Guest blog by Rob Gomez
I’m beginning to think that overzealous focus on the little things is just a bad idea. What happens if I eat a piece of bread and break my carb depletion? What happens if I don’t get my Monday run in? What if I missed a Zicam on Wednesday, will I get a taper cold? And ol’ Mickey always said “Women weaken legs”, right? What if I don’t listen to his sage advice?
Well, I’ve got news, and it’s good:
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
I went into Sunday’s Maine Marathon with fewer nerves leading up to the race than I ever have. I canned the carb deplete less than 48 hours into it because I didn’t want to be cranky anymore. I drove to and from Baxter State Park for a wedding the two days prior to the race. I had a drink or three more days that not during the two weeks leading up to the race. I lifted regularly for 8 weeks and went into the race about 6 to 7 pounds heavier than I normally am leading up to a marathon. I just had fun, lived a more balanced life, and did my training as best I could in a more ‘sane’ manner. I hit the workouts I needed to hit and none that I didn’t. I didn’t bulk up on junk mileage (I averaged 70 mpw between B2B and taper). I just approached this race much differently than for previous marathons — I treated it as person training for a race, rather than a racer training for obsession. If I did poorly, I wouldn’t feel like I wasted the past few months for nothing. I had a goal in mind (the sub-2:25 time bonus) but I wasn’t planning on destroying PR’s or shattering CR’s.
The morning started with a blueberry bagel with butter and a Beet-It shot (yes, I’m still doing the beet juice thing… you should read up about it here). After picking up Breagh’s Nova Scotia comrades at the La Quinta, we all headed down to the start. We had about a half hour before the gun at that point, and after I gave Breagh my well-wishes and a good luck kiss I did my thing — stretch, piss, gu, tie the shoes again, dynamic stretches, piss, a couple of strides, piss again, and head to the starting line. The characters at the start are always great… Goodie, Bunker, Homich, Erik McCarthy, Rand and Hoogs were all there, Jorma mingled even though he wasn’t racing, and a late-arriving Hugo was cracking jokes and slapping high fives as always.
The air horn at the start was sudden and more of a wheeze than a blast, but a person working the starting line yelled “GO! GO! GO!” to all of us and we all took off about 2 seconds late. I high-fived Moninda as he immediately started to pull away from everyone else and then tucked in behind Bunker, Hoogs and Erik. The first mile was a pedestrian-feeling 5:30 as I let the half guys push ahead a little (perfect) but in my excitement I caught the trio again by the mile 2 marker with a 5:23. The next few miles I hovered between 5:30 and 5:35, with even a 5:40+ in there as we worked our way into Falmouth. I ran to the half-marathon turnaround point with Hoogs, got a “Count it!” fist bump, and ventured onto the rest of the course in relative solitude.
The pacer bicyclist beside me was humorous and relatively unobtrustive and the clock truck was ever-present and always within a first down’s reach, but besides that the next few miles were quiet, and by my pace standards not very promising. At about the 10 mile marker, due to my pace at the time and the condition of my legs (I thought I felt fatigue), I had all but concluded that my sub-2:25 goal was toast and that I should simply hold the current effort. I hit the turnaround and then crossed the halfway mat in 1:13 flat — the official time had me at 1:12 low but that is incorrect because the mat was placed at around 13.0 and our first pass over the mat was recorded instead of the second. I was able to calculate based on our time away from the turnaround when we crossed each other that I was a little under 4 minutes ahead of Goode and needed only not to blow up to grab the win, so I just kept rolling. I waved to Jesse and Jeff Caron as they went by and told Jeff as he passed that sub-2:25 just wasn’t going to happen. This was all before the Tuttle Road Hill.
Then something funny happened.
You see, the Tuttle Road Hill is probably the most taxing hill on the entire course, even with the course modification this year including more hills than the original course. Last year the hill all but cooked me, and I struggled to a 5:5x for the 17th mile split. This year I prepared for the pace-destroying onslaught once again and just started chugging up the hill, not worrying how quickly I scaled it, just trying to keep a consistent effort. Byrne Decker (who has won the race 4 or 5 times or something along those lines) gave me a yell and a high-five near the top. I gathered myself at the top, locked back in, and at the 17 mile marker I checked my watch again.
I felt great, recharged even. I had a lot of downhill ahead of me the next 5 miles. Best of all, I had just scaled the hill 15 seconds faster than I had ‘budgeted’ in my race plan. My even, controlled effort the first 16 miles was starting to pay off. I even think the more aggressive fueling strategy (a Gu before the race and Gu’s at 6, 10, 14, 18 and 22 miles) was starting to kick in (quick sidebar: okay, so maybe attention to detail is good, but it’s more important on race day than it is on the training leading up to it.)
The drums at the Town Landing crossing pumped me up and a high five from my mom near the Rt. 1 intersection got my legs churning even harder. I hit 20 miles almost exactly on pace for 2:25 (perhaps a shade slower) but I felt I had a real chance to break the tape in under my goal time. My pace never dropped below 5:25 the rest of the way and I felt strong, the strongest I had felt all race. The much-ballyhooed hill by the cement plant felt like no more than a bump in the road and I ate those two miles alive. I was ready for the finish but not nearly out of gas as I crossed Washington and hit Back Cove. Back Cove always seems so loooong on the way back but I’m not sure if that’s just because of where it lands in the race or because you can see the finish from more than a mile away… probably a little bit of both. Regardless, I was pretty amped when I hit the finish in 2:24:22. This is what I looked like:
Of course I’m showing off here, but there’s a real possiblity that I’ll never be that amped at the end of a race ever again. Those are some pretty decent finish line shots.
The best part, though? Breagh was waiting for me right at the end of the chute:
So I was able to grab the win, score the bonus, and get the girl. It’s by far the smartest marathon I’ve ever raced. I’d have to say that despite having better running performances in my life, this race has to be my best.
Can I cut off 6 minutes and 23 seconds on a faster course with stronger competition and a better training cycle at some point next year? Possibly… and I may try for that (again). However, if I retired from my competitive running hobby today, I wouldn’t be upset about it.
Going out on top (well, on top in Maine anyways) might be the way to go.
Follow Rob along on his training and racing adventures with his blog A Mile Down the Road. Finish line shots courtesy of David Colby Young/Maine Running Photos.