Sunday, September 1, 2019

Day 297

Something I have learned about documenting races is that if I don't write a race report the day of the race--or the day after at the latest--I'm not going to write a race report. Case in point? I never wrote a report about the Red Dirt Ultra or Possum's Revenge.

I have possibly mentioned this before, but I am at the point in my running career that I sometimes sign up for half marathons and marathons as training runs for other races. Currently, I am training for the Marine Corps Marathon 50K with my friend Sandra, and she mentioned back in April that a September marathon would be a good opportunity to be supported for a 26.2-mile run and see how our training was going. I agreed, and Sandra mentioned that she had done the Tupelo Marathon in the past. The shirt was cool, Tupelo is within driving distance of Baton Rouge, and the race starts early enough that participants miss out on some of the heat of the day.

Flash forward to last week, and plans changed (as they often do), so I ended up going solo to this race. I left late last night and drove straight to the race to pick up my packet shortly before the start. Race day packet pickup was at the Trails and Treads store, which meant I could use a real (non-porta potty) bathroom before the race. Excellent.

At some point in April or May, I mentioned to Sandra that I would like to finally run a marathon under 5:30, and she said she thought I could do it at Tupelo. The thought stayed in my mind, though training in the heat has made it difficult to maintain the pace I would like for more than a few miles. Still, going into the race today, I wanted to take a shot at it. A 5:30 marathon requires a 12:35 pace over 26.2 miles, but I knew the first part of the race (before the sun rose) would be significantly easier than the second half. Thus, I made my plan to run the first half at 12:00 min/mile or faster, which would allow me to slow to at least 13:11 min/mile on the second half. I decided to do run 2:00/walk 1:00 intervals as long as I could and reassess if or when I needed a break.

The pack took off in the dark, and a small sea of headlamps and flashlights wove through the early miles of the race. Although the temperature was a comfortable 68 degrees, the humidity was somewhere between 91-95%, so people were sweating early in the race. Without the sunlight, there were actually a few moments when the wind blew across my sweaty skin and gave me a little chill!

To give us all the authentic Mississippi experience, the race director was kind enough to leave all of the roadkill out on the course for the runners to see and smell. I went out feeling strong and actually maintained a pace of about 11:30 min/mile for the first half; I crossed the halfway mat at 2:31:21.

The marathoners ran an out-and-back course. Even though the sun was getting higher as I headed back toward the start, there were sections of the first few miles of the second half that were well shaded and even kind of pleasant. I held my sub-12:00 pace through mile 16, and miles 17 and 18 were both 12:12...then it got tough. There were hills I had to run up that didn't seem nearly as steep when I ran down them on my way out. Of course, these hills were not covered with shade either. That would be too easy. Still,  I was doing my typical computations and figuring out what I needed to do to still meet my goal. By the time I was starting to struggle, I could run 14:00 miles and still finish under 5:30. That was a good feeling. Around the time I could run 16- or 17-minute miles and finish under 5:30, I also realized I could beat 5:20 if I gave a good push. I could possibly even beat 5:17, which would take 20 minutes off of my existing marathon PR of 5:37:15.

In the end, I gave a good effort--perhaps not 100%, but I wasn't trying to die--and finished in 5:18:58, which is a PR of over 18 minutes! The last .2 miles or so were on a hill in the sun, which was not my favorite, but I didn't complain. After the race, I hung out and rehydrated (water, Powerade, and part of a hard seltzer) with some other Marathon Maniacs and chatted about the race. I took a photo with fellow Red Felt Running Club (RFRC) member Howard who was running his 70th marathon in his 32nd state today. I also saw my new friend Julie who was only a few minutes ahead of me at the halfway mark but smoked the second half to finish in 4:56 and take 2nd in her age group. Boom!

All smiles at the finish line!

I smelled worse than I have smelled after most races--even some trail runs--but the Snap Fitness gym next to the finish was kind enough to open their showers to the runners after the race. A hot shower gave me the life I needed to start the drive back home. I don't typically eat much immediately after a race, but I'll definitely be hungry tomorrow. I did fry some delicious bacon tonight and shared it with Scooter.

Overall, I would recommend the Tupelo Marathon, especially since it's tough to find a marathon in the South at this time of year. The volunteers were terrific, but there wasn't much course support otherwise. I don't mind, as I do quite a bit of solo running as it is. Apparently, some people run this race every year, so I might have to return next year or sometime in the future.

Something that made today great: A new marathon PR!
Time I woke up: 8:30 last night?

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