Sunday, December 16, 2012

2011 quote. "I'll never run Tucson again"

In 2011, after a disappointing St George marathon, I scrambled for another race to attempt sub 3.  I chose Tucson.  Maybe it was the 3 marathons in just over 2 months (I'd run New York too), the warmer weather, the lack of runners around me, but it didn't go well.  I ended up staggering home in just over 3:08.  The 'downhill' screamer of a course was definitely not as advertised.  There were a lot of ups too, and the downs played a number on my quads.  I was definitely one and done with Tucson.  No interest in going back.

In 2012, the 'scramble for another sub 3 attempt after the goal race didn't quite go to plan' process led to me selecting CIM - the California International Marathon in early December.  Never mind the fact that I'd run it in 2009 and had said I was 'one and done' with it.  This year a number of my friends were going to run too.  A few years removed, I felt a little nostalgic.  A sea level course, with a net downhill, and the promise of good December weather in Northern California.  I was in good shape after Berlin.  Maybe this would be 'the one' ?

I was all signed up and ready to go.

And then the weather happened.

Rain and wind.  The forecasters were predicting it 10 days out.  I checked each day, but things weren't changing.  Several inches of rain on race morning and a strong (30 mph) partial head wind.  It looked miserable.

Given I was only running CIM for a sub 3 attempt, I decided not to go.  I looked for an alternative, and lo and behold - there was Tucson the following weekend.  A number of my friends decided to switch too.  CIM was out, Tucson was in.

Turns out it was a good thing.  Here's a photo of raceday at CIM...

One positive of having run Tucson the previous year was that I knew what to expect.  A steep downhill first mile, then net uphill with undulations for the next 4.  Then a gradual downhill to mile 10, with then 2 more miles of net uphill, including a couple of fairly steep ones.  Then mostly downhill until mile 24, then a nasty uphill, just when you don't want one, and rough uneven roads to the end, finishing for some reason - on a sand road.

I flew in the day before, hit the expo and met friends from the Boston RWOL board.  I met up with my Denver friends in the hotel, then hit an Asian place for dinner.  It was an early start so I went to bed soon after 9:30pm.

With the help of ambien, I managed to sleep fairly reasonably until the 4am alarm.  Left the room by 5, and was on the bus to the start soon after.  It was only just starting to get light at 7am as the gun went off.

Initial temperature was around 40 degrees.  Perfect, although I knew from the previous year that as the sun rose, and with most of the race along a blacktop highway, things would be warming up.  It may be early December - but this was southern Arizona after all....

I was starting with a 24 oz bottle of water.

The first mile shelves and I tried to hold myself back from going too fast.  Along side I saw a running friend, Scott.  His PR was 2:55, so I didn't want to slow him up, but he seemed happy to run the first few miles with me.

I was using Greg Maclin's pace band.  The plan was to hit the half a little over 1:30, and then make use of the 10+ downhill miles after that to run a negative split.  The previously year I felt I'd worked too hard the first 13 miles, and paid dearly the last 6.  I wanted to avoid that.

Mile 1:  6.51

Perfect.  A little fast, but excusable with the downhill.

The next 4 miles were rolling.  Scott and I ran together, chatting.  Grabbing water at the stops every 2 or 3 miles.  Other people would come and go, but mostly we were slowly moving away from people around us.

7.08, 7.06, 7.07, 6.52, 6.48

I still had my water.  I wanted to nurse it as long as I could, and take on as much from water stops as I could.  It was more by feel with the hills, but the splits were right on track.

After mile 6 we joined the main highway.  We were running down the hard shoulder.  The road wasn't closed, although there were road cones to at least warn on coming traffic of runners.  This was the point I knew we needed to pick it up a little.  Make the most of the next 4 miles gradually going downhill.

6.41, 6.39, 6.40

I was still running with Scott.  I kept telling him that he didn't need to run with me, although was secretly happy that he was.  We went through the first hour.  One down, two to go.  Probably the most relaxed and enjoyable first hour of a marathon I'd had.  I definitely felt I was running within myself.

Finally Scott decided he'd push on.  He opened up a small gap, but not much.  I wasn't trying to stick with him, but he just seemed to stay 30 yards ahead up the road.  I debated catching him but fortunately decided not to.


