After 18 weeks of training - waking up before dawn four days a week to get my running in - I was waking up before the sunrise one more time. I had laid out all of my running gear the night before so I was able to get out of the house quickly and quietly. I hit the road around 5:15am - plenty of time to get to Frederick (25 to 30 minutes away from my house) in time for the 6:30am race. Or so I thought...
I made great time up to the Frederick area, however, when I was about 1/2 mile from the exit from I-70 to to the Frederick Fairgrounds, I came to a standstill. I would say it was stop-and-go traffic, but there was a lot more stop than go. I had brought a copy of Runner's World with me to read just in case I got to the race early...I was moving so infrequently that I was able to finish reading the article I had started the night before while sitting in traffic. Sitting there was sooooo frustrating!!! At around 6:00am I saw some people walking to get to the starting line. I figured I was only about a mile away so I was going to stay in my car and eventually park at the fairgrounds. Plus, the race was chip timed, so it really didn't matter if I started a few minutes late anyhow, right? Once I got off the highway (around 6:25am or so) things started to move a bit better...but it still took me about 10 minutes to get to the fairgrounds and park the car - at 6:35am.
On the bright side, it was going to be a beautiful day! There was originally a 40% chance of rain in the forecast, but there were no rain clouds in the sky and the sun was starting to shine brightly. I had brought the sunglasses that I normally run with just in case it was going to be sunny. I decided to wear them for the race...good call, as the sun was shining the entire time. The temperature at the race start was 51 degrees and climbed to 69 degrees by the time I finished. Not bad running weather.
By the time I made it to the Starting Line, all the runners had already left. I had to ask a spectator which way I was supposed to go - the Starting Line was well marked, but the first mile of the course was not (why should it? I should have been able to follow the sea of runners from the start, right?). I should have taken my time here, caught my breath, stretched a little, etc. However, I was so antsy to get started that I bolted off! I didn't even bother looking at the clock to see how much time had already elapsed since the starting gun...
During the first mile I started talking to a woman who was wearing a shirt that said something to the effect of "Marathon in all 50 States". This was her 60th marathon and 40th state. Wow! She had also missed the start of the race due to the traffic jam and was not very happy.
At the mile one marker I was able to figure out approximately what the difference between my chip time and the clock time would be. The clock at mile one showed 17:33 when I crossed - my watch showed 9:33. I only started the race 8 minutes late...not too bad. However, the 9:33 mile should have raised some concerns being that my long training runs were more in the 11:00 mile pace.
The first two miles of the race went through downtown Frederick. I was quite impressed with what I saw. Growing up in the Washington, DC area, I always thought of Frederick as a small rural town with lots of farms. "Fredneck" was what we used to call it. However, downtown Frederick had a nice "vibe" to it. Lots of little cafes and shops - it almost reminded me of Main Street in Ann Arbor, MI where I went to college. I will most likely be back to downtown Frederick to check out this part of town again.
Miles 3 through 8 took us through a bunch of nice older neighborhoods near Frederick High School and Hood College. There were tons of locals outside their houses cheering and ringing cowbells. All the cheering really got my adrenaline pumping! Somewhere during these miles I caught up and passed the 5:00 pace team as well as the 4:45 pace team. I was running the miles at about a 10 min/mile pace, and I was feeling really good. My heart rate was in the mid to high 150s...no problem, right?
Around mile 9 the course took us into more of a commercial area. We ended up running past some stores and then behind a WalMart. As you can imagine, there were much fewer spectators cheering at this point. I started talking to a guy who was from Frederick and running his 39th marathon. I told him about the traffic jam and that I had started the race late and he was very surprised. He started to offer me alternate routes to get to the fairgrounds. I really couldn't follow his directions - and plus, isn't it a bit late for that information now??? I listened to him though as it was good to have a conversation since the crowds of spectators were sparse.
Around mile 11, we entered "Fredneck" as I imagined it. Farms. Cows. No cheering spectators. At one point, there were three cows that were very close to the fence lining the road and it looked like they were watching the runners. I started clapping my hands and yelled "thanks for coming out this morning!" to the cows. That drew a bunch of laughs from the runners near me at the time :-)
Up to this point, I was drinking water out of the bottles of my water belt and not stopping at the water stations. Since one of the bottles was empty - and another one half empty, I decided to fill them up at the next water station at mile 12. I continued to do this throughout the race. I was really happy to be carrying my own water so I could drink when I wanted to and not have to rely on where the water stops were. Thank you Zia for the suggestion!
