Sunday, November 13, 2011

Major Dream

On October 3rd, 2005 I ran my first marathon; it was an utter and epic failure. On that sunny day in Milwaukee, I ran the first 16 miles in two hours. It took me two hours and 55 minutes to walk the next 10 miles. My debut marathon was a 4:55 and I was in tears.  Any thoughts of running a Boston Qualifying 3:10 were so far from reality that I wondered if I would ever run another marathon.

I did.

In the spring of 2006 I trained smarter, not harder, and ran the Cellcom Green Bay Marathon.  On a perfect weather day, I was able to run 3:18 and officially had caught that marathon bug.  Despite the throbbing pain in my legs, I started to wonder if I'd ever been good enough to run at Boston.  Dreaming even bigger, I knew that somewhere along the way I would like to run all three of the U.S. marathon majors; Chicago, Boston and New York.

So I wrote it down on my bucket list.

While I thought that since I was so close to qualifying for Boston that it would be easy, I failed on my next attempt.  In doing so, I managed to complete step one of my goal and finish the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon in 3:16 in October of 2006.

Then on my second attempt to qualify for Boston in South Carolina at the Myrtle Beach Marathon I failed again.  This time I was a kick away from making the mark, as I finished in 3:11:12 and missed the mark by 13 seconds.  I was more heart broken in coming so close than I was in my near five hour finish in Milwaukee. The dejected look on my face tells the story of how I was feeling.

Despite the continued failures, I tried again in May of 2007 at Cellcom Green Bay Marathon.  This proved to be my day and with my parents sitting in Lambeau field at mile 25 to cheer me on, I was able to run 3:07 and finally qualify for the Boston Marathon.  The second leg of my marathon majors dream was not set into motion.

I would go on to run Boston in April of 2008, finishing just under the time I needed to requalify for the following year, notching a 3:09.  Chicago.  Check.  Boston.  Check.  Now was it possible to break 3 hours in the marathon?

In December 2008 I laid it all out on the line and after logging numerous hundred mile weeks and training to the breaking point, I raced Rocket City Marathon to a 2:54.  I felt like I had finally arrived as a marathoner and wanted to take my game back to Boston for another shot.

Boston 2009 went much better as I was able to stick with Dink Taylor for the first 16 miles before the Newton Hills and after struggling through to Boston College, was able to hold on to run 2:56.  Two marathons in a row under three hours.

While getting into Chicago was a matter of registering early enough to run amongst 40,000 other people, it took qualifying to run on Patriot's Day in Massachusetts in 2008 and 2009.  To get into New York, I would either have to be lucky and gain entry through the lottery, or I would have to bypass the lottery with a fast marathon time.  That would mean running under 2:55 again and after struggling to a 2:58 at Rocket City in late 2009, I wondered if I could do it again.

So in June of 2010 I started training to run my fastest marathon ever.  I put together a brutal training plan and booked a flight to Sacramento, where I would test my skills at the ultra fast California International Marathon.  After hitting some very fast times in training, including a 1:15:32 half marathon, I felt like I was ready.  Then on race day in early December, everything came together and I was fortunate enough to run a 2:43:40 which would ensure my entry into New York.  The final step of my marathon dream was not one step closer to reality.

In February, I ran a miserable 2:48 at Mercedes Marathon which was part of left over fitness from Sacramento as I had not done any training since December as I was suffering from burn out.  Despite the 1:20 / 1:28 splits, it still was my second fastest marathon ever and 5th marathon in a row under three hours.

So with that finish in Birmingham, I decided it was time to run New York.  With my 2:43 and 2:48, I was able to bypass the lottery and was accepted.  Ten months later I would be in the Big Apple.

Training for New York started late in the summer and with the heat of Alabama, was not coming along very well.  I was able to pick it up in September, but felt like I was a month behind where I needed to be, given the race was in November and I was used to training for a marathon in December.  The race times were where they needed to be, as I was able to run several 5km races under 17 minutes and at a fitness check half marathon in Winchester, Tennessee, I hit 1:16 on a hilly course.  The only thing that I was lacking was quality long runs, having only gone over 20 miles once.  So I was in great half marathon shape, but combined with an ailing right knee, shooting pains in my left inner calf and a possible torn rotator cuff, I was worried how the race might go.

The race started out warm and with a tough climb on the Narrows Bridge.  I mostly held 6:10 pace for the first 10 miles, but was struggling on the rolling hills of Brooklyn.  I split the first half in 1:22 but but the base of the Queensboro Bridge, I was starting to drop off quickly.  The climb of that bridge over to Manhattan and the head wind seemed to break my spirit and I had slowed drastically.

The blessing of the day was at mile 16 when in the middle of the largest single day sporting event for number of spectators, with millions and millions of fans, I was able to spot Anne in the crowd.  I told her that it was not my day and she told me that quitting was not an option and encouraged me to hold on.  It was amazing that I was able to see her and it was the motivation that I needed to finish.

So trying to keep it under 2:55, I knew that I had to run around seven-minute miles for the final ten miles to make it.  It took a lot of hard work and complete concentration to hold that pace as the effort I was putting into that pace was very difficult.  By mile 23 I realized that I had slipped even further off of pace and I would have to run under seven-minute miles for the last 5km to break 2:55; a pace I had not seen since mile 14.

The final two miles in Central Park were mostly a blur and my legs were tingling.  I didn't know if that meant they were ready to give out or not, but I pushed ahead, knowing that I did not have much room to spare.  Making the final turn near Columbus Circle I could begin to see signs in metric noting the distance remaining.  First 400 meters, then 200 meters, then 100 meters... I had nothing left at the end so there was never a final kick but I didn't need it.  I was able to keep it under 2:55 and reach my B goal and run 2:54:44.

I had held on to finish my seventeenth marathon, with the final six marathons raced at under three hours.  More importantly, I was able to realize a dream of completing the three major marathons in this country.  A dream set into motion more than five years earlier.

I feel tremendously blessed to have been given the gift to run, the motivation to train hard and the determination to keep trying after failure.  These medals have been a dream of mine for a half decade, but the glory of finally earning them all goes to God.