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After the disappointment of having the Memphis Marathon cancelled and then dropping out of my replacement race, the Rocket City Marathon, I needed to start the new year off on a good note. And fortunately the first three weeks of 2014 have gone about as well as possible.
Since I only ran 17 miles of Rocket City and had four weeks of tapering, I really didn’t have to take any recovery time and I was able to continue training immediately. On January 4 I ran the Pistol 50K, just down the road from me in Alcoa, TN. The day before the race I didn’t think I’d run, and even when I woke up that morning I was doubtful. I had come down with a head cold and felt miserable the previous day. “They” say that if the cold is in your neck or above you can run, but I don’t think that applies to 31 mile races in 18 degree weather. Anyway, I decided that since I wasn’t coughing and I actually felt pretty decent on the morning of the race I’d go out there and run a lap (the 50K is two 11 mile laps and one 9 mile lap) and see how I felt.
It was frigid but calm and since nobody warmed up before the race, the group I was running with was content to stay relaxed most of the first lap. In the group with me were Stewart Ellington and Matt Hoyes, who were running the 50K; Jose Salas and Chris Kane, who were running the first leg of the 50K relay; and Brad Adams, who had won the 50K in 2013 but was just out to join us for a long run. We started with 6:30 to 6:40 miles and by the end of the first lap we had progressed to under 6:10 pace. Matt and I dropped Stu when he stopped at an aid station, then I stopped for the bathroom and Matt jumped ahead but soon we were back together.
Alan Horton took over from Jose for the second leg of the relay and I was still feeling pretty good so I decided to run with him as long as I could. He was running a bit faster (5:50 to 6:00 miles) so the two of us left Stu and Matt behind around 13 or 14 miles. I ran with Alan until the end of his leg, with some 5:45 miles towards the end, but when he finished I was all alone. I was pretty worried about running too hard in the cold when I was sick so I made sure not to push it on the last lap, keeping it relaxed with 5:55 miles or so. I ended up finishing in 3:05, which is my second-fastest 50K ever and felt good the whole way.
I felt like a wimp leaving the race after only 3 hours because there was also a 100K and 100 mile race going on, but it also felt good to take a warm shower! The race itself was entirely on paved walking/jogging trails on the Aloca/Maryville Greenway. It’s mostly flat, with a few little hills to break up the monotony, and the support from volunteers and fellow runners was fantastic. I didn’t use any of the available treats at the aid station, leaving those to the real runners, but from what I could tell they had pretty much anything you would want during an ultra. As much as I’ve enjoyed the Frosty 50K the past several years, I think the convenience of the Pistol will keep me coming back.
I did end up making my cold a little bit worse by running the 50K, but it never progressed to my chest (thanks Luke and Eddie’s Health Shoppe!). So the week after the Pistol was a low mileage week but I managed to recover from both the run and the illness pretty quickly.
Two weeks after the 50K on January 20, I was back in my old stomping grounds of Charleston, SC to run the Charleston Marathon. From looking at the results from previous years, I knew I had a chance to win and could definitely be in the top 3 to 5 finishers, but my focus was on trying to run relaxed and finish the marathon strong (something I’ve always done in my ultra marathons but never in my marathons for some reason). I think a major problem with my previous marathons has been that I don’t take enough fluids on board early in the race and become dehydrated. Most of my 50Ks have been in 20-30 degree weather, and all of my marathons have been in 30-60 degree weather, so I’m great when it’s really cold and I wilt at the end of the marathon when it’s not 20 degrees.
With this in mind, I decided to run at least the first half of the marathon with a water bottle filled with Gatorade. I also had another full bottle available later in the race if I wanted it. This way I could drink at any time without having to worry about where the aid stations were. It was 34 degrees at the start with 15 to 20 mile per hour winds, so it felt colder than the Pistol Ultra, but when we were running in the sun it was pretty comfortable. This race was more competitive than the 50K so I started out a little faster but was still pretty much jogging for the first 10K. I was running 6:00 pace or slower and chatting with the other guys and making sure to drink frequently.
When the course left Charleston and headed north we were running directly into the wind and it was tough. It’s a point-to-point race and the vast majority of the time we were running into the wind. I just focused on maintaining 5:50 to 5:55 miles into the wind and I started to catch people. At 8 miles, where the marathon and half marathon split for the first time, I was in 4th place and about two minutes behind the marathon leaders. They split up soon after that and I spent the next 10 miles reeling them in, passing into first place around mile 19. At that point I was still comfortable so I just focused on maintaining my pace, running 5:40 to 5:45 with the wind and 5:50 to 5:55 against the wind and finished in first place in 2:34:08. It was my second fastest marathon ever (2:32:10 at Mercedes Marathon in 2013), and it was a training effort at the end of a 120 mile week. Needless to say, I was pretty pumped.
My goal was to finish the entire bottle of Gatorade by 13 miles. I didn’t quite succeed, but I did finish it around 16 miles and I really think that made all the difference. I actually started to feel bloated and got a side stitch around mile 7 because I wasn’t used to drinking so much during a race but I just need to practice more. It’s hard to find a 20 degree marathon (Memphis would have been, but it was cancelled because it was too cold!) so I need to figure out a way to maintain through the distance when it’s a little bit warmer. It’s taken 10 marathons, but I’m hoping I’ve found the key.
So I have a month until my next big event, the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL. I’m going to treat it as a hard training run like my previous two races, but if I have an opportunity to run fast I will. A few of my training partners are running it as well as training runs for Boston, so we should have a good group at least for the first half marathon or so. From now until then, the focus is on getting 110 to 120 miles per week, with high quality long runs and medium long runs. Also, I will definitely be carrying a water bottle at Mercedes!
I know this has been a long post; in the future I’ll try to keep them shorter. Once again, I’m doing all this to raise money for the Be Strong Stay Strong Fund. To everybody who has pledged so far, thank you so much! The pledges keep coming in, and as of this moment you have pledged $1717.20, plus $12.25 for every minute I complete the double marathon in under 7 hours! If you haven’t pledged, please click here and pledge something. Every little bit helps! Also, pass this on to your friends, family, and coworkers. Thanks again!