2013 is here. Time to run a marathon.

With 2013 still in its infancy, I decided to not waste any time getting my season underway.  I will be attempting my 5th career marathon, this weekend, at the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson.

After taking some downtime in the weeks following the Chicago Marathon in October, I decided to search around for some smaller marathons in December/January to use as a springboard to another big Spring marathon.  During my recovery, it became apparent that I would be better suited for a January marathon and the extra recovery time/training that I would gain.

As I began to look around, my choices were pretty limited because of my race criteria and weather.  It’s hard to find a lower-key marathon, during the month of January, with prize money, in a place where you don’t have to worry about trading in your racing flats for a pair of ice skates.  Luckily for me, the Mississippi Blues Marathon in Jackson fit all of the above, and the race directors were excited to have me compete in their race.

I walked away from my last marathon with some mixed some emotions (click here to read my Chicago Marathon recap – apologies for the 3 month delay in posting this), but I am ready to get back on the line and run another marathon.  The starting line of a marathon is becoming more and more comfortable to me.  It’s what motivates me.  It’s what excites me.

My training leading up to this race has been very different from any of my previous 4 marathons.  As a result, my race strategy for this weekend isn’t anything like what it was for each of my marathons last year; chasing a time was so 2012!  This weekend is about running for a spot on the podium – regardless of time – and having a much better final 10k experience than what I endured in both Houston and Chicago – 10k times of 33:51 and 34:14 is pedestrian, at best, regardless of whether or not I ran a hard 20 miles beforehand.

So there you have it.  That’s what I’ll be up to this weekend.  Just another marathon.  I’m hoping to start off 2013 on a positive note.  Also, I promise a more timelier race recap (New Year’s resolution?) than what was given after Chicago.

I hope everyone had a safe, and fun, Christmas and New Year!  I’ll catch up with you soon.  Be well.

Chicago Marathon recap

**Despite not posting this until 2013, know that it was written in the weeks after completing the Chicago Marathon in October…

Now that I’ve had a few days (**or months) to reflect on Sunday’s Chicago Marathon, I’ll try my best to recap everything from a busy weekend in the Windy City.

Pre-Race

I arrived in Chicago on Thursday evening and 156went straight to a dinner with the Mizuno crew, who was in town working at the expo.  Dinners with the Mizuno gang are never small affairs, but the amount of food – and meat for that matter (we ate at the Weber Grille) – put away that night was incredibly impressive, even by our standards.

After polishing off my steak dinner, I fulfilled the obligatory big-city requirement with a cab ride back to hotel.  A long day of traveling is, and will always be, the best solution for a guaranteed good night’s sleep – a comfy bed and nice accommodations don’t hurt either.

I woke up Friday morning with the anxious freshness that only occurs a few days before a marathon.  The downtown Hilton was located right across the street from the start/finish line in Grant Park, and the energy in, and around the hotel, was vibrant.

Some of the pent up excitement and energy was released later that morning during my shakeout run along Lake Michigan.  Every runner out on the path that morning, from the 2-oh-something-Kenyan to the 5-hour-something-first-timer-hoping-to-finish, willingly withdrew their game-faces long enough to shoot passing runners a smile and hello – an implicit way of saying good luck come Sunday.

The remainder of Friday was dedicated to tying up all the loose ends before Saturday: getting checked-in with race management, 039picking up the items you’ll need for Sunday, and doing some interviews with the media.  At the time, none of it seemed too demanding, but by 8:00pm that night I was exhausted.  My roommate for the week, Pat Rizzo, and I were both out by 9:00pm that night!

After what ended up being a busy Friday, the lack of planned activities for Saturday was welcomed by all of the runners.  It’s a day of rest and waiting.  The calm before the storm.  My parents made the trip into the city to meet me for brunch.  As we sat waiting for a table, I realized that the last time I had seen them was in May when I was home for the 25k Championships, which was almost 5 months ago.  Despite living 3,000 miles away, I’m lucky, and thankful, that my parents have been able to come watch both marathons I have run this year.  And they don’t seem to really mind that they may only get to see me run for a total of 2 minutes – even though my legs are spinning for over 2 hours.  Or if they do mind, they keep those grumblings to themselves.

