Stage 7 – The Marathon
Last night – no crickets. My friend Jay Bentley had come down to run in the 10k time trial yesterday and afterward, upon returning to Darren and Krista’s house, we went outside and made some modifications to the exterior of the house. First, we ripped out all the weeds from outside the basement window. I then sprayed Bug-B-Gone poison all in the window well before we engineered a saran-wrap protector across the top of the window well. I had also left a flashlight, the Bug-B-Gone, and my flip-flops by the door in case I had to make a midnight killing.
The result was no cricket singing outside my window last night. Sweet, sweet sleep.
I woke up this morning feeling good. Last night, after coming home from the wonderful BBQ hosted by the Schmidt’s (the race director’s family) at their house, I spoke with Darren for awhile about the race. Darren is a two-time former Clydesdale World Champion triathlete (Clydesdale is a division for athletes over 200pds), and a former training partner from my time at the Triathlon Training Centre in Victoria. He knows racing and he knows me, so we sorted through a race plan. I knew that a sub-3:00 marathon was going to win the ENDURrun, but I wasn’t sure how far under 3:00. Bob had been speaking about wanting to run 3:00, but I knew that he could go faster than that. Darren suggested watching heart rate for the first loop of the two-loop marathon course, and then trying to put pressure on Bob after that. We had looked at possible split times and then tried to determine what was realistic. We determined that I would try to keep my heart rate around 155bpm, while holding about 4:10 min/km for the first 21.1km. After that, I would try to increase the pace over the next 15km trying to run away from Bob, hoping that his big run from Friday (the hilly trail run stage) was still in his legs. I would descend to about 4:00 min/km over the second half of the run, which would leave me running a 2:51 marathon. I figured if I ran a 2:51 and Bob still beat me, then he had earned his win.
I arrived early at the race site and the specter of rain hung about. The clouds to the west were daunting and the wind was beginning to pick up. The amazing volunteers had been here early since they were also hosting an 8k race while the marathon was going on. I checked in with Lloyd and said hello to the rest of the crew. This was it – 3:11 was the difference between Bob and I and there was no race tomorrow, which, as odd as this sounds, was a weird thought to comprehend. We had become used to racing with the thought of racing the next day in mind, that this concept of leaving everything on the course was almost scary. There was no safety net – if you have a bad day, there is no redemption.
I began my warm up and felt quite good, except for the soreness in my glutes. Yes, my ass hurt. I did intervals of light jogs and bathroom visits. I thought of the warm up I have my clinics do, and made sure that I did my A’s, B’s, C’s and some strides. My glutes began to feel better and, if you hadn’t told me I had done 128km in the past 7 days, I wouldn’t have known. I felt light and my turnover was there. I knew what had to be done, and I knew it was going to hurt, but I felt as though I was prepared.
The only other marathon I have run was at the Royal Victoria Marathon last October. It had been interesting; a great experience, but not a great race. I had been on canoe trip with Esquimalt High for the two weeks of my taper, alternating between sleeping on the ground, sterning a voyager canoe in the ocean, and doing water runs in the same ocean with my triathlon wetsuit. This trip was incredible, but the cramping, walking, and stretching that happened after 32km of the Victoria marathon were not. I ended up running 2:59:58, a good first marathon time, but not what I felt I was capable of.
There were a few guest runners, the two relay teams, and then the five Ultimate boys. We lined up as the wind gusted in our face, prepared for our two laps of 21.1 km. I was ready and looking forward to seeing how the day went. Lloyd, in his understated way, started us with his “On You Mark”, and we were off. One of the relay runners, or maybe he was a guest runner, went out front immediately and I decided to ey off him. I had put a gap between myself and Bob within the first 50m and I wondered what his strategy might be. For a moment I considered one of my earlier race plans, which was to run really hard for the first 30k, trying to run close to 1:52:00, and then hold on for dear life. I figured that even if I ran an hour (which would be 5:00 min/km) for the last 12, I would still run a 2:52. The gap was short lived as Bob pulled alongside us and I went back to my current, and more sensible, race plan. We went through the first kilometer in 4:18 and my heart rate was 149 at that point. I was well within what I was hoping to do and, more importantly, I had taken the first kilometer slowly. The marathon is a race that will bite you in the ass if you don’t respect it – go out too hard, too early and you will suffer in the end. The course followed the same start as the half-marathon from a week earlier, so I knew the first 4k well. We cruised through the second kilometer, into a strong headwind, in 4:15. I was happy that we had gone out conservatively, but I knew that running this easy was not going to get me closer to my goal of breaking Bob. I pulled out from the draft of the relay runner and started to pick the pace up a little. An awkward water station mix up (the relay runner stopped in front of Bob I found out later), allowed me to gap Bob again. I was beginning to feel more confident about this plant, thinking that Bob might be feeling the previous two days running. We went 4:09, 4:10, 4:03, and we were back on the 4:10 pace I had decided upon the night before. My heart rate was under control, averaging about 157 bpm at this point – a little higher than I had wanted, but not too much.
There were some extended downhills which I took advantage of, running a 3:53 in the 6th kilometer, once again creating a little gap from Bob. I ran a 4:04 next kilometer (7k), and Bob ran back up to me. Ray, Bob’s coach, was out on the course, giving us our pace times and offering us support.
