Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The story of my 2010 Thunder Road Marathon

Splits often tell a story, and can shed plenty of light on how someone's marathon went. So, here are my splits from last Saturday's Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte, according to my Garmin GPS watch:

Mile 1: 8:00
Mile 2: 8:03
Mile 3: 7:50
Mile 4: 7:53
Mile 5: 7:55
Mile 6 7:40
Mile 7: 7:54
Mile 8: 7:58
Mile 9: 7:51
Mile 10: 7:52
Mile 11: 7:51
Mile 12: 7:58
Mile 13: 8:00
Mile 14: 7:57
Mile 15: 7:53
Mile 16: 7:52
Mile 17: 7:53
Mile 18: 7:51
Mile 19: 7:59
Mile 20: 7:50
Mile 21: 7:53
Mile 22: 7:54
Mile 23: 7:50
Mile 24: 7:52
Mile 25: 7:56
Mile 26: 7:39
Last 0.2 miles: 1:30

But that, obviously, is not the whole story.

A simple race recap certainly tells a story, and can shed plenty of light on how someone's marathon went. So, here is a simple race recap that describes how I did and felt Saturday:

I made it to the start line in plenty of time -- unlike last year, when I had trouble squeezing into the corral at the last minute -- and felt comfortable practically from the moment I broke into full stride, thanks to well-rested legs and good, cold running weather (just the way I like it). I was able to lock into a pace that hovered a few seconds under 8:00, hitting the 10k split at 49:37 and the half at 1:44:23, according to the official timing company. At about Mile 18, I still felt reasonably good and decided that if I could hold pace for a few more miles, I'd have broken through any wall and would easily come in under my goal of 3:30. (In my experience, if you haven't hit it by Mile 22, you're home-free.) At Mile 20, I started counting people as I passed them.

At Mile 22, I felt tired but not depleted and my legs felt heavier but not trashed, so I increased my effort level to compensate and everything evened out so I could stay in the 7:50s pace-wise. At Mile 25, I decided to pick up the pace as much as I could, and when the finish line came into sight with a little less than 400 meters to go, I tried to start kicking. I immediately had to back off when I felt a tiny bit of rippling in my right hamstring, and then -- two seconds later -- in my right calf. I didn't want to have to pull up with a full cramp in front of the largest crowd on the course, so I gave up on any hope of a sprint and settled for a hard gallop. Right before crossing, I counted my 40th passing victim; meanwhile, only two runners had overtaken me in the final 6.2 miles. Official time: 3:28:16.

But that's not the whole story either. The whole story that I have to tell is, unfortunately, a mess. It's a jumble of thoughts and images and moments and people, but I'm hoping if I spit them all out here, there'll be at least one or two good takeaways and you won't feel like you've wasted your time reading this.

The first thing I need to say is that Thunder Road is not a great event. Race director Tim Rhodes is a very smart guy with a huge passion for the sport, the course is challenging but fair, and given that there's a pretty sizable half marathon and a huge 5k going on on the same morning, it's a pretty well-organized race. But the city doesn't embrace the event as it should, media coverage is almost non-existent, and -- minor quibble -- the "Thunder Road" theme seems to be more of an afterthought every year. (Remember in 2008 when there were race cars at certain mile markers? I also was surprised that we didn't see a band along the route until after the half marathoners had split off around Mile 12, despite the fact that live music is often touted in TR advertising.)

At the same time, I believe in this race. I will run it every year I am able. It's not great, no, but it's certainly good -- and I am confident it will get better. Furthermore, I don't think I've ever had more fun during a race than I did last Saturday, and I think locals who refuse to run Thunder Road because they feel it's too lame or too hilly are missing out in a big way. I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Charlotte has one of the closest-knit running communities of any major U.S. city. I have no factual basis, no leg to stand on in making this claim, but unless other cities have someone doing what we're doing on Facebook, I think it's a pretty safe bet. I can't take full credit. I just post stuff, then sit back and watch you guys turn it into something. But the social network we've created is unifying individuals and groups and factions in a way that is truly mind-blowing. I hear from runners all the time who've struck up friendships with people after being connected via comments on my page.

