A Chickamauga Marathon Race Report
The skies were clear. The sun shined bright on the field, somewhat offsetting the chill of the cold Saturday morning. Twenty-two eleven and twelve year old combatants waged battle on the hundred yard field, repeating a scene held on tens of thousands of fields all across America. Football.
The image in my mind is still clear as day. I was the quarterback on what would soon be a championship team. The only championship team I have ever been on. I take took the snap and dropped back deep in the pocket between my two tailbacks. It was at this moment that time slowed to a crawl. The front line is blocking, protecting their QB. On my right, the defensive tackle breaks away from my linesman and comes running up the middle of the pocket. I’m about to get crushed. I waited until the last possible second to release the ball, angling it high up and throwing it as far as I could, knowing the wind was going to push it further down the field. As soon as I released the ball, a shoulder pad and helmet is inserted into my arm pit, and I’m buried under a kid one and a half times my size.
My speedy wing-back caught that pass. He scored a touch down. You can’t make this stuff up. You have to live it. Experience it. Embrace it. This is why I race.
Dee Dee and I arrived at the Chickamauga Battlefield before dawn’s early light. If you know your history, Chickamauga was a solid victory for the Confederacy, shortly before getting their butts handed to them in Chattanooga. I did the 10 mile race here several years ago, and I’ve always wanted to come back and race the marathon.
Unfortunately for me, I didn’t time it very well. We were stuck in traffic thirty minutes before packet pickup was supposed to end, and I had no idea how far we were backed up. Fortunately for me, it three-tenths of a mile or so. I left Dee Dee in the car and hustled off to packet pick up. It was like thirty something degrees out. No use starting the freezing process early!
All my worrying, of course, was for not. I grabbed my packet and headed for the port-o-potties. There was no line there. I’ve just about got this GI thing figured out. This was going to be my third race with no GI issues what so ever. The sky was starting to lighten, but if anything, that made it even more difficult to track Dee Dee down. I looked around for her before heading back to the tent. Lucky for me, she has better eyes than I do. I heard her call my name. Together, we went back to the tent to get the race belt ready and stay warm.
About fifteen minutes before the race start, I went outside to run a bit and get warmed up. The cold made my feet hurt, and I felt something akin to arthritis in the big toe on my right foot. While walking back to the start area, the RD came over the PA and announced that the race would be delayed fifteen minutes to allow the stragglers to get in. Dee Dee and I immediately headed back to the car to keep warm. No more than five minutes later (or so), she came back on again and said everybody had arrived. I thought that the race would get started on time, but evidently the delay was still in effect.
I kissed Dee Dee good bye and found a place in the middle of the street, slightly ahead of the 4 hour pace group. The McMillan Pace calculator suggested I try a 8:45 per mile pace for the marathon. I was thinking closer to 9, but either way, it was slightly ahead of a 9:09 sub-4 pace. I saw a friend of mine, Nat, who was their with her youngest child, cheering on another friend going sub-4. After she snapped my picture, we went back to waiting. Nat’s friend Chris grabbed me and said “hi”, and we made small talk while we waited.
The RD came over the loudspeaker and announced the wheel chair division was going to start. She explained that she was going to start their race with a horn, but when the horn sounded, the cannon went off right behind it. Lucky for them, none of the runners started running. We waited about five minutes to both give the wheel chair racers a head start and to reload the cannon. After the national anthem, the cannon went off with a boom, and we the race got under way.
The race started kinda funny. We ran in a big circle around the Museum. We actually ran past the place I started at before making a right out onto the race course. We ran a short distance down a road before making a left onto the battlefield proper. This stretch of the race was rolling, but mostly down hill. It was nice, but not conducive to holding pace. My Garmin was reading an 8:35 pace, and I let my legs run freely.
Almost immediately, my nose had started to run from the cold. Not only did this make it hard to breath, but as I cleared my throat and spit out the gunk, I was losing quite a bit of fluid. A mile or so into the race, I found myself getting thirsty. I should have definitely drank more before the race. The race description had said that there would be aid stations every 1.5-2 miles, and they were, once you reached the battlefield. The first aid stations was more than 4 miles away (I believe), and that’s just not a good way to start the race.
To top it off, the 4 hour pacers passed me around mile 3, even though I had registered an 8:35 first mile, and several 8:45 miles before then. That kinda pissed me off. I convinced myself to ignore them and stick to my paces. At this point, the Garmin was beeping off the miles about 20 yards in front of the signs. I was OK with that, as long as it was consistent. I passed the pacers at the first aide station and discarded my t-shirt. I probably wore it too long and sweated quite a bit as a result.
