Monday, November 03, 2008

Inland Trail Marathon

Sub-3 is still the gold standard. It’s been 12 years, but I still haven’t totally given up; I still have sub-3 as a goal, albeit an increasingly unlikely one. Once upon a time, achieving this gold standard wasn’t so unusual. I got there seven times, sometimes two or three times in a row.

3:00 to 3:05:59 is a near miss. Don’t ask why it isn’t 3:00 to 3:04:59. 3:05:59 is the upper limit here, and that’s just the way it is. At some point over the last couple eons the near miss became a more realistic goal than the gold standard. Without a doubt I’d get back to sub-3 land, but for the time being a near miss would be fine.

As the near misses became more and more difficult, there had to be a new category. 3:06 to 3:10:59 is a near, near miss. Still respectable, and still a chore, this standard may now be slowly slipping away too, however. I did a 3:09 in 2006, and I was on sub-3 pace for 20 miles later that year before becoming injured and walking in for a 3:18.

Now I need a name for 3:11 to 3:15. Near, near, near miss just doesn’t sound that great. Yet this time still isn’t all that bad, especially as a stepping stone back to near, near misses, near misses and sub-3’s. I did manage a 3:14 in 2007. And this year I weigh less and have recorded faster times in all non-marathon distances. The cards just haven’t been there for a sub 3:15.

Until today, that is. By gum, today would be the day and Inland Trail, site of last year’s 3:14, would be the event. It’s do or die. Well, let’s just say it’s do.
I make the short drive to Elyria in a half-hour. Destination marathons can be exciting, but how can you beat sleeping in your own bed, eating your own food, and driving a half-hour to your race? Not to mention not having to pay more than $55 for the race, with no expense at all for any other travel.

The weather, a negative factor for so many of my marathons, is perfect today: low 40s for the start with a few clouds, light breezes and only slowly rising temperatures. It would be about 50 by the time I finished.

I arrive and talk with Dan DeRosher, who would be doing the half, Greg Dykes, who wanted a 3:10 BQ very badly, and my arch-enemy, Vince Russo. Make that double-arch enemy. Vince is a good friend, but he also happens to be in my age group, and he also sometimes comes across the finish ahead of me, so that’s how he achieved double-arch enemy status. I also said hi to Lloyd Thomas, who just finished MCM in his first sub-3 time. I’m jealous, but of course congratulatory. I don’t find Ladd and Marsha before they hop on the bus to the start of the half. Those of us doing the full wait around for another half-hour before the gun goes off. I talk with Vince some more.

It’s a small, friendly bunch who toe the line. I do the first 5 or so miles with Greg and a few other guys. The Inland Trail is a rails-to-trails asphalt bike trail, where the scenery is very nice, but almost always exactly the same: colorful trees on both sides, with an occasional bridge, fence, or road crossing. Some runners miss the crowds and excitement of big city marathons, but not me. This, and the towpath are almost heaven. Marathoning just doesn’t get any better.

Eventually the half-marathoners are coming in the opposite direction. I see Dan, Ladd and Marsha, all looking great along the way. Greg and those other guys are getting ahead of me, but the 7:15 to 7:20 miles are fine with me for now. Who knows, maybe I’ll be able to pick it up in the second half and finish strong?

The mile before and after the turn-around is on a road that provides the only slightly rolling hills. couple guys had passed me before the half-way point. Before I turn, I see them, as well as Greg, Vince, who’d gone out very fast, and several other familiar faces. I reach that half-way mat in just under 1:36. Perfect. If I can only do even to slightly negative splits, I’ll have a great finish time today. But as I turn back onto the trail, I get a strange and unexpected sensation: wind in my face. I’d been aware that there were some gentle breezes about, but I wasn’t aware that they were at my back. Now I know differently. It’s ok, I tell myself. This little bit of wind won’t slow me down.

I do pass a few folks in the next couple miles. I start to take a Gu every two or three miles. It seems to help, but I think I’m slowing just a bit as I reach mile 20 in 2:28. I’m working harder and slowing more, and I’m starting to figure out that 3:14 to 3:15 may be the best I can hope for today. Even so, I still pass a couple more, some of them walking. I hope to catch double-arch enemy Vince, and I think I see him up ahead. I do pass the guy in the late miles, but it isn’t Vince. By mile about mile 24, I realize that I probably won’t even make the 3:15 standard. My foot (the one with the Morton’s Neuroma that had been feeling better) hurts. In fact, everything hurts.

As the trail is nearing the point where we turn onto the road and back to the school and finish, I see Ladd, who runs those last ¾ of a mile in with me. It’s a tremendous help. I probably would have slowed much more without this companionship.
I cross the line in 3:17:05 or so. I immediately get my second place in age group award, a second medal. You’ve got to love a race where the awards are this quick. I see Marsha, who’d run a P.R. in the half, Greg, who’d gotten that BQ by 15 seconds (!), and Vince, who’d run 3:12. I wasn’t even close!

I’m in great, general pain. I’d given it all I had, but still came up short. Yes, it was my best time in my four 2008 marathons, but I still wanted that sub-3:15. I go inside to get some food. They have Chicken Paprikash! Beat that, Boston, New York and Chicago!

As is often the case for my marathons and ultras these days, I find myself on a plane a few hours later, this time off to London. It’s a painful flight.

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