Race Review: Mercedes Marathon 2015

From time to time, you will hear that a big part of running is mental.  That seems odd to say for something so intensely physical such as a marathon, but most marathoners would agree.

With that in mind, I was somewhat on edge heading into the 2015 Mercedes Marathon because I wasn’t sure how prepared I was mentally.  Yes, I had done the training.  Over a 16 week training period, I only missed 20 miles out of 600 – 18 because my wife was sick and two because I was.  But there was something missing in this training, a degree a passion.

My last long race was last year’s County Music Marathon in Nashville and it was fueled by the need for redemption.  And that need fueled all of my training and the eventual run.  When the race was over, and with redemption in tow, I moved on, so to speak.

I kept up my running over the summer and through the fall, but really missed the discipline of preparing for a marathon.  So, as fall wrapped up, I set my sights on this year’s hometown run and started training on November 1st.  The program took me through the holidays – which was great given all of the eating involved, and January brought the coldest temps and the longest runs.  But I made it.  I was fully prepared heading into yesterday’s run, but not totally sure how it would go given my lack of a theme for this race.

As it turns out, it went pretty well.

The weather in Alabama was pretty ugly this past week with low, low temps and some rain thrown in on Saturday.  I played weather app watcher all week and watched the chances of rain for Sunday go up and down and up again as the forecast was honed.  Ultimately, race day brought steady rain early, temperatures in the low 50s to start the race and overcast, ugly skies for the entire race.

Running i the rain isn’t fun, for lots of reasons (one in particular being my right sock that crept down and tried to bunch up under my toes), but it stopped early and wound up being no big deal.  Temperatures in the low 50s are pretty dadgum nice for running, so I can’t complain about that either.  Other than wet shoes and some cold legs, the weather really wasn’t an issue.

This was my first time to run the full Mercedes, which means two loops around instead of one, and for me, that wasn’t a big deal either.  In fact, I really like the course.  I’ve heard that some folks think it’s hilly, but it ain’t.  If want hilly, go four hours north to Nashville.  That’s hilly.  If you regularly run around the Birmingham area, the course would be considered fairly tame.

It was so tame in fact, that the first 13.1 can be navigated with really no stress and then you know what to expect for the next loop.  The course basically breaks down like this:

* Miles 1-6: Basically flat from downtown to the neighborhood that surrounds UAB
* Miles 7-9: A slight incline as you make your way to Five Points and up to Highlands Avenue where the course declines
* Mile 10: A slight incline up toward the Forest Park neighborhood and then a decent hill near Avondale Park
* Miles 11-13.1 – Basically flat to the finish line.

All-in-all, the course is pretty good in my book.

I cruised through the first half with a time around 1:49 and was far enough up toward the front to avoid most “crowded runner problems.”  In fact, I was actually cruising a little faster than I wanted over the first several miles (pretty common, right?) and throttled things back and ran a pace of around 8:20 for most of the first half.

When the full marathoners split off from the halfers, the crowd thinned dramatically, I grabbed two more water bottles from the back of my truck parked on the route and settled in to see how this thing would play out.  It was around this time that I began to wonder about my mental state for if and when things got tough.  Would I stop and walk?  Would I power through?  And would I have enough in my tank – physically and mentally – for a final kick?

I tried, as much as I could, to put these thoughts in the back of my mind and tried to focus on just running.  The runners, at this point, were sparse, so it was kind of tough to find someone to track down.  There were several runners in front of me – each spaced about 30 yards apart – and we were all content to simply run, not race, for most of miles 14 through 19.

When we turned left and headed up the rolling hills leading to Southside, the pack began to tighten as several runners felt the effects of the hills.  By mile 21, we had weaved our way out of the Five Points eating district and headed down Highland Avenue.  At this point, I decided to push the gas pedal a bit and left behind the group of runners I had been tracking.  I wasn’t in all out break-mode, but I figured I needed to pick up the pace just a bit.

I don’t suppose I ever hit the wall in this race, but the closest I came was probably near the old Silvertron Cafe.  This stretch is on an incline and leads up to a decent-sized hill.  At this point, I saw several older ladies walking the course, one with the help of a cane, and I decided I wouldn’t complain and simply motored over the hill.

At this point, with three miles left, the course was basically flat all the way home.  I was at a steady pace and was on track to beat my PR of around 3:41, but I decided to push the final leg.  I knew that if I went home without at least one big push, I’d simply regret it and we all know where running regrets can lead you (see: Nashville 2014).  So, I put my head down and pushed the gas pedal.  The pedal wasn’t as far down to the floor as it could have been, but it was far enough that the tach meter was approaching red.  It was far enough down to appease my mind before the next race.

The last stretch wasn’t fun.  I was tired, my legs were sore and, heck, I had already run over 23 miles at that point.  But, thank the Lord, I made it.  I finished with no regrets – at least not big ones, and tallied a time of 3:32.  That beat my previous PR by around nine minutes and after the race I wasn’t nearly as ripped apart as I had been after the last two Nashville races.

All together, it was a great day.  Not good, but not horrible weather.  A great course.  And a good finish.

And, oh yeah, my wife and a couple of our kids were waiting for me at the finish line and that was the best part.  They were so happy and excited and they made me feel special and loved.  Running a race is technically an individual sport, but we all know it takes a team for most of us.  My wife leads our team and makes everything happen so that I can run.  For that I am deeply thankful.  Shes’ the best.

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