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I really hadn’t planned on being here, yet here I was, at the starting line, wondering what the heck I was doing.

Having just come off my first heavy mileage week since late March, I wasn’t sure how my legs were going to react.

They felt heavy.

What the heck was I doing hopping last minute into a half-marathon?

***

One of the things I “love” about the half-marathon and marathon distance is that at some point, if you are a mid-packer like me, you will be tested.  It is not a question of if, but one of when.  Usually the test comes in the second half of the race.  In a marathon it is often during the last 10K (though mine at Boston came at 17).  In the half, I usually find that I must overcome my brain somewhere around miles 9 or 10.

Yesterday my test came during the first 4 miles.  I had jumped into this half-marathon on a whim.  I hadn’t trained for it, AND I had just started a new training cycle that already had me at over 40 miles for the week.  That isn’t a lot for some, but it is a full week for me.  My legs. were. tired.

As the starter yelled, “Go. Go! GO!” I got sucked out by the front of the pack.  I had run into RaceMenu/Mix1 teammate Greg (when he showed up I joked that everybody’s projected finish had just dropped one spot) and had made the mistake of hanging out with him near the start.  When the starter yelled go, I knew to let Greg go (he’s fast).  I didn’t give chase and I thought I was running at a smart pace.  Because of the threat of rain, I had left my iPhone (my de facto GPS device) at home, so I had no idea really what my pace was.  As we passed the first mile marker I tapped my watch and looked down.

6:09.

Um, what?!?

My goal for the half-marathon I had signed up for 2 weeks from now was to run 7:00 minute  miles (and that would be an almost 2 minute PR).  I had no business running a 6:09 first mile in an impromptu half-marathon.  I slowed myself down a bit which resulted in me watching several runners pass me by.

It’s never a good feeling when you get passed, even if you know in your head that it is the smart thing to do – it is discouraging at best.  As the faster runners continued to pass me, I quickly spiraled into a dark place wondering what I had been thinking.  I hit mile 3 in 20 minutes flat, but my legs felt like rubber.  I was spent.  I had gone out too hard, too fast and with  little over 10 miles to go, I was done.  By the time I hit mile 4, I actually had thoughts that maybe I needed to stop road racing – for a while anyway.  What was the point, really?  I mean, seriously, I am not fast enough to have a shot at winning any of these races; why in the world was I putting myself through this kind of hell?  Miles 4 and 5 were significantly slower and I started to think about walking or quitting.  The problem of course is that if I did that, I was stuck in the middle of nowhere and I’d still have to make my way back to the start.  On top of all of that, my right foot fell asleep between miles 4 and 5 (and would remain so for most of the race) and it felt like I was running on a stump of a right foot.  Yes, things were moving along swimmingly.

When I hit mile 6 I looked at my watch.

41:59.

Just under 7:00 per mile.  Granted there were still 7 miles to go, but a PR was not out of the question.  We were almost done climbing Heartbreak Hill and I notice that I was now starting to pass a few people.  I saw Greg coming in the other direction.  We slapped five as we passed each other.  He had a good 40 – 50 second lead on the second place runner.  Encouraged, I tried to quicken the cadence a little and push up the hill.  As we hit the turnaround and started heading back, I saw one of the runners who had passed me early on off in the distance.

I stopped thinking about my sleeping foot.  I stopped thinking about the pain and how tired I was.  Instead I focused on this runner’s tan shirt.  There were other runners in between us, but for some reason I did not want to lose to this guy.  It was time to go to work.  He was to be a good 75 – 100 yards off, but I slowly started to reel him in.  Coming down Heartbreak, a young kid pulled up next to me and I latched on.  Moments later I heard a loud, booming, “LUAU!!!”  I looked to see Kim from Tales of an Endless Runner working her way up Heartbreak.  I yelled back and carried on.  Running downhill felt good.  I finally caught tan shirt at around mile 8.  As I started to pass him, he surged, as did young kid.  I pushed along with them.  Tan shirt briefly opened up about a one meter gap before fading.  Young kid and I pushed on.

I still felt terrible.  My legs were sluggish and my breathing was labored.  My mindset, as it had been from about mile 5 on, was “just finish”.  Forget the PR, just finish.

