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The Spirit of St. Louis Marathon 2006

On April 9, 2006, Palm Sunday, I embarked on my second marathon, The Spirit of St. Louis. I was much more properly prepared for this one than my previous debacle in Duluth. I actually planned my workouts leading up to the race, religiously following the guide in Richard Nerurkar’s Marathon Running: The Complete Training Guide. My goal was three hours thirty minutes, and I felt confident in my training even though that time would be ninety minutes faster than my inaugural race. Some doubts still lingered about encountering the wall past mile twenty though, as my LSD days insinuated.

I drove to St. Louis Saturday morning, meeting my parents who came to support me. We explored downtown and visited the pre-race expo. Nothing too extraordinary lay within, just roustabouts peddling their running trinkets and gizmos. After seeing the booths and retrieving my registration packet we headed back to the hotel. On the way we noticed the new Busch Stadium was having an open house, but all the complimentary tickets were already claimed. It was surprising how many people were surveying the new playground even though no formal activities transpired. I guess Cardinal fans are just as nuts as those in everyothersport. My parents and I finished our day with a good-tasting, hearty dinner (including some last minute carbo loading) at Calecos, and I fell asleep early to try to get some rest before my day of reckoning.

Race Day

The morning of the race, my alarm buzzed at 4 a.m. to allow ample time to wake up and digest breakfast, which consisted of a banana and bagel. I was not very hungry, so I skipped the power bar originally on the menu. In addition, I drank about 750mL of water to fill my tanks. With it still too early to head out (the race started at seven), I read a couple more chapters in The Perfect Mile (a recommended and inspirational book about the quest to break the four minute mile) and tried not to burn too much nervous energy.

A little before six, I left the hotel and strolled through the dark the half mile or so to the starting line. Many other runners and walkers were already congregating, with buzz and excitement starting to grow. The start and finish area were located in Memorial Park in the middle of downtown. I relaxed, used the port-a-johns, and stretched as I waited for the race, into which I had put countless base miles and twelve weeks of dedicated training, to begin. As 7 a.m. crept closer, my stomach felt like it had a little too much food, but I could not do much to change that. At least the weather was perfect — in the high 40s at the start — a little too cool for standing around but great for a race. About ten minutes before the start, I snaked my way through the mass of humanity and found the 3:30 pace group. After the national anthem and some last minutes announcements, the gun fired and the herd lurched forward.

I’m pedaling backwards

Running backwards so my mom can take this picture

The first mile was, as always, crowded, slow, and fun as everyone was still fresh and talkative while having to contend with the throng of athletes. There were still twenty-five miles to make up any lost time, so the diminished pace was of little concern. The course headed out towards the Busch Brewery, and even passed through its gates. No “aid stations” were located inside though. For some odd reason, the brewery had a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory atmosphere within its confines, and I half expected to cross a bridge spanning a river of beer. No such structure existed and Ompalumpas did not stand watch either, but the Anheuser-Busch Clydesdales were outside to encourage the runners.

The course circled back towards the starting line, and I passed by a mass of participants still on their way out. I was feeling great, right with my pace group. Eight minute miles are not blazing for me, but I still had a lot of them between me and the finish line. As this test of endurance continued, I tried hitting most of the water stations, alternating between Gatorade and water. One thing I do not normally do well is keeping myself properly fueled during a workout, so I tried to correct that behavior. I also carried a couple GU packs, in addition to those distributed throughout the race, which would help replenish calories. Of course, trying something new on race day is usually a big no-no.

A little after mile nine the half-marathon and marathon course split, and my race became much less crowded with only those doing the full distance remaining. We headed into Forest Park where my parents were supposed to be waiting to greet me. I stumbled upon them around mile twelve, and they were surprised to see me already. I slowed down (even running backwards) so my mom could get a picture. They cheered me on, and I continued forward with the extra lift from their support. I was expecting to encounter them again when I looped back through the park in about another nine miles.

