Finish Time: 2:58:47
Average Pace: 6:50/mile
Final Place: 2 out of 156
On Saturday, March 3, 2018, I completed my 9th marathon in my 8th state in my fastest time yet - two hours, fifty-eight minutes and forty-seven seconds. That was good enough for a six second PR on a course that was FAR more challenging than the course that served as the location of my prior best. So... ready to hear all about it?
As, I’ve mentioned in prior race recaps, I’ve made several changes in the 19 months between my current PR and my prior PR. I have increased my average weekly run mileage; I have completely abstained from alcohol; and I’ve stopped eating all meat and meat by-products and adopted a plant-based diet. These changes have all made positive influences on my running and my general health and well-being. Despite this course having the reputation of being challenging in nature (it is called “Run Hard” for a reason), I knew I was in the best shape of my life and felt confident that I would have a beautiful race.
This race was in Columbia, SC about 15-20 minutes from my parents’ house. And with Columbia only being a relatively short 4 hour drive from Atlanta, I was able to make the drive on Friday and stay at my parents' house overnight before getting up for the race the next morning. Also, I registered very early, so the registration was less than $40. All of that made for a very low cost marathon this time around.
The night before the race, I got to bed around 10pm, which allowed me to get 5.5 hours of sleep before my 3:30am alarm went off; that’s plenty of rest for me.
Race morning started off just as planned. I woke at 3:30am prepared my usual oatmeal and bagel and washed it all down with a cup of coffee. Then I had a green machine smoothie and continued to hydrate up until 5:30am. With two hours to go before the start, I cut off all fluids and really started to focus on getting my strategy together for the race.
My parent drove me to the start line and found a parking space close by. I was there by 7:00am which left me a good 30 minutes to warm up and stretch... schedule wise, I was right on track and nailed all of my pre-race checkpoints.
I had a couple of pre-race goals, including increasing my current BQ cushion. But my main goal was to finish top-3 overall. With that in mind, I strolled all the way up to the very front of the line, prayed, and prepared to have a beautiful race.
The Start (through the first half)
This marathon was a double loop on a mostly rolling course that included two notable climbs per loop. Because the race included a half marathon and a relay, it was a bit difficult to spot my actual competition. The bib colors were unique for each race; but it’s not exactly easy to spot bib colors pinned to the front of everyone’s chest. So I basically decided to just run at my own pace and figure out where I was at the halfway point. I didn’t want to risk getting caught up in a race with relay or half marathoners.
With fresh legs and blissfully cold weather, I ended up coming out of the blocks a bit hot, splitting my first mile in 6:14. After getting that first mile out of the way, I got myself on pace and was ready to execute my plan.
I spent the next several miles simply enjoying the run. I’ve been focusing on finding peace and thankfulness in my runs; in order to do this, I find as many things that I can to be thankful for... no matter how small. I expressed gratitude for the cool weather; the bright sun that illuminated my path; the beautiful homes that enhanced the scenery; the police officers and volunteers who served to create a safe and enjoyable space to run... and on and on like that. It became a bit of an exercise - you know, just how many individual things could I find that I could be thankful for?
A note about the support...
As a small town marathon, there weren’t a lot of people out supporting the race. But there were more than I expected, and they were ALL very kind and encouraging. Everyone. The police officers, volunteers, and neighborhood residents were all very kind and supportive throughout the race. It was very noticeable and left quite an impression with me.
Back to the race...
By the time I reached mile 10, I needed to stop for a restroom break. One good thing about this course was the abundance of portapotties; there seemed to be a few at every aid station. This is something I’ve come to increasingly appreciate recently. Also around mile 10, I should have taken my first salt tablet. I ended up forgetting about them all together, and I neglected to take any at either of my planned intervals (the 10 and 20 mile marks). Fortunately, I don’t believe it impacted me. The cool weather worked to my favor here.
As I approached the halfway point, we ran directly past the finish line, which funneled through an active outdoor market (pretty unique and cool). And I got to see my parents cheering me on here!
