With the completion of Sunday’s Ocala Marathon in Florida I’ve now completed 12 marathons and for only the first time in my brief marathoning career, I actually hit negative splits. I stayed mentally positive throughout the race and wrapped up our 5 Southern States marathoning tour with a good run.
After two weekends in a row of back to back marathons, we were all looking forward to a weekend with only one marathon. I was feeling recovered and refreshed going to the starting line on Sunday morning for the first time since we lined up in Jackson, MS for our first marathon two weeks prior. My quads were healed, I was energetic, and I was excited to race because I thought I had a chance to potentially win the race. I thought this because the race has historically been won in fairly slow times. However, I was cautious because that could mean there either isn’t great competition or it could mean that it’s a really tough course.
And we heard all about how rolling the hills were on the course from numerous people the night before the race. The guy at the packet pickup tried to scare us all by telling us how tough the course was by moving his hand in a wave-like pattern to describe the rolling nature of “horse country” in Ocala. Then at our prerace Olive Garden dinner, we talked to some folks while waiting for a table that were also doing the race. They too told us about how many hills there were on the course. We figured it couldn’t be any tougher than Jackson’s course and even if it was, it was the last marathon so bring it on.
We had great weather at the start as it was a bit chilly, high 50’s, and it warmed as the race went on, even getting into the high 70’s or low 80’s later in the day. It was a fun atmosphere with lots of people milling about, music, and the announcer getting people pumped up and talking about the course.
I went out near the front and scoped out the competition. There were a couple guys, one with a backpack, and another with a long sleeve cotton t-shirt that was breathing way too hard for the first mile, that I knew wouldn’t be around long. There was another that looked like he could be a contender until he said he would be happy to be under 3:10, and a guy with an Army singlet (Ian). He and I pulled away after the first mile and began chatting. I let him know I was once Navy and gave him the “Go Navy, Beat Army” when I found out he was a West Point grad.
I wanted to follow and not talk so much but with Ian chatting away and not wanting me sitting on him, I had to run side by side. Thankfully, another guy closed the gap by mile 3 or 4 and I dropped behind both of them to listen to them talk while only occasionally contributing a few words of my own. It’s not that I couldn’t talk, the pace was still comfortable, but I didn’t want to. I was happy to be getting pulled along at a controlled and comfortable pace but otherwise, I simply enjoyed being quiet and in my head for the race.
We continued on together until around the halfway point when the Canadian pushed the pace down to 6:13 for mile 13, creating a gap on Ian the Army guy. And then at the aid station, the Canadian surprisingly just stopped so he could eat and drink. Suddenly I was by myself and in the lead. I tried to keep it steady and comfortable because we were only half way. Plus, I’d really enjoyed having people to run with for a change.
But my lead grew and within a few miles, I had a big lead to the point where I couldn’t see anyone behind me. It was fun being in front and something kind of rare for me. I kept my pace steady and finished in 2:48.16 for the win. I went out in 1:24.30 for the first half and came back with a 1:23.45 for my first negative split race.
I won a ridiculous trophy too. No money this time but a 3 foot tall trophy that looks like something from the Karate Kid tournament (except for the horse on the trophy). I got to be a little bit of a celebrity and received lots of congratulations. I even got cheered on near the end of my race by the folks we chatted with at the Olive Garden that warned us about the course. I lapped them (the race had two loops) and they yelled out that “it must have been the Olive Garden” that was helping me win the race.
Jeff and Julie battled it out and actually ran together for a change with Jeff pulling away in the last few miles for the win. He finished 28thoverall and Julie was 30th.
It was a great experience overall and one which I learned a lot from. I am tougher now and while still respecting the distance, I am not afraid of 26.2. I can also run tired. My legs ached at times, I had muscle strains, and I still was able to hold a pretty good pace.
This all leads to me being more prepared and excited for the Marathon Madness conclusion in less than two weeks when we take on the ultra marathon 100 miler in Texas. We are spending this week in Hilton Head, SC before heading to Huntsville, TX for a week of camping, culminating with the race at the end of the week.
Thanks to everyone for the support and thanks Jeff and Julie for being such good people to do such crazy things with. I love you both.