Heading into Sunday’s Napa Valley Marathon, I was pretty excited about the having a good run. I was overflowing with confidence, I felt good physically, I liked the course profile, and I was coming off a well-executed race in Tampa last weekend. But I put on a display of how NOT to execute a race strategy and I paid the price. My time was fairly respectable at 3:11:47, but I finished about six minutes later than I should have and it was a lot tougher physically than it should have been.
Based on my race last week, I really thought I had a legitimate chance at going after that elusive sub-3 (2:59:59). Everything was working against me in Tampa. I ran a 15K and a 5K the day before. I flew across country and was tired the entire weekend. The race went off at 6 a.m. Eastern time, which was 3 a.m. Sam’s body time, and I woke up at 12:40 a.m. body time. I was also coming off a marathon in Pasadena that really beat me up. But I went out with a semi-conservative strategy, ran a 3:09:44, and probably could have been a few minutes quicker if I had red-lined it and gone for broke.
So, since I was well-rested, running in my own time zone and feeling pretty fresh physically, I decided to go for the sub-3. My plan was to go out and hold at a 6:50 pace and not fluctuate regardless of what the course gave me. I thought that was at the edge of my capabilities, but I really thought it was possible. 6:52 is the pace required for a sub-3, so 6:50 would keep in range depending on the tangents I ran.
Before the start of the race, I didn’t feel as light on my feet as I thought I would. My confidence was down a little bit, but it didn’t really matter. I had enough confidence to try for it, so I did.
Miles 1-5: 6:59, 7:07, 7:07, 6:51, 6:55
Out of the gate, I’m trying to find a rhythm but it’s not there. The pace is fluctuating a little bit, but I’m not overly concerned, because there are some rolling hills early. I’m starting to think it’s really going to be a longshot by about two miles in. I had some tightness in my achilles and calves early, but that’s pretty standard for me for the first four miles or so, especially when I’m really pushing the pace. I felt like the pain was slowing me down, and I really wanted it to go away, because I wouldn’t be able to get into a zone if it didn’t. I was good by four miles in.
Miles 6-10: 7:32, 7:16, 7:19, 7:10, 7:16
I was doubting that I had enough by mile 2, and I never really had confidence that I’d pick it up, but I was hoping for a miracle. I knew there was zero chance by 6.5 miles in. By 6.75 miles in, my right foot was numb and I felt like my gait was a little off. It was better by 8.25, but then my left foot went a little numb. I was better within a mile.
But this is where I wrecked myself. I went into the race optimistic that I could chase the sub-3. But I didn’t have a backup plan. At this point, I was trying to settle into a 7:05 kind of groove. I couldn’t find any consistency, and when a race is underway, you can’t stop and figure it out. So I tried to step it up by heart rate and my body wasn’t responding. I had enough hindsight to know I should have been prepared to call it off at mile two before my body was really rolling and aim for that 7:05 pace. But I knew that all I could was run hard, so that’s what I did. That’s not a good way to run a marathon.
Miles 11-15: 7:21, 7:19, 7:15, 7:28, 7:08
So, I just continued running as hard as I could, trying to hit the best tangents I could. Not a great strategy, but it’s all I had. I really don’t remember a whole lot about this portion, other than the scenery was amazing. I had never really seen vineyards before, but I certainly have now. It was a very peaceful run through a beautiful, serene environment. Well, peaceful aside from the pounding my body was taking.
I got annoyed at one point by a woman who seemed like she thought she was too good to be concerned about anybody other than herself. When I run, I don’t litter. I always throw garbage (cups, water bottles, empty gel packs, etc.) as close to a trash can at an aid station as possible. There’s just no good reason to litter. Well, after we passed through the halfway point (I hit it in the high 1:34 minute), she looked at two pacing bands on her wrist, tore one off and threw it on the ground. That could have easily waited until an aid station, but she littered in the middle of nowhere, messing up a clean, natural environment.
Later, when we were by an aid station, she had a cup of water and took her sweet time drinking it, and that’s fine. We approached a volunteer holding a trash bag and she slammed it down on the ground about one step past her. A mile or two down the road, she had an empty gel pack in her hand. There was a trash can on her left. So she threw it down on the ground on her right. I don’t know if she though she was some superstar elite athlete who was too good to be ocncerned about anything other than her performance, but she wasn’t that special. I made it a point to beat her in the race and I did. But enough about that.
Miles 16-20: 7:40, 7:24, 7:15, 7:17, 7:41
Yeah, so I had nothing. I think mile 16 had a hill in it. I know mile 20 was a long, gradual uphill. I spent these miles knowing that I just had to keep knocking off the miles and get the day over with. I stayed true to my updated strategy of running as hard as I could, nothing else. And I learned the hard way about how terrible that strategy is.
Miles 21-25: 7:15, 7:23, 7:22, 7:30, 7:25
I continued to have nothing. These miles were pretty flat. I went through spurts where I got in a rhythm, but I didn’t hold it too well. The scenery was still awesome, and amazingly, I was picking off runners. I felt a little bit strong, but certainly not fast. I’m starting to get to the point where the weekly races are getting routine. Every mile in the 20s is something different to me psychologically, because the run is nearing an end. These miles seemed to go by pretty quickly. For most of the day, I thought I was going to run in the high 3:09s, but I knew when I couldn’t get moving on flat ground that it wasn’t going to happen. By 22, I knew I was looking at a 3:10 at best, but I could feel it slip away.
Miles 26, .35 (Garmin): 7:22, 2:21 (6:43 pace)
And I finished my 12th marathon of the year. I was glad to have the run done with because it just wasn’t clicking for me today. I get the consolation prize of a BQ with my 3:11, but I’m not thrilled with how the day turned out. I really feel like I could have run a 3:05 or so today, but I blew it. I don’t think I’m really going to dwell on it too much, because I know that if I can run a race poorly while obviously not 100% and still turn in a 3:11, I’m doing something right. I’ll get another chance to run hard in a couple of weeks, but next week is Catalina, a difficult, hilly trail race that I’ll be lucky to run sub-3:45 on.
I know I need to get back to basics and take better care of my body. I could be and should be in better shape. I need to lose weight. I need to work on my core and upper body. I’m going to start taking my fitness a little more seriously, because there’s no good reason not to.
And that’s about it. 12 Operation Jack marathons in the books, 20 percent done! Only 48 to go!
Me and my friend Ron Duncan after the finish. Ron struggled, too. He was trying to best his PR of 2:54:15, but he “only” ran a 2:56!