I glanced down at my watch and saw 1:27 and some change, and I heard the announcer say that I was in 3rd place. Because there were other simultaneous events going, I didn’t know what place I was in until that moment. 3rd place! Right on target - my goal was to make the podium. Now it was time to put in some work and see who I could catch!
The Second Half
As I’ve mentioned, this was a double loop course. The good thing was that I knew exactly what to expect now. That bad thing was that I knew exactly what to expect now... lol. Hills!
Shortly after passing the halfway point, I had to take my second (and thankfully final) restroom break... 15 seconds in and out, no real time lost here. Then somewhere around mile 15, while making my way up one of many hills, I noticed a guy ahead of me. I’d later learn that his name was Yen, and he was in second place. It didn’t take long before I was able to pull up beside him. Running side-by-side we introduced ourselves - I realized that I knew who he was after coming across some of his YouTube videos the day before. I asked him about the guy in first - he estimated that he was likely 3-4 minutes ahead of us. We ran together for a bit longer before I eventually pulled away around the 19 mile marker.
Now in second place, it was just me and another lady who was guiding me along from her bicycle. She was a tremendous help as she would ride ahead to the intersections and aid stations to let them know that I was coming. She also gave me some encouraging words from time to time. All of these small little kindnesses were a huge help for me and really helped me stay in a state of gratitude even as the final hills were punishing me over the last 10K.
So back to the hills!
The final hills during the last 10K of the course really tested my resolve. The climb at 23 as we approached Gervais was particularly trying; I remember thinking that I was on the brink of bonking here. But I wouldn’t let that thought take hold; I know all too well how a single negative thought, if given too great a consideration, can completely alter the course of my thinking, which up to this point had been consistently positive. But even with my insistence on positive thinking, the hills don’t lie! My 23rd mile was my slowest (7:46).
After cresting the last major hill, I was able to recover my form and start to consistently drop the pace again. There would be no bonking here! My newfound friend on the bike told me that 1st place was about 8 blocks ahead of me. I pushed forward. She came back a mile or so later - “he’s only 3 blocks ahead of you!” And then... I saw him! And he was walking! But shortly after I saw him, someone must have tipped him off, because he looked back and saw me. He must have channeled the last of his resolve as he picked it back up and started racing the last mile or so to the finish. I was closing; I could see myself shrinking the gap as we raced through the last stretch through the active market. But I could tell that I wasn’t going to catch him today. There just wasn’t enough real estate left. I was able to actually watch him break tape as I finished 25 seconds behind him... in second place! ... with a huge smile on my face! It was a pretty tight finish with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd overall all finishing within a 38-second window.
2nd place overall. A 10+ minute cushion for my BQ. Another sub-3 finish, and, I would later realize, a new PR! I’d call that a beautiful race indeed!
A Few Closing Thoughts...
A word about this PR. On paper, this was a six-second PR. But in truth, it was so much more. This course was exponentially more difficult than the course from my prior PR. I’m talking night and day. There’s a website (www.findmymarathon.com) that, among many other useful things, rates the difficulty of courses and offers a tool that provides equivalent times from course to course. Out of curiosity, I wanted to see how these two courses rated - My 2:58:47 was equivalent to a 2:50:49 on the Jack and Jill. I know this isn’t exactly a perfect science, but that feels about right. I’d definitely say this course felt significantly more difficult and my 6 second PR was probably more in line with the effort of a 10 minute PR.
I was also happy with my race management on this day. There was no official half split. But by my count I ran the first half in 1:27 and some change, and I ran the second half in 1:30 and some change. That’s about a 3 minute slower second half than the first half; certainly no negative split here, but all things considered, this was close enough to an even split for me to be happy with. I’ll take a minor fade over an all-out second half bonk any day!
Overall, I really enjoyed the Run Hard course. Though it was challenging, it passed through some beautiful neighborhoods. The organization of the race and the kindness and efficiency of the volunteers was top notch. I’d definitely consider running this one again someday.
- Hic Svnt Leones