It has now been a week since the second running of the Cox Sports Marathon in Providence, Rhode Island. This is the race that I won last year, and I was looking to repeat again this year.
New Course Analysis
The course this year was completely different than last year, with a different start and finish line and much more extensive use of the local paved trail system. Rather than going north of Providence through Pawtucket, the course spent more time towards the South near Barrington. All in all, I rather liked the new course despite taking some of the hills away. There were a few problems with the new course, though.
First, the construction on one of the bridges had never been completed, so the course involved going through a narrow pedestrian walkway that was barely wide enough for 2 people as long as one of them was willing to flatten against the cement barriers. This was about 24 miles into the race and since the marathon and half marathon courses had connected at this point, you had people trying to cross at very different speeds.
Second, at the end of the bridge, there was a ramp to get down below the bridge that involved 5 or 6 very tight 180° turns. These are very difficult to take when you are running down there by yourself, but when you are trying to pass somebody or run next to somebody they are even more difficult.
Third, and this isn’t really a problem with the course itself but more with the markings of the course, but it wasn’t entirely obvious which way to go. The course was very well marked with cones where necessary, except that you had to rely upon people to tell you which side of the cones to be on and there were occasions where you were expected to switch from one side to the other with no indication.
It was also confusing in a few spots about where to go straight or where to turn despite the cones. (Patrick Moulton actually found himself a mile and a half off course and had to be redirected back after missing a turn, which cost him the half-marathon win.)
Other than those 3 gripes, though, the race was much better run all around and was a pleasure to head down for.
Prior to the race, I set up a contest to predict my final time and which laid out my race strategy. I had a very aggressive strategy that would require me to run on 2:35 pace through the half, and then hold onto that pace as long as I could.
There was a very real risk that this strategy would blow up in my face and that I’d have a very miserable last few miles. Of course, if I continued to run over my head, then I could have my best marathon yet and stand a chance of winning again despite the steeper competition.
I began the weekend early on Saturday, traveling down to Rhode Island with fellow Trail Monster Valerie Abradi. We met up with her son Ryan and went in to get our packets.
The expo this year was an actual expo rather than a couple of random stalls in popup tents, and the whole process seemed to run much smoother. I chatted with the race directors and then spent the rest of the day wandering around Providence. Antonio’s Pizza by the slice on Thayer Street had some very good pizza, and the Union Station Brewery had a passable chicken salad but a very good IPA.
I also got in a couple mile jog that evening before heading to dinner, and while heading out was met by a couple of college women on their way into the hotel. One of them worked up the nerve to complement my legs, which is the first time in a few years that a complete stranger has done so.
I just thanked her and told her that my wife agrees with her before heading out to get the run in.
I stayed in the same hotel as last year, which was right on the start and finish line this year. Very convenient. Of course, I forgot that they have a crappy breakfast policy and don’t serve very early, so my pre-race nutrition wasn’t that great. I should have brought my own toaster after all.
I did get out for a short run to check the weather about an hour before the race. At the end of the run, I saw Joyce Forier, the race director of the 50 miler I ran in January. She hadn’t spent much time concentrating on the marathon, since she had a race she was directing the next weekend. And by race, I mean that she had 4 or 5 races she was directing, because that’s how she operates. She is wildly efficient at the whole race-directing thing.
I dropped my warmups back in my room and went back out for a little more warming up about 10 or 15 minutes before the race, and then made my way to the starting line.
The Starting Line
When I reached the starting line, I met marathon junkie Chuck Engle, who it turns out only came because I managed to goad him into it. He had had 4 or 5 different marathon opportunities for the weekend, but after emailing back and forth with me and looking at the weather he’d decided to come east and run in Rhode Island for his 22nd marathon of the year. We actually wound up running most of the first 15 miles together.
I also had a chat with Pat Moulton (who started next to me) and a few other guys that I knew on the line.
I got to do a quick pre-race interview for the live race coverage (which I heard was pretty good but I was not able to find much of it online.)
The Star Spangled Banner was much better this year. With temperatures hovering around 60°, the time being pretty close to on-schedule, and the lack of a cold downpour we were treated to a great rendition and the crowd didn’t feel a need to complete it for the young woman this time. Which was nice.
The Early Miles
The gun went off, and Pat Moulton jumped out to an early lead with me in close pursuit. Well, with me in close pursuit for a quarter mile or so until he took off, at any rate. He was completely out of sight within about 2½ – 3 miles.
A good lead pack formed which stuck pretty close together through 7 or 8 miles. It consisted of myself, half marathon winner Eric Lonergan, Chuck Engle, (who I used to race against in high school) and (who is the brother of a friend of mine.)
The pace was quick but comfortable, and with the exception of Dan we were all pretty talkative. Once the half marathon turn off came we started to string out a little as I settled into the pace I wanted to be running with the hope of reeling in the front-runners later in the race.
The Middle Miles
Things were going really well through the half marathon. I felt strong, I felt comfortable, and I was doing well. I went through 10 miles in 58:31 and the half marathon in 77:24, which is about 2:35 marathon pace. There was one random hairpin turn near the 10 mile marker that I didn’t really care for, but it wasn’t too crowded at this point so I was able to take it wide.
About 15 miles into the race my wheels started to come off. I had a slight ache start in my left calf, so I slowed down a tiny bit to change up my stride and cope with that. This is the point where Chuck left me behind to go on towards his eventual 3rd place finish. The calf problem went away pretty quickly, but my body just started breaking down at this point and my mile splits were beginning to erode into mid-6 minute pace.
