Cape Cod - Lessons in Energy Conservation
Milling about in the crowd of 1200 marathon entrants and 180 or so relay runners, Marc & I inched our way forward toward the starting line trying to get a decent position for a start. Not that we were intending on putting out a fast mile but wanted to avoid getting behind a wall of walkers or other characters. Without even a "how-do-you-do" the cannon fired which shocked the lot of us as we realized the race had begun. Comments floated above the crowd wondering at the lack of official speeches and ceremony. No loss, the runners began their 26.2 mile journey around the southwest portion of Cape Cod Massachusetts.
The crowds were out in force through downtown Falmouth which made the start very festive. The rest of the course was sparcely populated with spectators as we wound through the beautiful shoreline and countryside of Cape Cod. Every once in awhile we'd run through a major "spectator zone" where we get cheered on from the sidelines. Quite nice.
Marc and I ran mile one in 7:59. Our goal pace was 7:38 or 3:20:00 for the race but the plan involved a conservative effort in the 1st half to avoid the wall during the final miles. This 7:59 first mile included the 15 seconds it took to get over the start line so we were pleased with our current pace. It felt relaxed and controlled. We hit mile two in 7:28. A little faster than the plan so we dialed it back a few notches to see if we couldn't hit 7:38 a little more closely. Mile 3 in 7:44 and mile four in 7:37. We were pleased with these splits. The pace felt right and the seconds over goal pace were deemed "energy in the bank" to be used in the 2nd half. We limited our conversation this trip also to conserve energy. Our Nova Scotia experience (chatting the first 10 miles) taught us that lesson. Mile 5 cruised past in 7:44. We were feeling good and we passed a few folks and a few folks passed us. We were running our own pace without regard to others' races.
Mile 6 in 7:50 threw us a little. There was a water stop embedded in the time but it seemed a little slow for the effort. The 5 second drop without a corresponding effort change had me a little concerned because I didn't know how far into a time deficit we could safely go. However, I trusted my conservation theory and decided it would all come back to us at some point. I said so to Marc. Miles 7, 8, & 9 averaged 7:42- 7:44. These 7:45's seemed to be the natural pace as we started hitting the hills. I can't recall exactly where the hills began but I believe it was around this point. Initially the hills were long. Up for a while then down a good deal. This happened a few times. We eased up the hills sacrificing speed if necessary to conserve energy. On the downhills we lengthened the strides and grabbed a few seconds for the clock.
At mile 10 (in 7:33), Marc did an amazing line cut at a porta-john and got away with it. I continued on keeping pace and by mile 11 Marc had caught back up clocking a 7:40 which included the pit stop. He mentioned that he had to run rather "hard" to catch up and I thought I sensed a little concern on his part about what that effort would portend. We climbed again for a 7:41 12 mile then down the other side for 7:26 for 13 miles. This downhill was so long that I did not enjoy it at all. Marc was just behind me and commented that it was too early for 7:26's. It was a sign we might be feeling differently about how the race was progressing. I was concerned with developing a steady strategy to make up our minor time deficit and Marc may have been concerned about getting to the final miles in good shape. We hit the half in 1:40:47 - only 47 seconds over where we needed to be. This seemed very reasonable to me. We had conserved the pace over several of the miles and brought the time deficit down when traveling downhill - but I heard Marc mention "now we've got to run a negative" and he didn't seem happy about it.
My legs by this point were a little fatigued and I had concerns myself about how the legs were going to hold up for the next 13.1 miles. However, my lungs felt great and I had a feeling of running well within my aerobic comfort zone. This kept my mind off the muscle fatigue that was building. I called over my shoulder "do you want me to pace it?" meaning establish a pace and have Marc run off the shoulder. He agreed and I stretched it out a little for a 7:24 14th mile. A little faster than we needed I thought, so we backed down to 7:39 for mile 15. An uphill saw 7:50 and I felt that it was time we committed to the negative split in terms of even splits through the remaining 11 miles. Mile 16 was downhill and a pretty steep angle and there was a crowd of us (mostly relay runners) all heading down at the same time. You could hear the footsteps of the runners as we covered the course. Using the downhill to reduce our time deficit I reached mile 17 in 7:25, looked over my shoulder and was surprised to find Marc missing! I thought he was right behind me all the time but he was not. So I jogged off to the side and sort of jogged in place until he came into view around the corner. He was suffering leg fatigue - "nothing left" - and experiencing the well known marathon low at 17 miles. I tried encouragement, saying it was just a low, we could run ~ 7:30's from here on in and still hit the BQ, but his breathing was harder then usual and going up the next hill I could tell was a chore. He told me to "go on - run your race" but I said no, we'd run it in together. We hit mile 18 in 8:14 (which included my little jog in place). I was hoping that a rebound might occur and some hidden energy would surface allowing Marc to bring the pace back. But Marc knew differently - we had both been there before and knew what it all meant. As we struggled through mile 19 in 8:04 Marc declared the "nail in the coffin" and ordered me to get on with my race. I could tell he needed to back off from the 8 minute pace to get to the finish and I reluctantly decided to leave him in peace which is exactly what he wanted.
So with 7 miles to go I dropped the hammer. Determined to leave all my reserve energy on the streets of Falmouth I gave it all I had. Powering up the hills, striding the downs, and cruising the flats I ran to the redline with what I had left in the tank. Hitting mile 20 in 6:35, I cruised a 6:28 21st and a 6:29 22nd mile. I passed and passed and passed with all the concentration I could muster. I finally ditched my mittens at mile 22 and tore in mile 23 with the tank starting to empty and the legs on fire. I could only squeeze out a 6:51 for that mile and 6:53 for mile 24 but people were still fading back to me and I kept pressing for that finish. I scraped together a 6:40 25th mile along the shore and struggled to mile 26 in 7:08. Turning onto Main Street for the final 385 yards I kicked with all I had to the cheers of spectators and squeaked under 3:15 by 5 seconds for a 3:14:55 and a 6 minute negative split.
I have never been able pour it on in the final miles of marathon before. What a feeling! I felt on top of the world - gaining all those places back that I have lost in the final miles of all my previous marathons. There is something to be said about having something left to crank out a 7 mile dash to the finish!