I spent the rest of the afternoon finalizing all of the menial tasks that might normally take place on the morning of any other race, but on marathon weekend, pre-race paranoia forces you to spend time accomplishing said tasks the afternoon before.  I pinned all of the 15 bibs – ok so maybe it was only 4 – to my jersey and warmups and packed everything I would need for Sunday morning in my book bag on Saturday night.

The only thing remaining was one more sleepless night.

Race Day

The morning began at 3:30 a.m., with the sound of my alarm clock.  It’s one of the few times that an alarm clock, set for a time so annoyingly early, isn’t really needed.  That said, it’s always good to have one set.  Just in case.

I slipped on my shoes and hopped on the elevator down to the lobby to investigate what Mother Nature had thrown our way.  Although it was cold, it was dry and relatively calm.  All in all, great marathoning conditions.  Next up on the marathon morning ritual: breakfast.  One of the questions I get asked often is, “What do you eat the morning before a marathon?”  Well, I’ll spill the beans for everyone: a bowl of oatmeal, a banana, and a bagel.  Nothing crazy from this guy.  All foods that I know sit well in my stomach.

If the reality of what was about to take place hadn’t hit everyone before we were bused over to the start line, a police escort through the streets of downtown Chicago served as a pleasant reminder that there is a big race about to happen, and that I am part of the excitement.  As we swerve in and out of traffic, the thousands of other runners who are making their way to the start line know that the busses are carrying some of the fastest marathoners in the world and for a few brief blocks, we get a little taste of what it must feel like to be rock stars, as people wave and rush to get a glimpse of who is inside the bus.

Before you know it, the 4 hours leading up to the race have disappeared and it’s go time.  With ~37,000 other runners crowded behind myself and the other elites, the excitement to get started is palpable.  3…2…1…gun!

A few steps later, I am barreling through the city at a pace just over 5-minutes per mile.  After being penned up for the last 15 minutes before the start of the race, it’s no surprise that the early pacing is a little off for everyone.  After about 2.5 miles, I finally got myself locked into a pace that felt comfortable.  Several groups had already begun to form in front of me: a lead pack, and a second chase pack.  Luckily, I found myself running side-by-side with Mizuno teammate Patrick Rizzo, who I ran alongside during most of the Trials race.  Just before the 10k, Pat signaled to me that he was going to hang back for a bit, which left me with a tough decision to make: hang back with him and have someone to run with or forge ahead, risking running alone for a chance at a fast time.

From miles 6 to 14, I found myself running a solo effort through 185194_4626436659940_578146436_nthe northern suburbs.  The chase pack was about 60 seconds ahead of me at the halfway mark and the group behind me was about 40 seconds back.  I literally had the streets to myself for a good 8 or 9 miles.  Finally, around the 15-mile mark, I began gaining on a few runners who were falling off that chase pack.  As I caught, and passed, person after person, my confidence was building from moving up and running well ahead of PR pace.

At the 25k fluid station, I ran into a bit of bad luck – for the 2nd time in the race my bottle was not on the table where it should have been (another one of my bottles was knocked off the table at the 10k table as well).  At the time, the thought of missing 2 bottles did not seem all that bad; I was running well and still felt good.  But, looking back on it now, I suspect that the trouble I had later in the race was, at least in small part, a result of not consuming my electrolyte drink mix at two of the early stations.

By mile 20, I had worked my way up to the 3rd American and was just outside of the top-15.  Aside from missing a few of my bottles, the race was playing out exactly how I imagined it would.  Shortly after that 20-mile mark, I would begin to feel the first signs of what would ultimately be my body slowly shutting down.  Telling myself to relax, shaking out my arms, and trying to keep that steady cadence I had spent the past 1hour and 45minutes locked in on, I told myself to just try and hold 5:15s, because that would get me under 2:14.

Through mile 23, I managed to do that.  Unfortunately the last 6k, would be a different story.  What initially began as some tightness in my hamstrings and calves, suddenly turned into some very heavy legs.  Getting one foot in front of the other took REAL thought, especially in those final 2 miles.  As a few of my fellow American competitors passed me, there was nothing I could do to match their pace.  No amount of “will” or “determination” was going to stop my body from its freefall.

