Sunday, September 16, 2012

Pacing the Top of Utah Marathon 2012

First, the background story...

Last year I was chosen to pace the 3:20 pace group for the Top of Utah Marathon. I was confident that I could do it, felt like I trained well for it and it seemed like it would be a stroll down the canyon. It wasn't. I got sick the week before the marathon and felt like I was just getting better by race day... until mile 20 or so where I could no longer hold the pace. I ended up finishing almost 8 minutes behind my scheduled time. (by the way there was also a bit of rain, wind, cold, and hail). I felt horrible! Not as much because I ran slower than planned but because I felt like I let everyone down. If I recall correctly I think I even cried about it.

Ok, fast forward to this year when I was given the opportunity to pace again. I considered just racing for myself rather than dealing with the pressure to run a specific time but ultimately agreed to pace based on the fact that I was returning from an injury (achilles, that I actually was dealing with at the 2011 TOU), I knew that work and family schedules would keep me from training as consistently as I would like, and they had asked me to pace a slightly slower time (3:25).

This summer I spent many of my weekends trying to get to the summits of as many mountains as possible. I think I ended up with about a dozen. While this is great exercise and is closely aligned with my passions, it may not be the best way to train for a predominantly downhill road marathon course. With a few days before the marathon, I started to get nervous. The thoughts of last year's failed pacing attempt and a reminder of the pressure to perform had me post on DailyMile that I'd rather do a 100k than have to run a specific time. Adding to this stress was the fact that my wife was sick and I really didn't want to catch anything and I was told that I could only be at most 2 minutes faster than an even split at the halfway point meaning I could run the first 13.1 no faster than 1:40:30 and the second half no slower than 1:44:30. I had never run anywhere close to that even of splits in my previous 4 attempts at this race. (The first 17-18 miles are mostly downhill, while the last section is flat and winding with several gradual hills that always feel longer and steeper than they are at that point.)

Anyway, several of my DM friends commented on my post with words of confidence and encouragement and I didn't feel nervous again until Friday night at the check-in and expo. We had a pacer booth to answer questions and get people set up with pacers and people have a way of asking questions that make you question yourself. In addition to this, the guy that was supposed to pace with me didn't show up that night, so we couldn't talk strategy or coordinate at all. It was great to meet all the runners and I even met Isela from DM and encouraged her to join my pace group. She didn't think she was ready for it. I think she is.

I came home from the expo, laid out all my stuff, put my son to bed and tried to go to sleep. It took me a while to fall asleep and I woke up several times through the night worried that I might sleep through my alarm. I didn't. I actually got out of bed about a minute before the alarm went off at 4:45am.

I got up and got dressed and ready to go and walked down to the bus pick up which was about 1/2 mile from my house. I got on the bus and had some great conversations with several people and we talked for a good portion of the bus ride to the start. The bus ride always seems so long you question whether it will take you that long to run that distance.

At the start it was pretty cold but not too unbearable. I questioned whether to wear arm sleeves and/or gloves but ultimately opted for neither.  I found my spot in the starting herd and those in my group started to gather. I never did find the other guy who was supposed to help me pace. I was worried but quickly dismissed it because there was nothing I could do about it.

Just before the race start I saw Heather from DailyMile and wished her good luck. The race started late and I was wishing for the first mile that I had stepped off the road at the start to pee. The guy who was in charge of the pacers came up and ran with my group for a while. I ditched off behind the first port-a-potties I could see (they were occupied) and relieved myself. Before I was finished I noticed 2 others doing the same thing next to me. That would have pissed me off except it was during a race and who really cares?

I quickly found my group and realized that we had actually gone out the first mile slower than our average pace should be so we picked it up slightly. It was pretty smooth sailing down most of the canyon. We chatted, told jokes, and talked about who we wanted to win the rivalry football game. Good times. There were probably about 10 or so in the group with one that would fall off and then catch us every now and then. Over the miles, unfortunately the talking and joking started to die down. I tried to talk but when I would be the only one talking it tended to slow me down a bit so I backed off.

It was pretty apparent by a couple of miles down the road that my Garmin was not on the same page as the race course. It was consistently telling me I hit a mile marker before we were there on the course. I thought that would work itself out so I didn't worry about it much at first and just kept trying to keep our average pace around 7:40 going down the canyon. We ended up hitting the halfway point in right around 1:42 (my watch had it as almost 13.3) and I got a little worried. I told the group that when we came out of the canyon to the more gradual downhill we were going to try to keep the pace for as long as possible before slowing so we didn't lose much time.

When we came out of the canyon around mile 14-15 I could feel my body want to just pound it in. You see, I did most of my long training runs on the last half of the course and on my longest run of 26.2 my halfway/turn around point was the forest sign at the mouth of Blacksmith Fork Canyon. This, I felt, was now my "home turf". The group had thinned a little by this point but it was probably still 6-8 of us. We kept the pace really well along Hollow road and onto the highway. This is where things really started to thin out. We were almost to the 18 mile mark and I started to lose people. I told them to just hang on to me as long as they could and I kept going.

