Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon – Race Recap

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What at can I say about my first attempt at this hometown race?  So much to say, so many thoughts, so much fun to remember.  I gave myself a couple of days to digest this experience before recapping so that it would all sink in.  Let me just say that first and foremost, it was just an incredible day!  Let me start from the beginning…..

Several months ago, when I started mapping out my year, I put this race on the “maybe” list.  As we all know, unless we shell out a lot of money at the first part of the year, a racing schedule typically ebbs and flows, and options are weighed throughout the course of the year.  As my plan was coming together for the Fall, I ended up signing up for the Asheville City Marathon.  It was a deal I couldn’t pass up on, because on National Running Day back in June, for one day only, the race was 50% off.  At that point, I just wasn’t sure if I could, or should, run another marathon in the Fall.  So, I listed this race on my finalized list, even though I hadn’t entered it yet.  I was offered an entry from a friend of mine, so this was an easy decision.  Done!  Signed up for my local marathon.  Cost?  $0.  Hard to beat that.  No overnight stay in a hotel, and a quick 20 mile drive to the start.

Jumping ahead a bit (we won’t talk about the minute details).  I will start with the Expo.

I planned on helping a friend of mine, if I didn’t have to work, at the Expo, which was located at the McKimmon Center on the campus of NC State.  As it turns out, I had Friday off from work so I volunteered to help.

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I drove up to the Expo on Friday, and helped out at the Asheville Marathon at Biltmore Estate booth from 4-7pm.  It was so much fun talking to runners about this event that I ran earlier this year.  I had to pick up my packet for the race anyway, so it made perfect sense to lend a hand.  If you are looking for an absolutely beautiful marathon to do in early 2014, think about this race.  It is truly a one-of-a-kind, bucket list race.  The booth was so well put together, very inviting and professional.  Kudos to Daphne, the Race Director!   We had a great time talking shop, and all things running, Biltmore Estate, and Asheville with runners from all over that evening.  Here is a shot of Daphne and the booth.

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I had to work on Saturday, so I spent most of the day on my feet.  Not really what I wanted to be doing, but because the City of Oaks is local, I could actually work, and not take vacation time during a marathon weekend.  Bonus to running local!  Work ended at 4pm, but instead of spending the rest of the evening on the couch with my feet up, I ended up being out until 10pm.  My eldest son had a soccer playoff game, which I had to attend and support.  Then a late carb loading dinner of pasta and garlic bread.  Once home, I did finally put my feet up for some much needed relaxation.  That is, of course, after getting my race morning gear ready, and the Garmin charging.  I got to bed around 11:30, and with Daylight Savings Time, got an extra hour of sleep, even though it didn’t feel like it when the alarm when off at 3:50am.

Race morning was here.  It was a dark, chilly morning, but very promising from a marathon standpoint.  The temperature was about 48 degrees when I got up, and was supposed to be around 50 degrees and sunny at the 7am start time.  I had my coffee, and stretched, and loosened up.  The morning went off without a hitch.  I was parking my car right at 6am, an hour before the start.  Some more stretching, and trying to stay warm, I finally made the half mile walk to the starting area at NC State.  I didn’t have to use the bag check, and it was just warm enough that I was only shivering for a short while before the start.

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The race starts on Hillsborough St., right in front of the Bell Tower.  Unfortunately I dropped my bag of Sport Beans somewhere during the half mile hike to the start.  Probably because I was trying to keep my hands warm.  I didn’t realize this until 15 minutes prior to the gun when I went to grab them from my fuel belt.  Gone.  There went my pre-race jolt.  I sucked it up, and made my way into the starting area.  I managed to get into a fairly open space, behind the group going out for a 3:30:00 finish.  There were tons of people there.  One of the biggest race starts I have been in without a staggered start.  The City of Oaks race also has a Half Marathon and 10k option.  So people were wearing different colored bibs, but we were all starting together.  The Half had 2,245 runners, and the 10k had 1,038 runners.  A big crowd!  As we all sang our National Anthem, while respecting our flag at the Bell Tower, I readied myself for the 26.2 miles ahead.  I was at peace, and thankful to be there, on a beautiful morning, in my State’s capital.