For the 2nd marathon in a row, I found myself slowly working towards the finishing line.  With 600-meters to go, the course throws its one hill at you.  It’s a hill that, on any other run, would not even cause anyone a second thought.  But after running 26 miles as hard as possible, that little hill turned into Mt. Chicago.  To this day, I’m not sure how I made it through the last 400 meters.   For the first time in my running career, I saw stars.  It truly was a blur.  Despite all of this, I made it to the finish line with a PR – even if it was only 4 seconds – had placed 20th overall, and finished as the 5th American.

Post Race

I guess the best way to summarize my race is that I ran great for 23 miles, ran poorly for the last 5k, and ended up with a respectable overall performance.  Part of me was disappointed, knowing that I was so close to having a breakthrough performance.  The other part of me knows that I was lucky just to finish, and that I should be happy with the PR.  And it took a few days to work through some of those mixed emotions, ultimately, realizing that I left Chicago with a new PR, a positive experience, and motivation to finish out one of these bad boys.

When I sat down and poured over mile-split after mile-split from the race, I couldn’t help but think of the similarities between Chicago and the Trials.  So I pulled up my splits from Houston and was shocked at how remarkably similar the two races were.  Take a look for yourself.  It’s similar enough to warrant some tinkering during my next marathon cycle.

Houston 1/2012

Chicago 10/2012

5

5

Mile 1

5:09

509

10:03

5:03

Mile 2

4:53

10:02

15:03

5:00

Mile 3

5:06

15:08

20:12

5:09

Mile 4

25:20:00

5:08

Mile 5

10:05

25:13:00

30:25:00

5:05

Mile 6

5:15

30:28:00

35:32:00

5:07

Mile 7

5:04

35:32:00

40:32:00

5:00

Mile 8

5:02

40:34:00

45:41:00

5:09

Mile 9

5:02

45:36:00

50:53:00

5:12

Mile 10

5:02

50:38:00

56:00:00

5:07

Mile 11

5:01

55:39:00

1:01:08

5:08

Mile 12

5:02

1:00:41

1:06:16

5:08

Mile 13

5:04

1:05:45

1:11:21

5:05

Mile 14

5:05

1:10:50

1:16:31

5:10

Mile 15

5:05

1:15:55

1:21:29

4:58

Mile 16

5:01

1:20:56

1:26:32

5:03

Mile 17

5:01

1:25:57

1:31:35

5:03

Mile 18

5:10

1:31:07

1:36:42

5:07

Mile 19

5:07

1:36:14

1:41:51

5:09

Mile 20

5:10

1:41:24

1:47:03

5:12

Mile 21

5:12

1:46:36

1:52:21

5:18

Mile 22

5:17

1:51:53

1:57:42

5:21

Mile 23

5:18

1:57:11

2:03:02

5:20

Mile 24

5:26

2:02:37

2:08:38

5:36

Mile 25

5:41

2:08:18

2:14:24

5:46

Mile 26

5:48

2:14:06

2:15:42

1:18

1:32

2:15:38

I am now about a month removed from the Chicago Marathon.  In the 3 weeks after the race, I enjoyed some downtime, with very little running.  As a matter of fact, my running log had almost as many off days (10) as it did days of running (11).  With a new month looming, I’m eager to resume some serious training and ready to hit the streets and trails of Eugene in the pursuit of becoming a little better each day.

Thanks to everyone who has been a part of the journey.  Your support and encouragement is what got me through those last few miles.  I’m looking forward to more PR’s and better finishes in the future.

Final Chicago Preparations

We’re about 24 hours away from “Go Time!” in Chicago.  [Addendum: Holy crap! I better start training.]  After a busy day of interviews yesterday, everyone will batten down the hatches today in preparation for Sunday.  I don’t really have time to fish for all of the videos and articles right now, so I’ll just spoon feed you the one I do know of, courtesy Flotrack:

http://www.flotrack.org/coverage/249774-2012-Chicago-Marathon/video/657366-Craig-Leon-Ohio-man-movin-on-up-2012-Chicago-Marathon

I’m heading out shortly for my final run before tomorrow’s race.  Because it’s a little different than what most do the day before a marathon, I feel compelled to share.  Whereas many marathoners will go for light, short runs today, I have a mini workout on tap: 2.5 mile warmup, 2 x 1 mile @ goal race pace, 2.5 mile cooldown.  Nothing crazy by any means, but different enough to elicit curious questions from those in the running community.

