Wow. What a day. Coach Jay and I discussed three scenarios of a perfect day, great day, and good day. The Olympic Trials qualifier is 2:19:00 or faster, which is 5:18.1 pace per mile. So we decided the best strategy was to go out a little faster at 5:15 pace, which is a 2:17:40 marathon. A perfect day I run 5:15s until the last 10k and then race to a sub 2:17, a great day I hold on that pace and run 2:17, and a good day I fade but still run 2:18-2:19:00. Two guys (who ended up placing 1 and 2) went out pretty fast and everyone else was jogging. I somehow was in the front of the “chase” pack from 1/4-1 mile because I didn’t want to run a six minute first mile. After a 5:22 first mile, which is probably the most downhill on the course, the pack started rolling. After a 5:12 2nd mile the next two splits of 5:02 and 4:59 were a bit too quick, so I purposely let the back go after mile 4. I was feeling great, but I knew that with over twenty miles left I was not about to go after a 2:11-2:12 marathon. I caught one guy at around mile 5 and we worked together for about a mile or so before he faded. After that, which I believe was during the 6th mile; I was completely alone the rest of the race. I caught two guys at the half-marathon point and one of them might have run with me for a minute. Other than that, it was twenty miles of solo running and trying to catch anyone who fell off. At mile ten a spectator yelled that I was in 13th, but I must have been in 16th because I passed five total people between mile 10 and mile 20, yet later I found out that at the 20 mile split I was in 11th according to the splits from the website. For the first half of the race, I just tried to maintain the pace hitting splits in the 5:03-5:15 range. The pace didn’t feel too fast, so I was confident that if I could continue to grab my bottles of cytomax and gel at mile 13 I would be fine. I took 4-5 sips of cytomax at miles 6, 9, 13 (and a powerbar gel). I noticed that about 30s-2minutes after taking the fluids I would feel bad, but I assumed that the “blood was rushing to my stomach rather than my legs” and after that I’d feel great. Actually in the entire first half of the race I don’t think I ever felt bad besides the initial bout after taking fluids.
In terms of weather, the temperature was nearly ideal – a bit warm and humid in the 2nd half of the race – with a light breeze. The course in the first half was the definition of “rolling” hills. There was a net downhill, but you didn’t really notice it as much as you were constantly either on a slight decline or incline. I ended up splitting 1:07:30 for the half-marathon, which was much faster than I was hoping for but I was feeling better than I imagined. The next seven miles I spent counting down to when I could start racing at mile 20. My buddy Luke Watson told me that it’s a 20 mile run and a 10k race. These seven miles I was thinking of morning runs dozens of times in State College during my college career. Once I got to 3 miles to go to 20 ( the 17 mile mark) I thought that this was just like “out and back on perimeter” which was a run I’ve done so many times at State College I know every step of that run and could do it in my sleep – or in the toughest section of a marathon! My stomach was close to full after the half so I had to wait a few miles to take any more fluids. The elite bottles were set up on one table right before the general water stops. You had to swerve to the right and then try to find the bottle among 50 or so others (there were 175 elites in the race that were all allowed fluid bottles) at each table. I started to have some rough patches after mile 15, which actually made me happy because I assumed I would go through good and bad patches and was satisfied to know I was running at a good pace during the bad patches. I was confident that I could continue running this pace if I was able to get my cytomax and gels. Unfortunately, I missed both bottles at miles 16/18 and was only able to get one sip of a Dixie-cup from the general water station. By mile 20 I needed my fluids badly after having only that sip since the 13 mile mark. I did grab my bottle and took a bunch of sips of cytomax and another powergel. I started to feel a little better and after a 5:22 mile 20, I had a 5:16/17 mile 21. At the end of mile 21 I knew I was in trouble so I grabbed another cytomax bottle and a GU that they were handing out on the course. In one of my greatest athletic achievements in all time, I couldn’t find the bottle on the table and at the last second I saw it on the far corner. I reached back, somehow grabbed the nozzle and flipped it up to me, which got a few cheers from the aid station volunteers! Unfortunately the GU was much thicker and sat in my mouth like a throat lozenge until the cytomax washed it down. I only took a little bit of the gel and that was a mistake. I should have sucked down the entire gel. I knew at mile 20 (1:43:34) I was on pace for 2:15 high, and with the last 10k of the course being very flat I thought I could get it. Letsrun.com has been making a big deal of the course at Cal International being net downhill, but let me tell you that miles 17-20 I was NOT looking forward to downhills anymore. Since the course is either rolling downhill or uphill the whole time you end up running much more downhill than 330ft. My quads were hurting by mile 20 and I was literally happy it was flat and no longer downhill. If the last 10k was considerably downhill, I bet I would have run SLOWER on this course. (Note that I do think if you trained specifically for the downhills of this course I would bet you could run faster than specifically training for a flat course).