At this point we turned off the main road for the 'Biosphere Loop'.  This had got me the year before.  Very undulating, with the first 2 miles up hill.  This time I tried to continue to run by effort and not get caught up with the splits on the watch.


With the biosphere being an out and back, we got to see the race leaders coming the other way.  3 of my friends from Denver would be coming the other way before I turned.  Heather was the first past, leading the ladies race and looking good for her promise to break the course record.

Next up was Mike.  We saw each other and came to the middle of the road and high fived as we passed.


Scott was still only 100 yards ahead and told me later he was surprised I was so close to him at the turn around.

Now it was my turn to see the slower runners going in as I headed out.  I looked for my RWOL friends, but to no avail.


Hit the half in around 1:30:20.

Perfect.  Right on track.

My legs were a little heavy, but not as bad as they'd felt in Berlin.  Now was where the work would begin.


Out of the biosphere and back onto the main road towards Tucson.

I knew I had 20 seconds to catch up, and each time a mile went below 6:51, I mentalled subtracted the difference.

Pretty quickly I realized I was now back on target.

6.38, 6.42,

Just keep this ticking over.

It was getting warm.  I'd finished the water before we turned off the biosphere and I found myself looking out for water stops.  I was parched.  I wished several times the stops were more frequent instead of every 2-3 miles.  When they came along there were typically just a few people and the cups had very little water.  I tried to grab two at one water stop but after I took the first, the volunteer pulled the second cup back.  Fail.  Thirsty.

It was at this point the previous year that things had started to go south.  Mile 17.  I'd started to drift off pace and then fell apart badly.

I was conscious of that and wanted to avoid it.


Ok - definitely doing better than last year.

There was another runner from the group in Boulder who I'd met that morning.  She was going for 2.55 so I hadn't expected to see her, but there she was just up ahead.  I used her as a carrot and reeled her in.


6.45 for mile 19.  7 to go.

7.01.  Uhoh.  That's not good.  But just 10 seconds over and you had a cushion.

Still - it's work. I'm forcing myself to work.  Don't give in to the pain.  A few people are starting to go past, although I'm still passing others.


Crap.  Still - you're just under target.

Just hang on for 5 more miles.


Shit !  I'm struggling.  I'm realizing I'm not going to get it again.  I keep trying to put in bursts to get back.  If someone overtakes me I resolve to get in their slipstream and speed up.  I do, but it only lasts 50 yards and then a gap opens.

I later worked out that through mile 22 - I was still just under sub 3 pace.

7.29.  38 seconds too slow.  That's really it now.

7.33.  Just hang in.  You'll be turning off this bloody highway soon,

F**k - that hill is a ba$tard !!!  A nasty incline.  I remember people walking there last year.  Hell - I think I did too.  But just 2 miles to go.  Don't fall apart and you're still going to PR.

7.49.  Ugh.

Ok - last mile.  I remember this.  Uneven road, looping around residential neighbourhoods and then back to the finish.  Look ahead for the turn - it seems to take forever.

And then - in the last mile - I run past a water stop that looks like it was taken from one of the marathon majors.  A good one hundred yards long with 50+ people giving out water.  Where were these people back on the highway ?!

Hold it together.  Suck it up.  See another RWOL friend who yells encouragement.  Try to pick up the pace a little.


Almost there.  Make the turn.  It really is f**king sand !!  Who could be that cruel to finish a marathon on sand ?!!

7.07 for the final part and over the line in 3:03:14.

A 55 seconds PR.

I'm really not happy though.  I was parched, staggering and once again just the wrong side of my goal. So close yet so far.  The last 4 miles again.

I met up with my friends.  Heather had won the women's race and crushed the course record.  Mike wasn't far behind her.  Scott too had run strongly.  From being together almost at the half, he'd flown down the last 13.1 miles and finished in 2:55.  A full mile ahead of me.  That's how to negative split a marathon !

I did end up coming 3rd in the 40-44 year old age group and getting a nice bit of Aztec Art.  And as I tell others all the time - "a PR is a PR" !  Hard to be too disappointed.

Quickly back to check out, I then spent time with my RWOL running friends before heading for the flight home.

It just means I'm going to have to work harder through the winter and get that sub 3 in 2013...

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