Saturday, December 11, 2010

Thunder Road Marathon Recap

The clock read 2:23:28 at mile 26 and I knew the record was out of reach. I had just over 50 seconds to run the final .2 miles in order to break the course record from 2006 set by Birhanu Wukaw of Fayetteville, GA. It wasn't going to happen so I shut things down for good. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, look at the record holder's name. I gave it my best shot, but ultimately my legs ached too much on the late climbs and the windy stretch to NoDa sapped me of energy. I acknowledged the crowd a couple times during the last hundred meters, glanced up at the clock and broke the tape in 2:24:46. One second per mile faster and I would have achieved my WBTV stated goal of breaking the course record.

Finishing Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon (photo by Kevin Miller)

Pre Race:
Rewind the morning a few hours to 5:00 am when I got up and hit the start button on the coffee machine. I quietly got my racing costume on as Meagan slept in for her own big race later in the day. My new GORE Running Wear kit resembled a cheap Darth Vader Halloween outfit-- minus the cape. I had black on black split cut shorts, Windstopper tights, a jersey, gloves, hat, vest and jacket. I was "murdered out" Rob & Big style. I slipped out of the house and drove over to Caitlin's arriving around 7:05 am. I had a little over a half an hour to walk over to the start line and finish my final preparation for the race.

The walk over to the convention center was longer than I expected. I eventually had to walk/jog the final half mile in order to feel comfortable with the having enough time. Upon entering the building there were bodies everywhere. People were crammed in the section just off S. College, but I found enough space to shed my layers and adjust my singlet. I just needed to find a bathroom and then it would be off to the start line. I headed outside with my bag, dropped it and went in search for a porto I had spotted earlier that didn't have a line. Well, it had a line now. I'm not one to wait to handle my biz so I darted back into the convention center looking for a proper facility. No luck. Lines, lines and more lines. No time for waiting. I headed downstairs and into the bowels of the convention center. Coincidence? I think not. I was backstage, literally underground where the forklifts are stored.

I made a quick ascent to ground level, checked my bag and looked for the start line. It wasn't on S. College as I was led to believe yesterday. I scrambled my way through the little park that separates Brevard and S. College only to be locked out from the starting area. About 100 meters from the start line I jumped the fence while the Star Spangled Banner played. It was about 7:41 at this point, plenty of time to get situated at the start. Wrong! Tim was doing his final announcements while I struggled to get my damn pants off. The elastic at the zipper at the bottom was really snug, but lucky for me Leonard Hilliard came to my rescue with a few good tugs. Paul Mainwaring attempted to hand me the No. 1 bib, but it was too late. I only had about 20 seconds to get settled and the runners were off. False start! Someone false started when the NASCAR car engine revved. Fortunately we weren't going by IAAF rules and nobody was disqualified from the field. Someone at RFYL really needs to invest in a starter's pistol.

Start of Charlotte's Thunder Road Marathon
Pictured: Ethan Coffey (red), Billy Shue (orange), Stephen Spada (red), Me (grey) (photo by Kevin Miller)

The second time off the line was for reals and I repositioned the CarbBOOM! in my glove so that I'd be able to access it later in the race. I had Mr. Mainwaring to my left and a couple of half-marathoners in front of me. I ran relaxed down 3rd street and tried to let the downhill opening mile carry my legs without putting to much junk in them. The pounding felt smooth and I was breathing contently near the front. Mile one was hit in 5:22 which was a little fast, but considering the terrain I wasn't worried. The second mile allowed me to settle further into a groove of 5:35. I ran about 5 meters behind two guys running the half and watched Ethan Coffey open up a nice gap on the field. His red singlet and shorts became my target later in the race.

