Rocket City Marathon Report

megan, bart yasso, and me
As you know from the last post, I went into the race fairly confident in my training, but a little nervous as to the outcome. To spare you of the suspense, I had a great race where everything went according to plan. I ran 5:33:00 for my second marathon and shaved 37 minutes off my WDW Marathon time from January (which was 6:10). The Rocket City Marathon was a blast.

Megan (AKA @Veganrunningmom on Twitter, and host of the Run Vegan Run podcast–listen, you’ll enjoy, even if you aren’t vegan) flew down to support me for the race. She had injured herself in her own marathon a week earlier and was unable to pace me for the last few miles, as had been our original plan. But she came to support me in other ways. I picked her up from the Birmingham airport on Thursday. The next morning we dropped my sons at the grandma’s house in Birmingham, then the three of us, Marie, Megan, and nervous I set out for Huntsville.
We went straight to the race hotel HQ and the expo for packet pickup. Rocket City is a smallish race, with some 1,600 registrants, so there wasn’t a great crush for packets or race merchandise. Fleet Feet sports in Huntsville was a major sponsor and I believe that the race director owned the store as well. They had great deals on last year’s running clothes and shoes (I paid 9 bucks each for shorts and two running tops for cooler weather).
I picked up my packet and as I turned around saw Bart Yasso hawking his book. He was also the keynote speaker for the banquet that night. It was a pretty cool thing to get a picture snapped along side him.
We didn’t stay for the banquet, instead choosing to go to a local mall and get some Italian food so we could enjoy conversation. As we were leaving the mall we ran into Byron (@phatdisneygeek on twitter and the author of the Phat Disney Geek blog). Byron and I had exchanged Facebook emails and kept missing each other at the expo, and the hotel. He lives in Huntsville and is not only a running Disney fan, but an Auburn alum as well. So he MUST be a good guy, right? We chatted with Byron for a few minutes and then we went to the hotel for the night.
One of the big question marks for the race had been the weather. All week, I saw conflicting predictions for race day, from a low of 37 and a hi of 48 to a low of 25 and a hi of 36. There were forecasts of early morning light rain, mid-morning heavy rain, and afternoon showers. So, to be safe, I packed several pieces of clothing for the race. Even the night before the race, two different TV stations and two different iPhone Apps gave 4 different forecasts. I was flummoxed.
I concluded that I would surely get some rain at some point during the race, so I wore a water resistant jacket over a short sleeve running shirt, arm sleeves, and tights. So I was not surprised when the starting official announced that the NWS had promised him that rain would stay away until after the race.
Megan had given me a plan for the race designed to achieve a 5:30 finish, but allowing me to start slowly, as we had found worked best for me in my long training runs.
Here was the plan: Miles 1-5 no faster than 13:30; Miles 6-10 no faster than 13 (12:45 if I felt good); miles 10-20 @ 12:30; and the final 6 would be below 12, hopefully under 11. The last .2 was to be an all out sprint.
The course is a relatively flat one with some rolling hills and takes you through some really nice and scenic areas of Huntsville. There were a lot of “real authentic looking” runners there, many of whom had Boston Marathon t-shirts, and whom I surmised were looking for a BQ time. I took my natural place near the back. At the gun, I held back and kept my prescribed pace. In the past I would have found myself swept up in the emotion and adrenaline of the day and start off too fast, which was my fatal flaw at Disney. The trouble is, when you start slow, you get real lonely real fast. I was trudging along when I heard someone calling my name. It was Susan of I Run For My Life! We had finally met the previous night at the expo, where she had her lovely young son, the handsome Isaac! Susan and I had similar pace plans and we ran together for the first 4 miles. It was a blast to finally run with her, since she was one of the earliest readers of this blog. I consider her an old friend whom I’ve never met, until last week!
We stayed together until Susan made a break for the port-a-potties and then we lost each other. We each had a race to run and the understanding was that we would do what was best for us individually.
I found the early slow miles hard to maintain. My body wanted to go faster and I had to keep telling myself that steady and slow now meant fast and crazy later. Once I got to mile 10 I settled into a comfort zone in the 12:30 range and held it for some time.
As I got into the middle portion of this race, miles 13-18, I could tell that my training was paying off, and so was my weight loss. I was tired, but not spent; I was in a little discomfort from the miles and pounding, but no pain. I also made sure to take fluids and food BEFORE I felt like I needed it. The plan seemed to be working.
What is cool about Rocket City is that the course design and the modest number of racers makes it easy for loved ones to see runners at multiple locations. Marie and Megan had planned to meet me at 2 locations, but they ran into Byron (who I originally thought was a race photog, since he had a cap on and a HUGE camera). It took me a moment to recognize him, and as I ran on, Byron linked up with Marie and Megan and showed them various good spots to see me run by. So thanks to him, they were able to see me on at least 5 different locations, which is rare for marathons.
As the miles progressed, I felt strong. But I didn’t want to speed up too fast and then falter at the end, so I stuck with the plan and decided to run as hard as I could after I reached mile 21. As hard and as well as we train for marathons, the last few miles are mental. Our bodies CAN do the miles, but we must learn, I must learn, to overcome what the body THINKS it can do with what the mind KNOWS it can do. Of course that all sounds so nice and easy NOW, but in the middle of some of the hardest miles of my life, with my mind about to call it a day, and my body hurting all over, I was able to push through, with the help of those who care for me and support me. It helped to think of things that friends had advised me. Mike (Dirtdawg’s Rambling Diatribe Podcast and @dirtdawg50k on twitter) told me to “define myself” with this race. Chris Russell (Run Run Live podcast, @cyktrussell) had stated once that the goal of a racer should be to visit the med tent after the race. What I took from that is that we shouldn’t have anything left in the tank at the end of a race. We should leave all we have on the course. I thought about that and recalled high school when a football coach whom I was fond of remarked that he did not want us to come back to him years after graduating to express regrets that we didn’t play hard enough, that we should choose to play our hardest when we had the chance, to never regret. I also didn’t want to disappoint Marie or Megan. We had all invested time, energy, and tears into this process and the last thing I wanted was to finish this race with regrets.
I’m not kidding, the last 5 miles were the hardest of my running life. But they meant something. They symbolized not just my fighting through “the wall,” but my emergence as a new and confident runner who had a successful training cycle and an awesome race.
I crossed the finish line at 5:33:00, somewhat out of it, slightly dehydrated, and blissfully happy.
I could not have done any of this without the love and support of my wife, Marie, and our boys. Or without the training from my coach, Megan. Or without my friend Byron following me around the course taking pictures and more important, showing Megan and Marie where to see me along the course. I am overwhelmed by support from folks who read this blog, you, and folks on twitter or listen to the show. The tears I experienced after the race while driving home were because of this incredible support and not from anything I had done. It was because of your interest and encouragement. I am eternally grateful to you for that.
Lumbering to the finish!

