Sunday, December 12, 2010

Race review: Tucson Marathon

Mixed. My goal of 3:15:59 slipped away over the last three miles, but my time of 3:19:18 was a PR by 19:19. Granted, this was only my second full marathon, and 2nd-timers tend to lop off some pretty remarkable chunks of time, but that shows I learned something from last time.

Based on my single goal of qualifying for Boston, no. But in the official sense, I did win -- I was 1st out of 14 35-year-olds. Overall I was 82nd of 1075 finishers, 70th of 597 men and 13th of 78 in my age group.

I pretty much locked arms with the 3:15 pacer and off we went. My race plan was to conserve some energy over the first 5 miles, which included some rolling hills after the initial steep descent. Once we got to the main road, then I could open it up and start ticking off some fast downhill splits.

Well, pacer Matt had different ideas. (Just for the record, I say none of this with a harsh tone -- the guy hit 3:15 on the dot so not getting there is my fault, not his.) He wanted to bank some time over the first 10 miles, then give it back over the difficult section from 10 to 13.5, before staying more or less on goal until 23, then banking a little more time for the tough uphill finish.

That plan went as advertised. Matt encouraged us all up the few tough hills through mile 5. We started at 4800 feet and were still around 4400 through 5, but I didn't feel all that taxed. We did clock a few pretty quick miles before turning onto the out-and-back on Biosphere Road.

Navigating the halfpipe-shaped section made for a pretty tough intermission. We saw the leaders coming back in the other direction, but I didn't bother to count because I couldn't have cared less about what place I finished in. In fact, beyond my goal time, I was mostly concerned about some stomach pain I was developing. I wasn't sure if it was from the amount I was drinking or the actual drink (more on this later), but I tried just not to think about it until it eventually went away. We passed the line at 13.1 in 1:37:20, putting us 10 seconds ahead of 3:15 pace -- a cushion that evaporated by the time we got back to the highway.

By now the pace group was starting to dwindle. We dropped a few folks, while a few others took off in front of us. I chatted a little with Matt, feeling good that I was strong enough for conversation (at my debut at the Route 66, I already knew by the halfway mark that the end was nigh). We stayed on our goal pace, coming within a second or so of the 7:24 target for a few more miles.

Mile 18 was a big one for me, as that was where I had hit the wall before. There was really no danger of that happening today, and that mile passed easily, along with the next couple.

At about 19.5, the course veered from west to south and leveled off some. There was a little wind in our faces on occasion but nothing like the headwind from 2009. With just 4 or 5 folks left in the 3:15 group, Matt turned to me a little more frequently to encourage me along. I needed it because I could sense I'd have to start gutting it out to get to the finish. He shared the plan to speed up for mile 24, and I started thinking about that 59-second cushion that Boston allows.

It would end up not mattering, though. Things started getting away quickly on mile 24, and when I turned to head up the sizable two-tiered hill, getting one foot in front of the other was the most I could manage. My reward at the top was another powerful stomach pain. Just three-quarters of a mile from the finish, the urge to finish the whole thing running gave out and I walked for maybe half a minute, trying to work things out. A couple minutes later I briefly stopped again, but the thought of salvaging a time under 200 minutes was enough to push me to the finish.

It might come to be that 3:15 wouldn't be enough to get me to Boston anyway. Going under 3:20 would get me to Boston as a 40-year-old, but we'll have to see if that changes too. I thought this would be my last serious crack at Boston until 40 if I didn't make it, but I might re-evaluate that based on my schedule and whatever the new cutoff is, if there is one.

It was hot. Of course, I live in Texas so the upper 60s is not hot, but on this December morning in Tucson it was certainly well above average. There's no question this affected me by the end of the race and it's quite possible it's the reason I didn't make my goal time. It didn't help that my legs just didn't have the strength; I probably should have worked in more lifting because there's just no way to replicate the course experience at home -- you're lucky to find downslopes of half a mile, let alone several miles in a row.

I probably offset some of these issues by going with the CEP compression socks I bought last week. I ran once in them to break them in, which I know is still close enough to count as doing something new on race day, but I figured my Feetures socks are basically the same thing in ankle variety. I have no proof they helped my time as they claim to do, but I did not have the kind of post-race soreness I would have expected. My left hip flexor was in pretty bad shape, but that eased pretty quickly and I was back to walking normally by the evening. (We'll see how I do tomorrow.)

I must comment on the aid station situation. First and foremost, the volunteers were great -- very enthusiastic, and all called out what they were holding. The problem was that there seemed to be no pattern to the positioning of water and energy drink. At some stations one was first, at some the other, and at a couple, folks seemed to be standing in completely random order. As I said, yes, they called out what they held. But I don't slow down at aid stations -- in fact I speed up -- so I am going to grab whatever because I don't want to miss out.

Normally even this is no big deal, because I can handle most any flavor of Gatorade. But the stuff being distributed was XOOD, and for lack of a better description, the stuff tasted like shit. I don't even know what flavor it was supposed to be other than some kind of pink melony something. Taking shots of that stuff to wash down my lemon-lime Gu was just gross. I understand it's some kind of locally-made or -owned product, and that's great, but I would really rather have something familiar.

8:40 pace last .31

The medal is a good one, with a full-color ribbon and heavy bronze medal depicting cacti under a partly cloudy sky:

The post-race food included bananas, oranges, cookies, pretzels and maybe some other things I didn't see, but a strong point was the selection of at least a dozen different varieties of flavored waters and Muscle Milks, more than I'd seen anywhere else. Drop bag pickup and hotel shuttles -- OK, school buses back to the hotels -- were close to the finish.

The goody bag had a trial box of Wheaties Fuel -- far better tasting than regular Wheaties -- but other than that, not much. The event shirt is a boring white cotton T, but I also bought a gray tech T at the expo, where a good variety of event merch was available for reasonable prices. I sorta just skimmed through the rest of the expo but it seemed to offer a small but thorough selection.

Why stop now? First Light Marathon, Mobile, AL, Jan. 9.

1 comment:

  1. Great job! Sorry to hear your BQ slipped away. It was unseasonably warm. I finished my first in under 5 (I am not speed demon like you) and had a wonderful time, no doubt. My review is on facebook, and I need to add it to Daily Mile too. Thanks for sharing yours.