A couple of things are certain about this race. You are guaranteed absolutely flawless execution and support from the race staff and the weather in Huntsville, Alabama is pretty darn unpredictable.
This marathon trip was a birthday gift from my wife way back in July. Thanks to her I am able to chase this crazy little dream. Alabama wasn't on her 10 must see places so she sent me off to hang out with Joe, Wes (and DeeDee). A great time was had by all. I met a lot of other great people as well.
Joe and I decided to take full advantage of the complete array of marathon related events. We started things off with the Historic Runs on Friday afternoon. It was a casual run that afforded us views of some of the oldest areas of Huntsville.
Next up was the pasta dinner where Joe and I met Jeff Galloway personally and had our pictures taken. Wes and DeeDee checked in just in time for the dinner. We took seats at a table with a couple, Charlie and Cheryl, who turned out to be from the same town as Wes and DeeDee, as well as runners/triathletes and oddly enough their hotel rooms were right next door. We were joined by a couple of guys from CO, Jerry and Don, and a guy from TX, Claude, who had run nearly 40 marathons this year alone. There was no lack of stories to be swapped.
Later that evening fellow blogger David, part of the TN contingent I'd been following lately, stopped over to our hotel for a chat. He shared his experience from last year's race with us.
As the three of us discussed the race strategies for the following morning I wasn't sure exactly where I'd place myself. My expectations weren't high based on recent results and decidedly sub-par training. This was Joe's target race, Wes's first and the TN folks were all gunning for sub 4:00. Joe and Wes were focused on 4:15 and gave off the impression that they didn't intend on socializing. I wasn't sure I could hang with TN so I decided to just see what the day had in store.
The starting line was within 100 yards of the hotel lobby, as was the finish line. Joe and I positioned ourselves at the 4:00-4:15 placard and immediately found David and Michele, the second third of TN. Lana was no where to be found. Wes joined us soon thereafter.
Wes, Joe and I took off together. We were joined during that first mile by Greg from Oklahoma. He started up a conversation based on my Marathon Maniac singlet. Nine minutes into the race, Joe and Wes took their walk break and I continued on with Greg. David and Michele were somewhere up ahead.
Greg and I ran together for about 7 miles when he peeled off for a biology break. Greg gave me a lot of tips on marathon recommendations in OK, Nebraska and Kansas. We had passed, much to my surprise, David, Michele and Lana (they'd connected somewhere along the way). They wished me well as I went by. I assured them that they were likely to catch me in the end. After Greg dropped off I was on my own for the rest of the race. Greg eventually caught me around mile 11 and motored right on past.
The weather was a huge factor in this race. The course itself was 80% residential. The aid stations were well stocked and staffed. At the start the temperature was already in the 60's and the humidity level was high, high, high. The cloud cover was heavy so the moisture just clung in the air. I don't think I've seen so many soaked runners before. Because of the humidity the walking wounded began around mile 10 and continued on.
I was able to tick off miles from 8:55 (mile 9) to 9:55 (mile 1). The only mile that was over 10:00 was mile 25 at 10:01. I thought to myself at one point that this race felt like many of my training runs along the Pacific Ocean in Huntington Beach on those socked in humid days. Maybe that was to my advantage, I don't really know.
I crossed the finish line in 4:07: 49 by the clock (4:07:06 by the chip). I felt pretty good. I immediately ran into Charlie, Jerry and Claude from the night before. I went back out to the finish chute to wait for Joe and Wes. I got to see David crossing the line and missed Michele. She found me as she was waiting for Lana. Greg saw me standing there as he was pulling away in his car and hollered a good bye. Lana made it around 4:45. It was great to get to see her running across the finish lines with her kids by her sides, a very special moment.
I was beginning to get cold and was definitely hungry. If you know me, you know I can EAT after a marathon. So based on David, Michele and Lana being 30 to 45 minutes off their pace I gambled and ran into the hotel to get some food. Among other things the warm vegetable soup did the trick.
I headed back out and somehow Joe had snuck across the finish line, but I didn't know it yet. I did see Don, the 76 year from Colorado, finish in 5:02 for 1st place in the 75-79 AG. Not long after that I heard them call out Wes's name and looked up to see him coming. I won't soon forget his quote "It is what it is", obviously hurting and disappointed about the outcome. I went to meet him past the finish line and found out then that Joe had finished and was feeling nauseous. I went looking for him. He wasn't in the room which worried me, so I went back down to the lobby and ran into him at the food line. He had ducked into a meeting room until he'd felt well enough to move around.
In the spirit of soaking in the entire experience we went to the awards ceremonies, enticed there as much as anything by the lure of two random $500 gifts to a runner that was present when they called their name. Sadly no one I knew or met that day, won the money. It was awe inspiring to hear the times of the AG winners.
I can't really explain my finish time considering how the race turned out for the others, especially considering their training, etc. I was a little sheepish realizing that I'd finished ahead of them. But as Wes said "It is what it is" and I couldn't be happier with my result.
I'd say Rocket City was a success. I got to hang with Joe again, meet Wes, the man behind the upbeat supportive blog. Now when I read his blogs I hear his voice. A huge shout of thanks to DeeDee for being a great race photographer and putting up with us three guys. It was also great to meet recent blog reads David, Michele and Lana. I'm sure we'll all keep in touch at least through the blogs (until of course some of you start talking that strange triathlon language I don't understand ;-)). I met a whole bunch of other runners that convince me even more that runners are the nicest people around. I may never see them again but it was fun to spend a few hours in their company.
The next state hasn't been determined yet. Joe and I tentatively have the Memphis marathon on the books for December 2008. That will be our 3rd annual early December reunion. I'd love to see the rest of you there as well. The rest of 2008, at least the first half of the year, will be dedicated to doing some of the California races I've neglected for the state chase. I'll post more on that later.
Thanks for reading and recover well!