Running In The USA is one such corner) but from Patricia Gropp during the Women in HPC networking event as part of the SC18 festivities in Dallas, TX. I had put it on the back-burner of bucket list items … things for which I’d eventually make time. But during the Coalition for Academic Scientific Computation (CASC) Spring 2019 meeting in Alexandria, VA, the event re-surfaced again … thanks to a post-dinner conversation with David Moses and John Towns. Once John re-explained the festive small town America atmosphere associated with the big Illinois Marathon event that runs in the shadows of the famed National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), the event moved to the front-burner and I signed up.
Most well-written marathon training plans accommodate/suggest a half marathon race at target pace (i.e., planned marathon race pace) about two-thirds of the way through. I happened be following one such plan (Hal Higdon‘s 18-week Advanced 2 Program) and my good fortune was that the Illinois Marathon weekend coincides with the end of week #12! Only difference was that I chose to do a full marathon … though not at target pace for the entirety of distance. It might sound silly/childish (or over-doing it) but if I was going to drive 11 ish hours each way, then I wanted to run at least a mile for every hour that I drove. A few days before the event, I signed up for the Friday 5k as well to mimic the easy jog the day before. And when the travel component was taken into account, this’d be a complete dress rehearsal for the planned event 6 weeks down the road.
Driving to the Prairie State
Scott Jurek‘s Eat & Run as well as Bill McKibben‘s Long Distance, through not for the first time, kept me company throughout this drive highlighted by a pit stop to see a Pink Elephant!
Craig Virgin, a 9-time All American, 9-time BIG10 conference champion, 3-time Olympian, a 2-time World Cross Country champion and a 1-time NCAA National Cross Country Champion (he has plenty more accolades … far too many to list here). Finding a quick bite to eat (it served the purpose of putting some food in my belly but its source isn’t some place I’d venture again), checking into the AirBnB accommodation and exploring the course to the extent possible were a breeze as well.
With each passing mile, the winds felt like gentle breeze and the crowd support for the entirety of the course made it a joyous experience. While maintaining decent turnover and what felt like easy effort, I did pick up the pace (9:50, 8:59, 8:29 and 7:51 min/mile). The run ended near the 50 yard line of the famed Memorial Stadium – where the Fighting Illini play football. My official finish time was 0:28:07 – good enough for 852/4824 overall, 582/1890 in gender and 41/167 in AG.
It took me a short while afterwards to walk back to the car, find a good place to get some food and navigate my way to that good place around road closures. The food was good and so was the service at Maize at the Station. Dinner was significantly late (~9 pm) per my routine (~6-6:30 pm) but I didn’t think much of it and called it a night by 10 pm.
Although I woke up a few minutes before 5:00 am alarm on my own and fairly rested, the first hour of Saturday morning felt a bit hurried. Jes, my AirBnB hostess, had kindly offered to drive me to the starting area saving me the trouble of getting to the start line and the complexities that come with it when the roads are closed. I made some good coffee but left for the race without drinking any of it. Fortunately, the predicted rain held off and it was near-perfect weather for running.
Run The Keweenaw), Jeana, and a couple of first-time marathoners (being an experienced marathoner now, I felt it’s my duty to share everything I knew about anything they wanted to know and pay at least some of it forward) near the starting area. The event started after yet another beautiful rendition of The Star Spangled Banner.
I started in Wave A (upgraded from Wave B after chatting with Khris, pacer for 3:15 group yesterday at the expo; henceforth referred to as Coach Khris) but at the very end of the corral. Sensing some humidity, I opted focus my energy on keeping the effort as even as possible and maintain good posture, cadence and breathing. I did pick up the pace whenever the course permitted and consumed gel every 3rd mile (and water at every aid station). The course snaked through the cities of Urbana and Champaign … mostly through well-supported neighborhoods and sometimes through lovely parks and fields.
I fought off the urge to use the portable restroom around mile #14 again but it was a mistake in hindsight. I kept looking for the next available portable restroom for the next 3 miles and my pace dropped about 15-30 seconds per mile. I finally stopped shortly into mile #18 to use the facilities. Picking up the pace after resuming the run didn’t seem difficult but I had slowed down by mile #20. In spite of repeated efforts, I couldn’t pick up the pace during miles #21 through #23. Having run a 26+ and 27+ mile LSD runs over the past two weekends in a row and maintaining a higher cadence (around 170 spm), I figured it was just fatigue and certainly not the case of my body doesn’t know what to do this far into the run (or running into the wall).
Mike (3:35 pace guide; henceforth referred to as Coach Mike) came along and encouraged me to pick up the pace a little. He seemed like a very knowledgeable runner and a very good teacher. Doing everything Coach Mike asked of me in blind faith over the last 3 miles and 385 yards (e.g., picking up the pace and engaging the core; keeping the head high as Shawn had taught me during a ski lesson; forcing myself to breath in through the nose as I had been doing in easy/long runs; and more) helped me finish strong (8:46, 8:02, 7:38 and 6:11 min/mile).
