Apr 29, 2010

Country Music Marathon - Race report

The Nashville Country Music Marathon was held on Saturday, April 24th. The weather all week didn't look good. Rain was in the forecast, starting about a week before race day. As the race approached, the forecast for mere rain turned into strong thunderstorms and the potential for tornadoes to suddenly “pop up”. Great. Even better. And those tornadoes were popping up earlier that week, west of Nashville, and most notably, in Mississippi. But as we got closer to Saturday, there did appear to be a window of dry weather that would allow much of the race to be run under decent conditions. But once the weather did roll in, it was predicted to be bad. Very bad. Nashville, it turned out, wound up being under a tornado watch until 2AM Sunday morning. With this being the case, the organizers decided the day before the race that anyone not on pace to finish the marathon in 4:30 or less were going to have run the half. You had until the 11.2 mile mark, the marathon/half-marathon split point, to be on that 4:30 pace. While I wasn't worried about that, barring injury, I was worried that conditions could worsen and they could tighten that criteria up, or just cancel the marathon altogether. Nothing I could do about it though. Out of my control, so I tried to just relax, get my sleep, and be ready for anything on race day.

In my two past marathons, I have experienced calf spasms. Once at 14 miles, that left me with a DNF at mile 22. The other at mile 23 that forced me to struggle the last 3.2 miles. I had come to the conclusion that it was a hydration/nutrition issue. I began training with Endurolyte capsules, and had good success with them. So my plan is to take 4 capsules every hour. In addition, I have a few Advil, if necessary, and my “secret weapon”...an extra dose of Flexall muscle rub, in a Ziploc bag. More on that later.

I woke up at 4am, fixed myself 2 peanut butter sandwiches, and a banana for breakfast. At 5am, I went down to the lobby for some coffee. I quickly get dressed, get my gear in order, rub some Flexall on my calves and quads and I'm ready to go. At 5:30am, my wife and I met up with the group we came with and we headed to the start to get our gear bag checked in before it got crazy. Susan ran her first half, another buddy of mine ran his first half, and his wife was looking to run her first full, if she could stay ahead of that 4:30 pace limit. Temp was around 65 degrees, with humidity in the low 80% range. Ugh. Since our hotel was about 4-5 blocks from the start, we decided to walk back to use the bathrooms in our rooms instead of the porta-pottys. Plus, the walk would serve as a gentle warmup before I spent 5-10 minutes running a few striders right before the start. We finish up at the hotel and we start the walk back to the start line. And then...BOOM! The starting gun goes off! What?!? I look at my watch. They're early. Apparently, the organizers announced via bullhorn (at 6:15am) that they were going to get things underway 15 minutes early. We were in our hotel at the time, and didn't hear this. Crap. I was scheduled to start in the third corral, so I was now late! I instinctively take off running for the start line. I was pissed. As soon as I took off, I realized I didn't get a chance to wish my friends luck, or kiss my wife, wish her the best, and give her some encouragement that she really would finish her first half. Now I'm doubly annoyed. By the time I get to the start area, the first three corrals have taken off already. I manage to get into the 4th corral, which takes off as soon as I get past the worker checking people's bib numbers to be sure they are in the right corral. As usual, they are far too lax in this department, and I take off with plenty of people who are supposed be about 20 corrals behind. No matter. I figure I won't be around them for long.

My race is now underway. My adrenaline is absolutely pumping, and I'm kinda pissed about it. Sprinting to the start line, my mind racing, was not how I wanted to start. Within the first mile, I realize how dumb this was to do. That's what chip timing is for, right?!? I just didn't want to be too far back in the corrals and get have trouble navigating into some open space to run freely. In hindsight, I should have taken my time getting to the line and dealt with any possible crowding.

I fly through my first mile too fast, 7:39. My heart is racing we're going downhill, and I'm still irritated by the early start. This split is a stupid mistake on my part. I start slowing myself down, and focus on keeping my effort level steady through this first uphill section of the course. 7:56, 8:09, 8:12, 8:16. I know that first five miles are the hilliest portion of the course, so I need to balance pushing my pace and not giving away too much time with not going overboard and gassing myself. At this point, I'm at the highest point on the course.

