Monday, June 18, 2012

The Ann Arbor Marathon: In Review

Ann Arbor Marathon.
Marathon Number 13 done.  It was a great success, I thought, but then again, I had some major buy-in before it started and wasn’t hard to please. Here are my hungover thoughts.
Marathon Expo:
Don’t have an expo in a mall.  There’s usually something a bit inspiring about picking up your bib, feeing the nervous energy and excitement of those around you. You don’t get this from a mall.  And…. An expo without body glide? I needed some and planned to get it there, but there was none, so I had to dip into a Running Fit on my way home.

 I had five free paperback copies of The Jade Rabbit to hand out at the marathon. I gave one to the Girls On The Run, booth, since it seemed like a perfect fit.  Others I gave to folks I started conversations with. Funny thing giving someone something for free. They don’t’ know how to take it and looked at the book as if it was ticking and about to explode.

 Marathon Morning;
4 am, and I woke to coffee and the weather report.
A huge glob of green storms with some more powerful orange and yellow pockets was coming our way per lovely map in motion. We were going to get drenched. The temp in the mid to high 70’s was not nearly as bad as thought but the humidity hovered close to 90%

The site of the start of The Ann Arbor Marathon
 Marathon Start:
Walking up to the big house, I arrived just as the announcements were being made, and yes, it felt like a football Saturday. Hail to The Victors still echoed.  Good thing I had taken a pit stop at a Starbucks, because the line for port a potties was astronomical. Still, I always want one last bladder empty. During fall marathons, it’s still dark at this time, so I could duck behind a tree. In this case, I got in line and accepted a port-a-potty stop along the route.

 National Anthem played, and as always I made the sign of the cross.  I’m not especially religious, was raised catholic yet am more of a metaphysical Christian, still, a sign of the cross seems to me a humble, spiritual way to begin, offering respect for the feat yet invoking inspiration.  Yes, I’m like that at these moments.

Marathon Course: And we’re off! Ahhhh, that feels so so sweet to move. And downhill for a half mile. Yet the humidity was such that big monstrous sweat beads formed quick on my face, the kind that stick to your skin and don’t even roll down, since it was so humid they were just part of this big, vast warm ocean we were swimming through.

The jaunts through the city were wonderful, it felt like I was running through an Ann Arbor replica on some movie set, since this couldn’t be the real thing.  Running past old bars, through beautifully updated campus sites that looked, for lack of a better word, ‘Oxford-dy’.  Pizza Bobs, Pinball Petes, Hill auditorium Yost arena, and memories poured into me as I hoped they would.

 I ran by an old house where I lived on Geddes, and reflected . I lived there for just a short period, but had to leave after we nearly burnt the place down during a party one night. Yes, the whole basement burned from some pretty darn unhealthy and crazy circumstances from my past life.  If my old self could have seen my new self run by, he would be shocked.   

But the thing was, he did see me, and I him, and that’s why I was here.

 While running by another house I had rented on State Street, I saw a student sitting on the porch in a sunken couch, drinking coffee.  I couldn’t help but yell to him “Hey, I lived there 20 years ago…”  I couldn’t tell if he gave two shits. Or even one.  But off I went.

 There were some boring out and backs, one long haul that’s started around mile 4 and included miles of hills. If you looked at the pavement closely here, it said “you are running this because we needed the course to measure 26.2 and had to get in the miles somehow, not because there’s anything special to look at.”  My guess is the rain has washed this away by now, but really, it was there.

 The parks were nice. Gallup park, where I used to go and park my car,  skip class, read the paper, and listen to tiger games, and the Arb, a Tree park with huge, green hills and dirt trails,  where the course went on a mountain bike type path. This was a nice change, and helped feature the natural side of Ann Arbor.

 Even before the event, I heard complaints about the lame bit of running around Briarwood mall, almost a 2 mile loop in the malls’ circular drive.  I actually enjoyed this part, since it was probably the only flat part of the whole course. As I ran the circle, I imagined myself a spacecraft, circling the moon to use its gravity to slingshot to the finish.

 The last bit of the run along main street as folks ate their breakfast on sidewalk diners was surreal.

