Monday, October 04, 2010

Twin Cities Marathon Race Report: There is No Wall

Wow.  Just, wow.  It's now a day after the race, and I'm not sure it has all sunk in quite yet.  My first marathon was an unforgettable experience, but the sheer joy that I feel right now is incomparable.  I came into this race with a pretty lofty goal, and while I was confident in my training, I didn't know if I could do it.  What ended up happening, though, was what I considered to be the perfect race.

I'm planning on this being a series of posts, with a general race report today, and then a more nerd-like analysis later.


Even considering my unwanted wake-up call, I was in a good mood when I arose at 4:20am.  I then had a happy breakfast:

Katie drove me to the Dome and I was there around 6:00am.  I knew that I didn't need to get there quite so early, but it calms me to be early to places.  If we had aimed to be there at 7:00am or 7:15am, every red light or line to get in the doors would have stressed me out.  I found a spot in the Dome, and just relaxed for an hour or so.  I had a salt packet at 7:15am, and a Gu at 7:30am.  After the Gu, I made my way outside.

This turned out to be my biggest mistake of the day.  Last year, I waited on the lower level of the Dome, where there are 2 exits.  On the upper level, there is 1 exit, so there was a long line to get outside.  I hurried down to sweat check, and made my way to the starting corrals.  Since it was now 7:45am, the corrals were pretty full.  I intended to get up to the 4 hour runners, but the furthest I could push my way through the crowd was 4:10.  Not ideal, but I accepted my place and didn't stress out about it.

This is one occasion when having done this before was helpful.  As the horn sounded for the wheelers and Corral 1, I remained calm, cool, and collected.  I didn't get my adrenaline going too soon, and this helped immensely with the first few miles.


I walked to the starting line and got going.  Even though it was a colder morning (about 39°F), I was comfortable in a singlet and shorts.  Running down 6th Street was everything I remembered, although it was pretty quiet going through the tunnel under that building.  I had a deliberately slow pace, and passed few, if any, people.

Mile 1: 8'46"

Good pace, a little quick, but I was very happy with it.  This next mile had my favorite part of the entire race—the bells at the Basilica.  They're so loud and joyous, you just can't help but smile—unless, of course, you've got an iPod and are in your own little world.  But I digress.

Up the hill to the Walker, I kept the mantra in mind: "Constant Effort".

Mile 2: 8'43"

Still good on the pace.  I turned onto Douglas, and continued uphill with the mantra.  A little bit down the road, I came across a group of Tom Horner supporters, and we got each other pumped up.  Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Alan Page was on his street corner with his tuba, and we flashed each other a wave.

The first aid station went smoothly.  I took 2 cups of Powerade, had minimal spillage, and didn't loose much time.

Mile 3: 9'07"

Turning towards Lake of the Isles, I began to run the tangents in earnest.  It was less crowded around me than it was last year, so I could move from one side of the road to the other without too much effort.  I still don't understand why others don't do this.  Are they really excited about adding a quarter mile to their race?  For most of the race, I ran the tangents rather skillfully.

Mile 4: 8'36"

Good, now I'm settling into my pace.  It was in this stretch as I got to Lake Calhoun that I saw Leanne.  More accurately, she saw me, yelled out my name, and I was able to turn and wave before it was too late.  Thanks Leanne!  Also, another aid station and some Powerade and I was good to go.

Mile 5: 8'04"

Huh?  I ran that one much too fast, and there was even an aid station in there.  Ok, well, I'll pull back a little bit.  Here was also the first time I saw Katie!  I saw her before she saw me, so I called out "Katie!" and got a high-5 from her.  Last year, I didn't have any spectators who knew me until Mile 14—this year I had 2 before mile 7!

Mile 6: 9'03"

Slower, better.  I took it easy up the hill on Berry Parkway, and then cruised to Lake Harriet.  I ate drank ingested my first Gu here, and I must tell you about how much of genius I am—and it's second only to my modesty.  I made a Friday afternoon decision to forego pinning the Gu to my waistband.  That was a bit of a hassle last year.  This year, I tried something new.  I had compression shorts under my running shorts, so I folded the legs up a bit to create "pockets" for the Gu.  I tucked the Gu into the shorts, and they didn't bother me or get in the way.  It was a fantastic solution, and I'll be doing that again.

Mile 7: 8'31"

I'm happy with that.  I was in cruise control for most of this stretch since it was flat and was just a gentle, sweeping turn around the lake.

Mile 8: 8'46"

Easy up the hills on Minnehaha Parkway.