I kept thinking if I could just hang with young kid, I would be all right, but I very quickly realized that in this particular case, youth was going to win out.  At mile 9 I felt young kid quicken the pace.  He was trying to reel in a group that was about 50 yards ahead of us.  I thought about coming along for the ride, but I knew I had spent my surge energy catching tan shirt.  I quickly glanced behind me to see if anyone was closing on me and saw no one.  I decided to keep my pace and let young kid go.  It was a move I would partially regret later.

When I hit mile 10 I looked at my watch.  70:16.  I started to do some math.  My PR was a 1:33:14.  That meant if I ran the next 3.1 miles in just under 23:00 minutes, I could PR.  My heart and my brain went in two different directions.  My heart said, “GOGOGO!!!” where my brain said, “be smart, run smart!”

I divided 23 by 3.

7 2/3.

7:40.

But that doesn’t take into account the extra 0.1!

23 divided by 3.1 is…

oh crap! too hard. I can’t even do that when I’m not running.

I arbitrarily assigned the 0.1 mile stretch 45 seconds.

22:15 divided by 3.

3 times 7 is 21.

that leaves 1:15…divide that by 3…that 75 second…25!

7:25!!!

I need to run 7:25 pace the rest of the way to hit a PR!!!

Yes, this is what was running through my brain as I covered mile 11.  When I hit the mile marker I looked at my watch – 7:18 for mile 11!

Re-calculate! 

Nononono!

Just run!!! Keep pace.

Mile 12 came in 7:19.  1.1 miles to go.  If I could just maintain my pace I would beat my previous best.  I looked ahead.  I had pulled within maybe 75 yards of the guy ahead of me (young kid has disappeared out of sight).  I thought about trying to make up 75 yards over the course of a mile, but I was spent.  That said I did manage to pick up the pace.  With less than a few hundred yards to go, I heard RaceMenu Chief Alain cheering me in.  There was no one behind me and there was no way I was catching the guy in front of me, but I picked up the speed with one last push.  I knew the PR was mine.  As I made the final turn and ran through the chute, I saw the clock – 1:32:23 – a PR by 51 seconds.

1:32:23 - 22nd overall, 4th AG, 51 second PR

I. was. beat.

Alain handed me a mix1, congratulated me on my PR and told me that Greg had won the race in a course record 1:14.  Man that guy is fast!  Greg and I posed for a picture for our sponsors.

So, I finished in 1:32:23, 22nd overall and once again, as it seems to be my fate in these things, 4th in my age group, just off of the podium.   Maybe if I had chased young kid back at mile 9 – 10 I would have caught the 40-something that finished ahead of me – of course, maybe I would have crashed and burned before even making it to mile 11, who knows.

I’m glad I chose last minute to hop in on this half-marathon.  I’m glad I passed the test early on in the race.  Did I learn anything? Maybe that even when it feels like it’s all going down the tubes, if you put your head down and battle through, sometimes good things can happen.   Makes me feel pretty good going into the Boston Run to Remember Half Marathon over Memorial Day Weekend in 2 weeks.  That race is MUCH flatter than this was, so I’ve actually got a shot at another PR.  We shall see.

***

On a tangentially related note, it seems that Sunday may have been National PR Day.  Many of my running friends scored personal records in the races they ran, none more joyous to me than my buddy Brendan (@mainerunnah on Twitter) who ran the Pittsburgh Marathon and got his BQ in a 3:19 finish.  Those of you who read this blog regularly may remember Brendan from my Smuttynose BQ.  At that race we were both shooting for 3:19’s as part of Team Kinvara, but he unfortunately came up 33 seconds short.  Getting the text that Brendan had achieved his goal actually brought a tear to my eye.  Congratulations Brendan, you have caught the Unicorn!  I will see you in Hopkinton in 2012!

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As I bolted out of the porta-potty, I thought, this is it! this is the moment! THIS is where all of the training kicks in!!! I looked up at the first of the Newton Hills almost with a smile.

You. Are. Mine. I thought.

