Going into the Flying Pig, I had reservations. For one, I knew my training wasn't quite there to run a 2:59, one of the two running goals I still have. (The other: do Comrades.) I wish I'd trained more, harder and smarter. But you go to war with the army you have, not the army you'd like to have or plan to have, I guess. The week before the race was a whirlwind, with lots of travel and work -- and too little sleep.
Pre-Race: I stayed with my friend Tom and his wife Kremena before the race. One thing I learned, which I should have known, is it's not ideal for me to combine running marathons and visits. Sure, it's convenient, but I'm too distracted. I just wanted to sit down the day before the race rather than go anywhere. We went up to Cincinnati on Saturday, picking up my number and then eating at friends of Tom's in northern Kentucky. I was pretty nervous. I ran once in the week before the race, not out of strategy but a lack of time, and just five times over the previous two weeks. Maybe this was for the better. I felt like shit, that's all I know.
The Start: I got to the starting line at a little after 6am, following a fitful night sleep in a disreputable Travelodge in Newport, KY. The weather was great, probably in the high 40s or low 50s. I went right to the start area to get in the right frame of mind. I never know what to think about standing there, waiting to begin the long journey. One trick I try is to visualize what it'll be like running the course, even though I'd never stepped foot on any of it. Most of all, the battle is to relax. That's so important in running. The race director came on with some "bad news": the start would be delayed because of a fire along the course. What's more, it would be a quarter mile longer. It took a few seconds for everyone to realize he was serious. Inauspicious.
Miles 1-4: I promised myself I would go out slowly. The Flying Pig is pretty hilly, particularly the first eight miles, when it gains tk meters of evelation. My idea was to go out at 7:30, then see how I felt at mile 8, when the worst of the hills were crested. The start was a bit crowded but not too bad. Mile one flashed by at 7:29. Perfect. The next couple miles, the course wasn't marked correctly. That happens in smaller marathons. Mile 2: 6:39; Mile 3: 7:57. Add them together, about 7:15. This was where I caught on with the 3:10 pace group, which turned out to be a savior. Mile 4: 7:20.
Miles 5-8: These miles were decisive. The course went over to Kentucky, traversing the many bridges over the Ohio. We then headed east and started climbing. Dave, the pace leader for the 3:10 group, was awesome. It's unusual for a pace leader to factor in the hills. Usually, they're tyrannical about staying on pace, but Dave rightly knew that we could give up time in the ups to make up in the down. Mile 5 was 7:14; Mile 6: 7:09. Then it got tougher. Mile 7 came in at 7:30, followed by another tough 7:22 . At this point, I felt good, not overly fatigued, but my feet were a little sore. So far, no tightness or muscle soreness.
Miles 9-13.1: I think of these as middle miles. At this point, I'm into the groove but not yet at that point of comfort where I'm clicking off miles. The best feeling as a distance runner is to be a metronome, knocking back miles almost mechanically. It's an amazing feeling. Mile 8 was a slow recovery at 7:13 for Mile 9. At this point, we picked up the pace noticeably. At first, I struggled a bit and faded to the back of the 3:10 pack. Mile 10: 7:10; Mile 11: 7:00. At this point, I seem to remember Dave dropping off for a pee while another guy, much more annoyingly voluble, took over the pacing. He messed up the mile, and we came in at 7:26. This was reeled back to a 7:16 to come into the half at 1:35:43. I take assessment at the half. At this point, we were on pace for, with even splits, a 3:11: 30. Not bad.
Miles 14-20: My confidence was up at this point. Even though I felt great, I was totally determined not to overextend myself. The Delaware and Indy experiences hung heavy on me. Yet I was nearly equally determined to leave it out there. That's the paradox. I'm haunted by the fact that I didn't run 75 seconds faster in Philadelphia in 2005 to run sub 3. I finished with gas left in the tank. That sucks. These are typically my miles. I typically run my best between the half mark and about mile 18. I don't know why. Mile 14 was a slow 7:26, followed by a 7:08, 7:06, then down to a 7:01 at 17. I was running at the front of the back now, and ventured out beyond it with one guy. This was, in retrospect, a mistake. Mile 18 was 6:53, but I started to fatigue. Mile 19 hurt at 7:23, but I pulled that back to a 7:07 at 20.
Miles 21-23: In every marathon, the goal is to get to mile 20, then scratch and claw. I've done this so many times, but I've never figured out a way to plan for what happens beyond 20. It's a total crapshoot. We were heading down into the city, along the Ohio. It's mostly downhill. Mile 21: 7:07. Mile 22: 6:59. It was here that I started to lose touch with the 3:10 group. I wanted to keep up, yet I worried about blowing up. 3:15 is my Boston time, so I played it safe. Was that a mistake? I don't know. Mile 23: 7:25
Miles 24-end: Flush with pain. It's true that the discomfort at the end of marathons is difficult to describe. The best word is dispiriting. The experience helped lots, because I was ready to deal with how bad I felt. I saw people pulling up with cramps or walking uphills. I would shorten my strides, power away. Mile 24: 7:17. By now, I'm counting down to what the distance left is in city blocks. Mile 25: 7:31. The last mile, I completely played it safe. It comes up on my watch at 9:14, which can't be true. My guess is the extra quarter mile added came in here. According to the chip time, I did the final mile in an embarrassing 8:20. Yikes. The guy finishing before me was dragged across and put into a wheelchair.
Final result: 3:11:55; 7:15 pace; 132nd of 4728 overall; 19th in division.
Takeaway: Cincy was a great experience. The race went as well as I could have hoped. I ran, for the most part, very evenly and under control on a pretty hilly course. I still think it's possible to run a 2:59 in the fall.