Monday, February 25

Is new Orleans on the road to Boston

I traveled to the Big Easy to do something small and difficult.

I ran the Mardi Gras Marathon. I’m a runner - have been for many years – but I never considered myself a marathoner. I have run a few marathons, with trepidation, and always with great difficulty. I have attempted these few marathons because, it seems, all “real runners” run marathons. I often wondered if I could run a marathon fast enough to qualify for Boston. It seemed unlikely. My best times were ten to fifteen minutes too slow and I am prone to injury when I run lots of miles in training. But maybe I could do better, just maybe enough to score that honored title.

I studied the race predictor charts and calculators. I tested my injury prone body. I looked for the optimal balance between high enough training intensity to qualify but low enough intensity to avoid injury. I knew that my best window of opportunity would be between October 2007 and April 2008. I could qualify as a sixty year old while I was still a young man of 59. It is also the time of year my log book indicates I have my best performances.

For five years I experimented by increasing and decreasing mileage while closely studying signs of an impending injury. I trained for and ran three marathons, not for peak performance, but to build my confidence. In the spring of 2007 I set my sights on the Houston Chevron marathon as the race that I would use to conquer my nemesis. The hot summer forced me to amend my training so I moved my goal forward a little to the Tallassee Marathon and registered for the Las Vegas half-marathon to help me prepare my body for a sustained faster pace. As the Las Vegas race approached I developed a mild injury that forced me to trim my mileage, but it had no adverse affect on my LV performance where I achieved a WAVA PR in the half-marathon. That training setback made me shift my goal marathon a little further toward spring. I revamped my training schedule and registered for the New Orleans Mardi Gras marathon on February 24, 2008. As the date approached I continued to examine the calculations. It looked like it would be close. If the course was not too long, if the weather cooperated, if I stayed healthy, and if I ran a smart race I might finish under the 4:00:59 I needed.

Saturday the 23rd I was in New Orleans. The course is flat with only one tiny hill over a freeway. The temperature was 20 degrees cooler than Friday with a prediction of warmer and more humid on race day but with no threatening heat or wind. I felt good. Andrea McGehee was there for the race. We bummed around, ate pasta, and enjoyed the city.

Sunday morning was cool (53 degrees) with fog drifting in off the lake. I was situated mid-pack when the gun sounded and found myself squeezed into a slow crowd as we navigated the trolley tracks down Bourbon Street. About two miles into the race on St. Charles Street things opened up and I could set my own pace without obstruction. I fought the inclination to “make up” for lost time but still ran faster than my goal pace for the early miles. At fourteen miles I calculated that I was averaging about eight seconds per mile too fast but I felt like I could hold out to meet my goal. By twenty-one miles I had slowed considerably but it felt like Boston was in my future. I pressed forward. At around 23 miles my legs were starting to feel the strain. I had lost quite a bit of my “banked” time and at mile 24 I had exactly twenty-two minutes left. I thought ten minutes per mile was surely doable. I focused on the pace readout of my Garmin trying to sustain just under the necessary ten minute per mile pace. Just past mile 25 experienced a cramp in my groin. Shortly, it became clear that I would have to “walk-it-off”. I walked for about twenty seconds expecting to make it up with a last-ditch effort in the final few hundred yards.

Seventy-nine seconds… It took me five years to prepare for the Mardi gras marathon and just over four hours to race it. If I had run it in 4:00:59 instead of 4:02:15 seconds, I would have qualified for the Boston marathon. I missed it by one-half of one percent. But, I am not concerned with the “what ifs”, I am focused on “what next.”

All I need is a one percent better performance and I will attain that illusive goal. I will run a few more or faster paced miles in training. I will get into a race with perfect weather on a fast course. I will peak at the exact moment the race begins. It will happen. I just need to find the perfect time and the perfect race and run again.


Blogger rslight said...

Congratulations to you on a great time.
I winced when I glanced at the results late Sunday because it was so dang close, but you have a great attitude.
I'm glad you're not just giving up.

February 25, 2008 6:30 PM  
Blogger bl said...

As I sit here in my current state of employment, working on job applications, I will keep this sentence of yours in mind:

But, I am not concerned with the “what ifs”, I am focused on “what next.”

February 26, 2008 9:52 AM  
Blogger R said...

Ouch! So close!

If you can do that well, you can totally hit it next time. Great work!

February 26, 2008 3:56 PM  

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