The genesis of the idea comes from my college coach, Mitch Bentley, who started playing around with a modified super compensation theory for a few races each year.  I have to admit that I had my doubts initially, but after seeing the success he has had with not only myself, but other runners he coaches, I have applied the principles of his theory to what I do in the marathon.  It’s really the only week of my training that is non-negotiable for me.  I have complete faith in it and that’s what matters come race day – a belief that you’ve done the training necessary to run your goals down.

There are a lot of ways to keep track of me tomorrow.  I will be wearing bib #29 on my red and black Mizuno jersey.  If you are unable to make it to Chicago, you can get updates on your phone by registering here.  NBC 5, the local Chicago NBC affiliate, will also be providing live TV and online coverage of the race on race day starting at 7:00 a.m. (CST): nbcchicago.com.  Someone from my entourage will commandeer my Twitter account Sunday morning and will be providing live, on-the-ground, updates at @cleonrunFloTrack will also be on-site providing live tweets and updates. If you plan on being down in the trenches on Sunday, you should check out the Chicago Marathon’s spectator information page.

The forecast for tomorrow morning is cool; great for runners, not so much for those watching (you better bring some warm clothes if you are coming into the city).  It’s a no excuse day for me: great weather, fast course, good competition, and a great training cycle leading up to the race.  Thanks to everyone for all the well-wishes, and crazy-ass support! You are all awesome!

Time to go have some fun…

[slideshow]

Sweet home, Chicago…

When you initially sit down and draw up a plan for something that will take place 3.5 months in the future, even as the looming date approaches, it’s as if your mind perpetually views the event as being arbitrarily distant.  Day-in and day-out, for the past 12 weeks, I have consciously followed a training program that has progressively evolved, in the hopes of arriving in Chicago a more finely-tuned, running version, of myself.  Throughout the build-up, October has always seemed so far away, which remained the case, until October actually arrived.

And now that October is finally here, so to is the race I have been preparing for since July 1st – the Chicago Marathon.  I can’t say that I always thought I would run the Chicago Marathon, because that just wouldn’t be true.  You see, there was a time when I thought running 8 laps around the track was too much, which is why I didn’t run high school track my FR and SO years.  The time when I wasn’t going to run in college.  And then the time when almost decided to stop running competitively in the midst of finishing up graduate school.  Truthfully, it wasn’t until I went to watch the Boston Marathon in 2009 that I felt this strong pull to run a big-city marathon.  With all of my ties to Chicago, it’s fitting that my major marathon debut will be in the city with broad shoulders.

I hold the city of Chicago very closely to my heart.  Growing up in Northwest Ohio, our family made countless trips back-and-forth along US-30, sometimes in favor of the Skyway, other times choosing to take the Loop, en route to visit my grandparents, who reside in Libertyville, Illinois (northern suburbs).  Memories of impromptu backyard wiffleball games, epic putt-putt matches on the patio, Christmas festivities, and delicious home-cooked meals still burn vividly in my mind.  There were trips downtown, to the Lake, to Wrigley Field (every once in a while, if GP got his way, we would go watch the Sox) or the United Center, plenty of rounds of golf on some of the nicest courses I have ever played, and I think the Leon family, at this point in time, may be able to claim a stake in partial ownership of Bill’s Pub and Pizza.  I am a Bulls fan who grew up trying to mimic MJ’s every move.  Popsicle in hand, I faithfully spent summer afternoons listening to Harry Carey, and watching Cubs games on WGN, after returning from swims at the local pool.  And yes, I do know how to SuperBowl Shuffle.

I’m not a native Chicagoan.  But, I’m the closest thing to it.

With just 5 days remaining before the race, there isn’t a whole lot of work left to be done.  Gone are the weeks of 120+ miles and the days of grueling, long workouts.  The week that every marathoner yearns for during the training cycle is finally here!  For the first time in months, my body feels rested and those initial steps out of bed are no longer painful.