I had been running along at a decent clip, averaging in the low 7 minute per mile range for 17 miles. My only trouble had been the urge to pee since before the start. I finally gave in to using a porta-potty when I saw one at the bottom of the first Newton Hill. I figured that this was just another star aligning to get me to my 3:10. I would have 20 – 40 seconds to relieve myself while simultaneously recovering for 20 – 40 seconds before tackling the hardest part of the course. Perfect!

So this was it! All I had to do was get through the next 2.5 miles and I would be cruising home-free on the other side of Heartbreak Hill.

I kicked it into overdrive. This was going to be cake…maybe not a tasty cake, but cake nonetheless. I had run these hills dozens of times. Not only had I run them often, I had run them late in long runs (17 miles late to be exact!). My plan was to attack the hills with speed and relax on the back sides. It had worked every time in training. EVERY TIME!

As I hit the base of the hill I shortened my stride and quickened my cadence.

Oh yeah! Showtime!

I got three, maybe five steps in, and then it happened.

I don’t know what asthma feels like. I don’t have it. I have never had a problem with it. But three, maybe five steps up that first Newton Hill, after running like the wind, after looking up at Newton “knowing” this was going to be my day, after having run those hills countless times, my lungs simply said “no”. This is what I have always imagined asthma feels like.

For the life of me, I couldn’t inhale. Whether you’re a car or a plane or a pair of legs, if you can’t take in oxygen, there IS no combustion. Every time I tried to take a breath, my airway felt blocked. I could force enough in to make an awful sound, but that was it.

No, my lungs said, We are not going to cooperate with you in this insane business you call marathon running. No, we will not assist you in achieving you goal. No, we will not let you run fast. We are done breathing.

And that was it. In one moment my day went from spectacular to miserable in the flick of a switch. My legs had felt good. My will was strong. My desire was burning. But my airways constricted and all hopes of a 3:10 or a 3:15 or even a PR (currently a 3:19:19) went out the window.

My bolt out of the porta-potty turned into a walk. A walk? Really? I mean REALLY!?! I was walking up this hill?

Every hundred yards or so I would try to start running again. At first I would start slowly and then try to build up speed. Every time I would get to what I perceived to be about an 8:00 to 8:30 per mile pace, my lungs would collapse on me again and I would be left simply trying to inhale, struggling to do what we all take for granted. I would make a sickening weeze for about 30 – 40 second as I staggered along before my breathing would become normal again. I’m surprised that I did get picked up by medical. Maybe I’m just lucky that they didn’t spot me at my worst.

For the next mile I kept thinking that it would pass. If I could just get through the next 5 minutes or so, maybe everything will reset! It didn’t pass. I struggled to 18 or 19 where I saw the medical tent. I staggered towards it. I sighed.

DNF (Did Not Finish)? Am I going to have to fucking DNF?

As I raised my foot to take another step toward medical, I thought of my little Brooke. No, I wasn’t running this race for Autism Speaks or any autism charity for that matter, but Brooke and kids like her are a source of strength for me.

My foot wavered.

Then I thought of my older daughter, Katie. I had made a promise to her when I put her, Brooke and Jess on a plane the Friday before the marathon. They were going away to Florida ahead of me and I was going to join them Monday night after the marathon. I had promised Katie that I would wear my 2011 Boston Marathon Medal on the plane and would have it around my neck when I woke her up with a kiss when I got to our hotel. How could I break that promise? If I checked into medical, there would be no medal. In addition, I wouldn’t be able to wear the commemorative jacket I had bought days earlier.

And so, I stumbled back on to the course, weezing, trying to catch my breath.

I was scared.

I wanted to cry.

I wanted to quit – I wanted to quit more than I have ever wanted to quit in a marathon.

I wanted to scream and yell.

But I trudged on.

This was going to be the dreaded “Death March”.

By the time I reached mile 20, I was in a pretty dark place, and I still had Heartbreak Hill ahead of me. My lungs continued to rebel and now my feet were beginning to hurt. And that’s when I saw my dear friend Alett. She spotted me and began to cheer. I shook my head. As I staggered over to her, she said some words of encouragement, but I told her, today was not going to be my day. The running gods had given me a lemon of a marathon.

