Um, we’ll get back to the title of this post in a while. Yes, this is in fact my race report for the 2012 Sugarloaf Marathon.
After not getting into the 2012 Boston Marathon by a mere 33 seconds (a blessing in disguise in retrospect), I began searching for a marathon that could get me back to Hopkinton in 2013. With the Fall marathons occurring too late and the Summer marathons simply being to hot, I settled on the Sugarloaf Marathon – a late Spring marathon ranked as one of the 15 fastest marathons in the country. Perfect!
I began my training a little late, switching from one program (the Pfitzinger 18/55) to another (jumping in on week 5 of the Furman FIRST program). Training, aside from the last two weeks, was pretty solid, so when I made my way to the starting area with fellow RaceMenu members Jeremy and Tommy, I felt pretty confident that I was going to hit, or at the very least come very close to my BQ.
The three of us were all shooting for sub-3:15, and if there was one thing I learned at Smuttynose a year and a half ago it was that marathons go much better when you have a familiar face running with you. After snapping a group photo, we made our way to the starting area. Somebody asked out loud, “I wonder when we’re gonna start?” Moments later, without warning, the starting gun went off. We looked at each other – I guess it’s go time!
We had unfortunately not made our way to the front when the gun went off so we had to make our way through the crowd. We still managed to hit the first mile marker in 7:37. Our plan was to run the first 8 miles between 7:20 and 7:30 pace, not stress about our pace over the steady uphill climb from mile 8 to 10.5 and then cruise over the last 16 downhill miles to a sub-3:15. An overall pace of 7:24 per mile would get us in at just under 3:14. Despite a slow first mile, I wasn’t too worried. The second mile came and went in an easy 7:22. I noted that the temperature, though relatively cool at sixty some odd degrees, was still much higher than the online advertised 40° starts. The scenery was absolutely beautiful – the Western Mountain of Maine, lakes that were so still you could see the reflections of the trees around it as if it were a glass mirror. The three of us hung together as a loose pod with Tommy leading the way.
Miles 3 and 4 went by in a zippy 7:20 and 7:22 . This was all within range of our plan.
At around the 5th mile, the rolling hills began to kick in.
I took in a Gu – my plan was to have one every 5 miles. I started the race with two Gu’s in hand. The race director had said they would be handing out Gu’s at around mile 9 and at around mile 17. I would take my Gu at 5, grab one of theirs at 9 and take it at 10, take my last Gu at 15, grab theirs at 17 and take it in at 20. I wasn’t going to worry about the final 1.2 miles.
As Tommy began to pull away a bit, Jeremy and I felt like we wouldn’t worry too much about our pace going up any hills. There was still over 20 miles to go, so we didn’t want to kill ourselves simply to keep pace. There would be plenty of time to make back the time on the final 16 miles. Mile 5 was a bit slower at 7:35, but we got right back into our range with a 7:29, a 7:23 and a 7:20 over the next three miles.
We were feeling great as we hit the mile 8 marker. Everything was going according to plan and we had avoided that cardinal marathon sin of going out too fast.
Meanwhile, the temperature was rising.
We looked up to see the “big hill” of the marathon – a steady climb from mile 8 to mile 10.5. I looked at Jeremy. “This is it,” I said, “make or break.” And I truly believed that. Not having run this race before, I really believed that how we did on the hill would determine how we would finish. The back 16 was calling to me – just make it over the hill and it’s cake the rest of the way. All I had to do was to remember to grab a Gu at mile 9.
The sun was rising, so a group of us shifted to the left side of the road to stay in the shade. We hit the hill with a steady pace, but I refused to attack it. I wanted to be comfortable and not expend too much energy this early in the race so we ran at what was a comfortable effort. We manage 8:06, 7:54 and a 3:54 (7:48 pace) over the next 2.5 miles. Fantastic!!!
As we crested the hill, I looked at Jeremy – this is it. We. Are. Golden!!!
As we passed the aid station at 10.5, I asked where the Gu’s were. The volunteers shrugged. Somehow we had missed the Gu Station – this would be one of my 3 complaints about this particular marathon – if you are going to be handing out Gu’s, you must have your volunteers actively handing them out. I would find out later that they did in fact have Gu’s around mile 9, but they were on a table in the grass. That doesn’t work for those of us running for time.
I knew we needed to take it easy over the steep initial half mile, but gravity pulled us along at 7:00 pace and it felt like we were hardly working. The realization that I would have to take my last Gu at 10 and wait until after 17 to take another weighed on my mind. Psychologically I let it get to me.
