Audio accompaniment was for many years a big part of my running experience. For more than a decade, I rarely ran without earbuds and an mp3 player or radio. Having the company of a live voice, podcast or music provided a great soundtrack for running in every season. Then, about a year ago, I stopped listening. Just like Gump, it was a relatively sudden halt and it wasn’t a big deal. I had just had my fill of audio content and I now run alone with my thoughts or together with friends.
I’ve made this switch before, so perhaps I’ll switch back at some point. When I first started running at age 16, I can remember trotting along with earphones and a Walkman. I usually listened to U2, and I could time my runs based upon the length of the tapes. The problem with it was that the headphones and wires were always a bother. It was also annoying when the batteries would begin to lose charge and the music would slow down, speed up, slow down, speed up… I ditched the audio within a couple months at that point and never listened to a thing while running for at least another decade. I didn’t even wear a watch for all of those years.
Of course, as life sped up after I finished school and went to work, the frequency of my running decreased dramatically. Once our first daughter was born, I barely ran at all. I looked in the mirror one day more than ten years ago and I didn’t like the look of the pasty, doughy guy looking back. It was time to run more, even though there was less time than ever. I decided to take up early morning running. The one thing that really motivated me to get out the door early was The Howard Stern Show. If I was out the door by 6am, I could listen to the first 45 minutes to an hour of the show. It was that time of the show when the discussion was mostly about everyday life situations and I found it fascinating. It kept me running (and laughing) for years.
Eventually, my morning routine evolved and Howard left terrestrial radio. I stopped listening to morning radio and moved over to podcasts, which fed my mind early in the morning as I ran. I increased my mileage after I started tracking my running with various GPS devices and as my time on the road increased, I noticed that my attention to the ever present audio content was decreasing. Audio was no longer a motivating factor, so my earbuds now stay at home as run happily, alone with my thoughts.
Winning a race is such a special feeling. I’ve only felt it twice in my life, but I still hang onto the feeling after many many years. I won a weekly 5-mile fun run in college, which was awesome, but that win was more about a low turnout for that week than anything else. The win that I really savor was in high school when I was on the cross country team. It was completely unexpected. Here’s the story:
I was a high school senior & the captain of the cross country team, not because of my talent, but primarily because we only had a couple seniors on the team that year. We were on the bus on the way to the regional finals when my coach pulled me aside to tell me that I would be running in the junior varsity race that day. I hadn’t been running all that well the prior couple weeks & his decision made sense, but my pride was hurt. I was angry. I got to the starting line with a bunch of freshmen & sophomores. I didn’t want to see any of them in front of me. The gun went off & I took off ahead of the pack. I ran that race with anger, pride & fear. I didn’t want anyone to pass me. I could hear footsteps for the first couple miles, but they faded in the last mile. I glanced behind me & didn’t see anyone. I couldn’t believe it. The fear of being passed mixed with an adrenaline rush & I kicked it into the next gear, not wanting anyone even close. I felt like I was 10 feet tall & I was being pushed along by an invisible force. I still couldn’t believe it when I crossed the finish line first. It was the best. I still think about that day & I thank my coach for the opportunity to win. I don’t care at all that it was a junior varsity race. I was in the right race & winning it was not a given when I lined up at the start. I ran better that day than I had ever run before, thanks to the motivation.
I still occasionally get that feeling that I had in that race. That feeling can come up when I’m ahead of a goal on a tough training run or even in a race. Whether I’m racing the clock, myself or the runner ahead of me, when I have that feeling, I am winning.
I had a few goals this summer, including becoming faster at the 5k, getting lots of miles in on the trails and getting into shape for a fall marathon. Weekly Wednesday am track workouts with my friends from the Shutesbury Coffee Cake Club really helped with the first goal and Sunday morning long runs with the same group definitely helped with the other two goals. Once I decided that the Clarence DeMar in Keene, NH would be my fall marathon, the anticipation grew. It was like a gift waiting to be unwrapped. It would be my fourth marathon and as it turned out, the date on which it would be held, 9/25, would be the 17th anniversary of my first marathon. I ran that first marathon without a clue about pacing & I really suffered over the last 10 miles, but the speed of youth got me to a ~3:23 finish time. Could I beat that time 17 years later? Everything would have to go just right because I know I can keep that kind of pace for a half marathon…3:30 would probably be a better goal, but I’m a dreamer…or a fool.
