Starting 2013 with a win

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My 2013 season began last weekend at the Mississippi Blues Marathon, in Jackson, MS, where I was able to win my 2nd career marathon with a come-from-behind victory.  Along with winning the race, I was able to set a new course record by running 2:16:48, beating the previous mark by over 2-minutes.  I could not have imagined a better way to start off the new year.

But, the end result is far from the whole story.  If you were standing along the streets in Jackson on Saturday around mile 20, and then made it over to the finish line, you were probably shocked to see me as the first runner to round the corner.  That’s because shortly after 15 miles, Kenyan Robert Wambua – owner of a 61:00 half marathon best and 28:08 10k PR – had thrown in a strong surge, which opened up a gap of nearly 30-45 seconds on the field.  At this point in the race, I was resigned to the fact that I was probably racing for 2nd place.  And I was beginning to worry about even being able to pull off that task.

For most of the first 10 miles, I ran through the rolling streets of Jackson tucked in amongst a pack of a dozen other African runners.  The early pacing was conservative, running over 16-minutes for the first 3 miles (on pace for a ~2:21). But for me, this race was never about, so I was content to hang back in the pack, conserve energy, and listen to some of the friendly calls from the spectators who lined the streets of the Mississippi capital.  The following are just a few of the cheers that stick in my mind now, and yes all of them include y’all: “Y’all are doing awesome,” “Y’all are so fast, keep it up,” and “Enjoy Jackson, y’all; thanks for coming.”

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Around mile 11, I decided to see infuse a short charge to see if we could lose a few of the guys hanging with the pack.  In retrospect, I probably would have been better off waiting until later in the race to do something like this because instead of splitting up the pack, I seemed to just wake up some of the other top runners.  Not at all what I was trying to accomplish.  From that point on, gone were the mile splits in the mid-5-teens, as we covered most of the next several miles in 5-oh-something.  In particular, I seemed to spark the competitiveness of Wambua, who would push the pace for the next several miles, before ultimately making an even harder surge around mile 15.

When Wambua made his surge, an Ethiopian runner (Mola Hailemariya Negasi) and myself tried to respond, but he continued to grow smaller in the distance.  After a series of hills around mile 18, I had fallen off the pace from Negasi and was several seconds back running in 3rd place.  It took me a mile or two to re-gather myself, but eventually I was able to reel him back in, and to my surprise, open up some space between us.

Around mile 22, I was pushing hard – not to try and catch Wambua (at this point, I was 25 seconds behind him), but rather to try and build a larger cushion between Negasi and myself.  It wasn’t until mid-way through the 23rd mile, and a concerned over-the-shoulder look, that I finally saw Wambua show some signs that his early surge might be taking its toll.  He was getting closer and closer, but thought I had run out of time for any sort of late push; the lead looked too big.  But shortly before mile 25, as we rounded a corner to make our way back downtown towards the finish, I found myself passing Wambua.  And he had no response.

I couldn’t believe it.  A mere 10k earlier, I was in trouble and thought I would be battling for, at best, a 3rd place finish.  Improbably, I now had the lead, and found myself floating down the streets of Jackson with a chance to win my 2nd marathon.  And let me tell you something, there aren’t too many better feelings in this sport than closing out a marathon with a chance for a win.  It probably has something to do with the distance itself: nothing is guaranteed and nothing is easy.

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A few blocks later, I had the thrill of breaking the tape at the finish line and hoisting one of the most unique winning prizes: a brand new, hand-crafted guitar!  As great as winning the race was, I was equally as happy with how well I ran the 2nd 13.1 miles, and in particular, the last 10k, which was my nemesis during my 2012 marathons.  After opening up with a first half of 1:09:20, I covered the second half in 1:07:28 and ran my last 10k in 32:35.  The race also served as a reminder to me of why you never give up in a marathon; a lot can happen during those last 6.2 miles!

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I would be re-missed to not mention, and thank, the race organizers, volunteers (roughly 700 volunteers were on-site to help out with the race), and community of Jackson for hosting a first-class event.  The group that puts on the event works tirelessly – literally, I’m pretty sure they were walking zombies by Saturday evening – to ensure everyone has a great experience at their race.  And the Southern hospitality was every bit as advertised!  It was also fun to have my boss at the Law School, Josh Gordon, alongside me for the weekend.  Josh has been such a positive influence on me, both running and non-running, during my time in Eugene and it was great to travel, and race, with a familiar face.  He nearly completed the Eugene sweep, by placing 3rd in the half marathon!

This past week was filled by logging some easy miles around some of my favorite places in Eugene.  Luckily, this is the best I have ever felt coming off a marathon.  And good thing because a Spring marathon looms closely in the horizon!

2013 Mississippi Blues Marathon – race splits, powered by Garmin

Mile 1

5:33

Mile 2

5:23

Mile 3

5:16

Mile 4

5:20

Mile 5

5:14

Mile 6

5:11

Mile 7

5:27

Mile 8

5:11

Mile 9

5:20

Mile 10

5:14

Mile 11

5:09

Mile 12

5:01

Mile 13

5:12

Mile 14

5:02

Mile 15

5:04

Mile 16

5:09

Mile 17

5:12

Mile 18

4:57

Mile 19

5:04

Mile 20

5:12

Mile 21

5:01

Mile 22

5:01

Mile 23

5:18

Mile 24

5:09

Mile 25

5:13

Mile 26

5:32

.2

1:21

Final

2:16:48

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Comments (3)

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    Tony Mollica

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    Congratulations on your win and a new course record! Congratulations on winning the prize money and the guitar too! Do you play?

    What’s next?

    Reply

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    Charles Vosler

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    Craig congratulations on a great win!! Skip

    Reply

  • Avatar

    Jim Covey

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    WOW! Way to go Craig. Very proud of you — but not suprised – with all your work and preparation, the results come. Keep it going.
    Jim and Ruth Ann

    Reply

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