It was at that moment though when my whole attitude changed. After 2+ miles of grumbling and wallowing in self-pity, I realized that I had a choice. I could do the death march thing to the end of the race OR I could embrace what had been given me and take advantage of the fact that I still had many friends on the course waiting to see me and cheer me on. I could stumble by them in misery or take this opportunity to celebrate that I was running Boston this year and a god-damned qualifier!!!

I decided to go with the latter and started snapping pictures with every friend I could find. Click —>HERE<— to see the pics I took over the last 6 miles.

As painful as it was to keep going, and despite having bursts where I tried to finish strong only to be slapped down again by my lungs, it was a joy spotting friends and taking a minute or two to yuk it up. My only disappointment in those last few miles was that I was unable to spot a couple of friends I knew were out there and that I was unable to keep up with my friend Ty who came up behind me with less than a mile to go and tried to pull me along (I tried Ty!) – Nic, Deb, Amelia, Hadar, Yigal, Ramana, TK and Mary, despite missing you, it helped knowing you were out there!

Looking back on my splits, I’m pretty psyched I was able to stop and chat, take pictures AND keep those last miles in the 8:45 – 11:15 range.

***
So I guess the question becomes, what happened? More specifically, what caused my lungs to go asthmatic on me? I don’t know. I’ll have to do some research on that one. Maybe I was taking in too much fluid? I had been training on about 10 – 15 oz. of Gatorade per 20 miles all winter and I’m pretty sure I drank much more than that over the course of the first 17 miles. Maybe I just sucked down some liquid down the wrong pipe? I don’t know. All I know is Monday, April 18th wasn’t my day. Maybe, if I can get in, April 17th will be.

***

There are a lot of titles that went through my mind as I contemplated writing this race report:

Opportunity Lost or Falling Short (it was all there), Breathless (for obvious reasons), Karma (was there a debt to be paid for leaving a man behind at Smuttynose?), Hubris or Foolish or Greedy (was 3:10 a realistic goal? should I have been content with gunning for 3:15? would I have lost my lungs had I been running 7:24’s?)

It was, to say the least, a rough day. A day of disappointment. A day where my goal of a 3:10 marathon seemed well within my grasp. A day where I watched that goal simply disappear with a single breath.

It didn’t start out that way. In fact, when I woke up on Monday morning, I felt great. I mean, I REALLY felt great. My training had been pretty much without incident. My times had been spot on. I was ready. The weather looked like it was going to cooperate too – 50° – 60°. We were even going to have a tailwind. In addition, RaceMenu chief Alain found me right before the start and said that he was shooting for a 3:10 just like me – I thought “perfect! Someone to run with, just like Smuttynose!”

Yes, everything was lining up for an A+ effort on Monday. 3:10 was a real possibility, with a 3:15 all but in the bag! Though my morning was a bundle of nervous energy, I did manage to stay relatively relaxed on the surface. I found my dailymile friends in the Athletes’ Village, and the group of us kept each other loose with small talk and funny stories.

I was so sure that I could feel the natural speed of this group. We were almost all qualifiers, and those that were charity runners were gunning for PR’s.

Speed was in the air.

Some days you have it. Some days you don’t. Some days, like last Monday, you have it and then you lose it. I’m just glad I had the where with all to make lemonade out of lemons. And have no doubt, YOU were the sugar that made the lemonade so sweet!

The turn on to Hereford (2nd to last turn) - trying to keep it light

the turn on to Boylston - the finish line is only a few hundred meters away

Stopping to chat with 150 meters to go...

...and snap a picture! -courtesy of CAUTION:Redhead Running

less than 100 meters to go

All done - 3:37:00 - my worst finish other than Manchester. Aside from my BQ, quite possibly my most enjoyable final 6.2 miles.

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No, no, no, no, no, no, NOOOooooo!!!

-Somewhere near mile 22

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I ran my very first marathon (the Manchester City Marathon) a little over a year ago. I went into it not really knowing just what I was getting myself into. Over the course of the next fifty two weeks I ran three more marathons (Boston, Providence and Smuttynose). In each of those I learned a little bit more about the 26.2 mile distance.

