St. George Marathon -- 3:21:58 -- 7:41 average pace
I wanted two things from this race. #1-- Walk away knowing that I did my best. #2-- Execute a smart race so #1 could happen. I'm really happy to say that I feel like I ran the smartest, best race possible for me that day. Such a huge personal victory!
When training started, I wasn't sure what my time goal should be. I used some long runs to try to hone in on a realistic pace and set realistic expectations. And then during race week, I studied the course and made a section-by-section pace plan accordingly. See, this marathon course is not steady so the race pace wasn't going to be, either.
St. George is an interesting course, because it's marketed as being downhill -- and certainly has the overall elevation drop to prove it -- but it comes with some pretty formidable uphills, too. Miles 1-7 are a gradual downhill with a few upticks. Mile 8 is the infamous Veyo Hill, in which you gain more than 250 feet in a mile. But you're not done climbing after that -- the next few miles are spent on a gradual uphill. Then you're headed down again, until you hit that mile 18 hill. That one is kind of rude because A) it's at mile 18, and B) it has a false crest, so when you think you're done, you're not. The good news is that from 20-26.2, you're headed down into town and hanging out on the flats.
Because of the locations of the hills, St. George has the potential to be an awesome negative split course. However, because of all the pounding on the downhills, you also run the risk of a huge positive split if they get the better of your quads. And you have to be super, super careful not to push hard on those early hills so you don't burn out later.
I dream of a 3:teens marathon. But with my missing chunk of training and my lack of downhill prep, I knew that would be a stretch this time around. I told my physical therapist before the race that if I got a sub-3:20 I'd cry because it'd be a miracle, and if I went above a 3:30 I might cry because I knew I could go faster, so the 3:20's were my "safe zone." Sub-3:25 seemed like an appropriate goal, so that is what I set for myself -- the low 3:20s. I learned from my few deathbed repentance hill runs and my slower 20-miler that no matter how fast or slow I ran the first half, my legs would start to be really hashed for the second. Translation: this wasn't the time to bank on a huge negative split. This wasn't the time to be stupid and think I needed to push the first half to put time in the bank, either. My goal was to hold back on the early downhills, take it easy on the ups, and hit the halfway point around 1:40. That way, if my legs were miraculously up to it and I could swing a slight negative, I could have a tiny chance at sneaking into the teens. And more likely, it'd put me in a good place to hit that overall sub-3:25 goal.
I never thought I'd run a marathon with Matt -- ever -- because I always want him to get to perform to the best of his ability. (And he's a LOT faster than me!) But since he had just rocked a half ironman (and had a minor bike crash) the weekend before, his coach made him promise not to "race it" and to "run easy" with me instead. Woohoo! I lucked into the best running company EVER. I wanted to run my own race and not feel like I'd accomplished something just because I'd had a rabbit push me to it, so I told Matt my pace plan and then did my own thing. I did assign him two jobs, though: 1) Say nice things at mile 18, and 2) If I started to let my goal slip, remind me that if I failed, I'd want to run a make-up marathon a month later, and I don't actually want to run another marathon a month later. Haha! He rocked his first assignment and never needed to do the second. Honestly, it was just that much more fun getting to have him around and share the experience and the beautiful course with him!
The alarm went off at 4:01 a.m., because I don't believe in round numbers. I decided to go with more liquid calories this time around, so I drank a couple Ensures along with my favorite half bagel + peanut butter + banana slices combo. We were dressed and ready and out the door by 4:45.
We found parking a few blocks away from the finish line and made our way to the buses. Loading was really smooth and organized, and we were on a bus within minutes. We just so happened to luck out by having the best busmates ever -- two of the cutest ladies sat behind us and wanted to chat away the nerves with us, and I doubt we'll ever have a bus ride so entertaining. What a fun way to start the day!
Up at the start, we headed to the long row of fires and huddled up to stay warm. A guy next to commented that it like we were getting ready to storm a castle and I laughed at the accurate portrayal of the scene. We could totally have taken a castle.
