A dozen marathons under my belt and I can finally say I'm completely satisfied with the outcome of this race - a little surprising given the finish time but a perfectly executed race given the conditions.
I booked this marathon 3.5 weeks out which didn't allow for any traditional training although I had a few 30k trail races under my belt and had time for one more 20+ long run so I really wasn't under trained. I PR was unlikely but in the back of my mind I thought sub 3:30, probably closer to 3:20. As race day approached, the forecast got worse and worse and I was struggling with a goal. I decided to forget times and stick with a simple goal of running a negative split, something I have never done. I believed this was my best chance of slowing down enough at the start in order to have a solid finish, avoiding a crash and burn, and be able to enjoy the rest of the weekend. I would ignore the pace on the Garmin and attempt to run by effort (very hard for me being a numbers guy). I still have crash-and-burn visions of 2007 Chicago and 2009 San Antonio burned in my brain.
It was 70+ with 90% humidity at the start and just got worse (lucky it was an early start). I was running this race with Joe T and he is the master of negative splits so I knew I was in good hands. I would like to say our beginning conservative effort was due to the Joe's wise pacing but really I think it was our only choice given the heat - we just couldn't imagine going any faster and having any kind of chance of finishing strong. I kept saying I would pick it up around mile 10, that didn't happen, maybe mile 13, nope, ok mile 15 - still no. Finally around mile 16 I still felt good and had to pass someone and decided to stay a little more aggressive, it felt good to open up a little and so I stuck with it. Aggressive is a general term in this heat - I think I only layed down a few sub-8:00 miles the entire marathon and this is where they occurred. I crept back up to low 8:00 pace after mile 21 or so but was able to avoid stopping or cramping the entire race which really shocked me. I ended up crossing the finish at 3:36. They had no splits during the course, and the mile markers were all screwed up so I'm not exactly sure of my half split but it looks like it was around 1:48ish which would make this an even split marathon - my first as well. For reference, I ran the same time in San Antonio last fall under similar conditions but completely crashed and burned and ended up with a 24 minute positive split. A terrible experience.
So yes, it was 20+ minutes slower than a marathon I ran in January but I am not in the least bit disappointed. I felt it was perfectly executed give those conditions and my recent training.
Maybe I'm starting to learn something about this distance.