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Leprechaun-5K

I had no expectations of myself coming into this race – none.  Sunday’s run would be my third of the year.  No, not my third race; my third run.  For a few months I’ve been nursing an aggravated hip that comes and goes.  In addition, I have been working hard on growing my fledgling personal training business.  The only real exercise I had done in the past two weeks has been 4 minute tabata burpees between dropping off Katie and Brooke off at school during the school week.

That.  Is.  It.

So, like I said, I had no expectations of how I was going to do or feel after 3.1 miles this past Sunday.

That being the case, I decided that I shouldn’t position myself at the very front of the pack at the start of the race, opting instead to start several yards behind the front-runners.  After a wonderful rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by the race director’s daughter, the starting horn blared and we were off.

A small pack of about twenty to twenty five runners immediately separated themselves from the masses.  I had to make a snap decision to either follow and run hard or stay back and enjoy the scenery.  I focused on my hip for two or three steps, trying to anticipate whether it could handle a hard effort.

No real pain – check!

I decided to chase the group.

I had left my phone in the car and my GPS watch is on the fritz, so I had no idea just how fast I was going, and with a downhill start I really was not in a position to judge pace.  Over the first half mile, the jack rabbits began to shake out – I was now sitting somewhere around 16th or 17th.

We began a short uphill climb.  This is where I made my first move – I tend to push the hills a bit; I find it’s a great way to reel people in.  I caught up to a group of 3 or 4 runner and passed them on the inside.  As we hit the mile marker I took a quick glance at my watch before setting my sights on a few runners ahead of me.

7:25.

Okay, not a bad pace for someone who has been struggling with their running for the last few months.  My hip was fine, but my glutes and quads were already burning, as were my lungs.  I tried to ignore the pain and pressed on.

As I began to pick off runners one by one, I looked way down the road.   I could barely see the leaders.  I counted back.

1…2…3…

4, 5, 6…

7…8…9th!

I was running 9th with about 1.8 miles to go.

That’s when I heard the footsteps.  They were slowly getting louder and louder.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

Without turning I yelled, “which side are passing me on?”

I couldn’t make out what he said.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

His footsteps got louder.  I couldn’t tell how far behind he was, but it felt like he was right on my tail and gaining.  I slid to the left, encouraging him to pass me by.

“It’s all you, man!” I said.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

If he said something, I didn’t hear it.  Surprisingly, he didn’t pass me.

The two of us passed the guy running in 8th.

His footsteps continued to push me as I, I hope, pulled him.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

My legs and lungs were burning.  I glanced down at my watch.

14:30.

14:30?  I had thought we were going faster but the mile 2 marker was nowhere in sight.  Was it possible the I had slowed down that significantly?  Were we that far from 2 miles that it wasn’t in sight?  Nearly a minute later I spotted a sign that looked like a marker.  I looked at my watch.

15:15, 15:16, 15:17…

What in the world???

As we got closer, I noticed that the mile marker said 2.2 miles – 15:35…we had averaged 6:54 for that 1.2 miles.

Okay…now I get it!

I was encouraged by the fact that we only had 0.9 miles to go.  Though I wouldn’t admit it beforehand, I was hoping to break 24:00 that day.  I was sure I had that in hand, but knowing I had less than a mile to go, I decided to push it for all I had.

Thump, thump! Thump, thump!

“Footsteps” was still behind me.  I was sure he was going to pass me at any time now as we approached the finish.  He had been shadowing me for a bulk of the race, biding his time.  I was not looking forward to the finish.  I remembered from the previous year that the Leprechaun 5K ends with the last third to half mile uphill and as much as I enjoy catching people on hills, I hate finishing races on hills.

“Footsteps” began to fade…I yelled back encouragement, trying to egg him on, but his footstep continued to fade.  As I hit the 3 mile marker, I let myself enjoy the fact that I was going to comfortably finish in 8th.  The woman in 7th simply had too big of a lead on me and there was no way I was going to catch her, but “Footsteps” had been vanquished.

“Thumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthumpthump!!!”

These footsteps sounded different.

Faster.

Lighter.

…Younger.

In a flash my joy evaporated as a kid went flying by on my left.

No. Way!  I tried to hit the next gear – I wasn’t going to give up my spot without a fight to this kid.

I dropped the hammer and pushed…

…and kept going at the speed I had been cruising along in.  The kid flew past me like I was standing still.

Sigh.

I crossed the finish line in 22:02, covering the last 0.9 miles in 7:10 pace for an overall pace of about 7:06 – good enough for a 9th place finish.

I stumbled up to the kid.

“Were you the footsteps behind me,” I asked confused.  He looked confused as well.  I turned to see “Footsteps” finishing.  I turned back to the kid.  Obviously he had started further back and finished strong.

“How old are you, kid?  16? 17?” I asked.

“I’m 13,” he said with a grin.  I shook my head.  Crap!  Taken out like I was standing still by a boy the age of my daughter.  I knew that this day would eventually come – I just didn’t expect it to happen at 13.

13!!!

