Saturday, December 8, 2007

2007 Rocket City Marathon

The normal format of any story is composed of an introduction, where as you tease the content and inform the reader where you are taking them. Then you move on to build the background of the events in question before you ultimately form a conclusion that ties the whole thing together. Then the reader is left to draw their own meaning from the words, never knowing if that was the true intent of the writer. That is normal.

This isn't your normal story. This is going to be about as opposite of normal as you can get.

What you should take away from this is that no matter if you are an elite runner, or a back of the packer, everyone can have a bad day running a foot race. It is also very possible that a poor showing at a race can be attributed to identifiable mistakes, even if you are a seasoned veteran. You should prepare fully for a race and have a plan ready to execute. Then when you show up on race day, you should take everything into consideration before determining if the plan you prepared is valid, or if you need to alter it in some way. This is the most important factor to a successful race; plan, prepare, replan, execute, evaluate, reflect. Those should be your steps in any goal race. As I look back a the Rocket City Marathon, my mistakes are increasing in numbers as the days increase since the race was over.

Now that you have read the ending, if you really want to stop and not go any further, please feel free. Hit the delete button and spend the next 10 minutes doing something else. Go to bed early, play with the dog, kiss your spouse, watch some CSI, call an old high school friend. Do whatever it is that you do.

But if you want to see how I came to this conclusion, then put your feet up, get comfortable, and read on.

As a side note, I almost didn't have a post race write up. I was going to settle for a few lines in my log book. That is, until I started to get emails. Not just one email, but several. People were asking, no demanding, that they get their race review from me. Apparently someone out there actually wants to hear about the race from my perspective; someone more than my mom.

Well, here it is (unless you opted out after you read the conclusion above, in which you wouldn't be reading this parenthetical interjection.)

Each year, I look ahead when developing my plan, to have 1-2 goal races. My first goal race was the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon. The purpose of that race was to run a fast marathon and qualify for Boston. I did so, running a negative split race, 1:35, 1:32 for a 3:07. My second goal race was the Rocket City Marathon. In between and around these two goal races, I run other events, possibly including a small taper to increase my chances of performing well, but saving my peak for each goal race.

Here is where you get to hear about rookie mistake number one. My race plan had me running the Huntsville Half Marathon 4 weeks before the marathon. This would let me race, rest, peak and taper for two weeks. In my experience I have found that a mere two weeks of taper is best for me, as long as the long run two weeks out is no more than about 20 miles. More than two weeks and I just feel sluggish on race day. This was the plan that I intended to follow. What I did was much different. For some strange reason, when presented with an opportunity to run an ultra marathon on the day before the event, which was three weeks out from the marathon and one week after the half marathon, I thought it would be a good idea. At the time it seems like a great challenge... the Grand Prix (Dizzy Fifties Ultra, Rocket City Marathon, Recovery from the Holidays Ultra and Mountain Mist Ultra). And it turned out very well. I never hit the wall, and ran strong the whole race, finishing 8th of 108, at 4 hours 42 minutes for 31.07 miles. What it left me with though, were tired legs that I was not able to recover from before the goal race, the Rocket City Marathon. Never change your yearly plan, especially when close to a goal event. Like I said, rookie mistake.

So I went into the marathon with tired legs, what is the big deal? The weather in Alabama should be perfect PR weather in December, right? Welcome to mistake number two. I have run races in sub zero weather, 12" of snow, freezing rain and blistering 100+ degree heat. December 8th was my first race running in moderate temperatures (ranging between 60 and 65 degrees) with extreme humidity. It seems like an odd combination, but that is what it was. The humidity was between 88 and 92% humidity for the day, averaging 90% during the hours of the race. Any time the weather is not 45 degrees, overcast with no wind, you should alter your approach and go from goal A to goal B or C. These three goals should represent A) Perfect weather conditions, flat course and everything lines up perfectly, B) Weather is just a little too hot or cold, a hilly or winding course with many turns, C) Weather is extreme, either temperature or wind, a course with more elevation change that flat roads and things just don't feel right. I should have adjusted from my goal A (2:59) to goal B (3:10) before the race event started based on the humidity and winding road path. In my mind this was not a PR course, but I had my mind made up that it was going to be a banner day no matter what and I was too stubborn to adjust my plan. Many of the experts have some sort of formula in which you should adjust your goals based on conditions. An average of these in my research showed that I should have changed my goals by 5 to 10%. Based on the 3 hour goal, I should have readjusted to 3:09 to 3:18. I call them experts in jest, but in the end they proved me wrong in questing their knowledge when they fairly accurately predicted my actual finishing time.

Now that you've heard about the pre-race mistakes that I made, let's go through some of the more intrapersonal moments that I went through mile by mile.

I didn't really have much of a race plan going in, but once I saw fellow runner and friend Jon Elmore at the start, I devised a race plan to stick with him. I knew from past experience that he would run fairly even splits, and despite it being opposite to my normal approach I tried my best just to stay with him. He and I had run very, very similar races at the Huntsville Half Marathon and at the Dizzy Fifties 50km ultra marathon. I thought it was a great opportunity to have a better runner pull me along for a change. Plus Jon and I had talked about the race a few nights before and our approaches sounded very similar.

In the early miles Jon and I were all smiles and laughs, passing though other runners, sharing small talk with those that stayed with us for a while, or silent with runners who didn't. Mile 1.5 was the first spirit squad, the Sherman clan along Randolf. Brimmer and Stephanie went all out with their Rickey Bobby obsession, yelling shake and bake as runners passed over the heavily chalked road with motivational sayings. Reading Go Eric Go on the road was pretty motivational as we passed through the first two miles in 14:07. This was much faster than the 7:30 pace that I had hoped for through these early miles.

Jon and I pushed on through the winding corners of the early miles, racking up splits of 6:44, 6:50 and 6:46 through 5 miles. In general, I like to be at 36:40 - 37 minutes through five miles in a marathon. At this point I usually step up and lower the pace slightly. On this day, I was already at 34:27, running 6:53 pace and well ahead of schedule. Yet, I felt good so we pushed onward.

The next 5 miles were mostly the mirror of the first 5, running 34:19 or just 8 seconds faster than the first 5. This is where most of the rain fell during the race. It was heavy, but steady. I think that the humidity had just built to the point where the clouds had no choice but to let go of the moisture and rain down on us. Mile 10 found us along Bailey Cove near Grissom High and more spirit squads yelling at the top of their lungs. As usual, I feed off of spectators and I ran past them pumping my fist in the air like I'd just hit a home run in the bottom of the 9th to win the world series and even gave some high fives to some people along the way. This was also the first time that I saw some friends who made the trek out early to watch the race. Up until now I had been taking in water or Gatorade at every stop, but I felt like I was in a slight deficit, both of fluids and electrolytes. At around the 9 mile mark, I began to realize the incredible pace that we were holding down and I asked John what pace was needed to run sub 3 (hours). I knew that we were close, but I didn't want to let on that it was a goal. I lead into the question by saying, "not that I care, but..."