Having not run this race before, I had to do a bit of homework about the course.  The first part of the course, run in and around the city of Raleigh was fairly familiar to me.  I work downtown, so many of the streets that the course is run on I am familiar with.  I usually don’t run on them, so this was going to be a treat.  The later parts of the race are run on a greenway that I was completely unfamiliar with, but had been warned about the difficulty of.

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I wish there was a map that was a little clearer to see, but this is all I can find.

The gun went off after a 10 second countdown, and the race was on!  The sun was out, the sky was blue, and runners were everywhere.  I took off at a fairly decent clip, moving in and around tons of runners.  Heading toward downtown for a few different loops, one decent sized hill is tackled early on, then a good bit of flat for the next two miles.  I kept my breathing and strides in good harmony.  I felt good.  Coming off from my really good finish last weekend in the Half marathon, I knew I wanted to try to keep my pace around 7:30 in the beginning part of the race in the city.  This worked only for a few miles.  Closer and closer to the Capital Building, I started to hear snare drums.  As we made our way right up to the center of the city, there was a great drumline giving us a beat to run to.  They were awesome!

As I approached the 5 mile point I took my first GU, and continued on.  I made a turn, and encountered a really strong cold wind.  My nose began to run a bit, and I think I lost my pace focus here.  I was paying more attention to the sights of downtown, the wind, and my nose, and not focusing enough on maintaining my pace.  I crossed the 10k mark in 47:35, a 7:40 pace.  I wasn’t off by too much, but knew I couldn’t afford to let this slip a lot lot more on this portion of the course if I wanted to PR.  The downtown portion of the course was cool because there was plenty of crowd support for the early hour.  When we turned onto Glenwood Ave., there were even folks outside riding stationary bikes at a health club.  They moved the bikes outside to the sidewalk so that folks could get their workouts in while cheering us on.  How cool was that?  I loved it!  Turning onto Peace St., we headed down toward Cameron Village.  This area is very spectator friendly, and there were tons of people.  This is also where the 10k finish is, and the first of the marathon relay exchange points is.  It was crowded, and also uphill.  I lost a bit of focus here as well, but had to enjoy the crowd.

As we headed out toward mile 9, racers were finally starting to spread out a bit more.  I had to take a leak for about three miles, but the only portopotties I saw in the city was a set of two, and there was a line to get in them.  Ducking into the woods wasn’t an option, so I had to bide my time until the opportunity presented itself.  I guess it was at about mile 10 that I finally found a spot in a residential area that I could relieve myself.  I am not shy when it comes time to take care of business during a long race, but either spectators, course monitors or my respect for privacy got in the way.  I’m sure I lost about a minute when I finally stopped.  This didn’t matter, because it had to be done.  I was at the point of discomfort by then, and felt so much better afterward.

The Half and Full split comes just before mile 11.  At this point we turn onto the greenway portion of the course.  Once again, the crowd now thinned a lot.  Runners were fewer and further between.  I kept my focus at this point on a few runners up ahead of me, and just maintaining a good overall pace.  My Garmin had me at about a 7:50 pace at this point, and I was going into the tougher section of the course.  It was about a mile onto the greenway portion that I fist felt a twinge of a cramp forming in my right calf.  I started to freak out a bit because I haven’t had any cramps lately, so I knew my electrolytes must have been off a bit, or my water consumption wasn’t enough.  I took note of this, and promptly added an extra GU into the plan, and drank more water at each aid station.  I never got a full on cramp, but it was enough of a worry that I thought about it a lot over the next several miles.  The twinges would come and go, but I think I managed them well.  I hit the 13.1 timing mat at 1:43:27, for an overall pace of 7:53.  Not bad at all, but slower than what my goal was.