The day for DeMar came in the middle of a warm spell and it felt like deja vu. I ran the Vermont City Marathon this past spring and that day was unseasonably hot and humid as well (race report here). I must be a marathon weather jinx or something. Check with me if you’re planning any marathons, just to make sure that I haven’t signed up & ruined the weather. Anyhow, with the start of DeMar up in the hilly village of Gilsum, it actually felt quite comfortable at the starting line. It was a beautiful morning in a nice setting with just a couple hundred runners. The group congregated at the starting line was small enough that we were able to part more than once to let a some cars pass before the race began. It reminded me of some races that I used to run with my dad in places like Woodstock, CT & Lisbon, CT.
The gun fired. We were off. A single leaf floated down from a tree high above on the steep hillside along the road. A good sign that it was indeed autumn. Maybe the weather would hold out and we would get a cool day. The warming air was already telling me otherwise & with a forecast for it to get up to around 80F I was ready to push the pace before it warmed up too much.
The first half of this marathon is absolutely picturesque with gentle rolling hills, steeply sloped forested areas abutting the road and a great section along a river for a couple miles. I started out pacing it by feel and fell into an average pace of around 7:30-7:45, which felt quite comfortable. I walked through each water stop, trying to hydrate enough as it was heating up. At the 10 mile water stop, one of the volunteers said “It’s a muggy day!” and I wanted to kick him, but instead I just told him how I felt, saying “It feels great out here!”
My race plan was working flawlessly beyond the halfway mark. I hit 13.1 in around 1:41, which was right on target with where I wanted to be. I felt good and speedy right through the 15 mile mark when my legs began losing their spring and my muscles began feeling tight. It was warming up quickly and I knew right away that I should have hydrated more early on in the race, but all that I could do at that point was to try to hydrate more moving forward. My pace rapidly fell off from where it had been to about 40-50 seconds slower, even though my effort level was just the same. I was afraid that the trend would continue.
Miles 16-21 were difficult, but I stayed positive, drank plenty of water, enjoyed some chocolate Gu (tastes like chocolate frosting!) and told every Red Sox fan that I saw that they would sweep the Yankees that day, getting me a couple extra cheers. It was uncomfortable and harder than it should have been that early in the race, but my pace stayed where it was. I felt a lot slower, but I wasn’t slowing down any further than I had at the initial fade.
At mile 22, I knew that the toughest climb in the race was coming up. It’s a short but steep hill that I had heard some complaints about. I wasn’t feeling my best when I trudged to the base of it, but when I saw how short it was, that was a huge relief. I had figured that it would slow me down by about a minute and that’s exactly what it did. I got to the top in no worse shape than before and it was pretty much all flat from there.
I could smell the finish by mile 23. It didn’t seem as far as in my prior marathon experiences. Just clicking off the miles, about 8:30-9:00 at a time. A race volunteer at mile 23 called out to me that I was on pace for a 3:34 or 3:35 finish, which didn’t seem right to me. He must have been figuring in more of a fade, so that became good motivation to put the hammer down. Breaking 3:30 was already fading as a possibility, but I wanted to beat my time from the last year’s Maine Marathon (~3:34). I wasn’t able to speed up from there, but I did maintain the pace. The field was really spread out by this point. I had been passed by a few people here and there during miles 18-21, but now I was slowly gaining on some people, passing them one at a time every few minutes.
A volunteer at the 25 mile mark told me that I was in 26th place & I could see someone up ahead. Excellent motivation. I got myself into 25th place, put on a happy face & got through that finish line at Keene State College in a time of 3:32:29. That’s my best time since my first marathon & I’m counting it as my modern day PR!
I was quite impressed with how well organized the Clarence DeMar Marathon is. It’s no frills, without any chip timing or any modern features like that, but the volunteers are great, the course is well marked and everything is nice. There are water stops every couple miles and the ratio of volunteers to runners is 2:3, which is as close to personal care as I’ll ever see. Join me for DeMar in one of these future years!