Just past the 10 mile point, Jon and I began to assemble a group of runners. At first it was 2, then 3, then 5 and at one point we carried at least a dozen runners along. I think that they assumed that we were race provided, given the fact that we ran together in our Fleet Feet garb. Nonetheless, we ran steady at sub 7 pace and broke the light wind for runners behind us. I later found out that a female master (who finished around 3:03) ran behind me for around 7 miles. In her speech at the post race dinner, she joked that all she saw was the back of my tri jersey, as she ran that close. When it was all said and done, this was one of the rewarding moments of the race; knowing that I had helped other runners through these difficult middle miles, breaking the wind and setting the pace along with Jon.

The next 5 miles were again identical to the first two sets of five, running 34:29, after 5 miles splits of 34:27 and 34:19. In this stretch we caught up and passed 'ol Marty Clarke. Both Jon and I were very worried about Marty, as he is a much faster marathoner than us and we should have no business in catching him. But he had some health concerns after the same ultra marathon that left me with dead legs and as we ran with him for a while, told us that he was going to drop out at half. This made our feelings of concern turn to thankfulness, in that he was smart enough to drop out when his health was in question. I am sure that thi made his wife happy also.

This was slowly turning into a miracle day with only 11 miles to go. What could possibly go wrong now Eric? In a word, plenty. (Sometimes I refer to myself in the third person, as I am doing here in trying to provide an objective look in at a certain performance). You weren't in optimally rested shape and the conditions were less than ideal. I have your answer... you could stray from your strong negative split marathon approach and go out too fast; so that's what I did and it was evident in my 5 mile splits. In my best marathons I have negative split by 7 minutes and recently by 3 minutes (1:35 and 1:32). In my worst marathons I have gone out too strong and faded late. I had just run the fastest first 15 miles of all of my marathons and I was about to pay for it.

Just as we made the turn off of Bailey Cove and to the north along Chaney Thompson, I looked over to Jon and calmly, I told him that I wasn't going to be able to hold the pace. It was just like I was hit by a truck; all of a sudden it was too hot, I wasn't hydrated well enough, the humidity made my legs feel like anchors and I just couldn't do it anymore. Just before I began to walk, I advised the female masters runner who had stuck with us for so many miles, to stick with Jon; he was strong and looking good. The pack that we had lead through 15 miles was now disbanding and as Jon continued off, I began to walk. I had just walked for the first time, 15 miles into the race, with 11+ long miles to go. This was the beginning of the longest 11 miles of my life.

Through 15 miles we had averaged 6:53 minute miles. With all of the walking, slow jogging and stops at aid stations the next 5 miles would take 39 minutes and 19 seconds and drop my average by 15 seconds per mile to 7:08. I began to search for reasons to quit, people I knew who could drive me home and feeling like I wanted to be anywhere but on that race course. Anyone who would listen to me for more than 30 seconds as they sped by, I would tell the tale or running an ultra marathon just a few weeks prior to this race and how it was the sole reason for my poor performance.

Luckily for me, I began to catch other runners whom like me, were also having very bad days. I passed a male runner with a race number in the 40's, looking to break 3 hours who would later finish more than 30 minutes off of his goal. I ran for a few miles with a single digit number female runner who had logged 80 mile weeks at her peak to run this race. She was walking more frequently than she ran. We alternated leading and trailing. When she would walk, I would walk. We just seemed determined to finish at this point.

After mile 20 it seemed like the gaps between aid and water stations were hours apart. The humidity had really built up to a stifling level and my early hydration deficit was coming back to hurt me late. It was too late to make up the difference as the salt had already began to build up on my skin. I could tell that I was in trouble.

At mile 23 on Airport Rd, I saw Laura and some other friends. The last time they saw me was before mile 15 and I looked strong. They were excited to see me with 5km to go and take some sort of action shot with their camera. When I came up to them and began to walk, they knew that something was wrong. Most of what I remember was that I told them 'that it just wasn't my day'. This certainly was not what they were expecting, but I think that it helped the non runners of the group understand how running this distance can be very humbling to even an decent athlete. I wasn't a broken man, I wasn't crying and I wasn't talking about giving up running forever. I just wasn't having a good day and I was adult enough to accept it. I didn't like it, but I could accept it.

At mile 24, I started to feel a little better, knowing that the end was near. I saw what I thought was a Fleet Feet jersey up ahead of me just past Drake Ave. As I got closer, I could tell that it was Jon Elmore again... I saw him to talk to a bystander, and as I caught up to that bystander, I asked if that was Jon. He said yes, and I quickly picked up the pace to catch up with him., yelling his name when I was 10 meters behind. He slowed to allow me to catch up. Together we ran for a short time, as he told me that he had developed cramps in his legs and that he could barely lift them. I suggested that we finish together, but I could tell that he wasn't going to be able to hold even the slow pace that we pushed along at. Sadly, I had to leave him behind as I wanted to just finish and get this over with.

The 5 mile stretch from 21-25 were run in 43:04 or 8:37 minute miles, dropping my pace from 7:08 all the way down to 7:26. I had lost 18 seconds per mile in the last 5 miles. The rain was starting again now, and though it was just a light mist, it was still discouraging.

At this point I had my reasons for finishing singled down to both HTC (Huntsville Track Club) Grand Prix points and pride. The crowds were still thin due to the weather, so I wasn't going to be able to pull energy from them for a final push. That said, I still managed to lower the pace slightly below an 8 minute mile, passing several people as a neared the finish. I don't remember if they called my name as I crossed the finish line, as I was just focused on wanted to stop running.

When it was all said and done, I had run a 1:31:00 first half (13.1 miles at 6:57 pace) and the second half in 1:46:05 (13.1 miles at 8:06 pace) for a 3:17:05 finishing time. Many people would love this time, but when aiming for a 3 hour marathon, the 17 minutes that separated me from my goal seemed like a year away.

In the end I saw many top runners drop out or struggle along to disappointing finishes. With these, I also saw some phenomenal runners and friends who fought the humidity and ran great times. I have often thought that the difference between the elite and mortal runners is just the ability of the elite athlete to battle fatigue and fight threw and deal with pain better than the average runner. We all hurt at some combination of pace and distance, they just know how to handle it.

I would say that if you polled the masses, more would say that it was a bad day than a good day, but that is not an excuse. I made vital mistakes of not going in with fresh legs, not adjusting my race plan when the conditions were less than ideal, I went out too fast and I didn't take in enough fluids at the right times. I don't know if you can rank the severity of mistakes you can make in a distance race, but I would say these are undoubtedly in the top 10. You just can't make mistakes like these and expect stellar results.

So now that I have had plenty of time to reflect and analyze the race, I am actually pretty happy about the results. In hind sight I would have started slower and finished stronger, but I speculate that the overall results (time) would be about the same. On this day, the conditions were going to dictate that I run something between 3:10 and 3:20, and I was in the lower half of this range.

What did I say were the most important factors of a successful race? They were plan, prepare, replan, execute, evaluate, reflect. I didn't plan well. I prepared fully. I didn't replan based on conditions. I failed to execute. I have now evaluated and reflected on the results. You can count on the fact that going into my next road marathon (Boston in April) that I would not make these same mistakes.

