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Yesterday I paced a buddy of mine to his first NYCM finish – we started strong, got knocked down around 18, but got up and finished strong.  Way to go brother!

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Holy cow!  Where to start?  I’m not even sure where the beginning really is on this one.  Is it months ago when I met with the folks from Team Up With Autism Speaks?  Is the when I began leading a training group every Sunday morning 10 weeks ago?  Is it last Saturday night when I got up in front of 220 Team Up Runners at the pre-race dinner for a pep talk?  The whole thing is just a little overwhelming, so maybe I’ll start in the middle.

***

I could feel the pain coming on.

You know, that little wet, burning feeling.  I don’t know where it happens for you, but blisters almost always start either just above my heel or near the front of my arch.  I had committed the cardinal sin in road racing – wearing footwear for the first time in an endurance event.  Last Wednesday or Thursday I had completely grossed myself out with my old Bikila’s.  They smelled so freaking bad and that was AFTER I had sent them through the washing machine…TWICE!  It was time for new ones, and considering that I would be pacing my dear friend Jersey during the race, I didn’t want  her to have to deal with my smelly shoes.  So, I went and bought a new pair; and then they sat for 4 days.

Yeah, I know, brilliant!

And so it was just a couple of miles in that I started to feel it coming on.  I tried to ignore it.  I tried to focus on my Garmin.  My friends Doug (from Really Not A Runner – even though he is) and Sassy had joined Jersey and I and my primary goal was to get Jersey to the finish line at just under 2:00.  We were clipping along at 9:00/mile pace, which translates to about a 1:58 half.

Sassy, Jersey and me early on, pacing smoothly around 9:00 per mile.

Me and Doug, who was in a showdown with Jersey – winner take all.

But the burning was growing.

I kept pushing it to the periphery.  I had a job to do: get Jersey to the finish in under 2:00 and then shuttle in the rest of the Team Up with Autism Speaks Runners.  We were having a fabulous time cheering other runners on.  I kept checking in with the Team Up runners we would pass, letting them know I would see them at the end.  We caught up with Paula from Perspicacity.  She had decided months ago that her first half-marathon was going to be Boston 13.1 with our Team.  We exchanged a quick hug and continued on.  I knew I would see her at the end.

Sharing some pavement with Paula from Tallahassee.  You can also see Superwoman Rebecca from Orlando just to the left of Paula’s ear.

As we made the turn onto the beach just after mile 3, I realized that I had two choices – either leave the footwear on and end the day with some monstrous blisters or take the footwear off.  I wasn’t sure what to do.  The farthest I had run in my attempt to rid myself of plantar fasciitis was 5 miles, and although the barefoot running had cured my PF, it wasn’t easy on the skin of my feet.  After trying to suck it up for another quarter mile, I threw caution to the wind and off came the shoes.

Surprisingly, it felt really good!  The pavement along Revere Beach is nice and smooth and the 9:00 pace meant I wasn’t pounding my feet either – a perfect combination for running with proper form!

We continued along our merry way, cheering runners we passed, all the while keeping our pace around 9:00.  Around mile 4 I saw Jess coming the other direction.  She was walking the half.  I jumped through the park that was between us and gave her a big hug, telling her I would be back.  I ran back to my charge and we continued on.  This barefoot thing was working out great.

Since we had started near the back of the pack, even at miles 5 and 6 we were passing other runners.  I would give a word of encouragement to every Team Up runner we would pass.  Through the turn arounds I got to see the runners I had trained over the past 10 weeks.  Every single one of them looked great.  All of them were smiling.

Between mile 8 and mile 9, Jersey began to fade.  Her spirit was there, but on this day her legs began to rebel.  Any experienced runner will tell you that there are days you have it and there are days you don’t.  Sometimes we can battle through the pain; others, the pain is just too much.  Sassy was on a mission to hit sub-2:00 as well, and we told her to go.  She would finish in 1:58.

Jersey and I took a little walk break.  It wasn’t her lungs, it was her legs.  We had banked enough time that we still had a shot at sub-2:00.  The next 3 miles would be a mix of run/walking.  She was determined.  I kept an eye on the Garmin.  Approaching mile 10 I said we needed to make a decision of whether to go for it or let it go.  Jersey is from, well, Jersey and she wasn’t gonna go down without a fight.  We needed to pick up the pace, which we did, but ultimately her legs said no.

I changed gears on her.  Sub-2:00 wasn’t in the cards this day, BUT her previous best was a high 2:04.  I knew we had an excellent shot of beating that.  I started doing the math.  If we could walk/run the next 2 miles at a certain pace, she was gonna come in around 2:04.

