A Chillin' Return to the Marathon
After fracturing the end of my femur at the New York City Marathon in 2009, resulting in a DNF (did not finish) and arthritis and arthroscopic surgery in 2010, I wasn't sure if I'd ever even line up for another marathon attempt let alone be able to return to running races again. The recovery took almost a year and a half, and then in subsequent years I've battled some foot problems due to twisting my ankle on the rooty trails around Fairbanks. As a result I haven't completed a season (April to October) here since my last Equinox attempt in 2008.
Despite the injury woes (seemingly common for me) in the interim I'd been able to manage some good races from the mile to half marathon. However, I put the marathon on the back burner. At the beginning of the year I penciled in Moose's Tooth (formerly Humpy's) in Anchorage or Kenai as my top two choices, and Equinox as a third.
Well due to logistics and timing (not an easy thing to fit in a marathon in the midst of high school cross country when you are an assistant coach with the defending state champs), by mid June I realized I hadn't put in the miles needed for a decent shot at Moose's Tooth, and Kenai travel would conflict with the regional meet here that weekend, so the home course Equinox it was!
My training since early July had been solid, averaging about six days a week of running with a long run of 2 to 2.5 hours (one just under 3) every 10 days or so, and most importantly no set backs. I didn't do a lot of workouts other than a few tempo runs after July 4, and used races as my hard training days. Incorporated enough long runs to be confident that I could finish the grueling Equinox course.
To tell the truth, I think course is a bit a bit crazy, but I suppose therein lies the appeal.
I went into Saturday's race with three or three and half goals in mind: finish, break the 55 age group record of 3:27 and maybe eke out a top 10. Going in I felt 3:12 to 3:15 was a good goal pace, but you never know how it's going to go until get out there on race day. Especially with the Equinox and on a cold day, with several miles of snow cover out on the trails.
I walked up about a third of the way up the UAF ski hill and settled into a nice pack of seven or eight runners that soon whittled down to about five us, strung out over 30 seconds. Missed my water stop at 4 miles, but other than being a little thirsty for a couple miles, and an untied shoe for about a half mile, the first 9 miles went as well or better than planned. I was 10th place with 7,8,9 in sight as we navigated the switch backs by the cycling course. I'd jettisoned my extra longsleeve shirt at mile 4 and declined another at mile 9 (where my son was stationed as crossing guide) in 1:02. By the time we got to 10 miles, the snow cover was evident and it was getting colder by the minute. I passed a younger runner then my friend Mark who was having a rough day by mile 11. However, I knew a sub 3:15 would be tough. My legs just didn't want to move any better.
Over the top in 1:35, right on pace for a 3:15 but feeling it every step. I didn't feel recovered from the 32 minute climb until just before the turn around on the Out and Back: you just don't bounce back at 55! Great view of Denali just after mile 13. It looked larger than life, like a white harvest moon just above the horizon.
Got back to the top of the chute at 2:14 and hoped that I could let it roll after about mile 18. No mishaps on the chute, but on the trail after that I still couldn't get my legs moving the way I'd envisioned/planned; my splits were off about 15 seconds each mile, but I listened to what my body was telling me and just kept steady. That was the story for the rest of the way. I wasn't blowing up or slowing down, but I couldn't make any inroads on the time I'd lost going on on snow over the Dome and on the Out and Back. No flashing drive to the finish at 6:10 or 6:20 pace on this day. Just hanging on, aided by my friend Kelly who plied me with water and fruit about every half mile on Gold Hill road.
A young Norwegian runner who had seemed to be within striking distance at 20 or 22 pulled away by 24-25 and I just settled into a rather cold, somewhat muted (hardly anyone around for the last 9 miles) 7th place march to the finish in 3:17:20. A new age group record by exactly 10 minutes. Can't knock that!
I do think there was perhaps more in me, but not on this day. That was the best I could do, end of that story. I'm not disappointed but Saturday felt a lot harder than 2008, when I broke 3:10, or previous attempts when I had least had some moments of feeling really good. Maybe the first hour on Saturday wasn't bad, but after that it was just hard work every step of the way.
Finally, thanks to those who put on the event, and all the volunteers for their support. The Equinox is a great community happening and this is the 10th year I've been part of as a runner (4th), relay participant (3 of those) or volunteer/crossing guard (3 times).