I feel like I'm now where I want to be, in about the time I wanted to be there, and now I want to settle into a steady pace. I do still have two somewhat meaningful rises, from mile 6.5 to mile 8, and miles 11 to 13, but I'm not overly concerned about them. What I am concerned with is that at around mile four I began to notice that my legs might not have the pep in them that I'd like. Primarily, my hips felt a little tight. But I put it out of my mind for now, push on, and I decide to reassess once I get to the halfway point. I get through miles 6-13 in 7:59, 8:00, 8:07, 7:53, 7:45, 7:58, 7:53, 8:12. My goal was to hit the halfway mark in 1:45-1:46, 1:47 at the absolute slowest. I get there in 1:45:36. I'm happy with that. It puts me right on target and it's time to reassess how I feel. Uh-oh. I don't like my answer. My hips are definitely getting tighter, and I'm confident that I'll be working harder than I want to in the second half of this race. This tightness is not going to go away. In addition, you could feel the weather starting to change. The sky was becoming darker, the day was warming up a bit, and the wind was definitely picking up, with some strong gusting.

So the question now becomes, how hard do I work right now in order to get the finish as quickly as possible, and hopefully, without pain and calf cramps? Thankfully, my calves are just fine at this point. In fact, everything seems fine except for my hips. I swear to myself, first thing I'm getting when I get back to Cincinnati is a foam roller, and that I'm going to use it religiously. For the record, I've already bought, I'm already using it, and I think it's going to be really helpful.

Backing up for a moment, when I hit the split at 11.2 miles, I quickly became aware of how lonely the second half of the course was going to be, and I was right. I'd heard this was common at Rock n' Roll races, so I was somewhat prepared for it. After reaching the midway point, I finished my 14th mile in 8:14. And then I hit a low point.

I was mentally battling the warm morning & humidity, the tightness in my hips, and the boredom of the course through this section. It was here where I decided I was going to add some periodic walk breaks. I didn't need to walk at this point, but I wanted to be sure that my hips didn't get worse this far from the finish. That's what I told myself, anyway. Now, I realize that I was also bored, a little depressed by it, and just didn't want to work as hard. Mental weakness on my part. That angers me now. My splits for miles 15-18 are 8:40, 8:44, 8:58, and 9:55. That 18th mile, I don't know what happened. I just got really lazy and walked too long early in the mile, without realizing it. This section, miles 13-17.5, we ran completely alone, through this park area near the river. No fans, no vehicle access, no support. I hated it and it had a direct impact on my “weak” attitude. But at around 17.6, we'd headed back for downtown again and out of the park area. We were back on the stretch of 8th Ave that we'd run north on and back at the folks a few miles behind us on the marathon course. At this point, seeing the other runners, I felt like I was “back in the race”, mentally. After finishing that very slow 18th mile, I ran mile 19 in 8:37. Not great, but better. But more importantly, my mind was in a better place. And then I lost all my momentum and was back to being in a poor mental state.

The 20th mile is where the marathoners met back up with the halfers again, who were finishing their race. The marathon course starts about 2 miles west of downtown. You run into town, then head south/southwest for a few miles before heading back into the city. Then you run north, turn around, and back into the city again. This is where I was at this point, the 20-mile point. Then you run east to Shelby Park, and finally back into town again. So you keep coming into the city, near the finish, only to head back out again.

I didn't mind it until this point. I immediately begin to think about how nice it would be to be finishing now, and that sort of depresses me. I try to forget about that as quickly as possible. The mental aspect was the worst of it though. Because of the halfers reaching the end of their race, the road was PACKED, and the halfers paid absolutely no attention to the fact that they were supposed to be using the right half of the street while the marathoners were to run on the left, on their way out to Shelby Park. And there seemed to be no volunteers or police to enforce this split. I had a lady cut me off badly, and I had to come to a dead stop to keep from running her over. She had no idea I was there. Argh. I had to do a lot of bobbing & weaving here. This destroyed any momentum, rhythm, and good feelings I'd regained in that 19th mile. Mile 20 came in at 9:43, and I was NOT happy about it. At the end of the 20th mile, I turned left and headed out to Shelby Park, and was again free to run in a straight line, without congestion. Albeit, it's straight into the wind.

