Memo to self: racing hurts

After taking a few weeks away from the racing scene, I was itching to put on the Mizuno uniform again and hit the roads.  I wrote last week in my pre-race report about the need to harden myself to racing again.  In my mind, you just can’t simulate the pain of a race during a workout, which is why I prefer to get a few races under my belt before I toe the line for any marathon.  And with the Chicago marathon a little more than a month away, it was time for a tune-up.

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If hardening was what I was going for, hardening is certainly what I got at Monday’s US 20k Championships.  Race time temperatures were just north of 70-degrees, the humidity was listed at 100%, and the dew point was 73.  Everyone racing in New Haven that morning was about to lose some serious LBS.  That’s real sweat equity, people.  And boy, it didn’t take very long to begin sweating.  Even for a non-sweater like myself, a wardrobe change was needed before the race even started.

Knowing the weather was going to have an impact on the race, I wanted to make sure that I was conservative during the first couple of miles.  Despite holding back some during the opening 5k, I never felt comfortable, and never got into that racing rhythm.  I began to fall off pace around 8k and found myself being gapped by the group I was running with around the 10k mark.  The next 5k was rough; I was struggling to even run marathon pace and was feeling completed defeated by the humidity.

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Hot and humid in New Haven.

There were even several points during the race when I even considered dropping out.  But I was able to catch a second wind with about 4k remaining and actually finished the race pretty well.  I had spent the previous 4 miles moving backwards in both place and pace, but during the final 2.5 miles I managed to increase my pace and even fought myself up to 12th place, before losing a few spots over the final 200m.

At the 15k mark, I was pretty certain the number of positive takeaways from this race would be very limited.  But gutting out the last 5k and fighting to the finish allowed me to leave New Haven feeling good about the race as a whole.  In a lot of ways, this 20k race was a shrunken down version of a marathon in that I went through some of the same rough patches that pop up over the course of a full marathon.  And I’m glad that when things weren’t looking good, I was able to still salvage my race.  My time wasn’t as fast as last year (slower by 45 seconds or so), but most people ran anywhere from 90 seconds to 2 minutes slower than last year because of the weather.  So overall, I’m happy with how things ended up and am looking forward to these last few weeks of training leading up to the Chicago marathon.

Speaking of the Chicago marathon, earlier in the week, race officials announced the list of elite athletes who will be competing in the Windy City next month.  As one of the marathon majors, Chicago attracts some of the top names in the sport.  I’m excited to run against such great competition and have been training hard to improve on my time and place from last year.  The full list of athletes can be found here.

I hope everyone had a great Labor Day weekend.  Let’s enjoy September!

The Mizuno crew at our pre-race dinner.

The Mizuno crew at our pre-race dinner. Nice ‘stache, Patrick.

Stirring from the summer slumber

Hibernating is usually something reserved for the dreary months of December, January, and February.  But with a calendar void of any race results for the past 8 weeks, I feel like I have been in a summer racing hibernation of sorts.  With the unofficial end of summer coming this weekend, 2013 will go into the books as the least amount of summer road racing I’ve done in over a decade.  Instead of criss-crossing the country, racing every other weekend, I’ve spent the summer laying the groundwork for October’s Chicago marathon, while also managing to enjoy the easy lifestyle that embodies summers in Oregon.  Two months away from the road circuit has left me itching to get back to competing against someone other than myself.  Seriously, I just need to hear the sound of a pistol!

For now though, that sound will have to wait a few more days.  I’ll be back in New Haven, CT on Monday for the annual US 20k national championships – year #3 for me.  The hope is to build off of my good showing at the US half marathon championships in June.  But the main goal for this weekend, and the Rock n Roll Philly half marathon in two weeks, is to get my racing legs under me for Chicago.  I’ve learned that you can pound away at workout after workout, but those efforts will never replace the necessary hardening racing provides.  July and August were great; probably the best two months of training, both quality and quantity, of my life.  Now it’s September, which means it’s time to begin the process of sharpening the blade.  These next 6 weeks, that’s the fun stuff!

