It has been a while since I have blogged. I have been overwhelmed by life issues – especially the change to a gluten-free diet.
The Months Before the Race
While this post is a race report about the 7 Bridges Marathon 2012, I have to give you some background first. Back in April of this year, I had an unexpected DNF (did not finish) at the Knoxville Marathon. I was ill on and off for months after that. I was able to finish a couple of races well, but I faced fatigue issues. These fatigue issues would not allow me to train at tempo pace. It also kept me from completing runs over 10 miles. I finally forced myself to try runs of 12 and then 15 miles. Based on my fitness level, I should have easily run the long runs at a 7:45 pace. These two runs were done at a 9:10 & 9:30 pace respectively. Not good for a guy wanting to run a 2:59:00 marathon!
I went to 3 doctors who ran blood tests, ultrasounds, and a CT Scan. Finally, I was diagnosed with gluten intolerance. In hindsight, I now understand that I have been ill since January or February, way before my DNF. It just wasn’t bad enough for me to notice until April.
By the time I was diagnosed, I had only 6 weeks heal from this gluten issue before the 7 Bridges Marathon. I managed to get in two 20 mile runs, the first at a 8:20 pace and the second at a 7:56 pace. Unfortunately, I was cramping towards the end of all of the long runs as a result of a calorie deficiency. I was on a very restrictive diet and I just couldn’t eat enough calories.
The good news is that I could run for several miles at tempo pace again. Hence, I could run fast effectively, but I could not run far effectively. My only hope of running a great marathon was if my system could heal a bit more through the time of the taper. Unfortunately, there was no way to know just how healed I was by race day.
I knew I could manage running at around a 7:45 pace per mile, but that was not my goal. If I was able to process my food properly and store enough glycogen, a 6:50 pace was reasonable by all of the predictive models. As the race day approached, I decided that I would let my body tell me which path to take. I would start out at a 6:50 pace and stick with it if it felt comfortable & relaxed.
The 7 Bridges Marathon is a nice marathon with only two imposing hills. After running in Knoxville, having only two noteworthy hills = flat. The course runs through the city, over seven bridges, and finishes with 8 miles along the scenic Tennessee River Walk. It starts at 7 am, before the sun comes up. The weather was perfect for running as it stayed in the 40’s and 50’s for most of the morning.
I approached the starting line focused on the first mile. Like most runners, I usually start way too fast. Last year I actually stopped after the first few hundreds meters to stretch and calm down. This year I managed to keep it mostly under control. I ran the first mile in 6:38. While that was a little faster than goal pace, I was able to keep nearly all of my miles in the first half right around that 6:50 goal pace. I added an extra minute at a port-a-potty in mile 12 and still managed to finish the first half of the marathon in 1:30:59, a 6:57 pace. I still felt comfortable and relaxed at that point.
I maintained the pace for about two more miles. Then came the big bridge at miles 15 to 17. It is about 1 mile from the beginning of the ramp up to the bridge to the crest of the bridge. It is another mile from the crest of the bridge to the exit off the bridge. I managed to average around an 8 minute mile pace up the bridge, but had to stop and stretch on the way down the second mile of bridge. I was beginning to feel the cramps that I felt in training. Not good.
I slowed down to nurse that cramping, but went into full-on cramping in my right hamstring during mile 18. It was much like the experience in Knoxville 6 months earlier. This time, however, I was used to it. I knew what to do. I stopped and waited for the worst cramping to subside. I relaxed, I stretched just a bit, and I jogged on to finish mile 18 in 10:50. I managed it well enough to run a 7:44 pace for miles Miles 19 and 20.
More importantly, I stayed calm. I knew I could still manage to beat my PR of 3:27:27 that I ran on this course last year. I also knew that the toughest part of the course lay ahead at mile 25. I had to keep managing to run as fast as I could without causing the full cramps to emerge again. In miles 21 through 24, I gradually slowed a bit more with each mile.
By the 24 mile marker, I was confident that I had at least eked out a PR. I just had to carefully survive the last two miles. (the last 0.2 is downhill) I ran miles 25 & 26 at a 10 minute pace. During these two miles I was careful to distribute my weight purposefully relying on different muscles. Form was no longer about speed, but survival. And survive I did.
I forgot to stop my Garmin when I finished so I had to wait a while to find out the exact time. Officially, I finished the 7 Bridges Marathon in 3:22:44. That is a personal record by nearly 5 minutes. At my age, it also qualifies me for Boston for the first time.
3:22:44 (personal record & Boston qualifier)
32nd Place Overall
1st Place in 45-49 Age Group
What I have Learned
You should learn a little something from each race you run. In this year’s 7 Bridges Marathon, I learned that I still have a lot of healing to do from this gluten issue. I also learned how to run through a cramp problem and still do fairly well. Finally, I learned that I am a tough son-of-a-gun.
My next race is the Secret City Half Marathon on November 18 in Oak Ridge, TN. My next marathon is the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, VA on March 17. The P in P. Mark Taylor stands for Patrick, so it should be my lucky day, right? I hope so, because I will be aiming for a 2:55. If my gut has healed and the weather is good, I should have a very good day. Until then, I will stay on my new gluten-free diet and train hard.
The Gift of Running,by P. Mark Taylor, is now available in both paperback & e-book
– Paperback Version – Amazon.com $9.00
– Ebook Version – Kindle Store $2.99
– Ebook Version for Nook $2.99