This race ended up being somewhat of a disappointment, but left me motivated and wanting to improve. I really didn't have a good feel coming in for what kind of shape I was in. My hamstring issues kept me from getting any long runs longer than 15 miles in over the past 5 weeks and I struggled to keep my weekly mileage above 50 during that same time period and I paid for it during the race. I felt great aerobically and never once felt like I was running that hard from an aerobic standpoint, but my hamstrings were sore the entire race. In hindsight I probably should have gone out shooting for a 2:50 and then seen if I could have picked up the pace. I got to the starting line about 15 minutes before the start and I was a little surprised that I didn't have more trouble wandering to the front. I saw fellow Kenyan Way-ers Sam, Mike, Jace, and Jena. The weather conditions were absolutely perfect for a fast race - low to mid 40's temperature, clear and very little wind. I was a little concerned at the start line since I could tell from my brief warmup and stretching that my hamstring was kind of sore off the bat.
After the gun went off I started out relatively easy and went through mile 2 at 12:55. I was running with Mike and Jena and I should have stayed with them, but I decided I wanted to get down around 6:20 pace. I could see Bill about 10 - 15 seconds ahead of me and I watched his back for the next 8 miles until he finally pulled away. I felt ok the first 6 miles unlike last year when I felt like I was working hard the first 1/4 of the race. My wife was going to meet me out on the course in 3 different places with gatorade so I decided only to drink water from the aid stations. Last year I drank too much of the high concentration gatorade and ended up throwing up a couple of times. I got my first bottle of gatorade just before mile 7 and was feeling fine. Between miles 7 and 10, the pack started to thin out and then just before mile 9 when the 1/2 marathoners turned around it really started getting lonely. It seemed like I was out in no man's land. I could see Bill and another 5 people or so about 15 seconds ahead of me, but I never felt like putting in a hard mile to catch them so I just kept running by myself. It seemed like the pack started pulling away from my a little between miles 10 - 12. I hit the halfway point in just over 1:23 which was basically on pace with where I wanted to be, but my legs were definitely bothering me. I still felt strong enough that if I could fight through the leg pain that a 2:45 wasn't out of the question.
Miles 13 - 16 were progressively more painful and I was gradually slowing down a little bit. During mile 16, my legs seemed to feel a little better and I picked up the pace a bit and caught back up with a couple guys who had passed me near the halfway point. My wife was waiting a little before mile 17 and I stopped at that point to put Ben-Gay on my legs since they were starting to hurt. While I was stopped a pack of about 6 guys including Mike at Jena zoomed by. I was probably stopped for about 40 seconds, but who know how much time I would have lost if I hadn't stopped to put on the Ben Gay. It seemed to help for a few miles before my legs were screaming again. I managed to catch a couple of guys who fell off of the pack, but the main pack just kept pulling farther away.
By the time I got to mile 20 going into Memorial Park, I had given up on hitting a 2:45 and I was just hoping to still have a shot at PR'ing or at least breaking 2:48. Going through the park was one of the most painful miles and I thought about stopping at the medical tent near mile 21 to get my hamstrings stretched out, but I knew my wife was waiting again at 21.5 so I pushed on. By the time I got to mile 22 I was in agony so I stopped at the medical station and asked them if they could help me stretch out my legs. While this one lady was stretching and massaging my hamstrings one of the guys asked me if I had stopped there last year. It was rather embarrassing that the same guy knew I had stopped at the same medical station because my hamstrings were killing me the previous year too. After about a 2-1/2 minute stop I got back on the road again to try to finish out the last 4 miles and my goal was to not be over 3 hours. My legs were still killing me as I crused down Allen Parkway, and I contemplated stopping again, but I knew that I only had around 20 minutes to go and I might as well just get it over with instead of prolonging the misery.
I hit 24 miles around 2:41 and I was thinking I was probably going to miss out on a 2:55 at the pace I was going, but I wanted to try to give it a shot so I started picking up the pace. about 3/4 of a mile later I went under a banner that said 1.5 miles to go and I looked at the time and saw that if I could run the last 1.5 miles in 9:40 I could still come in under 2:55. Since I hadn't been running that hard I still had a lot of energy left as long as my legs didn't cramp up or give out so I started pushing it hard to the finish. I actually had a ton of energy left and running hard and focusing on breaking 2:55 made me forget/not notice any of my leg pain. I ended up passing 3 guys in the last mile and this is the first marathon I've ever run where my last mile wasn't just about my slowest mile. I ran the last 1.5 in about 9:10 which gave me a little satisfaction.
I was disappointed with my race, but considering my training leading up to it, I wasn't shocked by it. This is my 3rd year of running marathons and every year I've run two marathons roughly 3 months apart. The first two years I didn't run very well at the first marathon and then I ran a great marathon several months later so I'm expecting great thing at Boston in April. I don't know if the frustration of a poor performance motivates me to train better for the 2nd race or if I just get more training and mileage under my belt, but I really hope to see good results again. Maybe next year I need to sign up for an October marathon to blow up on so I can run a good race in Houston. My hamstring was sore the entire race, but I don't think I aggravated anything and I didn't feel the strange twinges in the tendons across the back of my knee that I'd had during some of my training so that was a good thing. Sam and Mike both ran awesome races and had 14 minute PR's or something like that so I'm going to have to step it up and run a low 2:40's marathon now.
I'm planning on taking some extra time off to work on getting my hamstring back to normal and then I'll start to ramp up my mileage for Boston. Congrats to everyone who had a great race last weekend.