I had a feeling that a good race was likely in order when the accordion player started cranking out Stairway to Heaven and Bob Marley's Is This Love in succession. More on that later.
Myrtle Beach is the last marathon I ran before getting into ultras in 2006. I have been eyeing it over the last year as a possible spot to go for a marathon PR. My previous marathon performances have been lackluster at best with most in the 3:50s and one just inside 3:48. Therefore, I figured with the improvements I have achieved in both physical and mental fitness that I had a significantly better marathon time in me. So I signed up and figured I woould focus my early season trainning on speed and tempo style workouts to try and get some better leg turnover. I really wanted to run a time in the low 3:30s and hopefully give myself a shot at breaking 3:30. As my previous posts have indicated, I have been in a bit of a funk since mid-January and my training has not gone as well as I would have hoped. I have gotten some good quality workouts in but the focus just has not been there. I resolved that I would go to Myrtle Beach and give it my best and hopefully give myself a chance to break 3:45 or possibly even 3:40.
My friend Don and I drove down from Charlotte on Friday afternoon and had a mostly uneventful trip save for a few missed turns and a minor traffic delay. We got to the packet pick-up and were amazed at the volume of folks around. One thing I do enjoy about races is the pre-race buzz that is in the air and with 10,000 entrants for the various events, the Myrtle Beach expo was humming. I ran into fellow NC ultrarunner Joey Anderson who was doing his second marathon in as many weeks and still has the Mt. Mitchell Challenge this weekend. Talk about endurance. Don and I grabbed our stuff and milled around the expo hall for a bit but soon left to grab some dinner and get to the hotel.
We settled in at Villa Romana for diner and the food was excellent. The entertainment was an accordion player who was just annoying enough to keep the conversation flowing. He serenaded the dining room with an eclectic mix that included a score from Phantom of the Opera, several 1970s classic rock songs, a bit of reggae and even a rendition of Frank Sinatra's New York, New York (at least that is what it sounded like to me). We were also treated to learning all about the insurance business and getting a full rundown of the latest white supremist issues as the tables on either side of us engaged in a spirited discussion. After our fill of declaration pages, deductibles and racial epiteths, we headed to the hotel to crash.
Morning came and the weather was perfect as we jumped on the shuttle bus to the start. Temperatures were in the low 40s and it looked to be a fabulous day for running. At 6:30 we were off and I quickly weaved my way through, stopping to run with Joey and his friend (and cancer survivor) Karla. What an inspiration Karla should be to all of us. My plan was to run a steady 1:53 first half and negative split the second 13.1 to get in under 3:45. I settled into a comfortable pace and soon relaized I was clicking off 8:00 miles, which is pretty quick for me. I tried to settle down and back off to 8:30 pace but by mile 11 realized that I had likley gone out too fast. I didn't feel bad and in fact, felt great. However, I was concerned that I was going to run the first half more than 5 minutes faster than planned.
As I approached the halfway mark a voice called out that they recognized me from a marathon two years ago. Turns out this was Robert who ran with my 4 hour pace group at the Thunder Road marathon in 2006 and was hoping to break 3:30 today. As we crossed the halfway mark I lamented that 1:47 was much faster than I wanted to run but figured any "damage" was done. I felt great and was just worried about the miles yet to come. We decided to wotk together and switch off pacesetting each mile. We managed to bang down several sub-8:00 miles up through the mile 20 point where I backed off a bit to preserve my legs for a strong finish. I was a little behind on fluids so I drank several cups and downed another gel and got back to work. I ate a gel every hour and also at miles 20 and 23. I was drinking sportsdrink and water at each aid station stop and took an S-Cap at the start and again at mile 20.
I settled in for the final 10K and slowed a bit through mile 22 and then tried to push to the finish. The race was going incredibly well and I knew that breaking 3:30 was an outside shot. All day I kept waiting for the inevitable "blow-up" but it never came. Around mile 24 I coould feel the fatigue coming in but I labored on and crossed in 3:33! That is a new marathon PR for me by almost 15 minutes. The last time I ran Myrtle Beach I ran a 3:57 fighting a head cold the whole way. Suffice it to say that this year was a bit more successful. I was pumped as the result was way beyond my expectations. Working with Robert definitely helped me to push a bit more in the second half and allowed for a second half split of 1:46. While I was very surprised with my time, I was even more surprised that I could have ran a bit harder earlier and not blown up at the end. No need to psychoanalyze since I am extremely pleased with the result. I ran a little slower in the final 10K because I knew sub-3:40 was in the bag as long as I ran smart. Anything better was gravy.
After the race, I ran into Mark Long who ran a strong 3:25 ahead of Mt. Mitchell this weekend and Boston in April. After getting a shuttle back to the hotel, Don and I made the jaunt back to Charlotte. The weather was perfect all day and the course had good spectators along the main corridors of the course. Hopefully, this PR will set the stage for a successful 2008 for me.