One full year after running the Manchester City Marathon, and with one week to go until New York, I thought I had the knowledge, determination and discipline to conquer the five boroughs. Unlike Meatloaf, I only got one out of three right.

I would love to go into detail of my whole weekend experience, but in the interest of time and space I will just say that on Friday and Saturday I got to catch up with the always inspiring Sarah Stanley, had the honor and pleasure of meeting my buddy Michelle, running with both her and TK, and having a fabulous brunch with a roomful of runners (too many to list here) and attended the Team Up with Autism Speaks Pasta Dinner.

Me and Sarah Stanley at the Expo

Me and "Miss Joy" Michelle meeting for the first time at the expo...we later attended a wedding together!

At the dailymile/Twitter Brunch where I got to sit with THE Running Laminator!

At the Autism Speaks pasta dinner with my sister and Autism Speaks President Mark Roithmayr

Got to sit and eat with fellow autism parent and twitter friend Rhonda aka @train2tri

Let’s get right to the race.

As I stood, shivering in the starting area, I tried to visualize my journey before me.  Much like Smuttynose, I had a plan – I was going to break the race into 5 mile segments.  I knew in my head that no matter how I felt, I could run 5 miles.  In my head I told myself the moment I take that first step in each 5 mile segment, I was now down to 4+ miles.  It worked to perfection at Smuttynose.  I was sure it would work in New York.  If could replicate my Boston Qualifying race, New York was going to be a breeze.  Part of the plan also called for taking a Honey Stinger at the beginning of each of those 5-mile segments.  Easy enough.  I had run Smuttynose in 38-minute 5 mile segments.  My plan for New York was to attempt 37 minute splits.

Although I had never run New York, I tried to imagine myself taking a Stinger and a swig of my homemade Honey Water at the designated spots.  I saw myself crossing the finish line in Central Park.  The clock read 3:16, which was fine, because I was about a minute back from the starting line.

After the introductions of the elite runners, the gun went off, and we were OFF! waited for the wave to make it’s way back to corral 12.  I took one last look around for DP_Turtle, hoping to find a running partner, but to no avail.  The sea of people began to surge forward and as we crossed the starting line, I hit my watch and we broke into a jog and then a run.  My New York City Marathon had officially started.

People had warned me about the mass of humanity that I would be part of.  I thought having run Boston from the very back that I already had a grasp of what that meant.  As I began to climb the Varranzano-Narrows Bridge, I realized just how wrong I was.

The view of people ahead of me and behind me was almost overwhelming.  Reaching the peak of the bridge, I looked out over the water at Manhattan.  Having lived there in the late 90’s, I felt a tinge of sadness.  Even today, almost a decade after 9/11, I still expect to see the Twin Towers standing there.  I said a quiet prayer for those who lost their lives and loved ones that day and moved on.

As I passed the first mile marker, I took a look at my watch – 8:14.  A nice, slow start.  Unfortunately the second mile was downhill and gravity did it’s thing.  Coming off the bridge I hit mile 2 in a too fast 6:43.

Too fast! I thought. But then I reconsidered, thinking that I was now on target for sub-7:30 miles.  It had worked at Smuttynose.  It was going to work in New York, right?

Shortly thereafter we got our first dose of the crowds.  The cheering was absolutely amazing.  The next 3 miles went quite smoothly.  I hit the 5 mile marker at 36:02…a little ahead of schedule, but I felt good.  Real good!  Too good.

I pulled out a Stinger.

***

Now here’s the thing.  I am a huge fan of NRG’s Honey Stingers.  I am convinced that they helped propel me to my BQ at Smuttynose.  Before traveling down to New York, I decided to defer picking up my Stingers until I got to New York.  I assumed the local running shop would carry my brand.  They did…just not in the original flavor I was looking for.  My choice was banana and chocolate.  I settled on a mix.  But what could go wrong, right?  They were Honey Stingers!

***

As I passed mile 5, I pulled out my Stinger, tore off the top, sucked the the honey and washed it down with Honey Water.

It.

Was.

Awful.

I grimaced and washed it down with another swig of Honey Water.

Much better.