Also at this point, my right calf muscle was starting to hurt a bit. I stopped to stretch it out, hoping that it was a pain that would go away with a little stretching. It did help at the time, but the pain at the top of my right calf would come back a few miles later.
There was a pretty good sized hill leading up to the Fairgrounds where the Half Marathoners would finish and the Marathoners were directed to continue on with the second half of the course. I crossed the 13.1 mile mat in 2:13:33 (watch time). My previous PR on the Half Marathon was 2:15:57, so this was almost a 2 1/2 minute PR for me. HOORAY! At the time I was happy, but also skeptical...Perhaps I paced myself wonderfully for a Half Marathon but not good for a Full Marathon. Unfortunately, this was spot on.
Mile 14 took us past another really cool part of Frederick which had a "River Walk" feel to it. I should have savored the scenery here - since the course had very little to offer after this - except some killer hills. It was also around this time where the side of my left knee was starting to hurt (probably the IT band area). I knew that there were some big hills coming up as I had looked at the elevation profile before the race, so I decided on the strategy to walk up the hills and run the flats and downhills.
A little before the first of two big hills - between miles 16 and 17 - the 4:45 Pace Group caught up to me. I started running with them for a little bit and we all started walking up the big hill. However, at some point up the hill they started up in a slow jog and I decided to keep walking. The one consolation of this hill - I knew I'd be going DOWN the hill in a few miles!
The second of the two big hills was after mile 18. As I started walking up this hill I looked up and saw that EVERYONE was walking this one. I didn't feel so bad. However, after that hill my legs did not want me to run anymore. Interestingly enough, I felt fine otherwise. Aerobically, I knew I could still run, but my legs were trying to call it quits. I made myself run, though, and once I started running again, I was OK and just continued to alternate walking hills and running flats and downhills.
At this point, the course was going through a newer residential neighborhood, so there were spectators cheering us on every so often - mostly families with young kids. Definitely not the crowds of the first 8 miles, but every little bit of encouragement helped at this time. I also started speaking to a few other runners who were running their first marathon as well. One of them had participated in a few of the training "tune up" runs that the Frederick Marathon hosted a few weeks before the race, so she knew what to expect with the big hills. Another runner I spoke to mentioned that she just wanted to beat Katie Holmes' NYC Marathon time of 5:29 :-)
Around mile 22, the 5:00 Pace Group caught up with me. I started to run with them for about a mile or so, but my legs started to rebel after mile 23. It was at this point where I decided to go to a walk 1 minute / run 5 minute regimen. I continued this until I hit the mile 25 marker. One more mile to go - time to HTFU and run the rest of the way.
You would think that the last mile of a marathon would be in a busy area with lots of cheering spectators and fans, right? Well, between mile 25 and 26 of the 2008 Frederick Marathon course there was absolutely nothing. Nada. Just a farm with a silo and bales of hay. Luckily there was another runner near me so we chatted a bit. That really helped. It was also her first marathon and we were both wondering when we would finally hear the crowds cheering.
We finally saw the sign for Mile 26 and started to hear the cheering crowds at the Fairgrounds. The race finishes on a gravel racetrack (originally used for harness races?) in front of the grandstands. As I rounded the track, I heard the PA announcer say "Mike Fox from Gaithersburg, MD". I spotted my father, my wife and kids on the track rail cheering for me. And I saw my watch still had a "4" as the first number as I was nearing the finish line, which meant I had also met my goal of a finishing in under 5 hours.
My wife and kids brought me a trophy to go along with my finisher's medal:
At the end, I was just happy for the race to be over. This was my first marathon so I had no idea what to expect. I went out too fast during the first half - even though I was feeling good - and I paid for it during the second half. Live and learn!
Before I end this post, I want to thank everyone who has helped my prepare for this race. All of my friends, neighbors and family who have run marathons before and have given me advice on training and encouragement up to the race. All of my online buddies - in the blogosphere and on RunningAhead - for providing such inspirational race reports and creating a caring community where we all can share our ups and downs. And most importantly to my wife Sherry for supporting me through this endeavor - hearing my alarm go off much earlier than she wanted to wake up, being on kid-duty on Saturday mornings while I was out doing my long runs and waiting patiently to use the computer while I was blogging - thank you for putting up with me and my running craziness over the past 18 weeks!