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.