Heading into the Fargo Marathon, I was feeling really optimistic about my chances to qualify for Boston. For those unacquainted with the Boston Marathon qualifying procedures, it means I had to run under 3:05 (or 7:03/mile) for the full 26.2 miles. In reality, I was hoping to run under 3:03 because the last few years, entry into the marathon has required runners to go anywhere from 1-2 minutes below their actual qualifying time.
I had a terrific training cycle averaging 71 mpw with only one real off week (due to the flu). I had really nailed my key workouts. I didn’t have any shorter races leading up to the marathon due to a combination of things (MN spring weather and busy life in general being the main culprits), but I was still confident in my fitness. I ran a 1:25 half marathon in October and was fairly confident that I had worked harder and was in as good or better shape than I was for that race.
We headed to the kid’s race on Thursday, as we have done the past three years, for our 4-year old daughter Quinn to run the kids race. And for the third consecutive year, she outkicked a parent at the finish line to claim victory.
My wife was planning on running the half marathon, so we had to do quite a bit of preparation before the race just to get our kids organized along with getting ourselves organized. We thought we were quite organized until Thursday when we got a little hiccup. Our youngest daughter Lille got the flu. The focused-on-the-race version of myself thought immediately ‘oh crap, I hope I don’t get this. I wonder if I should sleep in a different room.’ But since I’m a dad first and a runner 2nd, I recognized the importance of taking care of our little one who obviously wasn’t feeling the best. So I took off Friday morning to be with our little girl while my wife took off a half day Friday afternoon.
I half expected to start to feel like crap Friday night or Saturday morning, but I was feeling optimistic when I woke up on Saturday and felt fine. I got up extra early for my pre-race meal of a plain Liege waffle and a cup of coffee. The race day temperature was my favorite running weather. A touch on the cold side (high-30s at the start, high-40s at the finish). Everything pointed towards a great race.
We got to the Fargodome where the races were set for a staggered indoor start. My races started at 7:30 AM, a half an hour before the half marathon started. Right before the race, I was trying to get my LiveTrack going and couldn’t get my GPS watch to sync w/ my phone. I really like my GPS watch (Forerunner 220), but I get frustrated that I have to constantly fuss with it to get it to sync. This time, I had to uninstall/re-install my Garmin Connect app on my phone, re-sync my phone, and then I was able to make it work. Not world altering, but frustrating nonetheless. I barely had time to make a last minute bathroom break, get my headphones ready, and get my gels ready to go. I made my way towards the front of the start line. Last year, I finished 37th in this race, so I figured starting off just a few seconds off the start line was the right place for me.
Mile 1 – 7:04 – The highlight of this mile was a collective sigh the entire field made as we exited the Fargodome. It went from 70 degrees to 37 degrees in the matter of two seconds which was a little jolt to the system. I went out ultra conservative and was very happy with this mile.
Mile 2 – 6:41 – Wasn’t pushing at all this mile. Felt really comfortable. The goal for the race is just to hang out in the 6:40-6:50 range for as long as possible.
Mile 3 – 6:52 – We’re in North Fargo. This is probably the area of town that I’m the least familiar with, but there is great crowd support.
Mile 4 – 6:30 – I know this mile seems really fast, but it didn’t feel exceptionally fast. Looking back after the race, my HR isn’t exceptionally high. But knowing I can’t maintain 6:30 pace for a marathon, I decide to back off a little bit. A wise piece of advice I got years ago said when you are fit, the first 10 miles of a marathon should feel ridiculously easy.
Mile 5 – 6:41 – I’m right back in the range where I wanted to be. The race is definitely starting to string out for me. I was tempted to join a group of 5-7 runners about 10 seconds ahead of me just so I have someone to run with, but I decide I’m going to hang back and try to run my own race.
Mile 6 – 6:48 – It’s strange. My legs just aren’t feeling wonderful. I keep reminding myself of my Twin Cities Marathon in 2004 where I felt pretty crappy through 17 miles, but wound up running what felt like a pretty good time dropping over a half hour from my previous marathon 3-1/2 months earlier.