That is until a mile later.  At mile 6, it started mildly.  Small tiny waves brushing on the shore.  But with every passing minute, the waves of nausea became bigger and bigger.  They were soon crashing down on me.  I tried to stay focused on putting one foot in front of the other, but I could feel myself starting to fade.  Somewhere in the next mile or so I had to stop at a port-a-potty.  I didn’t feel good.

44 seconds later, I was back on the road.

At mile 8 the three starting groups (for the uninitiated, the New York City Marathon starts in three waves, each wave broken down into three separate starting areas that run their own routes for the first 8 miles) came together.  The crowds and runners became more congested.

Mile 10 was coming.  The nausea wasn’t going away, but I knew I needed to take a Stinger.  I tried to psych myself up for taking in sugar, but the closer I got to 10, the sicker I felt.  Mile 10 came and went, and I decided to push the Stinger off until mile 15.  I took a swig of my Honey Water, but even that was now making me sick.  At the next garbage can, I chucked my bottle.  I looked at mile split – 73:35 – that was a 37:33 split.  Despite the urge to hurl for the last 4 miles, I was still on target.

I slowed down a touch, trying to give my body the opportunity to re-group.  After about 10 minutes I started to feel somewhat normal.  No longer feeling green, I pressed a little to make up for lost time.  As we crossed the half-way mark I looked at my watch.  1:37:19.  Sub-3:15 pace!!!

Ok!  I can do this!

Just after the half, I spotted my friend TK.  I ran over, gave her a hug.

Looming in the distance was the Queensboro Bridge.  I took a deep breath.  I was going to take the ascent slowly and let gravity do it’s thing on the back side.  Passing mile 15, I realized that I needed to take in some nutrition.  The very thought of taking a Stinger brought back a wave of nausea.  I decided to wait just a little longer.

I took a look at my watch – 1:52:20 – a 38:45 split.  Still within striking range and ahead of my Smuttynose pace.

As we began to climb the bridge, I was surprised to hear music.  Led Zepplin’s Kashmir began pounding through my earbuds.  I had forgotten that I was listening to music.  The bands and crowds are so loud along the course that unless you have your music pumped up all the way (something I do NOT advocate), it is completely drowned out.

But on the bridge there were no fans, no bands, no sounds save the quiet pounding of running shoes on the asphalt.  Robert Plant wailed away in my ears.  I couldn’t help but smile.  For some reason, it felt like the perfect song for the moment.  Reaching the peak of the bridge, I forced myself to take another Stinger.  The thick honey was so unappetizing to me that after forcing half of it down, I spit out the rest.  My level of nausea kicked right back up.

I had been told that I would hear the cheering in Manhattan long before I came off of the bridge, and I did.  Momentarily I was uplifted.  Coming off of the bridge, I race over to the crowd and high-fived a number of kids.

The high was good enough to keep me going for a couple of miles, but I knew I was starting to pay for the lack of carbs I was putting in.  At this point I realized I needed to put some kind of sugar into my body, so I decided to start drinking Gatorade at each water station.

I never drink Gatorade.  Ever.

Through 18 miles I had manage to keep my mile splits under 7:50.  I was still averaging under 7:30 per mile.  Mile 19 came in at 7:57.  I wouldn’t see another 7-handle the rest of the way.  As I entered the Boogie Down Bronx, almost on the nose at mile 20 I nearly doubled over from pain in my stomach.

Stomach cramps?  Really? My lack of drinking Gatorade while training was coming back to haunt me.

I had never suffered from stomach cramps before in a race.  These were sharp and painful.  I knew that my game plan had to change.  Even as I had approached mile 20, I had been thinking that a PR was still a possibility despite the ongoing nausea.  I had fought through it for 19 miles.  I knew I could fight through it for another 7.

But this was different.  I went into survival mode.  I just needed to keep moving.  Time was no longer the goal – finishing was.

We weren’t in the Bronx long, quickly returning to Manhattan and Fifth Avenue.  I’m not sure how it is physically possible, but it felt like both going up First Avenue and going down Fifth Avenue were both uphill.  Is that possible?  It sure felt that way.  The stomach cramps weren’t going away, but I felt like I could make it through to the finish…that is until somewhere before mile 22 when I felt a twinge in my quads.