I still felt pretty strong at this point. It was basically me and the guy in the VFF Komodosports who'd been with us since about mile 2 or 3. He was running strong (despite the foot slapping sound all the way). We ran side by side most of the rest of the race. We were starting to pick people off left and right. This is the section that has some uphill and it gets difficult to maintain the pace. I had a few miles that I wasn't sub 7 min on and I think most were this section. According to the average pace on my watch we should have been fine running 8's all the way in but I was suspicious that the course would be long (at least according to my Garmin) so I ditched the idea of allowing me to let the average slip to a 7:49 and tried to slow down the slowing down. This way if the course was long I'd be ok and if the course was correct according to my Garmin I would have a cushion.
Waiting for Daddy

A couple miles out I pointed out the finish line to the VFF guy (it was 2 blocks away) and we briefly mentioned how uncool that was. (see the map) About a mile out I could feel him wanting to go and told him to just go for it. He did and I didn't see him again.

Now that I was getting super close to the finish I did a quick calculation of the number of block until the finish. It was 5. I had just under 5 minutes until I was supposed to finish. I know that in general, in Logan you can do about a block a minute at around 8 minute pace. I was worried about the time and started to push harder. I could feel the time slipping away. As I made my way down the home stretch I knew I'd missed my time but I heard my wife and son yelling "We love you!" and finished.

Of course in my traditional style I did a somersault over the finish mat (wife didn't catch it). My legs didn't like getting up after it. The chip time was 3:25:15 although I had it on my watch at 3:25:20. Here's my Garmin track.

Walking around at the finish I bumped into several from my group that thanked me for pulling them along. Several of them even PR'ed and at least one guy qualified for Boston. Woo Hoo!

I'm not very good at names but I'll see who I can list/ describe who was with me for significant portions of the race:
  • guy with pink headband/ wristbands, and shirt and his friend
  • two girls wearing pink who stayed just ahead for most of the race
  • The girl in the plaid skirt that looked like a kilt
  • The VFF guy
  • The Umstead 100 guy and his friend (Umstead BQ'ed)
  • The marathon virgin (dropped back towards the end but thanked me for pulling him along. 3:45ish)
  • Guy from Orem in red shirt
  • BYU guy who we learned went to BYU after talking about how we wanted them to lose
  • Isela (friend on DM) didn't really run with me but I was just behind her for quite a while until we passed her on the more difficult end. And her husband for a while.
This was a much better experience overall compared to last year. Weather, people, and performance. If you think I needed redemption for last year (I did), I think I achieved it. I'm really glad I did this. It wasn't quite as fun as the half I paced in the spring but I feel great that I was able to come so close to hitting my time.

  • My bib number was 185 which was pretty close to my weight that morning. I had gained a few pounds during the taper but that and more was gone with this. Not worried. Just interesting.
  • One girl in the group described me as a linebacker (she probably meant fullback) that was making the way for them and keeping them out of the wind. She also joked about jumping on for a piggy back.
  • As a pacer I got to carry two big red balloons tied to the end of a stick with 3:25 written on it. That thing became more of a pain than expected. I kept trying to get my runners to carry it but no one would. The sign I carried last year was easier to deal with. Oh, well. 
  • I need to run the tangents better.
  • If I depend on a Garmin next year I need to plan on 26.4 to be safe.
  • I consumed 5 gels and 3-4 salt tabs. I walked to drink at almost every aid station and felt like I couldn't get enough water. I would usually swallow the gel or salt tab right before the aid stations. I realized that trying to swallow a pill without water makes me gag.
  • I got 6 low fives from spectators. 
  • This was a bit more difficult than I wanted but that was part of the reason I decided to pace instead of race it. I know my training wouldn't be that great. 
  • Although I am sore, I haven't had to go down any stairs backwards and I can move mostly normal.
  • My left hamstring is the worst area. It has been barking at me off and on for a while. Gotta take care of that.
  • Other than being a little chilly at the start I loved the weather. It was as perfect as could be without being overcast on the 2nd half. No rain, hail, and the only wind of significance was a tailwind.
After the race we hit a local pizza place and then I laid around for a couple hours before going grocery shopping with the family, got some ice cream, mowed the lawn, cleaned out the basement, took my son to the park, and watched some football.  A great day overall.

Official results:
Chip time: 03:25:15.9
Overall Place: 146/ 1541
Gender Place:  124/ 799 finishers
Division place: 14/ 87 finishers

1 comment:

  1. Good job dude nice recap. It was a great day for me too. I PR'ed and BQ'ed. I didn't run with your group but maybe I'll see you around in other race.
    Good job with the pacing. Must be real tough to do. Especially with 2 floating balloons tied to your wrist ;)
    Here 's my race recap on my blog