Thursday, April 19, 2012

Paris Marathon Race Report-Finally a Good One

On April 15th just before noon I finished my first good marathon. I didn't hit my ultimate goal for this race which was 2:38 but I'm very happy with 2:40:18 and here's why:
I headed over to the start with my good buddy Stefan who has been a great friend during this preparation period as well as a sounding block for neurosis and race strategy. We piled in the metro (subway) with thousands of other runners and made it to the beautiful Arc de Triomph pretty early. It was pretty chilly with temps in the low 40's with a stiff breeze already at 7:45 but we dropped our bags off, threw on the garbage bags to keep warm, and headed into a hallway of a store to do the standard warm up, (thanks as usual Jason F.).
I did about 5 minutes of light jogging, legs felt spring loaded and I wasn't nervous at all, in stark contrast to the last two marathons. Caleb M. and Chris S. helped me so much with their last marathon in terms of modeling "relaxed execution" rather than trying to go out and smoke it. Plus the fact that they were drinking beers and eating sour patch kids gave me serious permission to enjoy the pre-race week :)
Gun went off and in my head I'm just thinking "relax, relax, relax." First mile was 6:03 (felt like 8 minutes) and i thought, ok, this is good. I didn't go out too hard, but 6:03 feels like jogging, we're in good shape. Second mile about the same, third around 5:58 and we were in the groove.
At 5k I made my race strategy decision. I wasn't going to violate my pre-race rules, but needed to make a shift. I could tell that the wind gusts, when I experienced them, were going to make the end of the race tough. At that point there were so many runners that we were drafting but I knew it was thin out. I decided to just try to run as close to 5:58-6:02 as possible and shoot for 2:38. My outside goal was to go under 2:37 if all conditions were perfect but it just wasn't the case.
**Side note-I cannot comprehend these runners who start a marathon in under 6 minutes per mile and then fall apart at like mile 3 already. What in the world is going on? I mean, I passed some people at mile 2 who were huffing and puffing and I'm thinking, "this is gonna be a really, really long race for this dude, why is he trying to sprint?!" No judging, just could be a much more pleasurable experience if these dudes chilled out.
Ok, back to the report. At the 15km mark there were cameras and I pulled my best Chris S. Michael Jordan move feeling seriously relaxed. At the half marathon mark I was at exactly 1:18:30 which was on pace for 2:37 still but I knew I was going to lose at least a minute on the back half which has much more up hill and some wind on the banks of the river. At that part I was itching to run harder but remembered the "no racing too early" bit that I had thought about and just relaxed and kept running around 5:58-6:00. My splits on Garmin are all wanky because of the tunnels in the race etc. But I was really regular at this point.
At 24k a friend who was coming to support me came along side and said "I'll run with you for a bit." He's a marathoner too but mostly a longer, steadier runner. After 400 meters he looks at me and says "are you sure this is the right pace?" while huffing and puffing. I looked at my watch and said, "yeah, right on target." His plan was to run 5k with me but at the 25k mark, 1 km into his section he said (and I loosely translate) "too rich for my blood, good luck buddy!" That actually boosted me mentally and I stayed on pace.
My wife and kids were at 29km mark and cheered loudly. At around 30km, Malcolm M. came along side and with his big smile and great encouragement really gave me another boost. And when he told me my 30km split and said "you're killing it dude!" I knew that today I wouldn't fold like before. The last two marathons were pretty brutal with big time bonking and cramps including last year's when I went 1:21-1:39 to run a 3 hour marathon in Toulouse.
The only thing I really screwed up here was that I misjudged the water station and took the gel after the 30k instead of before so I had too much GU in my mouth for a couple of kms. That thing never digested and I puked it up at the finish.
My coach Olivier G. who is a pure stud runner and a great friend, and a fantastic coach (un coureur d'un haut niveau et un bon pote, et bien sur un super coach), jumped in to run a bit next to me. At that point I wasn't talking but I was still rolling well. Still on pace for 2:38 at that point and hadn't really had any miles that weren't at 6 flat. We were in a good rhythm until about 35km when the marathon legs started arriving on a longer uphill with some wind. It was the first time the difficulty stood out. I got dropped by this super tall British elite woman (she was definitely not running like a "little girl":) but I held tough. At that point though, the fatigue was starting to set in. Mentally I had to just make a decision to not let go and to finish the last 4 miles hard.
No cramps or anything and not really a wall, just fading in the energy and my stomach was starting to hurt (I think some of this was in my head because I was thinking about the finish line). My miles started dropping down to 6:25-6:30 and basically that's where they ended up because I lost 2 minutes in the last 4 miles taking my time from 2:38 to 2:40.
As we turned the last straight away huge wind gusts just blasted us. We had been battling a strong head wind for a couple of miles but this was ridiculous. I thought I was gonna get knocked over. And it was then that I get a tiny cramp in my left calf. If you look up the video of the race you can see the cramp happen as I stagger a bit with 50 meters to go.
I crossed the line in 128th place/35,000 in 2:40:18. I finally ran a solid marathon even though I faded a bit. I really think the end was mostly mental though, I'm still learning and getting more experience and I've only been really training for about 20 months after taking 7 years off after college so I'm really happy with the progress. Thanks so much to my coach Olivier G. who is just the best. Thanks to all of you, Greg S. for publishing your book the week of the race and giving me a HUGE mental boost. To Stefan for all of your encouragement and partnership in this thing. To J-Rock who is probably my best "social network I've never met him friend". To Marie-Amlie J. who is a great friend, an amazing runner, and a tremendous source of encouragement to me. To Todd H.who was such a great teammate in college and whose 2:39 will stand as the barrier for me for yet another day :) Malcolm M. for seriously being the best friend anyone could ask for. And of course, lastly, to my God who is faithful beyond words. I called and you answered.
Next step: New York City in November! (with a whole bunch of little speedy races in the mean time).


Greg Strosaker said...

There's something extra nasty about a headwind - frankly, I'd rather run uphill as it's more predictable. Nice job holding strong in a tough finish, and (don't want to sound condescending here) I'm proud of what you delivered on Sunday. You are right in that a 2:40 marathon sounds so much more impressive than a 1:13 half.

Brian Vinson said...

Thanks for the great recap. You went out there and killed that race. No matter what Greg says, though, I'm pretty impressed by a 1:13 half, too.