As Paul and I turned off Randolph Rd. and onto Colville we were working together. The tangents were being carved with precision and eventually we caught up to the second and third place half-marathoners. There was no time to admire the million dollar homes, but I did notice the cheering committee of Emily Barrett and Katie Robertson. I don't know what I was thinking, but I some how felt the need to drop a 5:18 third mile and follow it up with another 5:18 fourth mile. The neighborhood roads suited my early effort well and I was clearly feeling good. I grabbed water efficiently at the first water station and snagged another cup at the second. I remember it being really cold and I gasped once when the water hit the back of my throat.

Paul, a half-marathoner and I ran along Providence road keeping an honest effort. Our pace slowed to a 5:38 split for mile 5, but I wasn't worried due to the quicker opening miles. I became a little annoyed at one point when the half-marathoner was drafting off me up the hill. I thought it was a cheap tactic given he was running only half as far, but I wasn't going to slow down and change running positions. Instead I increased the tempo and dropped him by the top of the hill where Aaron Linz was encouraged Paul and I. During the turn onto Sharon Lane, I started hear the discomfort in Paul's breathing, but he was hanging tough. His slightly labored breathing is what actually gave me the motivation to continue with pressing the pace. It was early and Paul was setting the tempo, but I still went for the jugular.

The pace on the sixth mile dropped slightly back down to 5:20 and I crossed 10k in 33:40. Whoops! That was a little aggressive and Paul was done for the day. I believe he ended up running faster than he did at Hit the Brixx only a few weeks after posting a great time at the Richmond Marathon. Meagan had told me not to break her personal best during the opening 10k, but I guess I just don't listen.

My focus now shifted to closing the gap on the lead half-marathoner. I thought it would be cool to have the overall lead by the splitting point on the course. Ethan Coffey was about 30 seconds in front and I just stared at his back making certain to slice the tangents better than him. I rattled off splits of 5:25, 5:28 and 5:25 for miles 7, 8 and 9. I tossed my long sleeve shirt to Chad Crockford just before turning onto Sharon Road and a few minutes later I was cheered on by George "Monk" Linney and Jason Page of the Bull City Running Company. They gave me a boost of energy which can be seen in the splits during this section. The course also dipped down until coming up to cross Selwyn. I remember blowing my nose in my gloves and the lead biker offering me a tissue. I declined, but it was a nice gesture.

I started thinking about the first major split that I wanted to hit once on Queens Road. I was approaching 10 miles and wanted to be under 55 minutes (5:30 pace). Meagan and Jenna were in the center of the median cheering enthusiastically and snapped a few photos. I hit 54:21 for 10 miles and split 5:29. Just after the mark I spotted Queens' runner and German stud Simon Steutzel and his girlfriend Holly. They had made a sign, but I'll admit I don't know what it said. I was just glad to see them out there.

Approaching mile 10 along Queen Road (photo by Meagan Nedlo)

I took my second gel somewhere along this section. The first was around five miles as I like to start fueling early. I got CarbBOOM! down near mile 11 (5:29) and definitely before making the left onto Morehead. Everybody knows what a nuisance this road is during race. Need I remind you of Blue Points? Ironically, the best I felt in the race was during a 20 second stretch when rap music blasted. Running uphill, all of a sudden, I felt like surging past the group of kids with a quicker stride doing my best Sammy Wanjiru impression. This was the only point in the race where I actually felt like I was hammering and it was for a brief 100 meter section. I can't tell you the song, the lyrics or other specifics other than the fact the beat got me to hammer. Considering the uphill stretch I still split 5:34 for mile 12.

It was more tough running through Dilworth when the marathon split from the half-marathon. I was now truly solo running by Latta Park, but I knew the halfway point was approaching and I wanted to be in the 71:30 t0 72:00 range. In order to get back on a respectable pace I opened the stride down the hill along Euclid. I rolled past the tennis courts with the markers in sight. I was 5:37 for mile 13 and 71:35 at the half. I did a quick calculation and this put me on 2:23:10 pace. I was rolling! But, I was also starting to become fearful of the early opening miles. My stride was still efficient and everything seemed right, but there are always questions for the late stages of the race.

