Sunday, December 13, 2009

Race Day

Day 111

Boston Qualifying RACE. Saturday. Though I fell asleep easily last night, the rest did not come easy. I am up every two hours. Each time I glance outside our room that overlooks the race start, the sky is clear. Good. I fall back to sleep.

At last the alarm rings. The sky is clear, as expected, the weather has pushed back. A quick look at the weather on my computer and it is still calling for freezing rain. I dismiss it, it will not rain during the race, however, the temperature is cool, 31 degrees, and windy, surprise. The wind is blowing at 10-11 mph. A quick debate, tights or shorts… trained in shorts, run in shorts. Done. Top. My last race I wore a tight fitting top, I found it hard to breath during the race. I quickly drop my UnderArmor and decide, two technical long sleeve shirts. Done.

Looking out the window I see runners gathering at the start line. I eat a banana, half a bagel and force myself to eat a whole cliff bar, I wash it all down with a 26 oz of sport drink. The activity around the start line increases, it is almost time. Jay and I see Ann Marie and Stacy heading over to the start. My phone rings Kim and the boys wish me luck. I go over my check list, everything is ready, it is time. My phone rings again, my brother, David. He tells me have a great race, but the last thing he says really hits home, I thank him and hang up the phone. It’s time.

Moments before the race we are all gathered. Providing each other support for a good race. The runners are moving toward the starting line. Bart Yasso, who I had spoken with the day before is standing shoulder to shoulder with Jay and I as we move to our starting position. Bart, is considered the “Mayor of Running” having competed in over 1,000 races on all seven continents. He is also the Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World magazine, yet today, he stood there like all of us, just another runner.

Prior to the start someone Jay knows says he will run with us. He too needs a 3:30 to qualify for Boston. Jay welcomes him, and lets him know; we have a plan and will not deviate. A rifle fires and we are off, a hundred and ten days of training suddenly put into motion.

Over the last two days Jay has debated about wearing or not wearing his Garmin. Convinced to not deviate from our training, he wears the Garmin. Within a1/4 mile Jay says too fast. 7:45, we back it off the next two miles are run at a 7:55 pace. Jay's friend who joined us at the start line is well out of site. I look to Jay and say, “Trust the Garmin” we both nod knowingly.

Unlike my last marathon where the first mile was an 8:30, followed by a 7:15, and the pace jumped up and down like an EKG, ultimately ending in disaster, this race I am a steady. My pace does not waver, miles, 3, 4, 5, I think about the various land marks I passed on so many training runs, I know this pace, I keep it locked in, though the temptation is there to pick it up, that has all to often been my failings in previous marathons.

I feel good as we click-off the miles, and we begin to settle with a group of runners. The banter is light, we are all focused.

Hitting mile 11, the neighborhoods that have shielded us from the wind are gone. We are heading due east into the teeth of the wind. Earlier I shared that when the wind hit we would work as a group, like ducks, each of us taking time up front while the runners behind enjoyed the benefits of drafting. It works and a group of us work together.

Though the grade was rolling during this stretch, it seem to be mostly uphill and the wind and cambered road made it all the more challenging. In hindsight, I spent too much time at the lead on this section, but working with Jay he would later pay me back.

We passed Corey, not much was said, support was given, my resolve strengthened. I knew that though I felt strong at the moment, that moment could change at any time and I was beginning to look for the exit from this section and start the road back to the finish line.

A few miles after crossing the half-way mark, (13.1 miles @ 1:45:05 perfect) the course turned south back into the neighbor hoods. The wind now at our backs I stood a little taller and let my shoulders act like a sail. I began to look for the mile markers. It was between mile 13 and 16 last time (Vermont) that I had found myself in trouble, long before I expected. This time I was good. My conditioning was good, my legs were feeling as you would expect after 16 miles. Many of the group we had been running with pressed on ahead with the wind at their tails. Jay and I kept our pace.

Let them go, we are running our race today, I shared. Stay focused, relax the shoulders, lengthen your stride, keep all the leg muscle involved. Though I was saying this out loud, it was not for Jay’s benefit , but to audibly remind myself. Later I would find out that this advice was heard beyond my own ears.

Mile 17 snuck up on me. I was surprised and happy to see it. Mile 18 too came and went, though now I found myself looking for the mile markers. At mile 19 I make a mistake. My nutrition had been good so far, Gatorade at each stop, a gel at miles 7 and 14, but I thought I would wait until mile 22 for my next gel.

At mile 19 there was a station providing gels, smartly Jay grabbed one, I was indecisive and by the time I thought, "yes I need this" it was too late! I was past the station.

