Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mayor's Marathon - vision quest or folly at 50?

Caveat This
I am not a marathoner, at least for running. Seems that I’m becoming more of a marathon specialist in skiing, but for running I’m still a middle distance guy.

On Patriots Day, in April, I had a vision: to run 17:20 for 5K, 1:20 or better for the half, sub 5 for the mile, and go for a 2:50 marathon—all by July. Ideally Humpy's, which is August, and has a more favorable course, may have been a better choice for a marathon but I have 3 weeks of wilderness travel planned in July, so Mayor's Marathon in Anchorage it was.

The vision quest was on.

Leading up to the race things could not have gone better, and I nailed the race goals for the shorter distances and logged enough long runs and tempos to feel ready. I built from 40 miles a week in mid April to a peak of 71 in early June, with a couple of cut back weeks to fend off an overuse injury from the rapid build up following ski season. The plan seemed to work. However, I went into taper week feeling a little flat and looking at the course profile, knew that 2:50 would be tough to match.

The plan was to run the first half between 1:25:30 and 1:26:30 and hopefully be able either hold on or even pick it up to 6:20s.

I flew down on my own, but met up with friends Mark Lindberg (45 who just ran a 2:44 at Boston) and Steve Bainbridge, the Equinox Marathon director and former running club president. We were total running geeks, and Mark's wife Maggie deserves a medal for putting up with us during our carbo meal and pre/post race routines.

Race Course
Although I knew much of the terrain, and studied the profile the course was harder than I had expected. The course can be described in three parts, with a kicker fourth. The first 9 miles are flat or rolling, with the first 7 on pavement and then the 8th and 9th on gravel road. Miles 10 through about 15 are on gravel or dirt, with most of that on the infamous tank trail on Fort Richardson. After 15 it’s all flat or downhill to the coast until mile 25.5, where runners must climb up “Insult Hill” to the finish at West High School. Most of the course makes sense—for an old school marathon course—the last mile is kind of a cruel joke. In your face, Alaska style.

Race Time
I was right on pace through the first third of the course, averaging 6:35 per mile. I moved into 8th place by the 2nd mile, and was running in a pack. A younger runner named Joe from San Diego by way of Maine started a conversation and we would run together for more than half of the race.

Miles 10 through 14 were a grind--and that's the part that was much tougher than I'd anticipated. Navigating over the 1 inch unpacked gravel took a lot of concentration, and my knee started to ache. The pace from mile 9 through 15 was 6:47, for a combined average of just under 6:40 per mile.

The downhill was welcome but steep and we clicked off a couple of low 6:20s without much effort--I was hoping my quads wouldn't hurt. Was feeling good at 18, and then slowed down just a bit at the aid station to get a 2nd drink, and Joe put on a lead, which I was never able to regain. Came into the lagoon about a minute back, I’d averaged 6:30 from 15 through 25—not the 6:20s I’d hoped but it was solid. Seemed that a 2:52 was in the bag. But that was before Insult Hill. At the base of the hill marathoners merged with the mid pack 1/2 marathoners. I had to weave and bob through the winding neighborhood streets, and got cut off at several corners. I totally lost focus on pace. That last mile was about 7:40, and the 385 was 1:14.

Final time was 2:54:02, 8th overall and 1st in my age group by 29 minutes.

Mark ran an outstanding 2:41:50, for 3rd and a new master’s record. Woot!

Steve said he didn’t get in enough long runs for training this spring, but he still ran a 3:43, good enough for 6th in the 55-59 age group (and more than respectable time for 59).

Post mortem
Marathons are tough. Now, a couple days later I feel a little better about it. My splits were nearly perfectly even. 1:26:26 at 13 miles and 2:52:46 at 26. There’s not much I could have done to run a better race other than ending ski season sooner and putting in more running miles in April…


The race was well organized and the course was never boring. They had good aid stations, about every 2.5 miles. I took a drink at every one.

Crowd support, was so so, compared to Equinox which really gets little Fairbanks in a thrall. Nevertheless, Mayor’s is a runner’s race, and point to point, and there just aren’t that many spots for spectators. Not a huge deal. Except for the layout of the last mile (which they could really improve) and merging of ½ marathoners and marathoners over that section, I thought it was a very well done event.


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