Matt and I pried ourselves away from the warm fires to stand in the always-longer-than-we-expected porta potty lines. By the time we were through and had dropped our warm gear off, the race was about to start and there wasn't time for a warm-up. Shoot! One of these days I'll get that part right.
It can be so tempting to let the race adrenaline take over and run a fast first couple miles because it's race day! And this is fun! And we're on a slight downhill! Pass all the people! I was determined not to fall into this trap -- and especially this time since I hadn't done a proper warm-up. I wanted these first two gradual downhill miles to clock in at 7:30ish, so I held back and hit them right on pace. The first seven miles went exactly according to plan. And as I saw the Veyo Hill in the distance, I felt nice and confident in that plan.
My objective for Veyo and the following miles of uphill was to not burn any matches. None. I wanted an even effort throughout the race, which meant my pace would change according to the elevation. I anticipated running up Veyo at a high-8 or even 9 min./mile pace and averaging high 7's on the subsequent hills. I felt like my later success would be largely determined by how smartly I ran this section of the race, and I was confident enough in my plan to not feel pressured to push the pace. My pace crept above 9 a few times on Veyo, and I ended up averaging high 8 up the hill. I was passed by a few people who were working hard and charging their way up -- and I passed them all a few miles later. Patience pays off!
St. George is such a gorgeous course! The sun was peaking over the mountains and everything looked so beautiful during those next few gradual uphill miles. I felt really, really strong! I hit the halfway point at 1:40:30. YES!!! I was super pumped that I had totally just nailed my plan for the first half. This was a full three minutes slower than my 13.1 PR and it meant I was racing smart.
The next few miles seemed to cruise by, and before I knew it, I was staring at my former nemesis -- that mile 18 hill. (Read about it here.) Our BAM Fam was there, perfectly placed to cheer us on at just the right time. Once that hill was conquered and I was on the other side, I knew for sure I had it in me to meet that sub-3:25 goal! My non-downhill-trained legs were definitely tired of all the pounding, though, and I couldn't seem to open up my stride like I knew I'd need to for a negative split. That was just fine with me, though. Things were going according to plan and I just had to hang on! I was well past the "holding back" stage and pretty far into the "this is hard" stage, so it was going to be a matter of pushing through. Those remaining miles were going to be about finishing as strong as possible, and seeing just how low in those 3:20's I could go.
It was so great to have Matt with me for that portion of the race -- you know, the one that loses the views and starts to get really hard. Suffering is much more fun when you share it with your best friend. :) (It was still just a long workout for him, though, so I'm not sure how much of the suffering was actually shared haha.) He'd ask how I was doing, which just seems like a silly question to pose when a person is clearly racing a marathon, if you know what I mean. So I'd say "fine" because it was easier to say than, "Well, I'm kind of dying but also feeling pretty strong, all things considered, and my playlist is killing it, but I mean, my legs are hurting, now that you ask, and I wish I could push them more because my lungs are fine, but you're not hurting at all because this is easy for you, isn't it, but hey, I'm actually still having fun!" Haha.
I tried to focus on the mile I was in, and enjoyed mentally crossing off the miles as the finish line drew closer and closer. I love how the city of St. George comes out to support and cheer on the runners for that final 5K! The marching bands and high fives all created such a great atmosphere and made the home stretch seem easier than it felt. It's funny how the brain works, though, because after running 25.2 miles, that last mile seemed to drag on forever! I was so anxious to get to that finish line. Finally, I saw the balloons in the distance. We were almost there!!!
I was so stinking happy to be in that finisher's chute! Those things always show up just when you need them. ;) I guessed we were about two minutes back from the gun time, so the clock above said 3:24 and change but I wasn't sure exactly what time we were coming in at. When I crossed the finish line, checked my watch, and saw that I had snuck in a 3:21:58, I was thrilled!
I walked away from this race knowing I'd done my absolute best that day, and I can't think of a better runner's high. Third time's the charm!!!