This is why Thunder Road is so much fun, and this is why I would encourage anyone who feels connected to the Charlotte running community to run it (or come out and cheer for it) every single year. The New York City Marathon -- which I've run, and it is a great event -- has a huge amount of diversity and jaw-droppingly large crowds. But while they're energizing, they can also be overwhelming. And in my book, quality beats quantity.

On Saturday, I could hear Charlotte Running Club chairman Aaron Linz screaming himself hoarse as he madly pedaled his bike past us on Fourth Street -- "YEAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!! GO, GO, GO, GO!! YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME! WOOOOOOOO!!!!" (not a direct quote, but you get the idea). Having sufficiently warmed up, I could toss my Under Armour cap to Jade Laughlin at the turn onto Colville after Mile 2, where she was cheering with Kati Robertson, Emily Barrett and Dalida Amalean -- and I could look down and see where the women had written my name and the names of many others in big chalky letters on the asphalt.

I could spot my amazing family -- my beautiful wife Amanda and my adorable daughter Joie -- from hundreds of yards away (this still gives me a lump in my throat every time, after six marathons); they were sitting on the corner of 35th and The Plaza, between Miles 21 and 22, waiting to give me high-fives and to wish me well. I could raise my arms triumphantly at the sight of Bob Heck standing in the back of his truck at about 24.5, shooting photos and blasting hip-hop out of his totally '80s boom box, which I swear is bigger than him.

Familiar faces were EVERYWHERE. There's Denise Derkowski and Holly Townsend. There's Cheryl Ryan. There's Clinton Fisher. Kara Pettie with her fiance, Adam Vincent; Kara jumps in and runs a little with me. Hey, it's Karen Graboski with her little girl! Dan Barker. Audra Hausser. Dalida, Emily, Kati and Jade again. Denise and Holly again, with Denise's sister Diane (high fives!). Mark Ulrich with his kid. Tracy Rabon. My boss, Mike Weinstein ... then again a mile later, with his wife Kathy. Audra again. Troy Lee. Stephanie Sawyer. Kara jumps in again (she's there helping several runners get over imposing Hawthorne Hill in Mile 24). Allison Vail. Dan Barker again. Tim Friederichs in his fatigues! Peter Asciutto, owner of Vac & Dash in Albemarle, shouting way louder than I realized he was capable. And I think that's Jason Blackwood over there -- we've never met in person, but that's gotta be him...

This list would be twice as long if I had a better memory. But this is the difference between a race like New York and your hometown race.

(By the way: Some of you may not believe this, but plenty of runners out there know as many people as I do. If you don't? Make a concerted effort to become a part of this great running community, and by the time Thunder Road is back, on Nov. 12, 2011, you too can have an experience like this. It's easier than it sounds -- I swear. A good running group and some Facebook maintenance and upkeep go a looong way.)

Now a few shout-outs to some people who ran with me.

Katie Hines. We'd never met before, but had become Facebook friends after adopting the same marathon training plans in the fall (me for Ridge to Bridge, her for Outer Banks). For Saturday, she indicated she wanted to run the half at about the same pace I hoped to run the full at. Katie stayed with me till the cutoff at Mile 12, and then -- since she was trying to get in 20 for the morning -- rejoined me around Mile 23. She kept me on an incredibly even keel for the first 12 (go back and look at those splits), and provided some great motivation in the late going by saying I looked great even though it was probably a lie. She ran the half in 1:43:58.

Mark Ippolito. Mark and I met at the Davidson half this past fall after being running pen pals for awhile. We've since crossed paths at several races, including Ridge to Bridge, where he BQ'd with a 3:20:33 (six minutes faster than my time there). On Saturday, he came up from behind Katie and I at about Mile 10. He'd said beforehand that he also was shooting for somewhere in the neighborhood of 3:30, but based on his command performance at R2B, I figured he might creep ahead of me and eventually ride off into the sunset. But for the next 16 miles, he never left my side. It's amazing what having someone to run with can do for your psyche, even if there's not much talking going on. There was limited chatter, mostly just checking in on each other, or remarking about the weather or a spectator. But to have someone there who knows your pain and with whom there's an equal give and take ... it's just different and in some ways a little better, I suspect, than having a pacer. (Mark and I crossed together, although his chip time was a few seconds slower at 3:28:23.)