Here are the splits:
8 ) 7:32
12) 8:14 (pretty good hill)
(13.1 was ~1:41:00)
16) 8:17 (commence the fade)
21) 8:40 (avg – never saw the 21 mile mark)
22) 8:40 (avg – never saw the 21 mile mark)
23) 9:44 (steep little hill that everyone complains about)
26) 8:42 (really proud that I was able to rally a little bit here!)
I checked the results & compared my 25th place finish with the same place in 2010. Wow, the weather makes quite a difference! The 25th place finisher in 2010 came in at 3:15:58, more than a 16 minute difference. Now I’m wondering how I can do in cooler weather. I want more. Next year.
I’m planning to run exactly 6.1 miles on December 26th as a satellite run for the Operation Jack Marathon. The purpose is to help raise awareness and funds for Train 4 Autism, a foundation dedicated to bringing together a community of athletes, physically active, and socially conscious people who are committed to raising awareness and funds for research and treatment for those living with Autism and their families. You can participate, too! Operation Jack is looking for people to represent each of the 50 US states and there are still a few states without representatives.
Why 6.1 miles? It’s in support and recognition of Operation Jack founder Sam Felsenfeld’s completion of a monumental effort in 2010: Sam will be running his 61st marathon of the year on December 26th! Sam’s purpose in running 61 marathons in 2010 was to help raise awareness and funds for Train 4 Autism. Let’s show our support as he reaches this goal!
I chose a challenging course for my first official half marathon, the Monson Memorial Classic Half Marathon, a race known for it’s hills. I’ve never shied away from hills and Monson is a short ride from home, so why not? This was my first opportunity to race with my whole family there and it was my first race with my Dad in many years. My Dad has been running since the early 1960’s and he’s the reason why I started running in the first place. I was 16 years old, a sophomore in high-school and an early cut from the baseball team. Dad knew that I was moping and he challenged me to try getting into shape to run the Norwich Rose Arts Road Race, a 10.5 mile hilly summertime road race in my hometown of Norwich, CT. I gave it a try, I was soon hooked on running and for several years I ran many races with Dad. 22 years later and I’m still hooked on running, but it’s been a while since we’ve been to a race together, so this time was special. Dad was signed up for the 5K, which meant that the family would get to cheer him on while I was out running the half.
It turned out to be a perfect day for racing; sunny and in the low 50’s without any wind. The race had the same laid back small town New England feel to it as many races that I remember from years ago. It was a bit of a throwback (no chip! no mats!) which is fine with me. Registration and the finish lines were at the old Town Hall, a fine looking stone building from the 1880’s that has been well maintained. There definitely is some character in this race.
Being my first half marathon, my only recent frame of reference for competing at the distance was my Maine Marathon experience in October in which I completed the first half in almost exactly 1:40:00. I decided that a good goal would be to beat that time in Monson, except that Monson has a reputation as an exceptionally hilly course. I thought about this a lot as I formulated strategy. The hills begin shortly after the start and they don’t really let up until around the 7 1/2 mile mark. I kept thinking of the Rose Arts Race as my frame of reference in terms of terrain, but even that race had a nice 2 mile flat start before the hills kicked in. I settled on this as my approach: Monson would be Two Races. Race 1: 7 miles in 55 minutes or less. Race 2: kick in whatever was left, cruising downhill and along flat terrain. It was a plan, and that was more than I could say for most other races that I’ve attempted.
From the start, I had a difficult time getting my head into the race and my stride felt awkward. The first couple little rolling hills came on quickly and my rhythm was way off. I was hitting the pace that I wanted, at around 7:30-7:40 / mile the first few miles, but it wasn’t feeling easy. I’m glad that I don’t use a heart monitor because I’m sure that my heart rate would have freaked me out at this point. I didn’t want to slow down because the hills were small enough and I was getting plenty of rest in between. The scenery was also gorgeous and it was easy to tell myself that this was just another Sunday morning training run in the country.