There I was on the course, one gel left, but no water ro sport drink around. I grabbed what was left from Jays gel and squished the last few drops out. It will have to do.

Up ahead we see the guy from the starting line that took off ahead of Jay and I, unfortunately he was done and walking. As we passed he tried unsuccessfully to join us, but his energy had been spent too early. We keep moving, keeping pace.

Mile 20 came, still no water station, I was becoming more focused on the miles and my time. I could sense that tough times might soon be ahead. My hamstring in my left leg and my left quad were starting to bark. I ignored it.

I thought to myself, 6.2 miles, a 10K in 48 minutes. I can do this. It is just like the 10K loop from Life Time. Mile 21 seemed long, still no water. Mile 22 I was beginning to feel the fatigue. I looked at Jay and much like our training runs, he had come alive. At the 21 mile mark we had switched positions. I was now running on his shoulder. DO NOT LEAVE HIS HEALS, I tell myself. I felt if I let the gap widen at all I might not ever close it.

Between Miles 21-23, it is my dark time. Negativity starts to creep in… I briefly think, no, not after this far, I can not fail after this far. I beat down the negative thoughts and focus on what I know, my conditioning and breathing are good. My legs are just tired and though I am hungry, I will find a station for Gatorade soon and things will get better.

I pull on thoughts of my family, my wife, my boys, my brother, friends the support and sacrifice they have all made so I can be here right now. It keeps me moving.

It appears Jay has speed up, the reality is I was slowing down. Running is a singular sport. It is you against yourself, what can you do, how much pain can you take. Jay and I have enjoyed training together for 16 weeks. Each of us feeding off the other to better our conditioning. I look at Jay he is strong right now and I am fading. Jay go. Nope, were good. I steel myself and look inward, time to find out who I am. Yes, it hurts. Yes it would be easy to stop, but that will not happen today.

Finally a water station, I take my last gel, gatorade and we keep running. I had waited too long for my nutrition and had lost 10 seconds this mile. I tell Jay he can go. Were good he says, though I see he is looking at his watch more frequently. I tell myself get to mile 24, than I tell Jay, we get to mile 24 we can pick it up.

Mile 24 appears. I look at my watch we are off time, still within the limits of our qualifying time, but I have caused us to give back 20 seconds from our earlier pace. We see the some of the group we had been running with earlier, their burst of energy spent, we swept past them quickly.

With the gel starting to kick in I can feel my tempo slowly increasing with each footfall. My energy is back, I am out of the dark place and had weathered the storm. I tell Jay, keep the pace until we hit mile 25 after that we are going to light a fire.

In the distance I see it, mile 25. A memory that I have carried for years is at the front of my mind. I remember vividly running at Disney one year and jogging next to a pace group, the pacer, looking over to a female athlete and saying to her as they passed mile 25 “your going to Boston” with pure joy in his voice and her guttural response followed by a burst of energy as she sprinted away towards a Boston Qualifying time. I have wanted that moment for a long time.

I hit the 25 mile marker, “let’s go” I say to Jay, “Just like track workout”, soon we are ripping it. We are passing people quickly and the distance is shrinking to the finish line.

I know right where we are on the course from driving it the day before, that little drive paid off. I am looking at my watch and calculating our time, we are well within time, I would later learn from Jay that at one point during that last mile we hit a 6:45 pace.

I see the hospital ahead and know that the finish line is nearing. The 26 mile marker is in sight, there is no pain, no fatigue, I feel light and strong, my body is moving without effort. Passing the 26 mile marker, my watch says I have nearly 4 minutes.

The finish line is soon in sight. I see the time on the clock , our pace dictated a 3:30:00, but the competitor inside says do better. Break 3:30. I keep the pace, and the last 100 yards my body and mind feel like raw crackling energy.

Crossing the finish line five years of work escapes me as I yell “Yes!”

My mind is racing... I think about what my wife shared in her email to me. I was pushed by the support of my family and friends their thoughts kept my legs turning when they were tired and only extensions of my body.

I look to Jay and tell him, we’re going to Boston and I thank him for the great friendship these past 16 weeks.

This marked my 10th marathon. My second singular attempt at qualifying for Boston, the “El Dorado” of running. My first try failed miserably, but further strengthened my resolve for this day. I can vividly recall at one point in my life thinking, a marathon was just too long, that I am not built for that type of running. That thought takes me to what my brother said to me in his call before the race.

“It does not matter how you end this day, or if you qualify or not qualify, but that you dared when others would not even try”

With my Boston Qualifying time in hand, I now can look to my next race, but my greatest success is that I dared.

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