Jumping back on Morehead just prior to the Dowd YMCA sucked. No other way to describe it. I got to mile 14 in 5:35 and took a cup of water from Jason Martin. He handed it off perfectly and I nearly had a full 3 ounces instead of the 2 sips I normally get. I fell back into a rhythm on Camden and Tremont to split 5:23 for mile 15. Getting over to Mint St. was uneventful but I started to notice the wind. I wasn't sure if this was due to me tiring or if the wind was actually picking up. I had been off the line for about 90 minutes and it was time to take a quick evaluation of the body's systems. The feet felt good, breathing fine, arms working fluidly, the stomach was in okay shape, but the legs -- specifically the quads -- were getting heavy on any slight incline. South Mint is a slight incline.

Miles 16 and 17 were 5:35 and 5:33. I missed a water cup just after the I-277 overpass and was really bummed the drummers weren't stationed underneath like last year. Missing the cup was a little worrisome as it was a critical point in the race, but I hoped the gel I took during mile 16 would kick in soon. It felt like a crawl running along Trade St. to mile 18 but fortunately I quickened the pace just before the marker to hit 5:32. The wind funneled through the Uptown buildings made it difficult to maintain pace, but I was being cheered on by athletes heading out to McAlpine for the USATF Club XC meet.

The turn on Caldwell street was the start of my demise. I immediately felt the wind in my face and the incline over I-277 was a real minger. Caitlin, Jenna and Meagan were stationed just off 7th street. It was good seeing familiar faces, but I knew the stretch to NoDa would be lonely. It was last year and it would be this year. I managed a 5:32 for mile 19 which was good considering the hill. At the top of the hill was the wreckage from a recent accident. A BMW looked totaled and a woman was being ushered into an ambulance. I was starting to feel her pain.

Nearing 18.5 mile mark (photo by Meagan Nedlo)

Running to my doom (photo by Meagan Nedlo)

The road curved on Parkwood and Greg Isaacs was out on his bike. I think Matt Jaskot was out here too. I still hadn't made it onto North Davidson, but I was getting close. The stretch up to NoDa was pure suffering. Lonely, windy, industrial, hills would be key words to describe the 20 mile mark that was reached in 1:49:49 (split of 5:37).
I was slowing but still on pace through 20 miles to break the record. I wanted to be under 1:50:00 as that would give me 34:20 to get to the tape for the last 10k. I ran an opening 33:40 10k, but 34:20 would be hard to muster. I still had over a half mile until making the turn onto 35th and being in the heart of the fun and artistically minded neighborhood district. My quads had enough energy to maintain pace on the flats, but had nothing for the gradual inclines.

I made it through the wall this year! Last year "the wall" constructed of wood was still under construction when I passed by. I was a few minutes short of 21 miles and starting to realize the record was slipping out of my hands-- err legs. My splits for 21 and 22 were 5:43 and 5:42. In hindsight, that was the record. Right there on those two splits. I needed to average 5:31s and those two splits put me 23 seconds over pace. I had thoughts of packing it in right there and run to the finish at whatever pace it took to win not worrying about time.

However, I was tired but not exhausted at this point. My legs hurt a lot, but the lungs were in complete control. Breathing was never difficult late in the race. I also knew a fast section was approaching along The Plaza. Last year I clicked off a fast late mile for my under-trained legs. This year I hoped to become uplifted by seeing a fast split. It happened, but it wasn't enough. Mile 23 brought me back down under pace for a 5:29. At the time I couldn't do the math, but I needed to run the final 3.2 miles in 17:35 in order to take down the course best. I got to mile 24 with a 5:36 which was good given we turned back into the houses with few 90 degree turns. It was disappointing not being offered a pint, mimosa or bloody mary at the house party. With dampened sober spirits, I really just wanted to be done.