The course levels off and has a little bit of downhill during the 3rd mile and it was at this point that I started to feel ok. Of course, the most sustained climb of the race started right at around the 4 mile mark and I knew that for the most part it wouldn’t end until almost mile 8. I had the feeling a couple times that the hills were wearing me down without actually slowing me down too much. Individually, these hills were tame with the steepest climbs being no more than 1/4 mile and the longest climbs being gradual enough to deal with. I was focusing upon keeping the lift in my stride as I went uphill and sustaining that over each hill. This worked, but it wasn’t feeling good. My left forefoot has ached a bit since running the Maine Marathon, but I rarely notice it while running, but I was feeling something in my left shin. Have I changed my stride? Could this be related? Fortunately, that ache wasn’t a constant, but it was there at various points in the race.
As I climbed through the hills, my pace suffered about as much as I had expected, but I was still on target for my 7 mile goal. The playlist on my earbuds was also in a good spot, with Led Zeppelin giving me a nice charge up the hills (hey, whatever works, right?). I hit the 7 mile mark at almost exactly 55 minutes! The plan was working!!! Race 1 was a success and now I was onto Race 2! The only problem was that I was feeling pretty gassed. There were also a couple little hills left before I could really cruise. I also realized that even as the terrain flattened and dropped, going faster still wasn’t easy. I just wasn’t at my best, or so I thought.
The approach to the 9 mile mark was down the steepest hill in the race and gravity started being very nice to me. As I turned a corner near the 9 mile mark, I could feel the pace increase. This was finally that light feeling that I was looking for. You know, that feeling when the legs are moving on their own and the feet are clawing at the pavement. I had it and my pace was getting to where I wanted it to be during my Race 2: I was right in the 7:10-7:20 range, just about fast enough to get me to my goal.
The final stretch of the race turned north onto Route 32 just before the 10 mile mark. This was easily the least scenic part of the race, and being a state highway, there were plenty of cars cruising by. Uninspiring, but fortunately nice and flat. I was determined to up the pace and try to treat this like a 5k, but I didn’t feel that kick. I had Rage Against the Machine playing at this point and the tempo was right, but they weren’t really inspiring me. One source of motivation was the at-grade rail crossing coming up somewhere around mile 12. I had been told about the potential for a freight train delay and I wanted to get past that rail crossing as quickly as possible! Fortunately, I got there with no train in sight.
I got into the final mile without feeling like I had much left. This made me happy because I didn’t want to finish the race feeling like I had held anything back. I wanted to know what I could do at this distance. The time that I saw on the clock as I approached the finish line made me even happier: I was going to beat my 1:40:00 goal! I finished at around 1:38:28 and my family was right there to cheer me on, which felt great.
My wife and the girls were there with my Dad watching the finish. They seemed to be having a good time. My Dad had taken it easy on the 5K and he looked as cool as ever, just enjoying the day with his grandchildren. We had a good time talking about our races, the courses and our approaches. We all went inside of the old Town Hall for a bit to check out the music. There was a lot of food available, some good local music and massages for all runners. It was a good scene and a very well run event.
Back outside, I met up with Patrick, another local runner that I’ve been in touch with on Dailymile. He’s been dealing with a couple injuries but he finished in a good time and seemed to be in good spirits. I also met up with my friend Mordechai who as a relatively new runner had just finished his very first 1/2 marathon in just a few minutes over 2 hours! He was happy and he looked great. I’m really thrilled for him because he has discovered that special feeling of road racing for the joy of it.
I’m feeling good about these splits. The sub-7:00 13th mile was a bit of surprise to see because I didn’t feel like I was able to get to that pace:
|mi||Pace (min/mi)||Elevation (ft)|
More detail is available in my Runkeeper activity posted for the race.
It’s been many years since I’ve run the Rose Arts Race in Norwich, CT, but that’s always been my frame of reference for a hilly 10+ mile road race. I decided to compare the profile of the Monson Memorial Classic Half Marathon Course to the Rose Arts Course. I’m glad that I waited until after racing in Monson to do this:
Rose Arts had the 3/4 mile-long killer hill on a summer morning…
…while Monson simply has death by a dozen little hills!
Time for me to get back out there to the hills.