Now as the story and the year ends, I have to be happy about how it all turned out. After all, I personal record 18 races (of which were 4 marathons, 2 ultras and 2 half marathons), set personal records at 15km, half marathon, marathon and ultra marathon and logged 800 more miles than ever before (up from 1800 to 2600+), all in southern conditions that are much more demanding than anything I have ever run in before.

We will all live to run another race and have our day in the sun. Let's just hope that it is sooner than later.

If read to the end, I am glad to have kept your intrigue. If not and you just skipped to the bottom, then go back and read what you skipped because it was a little insightful, a little educational and a little entertaining. I can promise you that it is better than the re-run of CSI that you are about to watch:)

Thanks to my friends for being on the course, to my running pals for training with me on this day, to my wife for encouraging me to finish and dealing with me day in and day out, to the Shermans for their spirit and countless others.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

2007 Dizzy Fifties 50km

At 3 o'clock on Friday, Novemeber 16, I decided that it would be a good idea to run an ultra marathon less than 18 hours later. Despite 3 months of plans, I tossed it all away in two minutes when tempted with the opportunity to run 31.07 miles in a foot race.

I will spare you the grueling details... but I will share a picture of what pure joy looks like in finishing something that tests the limits of the body and the mind beyond imagination.

In the end, I shattered my 50km PR by 37 minutes and finished in 4:42:36 (9:06 minute miles), coming in (preliminary) 10th overall of 108 runners.

Thanks to Jeff Kyser and all of his volunteers for a great race, and to Laura and Sirius Beagle for being there at every turn working as my crew.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

2007 Huntsville Half Marathon

Huntsville Half Marathon.

I went into this race with a quick taper and a little rest of 2 days prior to the race. Otherwise I was generally fatigued with weekly mileage around 70+ per week and lots of long runs.

My original race plan had me starting at 6:30 pace and then lowering it down to 6:20 pace toward the end.

Of course once the race started, all of that was out the window...

I was lined up with a pretty fast pack at the start, having Dink, Satterfield and the Brian Robinson next to me shoulder to shoulder. We all went our pretty hard, pulling early mile splits of 6:14 and 6:14. At some point in the second mile I tried to pull away from the pack and that is what I did. I pulled out and lowered the pace, passing Richard Roadenhausen and not looking back I continued to go strong over the first few hills, hitting mile splits for 3-5 of 6:11, 6:20 (uphill) and 6:02 (downhill).

At this point I see the first place women in front of me and I wanted to catch and pass here. Right before Chaney Thompson I was able to blow by her and head down toward the greenway. I didn't know it, but the pack was closing in on me.

Running north along the path I was still moving well, hitting my next three splits in 6:12, 6:16 and 6:18. Then I hit the cone turn around and saw how close the competition really was! Dwayne was seconds behind, as was Dink. In the next mile I realized that I was not going to be able to hold the 6:10 average pace and slowed slightly. In this section is where the two speed demons passed me. This was slightly demoralizing and I again slowed coming into the last aid station before the hill with mile splits of 6:21, 6:23, 6:26 and 6:47 (uphill).

I stopped at the last aid station for water and to regroup. I was was running next to Tim Vinson after the aid station and we ran shoulder to shoulder, holding each other to the pace. We pushed up through the hill and then knew that it wouldn't be long. In the last 2 miles I would try to pull out ahead of Tim and then even the pace out. He would surge forward and catch up every time.

With less than a half mile to go, I decided that I would make one last push and make it an intense push. I pulled ahead of time, pushing the pace into the mid 5's for a few hundred meters and then slowed back to the previous pace. It turned out to be enough to hold him off in the end. I ran a 6:15 final mile to finish with a 1:23:13, leaving me 4th in age group, 14th overall.

This was a very positive race as I was able to beat Kevin Betts and the Brian Robinson, both of whom I normally trail. The disappointing part was that the others in my age group all broke 1:20 and 'stole' my age group award:)

When I was done racing, I went back to bring Leah and her first half marathon to a finish. She was mentally strong and I pushed her late to come in at a great time for her first distance race.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

2007 Fleet Feet Monte Sano 15km

Fleet Feet Monte Sano 15km race.

The temps were great! I was a little pschyed up, with 4 fast guys in my age group. I started out just like planned, running a 6:26 first mile. From there I wanted to average something that kept me under an hour. I felt strong when coming out of the park and stayed close to Dink. I P\passed from 12th to 10th at mile 3.5 and then stayed there. The rolling hills of Panorama slowed me down a little, but I stayed strong. I was mentally stable the whole time. I beat Brett Addignton and the Brooks guy but lost to Rob Youngren.

This was a great PR, and 4th in a row for 15km distance. Total time was 58:23 good enough for 2nd in M30-34 and 10th overall of 252 people.

Mile 1/2m split + 1/2m split Mile Pace Total Time Ave Pace
1 - 0:03:10 + 0:03:16 = 0:06:26 0:06:26 0:06:26
2 - 0:03:00 + 0:03:04 = 0:06:04 0:12:30 0:06:15
3 - 0:03:02 + 0:02:59 = 0:06:01 0:18:31 0:06:10
4 - 0:03:02 + 0:03:06 = 0:06:08 0:24:39 0:06:10
5 - 0:03:01 + 0:03:05 = 0:06:06 0:30:45 0:06:09
6 - 0:03:04 + 0:03:13 = 0:06:17 0:37:02 0:06:10
7 - 0:03:08 + 0:03:07 = 0:06:15 0:43:17 0:06:11
8 - 0:03:05 + 0:03:07 = 0:06:12 0:49:29 0:06:11
9 - 0:03:02 + 0:03:09 = 0:06:11 0:55:40 0:06:11
9.4 0:02:35 0:06:00 0:58:15 0:06:11

Saturday, September 29, 2007

2007 Big Spring Jam 5km

Big Spring Jam 5km Downtown Huntsville, AL

Coming into this race I was in the middle to late stages of training for the Huntsville Half Marathon and Rocket City Marathon, which were 6 and 8 weeks away respectively. My long runs were about 13 miles and I had a 15 miler planned for the day after this race.

It was cool in the morning with temps around 68, but heated up by 8am race time. This was the first race in quite some time that I felt really good the whole race. The small ups were tough, but the long slow downs were great to stride out. I lead Joe Francica the whole way and held him off at the end, with a win by 4 seconds. With a flat course, I think that I had sub 18 in my legs. I finished 8th overall and 2nd in m30-24 of 558 total runners with a time of 18:10.

Not a bad performance considering the top 7 included names like Volinski, Dewitt, Bowman, Clarke, Meyer and Betts. This was also the first time that I can remember that I beat Mr. Dink Taylor:)

43 secs

Saturday, September 1, 2007

2007 Monte Sano Road Races

Monte Sano 5km Road Race., Huntsville, AL

I felt pretty confident going in feeling good and knowing many top runners would do the 10km early and not run the 5km race afterward.