A diversion on Ray for a moment. This is a coach who drove his athlete 10 hours from Rhode Island to participate in this event. He is a Boston Marathon Course Certifier (he actually certifies the Boston Course whenever there is a small modification, something as small as a traffic island going in), and he has a PR of 2:23 for a marathon. His longest training week was 270km in his prime. But more than all of that, he was a consummate gentleman. Throughout the week, he was giving me feedback on my form, providing me with encouragement in every race, regardless of my position, and giving me splits. Today, he handed me water whenever Bob and I passed through an aid station manned by one volunteer. It was a pleasure to meet him and his character shone through.
The next 8k passed pretty uneventfully. I ran ahead of Bob a little, but by meters. We were always together and Ray was showing up with surprising regularity. My heart rate stayed true (fluctuating between and average of 155 and 159 bpm for each kilometer) and I felt quite good.
8k – 4:18
9k – 4:06
10k – 3:59 (41:19 10k split)
11k – 4:06
12k – 4:14
13k – 3:57
14k – 4:04
15k – 3:55
Approaching kilometer 16 we faced a longer hill. This was the first real test for us. I decided to make sure that I took the hill well, but not hard. We split 4:31 for the kilometer and went then the fun was going to start. Along the backside of the course we had a terrific tailwind. I actually looked over to Bob and commented on how nice it was. He reminded me that we had to turn back into the wind soon. I didn’t like him for saying that.
We ran through a little neighbourhood and toward the path that we would take back toward the start/finish. We went 4:16, 4:14 for kilometer 17 and 18 as I keyed off Bob for a moment, checking to see what he would do if in the lead. The slowing of the pace didn’t work for my plan, so I took the lead again at kilometer 19 (4:01) and started the fun. That 4:01 was uphill into the wind, as I tried to establish a gap that would hold. I didn’t want Bob sitting my draft throughout the windy side of the course – I wanted him to have to fight the wind as well. I pushed a hard 3:59 for the 20th kilometer and then a 3:51 for the 21st as we left the hills. My heart rate had picked up to a 165 average for that kilometer and I still had really left Bob. I had about 10m, so he was dealing with the headwind as well, but I hadn’t been able to extend that 10m. I slowed up and decided that I would let him pull me through the headwind that awaited us.
21k split – 1:26:30
We had begun our second lap in earnest. I knew that I had 21k to establish a 3 minute lead on Bob, so I plotted. I sat in and let Bob pull through the wind for a little, but we slowed up a little. I knew I would have to go hard, so I pulled around Bob and started a push that would last 10km.
22k – 4:14
23k – 4:03
24k – 4:06
25k – 4:09
26k – 3:46
27/28k – 7:28 (3:44 splits)
29k – 4:06
30k – 3:53
31k – 3:52
32k – 3:58 (10k split from 23k to 32k – 39:21)
I had pushed the pace for 10k, and Bob, well Bob was still there. Throughout this surge, I thought of the tremendous support that I have received from everyone throughout the week. I thought of the advice from my friends (SMILE!, and run my race plan), and I knew that I had to leave everything on the course. I thought to myself, both of us are going to break, but it is who breaks first.
33k – 4:11
34k – 4:01
35k – 4:12
Bob had held the pace, but I had fallen off. It wasn’t a heart rate thing, it was a strength thing. My legs were deadening beneath me and I was having trouble matching the pace I had established. Bob held the pace and continued to establish a gap. After 32km, anything can happen. I tried to stay on top of my form and keep my legs going because I thought that Bob might blow up before the end of the race.
I continued to run but I was not getting any faster and Bob was not coming back.
36/37k – 9:01 (4:30 split)
38k – 4:22
39k – 4:44
I realized that I was not going to catch Bob, and focused on running my race, trying to still run a good time after all the work I had put it. It is in these moments that the race becomes more of an internal race. I was putting one foot in front of another. I kept going, even though it was getting tougher.
40k – 4:39
I rounded the corner, heading downhill and into the headwind. I tried to open up my pace, but at the bottom of the hill, my hamstring started to cramp. I came to a stop and stretched it out quickly, beginning a modified run. I tried to relax and the hamstring eased off and I started running again.
41k – 5:07
I considered what I had done this week. I ran 160km over seven stages, running faster than my times last year. Our 30k split in the marathon was faster than our 30k run earlier in the week. I had run hard and left everything on the course. Though I had come second in the marathon, and in the ENDURrun, I knew that I had had a great week of racing and was content in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have done anything different this week. And I thought of the unbelievable support that I had received from the volunteers, my family, and all my friends, both here in Ontario and out West. I knew that my week had been a success, and with that knowledge, I smiled (thanks jen) and tried to push it in for a good time.
42k - 4:41
I rounded the final corner to see the group of volunteers under the Finish banner, cheering me in. With a smile, and a bittersweet twinge, I ran the last 200 yards to the finish, completing the marathon in a time of 2:55:53.
I had come second in the 2006 ENDURrun by 8 minutes and 10 seconds (ish). I had also just run a PB by 4 minutes in the marathon after running 128km as my taper. I had worked hard throughout the week and was very happy with my result. Darren and I had decided last night that if I ran a 2:51 and Bob still won, then he deserved it. Bob finished in 2:50:12, an incredible time for a marathon, especially at the end of this week. Ray, who had been such a support throughout the week, said told me that if last night I had told Bob that I was going to run a 2:55 today, he would have been “quaking in his boots”. Bob and I pushed each other all week, and we ran better for it.
So, with that, I am going to go to bed. I will write a wrap up post for the ENDURrun tomorrow. Thanks for reading and all of your support – it has meant the world to me.
See you soon!