1st Full As Momma, I just had assumed that she was overcome with joy for having completed either her very first marathon or her first as a mother. Having developed a certain runner kinship as a result of following in her footsteps for a few miles in the second half, I approached her and asked if something was wrong. It was only after I chatted with her (and gave her a hug) that I realized she had missed qualifying for Boston by a narrow margin. She wasn’t new to Bean Town – she had done it once, missed the second time due to pregnancy and was hoping to earn one for her child. It was rather heartbreaking.
After thanking Coaches Khris and Mike (the pace guides) and bidding adieu to the latter, Coach Khris suggested that I get in line to get my body worked on by the kind professionals from Athletico Physical Therapy. Waiting nearly 45 minutes for my turn was certainly worth it. Aided by improvements in endurance, the overall recovery time (to walk normally, including up and down the stairs without a hitch) was about 60-90 minutes. After changing into warmer and rain-resistant clothes as well as grabbing post-race nutrition (banana, chips, pizza and mini servings of pasta; I dutifully skipped chips and pizza), I walked down to the field level of Memorial Stadium to take in the view, cheer on finishing runners and check on the first-time marathoners I had chatted with at the start.
The tiered goals (listed in order of preference) I had for event were to
- run the length of the course with a relatively slow start and a stronger finish,
- employ the pacing and racing strategies Ray had taught me during last Sunday’s run (and then in an email), and
- reproduce (improve, if possible, upon) the result from 2018 Chicago Marathon – 3:40:05, 8:24 min/mile, 7.14 mph.
|Positioning by splits (Pace in min/mile and time in h:mm:ss)|
|10 mile||↓ 285/1089||↓ 234/697||↓ 30/85||7:59||1:19:49|
|13.1 mile||↓ 300/1103||↓ 244/709||↓ 32/84||8:00||1:44:52|
|20 mile||↑ 285/1091||↑ 234/699||↑ 31/82||8:09||2:42:51|
|26.2 mile||↑ 255/1089||↑ 209/696||↑ 27/81||8:14||3:35:46|
More so than achieving these goals, I was pretty proud of being quite mindful throughout the run. That is, focusing the relevant amount of energy in the mile I was in and not let the mind wander off to the side streets. Barring less than a handful occasions, I didn’t think too much about anything either. Apart from the conversations with Coach Mike and waving to John Towns (and his family around mile #23), the only other discussion I remember is the one I had with a young kid and talking him out of his plans to be a rogue runner in a big city marathon.
Jes, the kind AirBnB hostess, drove in pouring rain to pick me up and gave me recommendations for good food in the Urbana-Champaign area. A hearty and authentic meal in Huaraches led to a 2-hour nap. An hour of lovely conversations and yummy home-made walnut brownies with the Gropps led to a quality night of sleep.
The journey home
I woke up to an alarm around 4 am on Sunday to watch the 2019 edition of the Virgin Money London Marathon on my phone (thanks, Sling TV!). Sitting up straight (or bending over the first couple times) was a bit of struggle. The abs/core must have really been engaged over those last 3 miles and I was feeling some pain …. but a good kind of pain that hopefully symbolizes growth/improvement. I had/have come to learn quite a bit about Eliud Kipchoge but knew nothing about Brigid Kosgei. Roger Robinson’s poetic preview in Podium Runner – Kipchoge Returns to London: Another Marathon Masterclass? (excerpt below) – verbalized the feelings and expectations of many … but far better than I (or most others) could. All I could do was, like many others around the world, admire in awe what Brigid and Eliud did to their respective deep field of competitors. Needless to say, Eliud did not disappoint and did indeed put on a masterclass.
Rachel, Nathan and their little ones) in Normal, IL; Chris in Davenport, IA; Jamie in Stevens Point, WI; Alyssa in Tomahawk, WI. Apart from a lovely meal and conversation, I learned something new and useful from them. The stopovers broke up an otherwise long drive and the shorter driving segments were made even shorter by listening to David Quammen’s The Tangled Tree, a book recommended by the Gropps.
The notable takeaway from this dress rehearsal of a race/run was stick with the routine. In other words,
- No driving (i.e., traveling) 24 hours before the start of the race.
- Wrap up the last easy jog 24 hours before the start of the race and save the energy rest of the day. I now know why John took me to Chicago 2 days before and why, after wrapping up the 2-mile easy run and picking up race packet early in the day, we just people watched in the hotel lobby.
- Eat the same things and around the same time the day before and the morning of the race as previously practiced.
However, if not for violating these takeaways, I likely would have not had to stop and use the facilities. In turn, I likely would have not lost the time/pace like I did leading up to mile #23. In turn, I likely would not have met Coach Mike along the way. In turn, I likely would have not learned to dig a little deeper and tap into the resources I had available within me to finish strong. Or in other words, I likely would have not had experienced the quote Scott Jurek opens the very first chapter in his Eat & Run.