Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Oprah Line

Coming off the high of my PR (and the fact that I ran faster than Oprah -- by just seconds, but still), I came across this 2007 Salon article on the topic of the Oprah Line.  The article was written by someone whom I suspect is/was a legit speedster; in article, he argues that the Oprah standard diminishes the accomplishments of "real" marathoners who run marathons to win.  (It's funny -- he's talking about a running boom in 2007, but this could have just as easily been written in the last three or so years.)
When Oprah expanded the sport, she also lowered the bar for excellence. For the previous generation of marathoners, the goal had been qualifying for Boston. Now, it was beating Oprah. Her time of four hours and 29 minutes — the Oprah Line — became the new benchmark for a respectable race. (That was P. Diddy’s goal when he ran New York.)
Once the supreme test for hardened runners, the marathon became a gateway into the sport. Soon, gravel paths were crowded with 5-mile-an-hour joggers out to check “26.2 miles” off their life lists. Team in Training, which raises money for leukemia research, promised to turn loafers into marathoners in 20 weeks. I met a lawyer who started running because, “They say if you can run a marathon, you can do anything!” The marathon was no longer a competition. It was a self-improvement exercise.
I have to say: I hate this attitude.  One of the things that I love about running marathons is the many reasons that people run -- for health, in memory of loved ones, to raise money for charity, to BQ, to win the purse.  I've run five of these at this point, and, honestly, the only person that I'm racing is myself -- a la ghost mode in Mario Kart.  Yes, I do want to eventually qualify for Boston. Yes, I would love to run a marathon in under four hours.  But, that's going to take some time.  Just finishing a marathon is an accomplishment, and I will always be in awe of people who can run marathons in close to two hours. And, I'm just as in awe of the people who trained their hardest and got themselves across the finish line in a time that they're proud of.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Rock 'n' Roll USA Race Recap: 2014

My fifth marathon is in the books!  (It's kind of a crazy thought that I've run five of these at this point.)

I set a few different goals going into the race.  Based on my training, I thought that these were easily attainable:
My reach goal was to run a 4:00 race.  I didn't hit that time this year, but it's definitely a possibility for my next marathon based on my training and today's race.  (I have to say, running three 20-milers this year worked so well.)

After running the half three years in a row, I decided that it was time to give the marathon course a try. The first half of the course continues to be my favorite -- I was even happy to run through Rock Creek Park this year.  I think it helped to know the first half of the course really well.  I knew where the hills were, and I knew where I could use the downhills to my advantage. There were a few times when I looked down at my watch, to time when to take my gels, and had to tell myself to slow down because I was in this for the long haul.

The marathoners and half-marathoners split around Mile 12, and it's one of the strangest things about the race. This year, there were about 16,000 half-marathon finishers and 2,700 marathon finishers -- and it's very obvious at the split.  It wasn't terribly difficult to find running space during the first half of the race, and it was pretty awesome to have so many people around for the first 12 or so miles.  When I continued onto my 13th mile, I could count the number of people around me. 

The second half of the race looped around Capitol Hill, down toward the Mall, and around L'Enfant Plaza.   The crowd support thinned out near L'Enfant Plaza, but the marathoners seemed to have a special bond and were very encouraging.  

After L'Enfant Plaza, we continued down into southwest DC.  We ran pass Fort McNair and around a very empty industrial zone before an out-and-back on South Capitol near Nationals Park.  That leg felt long for some reason and was hillier than I expected.  At this point in the race, I kept whispering to myself "There is no wall" because I felt like I was seconds away from crashing.  Running across the bridge into Anacostia was painful (thank you, metal portions!) but I actually made it across without too much trouble.  Once I saw the 20-mile marker, I knew that I only had 10K to go.  (At some point, even though I tried to stick to the tangents as best as I could, my watch ended up being 0.30 miles ahead of the mile markers.)  

The Anacostia trail was a dead-zone (more so than some of the earlier parts of the second half). On any other day, I could imagine it would be nice for a leisurely run or walk.  When you've run 20 miles and need people yelling at you to run faster, it's not the best thing in the world.  Thankfully, one of my coworkers did part of her training run to the trail and met me around Mile 22 to push me along for a bit. It was a much needed boost!  

The last two miles felt like they went on forever.  There were a few final hills along Minnesota Avenue that I just did not want to deal with.  RFK is clearly visible from the final bridge, and I felt like there were miles between me and the finish line. I high-fived one of my good friends as I pushed through toward the finish and crossed the finish line feeling a really happy and only a little loopy.

So, here are the splits:

(Mile 16 -- I wish!  We ran under a tunnel during that mile, which definitely confused my watch.)

Officially, I ran the marathon in 4:29:06, averaging about 10:16 per mile.  This is my new personal best, and I beat Oprah by seconds!

I probably will not run the marathon course again (but I'm very open to running the half in 2015).  I do like that it covers all four city quadrants, and compared to the Marine Corps Marathon, showcases DC well.  (There's a nice mix of monuments and neighborhoods.)  I thought that so many parts of the second half of the course were mentally taxing -- especially a lot of the winding sections along the same streets and loops around some of the more deserted parts of the city.

I don't have a post-marathon plan.  I'm running a local 5K in two weeks mostly just as a way to encourage myself to get back into running after a much deserved break.  I entered the lottery for the NYC marathon, but I think I want to work on running a fast half-marathon in the next year. We'll see!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Marathon No. 5: Weekly Round-Up (Week 14)

It's March 3rd, and this is what things look like in my 'hood:

Schools, the DC government, and the Feds are all closed today; my office has a very nice work from home policy, which I'm taking advantage of for the second half of the day.  

The snow is beautiful, but these cold temperatures are enough to make me worry about marathon day conditions.  Here's hoping for a sunny, 50-degree day...

I'm into the second week of my taper.  So far, it's been very nice to run fewer miles and not stress out about having the "right" conditions for a long run.  I know, I're supposed to train in everything but, after many weeks of long runs in freezing temperatures, I'm looking forward to packing away my running tights.

Here's what things look like for this week:

Monday - Off, stretching 
Tuesday - 4 miles
Wednesday - 3 miles
Thursday - 3 miles
Friday - Off
Saturday - 8 miles
Sunday - 3 miles