I feel like I have gotten in the habit of writing this next statement about every training block leading up to each one of my marathons, but it’s true: this has been the best build up to a marathon of my career.  Along with receiving the tangible feedback of faster workouts and quicker races, I’ve managed to steer clear of little bumps in the road along the way, all the while increasing my overall volume.  It’s been the kind of 3-month training block that every runner dreams of having as they work towards a major race.  As a result, I won’t have much of a leg to stand on if something goes wrong on Sunday.  Even the weather forecast, which has colluded against recent Chicago Marathons, is shaping up to be ideal; I’ve always said that the best weather for marathoning is when those spectating are cold.

My group from the US Olympic Marathon Trials will also be in Chicago, as both Pat and Carlos are running this weekend too.

So where does all this leave me?  My marathon PB is currently 2:15:42, which I ran at the US Olympic Marathon Trials this past January.  The Trials marathon was just my 3rd marathon, and really the first marathon where I could say that I was actually “racing”.  And it showed, as I made some miscalculations that got me into trouble during the final 5k.  I think, and hope, that I have learned from each of my 3 previous marathons and now believe that I have a really good understanding of what I can, and cannot, do on race day.

Priority #1 this weekend is to leave Chicago with a faster PB than what I arrived with.  I won’t speculate on how much faster, but knowing how well everything in training has gone and looking at the forecast, I won’t be shy early in the race.  It’s not often that you get the combination of a fast course, perfect weather, great pre-race training, and a deep field, so it would be dumb to not put myself out there a bit.  For me, it’s always been about finding a rhythm early in the race, so for those keeping track, you’ll know by mid-way if I’m feeling good or not.  Aside from that, I would like to be one of the top-5 American finishers, and top-15 overall.

I thought I would wrap things up with a rapid fire Q and A, inspired by an email I received earlier this week from a college friend.  In it you will find information on how you can keep tabs of me on Sunday morning, what shoes I’ll be wearing, and what time I’ll wake up, along with a complete list of the men’s elite field.  I have also posted a few new videos on the homepage.  All of this should hold you over – or overwhelm you – for a few days!

  • What is your motivation going into the race this weekend?

To me, this race is all about running a fast time.

  • What color shoes will you be wearing this weekend?

I will be racing in the Mizuno Wave Ronin.  They are white, black, and red.

  • What time will you get up Sunday morning?

The race starts at 7:30 (CST), so I’ll wake up 4 hours before, around 3:30 a.m.

  • Who is your running hero?

Bill Rodgers

  • Do you have a song that you are listening to right now that is really pumping you up for the race?

I’m really into the new Mumford and Sons album right now.  Some of my favorite tracks include: Hopeless Wanderer, Below My Feet, and Holland Road.  Earlier in the summer, I adopted the song “Uncaged”, from the Zac Brown Band’s newest album, as my song for the Chicago Marathon.

  • How can I follow you on Sunday morning?

I will be wearing bib #29.  If you are unable to make it to Chicago, you can get updates on your phone by registering here.  NBC 5, the local Chicago NBC affiliate, will also be providing live TV and online coverage of the race on race day: nbcchicago.com.  Someone from my entourage will commandeer my Twitter account Sunday morning and will be providing live, on-the-ground, updates at @cleonrunFloTrack will also be on hand provided live tweets and updates. If you plan on being down in the trenches on Sunday, you should check out the Chicago Marathon’s spectator information page.

  • What are your plans for after the race?

I’m looking forward to spending the rest of the day after the race with family and friends.  It’s been a while since I’ve watched a Bears game with all of the Leon men – brother, dad, and grandpa – so I look forward watching the Bears pick up a “W” and having a beer.

