The are runners, there are marathoners and then there are Boston Qualifiers
-Spirit of the Marathon
-Me at about 24.5 miles
All week I had been uncharacteristically unnervous. It may have been the fact that this was going to be my 4th marathon in less than 12 months or maybe it was the focused training schedule I had been following. Either way, all week I had walked around with a sense of calm. That is, until I put the car in reverse to pull out of the garage and head up to Hampton Beach early Sunday morning. As soon as the car began to move, my stomach started to do back flips. I cranked up the music, but the whole way up, the butterflies in my stomach continued to get bigger and bigger. As I listened to Stevie Wonder, Survivor, Queen, AC/DC among others, I started to visualize the race. I tried to see myself crossing the finish line. Earlier in the week, Brendan, my dailymile brother, had predicted a 3:19:22 finish for me. The more I thought about it, the more overwhelmed I became.
Upon finally arriving in Hampton, I promptly made my way to the check-in tent. A large group of dailymilers had agreed to meet at 7:30 to hang out, warm up and meet. As I made my way to the tent I heard someone say, “there’s a dailymile shirt”. I turned to find a group of people, among them was Doug, from Lex’s Run, my buddy Pete, who had been the first cyber-runner to ever reach out to me, and Brendan, my brother who I was going to run this marathon with. I had met Pete before and had run several races with Doug, but this was the first time I was meeting Brendan. The funny part is that we knew each other. Through dailymile and Twitter we have become good friends. There was no awkward moment, it was just two friends getting together.
After a bit of chatting it was time to head to the start.
Before heading to the corral, we had to get a picture of Team Kinvara:
Yes, I know, those aren’t Vibrams. They aren’t my funny toe shoes. Yes I do still run in them (my Vibrams), but no, I didn’t run in them for this race. It’s probably the topic of another post, but suffice it to say that it was a game time decision that I went with the Kinvaras, and I don’t regret it one bit. They are an amazing shoe! If you aren’t ready for Vibrams, but you want a natural shoe that is unbelievably light and performs incredibly, go out and get a pair.
Now back to your regularly scheduled blog post.
In the swirl of the crowd, we had lost Pete. It was probably for the best. Although we had talked about running together, as we got into the last week, Pete’s confidence had grown and he had decided that he was going to go for 3:15 (the required time to BQ* for a young kid like him). Brendan and I made our way to the starting area. Doug, who was running the half, found us and said, “you’ve put in all the work. You’ve already done it. Now it’s time to take your victory lap. Go get it.” Inspiring words.
Brendan and I shook hands, gave each other a hug and waited for the starting gun. Suddenly the crowd started moving. We hadn’t heard the gun, but no matter. It took us nearly a minute to get to the actual starting line and when we crossed it, you could hear our watches beep in unison.
:38 / 1:16 / 1:54 / 2:32 / 3:10 – these numbers, like the numbers from LOST, were swirling around my head all week leading up to the race. They were the 5 mile splits I knew I needed to maintain a relatively steady pace throughout. I knew that if I hit mile 25 with a 3:10, I would be close, with a little room to spare. It meant that I would be able to run 9:09 minutes per mile for the last 1.2 and still cross the finish line with a 3:20:59. I didn’t want it to be that close though. I knew I had to have at least a couple of minutes in the bank. I remembered the difficulty of finishing the last 3 miles at both Boston and Providence. No, I didn’t want it to be that close. Still, I knew that if I could maintain 38 minute per 5 mile splits, I would in all likelihood be okay.
The first mile involved Brendan and I weaving our way in and out of the crowd. It was a little frustrating, but there was no sense in trying to sprint through.