Deja vu!

My mind flashed to mile 20 of the Manchester City Marathon when my quads froze, leaving me with my legs planted to the ground like tree trunks for 10 minutes, unable to move.

The twinge became more intense.  I could feel both quads tightening up.  This is NOT good! As I passed mile 22 I thought about quitting.  I was in official death-march-mode. 

Is it worth trying to get to the end?  I’m nauseous, my stomach has sharp pain and now my quads are seizing up.  Maybe I should walk.  Maybe I should stop.

But something kicked in.  I knew that the Team Up with Autism Speaks cheering section was just a mile away.  Autism Speaks, the families that battle autism every day and all those who had helped me raise nearly $3,500 had brought me to New York.  I couldn’t let them down.  I looked down at my singlet.  “Run Luau Run” it said right above the Team Up with Autism Speaks logo.  I thought of Brooke.  I thought of my friend Greg and his son.  I thought of my friend Sheila and her son.  I thought of Jersey Jenn and her family….and Judith…and Drama…and Gaby…so many families…

No.  Walking was not a choice.  Stopping was not an option.  I wasn’t running for me.

Each stride brought a shot of pain in each leg.  I looked up to see a sign: Pain is temporary. Pride is forever! followed by Your Feet Hurt Because You’re Kickin’ Ass!!! Two better placed signs I could not have asked for.

I caught the Autism Speaks cheering section by surprise (they were still setting up) and soldiered on into Central Park.

Now, I love a good set of rolling hills as much as the next guy, BUT after 23+ miles?  Oh my frakking God!!!  The uphills simply brought a more intense pain to my quads, and the moment I began going down the hills, my hamstrings decided to join the party.

Gee! Thanks Hammies!  I’m glad you could make it to the Pain Party!

Up and down.  Up and down.  But as intense as the pain was, I knew I had less than 5K to go.

Somewhere around 24, something made me look left.  There was my sister!  A sight for sore eyes!  I ran over to her and gave her a hug.  A big part of me wanted to stop right there and call it quits, but I knew I couldn’t.

A hundred yards later, I spotted my mother-in-law (Grammy) and her husband (Grandpa DD).  I tried to put on a brave face.

"Gotta keep moving...I think the finish line is this way" (photo courtesy of Grandpa DD)

"Maybe if I flap my arms, my legs won't have to work so hard!" -courtesy of Grandpa DD

I had nothing left.  My body was working on sheer muscle memory.  At this point, my hair could’ve been on fire, and it wouldn’t have mattered.

We exited the Park and ran along Central Park South.  I knew that we needed to go back into the Park at some point, but it felt like it was taking forever.  Finally, as we approached Central Park West, we cut into the Park for the last 400 or so meters.  This was the final test of the New York City Marathon, because this very last portion was painfully uphill. Really!?!

Usually I have a kick at the end of these races.  Heck, I even had one at Manchester for the last few hundred yards, but on this day I would have to be satisfied with just keeping a steady pace.  There would be no passing people at the very end.  No triumphant sprint across the finish line.

I looked at my watch – 3:26:31.

I mustered a smile.  Despite everything, I had managed my second best marathon time.

I didn’t hit 3:15.

I didn’t PR.

But I have to say, that in many ways, I am more proud of what I did on that day than of my BQ time at Smuttynose.  New York pushed me past what I thought was my limit.  I could have quit.  Heck, maybe I even should have quit, but I didn’t.

Yes, pain is temporary and pride is forever (at least I hope the pain is temporary – my legs and shoulders are still hurting as I write this!).

I wandered out through the bag pick up section, briefly checking into medical, probably leaving before I should have, woozy but proud.

How I felt through much of the race

I found my family, thanked them for coming.

Me and my sister (who took care of me after the race!)

Me and my Mother-in-Law

We made our way back across the park to cheer in other Autism Speaks runners.

Hanging out at the Autism Speaks cheering section, cheering other runners in

I got to see Edison the mining runner.  Talk about a story of perseverance.