Mile 21 is technically my slowest, 10:33. But that's misleading. When I arrived at the aid station during this mile, I was due to take my 4 Endurolyte capsules, but I also decided that I was going to reapply the Flexall to my calves. I'd yet to find my rhythm again, so this seemed as good a time as any to do this. While my calves felt OK, I figured I might as well apply it now. I had it, I was thinking about it, and I didn't want to wait until the last minute. I had the stuff in a Ziploc bag. I'd heard this idea on a podcast. Put the rub in a Ziploc, and when you want to apply it during the race, you can just turn it inside out, apply it, and not get it all over your hands. Worked like a charm. Between the Flexall and the Endurolytes, this was easily a 90-120 second stop. So I didn't get too bent out of shape at this split time. I told myself that taking the time to apply this little bit of “insurance” on my calves was more than worth it if it saved me the many minutes I'd lose if they locked up again.

I'm now approaching Shelby Park. Mile 22, 9:17. Mile 23, 9:15. Mile 24, 9:24. Too conservative, but at the time, I don't really realize it. I'm just moving along, hoping to beat the weather that has rolled in. It was right at mile 24 that a police officer in a vehicle drove down the road telling us that the serious weather was arriving and that we “might want to consider finding shelter”. He wasn't kidding. Dark skies, rain, wind, fork-shaped lightning. But where in the hell am I going to find shelter at mile 24?!? So I obviously just keep running. The rain really starts coming down. I'm not sure I'm ready to pick up the pace quite yet, so I just keep moving along at the pace I've been going at. Again, too conservative. At one point during this mile, I accidentally step on the edge of an uneven section of road along the shoulder, and mildly turn my ankle. I immediately start walking, and take about 30 seconds to assess it. Seems fine, I start running again. Mile 25, 9:27.

Mile 26, I realize I feel strong enough to pick up the pace. I should have done this about 3-4 miles earlier. I'm not trying to run all out, just running comfortably while not being “lazy”. I run mile 26 in 8:19. I actually have plenty of energy at the end. That's good and bad. Good that I feel good, bad that I could have gone harder in those last few miles. I'm supposed to hit the finish with nothing left, right? Oh, well. I officially came in at 3:46:23. My legs feel good, my hips feel no worse than they did at the halfway mark, my feet are fine, and I'm not cardiovascularly gassed. I left a lot in the tank. Did I have enough to run the 3:30 I was hoping to run? No. My legs weren't that fresh this day. 3:40? Yeah, I could have done that. With better mental toughness and awareness in the second half, I probably had a 3:36-3:38 in me. On a scale of 1-10, I'd give my performance a solid 7. But that's OK. I'm still learning. This is only my third marathon, and second finish. I'll get better at in-race strategy and assessments. In the meantime, 3:46:23 is perfectly good by me. That turns out to be a PR by 21 minutes and 30 seconds. My third PR of the year. Now I only have 5K and 10K PR's to set this year to accomplish my goal of PR'ing at every distance I'd previously run.

Now, I'll spend the next 2-3 weeks recovering with some easy, short runs, bike & elliptical at the gym, foam rolling and stretching, and rededicating myself to doing necessary strength training. Now is the time to get myself in that habit. Plan is to run 3-4X per week, cross-train 2-3X per week, and still get at least 1 rest day in there. Two would be better. I just hope I don't fall into the trap I always do, which is I'd rather just run.


  1. Holy cow! The marathon from hell except for a 21-minute PR (and sounds like you left something on the table, too...). wow. congratulations on sticking this one out and an incredible PR. I had the same experience at Boston earlier this month with people running to the start. The announcer at the runners' village announced to get going a bit late, and as we were all walking there they were announcing "30 secs left.." etc. People starting running up a big hill to get to the their starting corrals even before the start - nuts. I walked. I figured that's what chip timing is all about.


  2. Awesome job Rich. The mental aspect of the marathon is very difficult, yet so important. I have every confidence that you will continue to improve and probably be running Boston soon.

    Thanks for the race report...too bad I couldn't make it to Nashville to root you guys on.