proud coach Megan and her exhausted pupil

The medal


  1. It was a wonderful day of running! You did amazing. Be PROUD and know tha that I am so proud. Next up, MB for FUN but then after that you WILL shave even more time off. You will go sub 5 before long my friend 🙂

  2. That is an excellent report for your even more excellent race, Gordon! I am so very much in awe of you!

    And, of course, it was wonderful to meet you in person. Had my port-o-pottie needs now kicked in, I would have tried to stay with you for the whole thing!

  3. I have to say, this is the best explanation of the last 6.2 miles of a marathon EVER!

    As hard and well as we train for marathons, the last few miles are mental. Our bodies CAN do the miles, but we must learn, I must learn, to overcome what the body THINKS it can do with what the mind KNOWS it can do.

    I never heard it put so eloquently before.

  4. Fantastic Job Gordon! It was great to have Megan tweeting your splits. I was on pins and needles that day.

    I love that you had a plan and stuck to it!

    Congrats again!

  5. Great Race Gordon You are so lucky to have such a lovely friend/coach as in Megan supporting you. Your family must be so proud. Congrats.Regards Trea

  6. Great report. I had enjoyed your podcast of the race and this just refreshed your amazing race for me. I am so proud of what you've accomplished and I appreciate the time you take to share with those of us that struggle with our weight and the running but keep at it anyway.

    Congrats on a new PR and your second marathon!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s