Look for a post-race recap early next week, along with more frequent updates over the next 6 weeks as Chicago draws nearer (the website will also be back from its summer hibernation!).  I’m excited about what lies ahead these next few weeks and I hope to be able to share as much of it with you as possible.

If you are wondering what I have been up to these past few months, know that I did manage to have a little fun between all the training runs this summer.  Below is a little photo montage from some of my West coast summer adventures.  Did I mention I love what I do?  Until next time, keep finding ways to do what you love to do!

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Field passes for A’s-Red Sox, courtesy Mizuno.

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Hike to top of Mount Pisgah for sunset, full moon.

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Hike to top of Mount Pisgah for sunset, full moon.

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Many a visit to Detering Orchards for some of that fresh, homegrown Oregon fruit.

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Afternoon in Oregon wine country.

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Crater Lake!

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Climbing stuff: some things you just never grow out of.

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Crater Lake. Just another West coast wonder.

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Making new friends.

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Eat and be happy.

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Sunset over the mountains.

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Sunset at Crater Lake lookout.

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Local Scandinavian festival. Two words: Abel Skivers! Google it.

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My first professional soccer game. They take this stuff seriously.

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Dexter Lake. Home of gravel road long runs with beautiful views.

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Eat and be happy.

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Willamette Country Music Fest.

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Always make time for a recovery nap.

Summer Racing Update

As I sit here on my back porch on July 7th, looking out at a cloudless and radiant blue sky, June isn’t the only thing I see in my rear-view mirror.  Although July began just a few days ago, my summer racing schedule can also be found in that same rear-view mirror.  Two races isn’t much of a summer schedule, but I was able to accomplish everything I wanted during my May-June training block and it’s time to make the transition to marathon training.  I am happy to announce that 14 Sundays from now, I will be back in the Windy City on the start line of the Chicago Marathon.

My finish at April’s Boston Marathon changed my perspective of what is possible going forward, and the results from last month’s USA Half Marathon Championships was a reaffirmation that I am on the right track.  Grandma’s Marathon, once again, hosted many of our country’s best half marathoners – almost 170 in total – and their commitment to bringing together such a high-caliber field resulted in probably the deepest US road championships in a long time.  18 men ran 1:04 or faster and 39 men ran under 65-minutes.  I finished 19th overall, and just missed dipping under 64-minutes, with a new half marathon PR of 1:04:01.

A 51-second PR is noteworthy under any circumstance, but this result was especially surprising considering the trouble I went through in the 10 days leading up to race day.  About a week and a half before the race I suffered a very high quad strain – doing what, I have no clue – that forced me to alter my normal training routine.  I had to cancel a few workouts and was limited to very short – and honestly, painful – runs.  After hobbling through the weekend’s runs, the plan was to test it on Monday with a handful of 150m striders after a short run.  It didn’t go well, and I was really concerned about actually being able to start a half marathon 6 days later, let alone finish one.  Luckily, I have access to a fantastic medical team, including a great physical therapist (Robert Wayner) and massage therapist (Michael Donawa) and after treatments on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday the pain had, for the most part, subsided.  A little ultrasound and massage work can do wonders for muscle strains!

I still went to the starting line that Saturday morning with a lot of uncertainty in my mind.  I hadn’t done anything hard, intensity-wise, in more than 10 days, and had no idea how my leg would feel at mile 2…mile 6…mile 10…or at the end – if I was even able to make it that far.  For me, this was a whole new territory.  Despite being clueless as to how I would feel during the race, I made the decision about 10 minutes before the start that I was going to go for it; almost purely because the opportunity to race against such a quality field, under ideal conditions doesn’t happen regularly.  Fortunately, the weather-gods in Duluth blessed us with pretty ideal conditions on the morning of the race: the temperature was in the high-40s and there was a thick layer of fog that made for a very Eugene-like late Spring day.