We didn’t hit the first mile marker until nearly 8:00, way too slow for our goal. Fortunately, by the time we hit the second mile marker the crowds had thinned a bit and we were able to get on pace. Mile 2 arrived in 7:36. As we made the first big turn into the town of Hampton I was unable to resist the urge to get away from the crowds behind us. Without really thinking about it, I picked up the pace. We hit mile 3 in a too quick 7:21. Now some of you non-runners may be asking yourself, what the heck’s the difference between a 7:40 mile and a 7:20 mile? Does it really make a difference? Well, it’s not necessarily what it does to you right then, but more how it affects you 10 – 15 miles down the line. Anyway, despite initially being worried about it, I realized that we were back on pace for my 5 mile splits of 38 minutes. The next two miles were fairly uneventful and we hit the 5 mile marker in 37:54. Right on target. The first 5 miles went by almost too easily.
3 miles later we made our way to the coast. The wind was still relatively calm. In the distance I was surprised to see someone strip off his camelback hydration system and throw it into the grass. I yelled, “Nice toss!” and he waved an arm. A few minutes later Brendan and I caught up to him. A bit of chit-chat and we discovered that Ralph was making an attempt at a BQ of 3:20 as well. This was Ralph’s first timed marathon. He had run the distance once during his training. We invited him to run along with us, which he was more than happy to do. After a relatively slow mile 6 and 7 (7:46 and 7:43 respectively) we had picked up the next 2 miles at sub-7:30 pace. As we passed through small pockets of spectators, I reached out to high-fived the kids. I was yapping away, talking about my first marathon experience and the awful pace-setter I followed in that race. Before we knew it, we passed mile marker 10 – 1:15:49. Again, right on target.
For some reason, I felt like I needed to take on the role of cheerleader for our little pod, so I just kept talking…and talking…and talking (in retrospect, it explains why I had a sore throat for the next few days).
The Smuttynose Marathon is a double-loop. Starting at about mile 3, you get to see the mile markers for the second half of the marathon, so as you’re passing the mile markers for 8, 9 and 10, you are also passing the ones for 21, 22, and 23. Psychologically it was a little tough to realize that we were going to have to do this all over again. In the meantime, I realized that Brendan had been falling back a bit – not too far, maybe only a few seconds per mile, but it was enough to make me a little nervous. I would occasionally turn around to check on him and make sure he was still with me. Every time, he would nod in the affirmative, and I would turn back around. We had made an agreement earlier in the week that if someone faltered, the other was NOT to risk his own race for the sake of the other, however, I also didn’t want to lose my partner in crime.
At the 11.5 mile mark, those that were running the half-marathon peeled off. As was the case when I ran Manchester almost a year ago, it was a discouraging moment. I had been running for quite some time with this loose pod of people and suddenly we went from a crowd to a string. I tried convincing a few of the runners that were a mile and a half from their finish to come join us. A young lady looked at me, smiled and said, “been there, done that.” I was tempted to say something back to her, but I bit my tongue. As we peeled away, directed by a volunteer to go in a different direction, I pointed at the finish and said, “but the finish line is over there!” He laughed but told me I had to go the other way anyway.
Mile 12 arrived at a 6:08 pace. Yeah, no, really. That’s what my watch said. Everybody around me looked at their watches confused. Obviously there had been an error in placement. When mile 13 arrived 7:40 later, I realized that somewhere later down the line, we were going to have to make up a minute and a half.
Just after 12 I saw the leader coming the other way. He was all alone. I couldn’t help but admire his being able to run at that pace all alone. I glanced back at Brendan. He was still on my tail. He nodded, so I kept the pace. Ralph had fallen off (I would late find out he ran a 3:35). At about the halfway point however, Brendan began to fade just a little more. Truth is, it was probably more my picking up the pace a little and Brendan holding steady. I noticed that my splits were closer to 7:30 than 7:40. I kept looking back, but the gap was growing.
I hit mile 15 at 1:52:22. 2 minutes in the bank, I thought, but then I realized that at some point the “make up” for the short mile 12 had to becoming. Still, an extra minute and a half put me at about 1:53:52. Definitely on target.