We hit mile 11.  I shortened the the distances we walked.  Even as we walked I kept my legs in a running motion, trying to pull her along.  As we got to mile 12, I said to her, “you can do anything for one mile.”  She was hurting but determined.  She kept pushing.

With a half mile to go, I shouted at her, “no more Mr. Nice Guy, let’s go!!!  How pissed are you gonna be if you miss this PR because you walked!  LET’S GO!!!”

She kept going…the clock was ticking…tic, tic, tic.  The finish line came into view.

Push, push, push.  The clock said 2:05:something but I knew we had at least a minute because we started so far back.

Tic, tic, tic.

We made the turn into the chute.  Jersey has broken into a dead run.  I tried to avoid the broken glass and pebbles that littered the ground.  On last turn in the chute, I yelled, “go get that medal! save me some beer!!!”.

Jersey’s PR was 2:04:47.  She would cross the finish line in 2:04:44.  A PR by 3 seconds.  Any runner will tell you, a PR is a PR is a PR!

I turned back to start part two of my job that day, shuttling the rest of the Team Up runners to the finish.  It was poetic that the first three runners I paced in were Roberta, Jana and Mark, followed closely by Kara, four runners who attended just about every single one of my Sunday training runs.  I was so proud of them!

What fun it was pacing people in!

Still blue afro-ed, still barefoot.

The absolutely amazing thing was just about every Team Up runner had a smile on their face.  Even after covering 13.1 miles, most for the very first time in their lives, there was a huge smile.  There was one woman who was crying, BUT it was because she knew she was A) doing something she had never thought she could do and B) knew her son was waiting at the finish line for her.  I told her that it was okay to be crying.  I started to well up as she turned the final corner for home.

The pebbles and gravel in the chute finally got to my feet, so I slipped my Bikila’s back on as slippers and continued to pace runners in.

Still blue afro-ed, but no longer barefoot with Dave from dailymile

After 5 miles of shuttling, I got a text from Jess.  She was fading.

I caught up to her at around mile 11-ish – Garmin said I ran low 7’s coming for her.  She told me she had never been so happy to see a blue afro.  I gave her a hug, told her she was doing great and we walked.  We were soon joined by her cousin John (who unexpectedly ran a PR!!!) and his girlfriend, then by our buddy Doug, then by Jersey and our friend Judith.  Over the last mile we were escorted by EMS and some State Police.

Jess crossed the finish line and then I finally did the same.  I was (and am) so proud of her.

The final numbers?  Almost 22 miles, 16 of which were run barefoot, 3:40:55 and a whole lot of love.

Next stop: New York City.

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New York is still just under 3 weeks away. Before running Smuttynose, I had told myself that if I had the good fortune of qualifying for Boston, my approach to New York would be that of a fun run, a celebration, a victory lap. I was going to soak in every mile of the New York City Marathon experience, not caring what my time was.

That was my intent.

However, after watching the fantastic finish at the Chicago Marathon and tracking my friends at Chicago, Portland and Bay State, several of whom had BQ’s of their own, there’s been this voice; this voice that’s whispering in my ear.

It’s whispering, “3:15…3:15…3:15”.

I don’t even know if I can run a 3:15!

And furthermore, there’s no real reason for me to be attempting 3:15. By the time November 7th arrives, I will have already registered for Boston 2011 (registration opens this morning at 9:00AM), so it’s not like I’d improve my corral placement. On top of that, with only 5 weeks between Smuttynose and New York, no one is really expecting to see any kind of improvement, are they? Of course, the last time I ran 2 marathons so closely together, I did manage a 2 minute PR.

So I’ve been asking myself, could I take 4 minutes off in New York? Should I even try?

To make matters worse, my friend David (@DP_Turtle), who BQ’d at Chicago and finished Boston last year 11 seconds ahead of me, has thrown down a challenge. He will be running New York and is thinking maybe we should have a little side bet. Before you try stop me, it’s too late! We have agreed that the loser at New York is buying the winner a beer at Boston 2011. True, that’s not a whole lot on the line – it’s just a beer…and bragging rights!

Now, I did say early on, that I was planning on stopping to see everyone I know along the way and snapping a picture. Can I still do that and run harder than I did at Smuttynose? I don’t know. It’s doubtful.

So you see? I’m conflicted. I want to enjoy my victory lap. I want to hug every friend along the way (though after a few miles they may not want to hug me). But the competitive nature in me is whispering, “3:15…3:15…3:15”.

What’s a runner to do? What do you think?

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