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(this report was previously posted at CoolRunning, ported to here as a courtesy while that site is down)<br><br>
As the title of my report suggests it ended up being a somewhat bittersweet result at Charlotte this weekend. But the good far outweighs the bad.<br><br><b>Prologue</b><br>
This was my second marathon ever, the first being Philadelphia last year. A year ago I struggled through Philly, hitting the wall at 16 miles and staggering home in 3:50. In retrospect I was in a tough spot that day. My training hadn't been up to par because of the 10 days I had missed due to a September bout with bronchitis, and I compounded that with several race-day, rookie marathoner mistakes. While I was happy to get a first one under my belt, I knew I could do better...much better.<br><br><br>
So in early 2007 I started training for the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach, scheduled for March. Everything seemed to be on track until we sold our house and moved. Training time vanished and I had to scratch Shamrock. Finally as the summer came on I started looking again at fall races and ramping up my training. But when it came time to decide on my target races, I ended up selecting two races, neither of which were marathons -- Army Ten Miler and Baltimore Half Marathon. I picked those two because they are my strongest distances and I had a strong feeling I could train up to PRs in both, I did just that, only 6 days apart in October. But those were both early fall races. What was left to do now? Sure I could run a Turkey Trot race (which I did), throw in a local 5k (did that too) -- but the real challenge was still there, daring me to meet it head-on.<br><br><br>
I thought about a return to Philly but by now it was too late. That marathon was full. Plus it seemed like a cool idea to go somewhere else this time. So I searched the web and finally stumbled on to Charlotte. After a little research, and checking for available hotels, it was a done deal. I was in, and I still even had enough time to get a few long runs in before taper!<br><br><br><b>"Go Time"</b><br>
Finally the day came. I took off work Friday the 7th to fly down. We made it to Charlotte at around 7pm with just enough time to get my packet, and even for my wife to make a last minute decision to enter the 5k. Then it was off to the hotel, the Hilton Center City, which was basically right at the start area. We checked in, and got ourselves over to Luce for an unbelievable Italian carb feast...no doubt a lot more pricey than the sponsored pasta dinner but it was excellent. As usual I slept poorly the night before the race.<br><br><br>
The next morning we were up at 6, having room service breakfast at 6:30. Then it was time to change and get outside. Temps were not too bad, 43F at that time but with warmer weather expected as the day went on. I put on my standard "big race" outfit -- red short, red short-sleeve compression shirt, red UA headband. Why red? I have no idea but I always wear red for big races. The only deviation was to throw on a gold long-sleeve t-shirt from a 5k I had run, ironically, one year ago to the day in Chantilly, VA; that would be my throw-away shirt to be ditched as soon as I felt warmed up during the race.<br><br><br>
Once we got downstairs it was nearly time to go. I did a couple of marathon pace strides and could tell right away I was very ready. My wife and I wished each other luck in our respective races and then I lined up between the 3:15 and 3:30 pacer, but closer to the latter. My thinking was I could probably hit 3:25 and everything went perfectly, just maybe qualify for Boston at 3:20.<br><br><br>
The next thing I knew we were off. This being Charlotte, the nominal home of NASCAR, instead of gun or cannon going off it was the wave of a green flag that got us started. The start seemed easy enough; I was trying to stay relaxed and not overstride, thinking to myself I would perfectly satisfied with a first mile as slow as 8:00. There was a fairly downhill grade, though and I thought it was possible I could be going faster than that. Little did I know just how correct I was. The first thought I had when I looked at the split time was "what the *&%#?" The second was "that's gotta be short." The third was "slow down!" <b>Mile split - 7:07</b><br><br>
I did drop the pace a little bit in Mile 2 as it had one uphill and then seemed to flatten out a bit. As I neared the hill's bottom I could still see the race leaders up ahead. At about 1.7 miles or so came the first water stop and shortly after that I tossed away the long-sleeve t-shirt. I was starting to relax a little more, but hoping I hadn't torched my race in the first mile. <b>Mile split - 7:27</b><br><br>
Here's where things started getting a little more interesting. Like many other marathons, this one had a companion half-marathon that started at the same time. Full marathoners had white bibs, half marathoners had black. But with some runners still in their warmup gear that they hadn't thrown away yet, it was hard to tell sometimes who was running which race. I told myself not to get caught up, just stick to my plan. I was running very smoothly...and still too fast. <b>Mile split - 7:09</b><br><br>
