Surprise! You Didn’t Run a 3:20! Or a 3:25! You Ran 3:15:14!

This morning I ran the Atlantic City Marathon.  I ran it in 3:15:14 (7:27s).  This exceeded my estimated finish time of 3:20, which I figured would potentially end up being 3:25.

Here are my unofficial Garmin stats, or click here if it looks funky:

The weather for today’s race was perfect.  The thermometer was hovering around 50 degrees, the skies were cloudless, and there wasn’t much of a wind on the Boardwalk where this race started.  I had forgotten how small this race is, which was quite a surprise to me — this was perhaps my smallest marathon ever!  Most of the people were there for the half-marathon which was run simultaneously.

As I was in the corral, I spied the 3:15 pacer.  I also spied the 3:35 pacer.  Where was the 3:25 pacer?  I asked 3:15 (Tony) and he said some others were going to split off and unofficially run 3:25.  I figured they were the people I’d be looking for because I couldn’t imagine doing a 3:15.  Without much mental prep or really any nerves, we were off and running not much later.

The AC Marathon is largely a flat course.  Where you hear that kind of thing, if you don’t know better you tend to think it’s entirely flat without a hill to speak of.  Well, that’s not true, as there are some on ramps that have a wee bit of a hillage to them but nothing that really taxes your body overly so.  Much of the first part of the race is pretty fun as you go on a winding path that takes on some highwayesque roadway.  In fact, during your second mile you’re actually in a tunnel and I lost signal on my Garmin.  When I emerged, my second mile beeped and it was a 7:44!  I’m not sure if that was right but I had been chatting with a runner during much of my time in that warm tunnel so I might have slowed.  However, I picked up speed again and as you can see from my stats, most of my early miles were sub-7:00s or in the low 7:00s.

Chatting with some runners about pace, a couple remarked that I was much too fast for aiming for a 3:20.  I realized this, but deep down I was experimenting with my current ability.  My training this month had been lighter than a taper, and largely inconsistent — not following very well my training schedule.  I was set in running what felt good then seeing where I tanked.  It came as a bit of a surprise that these same guys who warned me about my pace started to pull ahead of me … but eventually, I overtook them all!  I was a bit perplexed by this move on my part, which I thought would surely correct but I don’t think it ever did.  I maintained my fast pace for quite some time!

I entered back onto the Boardwalk and passed the finish line.  But what happened at that moment couldn’t have been timed better: I was passing the finish line just as the first-place runners for the half-marathon were finishing in what looked like a photo-finish sprint!  Wild!  I remarked to the runner who was running near me at the time.  I eventually passed him and wished him luck.

At the point, the AC Marathon gets a bit lonely.  It’s a monotonous, lonely jog to the turnaround point for the half-marathon … but it’s an even more monotonous and lonely jog past that point if you’re doing the full marathon!  The loneliness actually wasn’t that bad.  It was nice to see a bit of encouragement here and there from people on the Boardwalk, but too much attention would have drained me a bit.  I was prepared to run from the 8-mile mark where I reentered the Boardwalk to the 15-mile mark where I thought we’d turnaround.  However, I misinterpreted the map and we didn’t run all the way down the mile 15 on boards; instead, we turned off at some point around, when was it?, mile 13-ish?, and ended up running on the street!  That was a complete surprise and a bit mysterious to me.

I completed the half-marathon in 1:32 and change — I think I was on the Boardwalk but maybe I was on the streets.  It was during this stretch on the street that I was running solo for the whole time until I got to the turnaround at mile 15.  After the turnaround a guy caught me and passed me — he was aiming for a 3:05 and I’m betting he made that time easily given his clip.  After this long stretch and turnaround, we then turn off and head into suburban neighborhood streets.  I remember this area from the map of the course, and I remembered that it would take some time to get out of this maze.

Maze it was.  I actually got so twisted up in my head that I thought maybe the route had changed, but in hindsight I think all was there.  I started to realize I was actually doing pretty good when I started to double back over the course (it’s an out and back) and saw the fitness levels of some of the people.  I’d seen the 3:15 pace group during this time, though, too, and I could tell it was getting closer to me.  I needed to keep my pace up because with a 1:32 half, I figured there was a good chance I’d do somewhere around a 3:10 …

When I got out of the maze and back onto the street where the stretch began, the distance looked very daunting.  You could only see cones for days into the horizon, and I started to feel a bit demoralized.  I quickly refuted that thinking with comments like “I will!” and I pressed onward, trying to avoid thinking about the recession of cones.  Eventually, I could see lights from a cop car, and of course eventually I reached the place where I turn back onto the Boardwalk.

My pace was started to really lag.  Here I was trying to pace myself and get enough energy into my body from gels and the like but mainly just persist.  A great time was pretty much assured but just how great wasn’t clear to me, especially as my times drew above 7:00s and into the high 8:00s.  I remembered from the half I ran in AC in 2010 that the finish takes quite a bit of time to get to once you see it (you see the pier that is also a shopping mile from more than a mile away), so you get a bit impatient to finish.  I also knew that this year’s finish was past the shopping mall rather than before it.  I kept onward.

Eventually, the finish was within range.  I saw no “Mile 26” marker, but I did feel another runner come up near me.  He sped up — so did I.  He sped up again — so did I.  Each time he sped up, I responded and held him off.  As I went into the chute toward the finish, we were both sprinting though I felt I’d pulled ahead of him solidly.  I wanted to go faster, but my calves held me back with cramping sensations!  I held off this runner, whom I talked to after we finished.  His name was Dan.  He finished 2 seconds after me but we had the same net time — and he ended up with the higher place than me.  What a great balance of power.  Afterward, I learned he PR’d by about 8 minutes; I was so impressed!

I came in 27th place, 26th among men (only one woman finished faster than me), and 13th in my age group.  I was pretty wasted at the end of this race and moaning a bit.  I was so much sore; I was more in agony if that makes any sense.  I leaned for a while, lay down for a while, … I took my time after learning I had more leeway with my hotel checkout.  And then I headed back.

I was really happy with my 3:15:14.  I eventually realized that the 3:15 pace group didn’t pass me, and then I learned from Dan (whom I saw as I was leaving) that he was part of the 3:15 group and noticed that it was off pace so he left the group.  Apparently the 3:15 pacer finished in nearly 3:17, which made me feel very sad for him.  According to Dan, the pacer had run something like a 2:50 in Chicago earlier in the month, so I’m guessing running nearly a 3:17 was a bit of a shock.  I just hope the guys running with him weren’t upset.

For the run, I had a lot of fuel in my system.  I used Seamless Web to track down some macaroni & cheese (really just pasta was cheese on top) and some garlic bread and seasoned fries for dinner after I realized I’d missed out on registering for the pasta dinner. (Note to future self: Register early! It’s not automatic!)  I had a bag of Gu Chomps just before the race and I may have had a bag about an hour prior (I can’t recall).  During I used some PowerGels without caffeine, though at some point in the second half I opted for some 1x caffeinated ones they were passing out.  I was getting pretty sick of these things, though, wanting real food later in the race.  For this race, I probably weighed about 178 lbs.  I don’t know what I weighed after but I had a lot of liquid during the race (I’d heard the wind dries you out faster) — but I probably still dropped around 8-10 lbs. during this race I imagine.

My legs held up for this race!  The main pain I felt was soreness in the front of my hips.  I got on compression socks for the rest of the day.  I ate at Applebee’s after while I waited for the train ride back to NYC by way of Philly.  Other than being a bit tired from running a marathon, I held up pretty well.

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