“You don’t have exercise induced asthma… You have asthma!” That’s what my allergist, Dr. Peterson, told me when I went to see her after nearly collapsing on an 18 mile training run last summer. My running mate Brad, an asthma sufferer, recognized my symptoms and encouraged me to make an appointment. I walked in convinced I had exercise induced asthma and walked out diagnosed with full-blown asthma coupled with allergies to dust mites. Of course my first response was, “Can I still run?” She chuckled and told me “yes you can run but we need to get it under control.”
High humidity is a big trigger for my asthma. Dr. Peterson said that is because humid air is heavier, making it harder to breathe. Humid air also harbors fungus, molds and dust mites which are also triggers. For the most part the medications have it under control. I’ve had a couple troublesome runs so the rescue inhaler joins me any time I lace up. Looking at the Louisville weather forecast in the days leading up to the Derby Festival Marathon made me cringe. I pay more attention to the humidity than any other factor and the outlook was not good.
Nothing was going to stop me from running the race. I worked too hard. Amanda’s Coach Eric Wallor and his partner Mike from Full Potential Running drew up a comprehensive, customized, 16 week plan for me. Training through the winter was actually quite fun as we did several group training runs with our mates.
In my 4 previous marathons my times improved from one to the next with my last being a 35 minute PR in Chicago of 4:00:42. For Derby Festival my training program was geared toward a 3:55 but I had a 3:50 goal in the back of my mind. Regardless I wanted that elusive sub 4 hour marathon. Reviews showed the course runs a couple of minutes slower than Chicago primarily due to some hills. Each week. hill work was part of my training so I would be better prepared.
At race time it was about 60 degrees with 75% humidity which is too high. It was expected to increase to 90% throughout the morning. I blocked this out of my mind and began to focus. To avoid going out too fast, I decided to join my running mates Ann, Missy and Richard at the start by lining up behind the 4:00:00 marathon pace group. My plan was to stay with them through at least the first 8-10 miles then pick up the pace. When we signed up with the pace group at the expo we were told all pacers plan to run even splits at the designated pace. The expectation was that the 4:00 pace leaders would be running a 9:09/mile pace.
Apparently the young ladies pacing us had their own agenda. We hit the mile 1 marker at 8:49. I heard one of the pacers say “that was a little fast”. I remember saying, well no shit! At mile 2 the pace leaders were about 30 yards ahead of us and we hit that marker in 8:39. I was a bit pissed at this point because the strategy was backfiring. Ann suggested we forget about the pacers and just try to stay together. Richard had moved on ahead as he was running the half and wanted to pick up the pace.
By mile 3 I was soaking wet from the humidity, which was increasing with rain on the way. We eased into a steady pace that brought splits between 8:50 and 9:00/mile for the next several miles. Ann and Missy were on their own very special mission which you will read about soon. I was able to stay with them until just before Mile 10. I became concerned about my breathing so began to take it back just a little. A hit from my inhaler was needed at that point. I felt like I was in pretty good shape overall and aimed to keep the splits around 9:00/mile. The ladies looked very strong as I was able to keep them in sight, but just for a couple more miles.
Overall the crowd at this race was really good. Ann’s husband Marty and Missy’s husband Ed rented some bikes and made their way to several spots along the course to cheer for us. It was great seeing some familiar faces along the way providing some needed motivation.
Just past 11.5 miles was the entryway to Iroquois Park, a stretch in the race we feared the most. The 3.5 mile loop through the park began with a 240 foot climb followed by some deceiving and seemingly never-ending rolling hills. Just when I thought I was making my way out of the park, another hill would mysteriously appear. As prepared as I was to take on these hills my breathing became much more difficult.
There was no 13.1 mile timing mat but I estimated my half time to be around 1:57 which is close to what I had planned. However, the bigger concern was getting my breathing under control. The rain started falling steadily back at mile 9 but brought me little relief because it was increasingly humid. My pace was beginning to slow. The legs felt good but the lungs weren’t cooperating as well as I wished. That said, I was in good shape. The goal at this point was to finish this race and if possible, run the back half in 2 hours.
For the next several miles I averaged about 9:10/mile and was content. I remember hitting the mile 20 marker and glancing at my Garmin which read 2 hours, 59 minutes and some change. Doing the quick math I knew I averaged just under 9:00/mile through 20 miles. If I can manage to keep it under 10:00/mile the rest of the way I would finally get my sub-4. The shortness of breath at this point was very concerning and I began to struggle.
Just before mile 21 Richard, who had finished his half, saw me laboring, so joined me for a short period. I was unable to speak without gasping for air at this point. As I was making a turn I was surprised to see Amanda standing on the corner cheering me on. She was a sight for sore eyes. I glanced at her and again couldn’t speak. She screamed “are you ok?” I hated that she saw me struggling because I knew she would worry. Richard gave some words of encouragement, told me my pace was good, made sure I had my rescue inhaler, and jumped off the course. Shortly after I saw my running mate John and his wife Jane along the street providing some motivation as well. I was determined to get through this mess.
My split at mile 22 was over 9:20/mile and I was losing it fast. I began to hyperventilate so I stopped. I needed to regroup and regain control of the breathing. After a hit from the rescue inhaler and a drink from a piss warm bottle of water that was handed to me several miles earlier I began to feel some relief. It seemed I was stopped for several minutes when it was really only about 30 seconds. Mile 23 split was 9:45 when it felt more like 11:00.
The break is exactly what was needed as my breathing was now under control. My legs felt fine all along so I knew I had it in me to finish strong. Between mile 24 & 25 I saw Amanda, Richard, John and Jane again. Amanda was screaming “go baby, I love you”. I greeted her with a big smile. She appeared very relieved to see I was looking strong. I was pumped!
There was no stopping me at that point. I didn’t even look at my watch after mile 23 as I knew the pace was good enough. The downpour of rain began as I ecstatically crossed the finish line in 3:58:05. It was more dramatic than I wanted but I was thrilled with the accomplishment. There was much to celebrate that evening!
Interestingly, I ran the marathon in under 4 hours but never caught the 4:00:00 pace group, In fact, I never even had them in sight after mile 3. Things that make you go hmmm!
This was definitely a great race, in a fun town, with the best of friends!