Last Sunday I ran the Eastern States 20. In the words of a twitter & dailymile friend, Josh (@bostoncardiovet), it was a blast…a huge, 15mph blast of headwind for about 80% of the race. That said, it had to be one of the most fun races I have ever run.
It didn’t start that way. For the 11AM race, I was up at 5:20. I hadn’t realized when I signed up A) just how far of a drive I had to get to the buses taking us from the finish to the starting line and B) that the buses would be leaving so early. Unfortunately for me, my father drilled into me the need to be early to any transportation you may be trying to catch. In the end I could have probably slept for another hour or so and still have been okay. As sleepy as I was though (or maybe because of it) I felt pretty relaxed riding the bus to the start.
We arrived at Traip Academy at 8:30. 8:30 for an 11:00 race. I found a corner of the gymnasium where they were holding us and settled in for a wait. As the minutes slowly ticked by, the nerves began to slowly build in my stomach. The only other time I had run 20 miles or more was 5 months ago at the Manchester City Marathon. That one didn’t end pretty and the ugliness started way before 20. I reached into my backpack for my water bottle to fiddle with the handle.
That’s funny, I thought it was in this pocket. I reached into another pocket and then another. No water bottle. CRAP! Nerves turned to mild panic. What the Frak am I going to do?
One of the things I love about my online running community is that there is a true sense that we are all in these races together. I tweeted something along the lines of Oh crap! Forgot my water bottle in the car. Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Dammit! Within seconds I got a response from my buddy Pete (@oblinkin), who I have met just once in the real world mind you, telling me to calm down, water was on the way. That’s right. Long story short, he tweeted another twitter friend, Alett (@petfxr), who he knew would be driving Josh to the start. Turned out she had an extra water bottle. Nerves began to settle.
A little before 11 we all mosied down to the start. I chatted with a few runners who were curious about my funny looking shoes. I tried to find the dailymile and twitter friends that I thought might be there but had no idea what they looked like. I checked and rechecked Runkeeper and my headphones, twice (right, that’s four times). Check.
I pressed start on Runkeeper.
I started to run with the crowd, waiting for the nice voice to come through my headphones telling me that I needed to start the next 0.5 mile interval. Nothing! I tried raising the volume on the Oakley’s. Nothing! As I continued to run, I took my iPhone off of my arm to reconnect my headphones, Runkeeper and my music. After two minutes of running in this fashion I finally got sound coming through. I looked at my watch to see how far off Runkeeper’s time and my stopwatch’s time were going to be.
I started the stopwatch and tried to focus on what I had ahead of me.
After the initial technical snafu, I settled into a groove. About a mile in I heard my name called behind me. It was another dailymile & twitter friend, Brad (@bradbirkel). He was running with a friend, experimenting with negative splits. As I pulled away, I knew he’d eventually catch me. I didn’t realize at the time just how helpful his catching me would be. In fairly short order I fell in with a group of runners that I’d stick with for the next 13 – 14 miles. We varied in shape and size, and if I’m going to be honest, we were running at a pace that was a bit faster than my original plan. My goal at been to run about a 7:30 – 7:45 pace for the race. This group was clipping along steadily at 7:07. Every couple of miles I would do a body check. Head, lungs, stomach, butt, legs, feet. Check, check, check, check and check.
From nearly moment one however, the wind was in our faces. The instant we hit the coast, I felt myself get pushed back. Holy Crap! This was not going to be easy. Our pack dwindled down to about 7 or 8, tightening a little as a group. We instinctively took turns leading the group, but the wind was harsh no matter where you were. This group of runners was more talkative than any I had raced with before and again, my Vibram’s became the topic of much conversation. How you like those? Don’t your feet hurt? Do you get knee pain?
The conversation kept me occupied, but only kept the demons of Manchester at bay for so long. As we passed miles 10, 11, 12 I looked ahead to 16. That was where I hit my initial wall in my one and only marathon. I was keeping up with this group, but the wind was starting to wear on me. At 15 I got hit with a cramp in my side. I tried to power through it, ignore it. My group started to pull away and I began to hear footsteps behind me.
No! No! NO!!! Pass! Don’t be passed!
At 16 I hit a wall. Well, not quite a wall, more like a wall of jello. I was still moving, but man it was hard. I felt my pace slow. I watched as my group went around a corner and out of sight. I thought for a moment of trying to catch them but really had no choice but to let them go. The goal of this race was to finish this race between 2:30 – 2:40 with what felt like was enough gas to go 6 more. I let them go. As my pace slowed, I got passed by a guy wearing his Manchester City Marathon shirt. This guy had probably passed me around this point in that race. I growled at myself. Don’t lose this guy. You don’t need to catch him yet, but don’t you frakkin’ lose him.
About a quarter-mile from 18 I felt a reassuring pat on my back. It was Brad.
“Looking strong buddy!” he said. I told you you were gonna catch me! Brad kept moving along. He would finish the last 3 miles in 18 minutes.
That pat on the back may have been Brad’s hand, but I felt the running gods give me a little push. 2 miles to go Luau. It’s go time!
I shortened my stride and quickened my pace just a touch. I slowly, ever so slowly began to reel in MCM Shirt guy. We made the final turn into the last 2 mile stretch. It was right along the beach and when I tell you that the wind nearly blew me down, I am not giving the wind its due. Another dailymile friend (Jamie) was manning the water station at 18. He yelled something like “Go Luau!” I grabbed some drink and kept chugging along, staring down MCM Shirt guy.
The wind gusted. I hit back by speeding up. With about 1 1/2 to go I passed him. I kept pushing. I didn’t want to be the guy who passed someone with 1 1/2 to go only to get re-passed at the finish.
The wind had taken my determination personally and doubled up. I yelled at the top of my lungs. I hate this headwind!!!
What was that?
“PUSH DAMMIT! GO!”
I briefly looked over my shoulder. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him. I could hear his footsteps.
“YOU GOTTA GO MAN! LET’S GO” He didn’t have to ask me again. I broke into a dead run. The pedal was pushed to the floor. I was pulling him and he was pushing me. But his footsteps were getting closer.
Suddenly I heard a trio of female voices, “Run Luau RUN! Go Daddy!” My family, who was supposed to stay home because of the distance and cold, had shown up, and just in time. I waved at the girls, found a little more speed and closed out the last 1/2 in an all out sprint. After I crossed the finish line, I turned around to find the guy who had pushed me through. We hugged, chatted for a minute and then went our merry way. I found a few of the people who had been in my original pack and discovered that I had in fact closed some of the distance on them in the final couple of miles.
I felt pretty good. I knew I had 6 miles at an at worst 8:30 pace still left in me. I did the math. 51 minutes. I checked my time. 2:25:45. 20.21 miles. 51st overall out of 705, 44th of 374 men, 10th of 124 in my age group. 2:25:45. I did the math again.
55:14 to get to Boston.
As excited as I was at my time, one of the best highlights of the race came just a little while later as I played on the beach with my family. I looked up to see Josh finishing strong. I waved and cheered and then the wife suggested I run him in. I ran up to the sidewalk and went stride for stride with my friend who I was meeting for the first time for the last quarter-mile. What a great way to meet in the real world for the first time. It was also great meeting a fellow Vibrams runner, Andy Marx, the Grand Llama of TMIRCE. I hope to meet up with them some Saturday this summer.