And went for it, I did.  The pace was quick for the start, with the leaders going through the first mile in the low 4:20s; 4:43 for me.  As the race progressed through the early miles, I found myself running with a group of a dozen or so guys.  We hit the 10k mark in 29:54, which is a 10k road PR for me, and only 5 seconds slower than my 10,000m track PR, I felt surprisingly good and the leg was holding up well.  However, I would be lying if I told you that I wasn’t at least a little concerned that an imminent crash-and-burn was on the horizon because of the fast start.  I hung on to the pack until we hit the hill heading back into Duluth, which is when I found myself trying to plug the proverbial leaking ship over the last 5k.  Despite my best efforts over the last few miles, I just missed finishing under the 64-minute mark, settling for a final time of 64:01.  63 has a much better look to it than 64 – apologies to fans of the number 64!

After the race, I was a little mad at myself for “falling asleep” during the 10th and 11th miles, because that is what ultimately cost me being under 64-minutes, and also for not being able to move with the group I was with, as many of them ran in the mid-63’s.  At the same time, I was pleased that my leg was able to withstand the pounding of a hard 13.1 miles, and I know more is in the tank.  And I know it won’t count for record purposes, but I was also happy about setting a few road PR’s en route to the finish: 29:54 at the 10k and 48:32 for 10 miles, a 42-second improvement.

Needing to make sure my leg was 100% recovered, I spent the next 10 days after the half marathon just doing some easy running.  I hopped into the local 10k race here in Eugene on the 4th of July, the Butte to Butte, and was able to win it for the second straight year.  It’s always fun to be able to sleep in your own bed the night before a race and then run both your warmup and cooldown straight from your house – talk about convenience!  All of that doesn’t compare to doing a race with many of the people you see and interact with on a regular basis.  No matter where I race in this world, nothing beats running in the place you live!

So what’s next?  My marathon training officially starts tomorrow and I’ll focus on that for the next few months – along with enjoying the beautiful Oregon summer that we get spoiled with!  My sabbatical from racing will end on Labor Day, where the plan is to race at the USA 20k Championships in New Haven, CT.  I’ve got a lot of miles to put in between now and then, but I am excited to see where it leads me this fall.

I have long-said that if I could manage to lower my half marathon times some, I would be capable of running even quicker in the marathon.  I am not where I ultimately want to be for 13.1 miles, but I am certain that last month’s race will be a springboard to a fast time in Chicago this fall.  I’ll be bringing my A-game come October!

USA Half Marathon Championship race splits – Powered by Garmin
Mile 1 – 4:43
Mile 2 – 4:45
Mile 3 – 4:45
Mile 4 – 4:53
Mile 5 – 4:58
Mile 6 – 4:44
Mile 7 – 4:54
Mile 8 – 4:55
Mile 9 – 4:52
Mile 10 – 4:58
Mile 11 – 5:02
Mile 12 – 4:57
Mile 13 – 4:53

Spring updates

Over the Memorial Day weekend, my Uncle Fritz graciously hosted a post-race cookout at the Pier abode, where I spent the afternoon catching up with family and friends.  In between his duties as host, and head grill-master, he managed to find time to criticize length of my recent posts.  To summarize, they are too long for his liking.  So, this one is for you Uncle Fritz: a short, and overly succinct, summary of the past six weeks.

I spent nearly as many days back in Ohio (11) as I did in Eugene during the month of May (16) – I know the math doesn’t add up correctly, but I spent a few days in San Diego, too.  After visiting the Northwest corner of the state back in April, I made sure to include Ohio’s 3 other quadrants on this trip’s itinerary.  My trip began in Cleveland, where I ran a 10k in conjunction with the Cleveland Marathon.  Adjusting to the heat and humidity was a bit of a shock to the system, but I was happy with my time, and 5th place finish, given the difficult course and breezy conditions.  I had to start somewhere after Boston.

lMy vagabond trip across Ohio funneled me from Cleveland to Athens for the middle part of the week.  There is no such thing as a bad trip to my old stomping grounds.  I managed to re-introduce myself to a few of my favorite training routes and enjoyed seeing so many familiar faces.  Shout out to Carsey’s Barbershop, and my main man Alan, for filling me in on all the Athens-happenings while I was away.

