The Maine Marathon

The Maine Marathon

Where scatterbrains meet racing

Sometimes I lose site of the calendar.  Especially when I’m working hard and focused on something.  I don’t lift my head up to look around and re-set.  My brain works well with approximations.  That’s why I get lost in the trails so often.  I run by feel and visual cues more than discrete directions.  That’s how my brain works.

Late Sunday afternoon after I logged my 3 hour, 21 mile long run in the heat, coach asked me a simple question, “when is your target marathon?”.

I simply said, “It’s not until October.”.

Then I thought about it.  I checked the calendar.  It was Sunday September 26th.  October was 6 days away…  And so was my race.  Oops.

Coach scolded me.  “That’s why we put the races on the calendar in the system!”  So much for that long taper we old guys need to ease into big races.

Truth be told, I have gone into marathons with one-week tapers.  I have even run marathons on successive weekends.  In the old days I would routinely run three marathons in 6 weeks and qualify on the third try.  But no taper is typically not conducive to a fast effort at my age. I could run a marathon every weekend, but I’m not going to be able to recover enough to race a marathon every weekend.

It was a bit of an ‘oh shit!’ moment for both me and coach but not something I was going to waste a lot of cycles worrying about.  This was a target race for me in the sense that I like to have a marathon on the calendar to train for in the fall.  Not that much was riding on it. I’m already qualified for my 20th Boston.  I didn’t need a specific race time.

I had signed up for the Maine Marathon for a number of reasons.  Mostly because it fit the profile of the kind of races I like.  It is a smaller race, in a pretty place, not too difficult and within easy driving distance of my house.  I don’t have the bandwidth right now for a travel race and the Maine marathon fit the bill as interesting enough, at the right time on the calendar and low overhead.

Taper be damned!  Full speed ahead! Coach slammed me into a ‘crash taper’ week.  With very little running and a lot of stretching.  I cheated a bit and ran down Tremont Street from my office on Tuesday to meet Arnar for a baseline test so he could fit me up with a TimeWear smart garment.

Two-mile jog in the heat over to his place and another two back.  The test was a treadmill test.  Warm up for 5 minutes, then increase the speed by increments all the way up to 10 mph (or 6-minute miles) then a 15-minute cool down.  Probably not the brightest thing to throw what was basically a tempo run into the middle of a short taper week.  But, hey, in the grand scheme of things I wasn’t worried.

The great news was that my friend Tim from Signal Mountain Tennessee was also running this race.  I think he’s working through his 50 states.  His son Michael, who I had met before, I think at the Galloway ½ in Atlanta, had just moved into a house in South Portland, minutes from the start/finish.  Tim invited me up to stay with them.  I decided to take them up on it because it would save me a drive in the morning.

Was I in shape to run a marathon?  Was I in shape to race a marathon?  Was I resilient enough to race hard on zero taper?

Well, I was/am in pretty good shape.  I’ve been training consistently now without injury for a couple years.  My engine is good.  My leg strength is good.  My racing speed is questionable, but mostly because I just haven’t been racing that much.

The distance doesn’t scare me.  The question was could I throw down a good, solid time, maybe a qualifier, on tired legs?

The weather was the wild card.  It has been consistently hot and humid during my training cycle this summer into fall.  It’s been relentlessly humid for my long runs.  I don’t like the heat.  I don’t like the humidity. I can handle it but it’s hard to extrapolate race performances from those conditions.

The difference between a hot, humid day and a cool day can be 20-30 seconds a mile in race performance.  It can make a big difference in those high miles as to whether you can execute through the finish or you crap out and crash.

Even with the heat and humidity my long runs have been fairly competent, coming in around an 8:30 pace.  Some of them have been ugly, but overall, I’ve felt strong and I’m happy with that pace.  I’m moving up an age group this year and I only need to run 8:23’s to qualify.  I have been training with my old running buddies Frank and Brian and they told me I looked strong.

The lesson here kids is ‘show up and race’.  You can make all the excuses in the world but you don’t know what’s going to happen on race day.  Show up and race.

I got into Portland early enough to pick up my number and catch the tail end of the expo.  One less thing to worry about in the morning.  It was a good size expo considering the small size of the race.  All the big shoe companies were there.

I made my way over to Michael’s house.  He had just moved in so his ‘guest’ room was an empty room.  I knew this ahead of time and brought my air mattress and sleeping bag. I have a system that I developed for camping at travel races.  Pump up the air mattress, crawl into the sleeping bag and use your gear bag for a pillow.  Easy peasy.  I’m a low maintenance guy.

