Monday, June 04, 2007

Newport Marathon: Back in Business

I repeated last year's arrangements by staying in a hotel about a mile from the start, then walking to the start and back after the finish. The day was cool and overcast as we gathered at the little state park for the 7:00 start. As expected there were lots of familiar faces and I spent the minutes before the race doing my usual manic socializing. Newport always limits the field to 750 so there was little need to worry about start position or a crowded start.

My training has gone well for the last month, and I'm down a few pounds so I felt like I could default to my standard "hard marathon plan" of the last few years, shooting for a 78 to 80 minute 10 mile split and then seeing if I could hold pace. It became clear how long it's been since I did this successfully when I got all kinds of comments like "Hippo, you're going out pretty fast today" from various maniacs like Marc, Christel and others. This reminded me how much I want to get back into fast marathon shape and stay there.

I managed to cure myself of the over-socializing that slowed me too much at Capitol City, keeping conversations friendly but short and going back to concentrating on stride efficiency and pace. By mile 10 I was right on pace, a little over a minute under 80 minuutes, without any warning signs of trouble to come. I'd fallen into position in a field with Jon and Sherry Mahoney about a half mile ahead, Marc and a couple of his friends near them, and Christel a little closer at about a minute ahead. This really didn't change through the turnaround near mile 15 at which point I was still on pace, though no longer opening up any seconds on an eight minute flat pace.

I got surprised by the normal slowing of the field which happened a mile or two later. Since everyone slowed down in unison, I missed it until I remembered to pay attention to my splits. Everyone had slowed by almost a minute a mile, and when I looked at my watch at 18 I'd not only lost the minute-plus I had on eight minute pace but had gone a minute over. I realized that I would have to start passing people pretty regularly until the finish but I really never got these minutes back. I think in the future I'll plan to really pay attention to my Garmin from 15-19 and plan to start a little surge there so that I don't get tricked into slowing with the crowd.

In the next few miles I steadily picked people off in little clumps, as my respiration climbed steadily towards threshold. As mile 20 neared I realized that I really had few warning signs of impending trouble, other than a few lower-GI twinges. The only person who passed me was a young bodybuilder-looking woman who just flew by and then settled in ahead of me about 100 yards ahead.

I slowed a little as I started to reel Christel in. I really hate to pass people and then get passed back, and Christel is so strong in the late miles. When she slowed at a waterstop around mile 21 I finally blew past her. She yelled a slightly surprised but friendly greeting and I (sadly) didn't even have the breath to respond other than to raise one arm. I never got to apologize to her later either.

All this time I had gradually been reeling the bodybuilder woman in. I still had a little breath left so I tried to notch it up a little at mile 23, only to feel an asthma attack coming on. I slowed down and fumbled out my inhaler, then managed to get back to previous pace, but I really didn't have the guts to make another try for that extra little bit. This was a bit of a downer as I saw my chance at 3:30 creeping out of reach, along with any chance of catching the woman in front of me.

The end of the course loomed, along with the final uphill stretch and the sharp downhill to the finish. Somehow this seemed shorter and easier than last year and I powered over it only to find the woman that I'd been chasing in a total barfy meltdown at the top. She had pushed it to the limit to the point that she literally melted down and had to stop 100 (downhill) yards from the finish. I blew by, still straining to see if I could get a 3:30:59 BQ but missed it by 11 seconds, finishing in 3:31:10. No matter, at this point I'll still probably get a BQ in the next few months, and I'm not sure I'll be interested in Boston '08 anyway. I had to admire how hard the woman I passed had pushed it, and congratulated/commiserated with her. It was her first marathon.

I wish I could tell you about the course, or what the day was like, or about other people. But honestly I spent most of the race with my gaze focused on a spot on the pavement 15 feet in front of me. While this left me feeling awfully self-absorbed, it served the purpose of getting me back to the sort of marathon time I was running two years ago. I don't feel like I really left much time on the table, the race was nearly flawless, clean, and just a little uninteresting. Other than the little bobble between miles 15 and 18 I ran virtually dead-even splits. As I get a little faster over the next months I may use this race as a mental template for future races, while gradually increasing my opening pace.

Surprisingly, I needed almost no recovery and was able to start training again the following morning. With a huge 4-plus weeks until my next scheduled race I really hope to continue bringing my marathon times down before I head back to the trails. However, in a change of plans I decided that I'll go back to trails two weeks early and entered Siskiyou Out n Back (SOB) on July 14th.