We saw that tree.
Is it me, or does Mount Desert Island look like a granulocyte's polymorphic nucleus?
Of course, the scales are different, but who knew there was a fractal relationship? Funny the stuff that pops into your head when your mildy hypoglycaemic, hyponatremic, hypokalemic, acidotic and you only have yourself to talk to.
To carry on from where the last post finished, I went back to the motel room after watching the early start. It wasn't a long journey and we were close! I was still feeling decidedly m'eh with just under an hour to the gun, and when I say gun, I actually mean small cannon.
The view from the motel balcony; we were that close.
Le belle decided that she wanted to go and drop her stuff off at the bag-check now. It was clear from the finger-tapping, eye-rolling body language that if the bags weren't dropped off this instant, her entire race would be in ruins. Hey, what can I say? I didn't start the Riverport Du in the bathroom! Maybe this was why. Whatever the reason, I hurriedly finished off my (ahem) "preparations" and headed out. It was a good idea to head out at that instant however, as we bumped into most of the Nova Scotians; Shawn Deleu, David Nevitt, Karen Marlin, Leah Jabour almost immediately.
Dave Nevitt, Shawn Deleu, la belle, you-know-who, Leah Jabour, Karen Marlin and a big mountain!
Funny thing about that photo. As we lined up under the banner for the photo, the lady taking it asked "do you want the mountain in as well?". Mountain? What mountain? Feck it, there's a bloody mountain!
After a quick photo stop and bag-drop, and we were soon all back in the motel room to finish our preparations and that all-important final pit-stop. I felt a little like the NS chef de mission! Marathon veteran David Nevitt was a calming influence to us all I think, there was less evidence of nail-biting, pant-wetting nerves and more getting ready for the job.
We finally headed off down to the start with about ten minutes to go and we immediately bumped into Charles Mandel. It was good to see him again. Charles seemed to also be feeling m'eh about the whole thing, and I couldn't blame him. It was cold, it felt early and all we could see looking down the street, through the start-gantry and along the route was that mountain! That thing Oscar Wilde said about a hanging? That mountain had the same effect!
Pretty soon the energy levels started to ramp-up as the RD initiated the start-line experience. With two minutes to go, the play-list had switched to AC/DC. It sounded like Hells Bells or something similar, a gradually building crescendo of Angus Young's best that culminated with a for-real cannon-blast.
We were off.
Nova Scotia fast boys David Holder (11th in 2:52:58) and Shawn Deleu (13th in 2:53:54) soon found the second pack on the road behind a sizeable and ominous-looking lead pack. In fact, the men's course record would fall this day and six guys would go under 2:40.
I found myself with Charles, Dave, Leah and last years winner (and Maine Road Hag from CTRR) Amanda Labelle. There was a a little trash-talking; Leah said Charles sounded like he was running like a girl back there, so I told Leah she looked like a man up there.
The first hill, the first hill of many, soon came and put a stop to the trash-talking. We were only a mile into the race but it was already time to throw down. Well a little. There were still many hills and many miles to come.
Charles, David and I crested the hill together. David said we had just done the worse hill on the course. Normally, I would defer to his status as an experienced marathon runner, and one with two MDIs under his belt, but with only one hill and two miles down, this seemed like a particularly rash and irresponsible statement.
Around now we started to get mightily pissed off by George from FLA. Charles and I were doing a conservative 7 minute mile pace, and so was George. On average. You see he was doing a strange combination of run-walking; like the Running Room on Amphetamines. We passed him in the first mile walking, then he caught us on the first hill running like gangbusters, stopped looking blown, walked for a bit and repeated. Not that I mind being passed, it happens to me more often than you'd think, but this was playing merry hell with any sense of rhythm. I told Charles we'd loose him by 8 miles if he carried on like this. Which turned out to be about right. We saw less and less of him for the first hour, and after that we didn't see him at all.
The course elevation map didn't really do justice to the route as I felt it unfold under my feet. On paper it was bowl-shaped; climbs in the first eight and last five miles with relative flat in-between. In truth, this wasn't the course I remember running. The hills were fairly evenly interspersed throughout the course. Dave was right, until the final climb between 22 and 24 miles, that first climb was the worse one, in terms of length at least. The rest of the climbs weren't really that bad at all. They were enough to get stuck in to, and if like me you do well at hills, they were places to pick people off or make up a little time. There was nearly always a a downhill to recover on or, if you're like me, to loose a little ground but there was always another hill to make it back on!
The middle section was a little flatter, but all this this meant was the hills didn't come quite so quickly or steeply. I was able to push the pace a little around the half. I was feeling disgustingly good after the conservative start, and I had to remind myself constantly to keep a eye on the meter. You try not to think negative thoughts, but you spin-doctor it in your head so that you know it could still blow at any time but you're not dwelling on it! I found myself thinking thoughts I'd never had in a marathon, thoughts like "only 10 miles to go, why don't you try and open up a little" or "oh, 20 miles and feeling fine, have a bash at catching Amanda now?". Strangely positive considering I'm usually considering crawling under the nearest bush and having a nap at around this time.
