Monday, November 19, 2012

Race Recap: Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon

Marathon #6 is in the books, but this one is bittersweet.

On the one hand, there's nothing like running a big race in your home town, especially if you're active in the local running community.

On the other hand, this year, my running buddy Dustin wanted to run his first marathon, and was considering giving it a shot at Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon. I told him if he'd commit to the race, I'd commit to pacing him, and he decided to go for it.

On the one hand, soon we learned that a half-dozen friends would also be running the race, and that many more friends would be watching from the streets of Charlotte. It would be a fun day!

On the other hand, for this race, I signed up to be a research participant in a study, so I had to take an unknown supplement for a few weeks before the race, then do a couple physiological tests before and after the race.

On the one hand, participating in the race meant my race entry was covered. The supplement (I wasn't sure I was in the placebo group or the test group taking Rhodiola) didn't seem to have any effects, but I duly took my two capsules every day.

On the other hand, the physiological tests weren't a breeze. First, the researchers took blood. Then I was weighed, and finally I had to perform two strength tests: a deadlift pulling against a chain (with a dynamometer to measure force), and a vertical leap test. I've always been rather vertically challenged, so I think I was able to "leap" about 16 inches. Michael Jordan I ain't. On the other other hand, I don't think Jordan has ever run a marathon!

On the one hand, on the morning of the race, I carpooled in to Charlotte with running buddies Robert, Mike, and Dustin, and we parked about a block from the finish line. I was wearing a singlet, cheap gloves, an old long-sleeved cotton T-shirt, shorts, and calf sleeves. The temperature at the start was predicted to be about 38, but it would be warming up to 52 by the finish, so I figured I'd be ditching the gloves and long-sleeved shirt somewhere along the way. No problem!

On the other hand, as soon as we walked outside, we were hit by a bitter wind. 38 degrees feels a lot colder with a stiff wind blowing in your face. Dustin hadn't brought a throw-away shirt, so he was feeling even chillier than I was.

On the one hand, we found a building where we could wait inside before the race, with short bathroom lines, and even encountered fellow DARTer Wayne Eckert. Here's a photo of me, Dustin, and Wayne getting ready for the race:

On the other hand, we soon had to head back out into the cold and get ready to run.

On the one hand, before we knew it the starting gun had sounded and we were off. Once we were running with 4,000 of our best buddies, all thoughts of a chilly morning were banished. I even saw DARTer Marc Hirschfield running the full marathon. I didn't even know he was running this race! The plan was to stick as close as possible to an 8:30 pace for the first 6 miles, then gradually build up pace if Dustin was up for it. The hard part during these early miles is always to keep from overextending yourself, and today was no exception, but it was still a nice problem to have.

On the other hand, by about Mile 4 I was getting warm, and decided to remove and toss out both my shirt and gloves. This is a decision that would come back to bite me later in the race.

On the one hand, soon after this, Robert, who had run ahead, turned around to take a photo of the crowd of runners heading down Providence Road, and managed to catch me in the background (I'd seen his bright yellow DART shirt and was trying to catch his attention):

Who's that wild and crazy runner in a white singlet?

On the other hand, Dustin's knee was beginning to bother him. He had noticed a problem a week ago during his last taper run, and had actually taken the whole week prior to the race off. He had hoped that just resting it would be enough to get him through today's race, but the pain was beginning to get significant. The pain he described sounded like it could be IT band, which also bothers me from time to time, so I told him he could wear my IT strap, since my knee was feeling pretty good. He put it on, but it wasn't helping much. Every mile or so he needed to stop and massage his knee or adjust the strap, but nothing seemed to offer any relief.

On the one hand, we were starting to spot some of our friends along the course. Ron and his brother-in-law Dave were running at nearly the same pace as us (Ron was pacing Dave on his first marathon), and Lori and Ashley popped up as spectators every few miles. Here's a photo Lori took of me and Dustin on the course:

Notice that pretty much everyone is wearing more clothing than me

On the other hand, by now Dustin had decided that he was going to drop out at the halfway point. He turned off at the half-marathon split and limped his way to the finish while I plodded on (not only did I need to complete this run as my final long run in my training for Rocket City, I also had to finish the marathon as a part of the research study I had signed up for).

On the one hand, there was certainly no pressure for me to maintain any sort of pace, but...

On the other hand, the wind was picking up, and I was starting to get cold. The slower I ran, the colder I got. This was exacerbated by the fact that one of my GU packets had sprung a leak, and I got it all over my hands while consuming it. The wind whistling over my GU-ey fingers caused them to cool even more. I finally decided to use the water at an aid station to wash off my fingers instead of to drink. This had the temporary effect of making them even colder, but...

On the one hand, once the water had evaporated, my hands did start to warm up a bit.

On the other hand, we were heading back through downtown Charlotte, and the wind funneled through the city skyscrapers at an obscene velocity, making for tough, cold running.

On the one hand, more friends were beginning to pop up along the course. Lori and Ashley must have been there at four or five different points on the course, and I also saw Stacy, Tara, Phyllis, Allen, and Peter out there.

On the other hand, at around Mile 20, we began a long, 2-mile climb, straight into the wind. It was finally starting to warm a bit, but I struggled during these miles despite running them at an "easy" pace. Even when you're taking it easy, a marathon is still a tough beast to conquer.

On the one hand, at Mile 25, I spotted Lori at a long-enough distance to mug for the camera. A couple weeks ago, my friend Chas had assumed the Mo Farah victory pose at Richmond, so I decided to try my hand at an imitation of Chas / Mo. Who did it best? You decide:

Having fun? Or just delirious?

On the other hand, there was still over a mile to go. Even worse, my GPS was recording the course as slightly long, so it would register 26.62 miles before I was done.

On the one hand, finally, I crossed the finish line. Robert, having finished about 8 minutes before,  managed to get a photo of this as well:

I'm looking a little less than enthusiastic here.

On the other hand, now we had to go to the Appalachian State research tent, get more blood drawn, and do the same physiological tests we had done the day before. As you might guess, doing a deadlift and a vertical-leap test was considerably more difficult right after running a marathon. I'd love to know what the exact difference was!

On the one hand, we were finished! Here's a photo of Robert and me outside the App State tent just after we completed the tests:

Ready for another 26.6?

On the other hand, I had learned some tough lessons: A marathon is a tough distance, no matter how "easy" you're running it. Don't throw away your throwaway clothes too early. And don't take anything for granted; you're only an injury away from not finishing at all. I'm thankful that I've been able to complete six marathons, and I'm looking forward to finishing many more!

My GPS plot of Thunder Road is below.

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