Half-Way Home

I was staying a little ahead of the 3:30 pace group, as they eased up while passing through water stations. Drastically slowing to allow them to catch up did not seem like a good idea, but going too fast this early could prove disastrous. I kept a steady pace and crossed the half-marathon marker in 1:44:29, only slightly faster than my plan. My body still felt good, and I continued putting one foot in front of the other. My speed crept up as I left Forest Park, and I separated from the pace group. Although it could bite me later, I decided to sustain that speed since I was feeling fresh and figured that if I did bonk, I could try and cling to the pace group when they passed me again.

A string ensemble playing along the St. Louis Marathon route

The string ensemble playing in the park

We continued past Washington University and eventually circled back around towards the city. A slight headwind greeted the runners on the way back, but nothing too strong with which to contend. The course was by no means packed with spectators, but quite a few people still lined the streets cheering on the runners, especially considering the size of the race. I doubt if a quarter mile went by where there was not at least one person distributing hope (that big of a gap did not happen often either). Numerous small bands, individual playing instruments, and a dance team also flanked the course for entertainment.

A couple of hills (at least by Midwest standards) dotted the course that many people complained about, but they did not affect me much. I persisted forward and my miles dropped to around 7:30, but I did not feel I was pushing too hard, so I refrained from intentionally slowing. The marathon route turned back into Forest Park, and I spotted my parents again around mile twenty. We gave each other high fives, and I pushed it into the second half of the race. A little past my parents, an almost complete string ensemble took hold of an area in the park to perform for the racers. They deserved a lot of credit for thee long uncomfortable morning they must have endured, but their show was most appreciated.

I also saw some of the slower marathon pace groups and walkers who were still on their initial pass through the Forest Park. I admire the dedication of these slower competitors, as they are near the back, most crowds have left by the time they pass, and the sheer amount of time they spend on the course make their effort commendable. But it is that internal struggle to see of what you are capable, regardless of other performances, that drives them not to give up. They push their bodies and struggle just as much as those at the front.

Although I was still feeling decent, the miles were beginning to take their toll with my knees becoming sore and thighs tightening. Each mile was becoming progressively more difficult, but I dug down into my stubbornness and kept moving. Despite the encroaching pain, the end of my race was going extremely well. I passed quite a few people, and over the last 10K only one person passed me (a Team in Training member that out kicked me at the finish by half a body length). I sympathize for those struggling runners I passed near the end (as I have been there), but continually passing people so commandingly was invigorating.

The Home Stretch

Sprinting towards the finish line with two blocks to go

Two Blocks to Go

In the middle of mile twenty-two we rejoined the half marathon course, greeted by many of its walkers that were still going strong. I was surprised by the sheer quantity participating as I ran by them. Although large in number, they never impeded me and actually helped by cheering as I headed home. By this time I was starting to taste the finish line and knew I was in store for a good finish time, giving my tired legs all the more motivation. Although still a little concerned with the wall, since my body can deteriorate extremely quickly, I was determined to keep pushing until the end no mater what I endured.

I was ticking off the mile markers, counting down until the finish. Heading back towards starting line, I spotted the giant American flag suspended between fire trucks near Memorial Park and knew the end was near. I found any remaining energy and kicked towards the finish. My mom spotted me about two blocks from the line and yelled praise as I passed. I crossed the line in 3:23:16, almost seven minutes faster than my goal. I even managed to run negative splits!

Volunteers removed my timing chip and presented me with my medal and Mylar blanket (although every marathon has those, post-race coverings I do not personally think they provide much). After the exchange I headed towards the food and drink. Unfortunately, with all the half marathon finishers, quite a big queue of people waited for access to the food tents. For the entire marathon weekend, this long line was about my only complaint. The line moved quickly, and I am guessing it was only about a five minute total wait, but the delay in replenishing was still annoying. A more efficient system for distributing the goodies was needed. After grabbing as much food as I could carry, I reunited with my parents outside the finishers’ area and mingled with the other champions. I took advantage of the complimentary massages and relaxed in the park to give my legs a much deserved rest.

