My first attempt at qualifying for the Olympic Trials this year was Napa Valley Marathon. I chose it based on proximity to home, time of year, and speediness of course. My workouts in the previous 8 weeks had led me to believe I was close enough to ready to give it a go.
The day before the race, I spoke with Mary Coordt about her plans for the race. She was training for a goal marathon some time out, and wanted to run in Napa for training. Whether or not she finished was going to be decided as she went. The following morning we warmed up a bit together and talked pace. She was thinking 6:20 to 6:25, and told me that I was going to have just 'go for it'. Her assessment of Napa compared to California International Marathon was that Cal could be easier because of the camber to the road in Napa, sharp turns and steeper climbs.
Dawn broke to a beautiful, sunny, calm morning. At 7:00 am, the gun went off, and the answer to my readiness was to be slowly revealed. I wore my Garmin, set up to show me overall pace for the entire race, plus current pace, overall time, and heart rate. I stayed relaxed for the first mile, and Mary clicked right in with me. First mile - 6:32, with a heart rate a bit out of control - 189. Nerves. We picked it up a bit for a 6:17 uphill mile 2, heart rate still a little excited at 192. Finally, at mile 3 in 6:22, it settled down to 173. Physiology tests early revealed that 171-173 was pretty optimum for me for a marathon. Mile 4, a little downhill in 6:07. Mary reassured me that it all evens out over the course. I grabbed my fluids bottle at the next aid station, took in some replenishment and tossed it aside. One more small downhill in mile 5 for 6:11, then a gradual, canted, hard to run the tangent, twisty uphill for mile 6 in 6:26. I was not paying a lot of attention to each mile split, but watching the overall average pace, which about 6:18. I needed to average 6:20 to make the qualifying mark of 2:46:00. I was also aware that I was likely to run over 26.2 due to the unlikelihood of me running the tangents for the entire course, which would mean a slightly faster pace would be necessary.
Mile 7 I saw Brian who had made it out on the course. It was good to see his encouraging smile. We hit that mile in 6:17, then mile 8 in 6:16. Mile 9 was 6:43. Mary commented to that with surprise, but mile 10 was 6:04, so obviously the markers were off. Running with Mary was incredibly helpful, as the field was fairly dispersed. Her companionship, support, and course knowledge were priceless. She had run and won this course many times, and she was a rock star at every aid station. We were running number 1 and 2, and had 2 bicycle escorts.
Miles 11 and 12 were 6:22 and 6:23, and slightly downhill. I was still in the 6:17 - 6:18 average pace range. Mile 13 was 6:13, and I realized that the half was 1:23. I didn't give this near enough thought, like the fact that I would have to negative split to get my desired time, and that the Garmin was giving me overall pace for a bit longer due to not running exactly on the tangents. Mile 14 was 6:24, so we picked it up to a 6:13 mile.
Miles 16 and 17 were slightly uphill, and in 6:25, 6:28. Mary told me that mile 19 was coming up, followed by a very long, gradual uphill. Mile 18 set us up with a 6:07, and mile 19 in 6:13. I was feeling great, in that my overall pace was still 6:18. We hit the base of the mile and started to climb. For unexplainable reasons, I felt great. We continued working together and crested the hill, hitting mile 20 in 6:22, for a total time of 2:07. I was a minute or 2 slower than I wished, and ready to test the wheels for a hard 10k. We cruised downhill into an open valley. Mary said we had 2 more miles of straight road. A red barn was far off in the distance, and it appeared to never get closer. Sometimes I struggled to keep up, and sometimes I felt Mary struggle. We managed mile 22 in 6:21. The road was quite flat, and I was breathing hard.
Mile 23 came as we finally turned off the straight road. It was then that my legs said "wow - I am TIRED". Our split was 6:25, and as the road twisted with a very slight uphill, Mary began to drift away. "Come on Meghan!" she yelled. All I could do was grunt. One cyclist went with her, the other stayed with me. My pace average still said 6:19. I just needed to hold on, but the overall math wasn't looking good. My escort on wheels said the next aid station had sorbet. I was a bit taken aback. I didn't want to appear ungrateful, but my immediate inner response was "as if!". I was starting to really grunt with each stride, trying hard to hold on to pace. At the end of that mile (24) I hit a 6:33. The aid station there was very animated, shouting "Twenty four - just two more!". I was clawing at the air, squawking and squeeking. Ahead I saw Sean Meissner coming closer to me. Bummer. He was not having the day he wanted.
I so badly wanted to slow down. It seemed it would be impossible to hit my time, so why try? But I knew myself well enough. If I gave up and missed the mark by a few seconds, I would be very disappointed in myself. So I kept on gasping and struggling. As I passed Sean I shouted at him to come with me, but got no response. Mile 25 was 6:33. Overall time was 2:39 and I don't know how many seconds. I would have to run 1.2 miles in less than 7 minutes. I could still see Mary at times, as the course wound through town. I didn't give up the fight, and pushed myself to the very end. As I came near the finish, I could see the clock. At first I thought it said 2:45 and some seconds. I pushed very hard and about 10 yards out I saw that it was actually 2:46. I let up slightly, and cruised in at 2:46:41.
True to my nature, I was not disappointed. I ran the best I could that day, and came close enough to know that I can get the time. Everything went pretty well. I drank my drink when I could, used the course gatorade at other times. I obviously relied to heavily on the Garmin average pace rather than the actual course splits, since I averaged 6:19 for 26.35 miles. It was great have Mary to run with.
I will be trying again this fall at Twin Cities Marathon. In the meantime I have 6 ultras to get through!
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