As I looked out at the road ahead of us, I noticed something was missing – shade.
Jeremy started to fall back a little, but he was still within shouting distance. I forged ahead comfortably, images of me fist-pumping as I crossed the finish line with a BQ-time running through my head. The next 6 miles were a steady downhill and my pace reflected that – miles 12 through 17 went in 7:06, 7:21, 7:12, 7:16, 7:11 and 7:15. The plan was working flawlessly. But there were couple of things I hadn’t accounted for with this plan. One was the Gu issue, the other was the heat. As we made our way through Carrabassett Valley, the temperature began to soar right into the upper 70’s. With no shade to protect us, it felt like we were running in 80-plus degree heat.
As I reached the water station after 17, I looked back for Jeremy. He had dropped back significantly, falling victim to cramping in his calves and thighs – unfortunately, he would have to drop out at mile 25. I had to push on – I could taste my BQ. Going through the aid station, I grabbed a Gatorade and a Gu, and I tried to grab a water and another Gu, but the volunteer, for whatever reason, did not let go of the cup or the Gu.
I tried not to get upset, but as I took in what would now be my last Gu 2 1/2 miles after I had planned and with no extra to take at mile 20, doubt started to creep in. As the heat continued to beat down on me, I could feel fatigue setting in. I didn’t want to slow down because I knew my BQ was within reach. I was on target with just over 9 miles to go.
As I passed miles 18 and 19 I looked at my watch – 7:33 and 7:37. I was slowing down and I knew I was working harder than I had over the previous 6 miles.
That would be the last time I saw a 7-handled split.
Going into mile 20 the wheels simply came off of the bus – I covered the mile in 8:36, nearly a minute slower than the previous mile – it’s cliché isn’t it? I hit a wall, I knew it, and there was nothing I could do about it. The combination of the psychological and physiological effect of not taking in a Gu at 15 (as I had trained for) and the heat overwhelmed me.
At that point I knew my BQ was out the window but I still had a shot at a PR. Up until mile 20 I had been on target to hit sub-3:15. Now I just needed to hold on to beat 3:19:19 to score a PR. If I could just get back into the mid to high 7’s I’d be okay.
Approaching the next water station my legs overrode my brain and stopped running. Suddenly I was walking. I shook my head, half in anger, half in despair. I sucked down the watered down Gatorade (why the HELL to they water it down???) and poured some water on my head and back. 10 yards out from the water station I was trying to run again.
This would be my pattern for the rest of the race – walking through the water stations, trying my best to run between them. The next 6 miles would go 8:08, 8:04, 8:34, 8:21, 8:37 and 8:22. The last four miles were absolute misery. By the time I hit mile 23 I knew my chances of a PR were out the window and once again, I adjusted my goal – now I simply want to beat my second best time (2011 New York City Marathon – 3:26). I desperately had to fight to keep my pace under 9. As I made the final turn for the finish, I was overcome with a sense of resignation. I would not be running Boston in 2013. I would not be toeing the line in Hopkinton next April – and to a degree I was at peace. I knew I only had one more marathon on the calendar this year, and New York City 2012 was not going to be run as a qualifier.
As I crossed the finish line, I hit stop on my watch – it read 3:22:56.
Officially my time would be 3:23:00 (my last complaint about the marathon was that there was no starting mat – time was based solely on guntime, so if you started in the back of the pack, you lost nearly 30 – 40 seconds. Tommy actually covered the distance from the starting line to the finish line in 3:15:30, but because we had started in the middle, his official time was 3:16. I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had missed qualifying for Boston by mere seconds because I didn’t start at the very front).
I would finish 68th of 574 total finishers (I heard that there were over 700 registrants), 60th out of 313 men, and 15th out of 59 men aged 40 – 44. Not bad for a guy who really didn’t get back into regular training until February.
3:23:00 is my second fastest marathon ever, but it was still 8 minutes off my goal of a 3:15 BQ, which brings me to the title of this post.
I am wondering if you would be too upset if we pretended that I was two years older than I actually am. Although my birth certificate indicates that I will be 43 come April 2013, I am willing to tell people that I will be 45 if you are willing to look the other way – I sometimes like to think of myself as an old soul anyway. If you are willing to believe that I will be 45 next Patriot’s Day, my 3:23:00 will allow me to register during the second week of registration, and I’m pretty sure that as long as there aren’t a whole lot of people asking to do the exact same thing as me, that the time should be good enough to get in as a BQ-2.
Whaddaya think? You think the B.A.A. will go for it?