A quick jaunt over to Dayton finalized my tour de Ohio.  On Memorial Day, I ran a 5k, which the first time I had done one of those in a few years.  If the goal was to not completely embarrass myself, then mission accomplished!  On a very Oregon-like morning, I managed to run 14:29 and finish 2nd.

Next up is the USA half marathon championships on Saturday.  For the 2nd year in a row, the Grandma’s marathon and half marathon will host the national championships.  For information on how to receive in-race updates and how to watch live video of the finish, click here.  Want to know who else is racing?  Click here.  I’d like to leave Minnesota with a new half marathon PR, which would be a good springboard to my fall marathon training block.

That’s all for now.  My regular, long-form prose will return next week.  Until then, enjoy the rest of June!

My 2013 Boston Marathon experience: irreplaceable highs & unfathomable lows

It was shortly before 1 p.m. on a sun-soaked, and perfectly vernal, Patriot’s Day in Boston.  I had just wrapped up a post-race massage and was making the short walk from the finish line area over to the Fairmont Copley Plaza hotel.  Thirty minutes earlier, I was busy putting the finishing touches on what was about to become the best race of my running career.  As I rounded the corner on Hereford Street, making the historic left-hand turn onto Boylston Street, these were the five thoughts bouncing around in my head:

  • I am already at mile 26?  Damn! That was the quickest 2-hour run ever.
  • I can’t believe I am at mile 26 and feel this good.  My hamstrings are still functioning!
  • The crowds are really big and really loud.
  • I wonder what place I am in, anyway?
  • This is the most fun I have ever had running.  I wish anyone who has ever run a step in his or her life could experience finishing the Boston marathon like this.  I can’t believe I get paid to do this!

The official Boston Marathon program will forever show that I finished in 10th place, with a time of 2:14:38, at the 117th rendition of America’s oldest footrace.  Not too shabby for a kid who couldn’t even crack the top-10 of Ohio’s division 2 state championships his senior year (I finished 11th place in both cross country and track – 3200m) and for a guy who left college with a 10k PR north of 30:00 (I ran 30:0x three times).

However, the 2013 Boston Marathon will forever be remembered for reasons far greater than a finishing place or time of anyone who ran that day.  The lives of innocent spectators, individuals who may or may not have known anyone personally running the marathon that day but decided to join alongside so many others to cheer on the masses, were forever changed by the malevolent acts of two deranged men.

For me, that has been the hardest thing to try and comprehend, and process, about the events that took place on Boylston Street that afternoon.  Running is such a shared experience.  In the months leading up to this year’s Boston Marathon, thousands of runners spent their time doing exactly what I did everyday – training – with the hope of reaching whatever goal they had set for themselves.  The winner of the race and the last person to cross the finish line share similar experiences.  That communal experience is transferred over to the spectators who show up at races to cheer on complete strangers.  As runners, we rely on those uplifting cheers of encouragement to help bring out the best in us.  The folks at LetsRun.com acknowledged the reciprocity between runner and spectator in their race recap:

“One unintended consequence of the bombings was they just reinforced and reminded us what a wonderful event Boston is.  Hundreds of thousands of people go and line the streets to cheer for loved ones and people they do not even know who have spent months of their lives training for this day. A marathon is a celebration of community, and the Boston marathon is such a celebration on a grand scale.”