I gave him a pat on the back and went to chat with “Footsteps”.  We thanked each other for pushing/pulling the other along.

In the end, despite being taken down by a 13 year old, I was pretty happy with my performance.  It was nowhere near my best in a 5K, but it was pretty darn satisfying to finish in the top 10 out of 200+ runners.  It did make me realize though that I have a long way to go to get back into marathon shape.

1609950_10152206372806598_592647749_n

Me flabbergasted that I just got passed by a 13 year old…

 

Hope you all had a fantastic weekend!

Happy St. Paddy’s Day!

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200 miles, 36 legs, 12 runners, 2 vans and 1 captain – it may take me a while to process the 27 hour adventure into words, but in the meantime, please enjoy the slide show I put together from our little journey.

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Um, we’ll get back to the title of this post in a while.  Yes, this is in fact my race report for the 2012 Sugarloaf Marathon.

After not getting into the 2012 Boston Marathon by a mere 33 seconds (a blessing in disguise in retrospect), I began searching for a marathon that could get me back to Hopkinton in 2013.  With the Fall marathons occurring too late and the Summer marathons simply being to hot, I settled on the Sugarloaf Marathon – a late Spring marathon ranked as one of the 15 fastest marathons in the country.  Perfect!

I began my training a little late, switching from one program (the Pfitzinger 18/55) to another (jumping in on week 5 of the Furman FIRST program).  Training, aside from the last two weeks, was pretty solid, so when I made my way to the starting area with fellow RaceMenu members Jeremy and Tommy, I felt pretty confident that I was going to hit, or at the very least come very close to my BQ.

Team RaceMenu at the Sugarloaf Marathon – Jeremy, Me, Tommy

The three of us were all shooting for sub-3:15, and if there was one thing I learned at Smuttynose a year and a half ago it was that marathons go much better when you have a familiar face running with you.  After snapping a group photo, we made our way to the starting area.  Somebody asked out loud, “I wonder when we’re gonna start?”  Moments later, without warning, the starting gun went off.  We looked at each other – I guess it’s go time!

We had unfortunately not made our way to the front when the gun went off so we had to make our way through the crowd.  We still managed to hit the first mile marker in 7:37.  Our plan was to run the first 8 miles between 7:20 and 7:30 pace, not stress about our pace over the steady uphill climb from mile 8 to 10.5 and then cruise over the last 16 downhill miles to a sub-3:15.  An overall pace of 7:24 per mile would get us in at just under 3:14.  Despite a slow first mile, I wasn’t too worried.  The second mile came and went in an easy 7:22.  I noted that the temperature, though relatively cool at sixty some odd degrees, was still much higher than the online advertised 40° starts.  The scenery was absolutely beautiful – the Western Mountain of Maine, lakes that were so still you could see the reflections of the trees around it as if it were a glass mirror.  The three of us hung together as a loose pod with Tommy leading the way.

Miles 3 and 4 went by in a zippy 7:20 and 7:22 .  This was all within range of our plan.

At around the 5th mile, the rolling hills began to kick in.

I took in a Gu – my plan was to have one every 5 miles.  I started the race with two Gu’s in hand.  The race director had said they would be handing out Gu’s at around mile 9 and at around mile 17.  I would take my Gu at 5, grab one of theirs at 9 and take it at 10, take my last Gu at 15, grab theirs at 17 and take it in at 20.  I wasn’t going to worry about the final 1.2 miles.

As Tommy began to pull away a bit, Jeremy and I felt like we wouldn’t worry too much about our pace going up any hills.  There was still over 20 miles to go, so we didn’t want to kill ourselves simply to keep pace.  There would be plenty of time to make back the time on the final 16 miles.  Mile 5 was a bit slower at 7:35, but we got right back into our range with a 7:29, a 7:23 and a 7:20 over the next three miles.

We were feeling great as we hit the mile 8 marker.  Everything was going according to plan and we had avoided that cardinal marathon sin of going out too fast.

Meanwhile, the temperature was rising.

We looked up to see the “big hill” of the marathon – a steady climb from mile 8 to mile 10.5.  I looked at Jeremy.  “This is it,” I said, “make or break.”  And I truly believed that.  Not having run this race before, I really believed that how we did on the hill would determine how we would finish.  The back 16 was calling to me – just make it over the hill and it’s cake the rest of the way.  All I had to do was to remember to grab a Gu at mile 9.

The sun was rising, so a group of us shifted to the left side of the road to stay in the shade.  We hit the hill with a steady pace, but I refused to attack it.  I wanted to be comfortable and not expend too much energy this early in the race so we ran at what was a comfortable effort.  We manage 8:06, 7:54 and a 3:54 (7:48 pace) over the next 2.5 miles.  Fantastic!!!

As we crested the hill, I looked at Jeremy – this is it.  We. Are. Golden!!!

As we passed the aid station at 10.5, I asked where the Gu’s were.  The volunteers shrugged.  Somehow we had missed the Gu Station – this would be one of my 3 complaints about this particular marathon – if you are going to be handing out Gu’s, you must have your volunteers actively handing them out.  I would find out later that they did in fact have Gu’s around mile 9, but they were on a table in the grass.  That doesn’t work for those of us running for time.

