52.  For next year, the standards are five minutes faster.  Simply qualifying might get you in, but most likely, you need to be a minute or two faster.  That was within my grasp.

I really wanted to pour it on in the last mile, but I had already been pushing an aggressive pace for several miles.  I didn’t have any gas left in the tank.  It didn’t help that I was now running away from the finish area.  I didn’t know how many more blocks I had to run before I would make the final turn back onto the boardwalk.  Not being able to see how far it was made it harder to gauge how hard I could run without exhausting myself too soon.

When I eventually turned toward the beach, I had to run into a stiff headwind, but only for one block.  Then I turned onto the boardwalk.  At first, I thought I could see the finish line.  What I actually saw was a series of green and while banners that lead to the finish line.  By the time I realized that, I could see the finish line beyond them.  I made my final push.  In my head I kept chanting, “Every second counts.”

I crossed the line in 3:33:24.  That a Boston qualifier with 1:36 to spare.  That might be fast enough, but I won’t know for sure until next September, when registration for the Boston Marathon closes.

The finisher medal had artwork depicting the King Neptune statue.

In addition to the medal, I received a hat and a blanket.  I also got a long-sleeved shirt at the expo.  I’ve only done one other marathon where I received a blanket.  That was the Richmond Marathon, which is also in Virginia.  Maybe blankets are a Virginia thing.

When I did this race in 2002, it finished at the convention center, which is about a mile inland.  I much prefer the beach as a finish line venue.  After finishing and putting on my jacket, I walked to a big white tent on the beach where they had the post-race party.  They had soup and beer, but more importantly, we were sheltered from the wind.

I couldn’t be more pleased with my time.  I had a long-term goal of qualifying for Boston, but I didn’t think I was ready yet.  I only took a shot at it because this is such a flat course.  I was planning to keep making incremental progress in each race and then take my shot at this year’s Boston Marathon.  I’ll still try to improve on this time, but now the pressure is off.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:33:24
Average Pace:  8:08
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  369
Boston Qualifiers:  122

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Race Report: 2019 Little Rock Marathon

On March 3, I ran the Little Rock Marathon.  I also ran this race in 2013 and 2015.  My experiences have been mixed.  In 2013, I loved this race.  I saw lots of people I knew, I ran a Boston qualifying time, and they had a great post-race party with food, a band, and an open bar.  In 2015, I had a miserable experience.  I got hypothermic running in cold, wet conditions.  Then I had to stand outside in cold rain for an hour to retrieve my gear bag.  They never sorted the bags, so they had to search the whole truck for each bag.

After 2015, I didn’t think I would ever return to this race.  I decided to give them another chance because this year’s race was one of the quarterly reunions of the 50 States Marathon Club.  I don’t go to every reunion, but this was my first chance to get to one since finishing my third circuit of 50 states last November.

There aren’t any direct flights from Minneapolis to Little Rock.  One option was to change planes in Atlanta, but that’s pretty far out of the way and takes all day.  Instead, I opted to fly to Memphis and then drive from there.

I wanted to arrive in plenty of time for the meeting of the 50 States Marathon Club, so I flew to Memphis on Friday and drove the rest of the way on Saturday.   Because of a last minute cancellation, I was able to get a room at the downtown Doubletree, which is near the Beale Street entertainment district.  I love eating dinner there, because most of the restaurants have live music.  They also have some pretty good food.

I drove to Little Rock Saturday morning.  It’s about a two hour drive.  I stayed at the Doubletree, which is only a few blocks from where the marathon starts and finishes.  When I arrived, it was too early to check into my room, so I parked the car in their ramp and walked to the Statehouse Convention Center to pick up my race packet.

I’m always scouting for new pizza places to try.  For lunch, I went to Damgoode Pies.  It seems like they were expecting me.

After lunch, I went back to Doubletree to check into my room.  I was on one of the upper floors and had this view of a bridge over the Arkansas River that we would cross twice during the race.

In the afternoon, I went back to the convention center for a meeting of the 50 States Marathon Club.  The agenda always includes recognizing people who have recently finished a circuit of 50 states.

After the meeting, I had dinner with my friend Jane from Australia.  It’s a small world.  I’ve seen Jane at three races this year, even though she lives on the other side of the world.

I got to bed early and slept reasonably well.  The race didn’t start until 8:00, so I set my alarm for 6:00.  I was awake before the alarm went off, but I felt well rested.