That said, there were some great pacers out there. I particularly want to thank Stan Austin and Bjorn Norman, a pair of three-hour marathoners who helped pace the 3:30 group Saturday and -- although they came in a little ahead of schedule -- were incredibly locked in at a 7:57 pace that didn't seem to waver by even a second either way. First saw Stan on Providence Road, and spotted Bjorn in Southend; I never once let them get more than about 100 meters ahead of me after that. Both guys were exceedingly positive and gave me a big final boost by encouraging me to take off when we were about to make the final turn off of McDowell onto MLK Jr. Boulevard. (No, I didn't count them among the 40 people I passed between Mile 20 and the finish. Though if you say it's OK, I will...)

Finally, I mentioned Kara Pettie jumped in at a couple of points, once on Queens and again on Hawthorne. Many of you know her as the store manager at Run For Your Life-University ... I heard she helped out several others in a similar manner, offering GUs or asking if there was anything else we needed. This goes above and beyond.

Me with Katie, Mark, and Kara on Hawthorne.

It was just a great day, full of great people.

I believe the runner's high is real. I don't get there very often, but I got there Saturday during the race. I did things that morning I look back at and go, "What was I thinking?" A goofy running dance for the ladies on Morehead. An exaggerated, leaping high five for my wife and daughter. A geeky "I'm-shooting-at-you-with-two-pistols" things (with some high knee lifts thrown in, the whole thing looking like a college basketball player would do if they'd just dunked on someone) when I saw my boss and his wife among the throng at the makeshift frat house right before Mile 24. More leaping high fives for Bob Heck and Ridge to Bridge buddy Troy Lee on Hawthorne. At other moments, upon seeing friends, I'd raise, outstretch and bob my arms, making me appear as though I was a baby hoping to be picked up.

All stuff I've never done in a marathon before with such enthusiasm, or with so big a smile. (Why waste the energy, right?) But all stuff I would love, love, LOVE to do again.

Anyway, that right there is the whole story ... or as close as I can get.

21 comments:

Marc said...

What I'd really love to see is more crowd support. The folks that were out were awesome, but I know there was better support at Steamtown, which is a pretty small marathon. Unfortunately, I'm not sure of how to get more folks out there. More advertising maybe? I think the move to november may help as the warmer weather will be good for spectators. The race has potential, but you're right there are things that need to get better. More porta-johns. More entertainment along the course. didn't need that little jag before the finish line

caitchris said...

as always, theoden, such a great recap. i'm amazed at how many marathons you've run this year and also amazed at your memory. keep up the great work. i tip my hat to you!

Audra said...

Congratulations Theoden!

I couldn't agree with you more when you say that our Charlotte marathon could be a better experience for runners. There is so much potential if the whole community would just get involved. After running the Twin Cities Marathon this year and seeing the whole town getting involved, it made me sad that Charlotte wasn't as supportive. Next year this event will be held in November. Hopefully this will mean warmer temperatures that will draw more spectators. It's so much fun cheering on runners and the runners are so appreciative of it!

Maybe a committee needs to be formed to organize more support?

Dave Munger said...

So funny how paths cross (or don't) in a race. I spent the first 5 miles running with Mark Ippolito, but I never saw you during the race. I think you must have caught up with him just as I was bumping up the pace.

Speaking of the race itself, I agree that the NASCAR theme just doesn't work very well. The start was particularly bad, when several runners false-started on hearing the loud "revving up" recording. And it doesn't make sense to start a marathon with a green flag -- most of the runners, packed tightly behined one another, can't see it. There's a reason they use a gun to start footraces.

But I also agree that this race is a lot of fun. I especially appreciated the crowd at the rap-music station right around Mile 12. Nice way to motivate a runner up Morehead St.

Anonymous said...

Great support from the crowds. One in particular was a very kind girl that helped me climb Hawthorne hill in her boots, after I hit the "wall" and was crawling to the finish! Thank you.