I knew we needed to take it easy over the steep initial half mile, but gravity pulled us along at 7:00 pace and it felt like we were hardly working.  The realization that I would have to take my last Gu at 10 and wait until after 17 to take another weighed on my mind.  Psychologically I let it get to me.

As I looked out at the road ahead of us, I noticed something was missing – shade.

Jeremy started to fall back a little, but he was still within shouting distance.  I forged ahead comfortably, images of me fist-pumping as I crossed the finish line with a BQ-time running through my head.  The next 6 miles were a steady downhill and my pace reflected that – miles 12 through 17 went in 7:06, 7:21, 7:12, 7:16, 7:11 and 7:15.  The plan was working flawlessly.  But there were couple of things I hadn’t accounted for with this plan.  One was the Gu issue, the other was the heat.  As we made our way through Carrabassett Valley, the temperature began to soar right into the upper 70’s.  With no shade to protect us, it felt like we were running in 80-plus degree heat.

Still feeling good somewhere around mile 15 I think.

As I reached the water station after 17, I looked back for Jeremy.  He had dropped back significantly, falling victim to cramping in his calves and thighs – unfortunately, he would have to drop out at mile 25.  I had to push on – I could taste my BQ.  Going through the aid station, I grabbed a Gatorade and a Gu, and I tried to grab a water and another Gu, but the volunteer, for whatever reason, did not let go of the cup or the Gu.

I tried not to get upset, but as I took in what would now be my last Gu 2 1/2 miles after I had planned and with no extra to take at mile 20, doubt started to creep in.  As the heat continued to beat down on me, I could feel fatigue setting in.  I didn’t want to slow down because I knew my BQ was within reach.  I was on target with just over 9 miles to go.

As I passed miles 18 and 19 I looked at my watch – 7:33 and 7:37.  I was slowing down and I knew I was working harder than I had over the previous 6 miles.

That would be the last time I saw a 7-handled split.

Going into mile 20 the wheels simply came off of the bus – I covered the mile in 8:36, nearly a minute slower than the previous mile – it’s cliché isn’t it?  I hit a wall, I knew it, and there was nothing I could do about it.  The combination of the psychological and physiological effect of not taking in a Gu at 15 (as I had trained for) and the heat overwhelmed me.

At that point I knew my BQ was out the window but I still had a shot at a PR.  Up until mile 20 I had been on target to hit sub-3:15.  Now I just needed to hold on to beat 3:19:19 to score a PR. If I could just get back into the mid to high 7’s I’d be okay.

Approaching the next water station my legs overrode my brain and stopped running.  Suddenly I was walking.  I shook my head, half in anger, half in despair.  I sucked down the watered down Gatorade (why the HELL to they water it down???) and poured some water on my head and back.  10 yards out from the water station I was trying to run again.

This would be my pattern for the rest of the race – walking through the water stations, trying my best to run between them.  The next 6 miles would go 8:08, 8:04, 8:34, 8:21, 8:37 and 8:22.  The last four miles were absolute misery.  By the time I hit mile 23 I knew my chances of a PR were out the window and once again, I adjusted my goal – now I simply want to beat my second best time (2011 New York City Marathon – 3:26).  I desperately had to fight to keep my pace under 9.  As I made the final turn for the finish, I was overcome with a sense of resignation.  I would not be running Boston in 2013.  I would not be toeing the line in Hopkinton next April – and to a degree I was at peace.  I knew I only had one more marathon on the calendar this year, and New York City 2012 was not going to be run as a qualifier.

As I crossed the finish line, I hit stop on my watch – it read 3:22:56.

a few feet from the finish line

Officially my time would be 3:23:00 (my last complaint about the marathon was that there was no starting mat – time was based solely on guntime, so if you started in the back of the pack, you lost nearly 30 – 40 seconds.  Tommy actually covered the distance from the starting line to the finish line in 3:15:30, but because we had started in the middle, his official time was 3:16.  I can’t imagine how I would feel if I had missed qualifying for Boston by mere seconds because I didn’t start at the very front).

I would finish 68th of 574 total finishers (I heard that there were over 700 registrants), 60th out of 313 men, and 15th out of 59 men aged 40 – 44. Not bad for a guy who really didn’t get back into regular training until February.

3:23:00 is my second fastest marathon ever, but it was still 8 minutes off my goal of a 3:15 BQ, which brings me to the title of this post.

Dear B.A.A.,

I am wondering if you would be too upset if we pretended that I was two years older than I actually am.  Although my birth certificate indicates that I will be 43 come April 2013, I am willing to tell people that I will be 45 if you are willing to look the other way – I sometimes like to think of myself as an old soul anyway.  If you are willing to believe that I will be 45 next Patriot’s Day, my 3:23:00 will allow me to register during the second week of registration, and I’m pretty sure that as long as there aren’t a whole lot of people asking to do the exact same thing as me, that the time should be good enough to get in as a BQ-2.