Mile 9: 8'43"

An aid station right away, with some more Powerade.  I was also very happy that the one drum troupe was back under the Nicollet Avenue bridge.  It sounds so great reverberating through the bridge.

Mile 10: 8'33"

Good pace—still not too fast.

Mile 11: 8'26"


Mile 12: 8'48"

Second Gu right at the start of this mile, followed by a longer uphill climb to the bridge over Nokomis.  Keeping it easy, though.

Mile 13: 8'24"

I got a little worried here.  I checked my overall time and I was about 1.5-2 minutes slower than even pacing.  I knew that I would have to negative split if I wanted to get under 3:45.  I also ate my second salt packet here, but it was a little moist from me spilling Powerade and water down my front.

Also, Mel-O-Glaze Donuts is the MOST TORTUROUS spot on the whole course.  The smell of jelly donuts was overpowering, and I exclaimed to the lady next to me: "Doesn't that smell wonderful?".  She responded with a look of "I think you just said something, but you're probably crazy, so I'm going to drift back into my iPod world."

Mile 14: 8'39"

So, I didn't pick it up there.  There was a hill, and I took it easy.  But, I remembered something about my hill strategy.  The Runner's World forum post that helped inform my strategy said that if I keep my effort even up the hills, it will look like I'm moving backwards compared to other runners.  But, once I get to the hill after turning back onto Minnehaha Parkway, something will change.  It will start to look like everyone else is moving backwards compared to me, even though I'm keeping my effort constant.  This means I've run the hills smarter, and the everyone else is feeling the consequences of attacking the hills too aggressively.  Well, I noticed this EXACT phenomenon, and it was really, really cool.

Mile 15: 8'17"

Picking it up—that's good.  Another Gu, too.  What really surprised me in this section of the course was how crowded it was.  I don't remember this happening last year, but from Minnehaha Park for about ¾ of a mile, it was some really tight going.  I couldn't move around very much to run tangents, so I had to be content with where I was.  Then, all of a sudden, it just thinned out again.  The road width stay pretty constant through here, so I just had no idea what was going on.

Mile 16: 8'33"

Good pace considering I slowed to Gu.  I wanted to pick it up a bit more on this section of the course because it is pretty flat and shady, so it was a good opportunity to make up some time.

Mile 17: 7'38"

?!?!?  Huh?  What happened here?  Way, way too fast.  I thought that I had just ruined my hopes of a 3:45 marathon with this mile.  I slowed down, and tried to get my effort back under control.  It was here that I saw Kelli and her husband Eric right by the Lake Street bridge.  They were waving wildly in their bright green shirts.  Thanks guys!

Mile 18: 8'32"

That's better.  I saw Katie for the second time here, and she managed to get a photo of me running past:

I even managed a wave

I should have been more nervous during this part of the race.  It was here last year that things started to fall apart on me.  This year, though, I was feeling really good, and kept pushing the pace.

Mile 19: 8'06"

Ok, banking some time here for the next section of the course.  Here began a series of 4 hills that can ruin your race.  The hill up to Franklin, the hill from the Welcome to St. Paul sign, the hill up from Marshall Ave, and the big hill up to St. Thomas.  I kept with my strategy of constant effort up this first hill, and it worked marvelously.  One last Gu on the East side of the river, and I had a 10k left.

Mile 20: 8'13"

Still a quick pace.  I ran through "the wall" (not the real "The Wall", but an inflatable one), and was feeling super.  After this though, muscles started rebelling.  First was my right calf, but I ignored it and kept running.

I told myself before the race that I wouldn't know if a 3:45 was possible until I got to the East side of the river.  Considering how good I was feeling, I knew that I had a shot at it.

Mile 21: 8'22"

Not slowed too much by the hills, so looking good.  Katie appeared AGAIN, this time just before the final big hill.  She got a few more photos of me going by:

I still had a stride here, and did not have to resort to a shuffle

I managed a smile and a wave to Katie, but then focused on the hill that was approaching quickly

The Hill.  Last year, I had to ask others if I was still moving.  This year, I looked at that hill and said to it: "I own you."  This is where all my hill repeats are done, so I wasn't going to let it beat me.  I stared at the top, kept my effort constant, and made it up in no time.  No walking, no shuffling, just running.

At the top, there's a turn onto Cretin, then about 200 meters later, it's a left turn onto Summit.  At the turn, there were hundreds of St. Thomas students, and the roar was deafening.  I turned onto Summit—the closest thing to a "home course" that I've got—and said to myself: "I've Got This".  3:45 was going to happen, no matter what.

Mile 22: 8'51"

Yup, sub-9 even with the big hill.  I made it up the final grade to Snelling, and knowing that the net elevation change from that point forward was negative, I flashed a big grin.

