Hilary, me, Jennifer and Kenny pose for a picture at the Bully Hill Winery in Hammondsport the day before the Wineglass Marathon. We've just had lunch at the restaurant and enjoyed both the food and the views of Keuka Lake. Now we are about to drive the course from Bath on our way to packet pickup in Corning.
Each of us has a goal for the race: Hilary to complete her first marathon and run it faster than friend Justin's 4:23; Jennifer to prove the naysayers in her group wrong that she can't run under 3:20 - and to reach the podium in her age group; Kenny to run 3:10 and qualify for his hometown marathon - the Boston Marathon; and me, to set a PR of 4:36 or even to run 4:30.
I recall to myself a story from D-Day. The night before the invasion of Normandy paratroopers lined up to board their gliders as part of the first wave. The commander came out and gave them a pep talk and then some sobering news: German resistance was expected to be heavy and casualties could run 50 percent. Each man looked at another and thought, "poor bastard." That's where we are today, I think. We might all make it, or there may be some casualties. And we have now way of knowing which of us might be in which column tomorrow.
As we drive the course, Jennifer becomes increasingly excited. She's amped up for the race and loves the course's flatness. Kenny and Hilary are more quiet. This will be my third Wineglass and I know the course, so I'm able to provide some additional information at it as we drive.
In Corning we collect our bibs and goody bags, which contain a split of sparkling wine, a long sleeve technical shirt and, for the first time that I've run the race, a wineglass. The men receive black shirts and the women a much more attractive deep purple one. After a brief visit to the small expo where Kenny picks up some GUs, we head back to our house in Watkins Glen. We have a meal of whole grain pasta with tomato basil sauce, garlic bread and salad. Kenny and Jennifer turn in early, Hilary goes to the movies to see Wall Street and I watch some TV and fuss laying out my kit for the morning.
Sunday morning arrives with temperatures in the low to mid 40s, higher than the predicted upper 30s. The forecast has removed any chance of showers. We wind up blest with a wonderful day to run, and I elect to run with shorts, a single longsleeved shirt and my Miwok buff to keep my head warm at the start.
We drive to Corning to board busses to the start in Bath. It seems like a long ride - our version of the flight over the Channel to the drop zone. Hilary and Jennifer share a seat and chat. Kenny and I get seats of our our own and partly fiddle with our phones and partly rest.
Disembarking at the lighting plant in Bath about 50 minutes before the 8 a.m. start, we all head to the portapotties. We get separated, but I find Hilary and we wait on the short line to get into the plant to keep warm. Jennifer calls me and comes in as well. We seem to have lost Kenny.
Ten minutes to race time we go outside. Jennifer and I toss our drop bags into the truck that will take our things back to the finish. I take a quick picture of the other two and then we all go off to find our spot amongst the 2000 runners waiting for the start. I find the 4:30 pacer and get further behind him. I'm determined not to go out too fast as I've done frequently in the past. I'm hoping for a 4:30, but want to start out slowly.
After a mile I've pushed the buff down around my neck and hiked up my sleeves, but my hands are cold. Around mile 2 I spot a pair of gloves that someone has discarded by the side of the course, and I pick them up and put them on. As I struggle with the second glove I realize that they are both left handed. Nevertheless I wear them for a mile until my hands warm up and I discard them by another pair by the side of the road that look remarkably similar. Maybe they are the two rights and I've reunited them, I think.
I get through six miles a minute and a half slower than in 2009. My plan to go out slowly seems to be working. Somewhere around mile seven or eight I catch up with the 4:30 pace group. I don't try to stay with them and slowly I pull slightly ahead.
Passing through the town of Savona at mile 9 a woman runner asks me if I had run Wineglass last year. When I reply in the affirmative, she tells me that she recognized me and that we ran together for a while last year. I remember her. She's Elena R. of Toronto who ran the race last year in hopes of qualifying for Boston. She ran a remarkably steady pace and finished in 4:23 at the age of 59, but had miscalculated the time she needed, which was 4:15. Now that she has turned 60, she only needs to run 4:30 and she is back to try. I remember that last year she ran a remarkably steady pace and I have no doubt that she can.
By now the 4:30 pace group has caught up with us and we join in with them. It is a convivial group, led by Pacer Pete M. from near Baltimore. He and I chat about the JFK 50 Miler and how we are not returning to it this year, as well as other races. He's keeping the group on a very steady pace, and I figure that hanging with them from this point on is a good plan.
We cruise easily through the next miles, past fields with cows and horses, including a pair of magnificent sorrel draft horses. As we approach the halfway point the pace group discusses whether there is a tradition that subjects of the Queen are supposed to recognize her at the halfway point. Elena and another Canadian are just yards ahead so I pick up the pace and ask, since they are still technically subjects of Her Majesty, whether they know if they are supposed to say "God Bless the Queen" at the halfway mark. There is a pause and then one of them replies, "First of all, it's 'God Save the Queen.'" Then I'm advised that there is no such tradition.
We pass the halfway mark in 2:13, giving me a bit of leeway for the second half. I'm starting to feel good about the chance to finish in 4:30, particularly considering that only three weeks earlier I'd shaved 20 minutes from my 50K time.
