It should be noted that the marathon and I have had a very rocky relationship. When you’re built like a greyhound bus, you tend to suck more at longer distances, and this undoubtedly true for me. But if you are runner, you eventually do 26.2, and the holy grail of all that is running is qualifying and competing in the Boston Marathon. The seed for that dream started in 2010 when I tried my hand at running my first attempt at the distance at Richmond. That was a disaster of a bonk with a shredded IT band, electric shock like cramping and a death march to a 3:52 after being on 3:30 pace through 18 miles. I came back a year later and did Jacksonville and managed a much better 3:20, then Richmond again in 2012 in 3:22, though still way off from the Boston standard. My cliff dive in Hawaii destroyed 2013, but I finally buckled down in ’14, following Justin Bishop’s brutal training regimen and notching a 3:11 at Kiawah to punch my BQ ticket. After doing a celebratory and slow Boston in 2016, I wasn’t really motivated to do the distance again. But after the 2018 half at Kiawah, and 3 IPAs deep, I signed up for the 2019 Kiawah full to try and get back to Beantown, this time hopefully to run a good time.
Yeah, so that didn’t work out. My wonky Achilles acted up in mile 10 and I had to take a DNF for the first time in my racing life. UGH, it sucked. I regrouped and trained for 2020 Wilmington in March. Silent H trained with me and qualified at Myrtle Beach, and then COVID hit a week later and canceled my race. I decided just to train though 2020 with high mileage and try for next year. There weren’t any races, so what else was I going to do? I was hitting 50, 60 then 70 miles a week. No speedwork. I finally got a chance to race at Cold Winter’s Day 5k in December and shocked myself with an 18:34. This must be working. I continued throughout January when BAM , both Wilmington and Myrtle were postponed. Desperate, and again a few beers deep (do I sense a pattern?) I found the Skidaway Marathon. It was small, near Savannah, and still being held as far as I could tell. Time to finally put all this work into action.
So, as race week approached, I was pretty confident. All I needed, in my advanced age (now 46) was to run a 3:20, but let’s say around 3:15 to be safe. My 5k times suggested I could flirt with 3 hours flat, but hey, let’s just make this easy. Course seemed pretty flat. It looked like it might be a little warm, but hopefully I’d be done before the worst heat of the day. I tapered down to about 30 miles on race week, no injuries, everything was perfect. I debated the idea of bringing the VAPORS (Nike vaporflys) but decided that the risk of blisters was too great and my goal should be “easy” enough to run in my regular trainers.
I show up on race morning super early and I’m pretty anxious to get this thing going. There was a sizable Columbia/CRC contingent on hand – Ed Aulfuldish, Christa Collins, Colleen Quarles, Ashley Holman, Brittany Jones, Tracy McKinnon, Ken Hinely, Larry Jourdain, Linn Hall, Erin Miller, Brad Marlow, MC Cox, Westley McKinney, and Bridgette Honor were all on hand. Nice to see so many familiar faces this far away from home.
Pretty soon we were off. My biggest fear in the early going was honing in on the goal pace. 3:15 is about 7:26 per mile. I figured 7:20 would be golden, banking some time. I hit mile one in 7:30, then picked it up a notch with a few 7:17 ish miles to try and average it out. Perfect. I was feeling great. Weather was about 60 degrees, legs felt fresh, wasn’t breathing hard. This was going to be easier than I thought. There were some winding parts of this course onto bike and cart paths and it seemed, for better or for worse, that this was almost identical to Kiawah. There were more scenic views of the marsh but the homes, streets and golf course felt the same. I had planned to start taking my shot blox around 6 miles, but I was feeling good and just took in some water instead. I was fearful that eating anything might bring on the menace of my long runs, the poopsies. So far so good, though I got a twinge in the ol’ belly in mile 7 and started to get a little panicky. Thankfully it subsided, though it was replaced with my first sense that all was not well. It seemed like my hamstrings were getting a little tight and I was no longer moving as smoothly as I had. I dropped back to 7:30 in mile 8 and that caused me to correct again back to 7:13, then a few miles of 7:20ish. I took some shot blox in mile 10 in the hope that maybe I wasn’t fueling or hydrating right. But as the halfway point started rolling around, I knew I was in trouble. Something wasn’t right. It made no sense to me but I van only describe it as just feeling “off” and not being able to fully extend my tight hamstrings. Some random girl came up beside me and said, “Christa and Ed said to say hello. They said you could probably do 3:10 pace. I’m doing 7:10 pace if you join”. While running with attractive female twentysomethings sounded nice, I knew that was a recipe for disaster with how I was feeling.