After some recovering and visiting, I drove back to Cedar Rapids (about five hours) that afternoon, which was slightly uncomfortable after racing but survivable. I grabbed some dinner and went to bed, having to wake up for work the next day.


I ended up finishing 15th in my age group and 126th overall out of almost 1700 runners. I was pleased with the results and my performance, but I mainly race against myself, the limits of my body, and the clock rather than the other people around me.

Splits for Spirit of St. Louis Marathon
MileTotalSplitComment MileTotalSplitComment
19:009:00Dealing with crowds141:51:428:16
216:477:47 151:59:337:51
324:397:52 162:07:197:46
432:387:59 172:14:537:34
539:236:45Mile marker early182:22:307:37
648:399:16 192:30:097:39
7??:???:??Missed Mile Marker202:37:347:25
81:03:277:24Avg of 2 miles
Mile marker seemed off too
91:11:488:21 222:52:217:24
101:19:437:55 232:59:507:29
111:27:438:00 243:07:057:15
121:35:417:58 25?:??:???:??Missed Mile Marker
131:43:267:45 26?:??:???:??Missed Mile Marker
Half1:44:29 Finish3:23:167:22Avg over last 2.2 miles

Pace vs. Mile

Pace vs. Mile


My mom with me after the race

My mom with me after the race

I am not sure if I had an incredible race that day or set my goals a little low. Although it was over an hour and a half faster than my other marathon, I had put much more disciplined and proper training into this race. Regardless, St. Louis was a great race and confidence builder. I know that through training and dedication I can accomplish what I set out to do and even enjoy myself in the processes. Besides, I still have plenty of time to hone my abilities for an even better performance in the future.

I do the vast majority of my training alone, so it was quite uplifting and motivating to have my parents on the course as fans. They drove in from near Chicago to be there even though the total time we saw each other on the course was probably less than thirty seconds. Nevertheless, I greatly appreciated it and enjoyed spending the weekend with them.

I was a bit surprised that I avoided the wall in the later stages of the race. During my long days my legs degraded significantly as they approached twenty miles. I am not sure what changed that day to allow their performance: perhaps the taper allowed some recovery; the race atmosphere could have provided that little extra motivation and adrenaline; or not having to shoulder a Camelbak the whole way helped. Whatever it was, I need to discover the source so I can repeat it.

My dad celebrating with me

My dad celebrating with me

I also handled my nutrition well (which undoubtedly helped my performance). I was never hungry or had food sitting inside me, despite my pre-race concerns. Nothing in my stomach felt like it belonged on the road during the race either. I think consuming all the gel packs (four total, around miles 9, 11, 17, and 21) and hitting almost every water stop helped keep up my energy as the race dragged on. The perfect weather did not hurt either. A partly cloudy day in the mid 50s with a slight breeze made for ideal running conditions. Although pushing myself for almost three and half hours, I did not actually sweat much.

The race did punish my body quite a bit. Walking was a slight challenge for a couple of days afterwards, and it took about five before I could walk up and down stairs normally. Although I was exhausted and sore, unfortunately I cannot honestly say I pushed myself to the limit and left everything on the course. My legs deteriorated towards the end, but I never reached that point of desperation and collapse. I was tired, but not rubbed raw by the race leaving myself exposed. Perhaps you should not cross that line in every race, but if I can walk afterwards I tell myself I could have gone harder :)

That is one area where I need to improve my racing. I will push myself during the competition to near that edge where my legs start to burn, but I never really meet or cross that line. I push the comfort zone, but do not dig down and run from raw emotion and will. In fact, I am annoyed that I recover (especially my breathing) so quickly after a race. Is it too painful or do I not have that deep desire to see exactly what is over the edge? Am I afraid of falling? One area (among many) that I still need to figure out.

Next up: Grandma’s Marathon 2006, although that will not be an “A” race for me.