Heading into Sunday’s Gasparilla Marathon in Tampa, I had a ton of confidence. I just knew I’d go sub-3:10. I had plenty of reasons to think I wouldn’t — I only went 3:15 last weekend, I ran a 15K and a 5K yesterday, and the race started at 6 a.m., which was 3 a.m. according to my body time. But I knew I would. And I did.
I run by heart rate, but I’ve had some struggles and I wanted to switch it up this week. I know I’m capable of better times than I’ve been running. I’ve noticed a pattern in my marathons, and I noticed it in my 15K on Saturday — the first few miles are quick and easy and my heart rate is low, but I haven’t been hanging on to speed too well. I noticed in my 15K that I we able to keep a strong effort the whole way through, and my heart rate was a little low when I paced the 3:30 group in Surf City on February 7.
So, my strategy was to go out, try to hold miles in between 7:06 and 7:10 and go sub-3:10. I was really hoping to beat 3:07:21, my fastest time of the year so far, but I really wanted sub-3:10. I need some confidence and I knew I could do it, even if I was sleepy and I ran a couple of races yesterday. I can run a sub-3:10, and I’m sick of 3:12s and 3:13s and 3:15s.
As a side note, I had a couple of things on my mind Sunday. First, it’s the 17-year anniversary of the day my brother Josh got in a terrible car accident that nearly took his life. He was hit on the driver’s-side door of his Acura Integra by a full-size pickup truck. The speed of the truck was 46 mph at the time of the collision. He’s my only brother and I’m lucky to still have him. When I think of February 28, I think of him. And on February 28, I wanted to run a good race in his honor.
Me and my brother after the Long Beach Marathon last October. He ran the 1/2, a pretty amazing accomplishment considering the number of hip and knee surgeries he’s had as a result of February 28, 1993.
Also, I have a supporter named Jen Morgan who was running this race. She’s been great with fundraising and spreading the word and was really looking forward to this as a goal race. I viewed this as her race, and for all she’s done, I owed her a strong run in her race on her course.
So anyways, that’s enough of a buildup. At 6 a.m. sharp, we got rolling. I battled traffic early on and had a little bit of pain in my calves and achilles early, so I took a couple of miles getting into my rhythm. I focused on my pace, not my heart rate, and tried to stay as consistent as possible. The early part of the race was through a nice part of Tampa, but I didn’t get to see it, because it was dark. One thing I did see for the first time in any of my 39 marathons was a man juggling fire. Interesting.
Miles 1-5: 7:15, 7:10, 7:10, 7:08, 7:12
After this point, I felt like I found my groove and I established some consistency. I started to feel some pain in my hamstrings and glutes, but it was nothing more than fatigue. This being my 11th marathon of the year and it’s only February 28, that’s to be expected, I suppose. The marathoners split from the half-marathoners at around 7, so I got some space, which was nice. There was a slight gradual uphill (very slight, like a ramp) and a light headwind in mile 8, so I was a tiny bit slow, but still pretty happy about how I was rolling. I don’t remember a ton about this stretch. I know it was an out-and-back and I started seeing the leaders, then folks who were a little slower.
Miles 6-10: 7:08, 7:10, 7:15, 7:06, 7:06
Somewhere in the next few miles, maybe at about 10 or 11, I saw Morgan and she was a tiny bit behind the 4:00 pace group — about 20 seconds. Her goal was sub-4, so I was a tiny bit concerned. I was hoping to see her with the group. But she said she was doing well when I asked her, and a marathon is a long race, so I trusted her. We mixed back in with the half-marathoners at around 11 or so. They were considerably slower, since they were about 3 or 4 miles behind with the same elapsed time, but I had enough space to pass. I get a charge flying by people and I kept cruising without many problems. I think I hit the 1/2 in about 1:34 flat.
Miles 11-15: 7:05, 7:04, 7:08, 7:11, 7:12.
We split back up again at about mile 15 or 16 and headed down a street called Bayshore that lined the bay. Not tremendously exciting, but it was pleasant. I had plenty of open space at this point, which made the aid stations easy, but it makes it tough to stay strong. I had a pretty good rhythm, but I started feeling some fatigue. One thing about my strategy that I knew but didn’t really dwell on until about 17 miles in is that I was pretty confident I had the ability to pull it off. But there wasn’t much room for error. If I broke down, my time would really suffer.
I started thinking about my family, because it was about 5 a.m. back home. They were all sound asleep! I started thinking about Morgan, because I really wanted to run that sub-3:10 on her course, and I really felt I was on track. And of course, I thought about my brother as it closed in on 8 a.m. local time. That’s what time his accident was, although his accident occurred at 8 a.m. in California. I saw him in his car afterwards that day. Some things, unfortunately, I’ll never forget.
We ran a loop around a park at around 19 and I saw something else I’d never seen in a marathon — a mime directing me on a turn! Interesting.
Miles 16-20: 7:14, 7:12, 7:14, 7:13, 7:09
After we finished up at the park, it was just a straight shot home. The finish was about a 10K away. I wasn’t watching my elapsed time too much, but I checked a couple of times and it looked like it was going to be about a 3:08 kind of day. I saw Morgan when I was at mile 21. She was still about 20 seconds behind the 4:00 pacer, so I know she was hanging back, waiting to push it. She said she was going to make a move at 20. I told her, “Go get your time, I’m getting mine!”
I think I spoke too soon. At about mile 22 I hit some moderate headwinds. Not too strong, but enough that they slowed me down a little bit. At around mile 23, the lower part of both quads started to feel a little bit wobbly. I wasn’t looking at elapsed time, but I thought I was looking at a 3:08 or 3:09. I knew it was guts time, that I was going to have to tough it out. I was definitely going to have to empty the tank.
Miles 21-25: 7:18, 7:16, 7:28, 7:32, 7:25
I started looking at elapsed time with about a mile to go and knew I had to fight the pain and maintain my stride, because I could tell I couldn’t increase my turnover. I’d worked too hard and executed my race too well to not hit my goal. You can’t let 25 miles go down the drain over one poor mile. And this was my only chance to deliver on Morgan’s course and to hit my goal on my brother’s day. I didn’t have a ton of kick, but I had enough and moved pretty well in that 26th mile. I saw the finish up ahead and knew that it was going to be a close call. I’m confident I gave it all I had today.
Mile 26, final .35 (Garmin): 7:11, 2:16 (6:28 pace)
Final time: 3:09:44. My second-fastest of the year, 10th fastest out of 39 overall, and my 17th Boston qualifier. Is it as fast as some races I’ve done? No. But as I always say, I’m hard on myself and it’s all relative. Today, I’m happy. I went hard, executed my race and got the job done. I can head into Napa next week with a little bit of confidence. I’m not going to decide on my goal until Thursday’s blog, but I expect more out of myself up there.
Side note: After the race, I waited to see Morgan finish. I saw five or six people wearing Operation Jack t-shirts and I knew that was her cheering squad. It was totally awesome to see them in those shirts. Words can’t really describe it, so I won’t bother trying to write them. But we waited, and she came in with a 3:57. And my brother had a good workout at the gym. All-in-all, a great day!
Me and Morgan, Gasparilla conquered!
Me and my good friend Rachel, who ran the 1/2 in 1:50 as a training run. She took it easy today, because she’s still recovering after winning a 100K race last Saturday. Yeah, that’s 62 miles.
Look at all these awesome shirts!