So this was it, the race that I’ve been waiting and training for nearly half of the year. It all started back in July with an urgent email telling me that the race was about to sell out. I had just joined the group of people I train with now and didn’t know if I wanted to sign up for another full marathon yet. I had done Disney in January and while I wanted to better my time from that race I just didn’t know if I wanted another less than a year later. Everyone else seemed to be doing it though so I figured, what the heck, I might as well. (This trend of signing up for anything they suggested has continued btw. Its caused me to do 2 triathlons in a single day, sign up for Ironman Florida, and probably in February do 2 half marathons in a weekend. I apparently can’t resist peer pressure for racing…)
The race weekend started with breakfast at Disney World where I got to meet Melanie’s parents. It ended up being a really relaxed way to start the day and probably resulted in me doing a better breakfast than I might have. There were piles of french toast, pancakes, fruit and of course bacon involved. After breakfast, they went to the park and I went on to Kennedy Space Center for packet pick up. The race itself is not very big and it was really one of the smallest expos I’ve ever been to. I hesitate to even call it an expo. There were about 4 booths, only 2 selling something and one of those was the official race booth. Of course, I can’t pass up an opportunity to buy race swag so the size of the expo was no big deal. I ended up picking up a really nice Brooks pullover with the race logo on the right breast. It looks great and is super comfortable.
Since I was in Kennedy Space Center I took some time to walk around the Rocket Garden and then go see the space shuttle Atlantis. If you’ve never seen a space shuttle in person, go see it. Its an incredible display and amazing to think about how many times it went back and forth between the ground and low Earth orbit. I didn’t want to spend too long there since I had to go check in and get ready for dinner but I did have to try my hand at doing the shuttle landing simulator and the ISS docking simulator. I’m happy to say that I easily landed the shuttle and docked it to ISS with minimal fuss. Hear that NASA? My Space Camp training really stuck with me all these years.
After that it was off to the International Palms Hotel to dump my stuff off. I don’t have much to say about the hotel other than it was cheap and the bed was comfortable. That’s a good thing. I also will be looking to sleep elsewhere next year. The race festivities started with a 17 person dinner at Brano’s Italian Grill since Carraba’s was booked up. I hope we go there every year from now on because my lasagna was amazing. I loved it. It was great to get caught up with everyone and have a relaxing meal that was early and geared to the race I was running the next day. (One of many things that did not go right at Disney was the pre-race dinner) That was followed by me setting my gear out and climbing in bed around 10:15 or so. Quite early for me! Also it was hard to fall asleep that early so I probably didn’t pass out for nearly an hour.
Still, I was plenty rested when I woke up around 4am to get on the 4:15 shuttle to the race. There was a 5am shuttle but I didn’t want to be rushed so I wanted the early one. I figured that way I could also get the 2nd one if I missed the first. But waking up was easy and I was on the bus a minute or two before 4:15. And the, PROMPTLY at 4:15, all 3 busses rolled out. I was impressed. That was as timely as I’ve ever seen a shuttle service for a race. It was about 30 minutes from the hotel to the starting area. I’d had a quick cup of coffee at the hotel and was able to get a muffin while I waited. Aside from some fun photos all I had to do at that point was wait for everyone else. Once we all had met up, we made our way over the starting line.
I hung near Holly since it sounded like she had a similar pace planned for the race as me and a similar plan of how to run it. After months of waiting, the moment had arrived to see what I had on this course. I felt ready but I had some big goals for this race. The race started with a video of a space shuttle countdown to launch which was pretty awesome and at T MINUS ZERO we were off! I was a little worried about the weather because it was a bit warm but it was mid 60s and mostly stayed there with the assist of a cool breeze that was both a blessing and a curse as I’d find much later.
The course itself is fairly flat, though not completely so, and completely along the intercoastal. The start/finish was right in the middle of the race and it basically consisted of two out and backs. The first 6.5 was out, followed by 13 miles in the opposite direction and then a final turn to come back and hit the finish. I started off exactly as I wanted to. I kept Holly right in front of me the first couple miles of the race. The first mile FLEW by. I could not believe it was done so quickly. But I was at the pace I wanted of 9:17. Somewhere after mile 2 we hit the 2nd water station and the slow down there resulted in me catching up to Holly. We ran together for a moment but the crowds of the race left us separated pretty quickly. That was ok. We both had a race to run!
