"So, I ran to the end of the road. And when I got there, I thought maybe I'd run to the end of town" - Forrest Gump
This past Sunday, I "ran" the latest (14th) local Annual Mercedes Marathon and although it was my slowest marathon ever (at least I'm pretty sure it was), I had a ball. I'm not crazy about reading race reports, but I thought I might give a quick view from my place in the back of the pack.
1) Can you run a marathon mostly from memory? - Although I've been fairly consistently running with middle distance runs and races (15-22 miles) on the trails, I really haven't had any desire to run long on the roads. If you've been reading RWA, you know that I just absolutely love the trails, especially Oak Mountain. When I hit the road, it's usually an early morning run before work, or to be with friends, or it's just more convenient. As the Pace Team Director for the past 13 Mercedes, I'm lucky(?) enough to get a free entry into the marathon. Well, when you don't feel trained for 26 miles of pavement, but you've been handed a "gift", it tends to add some pressure in your innards. I wasn't crazy about doing the marathon, but felt "I'm Al, I can run this from memory". We'll get to the mechanics of the run in a minute, but I pretty much keep proving one of my principal coaching axioms (I've got a million of them)...It's hard to get into long distance shape, but it's not hard to stay there!
2) The Run/Walk - A friend of mine, Jim, has done several marathons in the past and has been experimenting with run/walk for a while now. Those who know me at all know that I am VERY old school and have always referred to r/w as "the girlie thing"... Please, please, don't get all PC on me!!! I know, I know! Anyway, to me r/w has always been run a mile, walk a minute, or run 10' and walk a minute. But, to me, you're supposed to RUN a marathon...the whole damn thing! Well, that was the old me and I guess running trails has softened me with it's hills that make walking pretty strategic to not falling apart. But Jim, who I did three long runs with, had taken this to another ridiculous level...he would run two and a half minutes and then walk one! I broke out into a rash when I first heard that. Good grief, we'd NEVER finish! But, to make a long story a little shorter, we did both our 13 mile training runs on the course and a 20 miler three weeks before the race at surprisingly the same overall pace I had been struggling with trying to run the whole thing. In the race, Jim got some unexpected cramps the last 6 miles, but up until then, we held strictly to our plan and were on pace to finish about 5 minutes faster than last year when I pretty much crashed and burned trying to run the whole thing! And the biggest surprise is I felt great at the end, not completely wasted and ready to burn my shoes.
Ok, a couple of other short observations:
3) Dressing for the weather - the forecast was for rain the whole day with a temp in the 40's. I'll bet I got a dozen emails asking how to dress...Long sleeve? Short sleeve? LS+ SS? Rain jacket? You know, I've been running almost 40 years, and it's these inbetween conditions that still drive me nuts! You don't want to be cold, you don't want to overheat, you want to stay as dry as possible, but it's not a 5k, it's 26 freakin' miles!! All you can do is have a basic idea mixed with common sense, listen to very latest ACCURATE forecast, step outside right before the gun goes off and then race with your decision. Remember, you make good decisions from experience, and you gain experience from making poor decisions... and at almost 4 decades of running, I'm still learning.
4) The BUTS aid station - I am so proud to be a member of this group - the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society. Once again, they manned (and womanned) the aid station at 11 & 24 miles and what a party they had! Their aid stations are becoming legendary. The runners were greeted by loud music, a mix of Mardi Gras dancing, pancakes, bacon, beer, all kinds of aid station eats, and the best gauntlet of BUTS guys that each runner got to run through. And if you were a BUTS member, like me, it was Superhero time. Ever see a baseball player get mobbed at the plate when he hits a game-winning home run? That's how BUTS treats their own. I loved it!!!
5) The Pace Groups - Any leader's (sports, business, whatever) principal goals is to surround themselves with good people. This was the 13th Mercedes Marathon that I have directed the Pace Groups. For many years, I was one of the pacers myself, but now-a-days, the Balloon Lady gives me a run for my money. So, year after year, somehow God smiles on me and sends me the greatest pacers. This year, each Pace Group got their followers under the balloons less than 3 minutes under their desired times. It is incredibly hard to be a pacer...keep everyone in a group, try to run an even pace, allow for hills, aid stations, etc, and most of all, no matter how crappy you feel, you have to be positive ALWAYS. Thanks guys (and girls).
6) Going the wrong way - apparently, at the end of the half marathon, the 3 lead guys took a wrong turn and the 4th place guy got an early Christmas present. There were some scathing emails and comments that Mercedes was in the wrong. First of all, the pace car can't go over the finish line and had to turn off. Second, there were course sentries pointing the right way and a gazillion spectators yelling at them that they were going wrong. And third, apparently they weren't trained by Coach Al because another one of my absolute axioms is learn the (damn) course. Know where the aid stations are, the porta-potties, the hills, and certainly the turns near the finish. Good grief guys, don't blame the race because you didn't do your homework! Sure, you're giving it your all, busting a gut and slobbering all over you chin and your shirt, but as in every other sport...keep your head in the game!
Ok, guys, that's it for Mercedes for another year. If you get a chance head on down to The Trak Shak and tell them what a great job they did, and/or send Valerie McLean, the Race Director, an email (firstname.lastname@example.org). Believe me, her job must be one HUGE headache.
Whether I'm running or walking, I'll see you on the roads (or trails) - Al
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