Let me start by saying that I have never been so relaxed at a starting line in Lake Placid.
That's probably because for the first time in my life I was actually standing at the starting line on pavement, as opposed to say, trying very hard to tread water in Mirror Lake.
This was huge really. I was at the starting line, for a marathon, and I wasn't nervous. It's kind of ironic. Despite my questionable swimming skills I usually get in the front at Ironman, so you could say I have about the same 2000 people at my back in that race as I did at the marathon and half-marathon. The difference is in a road race I can get off the line in a manner that encourages rather than inhibits self-preservation.
That's right. You basically can't hold a marathon outside of Boston or New York that isn't also a half marathon, and three-quarters of 2000 runners were in fact wearing the blue numbers of the half versus our bronze numbers. It's the same start and for most of the first loop we all run together. This presents a real challenge. After all, running a marathon and a half-marathon are totally different endeavors. I was doing my warm-ups and evaluating the top end of the half-marathon guys and it was pretty clear- there were some fast guys, college kids and whatnot, and that was going to make for a fast start on Main Street.
Not just a fast start either. A fast uphill start. Starting basically in front of the top end of the oval, it's a sharp uphill to start out and then a more gradual uphill through town and around to the top of the lake. If you look at the road around Mirror Lake the top of the lake is higher than the bottom, at least the road around it is. If you are doing IMLP, remember that the out on the second out and back at Mirror Lake is uphill going out and downhill coming back.
So it was going to be a quick start, and I didn't want to get sucked up in that. As a potential top ten marathon finisher, I thought I should start right on the line, and I did, but I didn't want to get drawn into the melee.
Overall, I did pretty well. I'd lined up my start up the hill and into town and of course, started running too fast.
I've always consoled myself with too-fast starts at every marathon by telling myself that I could either get the time earlier or later and might as well do it early, or that I could overclock the first mile and then still settle in and be fine. Only I know that isn't true. If the first mile is too aggressive it can throw off the pacing for the entire race. While it's true you should be able to run the first mile pretty much as you like and still recover a normal pace, that requires even more discipline than simply running a solid but unspectacular first mile. And the later option has fewer risks.
At about 3/4 of a mile I saw Darren McGeary, one of my closest friends from high school, on the right side of the road, up past the end of Main Street. I heard him yell my name and kept going.
I hit the mile mark at 6:34, for an uphill mile 1. Now, the worst part of this is that Mile 2 is a downhill. I could have run 6:34 easy on the second mile, but instead I had to back it off on the downhill mile to get back closer to seven minute miles- running hard uphill then easy downhill. Classic bad move. But still, I was able to use that downhill mile to get the race under control. I found myself chatting with one of the half-marathons about how he was carrying his arms too high (more on that later) and trying to run our own races.
This was definitely an issue by this point. Most of the athletes were either wearing race belts- more of us than the typical race, or they had their numbers pinned to the side of their shorts despite repeated instructions that numbers MUST BE WORN ON THE FRONT. (Have I mention how much I loathe the D-Tag and the 'wear on front' BS that comes with it ?) So people were going by me and I was struggling to evaluate half-marathon or marathon. Why ?
That's actually a good question and not one I can answer without admitting that no matter how hard I try to be a good athlete, a smart athlete, I am competitive. I shouldn't have been evaluating people at all, but I was, and yes, it's easy to fight the urge to let someone go when they are running the half. BUt not when they are running the whole marathon. Such as the woman that went by me between 2 and 3. I did check her out and instinct told me, as she put a major hurt on my pace, that she was going too fast. Of course I wanted to believe that....
We plowed out of town and I did a remarkably good job of keeping my desire to haul some ass down the big hill. That hill is a quad-ripper going down and there's no point that early in the race putting a hurt on your legs that you can't recover from.
Then we were on our way out of town, a lot of us, and I knew there were about fifteen marathoners in front of me, mixed in with dozens of half-marathoners. Someone settled in next to me, and despite my dislike of talking while racing, started talking. We started off with how his number was on the side of his pants, where I couldn't see it. He was a full-marathon runner, and he was from the Coast Guard Academy, just graduating. He asked me what I was planning to run as we went down the bottom of the hill and out onto the first out and back- the ironman out and back, and I said under three hours. But somehow, I'd slipped to a point that by around 6 miles, I was running a solid 7:02 pace. This made no sense, but that was that. He was looking to run 3:10. I was about 4 minutes over my pace. He was like 6 minutes under his.
It's a lot of pressure running with someone else in a marathon. You really want to do your own thing and you really, really don't want to talk. But you do. The kid- I mean at just over half my age, I think I am required to call him a kid- was nice. We joked about how when there are trees growing in your fields, you haven't planted crops in a while. I took water at the aid stations, but then just dumped it over my head. I was carrying my own bottle and it would last me through more than 12 miles.
I tried to encourage this guy to run his own pace, but he said he was going to do what he could while he could, which to me is not a great strategy, but hey, I have tried it more than once.
On the first loop the out and back ended at the same place, or about the same place, as the ironman. I had warned the guy I was running with that the 'flat' out and back wasn't. I've heard a lot of people suggest this section is flat, and well, if you take it as a whole, it's not far from flat. However, except for maybe the first mile, it's mostly rollers, and several of the hills are significant as far as what happens to your heart rate when you climb them.
There were a lot of people in front of us, and I wanted to close enough to the out and back to start counting the marathoners. I was steeling myself- at a plus 7-minute pace, it was going to be a lot.
That damn turn-around is always just a little farther than you think it's going to be. I counted more than a dozen guys and one woman in front of us, and the woman was at least 4 minutes ahead of me. That plus the pace I was running gave me pause, but I wasn't worried. I was drinking my electrolyte fizz, and taking a cliff shot every 40 minutes.
Some of the half-marathon people started coming back to me on the back of the out and back. This was a part of the course I was determined to stay disciplined on. There are a couple of short but decent hills and I was absolutely not willing to push. I was drinking regularly for the bottle of Electrolyte Fizz I carried on the first loop- I highly recommend trying some, and taking a gel every 40 minutes, which to this point meant taking one.
I still was running with the other guy from CT and he was holding up well, but I knew the hill back into town was coming. I hit the ten mile mark at over 70 minutes. I didn't panic- not yet, but on the other hand, I had a lot of work to do.
We turned back onto River Road and as soon as you turn, you are on the massive hill that so defines the run in the Ironman. That hill breaks people, that hill coaches tell their athletes to walk up. I attacked it, not hard, but steady, keeping my pace close to what it had been. The guy who had been running with me disappeared off my back. I would see him going the other way after turn-arounds but that was it.
I crested the hill and I felt pretty good, but I was behind and I knew I needed to be steady for a while longer but start taking some risks soon. I was quiet a ways back.
By 12 miles, the leading marathoners including the first woman was on her way back out, half a mile ahead of me in her case (and more for the top three men). I drained my bottle, reached the turn-around, and in about 15th place, tossed the empty bottle on the ground at Margit's feet. I waved to her and Ian as best I could, but as I rounded the cone i was looking at the people in front of me, and I wanted to start catching them.
Which I did....