Funny that Sam starts his race report with a picture of his Garmin. I could, too, since mine played a minor but maddening role in my race. But I will get back to that.
I did not reach my goal of breaking 2:50. But I did PR by 7 minutes, finishing in 2:54:16. I also had fun, especially for the first half. I got to run the half with two Jens, one of whom was doing the relay and pacing me, the other who was running a conservative first half as a prelude to her awesome kick to the finish.
I wore only shorts and a short sleeve shirt, but I was actually very comfortable at the start and all through the first half. I called out to spectators and volunteers and chatted with my running mates. All was well with the world. Mile after mile went by and the timers at every one of them seemed to say, "Pace, 6:29" -- my goal pace. I crossed the 13.1 mile mark in 1:25:00, exactly one-half of my goal of 2:50.
Then, as we turned south on Fair Oaks, the wind picked up a bit, and the temperature seemed to drop. I didn't feel cold from head to toe, but my quads started to tighten, as if they were trying to find a warm place to hide. It was then that I looked with envy on the knickers that Jen. P was racing in. They looked very warm at that point. I managed to duck behind Jen and Katie, another woman who was running with us, and a man who was also in our little group, and I did a few pulls out front myself. The wind speed didn't seem to bother me too much, just the wind chill.
Then, at about the 16.5 mile mark, Jen P. did an abrupt right turn off the course, apparently for an unscheduled nature break. I had no idea how long she was detained, but I figured, given her talent for fast finishes, that she would be back. At that point Katie took over the bulk of the pack leading, and as she ramped it up to a sub-6:25 pace, I was determined to hang on. I did so until just before mile 21, when, as we ran stride for stride, Katie's elbow hit my Garmin. I use a triathlete's quick release watch band into which the body of the Garmin clips. Her elbow knocked the watch clear out of the plastic holder. I looked behind me to see my watch bouncing down the street.
In an instant I had to decide whether to let that $300 appliance go, and with it the data that would help guide my finish. I decided to go pick it up. I turned around, ran back to get it, popped it back into its holder and started to run again. But I hadn't secured it, and it fell out after a couple of strides. I went back to get it again, this time making sure I secured it, but it was turned off. So I had to turn it on an restart it. All of this probably cost me only 20 seconds or so, but more importantly, by the time I got back on track, Katie was long gone. The gap was too big to make up, though I tried in vain for a bit, managing only to send my heart rate soaring.
That incident only contributed to what was probably inevitable: just like in my first marathon, my final five miles were terrible. At the 20-mile mark my time was 2:09:52, which is a pace of 6:29.6 per mile and a projected final time of 2:50:07. Then I started to fall apart. My pace steadily rose until it was more than a minute per mile higher than my goal. My quads felt like telephone poles, so heavy I thought I might need to reach down and lift them off the ground to take my next step. By mile 23 I knew my chance of breaking 2:50 was gone, but I also knew that, barring a total collapse, I would still break 3 hours, and by quite a bit. So I went into defensive mode and focused on avoiding a total collapse. The cheers from friends and strangers along L Street helped as I struggled to another painful finish. As I expected, Jen P caught and passed me here, racing as if she were doing the relay and not the final miles of a marathon. She urged me on, but my final 1.2 miles were no better than they were two years ago, which is remarkable given how much faster I ran overall this time.
My conclusion: if I want to finish a marathon in anything other than complete agony, I am going to have to run more than three days a week, and more than 35 to 45 miles per week. And certainly if I want to finish a marathon in under 2:50, that is what will be required.
But I am happy with this result, if not the path I took to it, cratering at the finish. I had fun, learned some things about myself, met the challenge in front of me and found a new one. Onward.