Monday, November 21, 2016

Race recap: The Flying Monkey Marathon

Sam and I are sitting in our rented car, trying to stay warm before the race. Sam will almost certainly finish before I do, so I suggest we figure out a place to hide the key.

"Front left tire?" suggests Sam.

"Makes sense to me," I say. "Nobody will think to look there for the key since that's where all runners hide their keys."

"I know, we could put it on someone else's tire!" suggests Sam. "How about that white Jeep?"

"That will work, as long as you finish before that guy!" Whoever owns the Jeep is nowhere to be seen.

"Oh, I can take him, easy!" Sam laughs. "Now you've got to put that in your blog post about the race!"

We step outside for the obligatory pre-race selfie:

Starting to wonder if this is really a good idea....

It's a chilly Fall morning, the temperature still below freezing. But there is no wind, and not a cloud in the sky. With temperatures looking to rise to the mid-40s by the end of the race, it should be a great day to run a marathon. But right now it's just cold. Sam needs to use the bathroom, so he heads towards the start with about 20 minutes to go before race time. I head back to the car to stay warm for a few more minutes.

"Front-left tire, right?" I say.

"Copy that."

After a couple more minutes of warmth, I strip off my last couple extra layers and head to the start, wearing shorts, a compression shirt, calf and arm sleeves, and gloves. I feel the hint of an urge to urinate. I see three porta-potties with a long line of runners waiting to use them, and decide I can find a place to pee somewhere along the course.

Flying Monkey is a small, eclectic race in Nashville, TN, frequently confused with the much larger (but also eclectic) Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati. Flying Monkey also super hilly, as I detailed in my race preview here. Last night, Sam and I laughed as we emptied our swag bags, loaded with fun, eclectic items like race stickers, two different shirts, a packet of spicy asian mustard, and even a fortune cookie. Here's my fortune:

Pretty sure you don't get these at Rock n Roll Las Vegas!

As the race start approaches, I remind myself of my bare-bones racing strategy: Run by feel, and take the climbs hard and the descents easy. My three goals are A: sub-4-hours. B: Sub-10-minute miles (4:22). C: Better than Bangalore (4:43). But of course, even though the plan is to run by feel, I'm still not willing to ditch my Garmin, which means I'll also be monitoring my pace, but I'll try to minimize that.

After a few photo ops, the race starts with a "Ready, Set, Monkey!" The first half-mile ascends through a grass field before we hop on to the narrow Main Drive through Percy Warner Park in Nashville. Main Drive is a beautiful, paved road that is mostly closed to traffic. The trees are near the peak of fall colors and there is a smattering of dry yellow leaves on the ground. As advertised, we start by running up, up, up. Before I've gone a mile, my watch beeps to indicate that I've already completed my climbing goal for the day. By the end of the day, I'll exceed that goal by a factor of 27!

This poster from the race gives you a good sense of what the scenery is like. I didn't bring a camera along, but there would be a number of points along the way where I wished I had!

I don't see any flying monkeys during the race, but that doesn't mean they aren't there!
None of the hills during the first several miles are especially steep, but they definitely add up. After 6 miles, I've already climbed over 700 feet. My pace is solidly under 4-hour marathon pace (9:09/mile), and the run so far is feeling easy. Maybe a sub-4 will be possible after all!

The course is a double loop that we run both ways, so every ascent will be a descent later in the race, and vice versa. Mile 7 is a long downhill that is steep enough in places that I need to put the brakes on. I'll be heading up this hill in Mile 19, a 300-vertical-foot grind. There are aid stations nearly every mile, with enthusiastic volunteers handing out water and sports drink in tiny Dixie cups. Since it's cold, I'm not especially thirsty, but I try to take a 2-ounce cup of water at every stop, knowing I'll regret it later if I don't. The small cups are a peeve of mine. Ideally if water is provided in cups, they'd be at least the 10-ounce size, filled about 3/4 of the way full. That way if you're thirsty you can get a solid 7-8 ounces of water at each stop. That's probably three times what you realistically get out of a Dixie cup. If I ran this race over again, I'd probably carry a 16-ounce handheld like Sam did, and get the volunteers to refill it every few miles.

But cup size is really my only complaint (twss). Otherwise there is ample support along the course. If you aren't particular about what gels you consume, you can even get plenty of gels from the aid stations, unlike in many races where only 1 or 2 stops along the way actually provide gels.

I've had a bit of an urge to pee since before the start of the race, and at Mile 10, when I spot a random porta-potty on the side of the road, I decide to take advantage. When I pop out a minute later, one of the runners nearby says "Great job in there!"

