Country Music Marathon: The Hay’s in the Barn

Well, after months of training, the race is almost here.  This will be posted on Friday and that means the race is tomorrow.  Bright and early, 7:00 a.m. in Nashville, where the weather forecast is calling for a zero percent chance of rain and a high of 83 degrees.

In the running world, the last couple of weeks before a marathon are known as taper weeks.  They are designed to allow you to keep running, but not nearly as much and, therefore, your body is allowed to heal up before your race.  Related to nearly any race you need time to heal up, but especially before a marathon.  And the reason you need time to heal up is because your body is torn up from months of training.  Except for a select few, the process of running a marathon is, indeed, a “marathon” in and of itself.  It requires months and months of training and hours and hours of running.

I’ve basically been following the Nike+ iPod app running plan for a marathon – with a few modifications along the way as I’ve listened to my body.  As a part of this plan, I’ve had long runs of 18 miles, 20 miles (two times) and a 22-miler.  I’ve also had numerous runs of 12+ plus miles (but less than 18).  Training-wise, I’m supposed to be ready.  Can I actually “get it done?”  Well, I guess we’ll find out Saturday.

My goals for this race are pretty simple:

* Don’t walk.  This is the number one goal; the goal above all others.  In fact, it’s the reason I’m running this race.  I “ran” this race back in 2009, but walked (a lot) during the last six miles and this time I’m going for some redemption.  I may slow down to gather some water or Gatorade, but my plan is to keep these old legs moving from start to finish.

* Less than four hours.  This is the secondary goal.  Based on my training runs, I think this is possible, especially if goal number one (no walking) is met.  Last time out I was well over four hours (but less than 4:30), so I think this would be a good accomplishment to break four – especially since I’m five years older.

* Strong on the last six.  Last time in Nashville, I wilted on the last six.  Absolutely died.  And the last six was a grim scene.  People dragging themselves along the course.  People falling out on the side of the road.  It was gruesome.  My hope is to have a nice, easy pace through the first half, “make it” through miles 13-20, and then press out what I have left on the last six.  (Actually, whatever I have will be pressed out on the last six, regardless.)  What I mean, I guess, is that I want to be able to make it through the “wall” on the last six rather than have the wall fall on me.  Sounds easy enough, right?

* Qualify for Boston.  My incredibly crazy over-the-top-might-as-well-not-even-say-it goal is three hours, 25 minutes.  In other words, this is this qualifying time for Boston for a person my age.  I can go ahead and tell you, this ain’t happening.  But, I will go ahead and hang it out there as a goal.  I’ve had some really good training times on my long runs, and this has been somewhat of a problem because I start getting crazy thoughts (that some others encourage) and I start thinking “Boston.”  But the reality is, thinking this way can kill my race.  I need to run my plan and then, if I do have a great day, go for it over the last 10 or so miles.  That would be an incredibly amazing, ESPN-type highlight day that I know want happen.  So why do I put it out there?  Well, I guess to let myself know there is another level and, after the race, I’ll have something else to point towards.

My taper period hasn’t gone extremely well.  The runs have been hard – at least harder than I expected and that has created some doubt.  Folks tell me this is normal.  Despite what my mind says, I’m trying to focus on running less this week and actually letting my body heal rather than running more to get my mojo back.

And I do have a few concerns for Saturday, namely the weather.  Yes, it will be a beautiful day, but the highs will get into the 80s after starting in the upper 50s.  My hope is that the high is hit somewhere around 2:00 p.m. rather than 10:00 a.m.  I’ve usually started my longer training runs around 6:00 a.m. or so and been finished by at least 9:00.  This race will start at 7:00 and I hope to be done by at least 11:00.  It will be hotter than any other run I’ve been on so far.  Things will feel great for the first hour or so and this could lull me into a faster pace than I need to run and that could kill me on the back half.  So, this weather means I need to really watch my pace over the first half or so.

The weather also means I need to properly hydrate.  Cooler weather for my training runs – even the 20 milers, hasn’t required me to monitor my hydration as I should have.  So, I need to properly hydrate – at the appropriate times – throughout the race.  This is a huge deal for a hotter day.

Another concern is simply running with 30,000 other people.  That’s a lot of folks (duh) and tracking through all of those folks can make you lose focus on your pace, or can slow your pace because you have to “fight” through folks.  But, at the same time, it’s kind of cool to be in a race that big, with that many folks.

The course itself is another concern.  The first half is a party scene.  Bands and crowds line the streets and it’s definitely a cool atmosphere.  There’s tons of encouragement and it’s a lot of fun.  The back half, well, let’s just say the crowd dwindles a bit and you face, at least in my opinion, the tougher part of the course (i.e. some hills after you’ve run a long time).  But the course concerns are really dependent on the weather, hydration and my pacing.  If the weather is worse than I think, well, all bets are off and I hope I can finish.  If the weather’s OK, if I hydrate properly and don’t start too fast, the course will be hard, but I think I’ll be mentally ready (I think) for it.

Whew.  Well that’s a lot of words to say that the hay’s in the barn for this one.  All of the major training is done.  Nothing is really left except to arrive in Nashville and run.  I’ll be nervous as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs, so I really hope I can settle down and just enjoy the run.  Running again has truly been a blessing from the Lord.  I am so thankful that God, through His generous grace has give me this opportunity.  I hope I can run a race that says “thank You” to Him for allowing this.

I also need to say a word of thanks to my wife, family and a few key others for helping out so much with the preparation for this race.  My wife has made this a priority and she’s cleared the way for me to have the time to train.  She doesn’t hold all of this against me; she’s really been encouraging and a blessing.  Thanks, Sweetie.  I’ve also had a few other friends that have shared knowledge, encouragement and training runs with me.  These folks are vitally important to preparing for a race like this and I really am thankful for them.

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