At the half, I was somewhere in the neighborhood of 1:34, so still ahead of pace. But I was pretty much devastated because I knew the wheels were starting to fall off. At some point there was a photo spot, where I tried to look like I had energy. Then some videographer starts running alongside of me and films me for like 15 seconds. I tried to act like I was having a good time, but if I did, it was an Oscar caliber performance. I was dying. Shortly after was the only hill of any kind on the course, some sort of overpass/bridge. Going uphill I realized that maybe this was at least part of the issue. Climbing stretched out the hammies and used some different muscles, and I felt a lot better for a brief moment. But that hill was gone in a flash and I was back to pounding flat pavement. Mile 15 is when my body really started overriding my brain’s attempt to veto their decision. I was trying to increase effort to maintain the same pace, but my legs were just toast, on the verge of cramping. I started bleeding time – first a 7:46, then 7:56 and an 8:09 for mile 17. I found a portapotty right after the mile marker. Half to pee, half to just stop. I knew I my race was trashed and I was so, so pissed. The homeowner’s association of Skidaway is probably going to have complaints of Tourette’s style F bombs being tossed as I walked for probably 30 seconds. In my mind it felt like 10 minutes. Screw this, I’m dropping out of this thing. However, I was absolutely in the middle of nowhere. I lurched to a jog in mile 18 when Christa comes bounding toward me like she just started the race. “I’M GOING TO RUN WITH YOU NOW”. I quickly told her that I was unequivocally done and that she needs to just go. Pretty soon Ed came by as well and I had to tell him the same. Getting passed and facing 8 more miles was just awful. A few more people flew by me in my death slog jog, and Ashley scared the hell out of me at about mile 19. Everyone but me seemed to be having a banner day.
I knew there was an out and back around mile 20 or so. I had been running with the thought of bailing on that loop to get back to the finish faster. But as I approached the turn, more F bombs were released and I realized it was still going to have to run more than a 5k if I dropped. I was going to finish this damn thing. Although I had caught some more walksies, I set out trying to remain running in this loop. Of course, the sun was out by now and it was probably at least 70 degrees. Tracy was already on his way back, proclaiming this the loop from hell. Well now I’m super motivated! But hell, it was hard to envision a more miserable time than I was already having. I hit the turnaround and hoped maybe I could make it all the way to the finish without stopping. Nope, another case of the walksies. At the end of the loop, the 3:30 pace guys finally caught up to me, though apparently they were guiding nobody but themselves. I clocked a blazing 11:19 mile 23. More obscenities. By mile 24 I promised myself no more walksies. I think I didn’t, though honestly the last 2.2 is pretty much a blur. Beyond avoiding a marathon stroll, I hoped to fend off that 3:45 pace pack I saw on the out-and-back section. I recall the countdown number signs they had near the finish line as I was driving in that morning. I thought they were kind of silly at the time, but now I was mentally hanging on by a thread, and each number gave me a goal. Starting at 10, they were probably only 100-200 meters apart but it felt like a mile. Finally, the finish rolled into view and I tried to pick it up. By pick it up, I mean under 10 minute pace. Not exactly the blue shoe finish I had hoped for. In the last stretch I saw the 3:39 on the clock and amped it up to a stiff legged semi-sprint in the last quarter mile to get in just a shade under 3:40. SO glad to be done.
So yeah, this race was pretty much a disaster for me. I am glad I finished, because the DNF about killed me at Kiawah. And no, I don’t think 3:39 is a bad time for anybody, just really disappointing for what I think I can do. I’m still not entirely sure what happened in this race. My best guess is a mix of poor hydration/fueling with the heat, not getting in enough marathon pace practice and the relentless flatness of the course (all of my long run training is over the crazy hills of Columbia). Any who, back to the drawing board. I have the Palmetto 200 coming up this week, so I guess I need to recover fast. Wilmington is April 19, so maybe a chance for redemption there. We will see.
Columbia area results:
Half: Larry Jourdain 1:30:12 at age 58. Wow. MC Cox in 1:33, Linn Hall in 1:37, Matthew Ulcak 1:51, Colleen Towery 1:53, Savannah Ulcak 1:59, Tyler Jones 2:10, Joanna Neal 2:10, Simeon Roberts 2:17, Colleen Wracker 2:17 , Phyillis Hughes2:19, Sarah Holcomb 2:47, Angela Brewbaker 2:54
Full: Tracy McKinnon in 3:09/BQ, Christa Collins in 3:17, first marathon, first masters and a BQ! Westley McKinney in 3:20, Ed Aulfuldish 3:24 and a PR/BQ, Ashley Holman 3:25 PR/BQ, Brad Marlow 3:26 BQ, Ken Hinely 3:51, Colleen Quarles 3:55, Brittany Jones 3:56, Sara Hartsell 4:46, Bridgette Honor 4:52 first marathon. Kristin Collins 5:30, Mary Sumter 6:19.