Ellerbe Springs Marathon Felix Wong

“The Ellerbe Marathon,” said my buddy Dan, “is my favorite marathon.”

Considering that Dan has run something like 32 marathons (this number seems to be going up literally by the week), that’s speaking volumes. I guess he also puts his money where his mouth is because the 2010 edition was the fifth year in a row he ran the race. He even managed to convinced me to enter the marathon even though Ellerbe is smack dab in the middle of nowhere in North Carolina and the course was reputed to be hilly, as in “there are virtually no flat sections in the race.”

My legs weren’t totally recovered from the previous weekend’s Snickers Marathon, but at the starting area I was pleased to note that my calves felt “good” (i.e., not sore) for the first time in seven days. Secretly, I was gunning for a top 10 finish being buoyed by last year’s results, in which the winner (a woman) finished in 3:20 and change. (At Snickers, I ran 3:11.) Failing that, I was hoping for at least an age group award.

Scoping out and overhearing other racers at the start line, however, it seemed like many other people had the same idea. “I saw last year’s times,” a runner next to me declared, “which made me decide to come this year. I figured, I could do pretty well!”

The hills and the enhanced competition made for an interesting race. It went like this:

Mile 1: Seventh place. The pace of the frontrunners was a bit faster than I wanted to go at this point so I let them go.

Mile 3: Settled into 13th place.

Miles 4-13: I was intent on maintaining a constant breathing intensity, even if that meant going slower than the nearest competitors on the uphills and blowing by them on the flats. This meant I was alternating 11th-14th place with other racers like a yo-yo until the midway point, when the longest uphill of the race came and I got dropped.

Mile 14-18: Kept the trio I was yo-yo-ing positions with in sight, and one of them was beginning to falter which temporarily gave me hope I’d catch him. However, I was falling apart too!

Miles 19-22: A few other men behind caught me. I was now struggling, having bonked with 10k to go. My usually indestructible feet also were getting blisters, probably due to the way I was hauling down the descents. At Mile 22, I had virtually thrown in the towel and given up on any hope for a top 15 or even top 20 finish—now I just wanted to finish without having to resort to walking. In another mile or so my pace slowed to 10-minute/mile pace.

Mile 23: The first woman whizzed by me.

Mile 24: A second woman caught me.

Mile 25: A couple older guys passed me.

Mile 26: The course crested a couple more hills before making a sharp hairpin turn, in which I could whether there was anyone within sight behind me. No one. So I cruised in the last mile and didn’t even do my customary frenzied 150-meter final sprint. I was just happy to be done.

The second half took me 21 minutes more than the first half. Clearly, the race was not one of my more consistent efforts.

So a few minutes after I crossed the finish line, I was very surprised to learn I did manage to get an age group award after all: third place! For that, I got a mug.

And Dan did successfully finish the race for the fifth year in a row, which earned him a long-sleeved sweatshirt that said “5 Year Finisher” on one of the sleeves. The race staff also provided us with a heart-warming Southern-style post-race meal of chicken and dumplings, biscuits, apple cinnamon tea and dessert. We ate this while reminiscing over how this was a well-run race with an intimate feel and beautiful, rural roads.

In other words, I could see how the race could be Dan’s favorite.

Lessons Learned

  • I have yet to run a hilly marathon at anything even close to an even split. Hence, in hilly marathons I think I need to take the first halves easier than I have been. In this race, I probably should have tried to run a 1:43 first half instead of a 1:37.
  • Slower first couple miles (e.g., up to a minute per mile slower) might have been advantageous in the long run. At least this seemed to work well in Snickers.
  • There weren’t any gels available on the course so I tried to just drink water and Gatorade, alternating the two at each water stop. I think if I had a gel every 45 minutes like in Snickers, I wouldn’t have bonked as soon as I did.
  • I was trying to conserve energy on the uphills and make up time on the downhills, but may have overdid it on the downhills resulting in blisters that bothered me. May try a more even pace over the hills next time.

Time Splits

Mile 1: 7:00
Mile 2: 7:50
Mile 3: 7:54
Mile 4: 6:58
Mile 5: 6:38
Mile 6: 8:34
Mile 7: 6:57
Miles 8-9: 13:44 (6:52/mi)
Mile 10: 7:22
Miles 11-13: 24:31 (8:10/mi)
Mile 14: 7:30
Mile 15: 7:02
Miles 16-17: 15:41 (7:50/mi)
Mile 18: 8:24
Mile 19: 8:30
Mile 20: 8:59
Mile 21: 9:12
Mile 22: 9:08
Mile 23: 10:09
Mile 24: 10:16
Mile 25: 10:55
Mile 26: 10:33
Mile 26.2: 2:05 (10:25/mi)

First half: ~1:37:30
Second half: ~1:58:23
Total time: 3:35:53
Age group: 3rd
Overall place: 22/140

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Pre-race dinner at Dan's with Dan and Chomp Chomp.I had to sleep with an alligator named Chomp Chomp in the guest room.Inside the registration room at the start of the Ellerbe Springs Marathon.Outside the Ellerbe Springs Inn before the marathon.Dan coming in to the finish area for his fifth consecutive Ellerbe Springs Marathon finish.At the finish we were served biscuits, chicken and dumplings, apple cinnamon tea and dessert.I came in third in my age group and hence won a mug.Southern pride: "My child was inmate of the month at County Jail."Dan and Susan at Wolfman's Pizza back in Charlotte following the marathon.

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