|2015 Mercedes Marathon Finisher Beach Towel|
It has been a little more than 2 months since my first Full Marathon. Since then, I have been training hard (to the tune of 335 miles) for the next one, the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, AL. I've increased to running 5 days a week, but haven't really increased total mileage. I did add more time in the gym, working on mainly upper body and core strength. Training in such cold weather has been an adventure, in fact, there were two runs with temps in the single digits and sub-zero wind chills. But it won't be long until the heat and humidity will make those days seem pleasant.
About 9 months ago when the first thought entered my mind for doing a Full 26.2 mile race, one of the things that was important to me was being able to complete it in 4 hours. When I began to contemplate Rocket City, 4 hours was not a practical goal. So, a few months before that race, I set a goal of 4 hours and 10 minutes. When it took 25 minutes longer than that to complete the preview of the course, it seemed unlikely. In the end, that race resulted in a 4:08:25, and there was a great sense of accomplishment and confidence that it was the top of my ability at the time.
This time, the goal was to come in under 4 hours, but there were some challenges. Just running this distance 20 seconds per mile faster, seemed doubtful. Add to that, the fact that the Mercedes course had more hills than Rocket City. Then, race day came and it turned out to be raining lightly and one of the warmest days in a while. The extra humidity and heat caused the doubts to soar.
I drove from North Alabama to Birmingham the day before and was able to attend the Expo. It was very busy and crowded. I saw some familiar faces and was able to meet the 4:00 pacers, which included Robert Moore from Huntsville. It was surprising when he said that he knew me through our mutual use of the We Run Huntsville Facebook page. The Expo itself was very good, but not as big or as much to see as the Rocket City Expo. Also, the Poston's opened their house to me. It was good to have a comfortable place to relax, enjoy the company and eat a healthy meal the night before.
One other awesome thing was a Worship service hosted just before the race started. It was a great time to focus on the Source of strength for every breath, every heartbeat, and every step. It was also an opportunity to pray for my home church and the Huntsville and Birmingham communities. Christ was glorified and He is worthy of all credit for any accomplishment in my life.
The atmosphere at the starting line was crazy. While there were fewer running the Full Marathon, compared to Rocket City, this race also had a Half Marathon and a relay option for the Full Marathon. In all, there were at least 4,500 participants, which made it much larger than any other race I've attended. The race was very well done and the crowd was not a problem for me, except I wasn't able to get to the 4:00 pacers. But I could see their sign until a few minutes into the race-when I passed them.
One huge advantage with this race was the benefit of having one of my training partners, Amy, willing to run with me for at least the first half. This was her first Full Marathon. She is such a strong runner, and often underestimated. I felt that I could finish ahead of her by a few minutes, partly because I had raced against her on a very hilly 25K just two weeks earlier. She was a great encouragement and pushed me when I needed it and slowed me down when I let the awesome energy of the crowds get me moving too fast.
Another cool part of this race was to be reminded along the way of the cause the funds raised were to benefit. The main charity was the Bell Center, who provides support to families with children with Down Syndrome. It wasn't just reminders of the cause, it was seeing faces of the children, as there were many, many runners with pictures on their back of the child for which they were running. It was great to pray along the way for kids like Ella and Blake and their families.
Amy and me (pointing at the WRH logo on my shirt) at Mile 8
(Thanks Gregg Gelmis!!!)
By mile 15, the doubts of beating the 4 hour goal were fading fast. However, during mile 20, I realized that I wasn't going to be finishing ahead of Amy. She seemed very strong and I told her to go for it. I stayed not far behind for a while, being just 13 seconds behind at the 35K (21.75 miles) split. But she was able to stay close to a 9:00 pace during the last few miles, where it was all I could do to stay close to a 10:00 pace. I was really struggling those last three miles. In the end, I ended up 3:12 behind her with a time of 3:55:54, which is 30 seconds per mile faster than my first Marathon.
After the race, I was so excited that I forgot to get the finishers medal and had to go back to get it. I felt pretty spent, but not as bad as I did after Rocket City. After waiting for some other friends and seeing the 4:00 pacers, I made my way into the Expo floor, which was now set up with banquet tables, and we were able to enjoy some great barbecue. I ate about half of the sandwich, a banana and some fruit, while trying to rehydrate.
As always, I have been very much encouraged by the outpouring of support from members of the local running community. The well wishes streamed in leading up to the race and the congratulations are still coming. We really do have a great running community in Madison and Huntsville and I am honored to be a part of it! I have many, many to whom I owe thanks: my God, my family, my friends, the race directors and volunteers, the Poston family and the Huntsville running community.
What is next for me in running? Not much...just 6 races before the end of April, including my first Ultra Marathon and another Full Marathon.