I had the privilege of presenting a 5 minute lightning talk at Ignite Spatial Boston 2 this past summer about the positive impact of spatially enabled mobile technology upon my approach to running. Here are the slides from that presentation, which was a lot of fun!
Less than 3 miles into my first marathon in 16 years, I knew that my pace was ridiculous, but I was enjoying every second of it. My pre-race plan was simple: run my own race, have fun and don’t get caught up too much in the excitement. Yeah, right. I was trashing that plan. I was feeling too good. When it comes right down to it, I’m an undisciplined adrenaline junkie when I race. On this day, running a 7:30 pace felt effortless, much more like an 8:30 pace usually feels to me. I had shown up that morning thinking that I would be perfectly happy with an overall pace of between 8:00 and 8:20, so I knew that I was overachieving in a big way, which isn’t usually good with so many miles ahead. The conditions were ideal with sunshine and temperatures in the low 50’s. It seemed like a good day to take a risk, to just ride this out and see how long I could hold the pace.
I’ve been running for 22 years for the love of it. In running the 2010 Maine Marathon, I could still count all of the races of any distance that I’ve run in the last decade on one hand. Running for me has been just an enjoyable early morning constant and until recently, racing wasn’t even on my radar screen. There hasn’t been the time for it in years as a family man and father. I’m an observant Jew, so I don’t run on Saturdays (my walk to synagogue could be considered cross-training, no?). My wife works during the school year on Sunday mornings, limiting racing opportunities. Finding the time to get the miles in, much less actually signing up for a marathon wasn’t anything that I considered until this past summer when I was able to run more miles and train harder than I had in many years. Being in Maine for this marathon was sweet unto itself and I was determined to enjoy it just as another unique experience in life, a celebration of running. It would also be an opportunity to raise money for a cause that is near and dear to me, the Myasthenia Gravis Foundation of America. So far, through the generosity of many friends, I’ve been able to use this race as a platform to raise almost $700 to help those who suffer with the condition that my mother lived with for several years. I’m touched by this and it had great meaning during the race. By the way, there is still time to contribute to this cause on my Crowdrise profile.
The spark that renewed my interest in running came last year when I started tracking my runs on my iPhone with apps like Runkeeper, Roadbud, Runmeter, Runtastic, etc. Tracking my running actually started out as more of an interest in testing out the iPhone GPS capabilities (soon after I started using these apps, I did a quick review of iPhone Running Apps on another blog). Until last year I had not paid attention to mileage or pace in many years. My only concept of my own ability to keep a pace was based upon race times from almost two decades ago, when I could hold a 6:40 pace for more than 10 miles. My initial reaction to tracking my pace and distance was dismay at how slow I had become. I needed to do something about that. I began paying more attention to pace and I got a little faster. As I got a little faster, I was able to get in more miles by 6:40am, the time on weekdays when I need to be home in order to help get the kids ready for school. As I increased the mileage each week, I began paying more attention to my weekly and monthly mileage. This was much more regimented than running had been since high school cross-country, but I was enjoying it a lot. Running was more exciting than it had been in years.
Another new dimension to tracking running through technology is the opportunity to interact more with old friends through social networking. Several friends on Facebook engage in a game of “name that route,” whenever I run, contributing thoughts on what the shapes of my routes look like. Anytime that I run, I could be drawing a shape that looks like a bird, Bart Simpson skateboarding or a sleeping bunny without even realizing it. That sort of stuff is fun and it’s motivating.
With a more relaxed schedule this past summer, I began working in more long runs. I was tuning in to running podcasts like RunRunLive and learning more about running than I had in years. The seeds were planted for trying a marathon and by mid August I had my sights on the Maine Marathon. I signed up with the goal of simply finishing. Once I had my first 20+ mile run under my belt about 5 weeks prior to race day, my goal became finishing in under 4 hours. I began hitting a nice peak in early September in which I was meeting a goal of being able to comfortably run at a sub-8 minute pace for more than 6 miles. Before I knew it, I was becoming very adept at doing “marathon pace mathematics,” daydreaming about what it would take to beat my previous marathon time of around 3:23:30 or even of qualifying for Boston. Crazy thoughts indeed. Pipe dreams for now.