At Mile 16, we rejoined the part of the course we had already run. I looked over my shoulder looking for Brendan. He was now maybe 30 yards back. I decided I had to press on. I ran the next five miles (miles 16 – 21) 11 seconds faster than I had run them (miles 3 – 8 ) earlier. When I hit mile 20 at 2:30:09 (2:31:39 with the adjustment), I knew I had a shot. As my friend Rick Reilly has said to me on several occasions, it was all coming down to the final 10K. The marathon, he would tell me, is actually 2 different races: it’s the first 20 miles and the last 10K. The final 10K had been what killed me in Manchester, had knocked me down at Boston, and had taken the fight out of me at Providence.
When I hit mile 20, I began to do a lot of arithmetic in head.
6.2 miles, just under 50 minutes to go, 6 times 8 is 48, 8 times 60 is 480, 48 plus 48 is 96, 96 is 1:36, 48 plus 1:36 is 49:36, which puts me at 3:21:05 – Shit! Start over – if I run a 7:50 for the next 6.2 miles…
When I hit mile 21 in 7:32, I re-calibrated everything again. I was doing okay. But I still knew the adjustment for mile 12 was coming, and at mile 22 it came. There had been a small part of me that had hoped and prayed that by some miraculous twist in space-time that we had all, in fact, run 6 minute miles at mile 12, but as my watch passed 8:00, then 8:30, I realized the time to pay the debt had come. I kept looking for the mile marker. – tick tick tick – 8:40, 8:45, 8:50. I finally saw the mile marker and passed it at 9:07. My watch now read 2:46:49 and I had 4.2 miles to go.
I again began to do the math in my head.
4.2 miles, 34 minutes 10 seconds left before the cut off. 8 minute miles means 2 minutes and 10 seconds to run 0.2 miles, if I multiply 2 minutes 10 seconds by 5 I got 10 minutes 50 seconds, what? That can’t be right, oh, wait a minute, it is, 96 seconds is less than 130 seconds!!!
If I could just maintain 8 minute miles I was going to be okay. Buoyed by this thought, I ran mile 23 in 7:31. I looked over my shoulder for Brendan, but I had now lost sight of him.
Now I just needed to fight off the last 5K. Mile 24 came and went in 7:41. Part of me dared to think that I had this in the bag. I was cruising. I had this.
Or so I thought.
24.5 arrived with my legs turning to jello. One moment I’m running steady, the next my legs are wobbling underneath me. I remember literally saying to myself, “uh-oh!” Fortunately I had 24.5 miles of momentum behind me, but I found myself slowing. I looked at my watch. 3:06:00. I had four minutes to get to mile 25. 14:59 to get to the finish, 1.7 miles away.
On any given day, if I need to, I know I can run 1.7 miles in less than 10 minutes. No problem. I might be in a lot of pain at the end of those 10 minutes, but I know I can do it. At that moment, looking at 1.7 miles felt like I was looking at another 5. My legs wobbled again.
For a split second I thought, “I’m not gonna make it. This is where I am going to hit the wall. This is where my assault on a BQ ends.”
Then I heard my friend Sheila. Now mind you, I have never met Sheila, nor have I ever heard her voice. I know her through this blog, the wife’s blog and through Twitter. I imagine her voice to be strong and authoritative, but nurturing. An iron voice wrapped in a velvet scarf. But I heard her shouting at me:
“Run like your hair is on fire. Run Luau, RUN!”
I put my hand on my heart where I was wearing an Autism Speaks pin. Strength flowed from my burning hair down to my legs. “This is nothing compared to what my little Brooke goes through” I thought, “this pain is temporary”. I was running through molasses, but I was running. I ran by the 25 mile marker – 3:09:50.
OK! 11:09 to cover 1.2 miles. The molasses was getting thicker. The wind had picked up AND there were people just milling about along the course. I weaved around a few groups of walkers. A runner in blue was 70 or so yards ahead of me. I focused on him, mentally trying to reel him in. Slowly he got bigger and bigger. I was reeling him in, but I could feel myself fading.
“HAIR ON FIRE!!!” Sheila yelled.
At this point I was running on fumes. I didn’t think there was anything left in the tank nor did I think I had any gears left.
Mile 26. 3:17:47.
That last mile had taken nearly 8 minutes. Frak! No, no, no, no, no!!! I was slowing down!