Carrie said...

Great recap of your race.

While we're Charlotte runners (I use the term loosely), we're not involved in the Charlotte running community...and didn't recognize a single person during the 1/2 marathon. Still, we were thankful for the crowd support that did show up! We went into the race thinking that it was a small, locally run event - and I think that was true. It has the potential to become something great...I wonder if the date change will have real impact - or if it was just a logistical change?

Anonymous said...

I wish the newspaper would let the city know about the event in these words " The Charlotte Marathon will be winding through these parts of Charlotte ( insert course map ) here is the route so you know where to go cheer, party, and support the runners from CLT and all over the country. "

Instead the same info it told in a negative. " The Charlotte Marathon is being run on Saturday, here are the road closings, and traffic problems that will be expected. "

In Nashville the week of their race, there is a Marathon Guide insert that is distributed in the local newspaper that does a great job of getting the city excited. It tells countless feelgood stories about runners, promotes cheer zones, as well as informs the citizens of the route.

Thanks for all your positive press Theoden.

Chaz said...

Good run T. But to be critical of the race for a lack of bands on the course, or race cars, or dancing bears, mimes, clowns, jugglers, etc. is a bit harsh. What counts in my book is the organization, and I think Thunder Road is top notch in that department.

It's perhaps a bit overpriced in my opinion... But right now the marathon distance is all the rage, so I guess it's fair to charge what the market will handle. Sure, crowd support could be better, but you can't hang that on Tim. I think T-Road is a serious marathon for serious runners. If you pick your marathons based on how cool the finishers medal is, then go somewhere else. But if you are serious about what you do there is nothing wrong with TR.

Gary Brimmer said...

I came in from Texas to run this race with two friends from Fayetteville. I felt the aid stations, course, support were first class. I did think for a small race, with a very empty goodie bag, plain t shirt, the price was pretty darn steep. However, this race has a ton of potential. It's simply a matter of how much the race committee would like to take on.

Jaclyn said...

Thanks Theoden for your awesome recap! I love hearing your about your races and I too am impressed with your memory. I have definitely been able to see Thunderroad grow in the last 3 years. I think they may need to stagger the full and half marathons next year - it was pretty congested in the first half. But I love the race and it is always fun to run in your home town with so many familiar faces out supporting the runners.

stephen said...

Question: There was an op-ed piece that you published over the summer from a gentleman who discussed "weasel running." People who, in effect had not paid to run the race that they were participating.

Do you agree with what was published? I noticed that you mentioned at least one person who ran with you in a race that they hadn't registered for. Just curious.

I'm all for pacers, but it didn't jive with what I had read on your blog earlier this year.

Cheers!

Anonymous said...

I think Thunder Road is getting worse each year, not better. It was warmer, but the crowds were much smaller. Runner management at the start was a MESS. There were a LOT of us trapped on the sidewalk even as the national anthem was playing. What's up with running through the parking lot of the MAC? T-shirts were ugly. I want this race to be great but it sadly is not.

Theoden Janes said...

Stephen: The one person who "jumped in with me" did so twice, for about 2 to 3 minutes. I think this qualifies as neither "pacing" nor "banditing" ... but it's certainly a matter of opinion, and I hope others will speak up if they disagree. Thanks for the comment!

Elizabeth said...

WOW, WOW, WOW! That is so fantastic! Looks like you were trained really well and you executed perfectly. I love how you picked it up in the last mile!

Anonymous said...

Every single citizen in Charlotte should be out there cheering us runners on. This is an athletic spectacle of the highest order and the fact that only handful of people show up to cheer for us athletes is sad. We are no different than the Panthers or Bobcats, so why are we supported any different?

Mark said...

Great recap! Enjoyed basking in the Theoden spotlight ;)

I agree that this race could be so much more than it is. If it wasn't our hometown race, I wouldn't have run it a second time. Yes, it is a relatively organized event on a challenging course but nothing else makes it noteworthy. It's not going to be Chicago, NY, or MCM, but why call it Thunder Road and then have as your theme one race car at the expo and two at the finish. That constitutes a theme? Oh, I forgot the green flag at the start.

