This post is adapted from my original Reddit post which can be found here.
What: Cannonball Marathon
When: October 14th 2017
Where: Greensboro, NC
|New PR||Almost Guaranteed||Yes|
|Sub 3:45||Entirely Probable||Yes|
|Sub 3:30||Edge of Possibility||No|
This is the very first race I registered for. Not even two months after I started running seriously I whipped out my debit card and secured a place to toe the line at the 2017 running of the Cannonball. It was February 8th and I was hitting the treadmill hard. In fact just a couple of weeks later I’d be down with my first over-training injury.
Anyway, I figured the long time span between February and October would give me plenty of time and serve as a solid milestone to work toward. I ended up in several other races during that time (including my first ultra), but this one stands as my first official road marathon and will always hold that special place as being the first race I registered for and for being my first hail mary style goal in this fine sport.
I’m far from the fastest guy out there, but I’m usually pretty consistent. That consistency has paid dividends in trail running, but to do well in road races you have to have some speed. With that in mind I had been trying to do more high intensity runs at the expense of some of the long, slow distance running that I generally prefer. I’ve found a good training partner in a local triathlete, Ryan, who is way fun to go running with and who is objectively faster than me at every standard road distance.
I had been trying to do 40 to 50 miles a week for the weeks leading up to the event with most of those miles being faster at 10K, 10 mile, and half marathon distances with the odd long run mixed in. I had to make up a little bit of training after a foot injury (stepped wrong on a rock) a few weeks prior, but I bounced back pretty solidly. I think I had things pretty well nailed down for this race, at least as nailed down as was reasonably possible for me.
My marathon PR was pretty slow at 4:20:17. I’ve been fine with this as I hit that very early in my running (June 10th) and the other times I’ve hit marathon distance were in trail runs. Basically I’d have to fall and break a leg to not set a new PR. That said, I’d be happy with anything under 3:45 and I set a stretch goal of 3:30 just to have something at the edge of what I thought I’d be able to accomplish.
Greensboro is about a 3 hour trip from my house, but traffic/construction on I-26 and I-40 turned that into a slightly over 4 hour trip. We got settled into the hotel a little after 10:00, which was later than I wanted given my estimated 5:00 wake up time. I checked a few work emails and stuffed my face with whole wheat pasta for a few minutes before laying down while the wife stayed up working for a couple more hours.
I had set three alarms but the second and third ended up being completely unnecessary. I was up and alert right at 5:00 and was making my way to the hotel lobby for coffee as soon as I got my shoes on. The race was at 8:00, but the early wake up time was to do some more carb loading and give the coffee time to work its magic. I showered, got dressed, and gathered up my things. The wife was up a few minutes after 6:00 and we were on our way to race at about 6:30 so I could be doubly sure there wouldn’t be any way I could miss packet pickup.
I knew running 3:30 was a stretch goal of mine that would depend on basically perfect weather and perfect execution on my part, but taking the advice of my running friends I was resolved to run with the 3:30 pacer and hold on for dear life. The problem was there didn’t seem to be a 3:30 pacer (or a 3:45 pacer for that matter). I found the 3:15 guy and the 4:00 guy with no problem, but sadly the 3:30 flag was sitting on the table without anyone to bear it. After talking to a few people I found out that the half marathon shared the first 10 or so miles with the marathon course so I could just spend the first miles running with the 1:45 pacers there and everything should be fine.
It was cool out, far cooler than I had anticipated. I was thinking it would be close to 70F, but it was rather pleasantly in the 50s. It was humid, which isn’t so bad when its cool, but it does require a little bit more attention to be paid to the breathing. The sky was full overcast so there was more right with the weather than wrong. Basically it wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough that I thought my 3:30 stretch goal was still within my grasp.
At about 7:50 or so, people started making their way to the starting line and I did the same. I blew a kiss to the wife right as the horn sounded as we were off.
Starting line through mile 6 (with the half pacers)
I quickly fell into a rhythm with the two 1:45 half marathon pacers. Their names were Cyndi and Josh. Cyndi was loud, flamboyant, and a general blast to run with. Josh was a little quieter, but had a great sense of humor and was entertaining to be around. It was obvious Cyndi had a lot of experience as a pacer and was nailing her splits pretty much the entire time. I would have been happy to run with them until the split, but after the first turnaround it got rather crowded on the trail as there was two way traffic so I pulled a bit ahead to join up with a guy I knew was running the full and was targeting the same 3:30 finish time.
