Akron Marathon 2011: Happy to be Sore.
As I’m writing this, it’s been almost 29 hours since I finished running my 6.3-mile relay leg of the Akron Marathon, and my legs are still sore.
And while I may be wincing a little going up and down the stairs today (Hey – this was my first competitive run as a 40 year old: Go me!), inside I’m smiling a bit, because the pain reminds me that I pushed myself yesterday, and since I usually only run one competitive race per year, I hate feeling like I could have done better or that I fell short of my goal.
Our five-man relay – consisting of my brother Adam, his friends Scott and Jeremy, my friend Keith and me – managed a time of 3:21:28, which beat the 3:23:40 that Adam, Scott and I turned in last year with two other runners completing our team. We finished 58th overall in the field of 1,109 relay teams and 20th in the 120-team Men’s Division.
I had set my personal goal at 50 minutes, which meant averaging an 8-minute pace for my 6.3 miles. This was fairly ambitious by my standards: While Adam and I put some work in this summer on a 3.15-mile loop and gotten my average there to a best of about 7:25, I missed my 40-minute goal in a five-mile race back in 2008 and am generally pleased if I can keep things between 8-and-a-half and 9 minutes per mile when I’m going longer than 4 miles. At my best, I can reach a seven-minute mile, but I really have to work hard to sustain that for more than about a mile and a half.
My plan for Saturday was to go out and run at my limit for as long as I could, and then dial it back to a regular cruising speed, figuring that even as the miles wore on, they wouldn’t slow me to the point where I’d be losing the time I’d built up with a fast start.
Jeremy ran the first leg, so once the race had begun, Keith headed off to make his way to relay point number four while Adam and I walked to the first handoff location. A half-hour later, I watched as Jeremy passed our team’s fluorescent yellow slap bracelet (no baton carrying here) to Adam, and then I turned away to cover the nearly mile-long walk to the second relay point. It was a little past 7:30 at this point, still overcast and breezy enough to be chilly. I knew I’d warm up once I was running, so I had worn shorts and a short-sleeved shirt, but my hands were freezing and wouldn’t lose their purplish-blue color.
Adam handed off to me not long after 8 a.m., and I found myself getting into “The Zone” pretty quickly, although I was distracted somewhat by my running belt and its two small water bottles, which I wear when I’m going more than five miles. I don’t tend to wear it when I’m going for speed, and it shifted and bounced more than I thought it would. Still, the trip through the University of Akron campus went by quickly, and I was very pleasantly surprised at how good I was feeling when my Garmin Forerunner gave me the one-mile alarm and told me I’d done a 7:16 pace.
And I was really looking forward to mile two, which runs north and west of downtown and plunges down a steep quarter-mile hill before the route leaves the streets behind for the Ohio and Erie Canal Towpath trail. (If you’re familiar with the area, it’s the giant Howard Street hill that goes near Luigi’s. And yes, running down it is a total blast.) I let myself fly down that hill as much as I dared without losing control or letting my belt shake itself free, and when the Garmin beeped again, I saw that I’d run my first two miles in 14:11 – almost a full minute better than I’d ever run the Pro Football Hall of Fame two-mile race!
Now, of course, the remaining 4.3 miles lay ahead, and while I knew I couldn’t relax too much, I felt really good about where I was. Even as runners I’d passed earlier began to overtake me, I kept in mind that this had been part of my plan, and while I saw my average pace time began to creep up, it seemed like I was in a decent spot.
Still, after mile three, I had to start fighting a bit: My breathing was OK, but my legs were starting to object to the pace. I started doing things like lengthening my stride for a hundred steps at a time, and telling myself I wouldn’t check my pace again until I was around the next bend, or a hundred steps past the next bridge.
At 3.5 miles, I squeezed down a power gel as my overall pace moved into the 7:30-7:45 range, and I knew I really couldn’t let up too much more if I wanted to make my 8-minute goal.
Miles four and five were the toughest, and I kept having to remind myself that this summer, Adam and I had routinely run loops covering seven to ten miles, and while we didn’t push our pace on those, this run was going to be several miles shorter, and I should have the gas to finish.
When my Garmin let me know I had five miles behind me, I realized I was going to be cutting it really close: I was at 39 minutes, 56 seconds – just barely under my goal pace. I had 11 minutes and four seconds to do 1.3 miles, which, even though it should have sounded easy, did not.
With a mile to go, I didn’t even register my total time, and I started to let go of my measured breathing for the final push. A half-mile to go, and I took off the slap bracelet and clutched it like a baton, readying for the final quarter-mile climb that I knew was coming. The final stretch was harder than I remembered from two summers ago, when I ran both the second and third legs in training for that year’s full Towpath Marathon, and once I’d finally handed off to Scott, stopped my watch and doubled over to catch my breath, for a few seconds, I thought I was going to throw up.
The feeling passed quickly, and when I looked at my wrist, I saw my time as 50:17 and I almost whooped out loud because I’ll take it. Figuring in the few seconds from my own handoff before I started the timer, and another few after I’d passed the bracelet off, I was ecstatic. The Garmin measured my distance at 6.26 miles, for a pace of 8:02; the Marathon timers, activated by each runner passing through the checkpoints, had my time at 50:23, but counted me for an even 6.3 miles, marking a pace of ever-so-slightly under eight minutes per mile.
I caught the shuttle back to Canal Park, the baseball stadium where the runners come in across the outfield and charge to the finish line near first base, and met up with my brother and sister-in-law (who had been running with her own relay team). The sun came out and warmed things up, and we drank our Powerade and water and ate our free plain bagels and potato chips while we each talked about our parts of the relay and waited for our finishers to appear in right field.
It was a terrific morning.
And that’s why I’m so freaking happy to say that my legs are sore today.