At 9pm on Friday, July 25th, I started the Around the Lake Marathon. This is a flat course consisting of 5km loops (plus a 4 mile starting loop) around a lake in Wakefield, MA. My goal was to run sub 3:00, and based on prior runs, it seemed I had fitness to spare. But for the first time, I didn’t finish a race.
Before the race:
I left my house at 2:30 pm in an attempt to avoid rush-hour traffic. Luckily, most of it was going north, and I was going south except for a brief stint on 95. I arrived around 4:30, for 4.5 hours to kill before the race. I hung around awhile and tried to relax, then went for a drive to find a Walgreens for some food and nasal strips as my allergies were acting up.
Unfortunately the extra time really deceived me, and the hour before the race was a scramble to warmup and get everything ready to go. I did one 5k loop to warm up, and did a few strides up to 10k pace. There were clouds of gnats that caused coughing fits at times, and got in your eyes. I was really worried about this, but the went away when darkness finally fell. I got back around the lake as it started to get dark, quickly filled my bottles and grabbed my headlamp, and got to the start line just in time for the start at 9pm. I didn’t have time for any flexibility work or my inhaler, but I’d soon realize that was the least of my worries.
There were a few minutes at the start as we chatted about our goal times, etc. At least half a dozen people were hoping to go under 3:05, and a few more said sub-3:05, but “it’s a training run, so I’m taking it easy if I need to.”
The race started with a police siren from the car that would lead us on our opening loop. There were cyclists too, but they started only a few feet in front of the runners, so we overtook them in 2-3 strides and it took them a few minutes to catch back up. We went out at a 5:20 pace or so, something that never seems fast for the first few minutes, so I immediately slowed down upon looking at my watch. The lead pack pulled way ahead, and I was left in the dust of 15-20 people. It turns out most of them were relay runners doing only a lap or two, but as I wasn’t racing to be competitive, only for a time, I didn’t care. We rounded the back of the buildings navigating the speed tables/elevated crosswalks without headlamps. I only heard one person behind me trip. Very soon we were crossing the timing mat to begin our first lake loop. (The opening section behind the buildings combined with the first lake loop makes lap 1 4.01 miles.)
Lap 1 went uneventfully. I was a little slower than my goal pace, but I knew I had plenty of time to make it up. The sidewalk was occasionally rugged enough to need to turn my headlamp on, which surprised me for a road race. I finished the first lap in 28:37, about 30 seconds slower than my goal. I had planned to run negative splits, so this didn’t worry me. I could tell things were getting better as my muscles got looser and my stride lengthened.
Lap 2 was similarly uneventful, but faster, with a 7:06 pace, but my foot was starting to ache. I didn’t think much of it at this point, and just focused on being efficient and letting go on the downhills to gain some time.
Lap 3 my foot really started to hurt. This is where I started to wonder whether it was worth trying to finish. I would have to run faster for the next 5 laps (15.8 miles) in order to make my goal. In an attempt to take my mind off of it, I ran alongside a guy who was also going for a BQ, but at age 41, had to run 3:15. He was also feeling fit enough for around 3:00, but hadn’t run at night or on a lap course before. I ran with him for Lap 3, chatting, and it took my mind off the pain.
Lap 4 I continued running with him until I finally pulled up around mile 11.5, as it was clear I was going to injure myself. He went on to take 2nd in 3:10. I meanwhile, walked the last two miles back to the start/finish area very slowly, with as little head hanging as I could muster. It was very discouraging, but I know there’s not much I could have done.
I changed into compression tights and put on my Birkenstocks, then did a leg drain in the car.
My teammate Dan Lader was also running this race, so I walked out to meet him as he finished the next two laps and paced him in in my sandals. My foot was starting to feel better after the leg drain, and didn’t bother me during this. Unfortunately, Dan had GI trouble and would have to drop out as well. However he struggled through six extra miles to make the 20 mile mark like a pro.
People will always be supportive and ask if you need help. You are never the only one in your situation; other people are also having a bad day. In this case, nearly everyone slowed down significantly throughout the race. Not a single person went under 3:00, and only one went under 3:10. I’m not sure what it was, but it clearly was not a great night for a PR.
(Click to enlarge)
Two days post-race:
After two rest days, my foot is feeling much better as long as it is shod. Barefoot still hurts. I suspect it’s a bone bruise. I was walking around barefoot in my driveway all week, and stepped on more than a few rocks, so I suspect I bruised it then and it did not heal. On the bright side, my muscle soreness is much less than expected due to only running 11.5 miles at marathon pace, so as soon as it clears up I can race again. However, mentally, I’m sick of the roads. Laps in the dark will do that to you I suppose.
Almost all of my upcoming races are trail or mountain races, and I don’t foresee another marathon until late fall, if not next year.