The weather was hot, pushing 80+ by race time. I went out in about 50th but ran strong and settled into 10th after the 1.25 mile cone turn around. Then I just felt like crap. I stopped at 2.25 for water (10 seconds) letting a kid pass me. Then after the loop at the lookout tower, I mustered through, finally motivating Conrad Meyer to pass me also as he had been running stronger than me.

My time of 19:08 was disappointing. I need more track work out to be fast at this distance again. Finished 12th overal, 3rd in m30-34 of 352 Then did 2 mi of cool down with Suzanne and then ran the 1 mile in 6:50 with the first place kid.

I am excited for the cooler weather for racing again.


Saturday, August 11, 2007

2007 Bartlett Park Ultra

The Start

I have to admit that toeing the starting line at 6:30 am for this new race distance found me with a very nervous stomach. From what I can tell, there were nearly 100 Starters (47 running the 50 mile distance, 6 running the 40 mile distance and 47 running the 32 mile distance). The runners were allowed to change distance during the race, which made it a unique concept. The conditions at the start were 70 degrees and 83% humidity with plenty of sun, though the shaded trails would hide us from the sun.

Miles 0-8

The course was an 8-mile loop, with little elevation change, but single track with tight winding turns, lined with trees that provided a decent canopy for shade. Even though there was not much elevation change, the course was constantly rolling. A group of 5 top runners were together for the first 7 miles, lead by a mountain biker, who had the look of an ultra runner, followed by my good friend Brian Robinson, then me, a 2:55 marathoner named AJ and then another nameless guy in 5th. We ran very tight with each other and chatted along the way. At the base of the only hill at mile 7, the mountain biker and I decided to walk up the hill, while Brian, crazy to beat all hell, decided to push hard up the hill. I never saw him after that! AJ charged up also, moving into 2nd. Brian must have seen his opportunity and taken advantage of it. The time on the first loop was 1:11:00 for an 8:52 min/mile pace. I felt really good, running with other guys. I took in maybe 40 oz of liquids, plus a couple of electrolyte pills (salt tablets) during the loop.

Miles 8-16

At the start of the second loop, we broke the top 5 into 3 groups; the top 2, the next 2 (with me in 4th) and the last guy dropping off. I ran pretty steady with the mountain biker through mile 15, though we never spoke after he asked me after the turn if I wanted to pass and I said no (thinking that I was just going to pace with him). Laura met me with Sirius Beagle at the turn and gave me a new water bottle, and took my tri top and ipod. We stopped at one aid station in this loop, both of us filling our bottles and then took back to the trail together. He seemed to pull away on the down hills, but I would catch up in the flats and on the up hills. We stuck together until the top of the big hill, when I decided to pass. I knew that I was going to rest at the turn, so asked if I could pass and he let me. After I passed and went into 3rd, I saw a runner behind me that also passed the mountain biker, going into 4th. This was the last time I saw him as he dropped out at mile 16. The time on the second loop was 1:14:00 for a 9:15 min/mile pace, dropping the overall pace to 9:04. At the mile 16 turn, took 1 energy gel with 2 ibuprofen and 2 electrolyte tablets. I had taken 2 full bottles of water and Gatorade during this section. I also ate a Krackel mini-candy bar for some strange reason that I cannot recall. Toward the end of the loop I began to lap slower runners.

Miles 16-24

After the late pass in the last section, I began my stretch of running alone, which I did for the last 16 miles, having dropped everyone behind me, but not being able to catch the fast marathoner and Brian the leader, both in front of me. At mile 20 I passed and went into 2nd place when the runner ahead of me had started to walk with bad leg cramps. He was a 2:55 marathoner on the roads and had run many ultras but never one this hot. He ended up dropping out after 24 miles. In the 2 aid stations there were a couple people to help out, but I mostly filled my own bottles, loosing valuable time at each stop. I was kind of frustrated by this. I still stopped at all of the aid stations and took and drank full bottles at each station. I think that I drank around 100 oz of fluids in this loop. I still felt mostly strong, but the fatigue was slowly setting in. I noticed at mile 23 that my right foot and toes were starting to hurt. The pain was so bad (of my toes grinding one another) that I didn't think I would be able to continue. The time on the third loop was 1:19:00 for a 9:52 min/mile pace, dropping the overall pace to 9:20.

Miles 24-32

At the 24 mile turn, I lost 5 minutes with having to have my toes tapped (band aid tape) by Laura because they began to blister and bleed. I yelled at her pretty bad even though she was doing her best. I was stressed in loosing time but wouldn’t have been able to go on without the toe surgery. I later apologized over and over again to Laura for my attitude. She understood and accepted my apology, realizing that I was in the heat of battle. Also at the turn, I ate a banana and took 2 more ibuprofen. The banana was gone in two bites like I was at a hot dog eating competition. In this loop I stopped at all 3 aid stations and there were 10-15 people there at my beckon call. They were really good but asking me if I was ok physically, mentally, etc. They asked who I was and were I was from to check for sanity. I jokingly told them (after hearing I was in 2nd for sure) that after running 30 miles that I would probably just walk the last 2:) This completely changed my attitude toward the volunteers and I thanked them at each stop. I took in well over a gallon and a half of fluids in miles 24-32. The 4th loop was the hardest thing that I have ever done. I could run for maybe 1/2 to 1 mile in the beginning, but was running 1/4 mile stretches between walks up to mile 30. I felt demoralized, full of agony and wanted to quit (worse than in any other race ever) between miles 24-30. I fought just to make it to each aid station and that became my mission. I am more proud of not letting the heat and distance break my will to finish (as it did with so many others) than of my Boston qualifying time. I set out to prove what my body could do, but ended up proving what my mind could do. The mental demands of this race would break 90% of the runners out there who aren't prepared for it. After the last aid station, I ran for a mile or so with three guys who were going 40 miles and on their 3rd loop. A little small talk with them really helped m morale. Between miles 24 and 30 I had done a fair share of walking. I had mile splits of 11:54, 13:28, 11:29, 13:43, 13:03, 12:39, 15:12 and 12:25 in the last 8 miles for a time on the 4th loop was 1:35:00 for a 11:52 min/mile pace, dropping the overall pace to 9:58.

The End

In the end, I finished 2nd overall at a time of 5:19:15 for a pace of 9:58 min/miles. The winner (a friend who I train with) Brian Robinson, went 5:03:00. He is a 3:02 marathoner and 5 minute miler who was well versed in ultra marathoning and ran like a champion on this day. The third place guy was 20+ minutes behind me. Looking at the results, there were 5 runners finishing in less than 6 hours, 15 finished in the 6-7 hour range, 10 in the 7-8 hour range and 17 in the 8-10 hour range. There were 68 total finishers (14 for the 50 mile, 5 for the 40 mile and 47 for the 50km). This means that 32 people dropped out overall and 33 people either dropped out or changed from 50 mile down to 50km. I would speculate that half of the 50km people dropped out. It’s hard to tell how many 50km starters dropped as many 50 and 40 milers lowered their distance to the 50km. Based on fluid intake, I calculate that I lost about 8 pounds in the race, even though I took in about 24 pounds of fluids (32 pounds of sweat and urine loss). The conditions at the end were 102 degrees and 40% humidity.

