Friday, November 18, 2016

Race preview: The Flying Monkey Marathon

Marathon Number 14 looks to be a real doozy: The Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon claims to have "Over 7200 feet of overall elevation change." Wow! While technically that sounds worse than it is (the figure counts both ascents and descents), it's nonetheless a daunting challenge. Unlike some of the mountainous marathons I've done in the past, this one takes the form of a never-ending set of climbs and descents. Here's the elevation profile:

I count ten major climbs, but none of them is over 300 vertical feet. A 200+ foot hill is nothing to sneeze at, but it's also not that far from what I see every day running at home; I just don't tend to see ten of them in a row! Nothing looks to be over about a 15 percent grade, so it's all theoretically runnable, though I certainly expect to do my share of walking in this race. Of all the hilly marathons I've done, only the Blue Ridge Marathon and Pikes Peak Marathon have more climbing. Even Grandfather Mountain Marathon and Crater Lake Marathon don't climb as much as this one!

The race covers a very scenic 11.2-mile loop in a public park in Nashville, TN. The loop has been rated one of the best runs in the country by Runners World, and people in Nashville even have "11.2" stickers on their cars. So how do you get a marathon out of an 11.2-mile loop? You run it both directions, then add a couple side loops. Any hill you descend, you'll also have to climb at some point in the race. The race has some fun traditions, like tabulating "monkey kills" (the number of times a person has finished the race) and even claiming there might be actual flying monkey sightings along the course. I had to name my favorite monkey when I signed up for the race. Hopefully they won't ask me to recall it later, because I've already forgotten which one I picked! The race limits the number of participants to some unspecified number less than 400; only 324 finished last year.

So what's my strategy for the race? Well, I don't consider this an "A" race, so I'm not going to go all-out. I want to feel like I've had an extra-hard long run when it's over, not like I've given it absolutely everything. So I'm going to run more by feel than I normally do in a race. I'll monitor my speed to be sure, but I'm going to let my body tell me when I need to go faster or slower, especially on downhills. I've done a lot of hilly runs recently, so I think I'm ready for the pounding I'm going to take in this race, but I still don't want to push things too far. The climbs will be physically taxing to be sure, but they don't pound the muscles in the same way, so I will make an effort to hit them fairly hard.

My goals for the race are as follows:

A: Sub-4 hours. This is probably unattainable at my current level of fitness and desire to take it relatively easy, but I can still dream, can't I?
B: Better than a 10-minute pace (4:22). I think this is doable, even if I'm taking it easy, assuming I feel good on race day.
C: Better than Bangalore (4:43, 10:48 pace). I bonked hard in that race, but I'm much fitter now, so even though this is a tough course, I shouldn't have a problem doing this. But you never know, which is why we put these goals out there.

The weather forecast for the race is pretty close to ideal for me:

The race starts at 8 am, when it should be right about freezing, with the temperature rising to the mid 40s at the finish. Perfect temps would probably be mid-40s the whole time, but I prefer 30-degree weather to, say, 60-degree weather by a longshot. I will probably start with arm warmers and gloves, but I expect to remove those by the end of the race.

The description of the runner support on the race website is a little cryptic:

Volunteers will be present along the course to provide fluids and directions, at the following locations.

Corners of Shell Hill cut through and Main Drive (both sides, at Main Drive mile 4 and mile 6)
4 way intersection of the Chickering parking area and Main Drive
The picnic area at mile 8 on the Main Drive
Corner of Luke Lea Heights road and Main Drive
By the flagpole near the Percy Warner Park "stone gates" main entrance
The corner of Deep Wells picnic area and Main Drive
At the top of Three Mile hill
The sharp switchback marking the western turnoff from the Main Drive to Old Hickory Boulevard

The mile points on Main Drive don't correspond to total mileage for the runners, so they're not much help if you're not a local. I was also unable to find many of the other points on the map. However, since nearly the entire course is run twice and there are 8 stops, it sounds like there will be plenty of water available, so I don't plan on carrying my own. Time will tell if that was a wise decision! I will carry my own fuel, a combination of GU and Huma gels. I usually consume 7 gels in a marathon but I always carry 8, just in case. I think I'm not going to carry a camera or phone on account of the cold: It will be hard to deal with a camera while wearing gloves, and I'll want the space in my fuel belt to stash gloves / arm warmers later in the race.

I'm really looking forward to the challenge and fun of this race! Here's hoping I feel the same way after I've run it!

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