We now started turning into some residential areas and it was starting to become clearer who was out there for the full 26.2. I passed one guy in a white bib who was breathing very hard. I thought to myself he must have gone out chasing a half-marathoner. He was in for a long day now, though. Then there was this threesome, 2 men & 1 woman, all wearing Mexican flag shorts. The two guys were older and had black bibs but the girl was young and was running the full. It looked like they were pacing her for the first part of her race, but when she saw me she go by she dropped them and went with me. Apparently she liked the speed I was going but at this point I was working to slow down again, so pretty soon she dropped me, too. I took my first gel at this time as well, even though breakfast felt like it was still digesting in me. <b>Mile split - 7:25</b><br><br>
As we got deeper into the Foxcroft neighborhood we saw quite a few residents out, often in lawn chairs, rooting everyone on. That was pretty cool. Some of them even rooted for me by name which I ackowledged with a thumbs up. By now Mexican girl has left me in the dust. I wonder if she's trying to make Olympic trials for Mexico. <b>Mile split - 7:33</b><br><br>
For the last couple of miles now there's a definite pattern emerging for me: a quick mile then an easier mile. This pattern continues for the next couple of miles as well. At 8 miles I take my second gel. Meanwhile it seems everyone around me is wearing the black half-marathoner bib. <b>Mile splits: 6 - 7:23; 7 - 7:34; 8 - 7:26; 9 - 7:30</b><br><br><b>10k aggregate split - 46:36</b><br><br>
Somehow I manage to miss the 10 mile split possibly while I was tracking a couple of local guys. We joked around a little bit with some spectators but kept up a good pace. I let them go though when they said they were going 7:18/mile, faster than I should be going. Only later did I realize they were planning to turn off for the half marathon finish, so letting them was probably a good idea. Finally got a split at 11 miles. <b>2-mile split - 15:01</b><br><br>
By now we're starting to emerge out of the pretty neighborhoods, heading back towards uptown. Some climbing is involved but not too much. My breathing is relaxed as I look forward to seeing what this race will look like once the half-marathoners break off for the finish. <b>Mile split - 7:41</b><br><br>
The breakaway point does come up at just about 13 miles. And as I suspected it suddenly becomes a lot quieter on the course. Suddenly there's nobody around me, a woman marathoner just ahead who had passed me a few miles ago. At this point I am in a zone, knowing that I have banked a lot of time but wondering how long I can hold it. I think back to Philly last year and tell myself that 16 is the first magic number. It was where I bonked last year - can't let that happen again. Face it and beat it. <b>Mile split - 7:35</b><br><br><b>Half Marathon Aggregate Split Time - 1:38:00 (7:29/mile)</b><br><br>
Now we once again head away from the city center, this time towards more industrial areas. I pass a couple of guys and then who's next in front of me? Mexican flag shorts girl. I catch her, she tries to go with me but her race is over; it's a struggle for survival now, her own personal Philly. I feel bad for her but hey, I've still got work to do. <b>Mile split - 7:35</b><br><br>
Mile 15 goes much like the previous mile: not much scenery and a robot-like pace for me. <b>Mile split - 7:35</b><br><br>
I'm starting to get near that 16-mile gut check now. And it's not like there aren't things to taunt me with that bad memory springing back to life. My right calf is starting to tighten, just slightly. My stomach is still a bit unsettled from breakfast; I actually skipped the planned gel at 12 miles and skip it again here when I pass a table full of them. I decide any nutrients are going to have to come from the powerade at the stations. Despite that I hit the mile marker in much better shape than a year ago. However, it's also the first mile that I dip into that 3:20 bank I've been building. <b>Mile split - 7:45</b><br><br>
We now are nearing the city center again, just a few blocks from the start area. It's mostly downhill here but the pavement is concrete block rather than asphalt, which doesn't do my calf any favors. Still it's holding up pretty well. We pass the Charlotte Bobcats arena, where my wife and I will be later that night for a game. <b>Mile split - 7:35</b><br><br>
Now we start to hit some rolling hills. For the first time now I see people walking. Meanwhile I'm back in a zone, though not as fast as before. I think to myself, if I can hold this, I'm going to blast 3:20. But can I do it? There's still a long way to go. I catch one guy who decides he wants to fight me off. I let him carry me for a while and then I leave him behind. Meanwhile two other guys absolutely blow past me. As we enter a park area a spectator mentions the "big hill coming up." I know from the elevation profile which one he means, and it starts at Mile 20. But when I get to it, it doesn't seem so bad, at least not for me. A guy pulls off to the side with calf cramps, which reminds me of my own. Thankfully mine doesn't feel like cramping, it's just getting really sore. <b>Mile splits for 18, 19, 20 all at 7:45</b><br><br>
Finally it happens...the marathon starts to feel like one. Until now I've been cruising along with confidence but suddenly in Mile 21 my legs are really starting to feel it. It's getting warmer as well and it finally dawns on me that maybe I should remove my gloves. I know at this point the struggle has begun, as I hit my first mile over 8 minutes. <b>Mile split - 8:06</b><br><br>
We're back in a residential area but this one doesn't seem to have as many interested observers. It's really starting to feel like a grind and I know this is where I have dig deep and be tough. I also know the 3:20 is no longer in the bag and in fact that it's going to be really close at the finish. I miss the 22-mile split as I'm going for water & powerade. It's clear to me now that as far as my "bank" goes, I might as well be sitting outside the vault with the door wide open, lighting up cigars with 100-euro notes. I'm leaking time by the bushel. But I tell myself to fight it -- no bonking, no walking, dammit. Finish strong. <b>2-mile split - 16:38</b><br><br>