Miles 5 through 8 were pretty fast, and I was steady holding a sub-8:40 pace. I came up on the main road through the middle of the park, and I heard Dee Dee yell at me from the middle of the field. She was taking pictures near the cannons. I waved at her. Nat was standing up by the road, and she screamed at me as well. Nat’s enthusiasm was infectious!
Running along the left side of the park, we had a long gradual up hill climb. This was followed by one short steep hill near the half way point. One of the runner’s pointed out a doe tramping through the woods. As I passed the half marathon point, I saw a whole heard of does crossing the battlefield on the left. I believed the does thought us silly to be running on the road, and I laughed to myself.
At this point, I’m holding my pace. I 3-4 minutes under a sub-4 performance. I had seen Dee Dee again around the 11-ish to 12 mile mark, and I had thrown here my gloves. My legs were starting to tire, and I could feel my left hamstring sending me cramping signals. I was not concerned at all. I knew how to run without cramping, and I held my pace.
Miles 16 to 18 were a struggle. I easily convinced myself that if I could hold a 9 minute pace, I would be happy, and I did. After mile 18, the wheels came off. I didn’t cramp. I don’t believe that I hit the wall. I had been pretty religious about taking in gels and drinking up to this point. My legs, ankles, and feet just hurt like Hell. By the end of mile 19, it became apparent that I was defeated, and with that, my hopes of going sub-4 went out the window.
Enter the slogfest. The 4 hour pace group passed me around mile 23. I tried to run with them for a bit. The effort wasn’t serious. I began to pick out spots on the route. I would run to that route and then walk again, until I could pluck up the strength to run again. We made a left back onto the road that would take us to the finish. Near the point where it exited the woods, a young lady, already finished, stood giving us all encouragement. I gave her a genuine smile of appreciation. The race route took us through what looked like a parking lot for a medical center before dropping us off on the hill above the finish line. A family was sitting out in their yard, cheering on the runners. They got a thumbs up.
Running beneath the houses along the back stretch, I heard Dee Dee yell my name. Thank God it was a downhill to the finish. I picked up a new friend, Mark, who had hurt his toe. Together, we ran it into the finish. I hammed it up a bit for the finish photo, but the smile on my face was not a fake. I raised my arm in victory, and crossed the finish line with a 4:16:53 showing on the clock (4:16:30 chip time).
Sir, may I take your timing chip, a sweet young girl asked? Sure, I said, as I doubled over in pain. Are you alright sir? I’m going to be fine, I replied. Thank you.
I grabbed my medal and headed for the athlete area. Dee Dee met up with me a long the way. I flopped down on my back next to a table and rested my feet up in the air, using the table for support. I stayed there for four, maybe five minutes, closing my eyes, waiting for the throbbing to ease. I probably could have stayed there for an hour, but thirst and hunger took over. I grabbed a bottle of water before heading to the food tent. THEY HAD BANANA PUDDING. It was dewiscious. That and the cold pizza.
Dee Dee went with me back to the car to change. I put on my race shirt and some jeans I had brought. We headed back over to the race area for a bit before departing. I’m so glad Dee Dee took the day off to come with me. I’m not sure I would have made it home on my own. With that, my fifth marathon is in the books (third stand alone).
Now, we must deal with the hard facts of this race. I did not meet my goal of going sub-4. I blame it on three things:
- not training properly
- going to hard at the Silver Comet Half Marathon
- improper pacing at the start of the marathon.
All of these things are, of course, fixable. Am I happy with my result? Of course!! But let’s be realistic. It’s not so much the 57 minute PR. We all knew that I was going to PR this race. Rather, its more like a reset. I needed to put a “realistic” number next to the “Marathon” on my personal records page. That PR will be much harder to beat, and that itself will be more motivation. Also, I NEED to feel like I have mastered the marathon distance, like I have the half marathon. I would rather run a 4:16 marathon with a consistent per mile pace than fade at the end.
That ends my 2011. I think Dee Dee and I are going to do a Turkey Trot, but nothing else. I haven’t decided what I’m going to do next year. Going sub-6 at Augusta is appealing, but so is doing nothing but sprints. We shall see. I have friends who have tentatively scheduled Chickamauga for next year. If they come to Georgia, I’ll definitely be heading back to do that race again.
Thank you all again for your support! I’ll be around.