Monday, December 8, 2008

2008 Tucson Marathon Race Report

Hmmm ... my 2008 Tucson Marathon race report. Where to start?

Well, I drove in to Tucson with my wife on Friday for what has become an annual tradition in Tucson. For the third consecutive year, we've come in to visit one of her best childhood friends and her husband, and I get to run a race on the Sunday morning when we're out. Our trip is more of a getaway for us, although the race is still important to me.

Anyways, over the past several months, I've definitely re-prioritized my life. I've moved God and family way ahead of myself and my running, because I know that ultimately, that's what matters. I've been living a much more full life, I've had a much greater internal peace and happiness. I've still been running, and I've logging a lot of miles, but it's all been low-heart rate stuff. It's still good for me, and my legs are strong, but I've wondered if the lack of speedwork would come back to bite me.

All in all, though, I'm stronger, fitter and I think I'm a tiny bit quicker. I wasn't sure about that for the quickness heading in to the Tucson Marathon, but I was pretty confident that I was in better shape heading into this race than I was heading into last year's race, when I ran a 3:00:05. I figured I was good for about a 2:58 and if all the stars aligned, maybe a 2:56 or 2:55. I knew it would come down to being strong and fighting through pain, because that's my strength. Speed isn't!

The night before the race, I went to the official pasta dinner and met up with some friends from RW and RT. I had a good time talking with folks and listening to Dane Rauschenberg speak. Race morning, everything seemed fine. I had my ritual pre-race breakfast, I felt totally fine and fresh, and even though a sub-3 seemed like an impossible dream, I still thought it was a very realistic possibility for the day. I felt totally ready to go.

Race went off, and the first mile (6:25) was mostly downhill and a little quicker, by about 10 seconds, than I thought it was going to be. But I was running by heart rate and I was staying in the low 160s -- my marathon target is 170. I've had opening downhill miles like that before that didn't hurt me and I wasn't alarmed. This was my 19th marathon, and I know all about going out too fast, but I wasn't going out too fast.

Mile 2 had quite a bit of uphill. I didn't go above my 170, and ran about a 7:05. No cause for alarm, until the end of the mile, when it felt like my calves and achilles on both legs were going to rip through my skin. I struggled a bit in 3 or 4 through horrible pain, and my thoughts were turning to last year, when I struggled through the first four miles and then got it going and came up six seconds short. This year, if I was in range, I wouldn't let those six seconds hold me back again.

Lots of times, I'll go out and my calves will be tight through 4-6 miles. But this pain was beyond what I normally experience. It was absolutely miserable. At around 4 or 5, I knew I was in trouble. The legs didn't get better, and for the first time ever, I started thinking, "Man, I wish I could drop out of this thing." But quitting is not an option unless it's physically impossible to continue. Pain is just a bummer to deal with.

The downhill miles started at around 6, and I was hoping that's where the pain would go away and I would get my legs back, but it didn't and I didn't. I was turning 6:55s-7:05s in spots where I was closer to 6:40 last year. Since sub-3 requires a 6:52 pace, I knew my day was done. I kept thinking how I could pull it off, and I couldn't even run a 6:52 downhill mile because of the pain. Done day, and not even an hour in. I was at about 8.6 miles or so at the one-hour mark, and the math told me I needed 9.3 mph over the last two hours to get in. No way was that going to happen.

I started thinking about a 3:05 or a 3:10. I got passed by the 3:10 group halfway in -- exactly halfway in -- at about 1:34. I thought they were a bit fast, but I didn't worry. I figured maybe the second set of downhills after the out-and-back would be good to me and I'd catch them. But I still wasn't feeling it ... well, unless "it" was pain. I was feeling that, no question.

I saw my wife drive by -- she honked and waved -- at about 14.8. That was the lone highlight of my day. For a split second, I had a happy feeling. She looked so excited and proud to see me. I love her so much and love to see her smile. But then my thoughts immediately went to how bummed I was that she wasn't going to see me get my sub-3. She was so excited for me. My parents were going to be there, too. They were out in Tucson by coincidence that week, and I convinced them to rearrange their plans to go to the finish and see me get my sub-3. I was bummed that I talked them into that, too.