Mile 7 – 6:41 – Not feeling as easy as I would’ve hoped which is certainly frustrating. I know that I’m not running paces that I’m unaccustomed to running, but I’m definitely working WAY more than I want to. Last year on my way to running a 3:08 marathon, I just felt like I was cruising through the half. Running with the 3:05 pace group, I remember feeling confident that I was feeling better than most of the other in the group.
Mile 8 – 6:51 – Entered a bikepath on this segment. Made a conscious effort to back off just a touch and the time showed it.
Mile 9 – 6:45 – Another bikepath mile. Did find a couple of guys to run with this mile which was a welcome break from doing this solo.
Mile 10 – 6:50 – We headed into Minnesota for this mile. This was the “hilliest” mile of the course with a whopping 11 feet of elevation gain. We run about a block from a house I lived in during college when I first started running, so I’m very familiar with this part of the course.
Mile 11 – 6:45 – We head towards Minnesota State University – Moorhead where I went to school my freshman year. I had my music kind of timed to play a lot of the music we listed to my freshman year of college (Kid Rock from Woodstock 99 and Andrew WK!) I really enjoyed this new addition to the course as they had a ton of crowd support for this mile.
Mile 12 – 6:43 – Ran through Concordia College during this mile. I never went there, but I hung out there nearly every year my first two years of college as a big group of my friends went here. Again, really good crowd support. Towards the end of this mile, I saw my mom, sister, and two daughters who barely made it to see me. My daughter Quinn was holding a sign that said “Run Faster Daddy” which I thought was adorable.
Mile 13 – 7:01 – I had my first “what the hell?!?” moment when I saw the time on this mile. I didn’t feel at all like I was slowing down. I definitely felt like I was working, but I couldn’t believe the mile was so slow. I didn’t fret too terribly much because it wasn’t wildly out of the range I wanted to run, but I was just a little thrown back by it. Went through the half marathon in 1:29:46 which was basically exactly where I was hoping to be at this point.
Mile 14 – 6:52 – More running in Moorhead. We actually were running through on of my favorite spots to run in college for the first time, so I really was excited about this area.
Mile 15 – 7:03 – Had my first major “uh oh” moment of the race at this point. We did a turnaround towards the end of this mile. On this turnaround, I felt a familiar twinge. Calf cramps. In about half of my marathons, I’ve had some major cramping issues. In my fall 2013 marathon, I got a bad case of them. Last year, I took a salt tablet and seemed to avoid them. This time, I forgot to take the salt tablet although I wasn’t sure I believed it made a difference. But I was extremely nervous that I had over 11 miles left to go and I was already cramping. Surely, this was a bad sign.
Mile 16 – 7:24 – At his point, I knew my race was screwed. I couldn’t press on the gas any harder because if I did, I started cramping really bad. It didn’t feel like my pace had fallen off this bad, but it apparently had. In my mind, I’m thinking if I can just hold on to 7:15-7:20 pace, I might be able to sneak under 3:05.
Mile 17 – 7:21 – Saw my entire family again at this mile. They were cheering me on, but I doubt they knew how bad I was feeling. Besides the cramps, my legs just felt like they were in quick sand. I just couldn’t move!
Mile 18 – 7:19 – I do something I almost never do at this mile. I pop out my headphones because I feel like I need the crowd to finish this thing out. Plus the music I have picked out for this part of the race (increasingly intense) doesn’t match how my running is going (increasingly suckier).
Mile 19 – 7:32 – I feel like I’m giving effort, but every mile I see my split is increasingly more demoralizing. I think I let out an audible cuss after I saw this one. I’m battling, but it feels pretty bleak. Saw my family after this mile and told them “I’m dying!” My sister said she could tell my gait was completely off.
Mile 20 – 7:46 – Right towards the end of this mile, I get passed by the 3:05 pace group. Last year, there were about 7 (or so) left at this point. I was able to hang on until nearly 22 miles. It feels awful getting passed by this group although I’ve known for quite sometime that 3:05 wasn’t happening today.
Mile 21 – 8:34 – I’m just getting really pissed at this point. I feel like I’m doing no work from a cardio perspective, but my legs just aren’t cooperating. Taking a look at my HR after the marathon seems to match what I was feeling. My heart rate is actually going down each of the last 5 miles. Frustrating.