It rained for most of the night, and it was still raining when I got up, but the rain stopped by 6:30.  Looking at the hourly forecast, it seemed like it wouldn’t start raining again until after 10:00.  It was 37 degrees, with enough wind to make it feel like 22.  I opted not to wear a rain poncho, because it’s not easy to take off.  I didn’t want to wear a poncho for the whole race unless I knew it would rain the whole time.  Instead, I dressed in warm clothes and wore a Tyvek jacket as my outer layer.  I could take that off if I didn’t need it.

The starting line is right behind the Statehouse Convention Center, and they had port-o-potties and other facilities in a room on the ground floor of the convention center.  I waited there with friends until it was time to line up.

Based on the information I provided when I registered, I was assigned to corral B.  I saw very few people in corral A, so I was closer to the front than I expected.  My goal for this race was to break 3:45.  When I saw a 3:45 pace group, I lined up right behind them.  Another runner asked one of the pacers if he was going to run an even pace.  There’s a long uphill section in the second half, so the plan was to get a little ahead of schedule in the first half, so we could afford to slow down on the hill.  Having run this race before, I thought that sounded like a reasonable plan.

About half a mile into the race, I started to notice some drizzle.  I wondered if I would regret not wearing a rain poncho.  I wasn’t expecting rain until at least halfway through the race.

Most of the course was the same as I remembered, but there were a few differences.  Toward the end of the first mile, we crossed a bridge over the Arkansas River.  The next two miles were in North Little Rock.

In addition to the long uphill section in the second half, there are a number of smaller hills.  This bridge was one of them.  On the first half of the bridge, I started getting hot.  I also felt like I was having to work too hard to keep up with the pace group.  As we reached the downhill half of the bridge, I had to ease up to keep from getting ahead of them.  I also wasn’t hot any more.

About two miles into the race, I thought I felt large raindrops.  It wasn’t rain.  It was hail.  For a few minutes, we were pelted with small hailstones.  On the bright side, it stopped raining.

Just past three miles, we crossed the river again on the same bridge.  So far, we were averaging 8:30 per mile.  We needed to average about 8:34, so we were gaining four seconds per mile.  That was right according to plan.

Over the next several miles, I sometimes felt hot, and I sometimes felt cold.  It depended on the wind direction and whether we were going uphill or downhill.  At times, I was tempted to take off my jacket, but I knew that would be a mistake.  As soon as we turned into the wind again, I’d be freezing.

By five miles, the drizzle resumed.  It gradually got stronger.  I knew I’d be wet for the whole race.  I just had to hope I would be warm enough.

By nine miles, I was starting to question whether my pace was sustainable.  I was working harder to keep up with the pace group.  I was tempted to let them go, but I didn’t want to ease up too much.  Running faster would help me keep warm.

There was a half marathon that started at the same time as the marathon.  We ran together for several miles, but eventually separated.  Then there were far fewer runners on the course.  Now I felt like I had to either stay with the pace group or risk having to run by myself.

At around 11 miles, I could feel one of my insoles slipping forward in my shoe.  I wear hard plastic orthotics in my shoes, so I have to replace the original insoles with flat Spenco insoles.  If too much moisture gets between the insole and the orthotic, the insole starts to ride forward.  By now, my shoes were soaked.  I knew this would be a problem eventually, but I didn’t expect it to happen so soon.

By the halfway mark, we were about a minute ahead of schedule.  At this pace, we would finish in 3:43.  Of course we still had a long uphill section ahead of us.

Now we were running into a strong headwind.  My jacket was unzipped, and the wind was pushing my jacket back over my shoulders.  I had to stop, so I could zip it up.  I fell about half a block behind.  Then I had to work hard to catch up.

There was an early start for runners who needed more than six hours to finish.  They started at 6:00, which gave them an extra two hours.  In the second half of the race, we started passing runners who took the early start.  Many of them were old-timers who have done hundreds of marathons.  I recognized several of them.

At 14 miles, we passed the Arkansas state capitol building.  I remembered this part of the course.  I knew we were almost to the long uphill section.  Soon we started climbing.  One of the pacers described this hill as a “small roller” before the real hill.  It was only two or three blocks of gradual upgrade, but I found myself falling behind.

I didn’t panic.  I tried to limit the damage.  Soon, we crested that hill and had a short downhill section.  Then I was able to catch up.

Shortly after passing an aid station, I saw what looked like another aid station.  It couldn’t be an official aid station.  Was it a beer stop?  No, they were offering pickle juice shots.  On a hot day, I would have tried one.  In this race, I had no need for pickle juice.

At 15 miles, we began a longer upgrade.  This one was a mile long.  It still wasn’t steep, but again, I fell behind.  There were a few curves in the road, so I couldn’t see the whole hill.  That made it hard to budget my effort.