With respect to media coverage, I ran Buffalo earlier this year, and my brother in law who lived there at the time commented on how much build up there was in the media coverage prior to the race. Other than your facebook site, blog and print articles, there was nearly no publicity. With respect to crowd support, I suspect that almost all non-runners in Charlotte have no idea there was a marathon last weekend. Too bad.

Other gripes I have heard is having to pay for parking (even at the expo after hours) and no race day pick up. We lost some regional runners from the mountains, foothills and sandhills on that one.

Now, even after all of that criticism, I have to say that this was still one of my favorite runs, but it was because of the company I had and not the event itself.

Your blog is a call to arms for all of us to do whatever we can to improve and promote this event. The status quo doesn't seem to be getting it done.

Thanks for a great read!

Anonymous said...

Seems like a nice place to share some feedback of my own. Thanks for the soapbox.

Thunder Road Marathon 2010

Pros:

- Overall very well organized
- Friendly volunteers
- Adequate water stops
- Clif Shots were nice!
- Protein shakes at finish
- Challenging course

Cons:

- Parking fees
- Mandatory packet pick-up in downtown (not convenient)
- Finishers medal not dated with year (would be a nice touch)
- Tee-shirt way way UGLY!
- Starting line was a complete mess, and poorly organized. Should have been located back in front of the convention center.

Overall: 8 out of 10

chupacabra said...

Somehow I don't someone jumping to run a few blocks to help someone along is the same thing as weasel running a race.

This was my first full marathon. Let's not talk about my time, let's just focus on the fact that I finished. The folks at NoDa were great. I feel badly now about not taking the offered beer but I was in one foot in front of the other mode and didn't think it would be a good idea.

I don't have any problems picking up the race packet uptown since I work uptown but I do wish they would let me pick up my husband's packet too instead of making him take a train to meet me on Friday. I really doubt anyone is stealing race packets so my guess is that this is about making sure everyone has to go to the expo.

Speaking of which, was the expo even open on Saturday? Last year when he ran the full and I ran the half my mother-in-law and I spent quite a while in the expo waiting for him to come in but it didn't seem like anything was going on down there this year.

Having the bag check right there on the street was just perfect. Like I said, first full so I wasn't really looking forward to hauling myself back to the conventino center to get my sweatshirt. It was amazing to have it right there at the finish.

I thought the nascar tie-in was much better a couple of years ago. You'd think they would be involved in such a huge event right in front of their HOF but apparently not.

I blame the CO for the lack of crowd support. It seems like there was more converage this year than in years past but most people in the city don't seem to know about it other than as a traffic snare. I don't think they even realize that they could or should come out and cheer on random people.

The ones who do turn out are great though. Love the kid with the trumpet over near SouthPark.

chupacabra said...

pretend that says "I don't THINK someone jumping OUT to run...."

Brian said...

This was my second marathon, and both now have been TR. So it's hard for me to compare this to other events. I thought the event was better last year with bands and such, but the company I ran with was great. Certain parts of the race had really nice support and crowds, other parts were like a ghost town. I wonder if revamping the route would help. The first half is obviously beautiful, but special thanks to NODA and The Plaza area. Those folks kept me going through the wall.

As for the shirts, they aren't great this year. I know some issue last year was the cause for a finishers shirt, but I really liked that concept and the fact that they were both long sleeve.

Also a big thank you to the cop near the end that encouraged us with the declaration that "right here is 23.7 miles" and he had some print out of the route to prove it.

Let's offer constructive comments to make this event better, but let's not throw it under the bus entirely. I don't want to lose this REALLY REALLY close to home marathon. I would agree it's time to lose the racing theme, because obviously they don't give a crap about it. And someone needs to educate the city that this is an event to be a part of, not to avoid.

At my work all I heard was complaining, and I let them know that as a runner that was really offensive to me. I have always sat there and listened to the crap their kids have done and tried to act interested, but I think I am tired of taking the high road and will respond in kind the next time they complain about the marathon.

Steve said...

Nice account Theoden.