The training went well throughout September and all of the Jewish holidays were well timed for keeping me from over-training. In fact, the last of the holidays, Simchas Torah and Shemini Atzeret, were just a couple days before the marathon. These kept me off of my feet for the most part and worked out well for carb-loading. By Saturday night, I was in the car on the way up to Maine thinking “bring it on!” My brother was back at my house staying over so he could watch the kids while my wife worked on Sunday morning (thanks, Mat!) and I was a free man off on an adventure.
I arrived at Old Orchard Beach, Maine at almost midnight and enjoyed a nice moonlight walk on the beach. I stayed up much too late watching the Red Sox walk off with a pretty much meaningless win against the Yankees at 1:30 in the morning. Sleeping wasn’t easy and I was glad that I had rested up for the past few days. It was no problem getting up before 6:00 and I was treated to this nice sunrise:
I showed up at the University of Southern Maine Gym about 45 minutes before starting time to pick up my packet. It was really exciting and cool even though I had to ask the guy who gave me my number to show me how to affix the chip thingy to my laces. I was feeling a little bit nervous. I learned after the race that first-time marathoners were given yellow bibs, while experienced marathoners were given white bibs; I might as well have been wearing a yellow bib. This was a different universe than anything that I had tried before. Time to retreat to my car to get ready.
Back at the car, I filled up my brand new hand flask with some Hammer Gel, the only kosher sports gel that I could find. I hadn’t even thought of using a sports gel until a friend suggested that I was crazy for even thinking of running more than 15 miles without it. Sports gels weren’t part of the landscape the last time that I ran a marathon back in the stone ages. The Hammer Gel was a last-minute acquisition, so I hadn’t even tasted it until the night before. My first impression of it was that it was an uninspiring orange-flavored imitation honey, but I was willing to use it if it could help me hold off the wall for a few extra miles. I would probably be willing to ingest far worse tasting stuff if it held that kind of promise. The Hammer Gel, I had decided in my nervousness, was going to be important.
I started my deliberate walk to the starting line about 10 minutes before the gun, doing some deep breathing along the way and visualizing how nice this experience was going to be. I was about a block from the starting line with 5 minutes before the starting gun when I realized that I had left my little bottle of Hammer Gel in the car. Not enough time, unless I wanted to do some extra running and still risk being late to the start. Oh well. You lose, Olkin. No Hammer Gel for you! Gatorade would have to do. As it turned out, the race started a few minutes late and I could have gotten my Hammer Gel after all. Who knew?
Here are my observations from throughout the race:
- The early miles felt nice and easy on flat terrain with some decent ocean views. At one point I overheard another runner talking about how he does at least one marathon distance run per week & that it was just a matter of getting the body used to it. This was his second marathon of the weekend & he had no problem cruising right past me.
- The first water stop was quite early, but without my Hammer Gel I was conscious of staying hydrated early. This was my first lesson in a long time that trying to run while drinking from a cup just doesn’t work for me. I decided after dribbling Gatorade down my chin that this would be the only water stop of the day that I would run through. I walked through every water stop after this & I’ll probably take the same approach in the future, even if I get to the point of trying to qualify for Boston. It’s a long race and if I’m going to worry about losing a few seconds every couple miles at the expense of hydration, then I have bigger issues to deal with. Walking through water stops is an approach that I had come across in Hal Higdon’s Marathon Training Guide and it worked for me.
- Some gentle hills started up between miles 4 and 6, with more scenic surroundings. Lot’s of open space, wooded areas and really nice big houses. Not any large crowds, but definitely a good presence at various spots along the way.
- Approaching mile 6, where the ½ marathon turnaround point was provided a nice opportunity to see the top half-marathoners coming back toward us. I clapped and yelled encouragement to the first few, which gave me a boost, too.