Sincerely,
Luau

Whaddaya think?  You think the B.A.A. will go for it?

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I remember way back in high school when I would get up in the mornings before a big test – I’d be a little nervous, wondering if I had studied what I had needed to, wondering if I’d remember anything…

…that’s how I felt two Sundays ago when I woke up before the Quincy Half Marathon.  Several weeks ago I made the transition from the Pfitz Marathon Training Program to the FIRST Marathon Training Program.  I’ve been fairly determined to make sure that I followed the new program as closely as I could.  The very concept of running less to run faster struck me as counter-intuitive, but I needed to do something to get me out of what had turned into an 8 month funk.

3 days a week – that is all I was allowed to run; complimented by 2 days of cross-training – it seemed insufficient, but I was determined to give the program a chance.  Really, what choice did I have?  What I had been doing before was no longer working.

On Super Bowl Sunday I ran the Super Sunday 5-Miler in Boston and finished with a 34:56.  My goal had been to comfortably cruise to a sub-35 minute finish, but in fact, I struggled to make it, pretty much leaving everything I had on the course.  That 34:56 translated into a 3:25:30 marathon according to McMillan’s Running Calculator.  A couple of weeks later I started the FIRST program.  Quincy was going to be my first real test of how much progress I was truly making.

***

Upon arriving, I looked for my buddy JB.  You may recall JB as one of the foursome I ran with at Vermont or the buddy who ran the Super Sunday 5 with me.  Our plan was to run about 7:15 miles throughout, with the hopes of scoring about a 1:35:00 for the race.  It would be a 2 minute PR for him, and would be an incremental improvement on my cardio-health from Super Sunday.  Although a 1:35 half-marathon only translates to a 3:20 marathon (5 minutes long of my goal), I figured that it would be a step in the right direction, especially for only 3 weeks on the program.

JB & I pre-race.

We made our way to the starting area and stood silently for the National Anthem – and then it was time to go, literally!  Not more than a second after the anthem was done, the starting horn blared.

We were off.

Fortunately for JB and I, we hadn’t moved too far to the front.  We were forced to start a little slowly.  After a quarter mile of jockeying for position, we turned up the pace and hit the first mile marker right on target at 7:15.

Perfect!

Without really realizing it, we slowly began to pick up the pace.  It was still a bit crowded, but the two of us maneuvered our way through.  Mile 2 arrived in a quick 7:07…maybe I was a little too enthusiastic?

We slowed it down just a touch for the next three miles, averaging about a 7:10 pace.  Somewhere around mile 5 we saw the leader coming the other way…he must have had a good 30 seconds on the guy behind him.  At this point, JB and I hit our first hill.  My philosophy on hills has been to attack them, lean into them and don’t let them slow you down too much.  For this first hill, that plan worked perfectly. I leaned in, JB followed and we passed over a dozen runners before cresting and allowing gravity to feed our recovery.

Once we flattened out, we hit the 6-mile marker (7:06) and we were able to see the rest of the field heading for the hill.  At this point, my legs started to feel a little heavy.  JB asked me how I was doing.  I feel like I’m fading, I said, but only 6 miles in, I knew that it had to be more mental than physical.  We continued to press the pace a little.  I knew we had some time in the bank to hit 1:35, but I also kept reminding myself that this race was a test of how I was progressing.  If I let up too early or left too much out on the course, there would really be no way for me to know just where I was with respect to where I want to be for Sugarloaf.  I needed to know if the FIRST program was increasing my cardio-fitness or if I was stagnating.

We covered the next three mile at 7:06 pace.  With just over 4 miles left to go, I started doing math in my head.  I realized that I could slow down significantly and still hit my goal – but what would that tell me?  I knew I had to keep pressing.

Unfortunately, that pressing came just as we hit a final group of hills – despite continuing to pass runners on a regular basis, we slowed into the 7:20’s.

starting to fade a little at mile 11

With 2.1 miles to go, JB started to pull away.  He looked back at me as if to say, come on dude! but the hills had taken their toll on me.  I shouted at him to just go.  He was well within range of not just beating his PR, but shattering it.  I pressed as hard as I could – I was determined to come in under 1:35 no matter what.  Mile 12 went by in a surprising 7:15.

1.1 miles to go.  It was leave it all on the course time.  I knew I was less than 7:30 away from the finish.  I also knew that I could suffer for that long too.  My legs felt heavy and my breathing was labored, but with each tick of the clock, I knew I was that much closer to being done.

As I made my way back into downtown Quincy, I could see JB in the distance.  With about 800 meters to go, he was looking great and I had run out of real estate to catch him.  I focused on finishing strong.  Coming out of the final turn, I realized it was literally downhill to the finish and let it all hang out.  Gravity pulled me along at a pace I hadn’t run all race.

With less than 100 yards to go, Racemenu Chief Alain stepped out of the crowd with words of encouragement and a high five.  I could see JB waiting at the finish.

Sprinting to the finish

I barreled through the finish, and without slowing down grabbed a bottle water being held out…I couldn’t brake…staring at a table that was closing in fast, I panicked slightly.  Fortunately a random runner stepped in to grab me and slow me down.  It was enough for me to get my footing and stop.