The last 10k was a completely difficult race than anything I’ve experienced. Luke was spot on correct that it was a twenty mile run and a 10k race. If I had been able to grab my bottles at 16 and 18 and taken the full gel at mile 22, it would have been a help but I’m sure it still would not have saved me from slowing down somewhat. Mile 21-22 was a 5:26 and then my last four mile splits were all 5:28.6 to 5:28.9. That 26th mile I knew I only had a mile to go and I pushed as hard and fast as I could. I felt like I was flying and though I was running faster…yet my watch disappointed me with that fourth 5:28. There were very few fans on the course. Besides the occasional cowbell or “go runner yell, there were only fans at the 3 or 4 relay exchanges. Finally in the last 0.2 miles there were large crowds. Since I was the 6th finisher and the 5th guy was 3.5 minutes in front of me, the crowd was cheering pretty loudly. At this point, I thoroughly enjoyed the last 0.2 miles and was pumping my fist and smiling to the crowd. I knew that I was well under the Olympic Trials qualifying standard! Even though I slowed considerably in the last 4-6 miles to a 2:17:22, I reached my goal and then some! It is such a great feeling to know that I ended up running 5:14 per mile for 26.2 miles in my first marathon.
After I finished the unfortunate volunteer who took off my timing chip on my shoe had to untie my shoelace that I knotted about 8 times to make sure it wouldn’t come untied. I then walked into the elite athlete hospitality suite, found my cell phone, and immediately called home. My parents answered simultaneously as that had been “tracking me” online. My mom was already in tears as she was so happy for me because she knew how much this race meant for me. The huge burst of adrenaline I got from crossing the finish line in 2:17 went away in about 10 seconds and by this point I was hurting really bad. After talking to them for a few minutes, I went to get some water and fruit juice. My stomach was wrecked, so it was a struggle to get anything down. I got a light massage and then forced down some more food and chatted with some of the other guys and the elite race director. The hospitality suite was a huge banquet with tons of food and drinks. Everyone was very supportive, helpful, and the food would have been delicious had my stomach been able to enjoy it. Later that night, the race organizers put on a fantastic banquet where I celebrated with a couple of beers. This was one of the best organized races, most helpful staff, and best support I have ever been involved with. I’d like to thank Priscilla Bayley and the rest of the CIM board of directors for giving me the opportunity to compete at such a great event! I’m very proud to call the CIM my debut marathon and come back with an amazing experience. I’d also like to thank every volunteer to make the race such a success! This was the first race that I heard not only every split yelled to me but also the pace I was running! Very awesome, a first class event!
I would also really like to thank my friends and family who have been so supportive. My phone has been going crazy with text messages, phone calls, e-mails, tweets, facebook messages, facebook posts, etc. It was unbelievable how fast friends were texting me after the race. It means so much that I really cannot thank you all enough. That last 10k was so tough but I knew that I had friends and family who were behind me and believed in me, I wasn’t about to give up during those tough miles because I knew you all were cheering for me miles away! When I on twitter after the race I saw Ruben Sanca in Boston was even tweeting my splits – thank you so much for the support Ruben! Thanks Pat Reaves for the comment on your blog as well and good luck to both of you at Club XCs next weekend! I also really want to thank Coach Jay for a great transition post-college. I’ve enjoyed every day since I arrived in Boulder August 19th and believe Jay is a phenomenal post-collegiate coach. Workouts are very important, but Jay is much more than workouts – it’s a positive attitude, encouraging, keeping and athlete healthy, and enjoying the training. Not only have a had a successful marathon under Jay, but I’m a better athlete due to a lot of the general strength and ancillary work. Also a big thank you to Caroline Bierbaum of Empire Athletics for all of the help representing me and getting me into the race!
It’s also been great running with new friends in Boulder –James Carney, Brent Vaughn, Kenyon Neuman, Benita Willis, Andrew Letherby, Chad McKonly, Mark Stenbeck (who also came to CIM to get in a good long run effort and support me as well!!) among others! On Wednesday I ran with a great group of guys and girls at the Boulder Reservoir who were also so supportive, encouraging, and gave so much great advice. There is no better place than Boulder, Colorado to not only take training and racing to the next level but also enjoy every moment of it. I also would never have made it to the start line without the support of my sponsors Mizuno, Honey Milk, and Sigvaris socks. Mizuno apparel is the best for performance. Can you believe in the entire marathon I only had two minor blisters on two toes that I only noticed after looking at my toes in the shower hours later? Those are quality performance socks and shoes (Wave Ronin 2s)! Honey Milk and Sigvaris socks have helped so much with recovering for intense exercise and long travel. If you have not tried Honey Milk products post-exercise, you should give Vanilla or Chocolate Light a try!
I would also like to thank two very important people that helped me get to the start line healthy. Dr. Richard Hansen is a phenomenal chiropractor and Active Release Therapist. Not only does he help relieve many soft tissue problems, I’ve learned so much from him about muscles, fascia, and recovery. Rob Barber of Peak Integrative Health is a great massage therapist and I’d really like to thank him for the weekly massages that keep my muscles in order. Thank you both for your time and effort in helping me achieve my goals.
Finally, if you’d made it this far, I’d like to thank you for reading this book of a blog post! I’m going to spend a nice period of recovery and then build for the US Half-Marathon Championships January 29th. The US Half-Marathon Championships in Houston is on the same course as the 2012 Olympic marathon trials. In these recovery weeks I am going to have a couple of blogs. One is going to be about Honey Milk and while science proves it is an ideal recovery drink. I also plan to interview/cite Dr. Hansen and Rob Barber on ART and massages respectively to educate the readers why the body work is important for recovery. I’ll try to update more photos and videos from the California International Marathon too!!
Tyler McCandless, 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials Qualifier!