2008 Thunder Road Marathon

Date:  Saturday, December 13
Location:  Charlotte, NC
Times:  2:51:11 (chip); 2:51:16 (gun)
Pace:  6:32
Place:  7th overall, 2nd Master (4th Master if truth be told…)
Temperature:  27 at the start, 40s at the finish
This was my very last race in the 40-44 year-old age group.

What I liked about this marathon:
  • The friendliness of volunteers and spectators.
  • The conversations with and camaraderie of runners.
  • The ability to stay inside — and warm — just prior to the race start.
  • The challenge of the course, which includes many sharp turns, long uphills, and the pounding on the pavement and concrete. The first half of the marathon went through some very scenic neighborhoods.
  • The start and finish were less than two blocks from our hotel!
What I didn’t like about this marathon:
  • The pavement and the concrete. This was the first road marathon I’ve run in over a year.  
  • The course was at times confusing, as many of the police officers were not directing runners. Better this, I suppose, then the officers not directing traffic! Also, at one turn a volunteer told us to take the next left when it was actually the second left. Fortunately we didn’t heed her advice.

I arrived early Friday afternoon to pick up my race packet and tour the expo, which took all of 20 minutes. We’ve all heard it before, but I’ll state it once again:  it would be nice if technical tees were provided instead of a cotton tee.

I awoke at 5 and began my pre-race routine, including consuming much coffee, a honey grain bagel with peanut butter and honey, and a banana. At about 7, I walked the two blocks to the Convention Center, and there were already many runners going through their own routines. I checked in my bag. That’s when the looks began because, yes, I was once again wearing the Zensah shin/calf (as well as arm) sleeves. And once again, I’m very glad that I did! I wore Sugoi racing shorts (with mesh pockets for Gu storage), Nike loose compression shirt, Pearl Izumi hat, and Mizuno gloves. My hands were nonetheless painfully cold for most of the race. This isn’t because of the gloves; it’s because of my genes and my low body weight. 

Most importantly, I wore Belega socks (made specifically for left and right feet) and Mizuno Ronin racing shoes. 

This is the first marathon I’ve run wearing a racing flat, and I’m most pleased with the results. In the past, I think I’ve worn too much of a shoe for road marathons. This often resulted in hots spots and very bad blisters. At no point during the race was I even aware of the shoes, which is a true testament to how well they fit. The same can be said of the Zensah sleeves. In fact, I almost didn’t wear the arm sleeves, as I was concerned that I would become keenly aware of them during the race. I had planned on removing and discarding them if they did become uncomfortable. They didn’t! Oh, I also carried my own bottle with 2/3 Gatorade and 1/3 water. I discarded it at about mile 24, as my shoulders were beginning to tighten.

I did not take my antibiotic with breakfast as prescribed, as I didn’t want to upset my stomach. I had a difficult time consuming Gu during the race nonetheless, and consumed 4 instead of my planned 5. I had to force myself to down the last one, and couldn’t even manage to do that until mile 24. I know, I know, it was probably too late…

On to the start! I left the Convention Center at about 10 minutes until 8. You can’t do that at New York or Boston. While there weren’t any official corrals, runners did indeed line up by pace. However, just minutes before the start there was still a large contingent of runners who were entering from the front, not the rear, of the corral. The race announcer had to repeatedly request that people enter the correct way, but to no avail. I and most other runners around me were getting a little anxious, as there is little worse than a crowded start that includes slower runners. There was much chatter and even more confusion. It was obvious that slower runners had indeed stopped as soon as entering the corral, and I found myself about 6 rows back from the front. No disrespect to slower runners meant. I was very pleasantly surprised how quickly the faster runners (including yours truly) were able to get in front of the pack. I did, however, have to maneuver around quite a few other runners.

The marathoners, half marathoners, and relay marathoners all began at the same time. I generally don’t like this, as it can be difficult to assess pace (see mile 1 split). This time around, I knew what to expect, so I ran steadily with runners (both marathoners and half marathoners) who were running at my similar pace. With the exception of seeing my friend, George, aka Monk, at about mile 4, the first miles were uneventful. I struck up conversations with many runners, and they generally did the same. At about mile 6, however, I had a thought I’ve never had before: I’ve run many races in the very recent past, maybe even too many. This hurts. I’m not enjoying myself. Maybe it’s time to take a break from running. Wow, where did that come from?