It has taken me a few weeks, along with an impromptu trip home to Ohio, to finally begin separating all of the positive moments of the weekend from the senseless events of Monday afternoon.  Although I don’t feel like I will ever truly be able to celebrate my accomplishment without there being some sort of void, I am thankful to have received some many congratulatory and concerned messages.  Every phone call, voicemail, text, email, tweet, and message has helped me arrive at a point where I now feel like sitting down and writing about my experience, and all the positives that I will take from a weekend in Boston that will not be soon forgotten.

Pre-Race

I arrived in Boston on a cold and rainy Friday night.  My first thought when I stepped off the plane?  Glad we won’t be running in this crap!  It was shortly after midnight when I arrived at the hotel and I was starving.  Pizza sounded good, but after eight unsuccessfully placed phone calls, I gave up on that plan.  I opted for the next quickest thing: the 24-hour hotel room service.  After perusing the menu, I decided on a bowl of clam chowder – I was in New England, after all.  Ten minutes later, my long-sought-after dinner was delivered right to my door.  How much does that kind of service run you in downtown Boston, you ask?  That’ll be $20, sir: $15 for the chowder and $5 for the delivery charge.  Woof.

After sleeping in a bit on Saturday, in an attempt to keep some normalcy with my routine, I woke up just in time to throw on my running attire and rush down the stairs to meet my running mate for the morning.  The last thing I wanted to do is keep the fastest American to have ever run the Boston Marathon waiting for my sleepy butt.  Ryan Hall and I made our way over to the Charles River bike path for our easy run.  It was a cold, but clear, morning in Boston and the bike path was crowded with runners – fast and slow – going through some of their final tune-ups before Monday’s race.  I spent most of the 40 minute run with Ryan picking his brain about the nuances of the Boston course.  I figured if I’m going to get some advice, getting it from the 4th fastest marathoner in Boston history isn’t a bad place to start.

When I returned to the hotel, my boss at Mizuno was already patiently waiting in the lobby for me.  We had just under an hour before opening pitch of that afternoon’s Red Sox-Rays game, and as a die-hard Red Sox fan, Ron was itching to get over to Fenway Park.  I had just enough time to take a washcloth shower, throw on some warmer clothes, and devour a sandwich from the hospitality suite.  We made the short walk over to Fenway through the hustle and bustle of the marathon weekend crowds.  Upon entering the ballpark, one thing stood out to me: the traditional crimson colors worn by IMG_1040Red Sox fans had been replaced by the blue and gold colors of the Boston marathon.  Apparently, a few thousand other marathon runners had the same Saturday afternoon plans as Ron and I.  The game ended up as a pitcher’s dual between two of the MLB’s best: Jon Lester and David Price.  With the score tied at 1-1, nine innings weren’t enough and fans were treated to some free baseball.  The Red Sox would eventually score the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning, much to the delight of Ron.

Saturday night ended with a first-class dinner.  I joined all of the Mizuno employees in town for Marathon weekend, many of whom had just spent the past 10 hours at the expo working to spread the good word about Mizuno product.  Needless to say, they had worked up an appetite.  My meal on Saturday night was infinitely better than my “dinner” on Friday night – swordfish, some grilled vegetables, mashed potatoes, some brown rice and a glass of pinot noir.  The price was better, too!

Now operating on East coast time, my Sunday morning wake-up call was a little earlier, and a little easier.  I headed back to the Charles River path for what has become my customary day-before-marathon workout: 12 minute easy and light warmup jog, 2 x 1 mile @ marathon goal pace, followed by 4-6 striders and a 10 minute cooldown jog.  There are probably some who think that I’m crazy to do that kind of volume the day before a marathon, but after almost a week of easy running/tapering, I like to wake my legs up a little bit.  And hey, it seems to be working well.

Aside from the morning workout, there isn’t really a whole lot to report on from the rest of Sunday.  The elites are required to attend a technical meeting to go over race-day logistics and after that concluded, I went back to my room to watch the Masters/take a nap.  After dropping off my fluid bottles, I joined a group of Ohio friends for a pre-race pasta dinner in the venerable Boston Italian district.  I have been asked before to describe the feelings I have the day before a marathon.  It’s always a mixed bag of emotions ranging from laziness to anxiousness, and everything in between, which is usually why I sleep very little the night before a marathon.  Sunday night was no different.