2012 Elite Men’s Roster

Name, Country, Personal Best

    1. Levy Matebo, KEN, 2:05:16
    2. Tsegaye Kebede, ETH, 2:05:18
    3. Feyisa Lilesa, ETH, 2:05:23
    4. Dadi Yami, ETH, 2:05:41
    5. Shami Dawit, ETH, 2:05:42
    6. Laban Korir, KEN, 2:06:05
    7. Wesley Korir, KEN, 2:06:15
    8. Raji Assefa, ETH, 2:06:24
    9. Bernard Kipyego, KEN, 2:06:29
    10. Michael Kipyego, KEN, 2:06:48
    11. Samuel Ndungu, KEN, 2:07:04
    12. Takeshi Horiguchi, JPN, 2:09:16
    13. Dathan Ritzenhein, USA, 2:09:55
    14. Takeshi Kumamoto, JPN, 2:10:13
    15. Yuki Moriwaki, JPN, 2:11:52
    16. Hiroki Kadota, JPN, 2:12:25
    17. Jimmy Grabow, USA, 2:12:35
    18. Koji Kobayashi, JPN, 2:12:52
    19. Jeffrey Eggleston, USA, 2:13:12
    20. Jason Gutierrez, COL, 2:13:24
    21. Patrick Rizzo, USA, 2:13:42
    22. Drew Polley, USA, 2:14:58
    23. Patrick Smyth, USA, 2:15:00
    24. William Naranjo, COL, 2:15:39
    25. Craig Leon, USA, 2:15:42
    26. Diego Colorado, COL, 2:16:45
    27. Malcolm Richards, USA, 2:17:29
    28. Tim Tollefson, USA, 2:18:26
    29. Stephen Muturi, KEN, 2:18:51
    30. Thomas Frazer, IRL, 2:19:42
    31. Carlos Trujillo, USA, 2:20:56
    32. Sammy Kitwara, KEN, 58:48 (half marathon)
    33. Tilahun Regassa, ETH, 59:19 (half marathon)
    34. Stephen Pifer, USA, Debut

Building up steam in Philly

This past weekend, I traveled to Philadelphia to compete in one of the most competitive half marathons held in the US each year.  The Philadelphia Rock n’ Roll half marathon (formerly the Philadelphia Distance Run) is renowned for producing fast times and its past winners are among a who’s who in the distance running community.  The race’s prestige is bolstered by the fact that both the men’s and women’s US all-comers records – the fastest times run on US soil, by any runner, American or non – have been achieved here as well.

After the US 20k Championships on Labor Day, I felt like I still needed one more real hard effort before Chicago.  I just had to decide whether that hard effort should come in the form of a workout or a race.  As appealing as not traveling anywhere and just doing a workout in Eugene sounded, I knew I would be better served getting that effort in a race setting.  When I began searching around for some possible options, the Philadelphia race became an obvious choice.

Fast forward to Friday.  Because I was late in adding this race to my schedule, I departed from Portland rather than Eugene.  Despite cutting it a little close, I made it to PDX in time to catch my flight and was rewarded with an exit row seat, accompanied by a completely empty row – an almost unheard feat in today’s airfare travel.  Picture it, the smallest guy on the plane gets an entire row to himself.  Oh, and that row happens to be wider than everyone else’s row!  The trip was off to a great start.

The tide of good fortune quickly turned in Phoenix though.  I was unable to get on my red-eye flight to Philly and, as a result, would spend the night curled up, first on the chairs, and then on the floor, at the PHX Sky Harbor International Airport.  I thought, “no big deal, I’ve slept many a time, in many a place, without a bed.”  What I did not account for was the overnight cleanup that would take place in concourse B, the very concourse where I was trying to sleep.  Unfortunately, every available worker must have been assigned to sweep the carpet in this particular terminal.  Any chance at a decent night’s sleep was out the window the moment the first vacuum cleaner’s on switch was flipped.  Tossing from sleeping position to sleeping position, I pieced together what probably amounted to 3 hours of total sleep.  Not the most ideal sleeping arrangements 2 nights prior to race day.