I looked at the clock.

1:32:forty-something.

Huh?

I wasn’t convinced that I had run that fast.  I hugged JB, asking him his time.

1:31:59 – a nearly 7 minute PR for him.  When the official times went up, mine was a 1:32:31.  I had missed a PR by a mere 8 seconds.  In most situations, I would have been mildly disappointed in missing a PR, but considering that just 4 weeks beforehand I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility of PR-ing, and that I had come into the day with an expectation of finishing in the 1:35 range, I was thrilled.

The FIRST program was working.  My legs and lungs were getting stronger.

The very next day, I officially signed up for Sugarloaf.  To be honest, I had been putting off registering because I was full of doubt as to whether I could even potentially run a sub-3:15 in May.  Quincy convinced me that I was on the right track.  My 1:32:31 translates into a 3:15:07 marathon.  Just a touch on the wrong side of the clock, but a vast improvement from where I was on SuperBowl Sunday.

This Sunday I will face my next test of fitness when I was a local 5K.  The goal is to hit 19:54 – which translates into a 3:14 marathon.  If I hit 20:00, that still translates into a 3:15.

***

I still may ultimately fail at Sugarloaf come May, but I finally truly believe that I have a 3:15 or better in these legs – and that is a wonderful feeling.

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My very first road race was the SuperSunday 5K/10K – all the way back in 2009.

I had no idea what I was doing and it showed.  I entered the 10K and finished in a respectable 46:58.  The following year I entered it again (again in the 10K) and ran what was probably my best performance in a race to date other than the Smuttynose Marathon in 2010, finishing the 10K in 39:29.

In 2011, due to bad weather conditions, the SuperSunday 5K/10K was cancelled.  I was disappointed to say the least.

This year RaceMenu Chief, Alain Ferry, decided to change things up a little.  He moved the SuperSunday Race from Downtown Boston to Cambridge and changed the distance to 5 miles (with a bailout at the 5K mark).  The course is a large, relatively flat triangle, with just a couple of tiny hills.

***

As regular readers already know, I spent the second half of 2011 struggling to find my running motivation (and if I’m going to be completely honest, I was struggling to find motivation to do anything!).   Despite having a 50-mile race in September and a marathon in November (you can also see the video of that marathon here), my training was minimal at best.  In fact, I probably only ran 50 miles total in the 6 to 7 weeks leading up to my 50-miler.  I ran even less leading up to the marathon and almost completely stopped running in the month of December.

I was at a low point.

But then I started to see posts on Facebook and dailymile of friends who were starting their training cycle for Boston 2012.  At first it hurt to see those posts.  I missed getting into Boston this year by 33 seconds.  It wasn’t fun seeing so many friends (virtual or otherwise) running toward my hometown marathon knowing that I would be on the sidelines watching the crowd go by.

But then sadness and anger turned to determination.  I may not be running Boston this year, but dammit, I was gonna get back next year – of course, with the new qualifying standards, that means taking at least 4:20 off of my PR of 3:19:19.

4:20.

260 seconds.

Nearly 10 seconds per mile.

Oh boy!

I found my Spring marathon – Sugarloaf on May 22nd (I’d love it if you would come run with me).  It is supposed to be one of the fastest marathons in the country.  I started my training, stumbling out of the gate, unable to maintain pace in a Lactate Threshold run, but determined.  After initially settling on an 18 week plan, I decided to build up my base for 6 weeks and then train in earnest for 12.

And that brings me back to last Sunday.

As of last Sunday, I am halfway through my build up period.  I was scheduled for 14 miles, but decided that I wanted to race the SuperSunday 5, not just because I have always raced the SuperSunday race, but also because I wanted to see where I was physically.

***

Having found my Vermont 50 buddy JB and convinced him that we should shoot for 35 minutes, we made our way to the starting line.  Temperatures were in the low to mid 20’s and everyone was bundled up in long sleeves and running pants…everyone that is, except for me.  I was in my usual singlet, shorts, hat and gloves.

Right before the start one racer asked me, “why the hat?”

“Excuse me,” I said.

“Why the hat,” he said, “if you’re going with the singlet and shorts, why are you bothering with the hat and gloves?”  I explained that since we lose a large chunk of heat from our heads, that wearing a hat in fact allowed me to run in a singlet and shorts.  He nodded, muttering to himself, “you know, that kinda makes sense.”

JB and I had placed ourselves well back from the front.  I had no desire to hang with the sub-6:00 milers.  7:00 miles was what I was looking for.  I figured it would be a good marker to see where I was.

After the starting gun went off and we started to go, I quickly realized that we had moved back too far in the pack.  We bobbed and weaved our way through, trying to hit out pace.  It didn’t help that both of our Garmins were getting confused by the tall buildings.  One moment we were supposedly running 8:00 miles, the next a 5:15.  About a mile out, we finally found our groove, getting there at just about 7:00.

Me and JB settling in.