Race Day

If you think I needed an alarm to wake up on Monday morning, well you could not be more wrong.  I was wide awake before the sun had risen, already playing the race out in mind as I laid in bed.  The 10 a.m. start time of the Boston Marathon actually gives runners a chance to “sleep in”, which was a welcomed change of pace from the traditional 3 a.m. wake up calls of most marathon race mornings.  The middle-of-the-night alarms are overrated – even on race day.

My habitual race-day morning routine consists of three essential tasks: 1) a check of the weather 2) a long, hot shower, and 3) breakfast.  I had to have all three tasks completed by our 7 a.m. A.I.S. (ass in seat) bus departure from the Copley Plaza hotel.  The race-day experience of an elite runner at the Boston Marathon is very different than that of the other 27,000 runners; we all make it from Boston to Hopkinton via bus, but that is probably where the similarities end.  We don’t have to wake up crazy early, wait in long lines to board school buses that drop us off in a field, exposed to whatever elements Mother Nature provides.  Quite the opposite, really.  Our charter buses are waiting right outside the hotel doors.  We then get a precisely choreographed police escort from the hotel to Hopkinton, where they drop us off yards from the start line at the Korean Presbyterian church.  Inside, the runners have access to food, beverages, and other essential pre-race needs, including the all-important, wait-free bathroom facilities.

For the next hour, I posted up against the wall of the church’s gym and observed the melting pot of cultures and languages that were assembled for the race.  As a kid growing up in homogenous Northwest Ohio – and that might be understating it – I don’t think I could have ever imagined being around such a diverse group of people.  Stimulation overload, people!  It was like people-watching at the airport, times 100.

After what seemed like an eternity, it was finally time to begin warming up.  Not that there is much of a warmup before a marathon race, but the 150m stretch of alley-way we were provided made for a “mouse-in-a-lab” kind of feel.  When we arrived at the church, I was trying to piece together why they had the alley roped off with tape, but when we went back outside to warmup, I understood why.  People actually showed up to watch warmups!  The whole atmosphere in Hopkinton was pretty wild.  A few hundred feet away, there were thousands of runners crammed into starting corrals, waiting anxiously for the start.  Spectators were frantically searching for an ideal spot to watch, and a few kids feigned interest in the posted signs to keep clear of the warmup area for a chance at a few autographs.  I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was just trying to keep my excitement level contained for a little bit longer.  This is why you run the Boston Marathon!

Final warm ups.

Final warm ups.

Once the wheelchair and female athletes got underway, they lined up all of the elite men and walked us out to the start.  We were escorted through a thick artery of humans – runners on our right, spectators on our left – directly to the start line.  What was I thinking at the time?  “Shit!  This just got real.”  When we got to the start line and I took my first strider towards Boston, I was stunned by the major downhill looming 50 feet in front of me.  You hear everyone tell you about the downhill start, but it doesn’t hit home until you actually see the dang thing.  They allowed us another minute or so of warmups, before they lined everyone up for introductions.  As we stood on the start line, a human-chain of retired Massachusetts track officials formed in front of us to keep us at bay.  So there I am, a minute away from the biggest race of my life staring right into the eyes of a 80-something-year-old.  And you know what his parting advice was to me?  A handshake, and a reminder that “Bahston’s thataway!” (pointing over his shoulder to the East).  30-seconds later, we were off.

Down the hill, we lead the charge out of Hopkinton.  The fear at Boston is that you will tear through the first mile, but I was surprised how relaxed and easy I felt as we approached the first mile marker.  Then I saw our time – 5:15 – direct feedback as to why I felt so good, we were crawling!  Everyone was still bunched together, feeling each other out.  Boston, unlike many of the major marathons, is run without pace-makers, which changes the entire complexion of the race.  The top runners cannot simply tuck in behind their designated “rabbits” and run; they have to race.