 Marathon Finish:
And yes, the ending was on a Michigan football practice field, not the real field, and I imagine there were reasons that the actual football field couldn’t be used. In fact, blogger Detroit Runner, (who gives the most thorough and timely race reviews) who completed the half and very gratiously waited for me and got me through a hill at mile 25, blogged on this.  He took this picture:

 Still, a practice field finish is a cut below. It is a nice metaphor, though, because this whole event was kind of a practice. First it was a practice to perfect an important and needed marathon, and, for me, a practice marathon before I run New York in November. I came so close to hugging the woman who had a metal in her outstretched hand, but I’m sure we would have both collapsed and she would never be the same from the salty sweat on my body, traces of gu on my goatee, Vaseline and body glide and all that marathon Gube you can’t find anywhere else.

 As always, I found a  place to lay nearby and let the catharsis hit me. It was right alongside a fence and on the other side  a couple sat with a bulldog who kept yapping to get through to my  sweaty and fumed soaked body. Yes, I’m sure I smelled of something, all my atoms had disintegrated, melted away, and I'd sweated them out of every pore.  I wondered what his extra-sensory olfactory powers smelled, because I’m sure it was all of my spirit oozing all over the place, and that dog now understands the essence of me deeper than anything has ever.

 Slowly my atoms got themselves together, and I enjoyed Pizza and muffins and camaraderie afterwards, and walked back to my car with some fellow from Notre Dame who was here to knock off one of his 50 marathons in 50 states.

 The carnage:
The heat in the high 70’s was bad but not terrible, and the rain completely stayed away somehow, but I swear the humidity decreased as we ran.  Still, I took every chance to get sprayed by a sprinkler and walked through many of the aid stations to make sure to grab two cups of water and take an S-cap every 30 minutes.  The body count did come, but not from the heat. Heat carnage is when bodies just drop, meaning fall flat and faint, as I’ve seen many times before. The carnage was from the hills and was evident in walkers everywhere. The pace of so many were shattered, which was noticeable since my pace had slowed incredibly yet still I passed more runners than passed me at the end.
Ann Arbor Marathon Elevation Chart

Another sure sign of carnage: at the start of the marathon, there were very cheerful, happy, and glowing Pacer groups of all times with about 20 runners surrounding the leaders. At the end, the leaders seemed to be running by themselves, any kind of measureable pace of their followers were shattered, as they held up signs of 3:15, 3:30, 3:45, while they ran alone.

And My Race?
 I went to bed with images of the event still imprinted on my eyelids, and still feel the moments from yesterday more than I am in the present. As with every marathon, I am different because of it, and as with every marathon run, each has its own unique features.

 My self –talk was pretty nasty since I kept reminding myself I am doing another marathon in 4 months, which for some folks is normal but for me it is quite soon. This didn’t help my legs which were already sore at mile ten.  Usually I lie to myself while running and promise months off just to get me through. This time, there could be none such lie..

Here’s another odd but I’m wondering if maybe common thing: This is my first full marathon since I started bloging, and I found myself writing a blog post while I was running, which I kind of hated. It pulled me out of the event a bit, away from the present, and it felt like the tail wagging the dog. Gotta stop that.

 As for my time?  Well, I had no idea what to shoot for. I hoped my training had created a 3:30 at best, but with the conditions, went out at a 3:40 ish pace.  I was under this at the start, but soon was pushed back by forces and the dreaded ‘you just may not be able to finish this thing today’ preyed on my mind.   I’ve been there before, and  I knew to pace myself right, and finished in a 3:50. Or a 2 hours and 110 minutes. Or, a 6th place in my age group of 53. (initially 8th, changed to 6th for some reason) Those last two sound better. It was a slow course. Fastest men’s time was a 2:48. Only 4 runners broke 3 hours. And the womans winning time was 3:11.

My goal at one point became simply “ no hill will make me walk”, and thus not letting any hill break my gait completely was the new goal. I accomplished this by never looking at the top, but just 3 feet in front of me, when faced with a nice 4% grade over a quarter mile or more at the end.

 The run confirmed my suspicions (fears?) that I am in ‘just able to finish a marathon’ shape, and now the test is if I can recover enough to build on this or do I have to recover longer, and semi-start over.  It was one of those marathons where I had actually felt better at mile 22 on my last training run than I did in the event. Why is this? Who knows? Poor decisions, minimal weekly mileage, too much time hanging with my new foam roller, or bad karma for the centipede I killed the day before.

In Summary:
This marathon is going to need a catch to keep going, since most folks simply won’t have the same desire to run as I had, but I have nothing but kind words for the director, and, in fact, went to the expo looking to find him and send my gratitude. Run The City is a great catchphrase, the parks and streets full of history and life, and as runners hear from other runners  they may jump in. The challenge of the hills, and the inevitable cry for a Big House finish are some things that can make it a growing success in the future.