I don’t remember exactly when I started seeing the race leaders but its always cool to see them come flying by and on a course like this I was guaranteed to see them twice. Not long after the elites passed by, we started getting the high level age groupers which included my friends Johnny & Teressa. I gave them both a cheer as they flew by. There was more people running this race than I’d ever run with before so I was cheering people on all day. At the 6.5 turn around I saw that Holly was just barely behind me. I had been running with a couple guys at that point for a couple miles and we all chatted for about 30 minutes or so. Around mile 7 or 8 though I felt like he was slowing my pace with the conversation so I just said it was time to pick it up and picked up my pace a bit. I thought he’d follow but he didn’t. I actually never saw him again.
At this point I was feeling great. My pace was about 9:13 (average) which was exactly what I wanted. I took mostly gatorade at various stops, only taking water if I was doing a Gu at that stop. So far, so good. My big, huge goal was sub 4 hrs. A very aggressive reach for me but I wanted to try. No guts, no glory. My feeling was that if I could hit the halfway point at 2 hours, there was a chance for me. It did mean I would have to run the 2nd half of the race even faster than the first but I felt like I could manage that. I’d picked up my pace from the first 3 miles and if I kept a constant pace after that I could do it. I crossed the line at 2:00:31. If I changed nothing for the rest of the race, I would hit it. I was feeling pretty good still so I was feeling pretty confident as I crossed that line.
The next 3 miles were pretty uneventful. All I wanted to do was slowly reel people in. I’d pick some runners and watch until I slowly passed them. I got passed every so often but I was doing more passing that getting passed. Around mile 17 though is when I started to question if I’d make 4 hours. My legs were aching and I was starting to lose a little time I felt. By the time I hit 19 I decided to just pace myself easily through that mile until I got to 20 and see what I had left in the tank for a final push. I didn’t think I’d be able to, at that point, hit 4 hours but I felt I could still get close. Then I turned around and discovered the wind assist I was getting the past 13 miles was going to be a headwind for the final 10k. But mile 20 was still not horrible and by now I knew a couple things.
1. I was not coming in under 4 hours.
2. I was going to have my best marathon ever by a lot.
5.2 miles left to go but they would come hard. I really wanted under 4:15 at least but my legs were on the verge of cramping. I didn’t want to walk but I finally did a couple times between 21 and 23 as I tried to stave off the cramps and get some liquids in me. I hoped that I could get enough down that I’d recover something to finish strong. From 23 onward I had only a 5k left. I saw the 4:15 time slipping closer and closer but that one didn’t fall until pretty close to the end.
The final mile was agonizing. I can happily say, at least, from looking at my Runkeeper charts that I did only walk twice in the final 2.2 miles. Once for a brief moment before I forced myself back to running and then once more just before mile 26 since I wanted to finish with something left. I did manage, once I hit the finish chute (which was really long!) to get myself running again. Melanie was watching the live feed and said I looked good coming in. I felt ok at that point too since I could see the finish. Of course after I got my medal, towel and a quick drink, I collapsed on the grass for about a half hour since my legs were jelly.
My final time was 4:18:20. I didn’t hit the sub-4hr mark. I didn’t even hit sub-4:15. Normally not hitting two goals would have been disappointing but I’m not letting myself be disappointed about this result. My previous best marathon, back in January, was 5:24 and change. This was 1:06 better than that. I ran, for me, what was really an excellent race. Could it have been even better? Sure. But I look over my training, taper, final days race prep, and how I stuck to my plan on race day and all I can see is that for months of training, I did everything right. I set some lofty goals and came REALLY close. I called sub-4 really aggressive but so was sub-4:15. I did everything I could to prepare for this race and did everything I could to have the best race I could have. And I think I did have the best race I could have. I couldn’t even get up for 30 minutes after the race. My legs had nothing left in them.
I improved a tremendous amount in the past year. Obviously my own hard work and consistency paid off but there was more to it than that. I was having a really good first 6 months of 2013 when it came to training but then I met a huge group of people who do triathlons and marathons and live for it. Every weekend that I was able to train with them changed from something I enjoyed doing to reach my goals to being something that in and of itself was a weekend activity that I changed my schedule for. Three of those people in particular: Holly Tripp, Teresa Gadient, and Hugo Scavino pushed me in ways I wouldn’t have pushed myself. If not for them I would not have run this race since I felt like I’d just do another one “sometime in the future”. So here’s to another great year coming up in 2014!