Mile 23: 8'12"

What?  An uphill mile at almost 8 minutes?  I guess I've still got something left in me.  There was an aid station just past the Mile 23 marker, and I took 2 cups of Powerade.  That would be the last time I stopped for fluids.

Katie showed up for a FOURTH time just as I approached Lexington.  I yelled to her that "I've got this!".  She didn't quite hear me, but there was no stopping me now.

My right quad was the next muscle to go.  It tensed up, but I ignored it too.

Mile 24: 8'13"

Still pushing the pace.  I looked at my watch at this point, and saw that even if I ran the last 2.2 miles at 10 min/mile, I would still come in at 3:45.  But I didn't slow to 10 min/mile.  All along Summit, I just picked people in front of me, and passed them.  One after another, I kept doing this.  I've got some really cool statistics for a later blog post about this.

Left hamstring.  Ignored it.

Mile 25: 8'16"

There was a little hill in that last mile, but I didn't notice.  I knew I had 1.2 miles to go, and I wanted to finish, so, so bad.  I was hurting, but not stopping.  I mostly just looked at the double yellow line on the road, and focused on that.  It kept going, so I did too.

Interesting fact.  Al Franken-stein was cheering along this last stretch of the course.  I can't stand his politics, but I'm glad he was out supporting the runners.  I waved, he waved back.  He was also shouting: "Point seven miles to go!".  In truth, it was more like 0.4, but he's a comedian, not a scholar, so I'll give him a break.

Coming around the curve and seeing the Cathedral was just as cool this year as it was last year.  Last year, I teared up a bit seeing that.  This year, I kept pushing.

Also at this point was my favorite group of farm animals.  Really, just the chicken was upright and doing things, but I'm sure the other animals were there somewhere.  I saw Steve cheering for people, then he put the chicken head back on.  Turning, he saw me, ripped the head off, and grabbed his camera.  I think we high-fived (sorry Steve, everything was a bit cloudy right there!).

Down the hill I went.  The big American Flag was tangled up, but still an awe inspiring sight.

Legs.  Ignored them.

Mile 26: 7'51"

Yeah, baby!  You read that right—sub 8 on the last full mile.  I pushed, and I pushed, and I pushed to get to that finish line.

I hit the mat, and leapt up with a shout and a fist pump into the air.

Last 0.2: 1'37" (8'05" pace)

Then I hit the ground.  Truth be told, when I "leapt", it was more like I reduced my normal force on the ground slightly.  Remember that I am (a) white, and (b) at the end of 26.2 miles.  

When I hit the ground, my legs said "Uh uh".  And they stopped.  Muscles said "no".  I was frozen in place for a few seconds.  I had to coax any movement out of them.

Fun things happened after I crossed the line, but I'm saving that for another post.

Very happy

And here I am with the best spectator in the world.  Katie rode her bike over 27 miles to catch me at all those places on the course.



Time: 3:42:01
Average Pace: 8'29" per mile
Overall Place: 1814 out of 8212
Men Place: 1434 out of 4818
Men 22-29 Place: 314 out of 951

So, I beat my goal by 2'59", and I took 67 minutes off my marathon PR.  67 MINUTES!  Holy cow!

I've got plenty of analysis I'm going to do in another post, but I wanted to show 2 plots first.  The first is my pace chart from last year.

See that climb around mile 18?  We call that "The Wall".  I hit it.  Hard.  Here's this year's pace chart:

You'll see this chart again in a later post, but what you must remember about The Wall is:

There is No Wall.


Steve Stenzel said...

Nice work, Matt!! CONGRATS on the major PR and hitting your sub-3:45 goal!! And I don't remember if we high-5ed either... I think we DIDN'T, but I don't remember...

If there's one thing I've learned (and had to tell myself over and over again), it's that one fast or slow mile will NEVER ruin a distance race. So that super fast mile in the middle was nothing but a minor glitch, right? Right. ;)


Andrew Opala said...

Congratulations! That was a marvelous race!

great pictures and a wonderful smile of success on your face!

dosterhouse said...

As I was reading through the post I was thinking "Matt should plot his pace as a function of distance into the race. That would present the data in a more intuitive way." And then you did. Good job! Good job on the marathon too.

Tony said...

Wow! What an excellent race report. You inspire me Matt!

crossn81 said...

Nicely done and great report!

Matt said...

Thanks everyone! It was really a terrific race, and I'm still on a high from it even though it's Wednesday.

And Steve is right—one bad mile does not a marathon ruin. When I ran that fast mile, I was able to bring things under control and manage my race just fine after that.

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