So what was the logic of pacing a marathon just three weeks before the Big One? Let’s just say that consecutive marathon training cycles get a little stale after more than two years, and a little risk-taking has livened things up. I also didn’t want to get all tensed up about hitting some arbitrary target at Boston. This bit of foolishness suited nicely. I volunteered to co-lead the 3:40 pace group. This was a cushion of 22 minutes off the 3:17 time I ran at CIM in December, but I was a little apprehensive. Oakland is not a fast course with that 600ft hill in the first half, and many corners in the last quarter (more about those later). Also my ‘taper’ consisted of about 4 days of lighter running instead of the customary 2 to 3 weeks. This was going to be interesting.
My co-leader for this adventure was Vanessa, who has a 3:07 PR and seemingly inexhaustible vocal chords. She is also running in Boston, and knew several runners in the group.
We wore Garmins which were useful as a general guide to pace, but we mostly relied on checking elapsed time against the mile markers, which gave better accuracy.
The pace signs were ridiculous, about 18″ square and without poles. Vanessa and I had attached 3:40 signs to our backs and reolved to dump the sign at the first decent opportunity.
With only 1,000 runners in the full marathon, we were across the line 11 seconds after the gun. I had decided at the last minute to carry a bottle of water, so it didn’t have a handle. Picture me at the start line, with a sign in one hand, bottle in the other, pressing buttons on two watches somehow.
“Hmm, we seem to be catching up with 3:30”
“Yes, we’re a little fast, but he’s also slow”
This was a typical exchange in the first mile. Vanessa held the sign for a while until the crowd thinned out a bit, then I darted to the side and leant it up against a parking meter. Bye bye Big Thing.
These early miles felt like one of the downtown training runs, only easier because we never had to take to the sidewalk or stop at lights. There was an out-and back on College Avenue (mile 4) where we could check out the other runners. We noted with surprise that the 3:30 guy was still carrying his sign in front of his chest. He was leading his group solo, and somehow managed to carry his sign for the whole race. He later said that his arms were more sore than his legs!
The hill commenced at mile 4. We were slightly aggressive with it, but were hitting our splits almost exactly. Our group was a good size, there was some chat about about the scenery and racing, etc. By the time we were approaching Montclair Village at mile 8, however, there were some anxious questions about the hill we were on. How much more? “There are three peaks. This one up ahead is the first” I announced. “Oh good, like the Newton Hills at Boston” my enquirer responded. Well kinda, only this was four times as high. There was a big crowd there, ringing cowbells and holding up signs. We whooped back at them and emerged with big smiles ready to take on the rest of the climb. By the time we got to the third and final peak we were looking around anxiously to see if we were losing people. Apparently not yet, but we’re only at mile 10!
Tour guide mode: “Don’t forget to look at the view, People!” Sweeping gestures at Oakland laid out below. It was a bit hazy. We could see as far as the dockyard cranes and the Bay Bridge, but no San Francisco skyline today. Veronica took the downhill at a gentle pace, which was fine with me, gathering my energy for the long flat stretches to come.
Plenty of people were watching in Fruitvale, saying things like “Thank you for running in Oakland”. We cheered them back, especially the crossing guards who were directing traffic. Whistles seemed to be the preferred noisemakers here. The 13.1 marker was the occasion for a little song I had not heard before: “We’re halfway there…”
At least one member of the group got to try out his Spanish while calling back to the spectators along International Boulevard whilst I was watching a red shirt up ahead. Clubmate Jack Z. had been visible since about mile 4 and now was gradually coming back to us. I was looking forward to a chat, but at the next aid station he walked through and there was only time for an exchange of “Hi”s before he was gone. Darn. After mile 16 we merged with the half marathon runners who were in their fourth mile at that point. They had started 90 minutes after us, so we were passing the 15 minutes per mile runners. By the finish we would have caught up with the folks running a little faster than 10:00. We were averaging 8:20, working up a little cushion over the pace band, so the speed difference was considerable. We were going around them and sometimes threading gaps in single file. There was plenty of room except at the corners, but unfortunately there were a lot of corners. Veronica was reading shirts and calling encouragement” “Go YMCA, Looking Good”. “Go Full!” Was the usual reply. The day was warming up. I heard one woman say: “Wow. I’m dripping wet and they are not even breaking a sweat!” Not quite true, but we must have looked like an express train to them. The train seemed to be losing wagons. “Where did Nick go? he was looking so strong, too.” We seemed to be down to just four, although I later learned that at least one marathoner further back was working hard to keep our blue pacer shirts in sight. A young half marathoner joined us. “Do you mind if I run with you guys?”. We were glad to have her. This was her first half marathon and she stayed with us to the end, thanks to coaching from Veronica.
After about mile 18 (Jack London Square) I was feeling a little stressed. It served me right for not really tapering, but this was starting to feel more like a race. Not the white-knuckle effort of an all-out marathon, but it was work. “This is in my head” I told myself, since I was easily able to produce the little surges needed to go around groups of runners.
At Mile 22 we came to the familiar territory of Lake Merritt and luxuriated in two lanes of roadway where LMJS usually races on the sidewalk. “We’re getting towards the end of this thing!”
A little rise on 20th street ate a few seconds out of our cushion, and we came in sight of the finish. We crossed in 3:39:31, which, while a few seconds ahead of schedule, was good enough to get me 10th in my age group (out of 64), and was also within my Boston Qualification time for next year (3:45).
Running a marathon 15-20 minutes slower than your potential really makes a difference when it comes to recovery. I only ran once in the five days after CIM, but this week was able to resume after just one rest day. I suppose the Marathon Maniacs are familiar with this effect. I see that running two marathons just three weeks apart does not quite qualify me for Maniac status. I’m not sure how I feel about that.
Update: The results got adjusted. Now I’m 9th in my age group!