At this point, with JB trailing behind me a bit, I began to go back and forth with a woman who could not have been more than 5 feet tall, and that only on days when the moon and sun aligned properly.  I would pass her and then she would pass me and then I would pass her again.  On and on it went for a little over two miles.  As we approached the 5K mark I pushed to pass her, but I knew if she passed my again, I wasn’t going to be able to catch her.

As we passed the 5K check off, I hit a wall.  We had been running 6:50’s for a couple of miles and unfortunately, my legs were just not ready.  As I watch the woman go by me, JB came up on my left.   He was looking strong.  He had been smart and maintained an even pace where I had let myself get sucked into the game of racing one individual.  I was running out of gas.

At the 5K mark...mugging for the cameras before my legs gave out.

I knew I had less than 2 miles to go, but my legs felt like lead weights.  I told JB to stay with the group that had passed us.  He tried to encourage me to stick with him, but I just didn’t have the juice.  At this point, I just wanted to finish with a 35-handle.  It wasn’t going to be easy.

The next mile was a daze.  I was simply trying to run as fast as I could without completely running out of gas.  Mile 4 came and went unnoticed (a van had parked in front of the mile marker).  When my garmin beeped 4.5 miles, I looked at my watch.

31:18.

I had 3:42 to get to the finish line.  Just under a 7:30 mile. I pushed myself to go, dragging my legs behind me.

As I came around the final turn I could hear footsteps coming up on my right.  I could see the clock with a 34-handle.

Those two things helped me find my kick.  I broke into an all out sprint (the garmin claiming that I closed out the race at a 4:16/mile pace).

All. Out. Sprint.

I left the footsteps behind me and passed a guy who had just passed me only minutes earlier.

I guy in red I think is Footsteps...the guy in green had passed me just a half mile earlier.

After crossing the finish line, I nearly collapsed.  That was a lot harder than I had anticipated.  A year and a half ago I could have done a 35 minute 5-miler with a smile.  On Sunday, I struggled.

But I did hit my goal.  In the end, the official chip time was 34:56 – good enough for 6th out of 57 in my age group and 107th overall out of 744 runners.  Not bad for someone just getting back in the swing of things.

Afterward JB and I hit the party tent and ad a couple of beers.

getting ready for some beer!

Alain knows how to throw a race and even better, he knows how to throw a post-race party – 5 different kinds of beer and all the wings you could eat – perfect for Superbowl Sunday.

***

Despite hitting my goal of 35:00 or better, I still have plenty of work to do before Sugarloaf in May.  My 34:56 only translates into about a 3:25 marathon according to McMillian’s Running Calculator.  Obviously, that is nowhere near good enough.

That being said, I’m pretty happy with the progress I’ve made so far this year.  It’s not going to be an easy road back to Boston, but that’s kind of the point, isn’t it?

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“Yeah, I had some, uh, bathroom problems at 12.”
“Promise me that if it happens again you’ll stop”
“Um…”
“Just promise me…please.”
“Ok…I promise”
-A phone conversation between me and Jess somewhere around mile 15

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On Friday night I suffered my very first DNF (did not finish).  It was a disappointment to say the least.

I may have been under trained, under motivated and mildly under the weather, but I kept thinking maybe fresh legs would carry me through the day.  Man was I wrong.

I’ve had trouble writing this race recap – maybe because it was my first DNF, maybe because once one goes once around the 3.1 mile loop of the course, one has seen it all, maybe because after an hour of running it got so dark there was nothing really to see other than the few feet in front of me.  I don’t know, regardless, this has been a tough one to compose.

***

I initially started at the back of the pack, not exactly sure what my game plan was gonna be.  I had set my Garmin’s virtual running partner to run a 7:24/mile pace, figuring that would get me across the finish line at around 3:15.  I like to start slowly, but inevitably in a race I always start too fast.  This race was no exception, though I did manage to keep it close to what I hoped would be my overall pace.  Through the first two laps I weaved my way through the crowd, eventually settling into a pace that had me chasing a pack of runner that I just couldn’t seem to reel in.  In retrospect, I wondered whether keeping pace with them (around 7:20 pace) was not such a good idea.  In the end though, I doubt the chase had any effect on me eventually dropping out.

I finally did catch the group at around 8 miles, at one point taking the lead in the line and then dropping half of the group 2 miles later.

At that point I was feeling pretty strong.  Legs felt good, lungs felt good, mind was focused.  Seeing my friends Maddy and Sarah who had come out to cheer me on, every 3 miles was also a great energy boost.

Meanwhile though I would sip at my Gatorade and take a cup or two of “water” every 1.5 miles.

During a daytime race, you can see what it is you are taking in.  Water looks like water, energy drinks look like energy drinks.  Even if you aren’t looking at what you are taking in, you sure as hell are going to be able to tell the difference between water and say, Gatorade or Powerade when you put it to your lips.  At the Around the Lake Marathon/Ultramarathon they were serving water, just like any race, but they were also handing out cups of something called HEED.  I had never heard of it before and quite frankly, I hope I never, EVER drink it again.