I ran pretty steadily for the first half, and experienced no unexpected discomfort. No calf, knee, hip flexor, or feet pain. Psychological pain, yes, but that is to be expected.

The racers split at about mile 12, and the half marathoners took a turn to run a mile to the finish while we marathoners continued onward. I was suddenly running by myself. I caught a couple of runners, always wishing them luck — and hoping they didn’t catch me! My next negative thought: The way I’m feeling, I’ll be lucky if I finish under 3 hours. In fact, it feels like I’m running a 3:20 marathon. 

At about mile 16, another runner caught up with me and began a conversation. More than anything I could tell he was trying to determine if I was an older runner, like him. He is from Charlotte, and this was his 91st marathon. He’s run many more than I have! We traded places until mile 24.5 (more about this in a moment), and spectators let us know that we were in 9th and 10th places. It never dawned on me that some of the runners ahead of us might be relay racers. That’s why they blew past us!

At mile 24.5, my running companion did something very smart. He had 2 pacers join him, and they ran with him until close to mile 26. He dropped me, and I didn’t (maybe couldn’t?) respond. My last negative thought occurred at mile 26, with just 2/10ths of a mile left: I. Am. Done. I have nothing left. Fortunately, there’s nothing like a cheering crowd (and the thought of public disgrace) to get you motivated, and I did indeed sprint to the finish. I congratulated the 6th place finisher, got some water, met up with Jeff, changed, walked but a block to the hotel, took a shower, and returned to the Convention Center for the awards ceremony. Jeff was convinced that I had finished in 7th while I was convinced that I finished in 10th place.

This was a very competitive race, particularly for us older guys. Finishers 4 through 9 were all men older than 40. Truly amazing. As they gave overall awards to the first 5 finishers and master awards only three deep, I feel very sorry for the man who finished 9th, as he had to settle for 1st place in his age group. Still most certainly admirable!

I was very pleased with my time (2nd best marathon time), particularly considering the psychological pain of the race. There were numerous times throughout the race that I thought: This is why I like trail much better than road racing. 

1 | 5:53
2 | 6:30
3 | 6:10
4 | 6:12
5 | 6:39
6 | 6:12
10K time | 38:50
7 | 6:28
8 | 6:22
9 | 6:37
10 | 6:23
11 | 6:24
12 | 6:41
13 | 6:40
Half time | 1:24:01
14 | 6:42
15 | 6:30
16 | 6:40
17 | 6:40
18 | 6:38
19 | 6:27 (Saw Nascar auto with 19 on the side. I thought it was the mile marker. May be Dale something-or-other’s number. Not sure. Sorry all you Nascar fans! I had to combine split taken at car and actual mile marker.)
20 | 6:47
21 | 6:48
22 | 6:49
23 | 6:29
24 | 6:42
25 | 6:40
26 | 6:37
Last 2/10ths | 1:30

My second half was indeed slower than my first. The second half was also harder, if not physically than certainly psychologically.

They say you’re not ready for your next marathon until you’ve forgotten the pain of your last marathon. The Mt. Mitchell Challenge is consuming my every thought. I ran the Carolina Godiva Track Club Winter Series Couch Mountain run today. I promised myself that I would take it easy and not race and, for the most part, that’s what I did.

My thoughts/feelings post-race. I wonder how fast I could run on a flat, fast course…

4th Run at the Rock Trail Race

Date:  Saturday, December 6
Distance:  14 Miles
Time:  1:34:34
Pace:  6:46
Place:  6th Overall, 1 Master
Location:  Cedarock Park, Burlington, NC
Temperature:  Upper 30s and lower 40s

This is the fourth consecutive year that I have run this race, so, yes, it is one of my favorite races of the year. 

The 7- and 14-mile racers all start at 9 am. The 7-milers finish one loop and the 14-milers (stating the obvious) finish two loops. As with the Turkey Trot, I had almost talked myself out of running this race if for no other reason next weekend’s marathon. My recent infection was diagnosed as a second round of MRSA (which I evidently caught while in Cancun and that I had not completely conquered). I am on very strong antibiotics (Bactrim) that cause some nausea. I also somewhat angrily recalled that the last few miles were challenging in that the slowest of the 7-milers were finishing and some of the 14-milers were finishing their first loop, and many of them didn’t follow trail etiquette, e.g., wore headphones, didn’t move off the path to allow racers past, etc. I am very happy to say that most of runners were exceedingly gracious! I saw only one person wearing headphones (a no-no in my book, but particularly during races and even more so during trail races), and not only did runners give up the trail, many of them stood to the side and offered words of encouragement. If you are one of those runners, a heartfelt Thank You!