I told Laura when I crossed the finish line that I never wanted to run another ultra marathon ever again.

It took me about 4 hours before I wanted to run another ultra marathon.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

2007 Grand Island Trail Marathon

A Pictorial Tale of Two Races

It is amazing how over 26.2 miles that your attitude can completely change from one extreme to another. This is my tale of how this happened to me on a small island in Lake Superior.

Part One

Back in early May, while still three weeks prior to my goal marathon, I began to wonder what I would do next. I was coming off of a monster 300 mile month in April and was beginning to taper toward what I had hoped would be a Boston qualifying marathon in Green Bay. I knew that the Cotton Row Run would follow in late May, but had no real plans for distance racing this summer. That is when I fell in love with the idea of combining a small vacation, with seeing old college friends, seeing my parents and of course, running a trail marathon. The only problem was that the marathon was a short 9 weeks after my planned Green Bay marathon and I worried that I would not have enough time to rest, re-peak and taper in time to be ready.

Well the Green Bay Marathon came and went, and I fully committed to the Grand Island Trail marathon, only after qualifying for Boston in Green Bay, and doing enough research to determine that I could in fact train for a marathon in 9 weeks when coming off of a fast road marathon.

When the day finally arrived, I went into the Grand Island trail marathon about 80% healthy after having recently strained my left achilles tendon at the end of a 22 mile long and hilly trail run. I had taken proper rest in the taper period and had gotten as healthy as I was going to get, given the time I had. I wore an achilles band for the race, which put some pressure on the tendon and relived some of the pain, but not enough to say that I was completely healthy for the race.

The weather in Munising, MI was in the mid 50's as we arrived at the dock to board the ferry for Grand Island. Given the island was about a mile off shore, I would later discover that the temps were maybe a few degrees cooler when we landed on the island at just before 6am eastern. After getting up at 3:30 am, seeing the sun come up in the distant horizon was a welcome sight.

Upon arriving on the island, I could see that this was truly was a runners run. There were no frills whatsoever. There was a tent that you could freely store your bag and just a few port-a-potties for runners to go. They offered only 4 aid stations, each of which you had options of water or HEED, poured by volunteers from large pitchers, directly into the 20oz bottle (minimum size) that runners were required to carry. Runners not carrying something to contain water were not allowed to start the race. There were no garbage cans, as anything you brought onto the island, you had to take off. Grand Island is a National Reserve, which, to be honest, I think is the poor man's version of a state or national park.

There were a handful of what I would call elite runners at the starting line. One guy in his mid 40's who was coming off of a 2:39 road marathon in Green Bay in May and the winner of this race the last 2 years, and another up and coming ultra runner who had run 2:40 road, was training for a 2:35 road and finished last year. Other than that, the field I felt was pretty thin. I had expectations of finishing somewhere in the top 5%, which is always my race goal. For that to be true, I would have to hit 15th place or higher.

With the sound of the air horn, the runners were off. As I normally do, I began slowly and let many, many runners pass me. I would say that after the first mile (7:26) that I was only in the top 50 runners. This mile was a little fast for my taste, but it wasn't anything that would put the rest of the run in jeopardy. I had planned on running in the mid to high 7’s for the first 2-3, but I felt that given the cooler conditions, that being several seconds ahead of pace, that I wouldn’t suffer later.

I cruised along through the 4 mile mark in 29:46 (7:26 pace) which was right on target of where I wanted to be, given the gentle rolling landscape of the first 4 miles.

Mile 5 was where I knew the first challenging hill would lie. It looked steep from the plan and profile the website had shown, but due to the scale, it was difficult to tell over what distance the 250' climb would range. It turns out that it was over less than 1/4 of a mile, leaving a 1/2 mile split of 4:27. I was able to make up for it on the top of the hill, where the terminus of the out and back portion of the course was found. At that point I counted 25 runners ahead of me before I came to an unmanned turn around cone. Seeing other runners on the way back down the hill felt pretty good and along with the downhill, I pushed it pretty well coming back down.

After getting back on the island's perimeter trail for no more than 50 yards, we were detoured across a wooden planked section that lead out to the beach. I had read from previous years that the beach section was about 200 yards long, to which I thought that it would be a moot point. To my dismay, this year's course had some changes and we ended up running for over a mile on the beach, at the waters edge. The 2-3' rolling waves had torn away from the beach, leaving a 6-8" drop from the soft beach sand shelf, down to the water. It was futile to run on the soft beach sand, so most runners chose to run on the harder ground near the waves that continued to crash in. I tried to time my stride as to miss the waves by stepping up on the soft sand shelf with my left foot while my right foot was in between waves. It was the only way to keep from getting wet feet with just over 20 miles left to cover. When both feet were on the hard packed sand, my right foot was landing below a 30 degree slope of sand. Changing wave patterns and a sloppy and uneven stride resulted in two wet feet by the end of the beach section. I figured that this was better than beach sand in my shoes.

Between miles 10 and 15 there was only one visible runner in sight, as I had settled into nearly the same position as I would finish at. The lone runner I could see in front of me took turns leading each other, alternating after each of us fell 2 times over the 5 mile stretch. This was pretty much no mans land; we were up on the edge of the cliff section of the island, but inland far enough that it was just like a run in the woods on a 2 rut road. There were few rocks and only slightly more roots for obstacles. After 15 miles I was around the pace that I thought was possible, 7:39 min/mile for a total time of 1:54:49.

I knew that I was in for a difficult next 6 miles with 1 minor and 1 major hill climb (over a 2 mile stretch culminating at mile 21) but I had no idea that they would be precluded by another stretch on the beach. As wonderful as a though of having my picture taken with the cliffs of the island and the early morning Lake Superior shoreline in the background, traversing across the soft sand I was moving at a snails pace with miserable form and I felt like I was running through concrete.

I no sooner came off the beach to an immediate hill climb before the next aid station. It was slightly motivational to see a small group of people at the mile 16 aid station, but then there was a lonely stretch ahead. The next six miles from 15 to 21 involved another fall and 2 separate stretches of walking to the final ascent of the run. After 9 minute miles for a total of 54 minutes over the 6 mile stretch, I had dropped my overall pace from 7:39 down to 8:03. Seeing a 25 second drop in just 6 miles really had me down, not to mention that the most recent fall had left me with pain in my left foot. I wasn't sure how bad, but I knew that I had done dome damage to my left big toe and worsened a possible blistering situation between my two smallest toes.

Part Two

This is where it all turned around for me though. I was through the toughest stretch of the race and though I had been passed twice in the last 6 miles I hit the last aid station, refueled and caught my second wind. My dad had been mountain biking from aid station to aid station and when I saw him at mile 21. He shouted words of encouragement but little did he know what was coming next. I knew that I needed more than encouragement, more than a refill of HEED and more than a Power Gel. I asked him to ride along with me. The spans between runners was great enough and I was in no danger of winning, so I thought that it would be helpful for me and something exciting for him as well. In the 5 previous marathons, he and my mom had always hopped along the course, but he never had a chance to see me for more than 10-15 seconds.