It was do or die time. I yelled out loud at the top of my lungs, “Come ON!!! Run! Dammit!!! RUN!!!”
I think I scared a few of the walkers on the course, but it worked. I found and hit that last gear. My speed started to pick up. 45 seconds later I passed the 13 mile mark for the half marathoners. 0.1 to go. The guy in blue was firmly in my sites. I put it into overdrive, lengthened my stride and went into full sprint mode.
Someone yelled at the guy in blue, “he’s coming! he’s gonna catch you!!!”
Too late, buddy! I flew past him.
I heard my buddy Adam, who had paced a friend through the half, yelling, “Luau! Luau! Luau!” I pumped my fist!
I looked up and saw the clock, it read 3:20:something. I knew I had it. I KNEW I HAD IT!!!
The euphoria of qualifying for Boston was (IS!) unbelievable. I didn’t know if this day was ever coming. Friends have told me that they knew, but the truth is, you never know what the next day is going to bring. I could wake up tomorrow and be unable to run for whatever reason, but now…now, I can call myself a Boston Qualifier.
After shooting through the finish, I found my buddy Pete. He told me that he too had qualified for Boston, running a 3:15:24. We hugged in celebration knowing that we would be able to toe the line together in Hopkinton this coming April. Our attention quickly turned back to the finish line. 3 of us had started that day in pursuit of a BQ, and Brendan was still out there. Although the clock had clicked over to 3:21, we knew that because Brendan and I had started as far back in the crowd as we had, he still had some wiggle room. Unfortunately, Brendan ended up missing a BQ by 32 seconds. The fact that he had PR’d by 5 minutes did not alleviate the frustration and disappointment.
After some pizza and ice cream, part of the Smuttynose dailymile/Twitter crew convened in the beer tent.
After one or two, we went out to cheer our friends Alett and Sandra in. We walk a few hundred feet down from the finish line with the intent of running Alett in. As she approached, we tried to break into a jog. It wasn’t happening. Alett flew right by us. We had left it all out there on the course. With Alett and Sandra’s arrival it was back to the beer tent for one more.
Finally it was time to go. I told Pete I would see him in Boston. As I walked back to my car with Doug and Brendan, I tried to come up with something encouraging. Brendan has been a huge inspiration, not just to me, but to countless others on dailymile. His BQ is coming, I am sure of it.
I am sure that I will run this race again someday. It is sure to become a popular race for those trying to achieve their own BQ. The nice thing is that with this race not only do I qualify for 2011, but I also qualify for 2012 as well. I know where I’ll be in April. For next fall there’s talk about trying out the Vermont 50. We’ll see if there’s still interest next Spring.
In the meantime, I can now turn my eyes toward New York. Having qualified for Boston, I can now approach New York as a celebration, as a fun run. I intend to find as many friends in the crowd as I can and take pictures with each and every one of them. So if you are going to be in New York for the marathon, let me know where you’ll be – I’ll come find you!
You can find Pete’s Race Report —>HERE<—
You can follow Adam’s running blog —>HERE<—
You can find Doug, his wife Lex and Lex’s Run —>HERE<—
and finally, you can follow Brendan’s inspiring training on dailymile —>HERE<— (honestly though, I wish he wrote a blog!)
*BQ stands for Boston Qualifier – a dream for many runners. In order run the Boston Marathon, a person is required (unless running for a charity or having the luck I had last year of stumbling across an invitational application) to run a previous marathon within a certain amount of time. For me, that time is 3:20:59. For my buddy Pete, that time is 3:15:59.
All you need to do is send me a paragraph or two telling me why you run and/ or why you think others should run. E-mail it to me at “runluaurun at gmail dot com” (written out so the bots don’t start sending me spam).
If you can, please include a picture of your favorite running shoes and tell me what kind of shoes they are. Also, please let me know how you would like to be referenced (real name, nickname, pseudonym, etc) just in case this project actually ever sees the light of day.
The more responses I get, the sooner I can put it all together, so please don’t be shy about forwarding this to your running friends and spreading the word.