Mile 22 – 8:26 – Just frustrating… no other words. The cramping is awful and pretty much constant. I’m trying to “find” a gait that will allow me to run cramp free. Isn’t really happening. I feel like I’m just dragging my left leg along.
Mile 23 – 8:33 – Just want to finish at this point. I know my time isn’t anything I’m going to brag about. I just kind of have an attitude that I’m not going to let this race get the best of me. I’m not going to walk. I’m going to finish this to the best of my ability and chalk it up to just having a bad day.
Mile 24 – 9:05 – Probably my worst mile of cramping for the whole race. I ran by a group of my former HS XC runners who were cheering in the crowd and yelled out “Don’t run marathons! Marathons suck!” which I think they appreciated.
Mile 25 – 8:33 – Strangely, had a little less cramping this mile. Granted nearly every step hurt like hell, but at least it didn’t feel semi-debilitating like it had been in the past mile.
Mile 26 – 9:02 – Another crazy terrible mile. I got passed by a tiny Asian woman who was breathing so hard it sounds like she was about to give birth to a child. Always awesome when you get passed by someone who sounds just awful.
Last 0.2 – 3:15 – Due to GPS inaccuracy, this time is almost 0.4 miles. I’m pretty pleased just to be done. Despite the awful last half of the race, it’s still my 2nd best marathon time. And it’s not like it’s the worst race I’ve ever run.
Official Finish Time – 3:14:59
Funny that I just snuck under 3:15. Must’ve been that MONSTER kick that I unleashed at the finish. I *almost* passed a few of those 2:45-ish half marathon runners that were finishing around the same time.
In the end, I don’t know what to make of this race. I put in the training I thought I needed to run a BQ time. I felt like I had all of the necessary fight and commitment to run a BQ time, but a body that was unwilling or unable to cooperate. A day after the race, a lot of things started to make sense when I came down with what seemed to be the exact same strain of the flu that my youngest daughter had on Thursday. In my mind, it seems to make sense because it helps to explain the overall dead-leggy-ness (no way that’s a word) feeling I had the entire race. I’m a few hundred credits short of having a medical degree, but I’d have to think that having the flu virus incubating in your body while trying to run a marathon wouldn’t be ideal. But it still kind of leaves me in a state of flux. If completely healthy, was I in good enough shape for Boston? Had the race been the Saturday before or after, would I have felt like I had hoped I would feel? Is it worth trying to sneak in another marathon before the Boston deadline in early September?
Overall, I don’t know how to feel about my experience. I was really proud of my ability to make the best of a bad situation. I felt mentally pretty strong. Even when the race went south, I continued to push. It’s just like my body wouldn’t respond. I put in all of the training I felt like I needed, but today just wasn’t my day. Before the race, all of my friends and family were very supportive telling me that they thought I’d qualify for Boston. I was optimistic that I would as well, but I’ve run enough marathons to know running a PR at the marathon certainly isn’t something that happens just because it “should” happen.
A look at my HR from the marathon reflects exactly what my cardio felt like during the race. I felt normal early early and then right around when it felt like my legs went out from under me, my heart rate kept dropping. My legs felt worse, but my cardio was getting easier and easier to the point where from a breathing and HR perspective, I didn’t even feel like I was running the last few miles (leg muscles, not so much so). So looking at things to change the BQ attempt race – I’ve definitely got to improve my overall strength. I think I need to incorporate more hill works like I have done in past long runs. I think I’ve learned that I probably need to pop a salt tab before the race. Staying away from the flu would help, but that doesn’t seem like something you can truly avoid. I may not have hit my goal, but I felt like my effort I gave was the best that I had on the day, so it’s hard to be incredibly disappointed.
The big winner on the day was my wife Sara. She runs the Fargo Half Marathon nearly every year. The only two years she’s missed have been the two years she’s been pregnant. Her training has been somewhat spotty due to our daughter Lille not yet understanding that nights are for sleeping. Despite all of that, she ran her second fastest half marathon time ever finishing in 2:03:46. She’s hoping that once life becomes a little more normal for us, she can make an attempt at running a sub-2 hr half. Either way, the family award for best performance of the day goes to her!
View my race on Stava