Still In the Race…

The Thrill In the Hills 21K/42K ran at Fort Yargo State Park. The course looped around the lake.

The Thrill In the Hills 21K/42K ran at Fort Yargo State Park. The course looped around the lake.

I have been purposefully absent from my wordpress world for most of this month due to personal issues I had to work through.  While I have been absent from my blog, I have still continued to push forward with my training goals for the year.  My two primary goals for this year involve preparation for a twenty four hour race in June and an improved finishing time in the Tortoise and Hare 50k at the end of the year (my first 50k race I ran last year).
I have only been running for a bit over three years, moving from short distance road races to half marathons and then into trail and distance running.  The one issue that has plagued me during that time has been my finishing times and the dire sloweness of my pace.  I had to take December off due to a non-running injury, but by the end of December I was back to running with fifteen pounds of added weight.  The biggest goal for this year involves running the same 50k as last year faster.  Last year I finished the Tortoise and the Hare 50k in eleven hours and thirty minutes.  This year I want to finish it under ten hours.  I knew I would have to work hard to achieve this goal.
At the beginning of this year I was averaging around 17-18 minute per mile pace on technical and non-technical trails.  I knew to get my time down I had work to do.  My devised strategy involved increased mileage and at least one good quality speed workout a week.  In the past two months I have logged over four hundred miles of running, often running back to back long runs on the weekend.
This last weekend I had a 26 mile Saturday and 16 mile Sunday run planned.  I have ran this combo a couple of times and often the Saturday marathon is ran very slow to give my legs some energy for the Sunday long run to follow.  This weekend I had decided to run the Thrill In the Hills 21k/42k trail marathon.  I had ran the 21k race last year and figured I would give a go at the marathon distance.   This race consists of running two thirteen mile loops on rollercoaster like single track bike trails.  Nothing too technical but numerous short up and downs provide the challenge.
10404895_888382851182192_3988507651102873509_nThe biggest challenge was the tight seven hour required finish time, with the only cuttoff being the half way point, one 13 mile loop in three hours and a half.  To this point I had never ran a half marathon trail race in under three hours and fourty five minutes, and I had never run a marathon race.  In my 50k last year I finished 26 miles in nine hours and twenty six minutes and in my training marathons I usually ran slow and steady, in about ten hours.  Obviously a seven hour finish time for a marathon and a three hour and thirty minute half marathon on trails would be a challenge.
On top of these limitations I had not tapered or done anything special to prepare so my legs were no where near fresh.  With all these challenges I decided I would run the first half supported.  At the halfway point I would accept a half marathon finish and then I would continue to get my miles outside of the race.  I had to run sixteen on Sunday and even if I pushed this race I did not think I could get close to the three hour and thirty minute cuttoff, based on past race experiences.
10991120_512812748859670_6566886165432893038_nAt eight in the morning the marathon runners lined up to start the race, me included.  Compared to the half marathon runners that would start thirty minutes later, this group was relatively small.  As the race started I thought to myself why should I not try.   I had been practicing form and leg turn over and working on increasing my speed, maybe I could at least beat my half marathon time on this course from last year by a few minutes.  That would be some improvement.
As I eased into the first mile I pushed myself, watching my form on the down hills and up hills, running hard but smart.  I continued running counting down the miles from the back of the pack of the marathon runners.  Eventually I  was passed by the half marthon runners as well, but I just pushed on at a good hard but steady pace, slow for most people, but faster than normal for myself.  Eventually I came out of the woods nearing the finish line/half way point.  I came to the point where marathon runners pushed on for the second lap and half marthoners ran down hill to the finish line.  The volunteer manning the split started shouting to me but I could not make out what he was saying.  As I pulled up to the split I prepared to turn but I realized he was shouting “Your at three hours and thirty four minutes, I am giving you five extra minutes so you can continue.”
Every mile was marked by these signs.  Mile twelve and twenty five,the best sign ever.

Every mile was marked by these signs. Mile twelve and twenty five,the best sign ever.

I was stunned, I beat last year’s half marathon time by eleven minutes and I found myself still pushing forward.  As I ran the fourteenth mile of the race my mind was reeling…. “I am still in the race, I might just finish my first marathon distance race.”  I wolfed down a gel, some cookies and peanut M&Ms  I had stashed in my hydration pack. I was going to need fuel, now that I was still racing.  Instead of a leasurely thirteen miles, I now was still pushing myself.  I decided that I not only wanted to finish this marathon, I wanted to do it under eight hours and if possible under seven hours and thirty minutes.
My legs were tired from pushing the first thirteen miles so hard, but I knew I would have to run the second half smarter.  I started to use the up hillsfor small walking breaks and tried to be aware of my breathing and pace.  When it got slow I tried to increase my leg turn over and focussed on steadily moving forward. I knew I was at the very back of the marathon runners on the course, but I was only focussed on pushing forward as fast as my legs would let me. I figured I was about thirty minutes behind the next slowest runner.  The miles ticked down and then suddenly I found myself with only a mile to go and a seven and a half hour finish was looking very likely, I just had to keep moving and pushing my pace.
To my astonishment I passed another runner who was having back issues, I was no longer the last runner.  As I came out of the woods, heading to the road leading to the finish line I passed two more marathon runners who pushed too hard and had ran out of gas with only a quarter of a mile remaining. I was now the fourth from last runner, a total surprise.  I kept running pushing to meet the seven hour and thirty minute goal I set for myself.
Last year I finished the half marathon in 3:45, this year I hit the half marathon at 3:34 and went on to finish the marathon in 7:24.

Last year I finished the half marathon in 3:45, this year I hit the half marathon at 3:34 and went on to finish the marathon in 7:24.

At seven hours and twenty four minutes I crossed the finish line, exhausted, hungry and tired.  When I started the race earlier that morning I would have never imagined finishing the marathon under seven hours and thirty minutes, let alone finishing it at all.  In two short months I had made drastic improvements to my running and speed.  While most marathon runners were completing this race around four hours to five hours I was estatic with my finish time.

On Sunday I ran my sixteen mile long run on very tired legs, probably the most tired they had ever been in a long time.  I was not supposted to race the marathon on Saturday,instead run it slow and steady in order to leave some energy for Sunday’s long run.  The most important thing about Saturday’s marathon run was that I learned that I could surprise myself and that I could push myself harder than I thought possible.  I had never ran that hard in a race or a run ever.  In the end I finished the weekend with an amazing marathon experience and a slow Sunday long run totalling fourty one miles for the weekend.  For me this was a definate proving ground moment.  Til next time.

8 comments on “Still In the Race…

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