Steve's 2003 Austin Motorola Marathon Report

Last weekend I traveled to Austin TX to run the Motorola Marathon, my second marathon in the 10 months since I started running. The previous fall I ran a 3:37 at the Portland Marathon, and with lots of training since then, I hoped to run in the 3:20ís at Austin. My aggressive "perfect race" goal was to break 3:20 (7:38/mile pace).

Portland training
32 mpw average, 40 mpw peak
2 long runs up to 20 miles max
goal: finish

Austin Motorola training
49 mpw average, 61 mpw peak
8 long runs up to 22 miles max
goal: 3:20's

Start Area
Race morning, my brother Rob and I joined the expectant crowd of 10000 at the start in the icy pre-dawn darkness. With temperatures in the upper 30ís and howling winds, everyone was searching for warmth wherever they could find it. Damn it was cold! Following the signs to the 3:20 pace group, we took our places and settled in to await the 7:00am start.

As the sky brightened and race time approached, a nervous anticipation descended on the crowd. The many months of constant training had now led up to this morning, this one chance to prove that it had all been worth it. All the lost sleep, injuries, treadmills, track workouts, sunrise runs, pouring rain, and endless sweat all added up to this moment at the starting line. I felt some comfort in knowing that all my hard work had set me up for success, and now all I had to do was follow through.

Start - Mile 4: 9:00, 7:04, 7:08, 7:14
After a slow start maneuvering through the thick crowds, our pace group picked up speed to recover lost time. We were running 30+ seconds faster than goal pace, and my legs and heart protested. Worrying that I was burning out too soon at this speed, I said goodbye to Rob and the 3:20 group around mile 4, and fell back to run at a more comfortable speed.

Miles 4 - 9: 7:28, 7:28, 7:25, 7:24, 7:28
Cruising at my own speed now through leafy residential neighborhoods, I felt much better. We were running slightly downhill with a tailwind, so I was able to keep a steady pace about 10 seconds ahead of plan. My legs felt good. Around mile 9, I caught up to the 3:20 pace group again, who had finally slowed. Rob wasn't with them though, so I assumed he was feeling strong and had pushed ahead.

Miles 9 - 14: 7:34, 7:38, 7:23, 7:52, 7:31
Staying close to the pace group, I slowed down a bit here as the downhill leveled off. The wind was still at my back and I was feeling pretty good, with just a little fatigue starting to creep in. No pain, cramps, or blisters anywhere on the horizon. As we passed into downtown Austin, the wind really started to kick up, and a hill at mile 13 slowed me briefly. But at the halfway mark, my time was an excellent 1:39:03, so I had about a minute extra banked against my 3:20 goal. I could run a 1:41 second half and still reach 3:20. No sweat, right?

Miles 14 - 17: 8:03, 7:43, 7:52
Things started getting nasty, as the course leveled off, fatigue kept building, and the wind was gusting right in my face. Around mile 15, the pace group spread out a bit, and I moved towards the back, then all the way back, then off the backÖ uh oh. The pacers pulled away slowly but relentlessly, and all I could do was watch them fade into the distance. With my extra time in the bank, though, my 3:20 dream was still alive for the moment.

During a short out-and-back section here, I scanned the crowd coming the other way, looking for Rob. I saw him just before the turn around, about a minute ahead of me, still looking strong. We cheered each other as we passed.

Miles 17 - 22: 7:24, 7:47, 7:47, 7:39, 7:46
Fatigue was now building into a force that couldn't be ignored, but thanks to my many long training runs, I was amazingly still able to hold the pace. It now took a huge mental effort to keep my legs moving. I just kept chanting to myself: run run run run run runÖ

Near mile 21 I caught up to Rob, who had fallen off his pace since we'd passed at the turn around. We ran together for a minute, and then I pushed again and slowly pulled away.

By the 22 mile mark Iíd lost the remainder of my banked time, and was now exactly on a 3:20 finishing pace. I needed to average 7:38 pace for the last 4.2 miles to the finish. 7:38 seemed impossible to imagine, but somehow I thought I could run three 7:48 miles, and then go out in a blaze of lactic acid by running 7:00 pace for the final 1.2 before dropping dead at the finish. That poor bit of reasoning then became my plan.

Mile 22 - Finish: 8:16, 8:14, 8:58, 8:11, 1:38 (.2)
In the last miles, the wheels came off the cart. As fatigue continued to build, my back and neck muscles were in near constant spasm. Nothing specifically hurt, but I had a numbing all-over exhausted feeling. After seeing my 8:16 split time at mile 23, I knew my chances of a sub 3:20 finish were gone. I tried to just keep a decent pace, push through the wind, and crank up the low long hill at mile 25.

At long last the finish line was in sight. A hardy crowd of marathon fans had braved the frigid conditions, and bells rang, horns sounded, and the roar of thousands of voices hung in the air. A few hundred yards from the finish someone tried to pass me, and I reflexively uncorked a burst of speed with everything I had left. I pushed so hard that my face curled into a death sneer I can't wait to see in the official photos. Still kicking, I pumped my fists in the air as I came across the line in 3:23:02. Rob came in not far behind in 3:25:54.

first half: 1:39:03 (mostly downhill with a tailwind)
second half: 1:43:59 (mostly flat with mixed winds)
total chip time: 3:23:02 (7:45 pace), a 14+ minute PR!
Finished in the top 20% of my age group (M30-34), and top 10% overall.

Although I missed my 3:20 goal, I'm still very happy with my 3:23 finish and 14+ minute PR! Thatís a 7:45 pace for 26.2 miles, an achievement I never would have thought remotely possible even a few months ago.

Iím also encouraged by how good my body feels now after the race. I have the expected aches and stiffness, but on the whole I donít feel much worse than I normally would after a long training run. This is a big change from the way I felt after my first marathon, and it suggests that my body is ready to go out even harder next time. If I can manage a 13 minute PR later this year, I'll be toeing the line at Boston 2004!

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