Monday, November 10, 2003

Race Report - Marathon in the Parks

Race Report
Marathon in the Parks
Rockville ,MD
Nov 9/03

As I mentioned in a previous email this marathon was an extra race inserted into my schedule because of the cancellation of the Washington Marathon last March.
And of course it actually turned out to be an inconvenient race due to the recent long trip to Europe and more importantly the subsequent injury to the plantar fascia in my right foot.
But I was going so I took four days off before the race to rest the foot in the hope that the inflammation would subside.

My sports manager and I left Sarasota on Friday and arrived in Washington, DC that afternoon and made our way to Rockville, MD a northern suburb of Washington, DC. The race started in Rockville and finished in downtown Bethesda, MD – another suburb of Washington. As most of you will know Mother Nature chose this past weekend to send a ‘Blue Northerner’ down the East coast from Tundraland (aka Canada) so that they were expecting record low temperatures. Oh Goody!

On Sat we found our way over to the race registration in Bethesda. Everything is so close there that it is difficult to tell where one city stops and the next starts. After picking up my race package we explored the area around Rockville, Bethesda and Gaithersburg. The marathon started at 7am on Sun in Rockville. I had my sports manager drive me over to the start line in Rockville so that I could get out of the car at the very last moment. The temperature was a chilly 34F. I was wishing that I were back home in Sarasota where the low was 67F! Fortunately I had checked the weather forecast and brought tights and a long sleeve polypro shirt – but it was still friggin cold! The right foot felt OK but there was still some soreness. At this point I was more concerned about how the four days of rest would affect me – I never take that much time off before a race.

The race started on time with about 1100 runners/marathoners. There were no other races. For some reason I thought I had read that the course was downhill and fast so my race strategy was to go out fast (7:30 pace) and see how long I could hold it? By ½ mile we were climbing hills? As I approached mile 4 in 30:59 and was climbing my 5th long hill of the race I figured “something’s wrong in Maryland”? So I asked a fellow runner if he had run the course and what was the rest of the course like? His response was “ we have just run the fast, easy part of the course – the next six miles are very hilly and then the course turns on to the Rock Creek Trail which is twisty/turny and hilly – and then the good news is that the last 4 miles are all uphill”! Oh GOODY – Oh JOY! I immediately revised my race strategy and decided to back off to an 8-min pace and see how long I could hold that. That runner was 100% accurate! By mile 8 I was cursing the sadistic race director and accusing him of looking for every friggin hill in Maryland and then running the course on it. I swear there wasn’t a flat section between miles 4 and 10? I was pleasantly surprised when I reached mile 10 in 1:19:01.

At that point the course turned on to the Rock Creek Trail, a paved and gravel trail that ran along Rock Creek through several parks in Montgomery County from Rockville south to Bethesda, MD. In many sections the trail was flat and fast but there were also many twists and turns as promised and several steep hills. I crossed the Half in1:43:27 but already knew that the 2nd Half would/could not be as fast. But I kept pushing and reached 20 miles in 2:38:36. I did my normal gut check at that point and determined that I still had lots of energy left but 20 miles of hills had destroyed my legs. They were mush and starting to tighten and cramp from the punishment of the hills. I considered backing off the pace and cruising to the finish line – especially since I knew that the last 4 miles were hills. But OH NO! – NO SIRREE! The Maddog was not going to accept a piss-poor, defeatist attitude like that! He started screaming at me “WIMP”, “WOOS”, “QUITTER”, “LOSER”!!!! Then he explained that I had 1 ½ minutes ‘in the bank’ and if I just eased the pace back to 8:15s I could still finish under 3:30 which would be a respectable time for an old fart on this tough course! I knew that there was no sense arguing with the Maddog so I pushed on as best as I could. Mile 21: 8:23 – not good! Push harder! Mile 22 - 8:11 – better. Mile 23 was a slight downhill – 8:04. Good – I am almost back on track. Time –3:03:16! I have 26:43 to run the last 5K. Would normally be doable but remember – the last 5K are all uphill! I continue to push as hard as I can and my heart rate soars to 94% MAX as I push up those hills! Mile 24 – 8:24; mile 25 – 8:24! Not looking good? Time 3:20:05 – 9:44 left to run the last 1.2 miles!
Both legs are starting to cramp – I am not sure if it is due to dehydration, exhaustion or the cold temps(a balmy 40F now) or a combination of all of the above? But it doesn’t matter AND I know it doesn’t matter because I am already expecting the next scream/message from the Maddog – “Any old fart can stand pain for a measly 10 minutes – get your sorry, wimpish ass moving FASTER”!

So I dug deeper, sucked it up, ignored the pain and pushed my heart rate up to 98% MAX as I climbed that last hill and mile in 8:03! As I turned the last corner in downtown Bethesda I could see the finish line about 100+m ahead and the clock read 3:29:20-something! I had less than 30 seconds to reach the finish line. I dug down as deep as I could go and asked the old bod to give me just a wee bit more to sprint to the finish line – but the old bod rebelled. The right hamstring cramped and locked up! But I would not be denied this close to my goal so I dragged that useless (POS) right leg with me the last 100m and across the finish line in 3:29:43!!!!! As soon as I crossed the finish line the adrenaline and endorphins stopped flowing and I was left with one royally screwed-up right leg with a hamstring that was firing constantly which caused the whole leg to go into spasms accompanied by excruciating pain! I figured that I was going to have to get a finish chute volunteer to carry me directly to the medical tent for medical help. But as a kind volunteer was helping me through the finish chute I managed to find a position/stretch that eased the pain and enabled me to massage the hamstring and stop it from firing. Thus I was able to limp out of the finish chute on my own.

At that moment I heard a strange –yet familiar? – voice shouting “John –over here”! I looked up. It was Todd Ayars. Todd is the son of friends in Dallas, TX. I watched him grow up and compete in cross-country and triathlons in high school. Hadn’t seen him since he went of the college. He is now living in MD while he completes his residency in dentistry. He had driven over to Bethesda to watch me finish the race. I limped over to Todd, shook his hand and asked him to excuse my rudeness but I needed to walk/limp around some more and stretch and massage my legs since they were BOTH cramping up now! What I really needed was a massage but the lineup for the massage tables was about 10 runners deep and I knew that I could not stand in line more than 30 seconds! So I stretched and massaged for another 5 minutes and finally managed to get both legs/hamstrings to relax and stop firing. During that time my sports manager found me and I asked her to meet me where Todd was. I joined them and we had a nice – but too-short conversation with Todd before both of my legs started to cramp again. I knew that the only solution was to return to the hotel and get my legs in to the spa/hot tub at the hotel. So we had to say goodbye to Todd and headed back to the hotel for relief. It did work – after an hour of hot soaking and massage the hamstrings were finally relaxed but my legs were still very sore and stiff.

We are back home now and the legs are still very stiff and sore. At least I won’t feel guilty about taking a few more days rest to help the plantar fasciatis – which by the way did not get any worse from the race.

Race critique:
It is definitely a local-type race. It is well organized from the web site and registration right up to race start. The course is closed to traffic and traffic control is good. There are markers every mile and water/aid stations every two miles. The race volunteers are friendly and supportive. The course is almost rural and the trail is very scenic. The only negatives are the hills and there is limited access to the trails so there is not much crowd support. I would not recommend this race if you do not like hills.

Although I considered this marathon to be the toughest course I have run this year except for the Leadville Trail Marathon I also considered it to be an excellent, long, hard training run that will prepare me well for upcoming races/challenges. In fact, compared to this race my next marathon in 3 weeks will seem like a fun run! Stay tuned!

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