After plodding our way through the first mile and a half, things began to settle in as everyone approached the 5k.  At this point, a few of the top American runners – Jason Hartmann and Fernando Cabada, along with Candian Rob Watson – decided they were going to disregard what the pack was doing and run their own pace; they were out ahead of our chase pack by about 30 seconds or so.  I was surprised to see the African runners hang back like they were, and knew it would not be long before they made a hard push to catch up with Jason, Fernando, and Rob.  The thing that worried me was who else from our group would try to go with them.  When the break did happen, I was happy to see that all of the other American runners were content with letting the Kenyans and Ethiopians go.  By 10k, we had established a pack of 4-5 runners and had settled into a good rhythm.  Mile after mile flew by as we made our way through the different towns along route 135.

Our group, mid-race.

Our group, mid-race.

Shortly before the half marathon mark, a few more guys came up from behind us and joined our group.  All of the sudden we were 7-9 strong, feeding off each other and the crowd, tearing through the streets towards Boston.  Our group really got a jolt when we descended upon Wellseley.  The all-girls college has earned the reputation of loudest, and craziest, fans along the Boston Marathon course, and they did nothing to dissuade that theory as we rolled through; my ears were ringing!  I remember telling Daniel Tapia after we passed, “that was awesome.”  He looked at me, smiled, and agreed.  This is why you run the Boston Marathon!

We were entering the critical juncture of the race: miles 16-21.  The Newton Hills, followed by Heartbreak Hill.  I remember telling myself around mile 15 to stay focused and hang with the pack these next 5 miles, and then reassess where things stood at 21.  There were probably a half-dozen guys still a part of the the group as we made our way up the first hill.  To my surprise, by the time we crested that initial hill, our group was more or less cut in half.  The reason for surprise was because I felt like we didn’t push real hard on that hill, so it was a bit shocking – and at the same time, encouraging – to see some of the guys fall back.  I kept with my pre-race strategy for each hill – there are 4 in all – which was to not press too hard on the uphills and take advantage of the downhills on the other side.  When I crested the top of Heartbreak, I was out in front of the two guys who were still around, and at this point, I could finally see some of the guys up ahead in the distance.  That was all I needed to be re-energized!

I had made it through the hills, my legs were still very much underneath me and feeling good, and I had some targets out ahead to chase after.  This was exactly what I had trained for and imagined.  Rarely in sport do you get the opportunity to close the door on a plan-A, so I wasn’t about to miss that chance.  At this point, I knew I was having a good day, but it really came to a head when I started creeping up on Deriba Merga.  The Ethiopian has a rather impressive resume, including 4th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the 2009 Boston Marathon champion – the year I went out to watch.  Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined a scenario where I would be passing Deriba Merga, but it was inevitable now; I was going to pass him.  So what was my reaction?  Well, I about put a log in my shorts!  I have no business passing a guy like Merga, and for whatever reason, I was afraid of actually doing it.  So I moved all the way to the left side of the road (at the time, he was running on the right side of the road) and I ran like hell until I knew I was in the clear.  This is why you want to run the Boston Marathon!

By this time, I was rapidly approaching downtown Boston, the crowds were growing in number with each passing kilometer, and I had things dialed in.  I was running side by side with Daniel as we approached the 40k mark, our final fluid station before the finish.  As I pulled off to the right side of the road to pick up my bottle, I spotted one of the race volunteers who I had met the previous day.  When our eyes met, we shared a symbiotic smile, he gave me a thumbs up, and I was on my way.  It was a small gesture, but to me, that man represented all of the people who have helped me along this journey.  That moment will stick with me for the rest of my life.  This is why I ran the Boston Marathon!