The greenway was great, but also the most challenging portion of this race for me.  The out and back section was about 13 miles.  Rolling hills, beautiful Fall colors on the trees, overpasses, tunnels, sharp turns galore.  It was tough.  Many runners were reduced to walking in some sections that were tough, but plenty of top finishers still were in tip top shape when they ran past me already heading back in the other direction.  It is at about mile 17.5 that you u-turn on the greenway and head back toward the city and the finish line.  I was extremely happy to be half way done with the greenway, but knowing that the glorious downhill section was going to be a fierce uphill section at about mile 20-23.  This I was not looking forward to.  The intermittent cramping kept rearing it’s ugly head, and proved to be especially irritating the closer and closer I got to the end.  I hit mile 20 at 2:37:57, overall pace at that point of 7:53.  Nice to know that even with my struggles, and fueling tweaks, I managed not to lose any pace for seven miles on the greenway.  That was just as I arrived at the toughest section though.

I really think that this part of the course is what really could have killed my energy and focus, but instead I stayed positive, and kept going. I refused to give up, I kept my focus on trying to PR.  I knew that if I could manage to run even if I wanted to walk, that I could be successful.  I did.  I was still under PR pace after the tough section, and finally began to see the end of the greenway.  I had done it.  I was about to hit mile 24, and back onto Hillsborough St., with only a few short miles to go.  Folks were really beat up at this point, but I kept running.  I kept going, I kept running.  My Garmin clicked above 8:00 pace, slowly but surely I was losing my battle for that PR.  I knew though that I could do it.  I found that energy, that inner spirit.  I managed to pick up pace over the last mile.  The crowd support was back.  Full force, people were lined up along the streets, cheering.  They would call out my bib number.  “keep going 462, you’re almost there”.  3:30:00 slipped by, but I knew I had done it.  Those last tenths of a mile were hard fought, and so worth it.  Seeing the finish line, and the clock coming into view was so special.  I hadn’t PR’d the marathon distance in over a year and a half. I was about to do it.  I was elated to cross the finish, cheered on by the crowd.  The clock read 3:32:39.  I beat Myrtle Beach!!!  A new PR.

I had a beautiful medal placed around my neck, grabbed a few bottles of water and made my way over to the grass beneath the Bell tower to sit.  To absorb the moment.  I felt good, no limping, no cramping.  As I watched other runners coming across the line I got emotional. I actually teared up, I was so happy, and felt so accomplished.  I had set a new personal record.  I really could not believe it.  This truly was lucky #7.  I have worked so hard, and felt so incredible to have the self imposed PR monkey off my back.

So now it’s onward and upward and most importantly, forward.  I have renewed energy that my training is paying off, and my enjoyment of the run is stronger now than it ever has been.  I know I have more in me, and that if I continue to set new goals for myself, that I can conquer them.  It will never be overnight successes, but earned successes.  That is what is most important to me.

As I continue to relish in my new PR, I will share with you a few stats……

I finished 76/770 overall.  (Top 10%) (in a marathon that is huge for me!)

I finished 7/89 in my Age Group.  (Thrilled with this, too)

Chip Time: 3:32:24 (a PR by a full minute)

Overall placement at the splits:

10k split: 85th.    Half split: 91st.    20 mile split: 83rd.    Finish: 76th

What these splits mean to me is that I hung tough, on a tough course!  I was consistent throughout, and finished strong!  I can only hope to do this in every race.

Thank you Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon for a wonderful experience.  The day was rounded out with a terrific finisher village.  Fantastic post race food choices, band, beer garden and lots of happy runners.  My post race hot chicken noodle soup, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, and pepperoni pizza was just what I needed and craved after a 26.2 mile epic journey.  It was truly a fantastic day, and one that I will remember forever.  For now, City of Oaks is the new time standard I have to beat.  I am racing 26.2 miles again 12 days.  Maybe too early to set another PR, but I surely will be gunning for it in Las Vegas.

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I am already looking forward to returning next year!

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9 thoughts on “Raleigh City of Oaks Marathon – Race Recap

  1. Congratulations and fantastic time! I worked at the expo Saturday morning and checked out all of the booths before anyone arrived. The Asheville Marathon looked tough-crossed a lot of topo lines!

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