- Passing the ½ marathon turnaround point was a strange experience. Until then, it was very difficult to tell which runners were going 26.2. I assumed as a mid-packer that most of the people I was running with were running the marathon, but I was wrong and it was a weird feeling. About 2/3 of the runners turned around and I think that I actually said “whoa” out loud. Yeah, I had audio cues of my pace coming from Runkeeper on my iPhone every mile, but this was further affirmation that I was ahead of where I should be. Then I got used to running in a smaller pack & decided that I liked it. I also still felt great. More hills rolled along and I felt strong on them. Why slow down now?
- I cruised through the mile 10 mark at 75 minutes, easily the best 10 miles that I’ve run in years. I finished a 10 mile race in February in about 82:25, so this was a nice improvement to experience on a race day.
- The front of the pack started coming back the other way at around the 11 mile mark. I’m not the most outgoing person while out for a run, but I was beginning to feel the emotion of the day. I really started getting into clapping and calling out some encouragement to the leaders. I was having a blast and the enthusiasm was only helping me to keep the energy level high.
- At around mile the 12 mark there was a turn onto the last loop before turning back toward Portland. There were some nice crowds there & I was feeling a surge with some good music coming through the earbuds. I even snuck in a little air guitar, which nobody seemed to notice. Just having fun. Among the crowds, I was even recognized by a classmate from high school and college who I haven’t seen in at least 15 years. A small world, it is!
- Approaching the halfway point, I started passing people walking the race route for charity. Walkers had started out at around 6:00am, so by this point they had been on their feet for about 3 ½ hours with at least that amount of time left. That’s an impressive amount of time to be on the feet at any pace.
- The turnaround was on a nice little back road and it consisted of a few pylons and an attendant. I joked with the attendant as I passed by that it was a relief to finally see the faces of the people who were ahead of me. A quick turn after that was the mat at the halfway mark. I crossed it at almost exactly 1:40:00, about a 7:38 pace. I was already slowing down and beginning to wonder how long I could hold the pace. I was feeling good physically, but the pace just wasn’t feeling as effortless as it had a few miles back. I was easily 20-30 seconds ahead of the pace that I had planned as my target, so at least I had some wiggle room.
- The crowds continued to give me a lift, and once I reached the end of the loop, seeing all of the runners coming the other way really gave me a lift as well. I was becoming a bit of a cheerleader, clapping and yelling encouragement. The enthusiasm really was working for me and the feeling of effortlessness came back.
- I was running down one of the larger hills on the course at around the 15 mile mark when I saw the Runkeeper guys coming the other way. What a spectacle! One was dressed as an iPhone and the other as an Android phone. I called out “Hey, I use you guys!” to which they responded “Mike!?!” What a boost that gave me. It turns out that they were JakeCacci and StuckJohn, both of whom are on my Runkeeper Street Team. We were among just a few people on the Runkeeper site who were signed up for the Maine Marathon and they recognized me from my profile photo. It was nice to know that I was still looking like the guy in the photo.
- Miles 15 through 18 had a few rolling hills, which I found to be the most challenging on the course. The biggest hill had a really nice crowd right at the bottom cheering us on, which was great. I also happened to have the live version of Led Zeppelin’s Heartbreaker blaring on my earbuds, which really helped to keep my adrenaline going. I was mouthing the words along with Robert Plant as I was passing the crowd and beginning the climb of the hill. I had about 10 miles left and I knew that I wouldn’t feel this good for a whole lot longer, but it was nice and I was somehow keeping the overall pace at around 7:38.
- I hadn’t given much thought to the cause that I was running for until this point in the race. The thought occurred to me that I was getting into the late miles when it was going to be difficult and I drew inspiration from the memory of my mother, Sylvia Klein Olkin, who lived with great dignity and even joy through some years made difficult by illness. No matter how tough this race was going to get, it wouldn’t approach what she went through. She still managed to live with a positive attitude that was infectious. Through all of her struggles, she managed to focus her energy into helping people to have healthier pregnancy and parenting experiences. She taught me some valuable lessons and in a small way, I was putting these lessons to use during this race. I was not going let any discomfort get me down, and in fact, I was using the power of positive thinking to enrich my own race experience. I found myself turning up the enthusiasm at this point and making a conscious effort to encourage runners, walkers and people in the crowd. We were going to do this right and have fun doing it!