I laugh and thank him for his support!

As I near the end of the first main loop, around Mile 10, the race leader passes me, heading the other way, looking strong. He'd ultimately finish in 2:50 -- very fast for this tough course! This is Mile 15 for him, and this is the only runner I see passing in the opposite direction. At this point we turn on to a side loop, and so the other runners ahead of me won't be passing by. The course layout is complicated but ultimately makes sense. I've been passing runners going my direction all morning, but these are the slower early-starters who got out on the course an hour early to make sure they'd finish in time. I passed Sam's friend Kathy, who hadn't trained much due to an injury and so was walking much of the course, around Mile 8. She'd ultimately finish in just under 7 hours.

I loop around the side loop and rejoin the main loop at Mile 14. Now I pass lots of runners who are still on their first loop, headed the opposite direction. I look at my watch and see that I'm still 4 minutes under the time I need to get my sub-4-hour marathon. I also am starting to feel worn down so I do a bit of calculating and come up with a 9:30 pace. All I need to do is run a 9:30 pace for the last 12 miles and I'll have my sub-4. But first I have to run up this ginormous hill.

Now that I'm back on the main loop, I notice that the mile markers for the first loop have "bonus" signs on the back for the runners going the other way. The first one says "IDIOT," for those of us who might of thought this was a mile marker for OUR direction. The second one says "IDIOT" too, for anyone who didn't get the message the first time.

Photo of me taken by Dave Martin Creative somewhere around Mile 15

I manage to maintain my sub-9:30 pace all the way to the start of Mile 19, when I know I'm going to face the biggest climb of the race. Sure enough, this climb is a doozy. My pace slows, to 10:00, then 10:30, then even slower. But about 7:30 into the mile, I pass the Mile 19 marker! There is absolutely no way I am running a 7:30 pace, so I wonder if this is just the race director messing with our heads again. By my watch, I complete Mile 19 in 10:59, after 308 feet of climbing. I don't even try to calculate the pace I'll need to finish in under 4 hours, because at this point I'm quite sure I'm not going to make that. My only thought now is to not let this thing turn into a death march.

The course does flatten out some at this point, but there are still plenty of small hills. My legs are both twitching, and I begin to worry that I might not be able to run at all. Just willing my legs to keep moving seems to be a monumental mental task. Somehow I keep going, but I'm never close to the 9:30 pace, let alone whatever faster pace I'd need to make up for my 10:59 Mile 19. This graph shows just how dramatically my pace changed after Mile 19:

A tale of two races -- before and after Mile 19
But I do manage to keep things moving at a 10- to 11-minute pace, as perhaps a dozen runners pass me over the last 7 miles. I pick up the pace a bit in Mile 25, but I have to slow again in the last mile, to avoid tripping as I gingerly make my way through the same rough field we started in. Sam yells "DAVE" just as I cross the line in 4:07:31. Here's a photo Sam took just after I finished:

I actually look much better than I feel here

Sam had crushed the course, finishing in 3:23:59, good for second in his age group! He points me to the water, then gets me some food as I collapse on the ground with my drink. After 15 minutes or so, I am able to get back up and grab some more food on my own, suggesting that though this race had beaten me up, I am in better shape than I've been in after several other marathons. After 30 minutes, I'm able to walk back to the car to put some warmer clothes on, and I take this photo at the finish line:

Feeling better, but once again looking better than I feel.
We wait for Sam's friends Jerry and Kathy to finish, then get a picture of the whole bunch, including Jerry and Kathy's spouses:

A whole bunch of people looking better than they feel!

My official time for the race is 4:07:31, a 9:26 pace for a marathon distance (though my watch had the mileage at 25.9, which was plenty!). That's just 15 seconds per mile off of my "stretch" goal, so I'm pretty happy with that, especially since I handily beat my B and C goals. I'm not quite sure why I wasn't able to pick up the pace again after Mile 19, other than the fact that I haven't had a complete marathon training cycle for this race. I'm primarily training for the half-marathon distance right now, and I don't consider myself at top fitness. I haven't completed a lot of long road runs (My longest runs have all been trail runs, and the longest of those was barely 20 miles).

"By the way," Sam tells me after the race. "Remember that white Jeep where we were going to put the key?"


"It was long gone when I went back to the car to get my jacket!"

We both had a good long laugh over that one!

The Flying Monkey is definitely a great marathon, and I highly recommend it for anyone who wants a challenging, beautiful, quirky race. The Garmin record of my race is below.

No comments:

Post a Comment