Now it's time for another cruel memory from Philly...there are hills you expect, and ones you don't. You mentally prepare for the former and usually kill them. Such was the case with the big hill in Mile 21. But the latter can break your will. And now in Mile 24 comes a real sneaky one. You don't even realize you're on it until about halfway up and then it continues to bend skyward. It seems like it will never end. For the first time today my breathing is labored. I want to stop. But I won't. There's too much at stake. I hear the words of Jimmy Valvano in my head, "Never give up. Don't ever give up!" I don't know where it came from but those words power me up the hill. <b>Mile split - 8:11</b><br><br>
Still the hill does take a lot out of me. I know we're close to being done now, but my entire lower body hurts, especially that right calf. Nevertheless I'm passing a lot more runners than are passing me. The two guys who blew by me several miles before come up in my sight. I catch them with surprising ease and as I go by one of them makes a wisecrack about how I must have gotten "4 new tires." I wish them luck the rest of the way and move on. Hit the 25 mark in 3:12...oh boy, I've blown my bank and have got a lot of work to do. <b>Mile split - 8:21</b><br><br>
Whatever is left in the tank now, I've got to use it. I've already thrown caution to the wind with the gels, using my last one at the 24-mile mark. A guy intent on his own strong finish goes by me and he looks good for it. But then a switch flips in me as I round a corner with about .8 to go. I can go faster, yes! I pick it up. I pass the guy back, and he encourages me to keep going. I tell him to come with me but he can't. We round the final corner and I see the 26 mile mark in front. I see people lining the streets and they can see how much I want this finish and they're yelling for me. My wife's in there somewhere too. <b>Mile split 7:41</b>.<br><br><br>
This is it, the final stretch. I dig deep for whatever is left and sprint it in as hard as I can. I actually catch and pass 2 guys in this stretch. But as I'm finishing I can see the clock ticking in the 3:21s. It's up to the chip now. <b>Final 0.2 - 1:27</b><br><br>
I cross the line and know that I've just hit a massive PR, but maybe not a BQ. I can't believe that I ran as hard and as strong as I did for so long and one very tough course. Earlier in the race, though I told myself, no matter what I was going to be happy with the time. BQ would be icing on the cake.<br><br><br>
I hung out for a while had some waters, banana and a beer until the official result for me did come up. And I was excruciatingly close to qualifying. My final time of 3:21:08 missed BQ by 9 seconds. 9 freaking seconds. 0.3 seconds per mile. At that moment it was hard to remember what I had told myself about the result earlier. But after a couple of minutes that feeling passed, overwhelmed by the fact that I had just shaved 29 minutes off of my old PR. Not only that, I felt a whole lot better this time than last time! Plus my wife is just going nuts about how I just crushed this race. And I've already got another marathon in sight...National in DC on 3/29/08. It's flat and fast; 3:20 should be low hanging fruit for me there. So I'm not hanging my head over a missed BQ, I'm celebrating one of my best runs ever, and taking the lessons learned with me for the future.<br><br><br><b>Thoughts on the marathon</b><br>
This report has probably been longer than the race itself already, so I'll be brief. Bottom line, I loved the event. Charlotte is a great city. Everything was centrally located and the selected hotels were too. Police presence was fantastic; the force did an awesome job managing the traffic. Food may have been a little sparse for some but I was fine with it. All I really want after a race is a banana and they had plenty of those. And I'm never going to complain about post-race beer. <img alt="" src="http://www.coolrunning.com/forums/wink.gif" style="border:0px solid;"> Finally the band at the finish lined rocked. The only knock I might have is about the race website. It could afford to have much more detail. In particular, full-page printable maps would be nice.<br><br><br>
Would I run this one again. Absolutely. Next time, though, perhaps not to get a BQ. I think this is a great course to run after you BQ and you want to get a feel for what Boston is like (I think). Come to think of it...I'll be 45 by Boston 2009, so I think I actually have qualified for that year, just not '08. (Somebody correct me if I'm wrong about that).
 

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Awesome run and race report, CMJ!! It still baffles me how people (like you) can give such a detailed race report, reading it I felt like I was there with you, although my legs haven't seen speed like that for about 5 years. I think you ran a great race and I'm glad you had a blast doing it.
 

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CMJ, what a RR! Sounds like this race was a tough one to BQ but you got close. You will BQ soon.<br><br>
Gawd you are FAST on a tough course.<br><br>
I liked your detailed report because I was thinking about doing the half version of this race next year so I could visit my big brother who lives in Charlotte. Thanks for the insider's scoop!
 
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