They say that practice makes perfect.
Because of that, you would think that by my 12th marathon, I’d have race strategy down to a science. On paper I do, but in practice I definitely don’t.
I signed up for the Illinois Marathon pretty late in the game, but I really needed a spring goal to get me running more than 12 miles for a long run. Admittedly, I didn’t love my training for this one. I had better quality than ever, but the quantity was a little lacking in the long run department. Winter had a lot to do with that.
Still, I rolled into Champaign-Urbana on a good taper, and felt pretty good all things considered. Got to chill at the expo and hang out with Team BibRave for a bit before heading over to my AirBnB, eat some pasta, and watching the entire first season of Bonding from start to finish.
After a so-so night of sleep, it was morning and it was time to find the coffee and get to the start. After running both Chicago and NYC as my last two races, I forgot how easy it can be to get to the start of a smaller race.
After bag check, I caught up with Nick, Noel, and Sanjiv before heading over for one last bathroom stop and into the start corral.
The gun went off, and away we went. The sun was out, the wind was calm, and the temps were perfect. It would be a good day. (Narrator: It would not be a good day).
I knew I wanted to be just ahead of the 1:30 pace team for the first half, and was hoping to run high 6:40s/low 6:50s most of the way. As we headed up the over one mile straightaway to start (shades of NYC right there) I felt good, as one should, and kept tabs on my watch to make sure I didn’t go berserk at the start.
Every time I looked at my watch I told myself “You need to back off a little,” but I normally come through the first mile of a marathon pretty close to what I want.
Not at Illinois. When we got to the first mile marker, I looked at my watch to check the time (I don’t have auto lap on) and saw I just logged a 6:24 first mile. The first thing that went through my head was “Oh shit.” I might have said that out loud as well. Coming through the first mile of a marathon 30s per mile faster than goal pace isn’t exactly ideal.
Lots of things went through my head in the next mile. From “uh oh” to “We’re cookin” to “Slow down.” After I clicked through the 5k in 20:19 (yes, that’s about a 2:52 marathon pace), I knew that I couldn’t put the toothpaste back in the tube, and figured I would ride or die at this point.
But I also knew I was not in shape to be churning out these paces, and that it would come back to bite me. Not exactly the mindset you want to be at around Mile 8.
It was around this time both Amy and Anne caught up to me. Both were also gunning for sub 3, and told me to come with them. Of course, we were on a narrow bike bath at this point, which made race navigation a bit tricky.
Once we got off the bike bath, Amy and Anne shot away, and it was all aboard the 15 mile pain train for me. My stomach also was feeling unruly by this point, and I was pretty sure it would require a pit stop eventually (I was right).
The temptation to follow the Half runners into Memorial Stadium was immense. It was getting windy, I was already feeling cooked from my ill advised first 10k, and I decidedly did not want to be out there.
But I soldiered on, because I’m stubborn. And just told myself to relax and take it aid station to aid station. Obviously, easier said than done. From about 14-22 my pace ping ponged from mid to low 7s to high 8s.
Most of those miles were run through neighborhoods, which I enjoyed. And all of the turns at least kept it interesting. I do remember one dude saying “18 is around the corner,” but we weren’t even to 16.5 yet. Come on man.
Somewhere back here I also saw one of Amy’s discarded water bottles, and thought about grabbing it for some nutrition. I decided against it, knowing that it wouldn’t help me a ton.
Also a quick shout out to the unofficial aid station that had pickle juice. As many of you know, I think it’s the elixir of life in ultras, and it definitely helped here. For about a half mile…
The last four were a walk/jog back over to campus. Somehow, I passed a decent amount of folks back here.
As you all know, the last .2 of a marathon is like the longest yard. Even more so when you’re suffering. Naturally, this is where the race photographers hung out, so there are plenty of pictures of me with pain written all over my face.
Right after finishing, Connie came over to chat. My first words to her were “Kill me,” but she didn’t take up that offer. I (extremely slowly) made my way to gear check, and then to Angie and Josh so we could watch the rest of the BibRave folks running come in.
From there, it was cold, windy, and I was ready to go home. And so I did.
All in all, I really did enjoy the Illinois Marathon. Fantastically organized, and a really good course. And I know, in the grand scheme of things a 3:24 marathon is nothing to be sad about. But this one will bug me for a while because of the stupidity of my own pacing.
Practice makes perfect. And I need more practice.