We went out and had some pizza and beer.  We hit the hay early.  Tim was flying in on a few hours sleep, I was pretty tired too, and we all needed to crash.

The race started at 7:45.  I like an early start time.  It’s not like you’re going to sleep in on race day anyhow.  We were able to get up, get ready and leave after 6:00 AM.  A 10-minute drive.  Plenty of time.  Plenty of parking.  Love small races!

Race day weather was great! 50 degrees, dry, sunny, not a cloud, very little wind.  Perfect racing weather.  I was jacked.

Looking around in the corral I could see that it was mostly half marathoners and they were starting with us.  I thought that might cause some traffic so I moved up a bit to get a clean start.  I couldn’t’ see any pace groups although there was rumored to be a 3:40 pacer.

I like to race cold.  I had on my Squannacook racing singlet, my Arizona rock and roll hat, my Brooks baggy shorts, my old Hokas (yes those same Hokas that I ran Boston in, that I ran that 50k in, that I ran Wapack in…), sunglasses and a pair of light gloves.  I figured I’d be warm enough as the sun came up and I could shed the gloves if I needed to.  I ended up wearing them the whole race.  It was quite comfortable.  Not humid at all!

They did all the usual things that races do and we set off.  With the cool weather and surrounded by half marathoners I figured I might be going too fast.  I looked at my watch at the first mile split and it was a 7:23, damn! I had to back off and slow down to something nearer 8’s or I’d never make it 26 miles on my tired legs.

2nd mile clocked in at 7:25. So much for slowing down.  And so it went.  I’d curse myself and try to settle down and just not be able to.  The slower pace felt weird and unnatural.  I felt easier mechanically to run the faster pace.  It wasn’t until mile 8 that I managed to get a mile slower than 8 minute miles and that was because of a long hill!

Let’s put this in perspective.  Based on my first 8 miles I was on track to run a 3:15 marathon.  I like to believe in miracles but the last time I did that was probably 2005.

The punch line here is that I basically ran tempo miles for the first 10 miles of the race for some odd reason.  The whole time I knew it wasn’t sustainable but I couldn’t figure out how to slow down.  I knew my legs were already tired and If I kept this up I’d have one of those nightmare finishes in the last 10k.  Eventually, by mile 11 I started working in 20 second walk breaks to force myself off the pace.

I was able to walk enough to bring it in as a relatively soft landing and not trash myself.  Even then the 3:40 pace group didn’t pass me until after 19.

This is a raceable course.  It was hillier than I thought but not challenging.  They were long shallow ups and downs that might climb 75 feet or so but take a ½ mile to do it.  It was well supported and the volunteers were truly happy to be there.

It was an out and back with an odd lollipop on the terminus.  They ran you down a short dirt road and around a cone to make the distance work.  There was another odd side detour through a neighborhood towards the end that wasn’t helpful either.

Mostly it was a 2-lane black top with wide shoulders and good road conditions.  You got a great view of Casco Bay on the way out.  It was mostly forested and I never really felt the sun except on the bridge crossings.  There were always runners around me, even though the pack got a bit light when the half marathoners turned.

Some of the relay exchanges were a bit tight and chaotic but I never had any trouble navigating around them.  Since it was an out and back we got to see the leader of both the ½ and the full go by. There was an early start option for the slower runners and we passed them along the way as well.

It was really a pretty, friendly race.  And very raceable.  If I had been recovered and had not gone out too fast I definitely could have at least qualified.

I eased into the finish with a 3:47, which was fine, and I didn’t destroy my legs.  I’ve now decided to take this ‘training run’ and use it at the BayState Marathon on the 22nd, which is a 3 week gap.  That will give me time to recover and taper.  If we get good weather it should be a no-brainer.  Frank and Brian are running it so they can reel me in!

There were a lot of runners at the Maine Marathon who had run the New Hampshire marathon the day before and were knocking off 2 states in one trip.  It’s a pretty race, just the right size and friendly.  I’d recommend it if you need a Maine race or you just need a vacation.  Portland is a old port city that has revitalized with plenty of good food and drink and culture.

After the race Tim and Michael and I wandered down to the restaurant row and communed with cheeseburgers and fries and one good cold beer.  There was a cruise ship parked in the port.  They do the east coast route up from New York to Quebec.

Pretty city.  Good friendly race.  Time well spent with friends.  All in all a good day and I was home by dinner!

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