At 16 miles, I felt hail again.  Just like before, it only lasted for a couple of minutes.  After that, I don’t remember feeling any more rain.

After another brief flat to downhill section, we started uphill again.  This was the last part of Kavanaugh Hill.  It took us all the way to 17 miles.  Before reaching the top, I fell behind again.  Then we started a long downhill section.  That’s where I was able to catch up.

Some parts of the descent were steep.  I took short rapid strides and tried to let gravity do all the work.  Running downhill, I felt my insole slipping even more.  Sometimes, it will slip forward and bunch up under my toes.  This time, it seemed to be turning sideways in my shoe.

At 18 miles, I heard the pacers talking to each other.  We were still about a minute ahead of schedule with just over eight miles to go.  Most of the hills were behind us now.

We continued running downhill for another mile.  I got ahead of the pace group, but I knew they would eventually catch up to me.  Running downhill was easy, but soon I turned onto a long out-and-back second that’s fairly flat.  After all the up and down, my legs felt like jelly.  I wondered if I could sustain the pace over the remaining miles.

Just past 19 miles, the pacers passed me.  I couldn’t keep up with them, but I lifted my effort to stay as close as I could.  Over the course of the next mile, I managed to claw my way back.

Once I caught up to the group, I fought to stay with them for as long as I could.  With each passing mile, I gained in confidence.  At 21 miles, I realized I could slow down by about 10 seconds per mile, and I would still break 3:45.  With each additional mile, I could afford to slow down more.  Knowing that gave me the confidence to work harder to keep up with the group.

In the late miles, I noticed a painful blister on the bottom of my left foot.  I just had to tune it out.

We passed two beer stops.  Sometimes I’ll indulge, but not this time.  I was working too hard to keep up with the group.  I couldn’t afford to take any chances.

When we finished the out-and-back section, we had about three miles to go.  One of the pacers said there were still two more hills.  They weren’t that big, but they would feel like Everest.  I remembered that there were late hills.  I didn’t remember them being particularly big, so I wasn’t too concerned.  One of the pacers said there would be another beer stop after the last hill.  I thought I might indulge in that one.

The first hill was actually a bridge.  I fell behind, but caught up on the downhill side.  Ahead, I could see a larger hill.  I didn’t see any runners on the hill.  Not remembering this part of the course, I asked if we would turn before the hill.  No.  We had to run it.  One of the pacers said, “That’s it.  That’s the whole race now.”

I fell way behind on the last hill, but caught up on the way down.  We passed the last beer stop.  I decided to skip it.  We were still ahead of schedule, so the pacers said they were going to ease up.  They encouraged us to go ahead and finish strong.  With less than a mile to go, I went ahead on my own.

Soon, I recognized the Doubletree about a half mile in front of me.  I knew the finish line was only a few blocks past it.  I poured it on.

As I ran behind the Doubletree, I reached the 26 mile mark.  There’s an unusual aid station there.  One of the sponsors of the race is L’Oreal, and they have a lipstick station.  Some women will stop and touch up their lipstick to look good in finish line photos.  Also, the design of the finisher medal always includes a pair of lips.

I pressed on and finished in 3:43:38.  My last three races have each been faster than the one before.  I was within a minute of running even splits.  That’s not bad when the only long uphill section is in the second half.

After finishing, we turned a corner and entered the ground floor of the convention center.  That’s a major improvement since the last time I did this race.  Finisher medals, space blankets, post-race food, tables, port-o-potties, and massage tables were all indoors.

This race always has ridiculously large finisher medals.  It’s their signature.  It’s almost as large as a dinner plate.

When I found a chair, I stopped to remove my left shoe.  The insole had not only slipped forward, but was now wrapped all the way around the front of my foot.  It looked like a green burrito.  After fixing my insole, I walked quickly back to the Doubletree, so I could take a hot bath.

After a bad experience in 2015, I didn’t think I’d come back to this race.  I’m glad I did.  Not counting the weather, I have nothing but positive things to say about this year’s race.  They moved the start to be the same place as the finish.  That makes it easier to find a hotel that’s close to both the start and finish.  Having an indoor start/finish area in a building adjacent to the start/finish area is a huge improvement.  On a cold, rainy day, that was especially nice.

When I finished my third circuit of 50 states last November, I had already run at least four marathons in 26 states.  This was my fourth marathon in Arkansas, giving me 27 states toward my fourth circuit.

I have to get up early on Monday.  I still have to drive back to Memphis before flying home.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  3:43:38
Average Pace:  8:32 
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  368
Arkansas Marathons:  4