Running to the Hawthorne Hill aka "Take of souls" (photo by Troy Lee)

I felt better running down Hawthorne with friends yelling out. I don't know if Bob Heck was out there with his boom box, because I was in a daze. The Hawthorne Hill was only moments ahead and I knew this was the last battle on the course which caught me by surprise last year. Despite knowing it's position and tactics, it still put me in a dark place. It was my "taker of souls." I was done. It felt like I walked to the top and reaching the apex didn't ease the tightness . I couldn't find a rhythm upon hitting Central despite the mini-entourage of Caitlin, Jenna and Meagan again. John Compton and Garrett were a few hundred meters down the road. I remember Garrett yelling that I was an animal.

Approaching mile 25 and cheering section (photo by Caitlin Chrisman)

Wanting to be done (photo by Caitlin Chrisman)

Darth Vader attacks (photo by Caitlin Chrisman)

Nick Frank-esque glamour shot (photo by Caitlin Chrisman)

Better side (photo by Caitlin Chrisman)

Caitlin trying to keep up but getting smoked (photo by Meagan Nedlo)

Charlotte's skyline and mini-me (photo by Caitlin Chrisman)

I didn't get another split until the 26 mile mark. I'm pretty sure the 25 mile banner was stolen or never placed because nobody seemed to get that split. At the turn on to McDowell I heard Allen Strickland and Leonard yelling. Allen said something about my Karhu Racers. McDowell is ever so slightly uphill, mile 26 made it feel like a Morehead or Mt. Mitchell. Miles 25 and 26 combined for 11:06 (5:33 average), not bad considering the leaden legs.

The cheers got louder and looking up I could see the finish line a ways off. I also saw the clock at mile 26 also read 2:23:28...

Nearly finished with the race (photo by Karin Helmbrecht)

Glad to be done and cold (photo by Karin Helmbrecht)

Woman's winner, Danielle Crockford and sketchy dude in black (photo by Chad Crockford)

Post Race:
I was immediately congratulated by Donny Forsyth at the finish line. James Haycraft Kent Morris also escorted me to collect my belongings. My legs were shot and I needed to get warm. After getting in dry clothes I sat in the timing booth where it was warm waiting for the awards ceremony. I watched Danielle, Theoden, and others finish the marathon from the comfort of the hotel conference room. Eventually I made it out to the stage where the awards were presented at noon. I had been done for nearly two hours and was ready to get out to McAlpine. The crowd went wild as Danielle and I ascended the stage to collect our flag and flowers. Actually, there were maybe 50 people in attendance and it was rather lackluster considering the wait.

Remember how I parked at Caitlin's? Yea I had to rush over there in order to get my car and hit the cross country course for Meagan's race. I shuffled off in the direction of 7th and McDowell with a box of flowers in my hand. I ran backwards on the course and tried to encourage those runners still out on the roads. I found an efficient route to McAlpine that avoided the marathon course and made the start of the race just in time to start my watch. I could go on about how I tried to run around the park cheering on the CRC teams at USATF Club XC, but my fingers are numb.

Meagan's recap: Big Day of Racing
Caitlin's recap: Two Races, One City

12/11/10. The day Charlotte was the running mecca of the USA.

I was there.


KG said...

Congrats on the victory. You can get the CR next year.

James said...

As much as I'd like to say I had a hand in your victory, 'twas not me who helped escort you after the finish.

Sam L said...

Congrats man. It was good seeing you Saturday night, if only for a short while.

jayholder8k said...

I laughed really hard at "racing costume"

Daniel Eggers said...

dampened sober spirits,

nice recap too

CL said...

Love it JK! Digging deep, dropping that Half marathoner, sounds like something I would do, but I would really die in the latter stages for it. Congrats on back to back victories, keep grinding!

The Un-Retired Runner said...

Congrats on another win, Jordan, and I appreciate the encouraging comments you left on my recap. See ya soon and enjoy the holidays.

Anonymous said...