I have been in a marathon slump, crashing and burning the latter miles in my last few marathons. It's been 4 years since my PR and I was ready for a new one. I was hoping to break 3:30 and gauge how much more work I would have to put in to qualify for Boston (3:15). It was the best training I have put in - recently moving to hilly Austin and regularly running with a group with faster runners (thank you Ship of Fools). I put in seven 20+ mile long runs with the last 24 miler 2 weeks out. No major aches or pains at the starting line.
The forecast for Houston looked crisp and cool until a few days out. Saturday morning was upper 40s, Monday morning was upper 40s, but race day ended up being 60 and muggy. Darn.
My plan was to click off 7:45 miles until mile 20 or so and then re-evaluate my pace. I felt the humidity from the start but stuck with my plan ignoring the lessons learned in the 2007 Chicago "fun run". I had running partners virtually the whole race which really helped the miles go by.
I crossed 10k at 48:55 (7:52/mile), then the half at 1:42 (7:44/mile split). After the half I lost my fresh legs and started to feel the heat. Mile 15 was my first 8:00 mile. I got to 30k in 2:27 (8:06/mile split). I felt my first muscle twinge around mile 18 and decided to do a little stretching when I saw my family next just before mile 19. Mile 21 is when I hit a hard cramp in my left calf - I worked it out and continued on at a slower pace - succumbing to the usual internal banter - "you are so stupid, obviously your are not cut out for this distance, you will never qualify". Finally I decided not to panic, keep drinking, take a few salt tabs, and do some stretching/massaging for a few seconds at every water stop. Somehow I avoided another hard cramp and thought I actually still had a chance to break 3:30 at mile 24. I was in one of those zones where I thought I was clicking off 6:30 miles but in reality was just a very tired runner doing the marathon shuffle, just barely breaking 8:00 pace. I broke through the tape strong at 3:32:00 (8:05 pace) averaging 8:35 miles since the 30k mark.
Sweet crap - I finally got that monkey off my back and got a 14 minute PR.