The good news was that I made it out of Phoenix on the 7 a.m. flight to Philadelphia and was back in the city of Brotherly Love by 3 p.m.  Just enough time to get checked-in to the hotel, grab a quick bite to eat, attend the elite athlete tech meeting, and go for a shake out run.  Normally, this run would happen earlier in the day, but sometimes things don’t always go according to plan, so you have to be willing to adapt.  There are a lot of runners who might have given up on the thought of running well after everything that transpired, but I guess after years of unconventional travel with Ohio University, I’ve grown immune to these kinds of situations.  As odd as it may sound, a thank you is in order to Ohio’s head coach, Clay Calkins, for teaching me how to just go with the flow.  And anyways, I was too tired to worry about whether or not I would be able to race well.  I managed to stay awake long enough to have dinner with a Mizuno compatriot and his friends, but I was out in a heartbeat upon returning to my hotel room.  [Spoiler Alert: a big shout out to everyone at the table for running PR’s!]

When I woke up Sunday morning, I was ready to go!  The deep slumber, courtesy a very fine Marriot hotel bed, was all that I needed.  I made my way downstairs for breakfast and to cross off the most important item off any race day to-do-list: a quick check of the weather.  Sunny, 60-degrees, with a slight breeze out of the North, and 70% humidity was what Philadelphia had in store for everyone.  A pretty amiable mid-September forecast for the mid-Atlantic.  Any thought of not going for a fast time was immediately erased.  I knew I would be wasting an opportunity if I didn’t.

American Master’s 20k, 10k, 5k, record holder, Kevin Castille.

Once the race started, I found myself again working with the ageless wonder, Kevin Castille.  Both Kevin and I have been on pretty much the same race schedule all summer: US half marathon championships, Falmouth, US 20k Championships, and now Philadelphia Rock n’ Roll.  [side note: On Oct. 7th, when I’m in Chicago, Kevin will run the Twin Cities Marathon in Minneapolis.]  Just like we had done so many times previously this summer, Kevin and I linked up running side-by-side for the first half of the race.

We made it through the first 10k in 30:36, and I knew then, I had a good one in me.  I covered the next 10k in 30:54, giving myself a new 20k PR of 1:01:30, almost 40-seconds faster than what I ran in New Haven a few weeks ago.  Still, I felt great.  After a couple slower splits from miles 8-10, I was back to running low 4:50s and found myself slowly closing the gap on 2011 USA World Championship team members Scott Bauhs (10k) and Mike Morgan (marathon).  Although I would never get close enough to pose any real threat of beating either of them, they gave me a target to chase over that last 5k, which ultimately resulted in finally running under 65-minutes for the half marathon.  I finished with a time of 1:04:52, good enough for 11th place overall.

My intention going into this race was never to PR; I really just wanted one more good, hard effort prior to Chicago.  Last week, I logged 132 miles and did a 24-mile hard, long run that ended with a 5:12 last mile on Sunday.  Honestly, after the heavy week of training, I didn’t think I would feel good enough in the late miles to run under 65-minutes.  To my surprise, the best I felt all day was the final 5k.

So with 3 weeks to go, I find myself at the confluence of one of those rare moments in sport when everything is inexplicably coming together.  I have been in marathon training mode for 2.5 months, and somewhat incomprehensibly, I am completely niggle-free; the normal aches and pains, or tightness and stiffness, are nowhere to be found.  Added to that, I am tremendously confident in my training.  I’m not over-confident by any means, because the marathon distance still scares the crap out of me, but I have this very calming peacefulness about where things stand right now.  Quite frankly, I could not have scripted my lead-up to Chicago to go any better.

One of favorite bedtime stories as a kid was the Little Engine That Could.  Right now, I feel like that Little Engine.  I’ve spent the last 74 days working my tail off, climbing this mountain – we’ll call it Mount Chicago for the purposes of this story.  The journey is far from over: there remains 3 weeks of work to be done still, and then that small matter of completing the actual race.  But today, it sure feels like I’m that Little Engine, screaming down the mountainside, being thrust forward by a gravitational pull so strong it won’t let me not succeed.

I’ve got things dialed in right now.

Race Splits – powered by Garmin

Mile 1 – 4:51
Mile 2 – 4:53
Mile 3 – 4:57
Mile 4 – 4:52
Mile 5 – 4:59
Mile 6 – 4:54
Mile 7 – 4:57
Mile 8 – 5:01
Mile 9 – 5:13
Mile 10 – 4:51
Mile 11 – 4:54
Mile 12 – 4:54
Mile 13 – 4:47