It was kind of comical to watch him move his bike from where he had carefully parked as to be out of the way at the aid station, to the trail where he could get on and start to peddle. When you run a tough marathon, even a little humor like this can help provide additional motivation.

So together we took off, over a two mile stretch in which I would reclaim all of the elevation in the form of loss that was gained up to mile 21. Miles 21 and 22 were much stronger and more along the pace that I should have been running all along. We talked a little while I ran, but mostly it was just having him ride slightly behind me that was compelling me forward. He kept telling me that I looked strong, that should keep going.

At mile 23 I decided it was time to make a move. I could see a couple of people in the far distance ahead of me and I knew that now was the time to take advantage of the fuel left in the tank after a conservative start; after all, that is my game… start slow and finish strong. I picked up the pace from 8+ minute-miles to sub 7’s. Within the first mile I passed 3 runners. I didn’t just pass them though; I blew past them. If you have ever done this or had it done to you, you know what it does. It makes the person that you are passing feel belittled and weak as they see how strong the person passing is. I use my passing gear as I run past these 3, and after a short off course loop (to make up the difference to 26.2 miles I am sure) I have but one more person to pass. Within a quarter of a mile, I overtake him and as I leave him in my dust, I hear him complaining that I had cheated and not taken the side trail. This was one of the few people to pass me before the hill climb and now that I strongly passed him, I think that it agitated him to the point where he couldn’t believe it. I simply murmured that I had taken the side trail, and basked in a little glory of running so strong this late in the game.

At mile 25.5 I finally admitted to my dad that I was tired. He joked about how he couldn’t understand why, that I had only been running for a few hours. His joking tone provided another nice lift for my spirits and my tired legs. We started to see a few more people along the trail, and I knew that we were close. I had asked my dad to stick with me until mile 26 before he biked ahead for picture opportunities. I did have a chance to possibly pass one more runner, and even though I was able to close a 60 second gap down to 15 seconds, I couldn’t get any closer.

As I made the final turn just after mile 26, we were back at the start section where all of the 10k and fast marathon finishers and spectators were gathered. This is my favorite part of the marathon. I forget about the pain hard work that it has taken to get to this point; not just during the race, but the countless hours of training to be in this position. I smile from what I am sure is ear to ear, yet I am still focused and don’t raise my head much; I keep focused on the ground 6-10’ in front of me, as this is still a trail. My way of acknowledging the crowd is by a small wave with my right hand, while keeping my arm relatively low. It is this 60 seconds that makes me want to run another marathon, and another beyond that. The benefit of the narrow shaded trail for the last 26 miles was great, but having people line the end of the race feel pretty cool.

I run through the finish, seeing that my time was all three’s; 3:33:33. I make sure to smile for the pictures before turning my left arm and lifting it high enough to stop my gps.

Laura and my mom and dad are at the end to congratulate me making sure that I am alright. It is probably a funny sight to see, how a marathoner can just have run 26.2 miles as fast as they can given the course and the conditions, but they are completely helpless when it is over! I can’t stand up straight that well, and basically need assistance with just about everything.

Relishing in the fact that Lake Superior’s waters are just a few feet from the finish line, I strip off most of my clothes and join the other runners who are now standing waist deep in 50 degree water. The icy cold water hurts but I know that it is helping to pump the blood from my heart to my extremities and push out the excess lactic acid and waste that my muscles have produced over the last three and a half hours.

What more could you ask for after a marathon but an icy cold bath in 3 quadrillion gallons of water?

After the race, I hear stories of how the lead two runners, that started out standing next to me at the starting line, battled it out over the entire race. Apparently they ran shoulder to shoulder, taking turns passing each other and leading, until a great photo finish. In the end, the 2nd place runner from last year overtook the more senior runner and preventing Jim Harrington from winner his 3rd Grand Island Trail Marathon. I wish that I could have been there along the course to see the battle and at the end to witness the final push. In the end they were separated by a mere 4 seconds.

After the swim was over, it was time to board the ferry again and head back for the mainland. There is a good chance that I will never be back on Grand Island ever again, but the few hours I spend on them in the early hours of July 28th, 2007 will live on in my memories for many years.


So you may have noticed in many of these pictures that I was sporting a really bad mustache and sideburns. This look isn’t something that is generally worn in today’s day and age and other than playfully joking that I would shave my beard and go with a mustache to antagonize my wife, I have never had one. So why did I do it?

I was hoping to pull a little boost from the early 70’s Steve Prefontaine look! I thought at one point that I was the only one who knew what I was up to, but as I passed one of the runners who had taken to a walk in the hill climb from 18 to 20, and I patted him on the back, mentioning that this was a humbling race, he looked at me and said, “I know what you mean Pre.”

The End

Thanks to Laura, Mom and Dad for their help on this race. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

2007 Harry Williams Track Meet

Harry Williams All Comers Track Meet in Madison, AL

It was brutally hot and I was uncertain if I was going to race or not. I knew that I was going to watch Brian Robinson try to break the 5 minute barrier in the mile.

In the morning I went rollerblading with Siri so my legs weren't entirely fresh for the race.

The field was small, only 15 or so, but it did feature Dennis Eaton and Conrad Meyer. This 5km was 12.5 laps on the track. Based on times, I started in the 4th lane (4th fastest 5km times). ran behind Dennis Eaton and a high school kid for 5 laps then Dennis dropped out (dehydrated) and on 6th lap I overtook the kid and held on for a 36 second win. Dennis and kid had done the 1 mile race also so they weren't that fresh either. I had Laura hand me a cup of water on each lap. By the end it was under the lights. It was pretty cool to do something like this, despite the heat.

I ran very even after a slow start of 301, then ripping off five 1/2 mile splits of precisely 256, 256, 256, 256, 256.

This was my first win in a race that was over 2 miles. It was kinda cheap but I will take it.

I did lots of recovery stuff (jog, endurox, banana, etc) when it was over as I had to prep for 18 miler the following day.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

2007 Cellcom Green Bay Marathon

I went into this marathon feeling stronger mentally and physically than ever before. Coming off of my monster month of April where I ran 300 miles, I had learned to run when tired and fight through pain and fatigue. The plan was to run smart and start slow, using the first 13-16 miles as a warm up. I wanted to be on pace to qualify for Boston (3:10:59 or 7:17 pace) by the time we turned north and started running into the wind. As the gun went off, I jogged through the first 3-4 miles at a slightly faster pace than planned, but feeling relaxed. I knew that the hundreds of people that went out ahead of me would soon falter since they wouldn't be able to hold the pace.