It was around mile 19 that David McKay passed me. David went to the same high school as I did, although he was quite a few years behind me. A friend from RIT had told me he’d be there but I hadn’t had a chance to see who he was so I didn’t find out that it had been David until I got home and looked at the results.
Strange that 5 of the top 7 runners had some sort of personal connection to me in this marathon, though.
The Late Miles
I was completely miserable. I couldn’t get much more than high-6 and low-7 minute pace out of my body from mile 20 on.
I knew there was no chance to make any of my goals so I had trouble motivating myself to work through it. I had a few mid-7 minute miles in there, but those were due to stopping to relieve myself at 21.5 and 23.5.
I don’t think I had my hydration quite right. I didn’t notice anything off the first time I stopped, but the second time I stopped I really had to go but didn’t have much and it was way too dark for proper hydration. I’m not sure what happened.
Shortly after leaving that second port-a-potty, though, I came to the Washington Bridge. I have a few notes about this.
First, the course shouldn’t have gone that way. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to get through that extremely narrow walkway for the folks that were in a large pack of runners (90 to 120 minute half marathoners and 3:30+ marathoners.) It was difficult enough for me just trying to get past the few half marathoners that were walking across as I tried to run across, and that came with the vast majority of them being considerate and flattening against the side to make sure I had room to get by.
Second, that ramp at the end has to go. Descending down a spiral ramp with multiple 180° turns is really difficult even when you aren’t trying to go fast. It beats the hell out of your legs and unless you are walking is really kind of painful on the knees and ankles.
Third, there should have been a sign before the walkway asking people to be considerate and remove or at least turn down the volume on your headphones. Yes, I now have a story about somebody with headphones impacting me during a race.
I would say that of the 8 or 9 people I passed on the bridge, probably 6 or 7 had headphones on, and 5 or 6 of those were very considerate and either heard me yelling, “On your left!” or else were smart enough to consider that the 6 people running by before me meant there might be more coming and they should watch out for that.
There was 1 woman, however, who was just Rockin’ Out and in her own little world. She wasn’t the smallest person I’ve ever seen running an endurance event, and she had her arms swinging as she grooved to her music. Unfortunately, this meant that there was no way for me to pass her without her consent, and she couldn’t hear me the 3 times I yelled at her even when I was right behind her and about to tap her shoulder to let her know I was there.
I can’t blame my race falling apart and being a disappointment on being punched in the nuts since it happened so late in the race, but it certainly didn’t make me feel any better about how things were going.
I recognize that she had as much a right to be there as I did and that this situation was poor planning on the part of the race directors (and mostly on the city for not finishing construction 3 months after it was supposed to be completed.) Still, common sense and common courtesy should have been in place and there was no reason to backhand me to the groin.
I wasn’t the only one to have trouble crossing, either. Drew apparently got a grip on some poor woman’s breast when she moved as he was trying to push past her and his hand didn’t quite get her shoulder. I’d rather be in that situation than the one I found myself, though, all things considered.
I finished relatively strong when compared against how I had been running, but it wasn’t the finish I wanted and I finished the race defeated. Now, I am quite happy with my second fastest marathon (my fastest being last year’s race) and a 7th place finish in 2:46:40. That’s not a bad race when you look at the final numbers.
However, I had been looking for another win or at least being competitive at the end. While a more conservative strategy probably could have netted me at PR if not a sub-2:40, I don’t regret following an aggressive strategy that could have left me in the hunt had I had a better day. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I went out in the first half of the race in 2:35 pace, then lost 11 minutes in the second half of the race and ran at 3:00 hour pace.
The race announcer summed it up the best when he asked me at the end, “What the hell happened this year?”
The absolute best part of the race came at the finish line. Once you walk a short ways, you can get a small cup of water. In order to get a bottle of water or juice, or to get any food, you then have to go down to an outdoor ice rink that is right there and convenient.
This ice rink had the perfect setup for post race refreshment. There was plenty of room for tables upon tables of food and drink, there was a stage with live music, and there was room to sit off to the side in the grass. The best part, though, was how cruel getting there was.
You had to descend two short flights of stairs.
I didn’t have any trouble with it (and actually made quite a few trips later in the day to get things for some friends to save them the trip) but I couldn’t help but laugh when I thought about the marathoners that would finish after me and be so totally sore and exhausted and would have to take the steps backwards to get down.
I think in the long run having those stairs were probably beneficial because it forced people to move and stretch out a bit before just stopping, but I doubt that many of the people thought about it that way.
Unfortunately, I missed the awards ceremony since it wasn’t held at the end this year as it had been last year and I was showering when it went on. I’ll have to spend less time gabbing and more time hustling to my room next year after I finish.
I got a few miles of walking and jogging in with my Vibrams after the race; nothing organized, but enough to loosen me up before driving home that afternoon. I rolled out on my foam roller that night and the next day, and took a day off from running. Since then, I’ve just been having fun and doing short and easy runs as the mood strikes me. I’ve only run once per day since then.
Will I run again next year?
I’m not sure. I’d certainly like to go and take back my course record, but that doesn’t get me any closer to my 50 state marathon goal. I will almost certainly run again if my entry fee gets comped, but I don’t know whether they’ll do that or not. If I’m going to spend the money, I might decide to run Boston again or to travel somewhere new as there are quite a few Spring Marathons that I’d like to do at some point.
Were you at the race last weekend? If so, how did you do? Leave a comment below or a link to your own race report.