I’m having a lot of trouble starting this race report. I have so much I’d like to say and so much I could say but that would be too long and boring for everyone but me. This race wasn’t just a race. It was the bookend of a long and difficult but fulfilling chapter in my life.
Four years ago I could barely run a single mile in 10 minutes. Three years ago I struggled to finish my first marathon in 4:18 (about a 10 minute mile). Today I ran a marathon fast enough to qualify for the Boston marathon. Every marathon I run I achieve something that I didn’t think I could do. That’s why I run them.
On the morning of the race I got to the “runners village” early but I still had to hurry to the start line. It was getting close to 6 AM and I was in the first corral which meant I really had to be at the start when the gun fired at 6:15 AM. There was confusion at baggage drop and I really didn’t have time to wait in line. A nice (and pretty!) girl took pity on me and let me cut in line. Even after cutting the line short I had to rush due to the massive number of people trying to get to the starting area. 27,000 people funneling over 8 foot wide walk ways is a recipe for being late to a race. I made it to the start on time but closer than I cared for.
In true Las Vegas style the start of the 2009 Las Vegas Marathon was pretty crazy. There was a band on top of the start line. There were tigers in the sides of the start line. There were fireworks. There were celebrity impersonators. The only thing about the start that was not true to Las Vegas was the air temperature. It was 32F. My ideal racing temperature is in the 50s. I wasn’t pleased with the temperature but it’s one of those things that you can’t control. It didn’t rise much about 40 during the race. At one point my shirt sleeve actually froze when I spilled water on it.
I set out with my race plan in mind. I was to run at a 7:10 pace as consistently as possible. That would have me finish at about 3:08 nearly 3 minutes ahead of my ultimate goal of 3:10:59. If I felt good near the end of the race I would run faster but I would not allow myself to run faster at the beginning. The first mile showed a 6:48 pace. That was way too fast so I slowed down. The second mile showed an 8 minute pace. I slowed down but I knew I didn’t slow to an 8 minute per mile pace. The first mile marker was too early.
At the half I was running according to plan. It was 1:34:29. I had said if I came in much above or below 1:34 that I was in trouble. At that point in the race I felt that I had a good chance of getting below 3:10:59 (Boston Qualifying time). But then things changed. My mile splits started getting slower. I turned in a bunch of 7:20-7:30 miles. I didn’t panic because I knew that wasn’t a big deal but it was a little troubling. At mile 18 things started to get difficult and I lost faith. I was almost certain at that point that I would miss my goal. Oddly I didn’t mind.
At about mile 20 everything changed again. The gentle but relentless 12 mile uphill battle was over. The wind and cold was slightly more at my back. I felt good. My music was good. I ran and I ran fast. My mile split for mile 21 was 6:49! I couldn’t believe I had gone that fast that late in the race. I became convinced that I could meet my goal. I ran the last 10k of the race in about 43:45 (7:04 pace), which is technically a 10k PR for me (but I’d blow that away if I ran a 10k right now).
All through the race the 3:10 pace group was ahead of me. I knew they had started out too fast and I didn’t want to burn out trying to keep up with them. Around mile 21 I thought I was going to catch up but they must have experienced the same feeling of rejuvenation that I had. I ran fast but the gap between us barely closed.
The last 6.2 miles is partly a blur. My mind stopped working correctly. I couldn’t remember if I was at mile 24 or if I had 4 miles to go. It didn’t matter. My training paid off here. I knew all I had to do was to maintain my current pace which is exactly what I did during training runs. It got more and more difficult to hold on to my pace but I knew I could do it because I really didn’t have very far to go. Surely I could deal with 45 minutes of discomfort?
It felt like forever but I finally rounded the corner by Mandalay Bay and saw the finish. I gave all that I had left. I could see on the clock that I had done it. I crossed feeling the exhilaration of achieving a difficult goal as well as utter exhaustion. I finished in 3:09:17, a 7:14 average pace. I received my medal and promptly sat on the ground. Within minutes at least 5 people asked me if I was OK. I said I was fine, that I just needed a few minutes. Then the chest pains started…
The pains were not normal, but then running a marathon isn’t strictly normal either. I played it smart and asked for medical assistance and so began my trek to the hospital in an ambulance and my first stay at a hospital, a story that deserves its own post. Everything turned out OK and I was released the next day to finally celebrate with my friends and family.
For any runners that are reading this please always fill out emergency information on your race bib especially at large races. The folks at the hospital need that information to contact your loved ones. Do not expect them to contact race officials. The race officials might not be able to provide the information right away (for example the computer systems weren’t working for a while at Vegas). A gentleman next to me in the ER who ran the half marathon could not speak when he arrived. He filled out his emergency information and the hospital was able to contact his fiance and family when he was not able to speak. I must also commend the race officials. A race official came to the hospital to award him his medal after he became alert. Sadly he passed away the following day. He was 32 years old.
This was the first marathon that I raced. I had a plan and I executed it. I corrected mistakes I’ve made in the past. At MCM in 2008 I went out too fast and didn’t take in enough calories. This time I trained properly and was able to maintain my pace through the end. I took gels approximately every 5 miles.
This race was very special to me. I was able to share it with lots of friends and family. It was the first marathon that my sister and I ran together. I had 5 friends other than my sister there. For two of them it was their first marathon. I haven’t really said so but I’m incredibly proud of them. My wife and daughter were there to cheer for me. I would have missed them dearly if they weren’t there. They made special shirts that wished me “luck” on the front and congratulated me on on BQing on the back (if I failed they planned not to show me the back!).
The title of this post is “Boston Didn’t Qualify For Itself, I did” but that’s a lie. We qualified for Boston. I couldn’t have done this without an understanding and loving wife, parents who drive me home from my 20 mile runs week after week, friends that support me and my craziness, and a work environment where I can put in 15 mile runs in the middle of the work day.
Some splits, just for the record:
1: 6:46 (I’m sure the 1st mile marker was too early in the course)
5 & 6: 13:59
5 Km 22:37
10 Km 44:29
16 8 Mi 2:01:38
20 Mi 2:25:29