We get through mile 17 right on pace. Even a traffic jam consisting of a stopped tractor trailer making milk pick-ups at the dairy farms along the two lane road at the aid station at that mile marker doesn't slow us down. But after crossing the railroad tracks in the next mile, Pacer Pete, Elena and the rest of the group slowly begin to pull away from me. It's less that they are pulling away; it's more that I can no longer keep up. I take a Succeed! salt tablet in hopes that it may be of some benefit.
I go through mile 18 on what is technically a 4:30 pace, but the game is up. I just don't have the strength or energy to push it. I have a GU packet that I picked up ten or more miles back and suck on it in hopes that it, like the Succeed! will revive me.
Neither do much good. I'm trudging more than running now. I chat with a second-time marathoner through miles 19 and 20 trying to give her some spirit that I don't feel myself. I glance at my watch a few times during this stretch. I note the passing of 3:10 and wonder if Kenny has made his Boston qualifying. Several minutes later I wonder whether Jennifer has made her goal. I've got a long way to go before I will get those answers.
Just past mile 21 there is woman along the sidewalk offering cups of Yuengling beer. I take a cup and urge my companion to have some. She declines, saying she'll have some after the race. I tout the benefits of complex carbohydrates, but she thinks that alcohol is dehydrating.
On I go. I don't hesitate to tell several runners that I'd much prefer to be running a ultra race in the woods for seven hours than being out here. I cite several reasons: 1) softer surfaces; 2) no mile markers; 3) a varied gait; 4) more scenic; and 5) better food at the aid stations.
In past years the local Hash House Harriers ("a drinking club with a running habit") have had an unofficial refreshment stand just past mile 23. Sure enough, chalked on the path are HHH, then on-on, the call of the hashers. Beer ahead! But when I arrive, the hasher is carrying his folding table to his car. "No beer?," I half question and half moan, and he can only say, 'None. Sorry." Apparently the doubling in size of the race means that us back-of-the-packers are out of luck today.
Maybe it is the lack of beer, or maybe it is having run a trail marathon and a 50K in the four weeks preceding the marathon, but miles 24 and 25 are my slowest of the day. I'm confident that by now Hilary is finished.
And I start to think that maybe I still have an chance for a PR. The inability to do mathematical computations during long runs is a widely recognized phenomenon amongst runners, but near as I can tell, I may still have a chance. Or at least an chance to finish faster than I'm moving now. So I pick up the pace just past mile 25. I pass someone with "Erin - First Marathon" pinned to her back. She is walking. "C'mon," I say, " Stay with me and I'll get you in under 4:40." She doesn't respond, but a quarter mile later passes me. After another block I pick up the pace again and go past her and other runners. About two thirds of a mile to go now. I'm looking at my watch trying to figure if I can do it. I've pretty much figured that there is too little course left, but I don't let up anyway. I cross the line in 4:37:11, missing a PR by 59 seconds.
Pacer Pete brought his group in right on time, as he promised to do, crossing the line in 4:29:45. Elena stayed with them and qualified for Boston in 4:29:49.
I don't see Kenny, Jennifer or Hilary at the finish, or in the refreshments area where I get pepperoni pizza, chicken soup and a Coke. As is often the case after running a long race, my taste buds are off and the pizza and Coke have an odd taste. I eat and drink anyway, but without much gusto and finally discard much of the second piece of pizza.
I find Hilary at her car. "This is the worst thing I ever did," she moans. "My quads are screaming. I'm never doing this again." But it turns out that she ran a smart first-time marathon, finishing in 4:13:44. She made her objective, bettering Justin's 4:23 in San Diego last year. Her splits were a reasonable 2:05/2:08, showing a better sense of pacing than her father. Despite my efforts not to fly and die, it is just what I did, with 2:13/2:24 splits.
"Everyone feels like that after a marathon," I assure her, thinking exactly the same thought she has just expressed. "Wait until Wednesday until you make that decision."
Kenny has failed in his Boston qualifying effort, running 3:13:35. He was on pace through mile 20, and then his thighs began to tighten up. When I see him, he is fairly upbeat, as he ran a marathon PR even though he didn't get his BQ. His full report is here.
Kenny sees Jennifer finish, gasping for breath. She has willed herself to run hard the last six miles even though, as she later reports, she "was in a very dark place." It pays off and Jennifer hits the trifecta. Her 3:18:30 is not only good enough to qualify for Boston, but she finishes fifth in her age group. That gets her a spot on the podium, and she gets a white short-sleeve Wineglass shirt as a prize. And may most importantly for her, it's under the 3:20 that her pace group at home told her that she couldn't get under. "My husband told me I had to show them they were wrong," she says later. "When I couldn't think of a single happy thought, I thought of his words."
In a way, we all ran smartly paced races compared to the 1482 other finishers. From mile 9 to the finish Kenny improved his standing by 14 places (from 136 to 122); I improved by 58 places (from 1246 to 1188); Jennifer by 122 places (from 283 to 161) ; and Hilary by 131 places (from 1045 to 914), a remarkable showing of pace-management for a first-time marathoner.
After showers we gather for post-race beers to celebrate, commiserate and congratulate and to prepare for the drive home. Kenny and Jennifer state their intention to return in 2011 for the 30th anniversary Wineglass Marathon. Hilary is still adamant about how awful the last three miles were. She is one and done with marathons. "Don't decide until Wednesday," I repeat.
On Monday Hilary emails the three of us: "I dont know if you guys slipped me something, but I would be up for doing it again next year. In fact I am already thinking about the Madison Marathon in May 2011. [I] guess it didn't suck THAT MUCH."