First of all I must say that the MS Blues marathon is a nice little marathon. The fan support was a little lacking but I think there would have been more if it wasn't 20 degrees out. The volunteers were great though, very enthusiastic. I was warm enough but I was running. I imagine they had to be freezing just standing there. A couple nice touches at the start was the national anthem being played in a bluesy way on an electric guitar and a simultaneous start with a race by military personnel in Iraq that was played on a big screen.
I stayed at one of the recommended hotels and that made the logistics of the weekend very easy. They provided a shuttle to and from the airport, were just a few blocks from the expo and start/finish line and provided runners 20% off their pasta bar the night before the race. I met other runners that stayed there too and everybody was very friendly.
The cold created a few problems during the race. The aid stations became slippery as people spilled water around the tables and it froze. Almost all the cups of water that were handed to me had a thin layer of ice on top. A few spots on the road that normally had standing water were also frozen over. None of this was a big issue, just had to be a little more aware than normal sometimes.
I decided to wear running tights, stocking hat instead of headband and three layers on top. One tight non sleeve shirt, a long sleeve shirt and a tight-fitting pullover. The pullover has a small pocket in the back that I realized was stretchy enough to hold 6 gels. It was a bit floppy but didn't matter too much. I left my hotel room about 15 minutes before the start of the race and in spite of my cold I felt pretty good. I was there in plenty of time to let my Garmin acquire its satellites and stood by the portable heaters. As the race started I easily settled into an 8:30 pace but as I was feeling good that kept creeping faster. I did my best to try to hold back the pace though as I kept thinking that I wanted to be able to continue training next week. Five miles came in at 41:41, 8:20 pace.
During mile six I stopped to take a potty break. Probably a result of the belated attempt to sufficiently hydrate the night before. I think I ended up drinking too much too fast. Anyway, after relieving myself and walking through water stops I was still keeping up a satisfactory pace. The first 8-9 miles were fairly rolling but after that there was a long flat section. Around mile 9 for some reason I hit a mental low point. Not sure exactly why but the thought of running for almost 4 hours seemed to get to me. This has happened before during marathons but I just run through it because, what else am I going to do? Second five miles were 42:34, 8:30 pace.
From the elevation map on the website I expected the hills to hit at about the halfway point. I later found out that although they changed the course this year, they didn't update the elevation map. So I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn't overly hilly. I hit the halfway point at about 1:50 and after another potty break and a gel, I had a nice positive mental surge. I realized I was halfway done and all I had to do was a two hour half marathon to meet my goal. Even if I totally fell apart and did a 2:10 half I would be in my goal range. Feeling good. Third five miles was 42:35, 8:31 pace.
During the second half of the race I generally passed more people than passed me although there were a few people that I played cat and mouse with. The miles through the teens seemed to fly by and soon there were only single digits to go and it was easy to start counting them down. For quite a few miles we ran through a nice wooded neighborhood. Occasionally people would be out to cheer on the runners and quite often they'd have a firepit in the front yard to keep warm. Mostly I kept thinking that I was glad I didn't have to rake their leaves in the fall. Fourth five miles was 43:03, 8:36 pace.
The last part of the race was where the hills hit, and they hit pretty hard. Although I knew my overall pace would slow because of the hills I still felt pretty strong and was happy to be able to push the pace a bit in a few places so as not to totally fall apart. Miles 21-24 were tough and I really had to mentally stay focused to keep running and keep pace. I was never really hit with the time-sucking walking/jogging that can plague me towards the end of some marathons though. I kept calculating my time and kept coming up with 3:48-3:50 which I would have been very happy with. For the last 4-5 miles I didn't even walk through any of the aid stations as I wasn't sweating very much and wasn't thirsty. At mile 24 somebody said there was only one big hill left. He missed it by 3 though. Fifth 5 miles was 43:54, 8:47 pace.
The only sign I remember was from a guy playing a cowbell that I saw three times on the course. It said "Doubters can suck it." Oh yeah, for some reason I remember one for somebody named Melissa.
Somebody passed me towards the end and I praised their finishing strength. Then it occurred to me that instead I should have praised their conservative start. I think I'll do that in future marathons, when somebody passes me towards the end, instead of saying "way to finish strong" I'll say "way to start smart."
Just before mile 26 I came upon a young guy running slowly. Here's our dialogue:
"Who puts a @#$%^ hill like this at the end of a marathon?"
"Dude, don't let it get to you."
"No, you c'mon, lets beat this hill."
But it was too late; the hill had already beaten him mentally and I never saw him again.
Shortly after that I passed the 26 mile mark at 3:43 and realized I could beat 3:45 if I picked it up a bit. So I did and finished in 3:44:50.
I'm quite happy with my time since I was was shooting for 3:50 but expecting closer to 4:00. My cold didn't seem to hinder me too much although there were a few times when I had to cough quite a bit. Just happy that I felt strong throughout and I think it was at a pace that will allow me to continue training next week.
All in 26.2 at 8:35.