By mile 10 I was already on pace to qualify and about to enter a stretch of wind at my back. I then ripped off 7 miles in a row, averaging 6:57 pace. I could see the 3:10 pace group, which was slightly ahead of pace (knowing that they would battle the same 2-3 mile stretch of 15 mph head winds). Just before the turn, I was able to tuck in behind the pace group, who were running 12 strong and let them carry me and shield the wind. It turned out to be a smart move, because when mile 20 finally arrived and I met up with my pacer and good friend Brian, I turned to him and said, 'I want to drop these guys from sight in the mile'; and we did. I no longer watched my gps and splits, but ran how I felt. We ran the final 10km in under 42 minutes, pacing at 6:46. I began passing people quickly and getting stronger after each pass. I was getting many looks by people thinking that I was running the marathon relay because they couldn't believe how strong I was running. Running the final mile through Lambeau field and hearing the fans, including my parents who were cheering about going to Boston felt pretty awesome.

It's now a week later and it still really hasn't sunk in that I have achieved my ultimate goal. What I do know is that I ran a negative split race, running 1:35 in the first half and 1:32 in the second half. I also know that at mile 23 I told my friend Brian that I felt good enough to go 50km at the pace we were running... only me:) So it's time to adjust my goals and turn toward ultra marathoning. Next goal? 50km then on up. I really want to see how far I can really push my body.

My mantra for this race? A simple quote from Steve Prefontaine; "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift."

So Boston Marathon 2008 here I come. 4 years, 6000 miles, 57 races, 5 marathons and finally I accomplish my goal... I think that I will take a few weeks off before my next marathon in July:) Thanks to all of those who have helped me along the way. You know who you are!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

2007 ReCreation Run 5km

25th Annual Recreation 5km Jones Valley Huntsville, AL

It was pretty warm at the start of this race. I was in the middle of my biggest month ever for mileage, in which I would try (and accomplish) to run 300 miles in 30 days. This was with two days of rest, but lots of doubles.

I was hoping to put on a good showing as there were lots of Fleet Feet runners in this race. We went out strong and I managed to hold on. I lead Brian Robinson until the first cone turn around. Then he ripped off a burst of energy like he was in a slingshot on that cone. I kept him in my sights and actually caught up to him within a few meters at mile 2.9. It was all I could do to catch him and then he held on to beat me. I just didn't have anything left after chasing the entire time. He beat me by 3 seconds.

I finished 11/238 and 4th/10 in M30-34. My time was 18:24.


Saturday, April 7, 2007

2007 Scholarship Fund Run 8km

Scholarship 8k Downtown Huntsville, AL

It was 24 degrees at the start (9am) and partly windy with little sun. It was a pretty hill course, repeated twice, making two loops. The first mile was up for half, a dip then up again. This was repeated later. I stayed with the second pack through 2.25 miles, then fell back. I was up by 1/4 mile on the next finisher. or up by 45 seconds. The second set of hills into the wind is what hurt me most.

I finished 13th overall of 162 entrants and 2nd in M30-34 in 30:41. I thought that I could go 30:30 on the course, so 30:41 was right about where I thought I would be.

(307+257)=604 (0.971 miles 2nd split time)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

2007 McKay Hollow Madness Trail Half Marathon

McKay Hollow Madness Trail Half Marathon

What a change in weather over the course of a single week in Alabama! Last weekend it was icy and cold before my parents arrived in town. Then it warmed up to the 80's most of the week.

This was the first inagural event directed by my friend Tom Possert. It was a small field of only 52 people. Tom did his best to seed the entrants and I was numbered as 5th I went out on the first mile strong, going under 7:00 on the roads before hitting the trails. Then Mile 2 was easy on white trail. After that we went down Goat Trail and back up warpath on mile 3. I walked up most of War Path Ridge to conserve energy for late in the race.

After some quick aid, we ran down rest shelter into McKay Hollow. From there until mile 5 going up Natural Well was good running. Got into 4th overall by passing Brian Robinson who was feeling ill, and would end up dropping out later in the race.

I power walked up Natural Well again to save energy until later in the race when I would need it. At the turn at mile 7.3 I was only 1/3 mile behind Dink. I struggled going back out on Natural Well before Arrowhead. I saw Joey Butler and felt pretty energized.

Then my inability to run downhill caught up to me when Chad Davis passed me. This was also about the time that my ankle started bothering me. I walked a little more and more to mile 11.9 at the base the Death Trail. I walked the entire hill. At the top I saw Laura and my Mom and then muttered enough strength to run to the finish, albeit in pain.

Overall it was a decent race, but have to improve on trails and get ankle better before Mountain Mist training later this year. I finished 5th overall in 2:05:36. I was hoping to go under 2 hours, but I dad no idea how hard the trails would be to race on.

My splits where: 652, 701, 845, 801, 755, 1158, 728, 822, 750, 901, 759, 1703, 1341 (1004+337). I did loose signal on my GPS so my splits weren't all correct.

My Dad was at the turn and the finish, which was pretty cool to have him see me run this race.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

2007 Rocket Run 10 miler

Rocket Run 10 miler in Mooresville, AL

This was my first HTC race and first race wearing the Fleet Feet gear. The temperature was cool, and I started off with my Myrtle Beach short sleeve shirt under my fleet feet singlet.

The story of this race was that I went out too fast and lost it late.

I ran with Tom Possert for awhile, but then he dropped my quickly. I ran with Joe Francica and a small group for most of the race, up until mile 7. Then I decided to leave the pack at mile 7.3. This was so dumb now that I look back at it. Up until then we were taking turns running in front and breaking the wind. Up until breaking from the pack I was having a good race and a good time.

From miles 6.5 to 9 there were 25mph head winds which dropped my to 7 min pace. Once I was running alone, I was running alone into the wind.

In the last mile I was passed by Joe and at least one other runner who was in the pack from earlier in the race.

I finished 17th of 225 and 4th in my age group. This was a disappointing race for my first HTC and FF run.

Splits where: 6:11, 6:13, 6:24, 6:24, 6:23, 6:23, 6:30, 6:36, 6:47, 6:35.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

2007 BILO Myrtle Beach Marathon

I partially wanted to go to Myrtle Beach on February 17th to run a personal best, but mostly to give me something to focus on and work toward given the tumultuous period that I was going through with stresses of a new job and a move across country. I knew that it was a flat fast course, but my training had not been that intense nor motivated. I pushed upward to a peak of 65 miles a week, but 25% of my total was spent in a simulated running motion on an elliptical and another 25% on my new found passion for technical trail running. As I look back, I was really only running 3 quality days per week, yet working out every day of the week and doing virtually no speed work. So early January I finally committed to running the marathon and booked my flight travel.

When the race day finally arrived, I found myself standing amongst 2500 marathoners and 3500 half marathoners in front of Coastal Carolina Field, waiting in 28-degree weather at 6:30 for the gun to go off. Up until that point, I had planned on running 3:14:54, which at a pace of 7:26 per mile would have been a marathon PR by two minutes and be something that I felt was a safe attainable goal. In the Eastern Time zone the sun doesn’t rise in mid February until well after seven am, so the first few miles would be run in the pre-daylight. I chose to follow my 2006 Green Bay Marathon strategy of starting out slow, picking up the pace mile by mile until eventually I would be running the final 6 miles at sub goal pace. I didn’t want an 8-minute negative split like Green Bay, but I did want to finish strong, passing people at the end, as compared to my 2006 Chicago performance where I tried to even pace and fell off the earth late in the game and finished poorly. In fact, of the top 1000 runners, only 243 ran negative splits. Mine was 1:54.