- Walking through the water stops was really helping me at this point. Whereas earlier, I was walking just so I could drink enough, I was now beginning to use it to reset my stride, stretch my arms and bring the focus back to my form as I would accelerate again. I began noticing which runners were zooming past at the water stops and with many of them, I was catching right back up. I caught up with one runner named Jake from Cape Cod, who I started a conversation with by saying something like “I’m catching you now, but don’t worry because you’ll pass me again at the next water stop.” We ended up running together for a mile or two, comparing notes on our marathon experience. It turns out that it was his first marathon, he’s in his early twenties and hadn’t had a lot of time to train. He really reminded me of myself in my previous marathon experience 16 years back. I told him about that time, encouraged him to listen to his body and just know that he would finish the race in a good time. We were discussing our pace and speculating about where we would finish if we could hold it, which was around 3:20. We were both also beginning to struggle and this was where the leg fatigue was beginning to set in for me. I also had what felt like a very large blister on the ball of left foot. I had to consciously maintain my form instead of favoring it. Jake was beginning to struggle a little bit more than me & the next thing I knew, I was saying a quick good bye as I moved forward.
- Miles 18 through 21 were definitely a challenge. My pace was slowing down and not surprisingly people were passing me. By this point, staying positive and having fun were an important mission; I was doing everything that I could to encourage each person who passed me and I was high fiving every hand extended by any children along the route. I was even thanking people for staying out there to cheer us on! Probably the best feedback that I got was from a runner who whipped on by around the 21 mile mark. I told him “great pace!” and he said, “uh, thanks, but I’m kind of cheating. I’m running the relay.” That was all that I needed to hear to decide that anyone who passed me was probably running the relay. That certainly helped a bit.
- I finally hit the wall somewhere around the 22nd mile. My legs just couldn’t keep the pace anymore and they were getting tight. I was still in good spirits and having a good time waving, clapping, cheering, etc, but I just had to accept the fact that I wasn’t going to keep my overall pace below 8:00 minutes a mile. The race was finally beginning to feel just as long as it was. It was a somewhat familiar feeling, as I had experienced something similar a couple weeks before toward the end of a 24.5 mile run. I just needed to push on. The end was in sight and I was going to get there. I had no doubt about that.
- The course took a turn through a densely populated residential area. I had seen this part of the course on the map, but it seemed a lot longer now. A half mile just went on for a little too long before we finally turned toward what looked like a very nice park. As I was passing through the park at around 24 ½ miles, my iPhone abruptly turned off. Dead battery. I had unknowingly left the screen turned on for several miles earlier in the race. Oh well. I was at the point where I didn’t really mind very much. I had Runkeeper tracking the run so I could get my pace splits every mile and so that some friends could track my progress online. I had gotten what I needed & I was sure that if anyone was even still tracking me, they would figure out what happened. Who needs splits anyhow when the race is almost done?
- Shortly after this, I hit the homestretch along the waterfront. By this point, the route was retracing the first mile and a half. Man, it really seemed like it went on forever, but finally I got to within sight of the finish line. I felt like I was shuffling and I was beginning to wonder how slow I was going. Was I completely trashing my pace? Well, it didn’t matter because I just couldn’t go any faster.
I crossed the finish line with the clock somewhere around 3:35 and that felt really good. My official time was 3:33:57, about an 8:11 pace (I have it on my Runkeeper profile, complete with splits). This was about 10 seconds a mile better than what I was aiming for. I’m satisfied with it right now, even though I know that I might have shaved a few minutes off with a more disciplined first half. It actually provided a decent benchmark against my first marathon 16 years ago, when I had the same lack of pace discipline. That first time, the wall came suddenly at 16 miles, whereas this time it was more of a gradual process that didn’t really have a major effect until around the 21st mile. I’m hoping to improve upon that the next time.
The Maine Marathon was the perfect race for me and I’m glad that it was the one that I chose for this experience. I enjoyed the course, the people and just about everything about it. I’m quite impressed, especially considering the logistical challenge that it must be to pull off, with the Marathon, Half Marathon, Marathon Relay and the walkers all out on the course at once. Running in it is a memory that I treasure and I hope to get back there in the future.