That was my mantra for the final mile …knees up, drive home…knees up, drive home…. By the downhill stretch at mile 25, my legs were so fatigued that I needed to constantly remind myself to keep pushing. Otherwise I would resort to the ‘marathon shuffle’ that is often seen late in a race. My PR was on the line and Boston qualifying time could also be in jeopardy. If I got to the finish and missed both goals because I didn’t try hard enough, I would be brutally disappointed in my lack of grit and determination. To be truly satisfied, regardless of the outcome, I must be completely spent at the finish line – to the point where I couldn’t go farther unless I was walking.
Saturday afternoon, the day before the race, I drove to Bar Harbor in pouring rain. The rain continued all afternoon forcing me to wait and see if I could get one last easy run in. I really needed to run. My head was not where it should be pre-race. I was feeling apprehension about how to dress for weather, how to pace, etc. Finally at 5 PM the rain let up and out the door I went – not sure how far I’d go, just that I needed to get out and hit the mental reset button. My hotel is the starting line, so I ran the beginning of the course and wasn’t ready to turn around until the 2 mile mark. The moment I started back, the rain returned. Easy at first but it picked up in intensity reaching a steady hard rain by the time I returned to the hotel – drenched but mentally cleansed. The hot shower finished the process, leaving me in a calm, quiet space, free of the static and noise that plagued me all day.
I met my friends Brent and Lori at the pasta dinner. Brent is an avid boater and an intense competitor. He had signed up for MDI at my prodding only to develop a back injury mid-training. I could tell the minute I saw him that he was going to run. He didn’t quite know it yet, but I did – I could see it in his enthusiasm. Within minutes he was asking what kind of strategies would help if he was to run. The more we talked, the more hooked he became until he finally admitted he really wanted to try.
Wakeup was at 5 AM for coffee and my mandatory pre-race sandwich of PB&J on wheat. Local weather said 43* overnight warming to mid 50’s with clear skies, low humidity, wind from the NW at 10 to 15, perfect weather for running. My run kit included shorts, Crow singlet over a wicking tee, arm warmers, gloves, beanie and hydration belt. I pre-placed 3 water bottles on the course at miles 8, 13 and 19. I planned Gu for miles 5, 9, 13, 18, and 21.
Just outside my hotel room people were assembling and milling about. All filled with energy and enthusiasm as the sun rose on the day. I walked up and down the staging area several times looking for Brent but never found him. Maybe he reconsidered and wasn’t going to show up. Another friend was there – Roger Marquis. He and his son Hogan had been the guest speakers last night following the pasta dinner. They spoke of the “Wicked Long Run” they did for the American Cancer Society. The trip started in Maine and ended in Florida. It was just the 2 of them, 1 bike, and was otherwise unsupported. In all, they ran and biked 1,372 miles in just 27 days! Today, Roger’s plan was to pace 8 minute miles for any 3:30 hopefuls like myself. I planned to join him and see if I could keep up. That would give me a second marathon PR for the year and re-qualify me for Boston. For me, anything under 3:36 would be good for Boston, but I wanted more, I wanted to PR on one of the toughest marathon courses around – my ‘home’ race at MDI.
The air was filled with excitement as we waited for the cannon start. Bouncing on their toes, shaking out their arms, readjusting everything for the 3rd or 4th time. Then BOOM! In an instant nearly 1,000 people all start moving all a once, slowly at first but quickly accelerating to full strides. I fall into pace with Roger who is chatting about this and that. Within a few minutes, I see my pace is way too fast but my heart rate (HR) hasn’t caught up yet. The first mile ends as the we begin the first of many hills.
The race strategy I need to follow if I expect to do well requires me to manage my HR throughout the race. Keep it in the middle of zone 2 through mile 4. The bulk of the race, from mile 6 to mile 20, need to be run ‘in the box’. The ‘box’ is the high end of my aerobic capacity in upper zone 3. In other words, always be pushing. Going hard but not all out. Many of the hills will push me into zone 4 but I need to limit that as much as possible or I will fall apart around mile 21, just when I need my motor to be strong for the long hills at the end. It will be a balancing act between pushing up hills and holding down my HR. Too much either way will cause me to fall short of my goals for the day.
Well, Roger’s pace turns out to be too fast for me in the beginning. It will take me a mile or two to get to that pace and I know it. I say goodbye and watch him drift off ahead as we climb the hill past mile 1. Watching him pull away, I turn my thoughts inward – to be in the moment, focus on executing this race better than at any other time. I’ll need that focus to get me through.
Despite all the good intentions I still let my HR climb too high too often. I am not running ‘In the Box’ as I should be – not bad enough to wreck the race, but I know it would be best if I held back more, I can’t help it. I crest the long climb at mile 3 at the expense of miles late in the race but it feels good to just run. Miles 4 to 6 are fast – 7:40ish. The hill in Otter Creek spikes the HR again. Every time I do that I know that I’m squandering capital I will need later. Again and again I drive up the hills, 8 hills in the first 10 miles, but still I feel strong through the middle miles. Am I trying too hard? I don’t know yet….
Passing thru Northeast Harbor and the half way point, the route joins Somes Sound and a sustained headwind up the hill at 16. Running in the shade into the wind was cool Had it been longer I might have gotten chilled. In the second 10 miles there are 8 more hills. Including 2 particularly steep little buggers at 18 & 19. As I turn the corner at mile 20 towards Somesville, I can tell I spent too much ‘capital’ and I was going to really struggle up the final hills. Too much? Still not sure…..
Not very tall or steep, the long slow grade from 21 to 22 is a mental killer for me. As you start the incline the entire mile is visible – the view is of a long, long, way to go….. By now my pace has suffered and it is hard to hold 8:25 and that isn’t going to be good enough. The little dip at Echo Lake helped my pace but I was definitely struggling and there were 2 more climbs yet to go. It was tough, but I trimmed the pace to 8:15 temporarily. Then the steeper hill at 24 really slowed me almost to a shuffle so I went into a walk. I needed to. Just to the top, then back to running again. 8:45 and 8:58 for miles 24 and 25 because of the walking.
The last 1.2 miles is down hill and I gave it everything I had. Trying to hold onto 1 or both my goals. Knees up, drive home… knees up, drive home. Focus Steven. Knees up, drive home… knees up, drive home… I managed to hold a 7:21 pace for the last 11 minutes and crossed the line to hoops and cheers from the crowd as I fist-pumped my way to the line – the clock read 3:32:57! BQ Baby!
My finish was fantastic by any standards and I am extremely please with the result. It is good be able to re-qualify for Boston a second time this year. My only disappointment comes from my decision to drive too hard on the early hills. It cost me the second PR, missed it by 72 seconds. Time lost to fatigue from pushing too hard on the early and mid race hills. I was gambling with a loosing hand and it cost me the dearly. A PR at MDI is not something that many can get. The course is too tough. Hills in the beginning, through the middle and right up to the end. It is relentless with the hills.
MDI is one tough mother and I crushed it! Boston, here I come….. after a few days of rest of course.