SupermomE13 said...

Big congrats! It sounds like you did a great job in tough conditions, and that in cooler temps and a flatter course you very well could have run a 3:30. I hope you recover well and enjoy the accomplishment! :)

Detroit Runner(Jeff) said...

Briarwood mall you liked? I can I understand wanting a flat spot but that part was crazy boring. Of course, with the half, I would have opted for a 15 grade hill if it had some scenery. A real challenging course for just practice. Nice job placing 8th too!!! Give me a Big House finish and I'll take Briarwood running and would probably run it again.

Mark Matthews said...

Thanks Jeff! Oddly enough, I have somehow jumped up from 8th to 6th. Who knows why. As for the course, there was an out and back and over and sideways up and down huron parkway that made briarwood look like a treat. Not sure if the half covered that or not. The course won't look the same next year, though, I'm sure of it.

Mark Matthews said...

Thanks Erin. Unless a bone seperates or a ligament rips or a muscle tears, I'll be faster in NYCM.

Cait the Arty Runnerchick said...

dang, man, u are a beast in my mind...those conditions are seriously crippling and i love the mental image of the poor pace people with signs literally pissy as hell and burned to a crisp by the end...the sun sure sucked out all those smiles. ;)

but hey, man, i think i spy a smile on that photo of great job, the not walking goal was completed, but also i think running THIS course/race speaks another journey/story for u in that whole 'deeper' life level business. :) great job!

LBTEPA said...

Well done :)

Unknown said...

Great Race Recap!! I need to start searching for a race like this in East Lansing. I am sure there is one out there. Thanks for offering up one of your books!! I actually downloaded Stray when it was free and have just started reading it. No need to waste postage on me, I will be happy to spend the change on The Jaded Rabbit. Have a great Day!!

Jen Feeny said...

Congrats on surviving a tough day and course! A2 is one hilly ass city and I swear it's a well kept secret because you just do not expect it until you're out there running. I work in A2 and run here once or twice a week and get my butt handed to me each time like I never saw it coming! LOL! It sounds like you ran a smart race, knew to adjust your goals to appease the conditions, and ran through the negative talk. A sub-4 day always puts you at the front of the mid-packers so there's always that! :) Hope you rest up and take at least a few days or a week off to let those legs recover.

Sara said...

I'm so sorry I missed the day of your race - I had planned to wish you luck, but life got in the way!! So, now I can say CONGRATULATIONS!!!!!!!!!!!! I. Loved. This. Recap. I was spellbound, like I was there. Mark, you are a talented writer and express things I have experienced and felt so clearly, I only hope to be able to compose my thoughts and emotions as beautifully as you someday. You are truly someone I admire - both as a runner and a writer. Congrats!! And, I know what you mean about blogging in your head as you are running a race - it happens to me and it is SO annoying. ;)

RunBikeThrow said...

Mark, congrats on running the Ann Arbor Marathon! Our times were pretty close - I finished just north of 3:54, 9th in age group (same as yours). Had I but known a 3:25 would have won the group...well, I'd be on life support instead of writing this. Heat wasn't too bad, but oh, Lord, the humidity. Amazing you were smiling at mile 25.

I'm with you on the mall expo. Nowhere near the buzz that the DXA2 race expo had at Pioneer. And the Briarwood loop was a downer for me - no spectators and lots of hot pavement. That's what we get for Macy's sponsorship, I suppose.

Good luck, and I'll add you to my blogroll.

Jeff (another one)

Anonymous said...

Mark: GREAT read. I think my favorite part was when you ran by your former self on Geddes, clearly the day after the fire, and he was shocked! That was a great! It sure was a tough race and you were certainly right about the time and ability for a PR-NOT THE RACE TO RUN FOR THAT! But I don't regret doing it. I learned something about running and myself. I look forward to following your blog and seeing how things go in November. Of the three marathons I've run, NYC is my favorite. WORLD'S LARGEST MARATHON is pretty great and the fan support is unwavering. Have a great summer! Cheers, KG

Anonymous said...

Nice article. I really enjoyed it.

Stokercon 2024 in San Diego

 Spent last weekend in San Diego at Stokercon. What a fantastic time. Multiple panels, many conversations. Laughs, tears, books, conversatio...