IMG_1116Daniel and I went back and forth over the last 2k, but he had a little more in the tank over that final stretch.  I have never been more okay with getting beat by someone at the end of a race.  Without having Daniel to run with over that last 10k, I know I probably would not have finished as well as I did .  Sure, I hope the next time we race against each other I can beat him, but I wouldn’t mind running the first 26 miles with him again!

Post Race

I knew when I crossed the line that I had run a new personal best.  Despite this, my initial reaction upon finishing was that I had left too much in the tank; I felt too good for just finishing a marathon.  Sure, I had run 2:14, but I was a little surprised it wasn’t faster.  I can’t speak for him, but Daniel seemed to indicate the same thing when we talked afterwards.  Of course, when I finally picked up my bag, grabbed my phone, and realized that I finished 10th overall, my mood changed a bit.

BH6YcltCQAAv8OA.jpg_largeIf you saw me walking from the finish line tent to the hotel, you probably would not have guessed I just ran a marathon.  I was moving around surprisingly well and focused on one thing: food.  Once I re-entered the hotel, I went straight for the buffet line in the media room, loaded up my plate and headed back up the stairs to my room.  I plopped down on my bed, flipped on the tv to watch the marathon coverage, and just enjoyed a few moments alone.  Eventually, I walked back down to the lobby for some post-race interviews (see below) and that’s where I was when the bombings took place.

Some of you may want to know more about my experience with the bombings.  Sorry, but enough has been written and reported on that part of the story and I don’t really have anything new to add or share.  I do want to acknowledge all of the people who were on Boylston Street that afternoon.  Of the images that will forever be engrained in my memory, the most vivid ones are of the overwhelming number of people who, when the bombs detonated, ran to and not from.  I can’t begin to imagine what was going through their minds in that instance, but their response made me incredibly proud to call myself a distance runner and be associated with the running community, because they saved many lives.  I have long suspected that the qualities shared by distance runners make us unique and special people, and the real heroes from that day only strengthened this belief of mine.

Final Thoughts

Prior ever completing the Boston Marathon, the event had such a profound draw to me.  Finishing 10th in my Boston Marathon debut, made the event even more special.  But in light of what happened later that afternoon, I now feel like I share an inseparable bond with the race.  The marathon is such an emotional event because you become so invested in your one chance.  I knew going into this year’s race that I had a once-in-a-career-opportunity, especially when a few of the top American men withdrew with injuries, and when you get those chances, you have to be ready to capitalize.  Sure, I’m a little fortunate with how things played themselves out, but I wouldn’t have had the chance if I failed to adequately prepare myself.  And that’s what I am most proud of.  The race itself was good, but I did everything I could from a physical and mental standpoint to prepare.  Whether it’s in running or every day life, you have to be ready for when those opportunities arise!  It doesn’t hurt that I got some amazing help along the way, especially from my coach, Ian Dobson.

I hope to be back racing again in a few weeks, with some shorter stuff, as I build towards the US Half Marathon Championships in Duluth, MN.  Over the next month, I’ll also be working on plans for a fall marathon; I know there’s a 2:12 floating around inside me if I find the right race.  And as for next year’s Boston Marathon, I hope to be invited back, because I want to be a part of what will be a very special event!

Boston Marathon Mile Splits (powered by Garmin)

Mile 1 – 512
Mile 2 – 502
Mile 3 – 509
Mile 4 – 455
Mile 5 – 459
Mile 6 – 458
Mile 7 – 505
Mile 8 – 509
Mile 9 – 508
Mile 10 – 508
Mile 11 – 510
Mile 12 – 501
Mile 13 – 504
Mile 14 – 502
Mile 15 – 508
Mile 16 – 458
Mile 17 – 508
Mile 18 – 515
Mile 19 – 507
Mile 20 – 515
Mile 21 – 525
Mile 22 – 502
Mile 23 – 514
Mile 24 – 509
Mile 25 – 518
Mile 26 – 516
Last . 2 – 109