By: Casey Hannan
The Albany Marathon on March 2, 2013 was my second marathon. The first was San Francisco in 1984, nearly 29 years earlier. It had been so long that I had to completely relearn the focus and dedication required by this classic running distance. I was excited. And nervous. My goal was to qualify for the Boston marathon in 2014, needing a 3:30 or better to do so. My running fitness was better than it had ever been (in my adult life) having just PR’d by four minutes (1:26) at the Warner Robins half marathon in January. Yet, as many already know, a full marathon is a much different beast than a half marathon. So I kept reminding myself to stay humble and to “respect the race,” a frequent refrain of mine when training for big events.
My goal time was 3:15. Turned out to be a good choice because it was a late entry to the list of supported pace groups. The weather on race morning was cold and clear, about 36*. The frigid 10-15 mph wind out of the northeast provided an additional variable for me to angst about in terms of what to wear.
The race commenced with the firing of a cannon – a real one apparently, on loan from the local Marine Corps base. They warned it would be loud, but they failed to appreciate I am not a combat veteran so loud to me is a car horn. This was the kind of loud that knocks you off balance and leaves your ears ringing. Thanks guys, next year you need to provide runners with protective ear wear. Seriously.
My plan was to start very easy, about 15-30 seconds per mile slower than my race pace, for the first 3-5 miles, settling into to race pace until mile 20, and then to see how much is left in the gas tank for last 10k. The 3:15 pace group took off quickly. I was content to see them run faster than I cared to for the first few miles, while being careful to not lose sight of them. I reconnected with the group around mile 4 and enjoyed their friendly banter and natural wind breaking services until mile 20. The pace group leader was a class act – friendly and supportive, and literally nailing the 3:15 race pace at every mile marker.
As expected, I was feeling great at around miles 10-12. My stride was smooth and my breathing was relaxed and comfortable. What I didn't expect – because I had forgotten this about marathon racing – is the great temptation to believe you are capable of running faster at this point in the race. My self-talk sounded something like this, “C’mon Casey, you got this. This pace is too easy for you. Time to step it up and potentially go sub 3:10. Let’s do this!” Whoa boy, the mixture of great running fitness and mid-race endorphins is very intoxicating, and I was literally “this close” to doing something very stupid. Not sure how or why, but my Coach Casey voice won out, saying “Calm down, tough guy, and stick to your race plan.”
By mile 18, fatigue was beginning to set in, but nothing more than anticipated. At mile 20, we were right on our 3:15 pace and I was ready to step up my pace. I wanted to see if I could run the last 10k under 45 minutes, as a way to ensure a negative split for the back half of the race. “What could it hurt?” I mused. Well, it can hurt a lot, as I found out just past mile 21 where I smacked into the proverbial “wall.” I was pretty much done at this point. My physical and mental energy were nil. I had to force myself to keep taking in calories. I was getting chills from the weather (it never got above 40* during the race). My stride was getting short and ragged. And the temptation to start walking was profound. “No wonder it’s been 28 years since my last marathon,” I uttered to myself.
I had prepared for this part of the race, or so I had thought. I was beginning to pass the occasional runner-turned-walker, all of them looking pained and distressed. Usually, I get a lift from passing competitors, but today was different. This was a marathon, not a 10k. The walking marathoners seemed to exert a gravitational pull, making the perceived exertion to keep running even harder. I was reaching deep and running out of (note the pun!) coping resources. I had forgotten how hard it is to think clearly at this point in the race.
I found the resolve to keep running by focusing on memories of my dad (he died 35 years earlier on this date) and my gratitude list (my wife, three sons, health, job, friends). A final saving grace came just before mile 25, where a good friend and training partner rode her bike beside me to the finish line. I crossed the line at 3:14:14, very tired and very thankful.
It was a great day for me. I qualified for Beantown in 2014 and finished on the podium (3rd) in my age group. I finished in the top 10% of all marathon finishers and in the top 15% of all male finishers. My pace per mile at the 10 mile, half marathon, 20 mile and finish varied by only one second. And, I improved my marathon time by nine minutes compared to the 1984 race. Who says things don’t get better with age?!?!
To be sure, running hard for 26.2 miles is no joke, and I have a deep and renewed respect for marathoners. That said, I am looking forward to another great season of triathlons with the support of Podium MS and TP!