Initially as I made my way around the lake, I would grab a cup at each of the two stations, pour it over my head, grab another cup, pour it on my face and then grab a third cup and drink it.  The problem was that this third cup was not what I thought it was.  I downed it every time thinking it was water.  It had a little bit of an odd aftertaste, maybe a little sweet, but I thought, hey! I’m in Wakefield.  Maybe their water just has a funny taste…or maybe the waxy paper cups just have a weird taste to them.  Either way, I didn’t think much of it.

I didn’t even really think about it when my evening started to rapidly unravel.

At around mile 12.5 I suddenly got hit with a massive stomach cramp.  It wasn’t the old, I’ve got a little stomach ache kind of cramp – no, it was the GET ME TO A PORTAPOTTY RIGHT NOW!!! kind of cramp.  Unfortunately for me, I was still 0.6 miles away from the portapotties.  I did the only thing I could think to do, which was pick up the pace.  As I flew into the check in station, there was a large crowd of spectators standing in front of the portapotties, blocking easy access.

“Coming through,” I yelled at the top of my lungs.  They must have sensed the urgency in my voice because they parted like the Red Sea being commanded by Moses.  I’ll spare you further details.

As I resumed the race, Maddy came up to me to ask if I was okay.  I told her that I thought 3:15 was now out of the question but that I planned on finishing and finishing strong.  She gave me some encouragement, Sarah handed me a cold water bottle and I was off for lap 5 of 8.  Somewhere around mile 15 I checked in with Jess on the phone (I love my Oakley Rockr Pros).  I told her the situation, told her I was fine and feeling like I could finish strong.

That’s when she made me promise.

At the end of May, when I ran the Run To Remember Half-Marathon, there was a runner who collapsed from pushing too hard and as a result, ended up in the hospital for several weeks with kidney failure.  That scared the crap out of me, but even more out of Jess.  With that story forever fresh in our minds (one that no runner should ignore – a post for another day), she made me promise that if I had another “bathroom” issue, I would drop out of the race.  I hesitated.  Since taking up running a few years ago, I had never dropped out of a race.  No matter how bad I felt (New York comes to mind) I fought and I finished.

I thought about the speech I had given just days before (see it HERE) where at one point I mentioned that I used an Autism Speaks pin and the thought of my baby girl to give me strength when my legs would occasionally fail me.  How could I drop out after that?  How could I possibly drop out of a race after giving that speech?  How could I let those people down?

But it occurred to me, that this was not a case of running out of energy or legs stiffening up.  This was a much more serious condition – with the very real risk of severe dehydration.  And so I promised, hoping that it wouldn’t happen again.  As I hit the next loop (number 6 if you’re counting), I briefly stopped where Maddy and Sarah were to hand them my sun-glasses.  3 laps to go, a little over 9 miles.  Time to gut it out.

Although I was moving more slowly, I was moving steadily.  My pace was even and though I wasn’t going to get the time I wanted, I sure as hell was gonna get that Finisher’s Medal.  Into the darkness I ran, and despite moving at a slower pace I was passing people – this is one of the nice things about running a marathon on a loop where there are the really crazy runners who were running the 12 and 24 hour Ultra-Marathon – by necessity, they must run at a slower pace so I got to consistently pass/lap them.  Even knowing that I was only passing ultra-marathoners, it still felt great to pass people.  I slowly tried to bring up the speed.  If I wasn’t going to get my 3:15, I was gonna take a shot at 3:20 and a possible PR.

But then it happened again.

First just a slight stabbing at around 18.  I tried to ignore it, taking a double-step and then moving on.

By 18.5 I knew my evening was done.  I stopped, doubled over.  The pain came and went, almost in waves.  I tried jogging, but that hurt.

For the next mile and a half I did a combination of speed-walking, jogging, standing, and a little mild swearing.  I hobbled across the timing mat, told the timer I was dropping out and made my way as swiftly as I could to the portapotty.  Not a great ending to the evening.

Afterward I went over to where Sarah and Maddy had been cheering me on and watched the runners continue to go by…without me.

I was disappointed, maybe even a little bitter, but the truth was, there was no sense in risking my long-term health over finishing a marathon.  If I were a threat to qualify for the Olympic Trials, maybe I just let it all go (Caroline White – look it up), but I’m just a middle of the pack runner, really only competing with one runner – me.  I also find out later that several runners had needed to drop out due to GI issues they attributed to HEED.  I’m telling you, never again.

Jess later tweeted:

@luau sometimes the greatest act of heroism is knowing when *not* to be a hero. far more proud of you for knowing when to walk away 2nite.

Although I understood that in my head immediately (and was touched by it immensely), it’s taken me almost a week to really take it to heart and truly be okay with a DNF.

There will be other races to be sure, other opportunities to get that elusive 3:15, but my biggest fear now is that I wonder, having dropped out of a race once, will it become that much easier to drop out of a race in the future when the going gets tough.

Only time will tell.

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Maybe it was  the high expectations I had of myself.

Maybe it was the fact that the heat & humidity beat me into submission.

Maybe it was that at one point in the race I quit – I simply gave up.