So that’s the way it started; I let a thousand runners take off in front of me, though I was just three deep at the start line. I stuck to the plan through the first few miles, and kept lowering the pace per mile as planned through mile six. The sun finally broke as we turned south and ran along Ocean Blvd. There were so many hotels along the beach on our left that the sun didn’t peer through that often, but that in combination with running was enough for me to warrant dropping my long sleeve shirt, and going with the customary Sugoi tri top with Nike ‘short’ shorts, gloves and an underarmour beanie for the rest of the race.

Through mile 10 I continued to feel good as we made the turn to head north, and though I was about a minute faster than my goal split for 10 miles, I was still following the plan. I continued to drink water and Gatorade at alternating water stations, located every two miles. As we approached the finish in the reverse direction, the half marathoners split off for their finish, while we pushed ahead north, with 13 more miles to go.

At mile 15 I suddenly began to realize that instead of the 7:25’s I was to be running for the last few miles, I was running 7:10’s and began creating a larger differential between my 3:14 goal time and a vast new PR. I refused to commit to trying to push the pace and try to qualify for Boston at that point, because I know that so much can happen in the last 10-16 miles. Instead I ran mile by mile, telling myself that I would re-evaluate the situation at the end of the next mile.

For the most part now I was running alone; with only a few marathon relay teams running my pace. I began to pass people two or three at a time and moved my way up the rankings. At mile 18 I found myself to be averaging 7:15 pace and just before the turn away from the ocean, I passed the 3:10 pace group. There were 6 guys running with the pacer, and for a moment I considered staying with the group. Their pace seemed to be right on track, but I decided to pass them, knowing that as long as I stayed ahead of them, that I was assured of a qualifying time, because when you are a pacer, you guarantee that you will hit your mark. I think that I read once that in order to be a pacer at a certain time, that you have to have run a recent marathon at least 20 minutes faster than your pace time. So as I pass the 3:10 pacer, I assume that he has run 2:50 in the recent past and that we will take his group to the end at the desired time.

I suffered a fairly severe set back at mile 20.5, as my GPS lost it’s signal. This still baffles me, as I was in the middle of a completely flat section of the course with clear skies and no buildings around me whatsoever. In hindsight, I should have turned it off and then turned it back on in an attempt to find the signal again. At that point, I feared that if I lost my overall time, I wouldn’t be able to calculate in my head where I needed to be at each mile marker to stay n track. Now I realize that I knew where I was for an overall pace, and that is what realty mattered; pace, not time.

I continued to run each mile just like that; 1 mile a time. I passed 50 people in the 2nd half of the race, with 18 of those coming in the last 10km. I was only passed by two people after the halfway mark.

Along the entire run, I had my Motorola Razr with itunes in the lower pocket of my tri-top, playing a mix of tunes that would motivate me. At mile 25.5, I heard the theme song to Chariots of Fire. I laughed out loud because it was like the making of my own movie where I was running barefoot like the find in the tide of the ocean. Though it was inspirational, it was at that point that I realized that I wasn’t going to make my time. I wasn’t up for higher order differential equations after running 26 miles, but I knew that in 5k’s it would typically take my 38 seconds to run the last 0.107 miles, so I assumed that to run the last 385 yards (about 0.2 miles) at my current pace, I would need about a 2 minute buffer to hit 3:10:59. So as I passed the 26 mile mark and turned into the parking lot of Coastal Carolina Field, my heart dropped as the mile marker time was at 3:09:15. I knew that with all of my might and desire that I couldn’t make up 15 seconds in 385 yards.

I pushed as hard as I could but as I approached the finish, I saw the clock change to 11 minutes over 3 hours and I knew that it was over. I would come close; closer than I had ever been; 5 minutes and 30 seconds faster than I had ever run a marathon, but not fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

I crossed the finish line with a gun time of 3:11:16, later to find out that my chip was 4 seconds faster at 3:11:12, and missed my mark, the mark that I never really decided to admit that I was shooting for until I didn’t make it. Isn’t that an ironic statement?

I muddled around for an hour after the race in my rain poncho (as they didn’t supply Mylar blankets) using anything to cover up with, as the temperature never rose above 39 degrees. I hoped to hear the overall results, wanting to know how I faired before making the pilgrimage back to the car and lifting my tired legs into the rental car and driving back to the hotel. After 30 Oreos and at least another 30 white creme filled cookies to replace some of the 5000 calories I had just burned, the first two pages of results were hung on the side of a semi truck that blocked off an area where a local band played ‘Proud Mary’. Reluctantly, I made my way to the results, fearing what I would find what I already knew. Knowing that I couldn’t go back to an icy bath to help ease the pain and start the recuperation process until I saw my time and pace. I started from the top down, seeing that the winner ran 2:30, and only a handful of others were even close. I finally found my name next to the number 70, indicating that on this near perfect race day that only 69 of the 2500 marathoners competing were able to run faster than me. I didn’t know it at the time, but this placed me in the top 3% and means that I was successful in finishing within the top 5%, a goal I set for myself at the start of every race, no matter what the distance.

I don’t think that I actually shed any tears, but it was a fairly emotional time. I had just run 11 seconds faster per mile than I had ever run this distance at, and I finished 4 minutes faster than what I had set out to run. That said, I wouldn’t be joining many of my friends in Boston this April. I didn’t know anyone else at the race, so there was somewhat of an empty feeling of not being able to celebrate my time, or the success of any other runners that I knew.

I made my way back to the car, then back to the hotel, then the following day back to Huntsville ; home. Now that I have had quite a few days to reflect on the situation, I feel very proud of what I was able to accomplish, and I feel even better that so many of my friends, both running and non running, and family have been very supportive of me.

So as I sit in my window seat on a flight back from a 3-day work trip to Seattle , I realize that I have already set my next goal. In less than 90 days I will run another marathon in Green Bay and hopefully on a flat fast course I will set out to not qualify again, and hopefully I will discover 13 seconds along the course of 26.2 miles. Finding 13 seconds and accomplishing a goal that I didn’t think, that only 4 months ago, when finishing the Chicago marathon, that I would be able to achieve before turning 35.

What is the moral of the story?

In the marathon you have to run smart. You have to run your own race. Go out slow, hydrate properly, build momentum over the distance and begin to feed off of the adrenaline rush that you get by running a negative split. It doesn’t feel very good to hang on after mile 20; it feels phenomenal to continue to drop your pace per mile through the tape. Realize that it isn’t so much about the marathon itself. It is about the months of hard work and training; it’s about the people who help you in your training and support your efforts to compete. Yes, it’s about preparation and execution, but in the end I realize that mostly it’s about respecting the marathon for its utter ability to break you down, to inflict so much pain, yet to result in some much joy when it was over. It’s also about having an appreciation for the gift that I have been given to run fast over a long distance.

Am I the last one to realize this?

So whatever pace or distance you run, don’t take it for granted There are millions of people in the world who can’t run as far as fast as you.

Thank you for reading along.