The course itself was reasonably well marked and at that point was mostly on a local greenway with a a little bit of road. There was some fall leaf accumulation on parts of the course, but nothing that presented much of an obstacle
Miles 6 through 12 (Billy and Joe)
After pulling ahead of the half pacers I wound up running with a 50-something named Joe and a 20-something named Billy, both super nice guys. It was a little less crowded so it was a little easier to make forward progress. From the first turnaround we got back to the road and past the point where the half marathon runners broke off. Most of the rest of the race was on actual roads rather than parks and greenways and we were looking strong going into it. The course was nothing particularly notable, just rolling hills on semi-rural and suburban roads. The police had done an admirable job or cordoning off appropriate space and shutting down roads where necessary.
We had a pretty good 8 minute pace going, but at the mile 12 water station, Joe took a few seconds longer getting some water and fell back a bit. In addition we were going down a hill. It became fairly obvious to me and Billy that he wasn’t going to keep pace so we waved and pressed on.
Miles 12 through 22 (Kendall and Billy go hunting)
Billy was a hell of a runner. He was a virgin marathoner who had only done 5K and 10K races before, but he was quite strong and it showed. We pushed our pace a little bit and starting running sub-8 splits. Within a couple of miles we had reeled in a guy who was pretty far in front of us. Billy actually ran ahead at one point to use the restroom and caught back up just as I was passing another gentleman. It really feels good to run with someone else who seems to appreciate the thrill of slowly chasing down a runner in front of you.
By mile 18 I was starting to feel it creeping up on me. My right hip was exhibiting some discomfort and my stomach wasn’t exactly sitting easy. I normally train with coconut water and Tailwind for hydration. I had coconut water in my handheld, but all the aid stations had was water and the sweetest Gatorade I’ve ever tasted. After the first couple of stations I gave up on the Gatorade as I knew it wouldn’t go well if I kept drinking it. Of course this left me at an electrolyte deficiency as coconut water doesn’t really have any sodium.
I’m normally pretty good about powering through GI issues and I did as much, but at mile 22 I started cramping hard. I told Billy to press on and that I’d see him at the finish. We were on pace for a 3:27 finish.
Miles 22 through 26.2 (ALL the cramps)
Mile 22 was a bit out of the ordinary for me as I typically don’t ever cramp up. I’ve certainly had my fair share of stupidity-induced running maladies, but this felt a bit different. I felt my stability start to go on a few occasions so I had to slow to a walk and work the cramps out by high stepping for a minute or so. I was able to pick back up and maintain a similar pace (my lungs felt good and I had sufficient energy) but basically every mile I had to lose a minute or more due to cramps. The last mile had a fair bit of climbing after going back into the park where the race started. I couldn’t push too hard up the hills because doing so just made me cramp worse
When I came around the final bend, Billy was the first person I saw. He was cheering me on and had a big smile on his face. Then I saw my wife to my right and she was taking video and yelling. I smiled and waved at her. I crossed the finish in 3:32:06 gun time with an official chip time of 3:32:01.
I’ve heard that the best way to run a race is to have nothing left in the tank at the end. Well, I had precisely nothing left in the tank at the end. After they gave me my finisher medal I sat on the nearest curb and didn’t move for a solid 15 minutes. My legs felt like absolute hell. The wife was super attentive and got me bananas, water, a clean towel, and whatever else I needed. She also bought me a shirt that says RUN ALL THE RACES so I’d have something clean to put on when I got out of my running shirt.
It took another half hour (and lots of leg rubbing, courtesy of the wife) before I started to feel any semblance of normality. I kept putting back calories and eventually got around to getting my free finisher beers while waiting for the awards to start.
I ended up 13th overall and 2nd in my age group. Billy finished in 3:26:39 for 12th overall and 2nd in his age group. I think there were 80 or 90 participants in the marathon, with several times that number in the half. I feel great about my finish time, especially given my late race cramping issue. 3:30 was right at the edge of what I was capable of and while I didn’t get it this time, this certainly won’t be my last road marathon.