Whatever the reason, Sunday’s race did not go according to plan – and I’ve been struggling for over a week now as to how to write this race recap.

***

My thinking had been that since I had been able to cover the hilly Heartbreak Hill Course in 1:32 just two weeks earlier, that I would be able to take on the flatter Run To Remember course in 1:31.

Seconds before the starting gun I realized that I wasn’t excited; I wasn’t pumped.  I kept telling myself to get psyched, but it just wasn’t happening.  Yet for all the lack of adrenaline, I still felt like 1:31 was a very reachable target.

The gun went off, and after the inevitable walk, jog, run, walk, stop, run of getting across the starting line, I was off.

Somewhere before mile 2, not really paying attention to pace...oops! - photo courtesy of J. Alain Ferry (RaceMenu.com)

After covering the first 2 miles in 13:20, I realized too late that I had gone out too fast.  I would cover the next two miles in 14:00 (7:00 per mile was the initial goal), but by that time, I was in trouble.  The heat and humidity began to take its toll and every mile thereafter, except for the final 1.1 got slower and slower.

Still, through 6 miles I was still 20 seconds under target (having run miles 5 and 6 in 14:20 for a total time of 41:40).  By the end of mile 7 however (a 7:22), with my pace continuing to drop, I finally dropped behind pace of my stated goal.

For a brief flicker of a moment I thought, “it’s rally time.  Get our ass in gear Luau!” and I tried, I really did, but my calves just didn’t have it on that Sunday.

I'm faaaaaaaadiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnng! Somewhere around mile 7+ - photo courtesy of J. Alain Ferry (RaceMenu.com)

Truth be told, this race was uneventful and without the dramatics I have grown used to in my past races.  There was no reeling in of other runners; no sprint to the finish to catch somebody I had been eying for the last mile.  It was almost as if my attitude on the whole was simply blah.  Maybe it was the heat and humidity, I don’t know.

I did close with a strong final 1.1 miles, but even there I was unable to catch any runners ahead of me.  What pisses me off the most now is that I didn’t care (at the time anyway).

I would finish with a time of 1:35:54.  Well off my PR two weeks earlier.  Still I did finish 167th out of 5,248 total runners and 28th out of 474 runners in my age group.

***

In the midst of my slow implosion, I had what will be one of my more memorable racing moments:

Somewhere between miles 7 and 9 (it’s all a blur), a guy pulled up to the left of me.

He could tell I was lagging.

“Come on, Luau” he said.

“I don’t have it today,” I said trying to scan his face for some recognition, “my calves are shot.”  We chatted briefly, talked a moment about the Boston Marathon and then it was time for him to keep moving.  I was slowing him down.  He tried to get me to come with him, but it just wasn’t happening.  I still had no idea who this guy was.  As he pulled away he said, “great blog! Long time lurker!”  John had recognized me, either from my shirt or shoes or sunglasses or all three.  It was a neat moment of realizing just how inter-connected this running community is.

Lifted by this, I rallied briefly, chasing John for about a half-mile before I once again had to slow down.

After I finished, I walked back about a 1/2 mile along the course to see if I could cheer/run in a friend who was running her first half-marathon.  I settled next to some kids who I remembered cheering me in as I had passed them.  Their enthusiasm had been fantastic and nearly 30 minutes later when I had made my way back, it hadn’t waned.  These kids were cheering everybody on as they waited for their mom to come by.  As disappointed as I was in myself, my spirits were lifted by the raw energy these kids were giving to the passing runners.  You could see faces change as they approached and heard these kids yelling and screaming their lungs out.

It was standing here, cheering on the runners that I had another neat personal moment:

As I stood there clapping, shouting, encouraging, getting mildly dizzy from scanning the crowd for my friend, a tall guy with dark hair high-fived me as he went by.

“Hey!” he yelled.

I was a little taken aback, not sure what he was going to say next.

“I love your blog!”  Another runner who reminded just how small our running world is.

Between John, Dark-Haired Runner and my dailymile friend Lynda B (who recognized me before the race because of my multi-colored shoes) I was able to take a lot of positives from a performance that was somewhat disappointing.

So to John, D.H.R. and Lynda, I thank you!

***

I did learn a few things though from this race:

•when the humidity is at 89% and then temperatures are rising quickly, DON’T go out too fast.

•don’t run a hard, fast-paced 12-Miler less than 36 hours before a half-marathon you are hoping to PR at. Friday night after putting the family to bed, I hit the treadmill to watch the Bruins while running my scheduled 12-Miler. In part because it was late and I wanted to get to bed, I ran it way too fast. As I trudged upstairs after my run, and despite being excited by the Bruins game 7 win, the weight of my legs gave me pause. I wondered if I had blown my race with that run.

•sometimes the random race where there is no expectation, like The Heartbreak Hill Half I ran two weeks before, are better opportunities to PR. It didn’t hurt that there was no pressure and it was a good 15° cooler.

***

I’m thinking maybe next year, especially if it’s hot and humid like it was for this race, I may switch to the 5-Miler and call it a day.

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