Imaginary Garmin; time for plan-B
A word about the"meter". I use the term in a purely figurative sense as I was running this "old school" on a regular Timex, the mile-markers and mental arithmetic. This wasn't as bad as I had feared. Perhaps a Garmin can hold you back? I let myself run on feel, not numbers. Have you noticed that the worse you feel the more you look at the Garmin? I remember feeling like crap in Boston '10 and the Garmin just reinforced these feelings. I'd look at it repeatedly and yet it would always say "28". "What?! Only 28? Still! Still 28! That's 14 to go! Arghhh" Bonk!. Here, there was only a mile-marker every seven minutes, you see it, look at the watch, do the math, memorise a number and carry on.
The first twenty miles of MDI are the prettiest. The last six are a bit of drag along the only road to Southwest Harbour and consequently a little less scenic, except for the town of Somesville. Other than this, the course follows the coast (or nuclear membrane) fairly faithfully and you would be constantly rewarded when coning down off a hill, or topping out on a climb by seeing an incredible ocean view.
To describe the course, it distilled the best parts of the Rum Runners Relay, Cabot Trail Relay, Victoria Park in Truro, the Purcells Cove Loop just outside Halifax and the old Valley marathon route in Kentville. Yup, it was that good. I don't think I'd go as far as saying the scenery made me forget the pain (as the race-blurb would have me beleive), but I was never too far gone to appreciate it.
The sting in the tail final miles weren't as bad as feared. Instead of a steady four mile climb, it was punctuated with little descents, not enough to register on the elevation profile but enough to register in the legs. The was one long uphill drag between 22 and 23 miles with no respite, but whilst everything else was trending uphill, there were rests. I didn't get cramp in this marathon, one of the only ones I haven't. Perhaps it was both the early conservative pace and also, counterintuiviately, the hill at the end. They gave me something to work for instead of feeling sorry for myself!
In absolute terms, the race was a bit of a disaster; far from a PB. However, I can take many positives from this.
It was a solid yet enjoyable effort. After several horrible marathons, some of which felt like chores, I rediscovered a little of what it's like to enjoy running marathons again. I even-splitted this one with a 43 minute 10K, 1:33 half and 3:07 full. No cramps and an even pace, even with all that climbing. This was one of the only marathons where I've felt in full control of myself from gun to tape; I didn't even need medical at the end! I think I can build on this experience, build in some more pace over distance, but try to keep this feeling in mind; if it doesn't feel like this then I'm doing it wrong!
For the competitive jerk inside of me, there was still some measure satisfaction to be had. I won nearly all of my internal battles within the race. As always, I did pretty well in the ladies race! I was only a couple of minutes behind Leah Jabour, the ladies winner (and only winner, male or female in the history of the event, from outside the US). Amanda Labelle, second lady, was in sight for ten miles. She hove in sight at around 15 miles (where I later found out she was having problems) and I was steadily making progress on her until about 21 when she found another gear. Knowing what was coming probably helped her, knowing exactly how much she had to give.
My final battle was with Daniel, one of a large contingent from Levis, QC. I'd already passed him at about 8 miles but he and a team-mate worked together and worked me over, pulling away from me by the half. His mate was dropped earlier bur he was making good progress and I only caught him again as we topped the last hill. I remember thinking how funny it was that the Powerbar in the back pocket of his singlet looked like a puncture-repair kit! Oh well, I thought it was funny, Perhaps you had to be there. Or maybe have run for two hours first.
There was a 2000 m downhill after we topped out, and it was painful. Daniel and I both upped our pace. I'm not sure if I was trying to beat him, he was trying not to lose a place within sight of the line or if it was just the effect of the downhill! It burned the quads almost immediately. We we both grimacing in pain; "mes jambes" I said, "c'est une descente de tabernak". It may not get you your Treasury Board 'E' but it was well understood!
The clock was reading 3:07:30-something as I hit the chute. I remember thinking that a 3:07 would be a very nice result and unequivocally faster than Bluenose's 3:08 and arithmetically symmetrical to the Boston disaster of 3:14. However, I also remember thinking, no, don't sprint for the line, preserve your dignity Sir. Sure, do the fist-pump thing (always a marginal gesture in a slightly overweight 40-44 finishing >40 minutes behind the winner), maybe shed a tear or two, but don't sprint. Sprint for what? This ain't no PB you're sprinting for, it is quite literally a median marathon time for you. Sure, it may be a BQ, but one for a guy ten, twenty years younger than you, you're not fighting for 3:20:59 to make it by a second, and you don't want to go to Boston anyway! Enjoy it, float across the line instead of fighting for two seconds and a coveted top-30 spot that's yours anyway. So I did. I enjoyed it, enjoyed the feeling of the crowd, of the cheers, of the announcer, the sun on my face, a feeling of accomplishment. And it did feel like an accomplishment, not a relief, but a sense of something greater.
Speaking of announcers, the MC was going a little nuts; I was the 4th Nova Scotian in 26 finishers, more than 10% at the time, and the announcer was wondering what it was the runners were doing up there. Which is funny because at Cabot trail we say the same thing about the Maine runners!.
So that was MDI, marathon number 13 in the bag, and the third this year. I really enjoyed the race, the event and the area. It doesn't quite deserve the reputation for toughness it has, but in the same way 26.2 miles is not a distance to be taken on with alacrity, neither is this course. It deserves respect, but it will give back in equal measure.
Put it this way; I"m already signed up for next year!