There are many reasons that I like this course. Most importantly, it is very challenging, as it is very muddy, with many exposed roots and rocks. There are steep downhills (yeah!) that lead to a stream crossing often too wide to jump (yeah, again!) followed by steep uphills (no comment). The race is very well-managed in that the start has pace times posted, there are numerous aide stations and support, results are quickly compiled and posted, and the finishing banquet is quite a feast. The awards are always nice too, and this year was no exception. I received a handmade and hand-painted mug.

I got to the park shortly after 8. I had an opportunity to speak with my friends John F., Scott P., and my nemesis Jim C. Did I say nemesis? I meant very good friend! In fact, the 2006 RATR was the first time Jim and I spoke and were introduced, even though I knew who he was and he knew who I was. Jim is an extraordinary runner, and as he is 43, we are often in competition for the Master’s title. If the distance is 20k, it’s a toss-up. If the distance is less than 20k, he kicks my ass. I always enjoy running and racing with Jim, as we enjoy a healthy competition. Since 2006, he has also become a very good friend, and one of the main reasons that I joined Carolina Godiva Track Club. I always enjoy running and racing with him, as he is also a master strategist. 

Last year Jim and I finished 4th and 5th, and for most of the race we were neck and neck. I would pass him on the downhills, and he would pass me on the uphills. It wasn’t until mile 12 that I was able to drop him. Our times were better last year (1:30:41 and 1:31:15), but much better than 2005, the last time we went head-to-head (I came in 2nd in 1:36:26 and Jim came in 4th [Master’s] in 1:38:43). 

I wore Nike running shorts, a short-sleeve Nike shirt, Nike thermal gloves, a skull cap, Adidas Adistar XT trail shoes, and, once again, Zensah shin/calf sleeves. I’m not yet sold on the shoes. I’m completely sold on the sleeves. 

A tenor with a beautiful voice sang the National Anthem, the racers moved to the starting line, and the race began with the sounds of a cannon being fired. The first 500 or so meters are run on asphalt to allow for a thinning of the runners. The front runners were off, myself included. I surged ahead to speak to Florida (see Raven Rock Rumble post) to hear his story. When we began running on the single track trail, runners were already jostling for position. By mile 1, Jim was ahead of me, and running very strong — and very fast! I was running with a pack, and before I knew it Jim had 200 meters on me. He was still in eyesight. His lead increased, and there were many times during miles 3 through 6 that I did indeed lose sight of him. Not only was he ahead of me, he had put 4 or 5 people between us! 

My thoughts… Jim knows that my strategy when racing him is to go out strong in an attempt to put as much distance between the two of us as I can, as I know he has a strong finishing kick. Maybe he’s trying to put distance between the two of us so that he can do the same and/or mentally break me. If he keeps this strong, he’s got it. Good for Jim! If there’s anyone I’d like to see win this other than me, it’s Jim.

I didn’t let negative thoughts get the best of me, and I slowly and surely began to catch runners, including Jim. I eventually caught Jim at mile 6, and we exchanged assessments of the course and words of encouragement. We raced together for about a half mile, and then we separated, with me in the lead. I was truly expecting him to catch me, and possibly demolish me! I know that he often has many items in his bag of tricks. 

I caught two runners near mile 7, and the eventual 5th place finisher passed the three of us. Between miles 7 and 11, when I starting catching up with 7-milers, I didn’t see any other racers. 

Three events, however, did occur. At about mile 8, my right shoe came untied — even though I had triple-tied it! At mile 11, the same shoe came untied yet again. Both times I had to remove my gloves and attempt to, with very cold fingers, tie my laces. At about mile 12, the antibiotics took their toll, and I threw up. I won’t provide any details. 

As I finished, another fellow Godivan, Kevin N., shouted words of encouragement. I had my ChampionChip removed, and went to cheer Jim. As there was a squad of young teenager girls cheering the finishers, I joined them. I can’t remember the actual cheer, but it did make Jim smile!

Jim, John, Scott and I went to our cars to change into warm, dry clothing, and the trash talk started. John and Scott repeatedly reminded me (yes, kiddingly) that I was 4 minutes slower than last year. I finally stated (yes, somewhat kiddingly), “I may have finished slower than last year, but I kicked all of your asses!” 

It was yet another enjoyable race.