For the 6th time, I returned to Minnesota for the USATF Masters Marathon Championships, which coincided this year with the Open Championships for women as well. As such, it was the only opportunity in 2009 for women to run a qualifying time for the 2009 Olympic Trials, and that meant that the field was loaded. My primary goal was to run anything 2:46 flat of better, and try to make to one more trials before my body really starts to betray me.
I arrived on Thursday to cool, cloudy weather. I settled in, put on my running clothes and ran 9 miles on the tail end of the course. It felt good to move after being cooped up all day, and my legs felt fine. Afterwards Coach Bob and I had dinner, then I settled into my routine of sleeping and eating for the next 2 days. Kami arrived Friday night and Saturday morning she and I took our last run before the big dance.
Up at 5:00 Sunday morning, we both had oatmeal and coffee, and dressed for cool weather. We were bussed to a church near the start of the race, and I reconnected with Mike Wardian and Susan Empy, amongst others. At 7:00, Kami and I went out to warm up. It was chilly and damp, but by race start I was warm enough to don the Strands singlet with arm warmers, gloves, and hat. I was also carrying a flask with EFS Gel that I could easily nip at without having to try and open any packets on the fly.
Running in the masters field were Kami, Susan (last year's winner), Colleen DeRueck, Susannah Beck, and Wendy Terris. These were only the ones I knew about. The open field was quite deep. Again, I was going for time, not place, and hoped there would be a group about my fitness I could run with.
After the final strides, we lined up under the start banner, and with much fanfare, we were off. It's usually crazy the first mile, trying to see where your peeps are and not get carried away. I had my Garmin on and had set it up to show me my overall pace, current pace, lap time, and heart rate. Even in the first mile I checked on my pace to keep myself reined in. I could see Kami about 20 yards ahead of me, with Susan and Wendy. My first mile was 6:16, and HR was about 169. I needed to keep the HR between 169-172 to stay in control, so I was on track. I expected the group ahead of me to pull ahead, but they remained the same distance. Around a turn and up an on ramp, mile 2 came in 6:12. I was please with this, as I felt strong. Cresting a small hill, and greeted by a number of fans along the, I glided down hill past the famous tuba player as he serenaded us. A small uphill before mile 3, and I went through in 6:29. My HR was settling into the 170-172 range, and having my overall average still below 6:15 was reassuring. Mile 4 was quicker with 6:09, and as we rounded one of the many lakes, I hit mile 5 in 5:59. At this point I had my first bottle to pick up from an aid station. I grabbed it, lugged it along for awhile, chasing down the Gel I had taken.
I could still see the group ahead, and I was running with a couple of other women trying to qualify. It was all rather dynamic, especially with the men slowing down, speeding up, passing, drafting, and encouraging. I tossed my bottle, and hit mile 6 in 6:35. The next two miles clipped along in 6:12, and 6:18. My HR was still 169-172 range, and I was feeling pretty excited that I felt strong and like it was going to happen today. Kami and her group were still about the same distance ahead. Mile 9 came, I grabbed another bottle and did a poor job of getting much in before deciding it was too heavy to carry. It was cool, I reasoned, so I shouldn't need that much fluid. My average pace was still around 6:15, and I felt that if I could hold that to mile 20, I could manage to average 6:20 overall with the uphill sections over the last 6 miles.
Mile 10 (6:13) had a gradual climb, and I found myself running with man trying to help me out. He led me by a half-length, and drafted up the hill. We had a 90 degree turn at the top, and I hung on through mile 11 (6:15), and then realized it was starting to feel a bit tough. This was not a good place or time to start that already. I hung on as long as I felt I could without getting into trouble, and finally, giving up on me, he pulled away. I hit mile 12 in 6:24, and it wasn't too long before we turned out of the wind and made a gentle climb to mile 13 (6:20).
My average was getting slower, and at the half marathon my time was 1:22. I was pretty sure I wouldn't run 1:23 for the second half, but that never gave me cause to lessen up. I had another companion who ran beside me for another mile (6:31) before he faded. I was struggling more, and a bit perplexed, but could still see the same group in front of me. Miles 15 (6:24), 16 (6:29), 17 (6:29) were a blur, and I began looking forward to mile 18, where an old acquaintance of mine, Ross, had said he would be. About that time, I saw Susan Empy pull out of the race, with an injury. She saw me and encouraged me to “catch 'em”. Soon afterwards, Wendy started to fade from that pack, and I passed her at about mile 18 (6:37). My eyes were straining for Ross, and I never did see him (it turns out I was too fast for him!), but the thought of having someone there had kept me going that long.
Mile 19 (6:36) ends on an on ramp to a bridge that crosses the Mississippi River. I was feeling pretty spent, and my pace average was now at 6:19. I hoped I would still run a 2:48 – that would not seem too bad to me. Cresting the bridge and turning east, I tried to pick up the pace, and that is where I really ran into problems. My HR dropped then jumped to over 200. It seemed like pushing it was not such a good idea after all. I tried consuming the rest of the Gel, and washed it down with water from the next aid station. It didn't really help. At this point, Kami got to feeling good, and she sped out of sight. I took it all one step at a time. Mile 20 (6:33) came and my average was now 6:20. At 2:07, I thought I would still run 2:48 or so. I trudged on, and my HR continued to stay high (187-192). My last VO2 Max test maxed me at 187, but the physiologist had warned me that if it ever goes above that then it is probably due to dehydration. I wasn't making the connection at the time, but in retrospect, I can think of no other explanation. I felt like crap. My next miles were 6:41, 7:13, 7:02. About this time, Wendy caught back up, and I encouraged her on. I was working with another woman, back and forth we led each other, before she too dropped me. Mile 24 (6:50) was probably the worst. I so wanted to be done, and did not feel good. The oddest thing was that although my HR was in the 190s, I could not put effort in, and so I was not even breathing hard, making my trademark grunts I normally do. Finally, mile 25 (7:04) and I knew it was almost done. I could see the Cathedral on the left, and just kept my mind on the finish. The last 1.2 miles were in 8:20l, and when I crossed the finish line I felt absolutely flat and bummed. My time was 2:50:50, which is about 6:30 average. I can't really complain about it, but I apparently am not too old to learn lessons in this game.
One of the most remarkable things about this day was that it was one of my faster performances here (I have run 2:46 and 2:49) and by far the lowest I have placed. I was 10th Master and 50-something female. I find it very exciting for our sport to have so many fast women showing up. There were 24 qualifiers, with 11 of them reaching the A standard of sub-2:39. And how about that Colleen DeRueck? She was second overall in 2:32 at the age of 45. We are in the same age group, so I don't know what my problem is!
I am definitely going to be diligent from now on in every race about staying hydrated, regardless of the weather.