Anyways, I kept fighting down the hill. It was miserable. There was nothing fun about this run for me. The miles got slower and slower and slower. My legs felt worse and worse and worse, from my hips to my toes. I wasn't even breathing hard, because I couldn't get my legs to go fast enough. At about 20, I did the math and realized I needed about a 44-minute 10K to get a 3:10. If I could find anything within me, I knew that wasn't all that unreasonable. I couldn't get the jets going, so I shortened my stride and increased my turnover. I felt like I was shuffling. Well, I guess I was.

The miles kept getting slower. My 3:10 turned into a 3:12, and then that started slipping away, too. Sub-3:15? Maybe. I was really bargaining with myself! At around 25, I started thinking that the pain I was feeling was the pain most people normally feel at the end of a marathon. I'd never really felt that miserable at the end of a marathon -- maybe just a exhausted. Well, I didn't really feel exhausted. I just hurt like I don't think I'd ever hurt before.

At 25.7, I noticed a guy right behind me within five yards, so I pushed a tiny bit to get some space. I HATE getting passed that close to the finish! I got some space and thought I was safe, but within the last 200 yards or so, he was even with me, so I had to race to the finish. I pulled it off by a couple of steps. I guess that was the only fun of the whole thing. Not much consolation. 3:15:32. It's all relative, but for me, that was a very slow time.

I didn't notice my wife or parents at the finish, so I looked around and saw them fairly quickly. I felt horrible, that I'd let them down. I apologized that I didn't give them anything worth coming out to see. I saw Renee from RW and she congratulated me, but I was so disappointed with myself, I couldn't muster up anything nice to say other than "thanks". She had a medal around her neck and a big smile on her face and I couldn't even come up with the manners to ask her about her race.

I saw Louis from RW and he got his sub-2:55 and I was pretty excited about that ... huge PR for a really nice guy. I saw Adam from RW, who went 2:51 for a 25-minute PR and his first BQ. Pretty sweet deal there, too, because he missed the BQ by ONE SECOND in his first race! A friend of mine named Tim from RT had about a 10-minute PR with a 3:10. And later on, we saw Jackie from RW get a hefty PR and a BQ with a 3:40. Later on, I got a phone call that Lori from RW had a big PR with a 3:19. All in all, it seemed like everybody had a great day aside from me, which is cool. I was truly happy for all of them, even though I was the guy who bombed that day. I've had plenty of good days.

So what do I take away from this? From a running standpoint, anybody who thinks Tucson is easy should run it. I think I know how to run it, but this course has chewed me up and spit me out two of the three times I've run it. I think my problem this time was with my shoe selection. I wore my lightweight shoes that I normally use for racing. I take a pounding with them, but they're quick. I think I would have been better off with the support from my trainers. The course was quick enough. Downhills take a toll on heavier runners, and I'm a cheeseburger away from 200 pounds. I should have relied on my strength and endurance instead of trying to gain an advantage with lighter shoes. I was thinking about that going in. Oh well, next time.

From a beyond running perspective, this was a very humbling experience. I've worked hard with my running, but it's all come very easy. And it's been very easy to lose sight of things. But it was certainly very humbling to struggle like I did on Sunday. Only God is perfect, but if I know where to look, there are still plenty of positives all over the place. For starters, I'm blessed to be able to even toe the starting line of a marathon. I broke my neck when I was 16, I smoked a pack a day when I was in college, I used to drink WAY too much and I ate myself up to 261 pounds ... "struggling" to a 3:15 marathon isn't the end of the world. And several people I know had great days on Sunday, which is wonderful.

From here, I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to do. I'm trying not to dwell on this, but I'm a competitive person, and yesterday was a loss. Part of me thinks it's a sin to be so prideful as to be focused on my individual performance, but a friend of mine told me today that it would be a sin to waste any gifts God might have given me. I've been talking to Tiffany about that and she agrees. OVer the last several months, I've really been beginning to think I have a purpose involving my legs and I have ideas on how I'm going to be able to help other people. I start work for my employer at 8:30, but I feel like I start to work for God at 4 a.m. when I get up for my runs, because I know I'm going to be able to help people later and this is one of His purposes for me. So, I'll just keep on pushing on, trying to keep the most positive attitude I can (I'm human ... it's tough right now) and see where He takes me. Next races are the Diamond Valley/Carlsbad double on Jan. 24/25. Back to work!