So what did I learn in New York? At least four things (though I’m sure others will reveal themselves):

1. Don’t mess with your nutrition.  Last minute changes to what you put in your body can really mess you up.

2. Train for the terrain.  Truth is, I spent the summer training on very flat roads in anticipation of Smuttynose, which is billed as the flattest marathon in New England.  That was great for Smuttynose as I cruised to a BQ, but not so much for New York with it’s bridges, slow, long climbs and rolling hills in Central Park.

3. Running with someone makes a huge difference.  At Smuttynose I was blessed to be able to run with my friend Brendan for nearly 15 miles and then with some strangers for another 7 or 8 or so.  I ran New York without a partner and I’m pretty sure it didn’t help.

4.  No matter how good you feel, if you’ve been targeting averaging 7:24 per mile, it’s not wise to run a 6:43 in the second mile.

As beat up as I am though, I’m already strategizing for Boston.  Just this past Wednesday, I received my Confirmation Notice in the mail.  Mentally I am ready to start running again!  I am ready to start training for Heartbreak Hill!  I plan on kicking it’s ass!  The only problem is that my legs haven’t got the memo yet.

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Why do you run?

Some other photos from the race:

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The training schedule I’ve been following for the Smuttynose Marathon called for an 8-10K race this past Saturday. The idea being that running a race this close to the actual goal race would help me work through any pre-race jitters. The problem was that local race directors didn’t get the memo that I was in a training cycle that called for an 8-10K and all that was available close by were a few 5K’s. I picked what I thought would be one of the flatter ones and away I went.

Now I have this friend, let’s call her Teri*, who I have been trying to get to come to one of these road races with me for over a year. There was always some excuse, but she kept telling me to ask her the next time. She hadn’t run a race in a decade, so when I came across this race, an inaugural one, I thought it was the perfect opportunity for her to re-enter the road race arena. The description of the Glio Blast Off 5K was fast and relatively flat. When I showed her the website, she was hooked. She’s been running around 6 miles lately as her regular runs, so she had no excuses with a 5K.

Still, as I drove by her apartment on Saturday morning to pick her up, I was half expecting her to tell me that something had come up. I was pleasantly surprised to find her waiting for me on the curb.

She was, to say the least, a bit nervous. She had no idea what to expect from herself. I reminded her that for a first race, she should push herself hard, but know that this was simply a bar-setter. Once she got through this one, she would know what she was capable of and be able to go on from there. She thought that she would be happy simply coming in under 30 minutes. I asked how fast she had run her fastest 3 miler – 25 -26 minutes.

I thought about that for a minute and told her that I wouldn’t be surprised if she could hit a 25-handle. She looked at me like I had a screw loose.

We arrived at the race, checked in, got our numbers and began to warm up. As the start time edged closer and closer, I could see Teri getting more and more nervous. I tried distracting her by trying to pick out who we thought the winner would be. An older gentleman, in his 50’s, flew by warming up.

“There goes your winner,” I said. She laughed. It was actually good for me that she was so nervous because it kept my mind off my own thoughts about the race. Though my plan was to try to improve off of last week’s time (20:27), I essentially had no idea what kind of giddy-up I would have, having raced a 5K race and run a VO2Max interval workout in the previous 7 days.

As the starter called the runners to the line, I left Teri in the middle of the pack – just run strong and slightly out of your comfort zone, I told her. I went to the front and instinctively checked out who else was there. There was the older gentleman, a 20-something year old, a larger guy in his 30’s and me. I found out in our short conversation before the start, that all of them had been long timecompetitive runners. The larger guy mentioned that he use to run 5 miles in about 27 minutes in college. Oh, boy! My strategy had been to go out with the leaders and see what happened. After our brief discussion I realized that I would be fighting for 4th place, even with a PR. The gun blared and we were off.

Right out of the gate the big guy pushed the pace, with 20-something right behind him, then me, then the older gentleman. Before the first turn I once again found myself running with the front pack of a race. After an initial flat 200 yards, the course went uphill for the next 300 yards or so. The big guy didn’t flinch and I tried to keep pace. 2 turns later and we started down a mild downhill. The big guy was about 10 yards ahead, 20-something was maybe 2 or 3 yards ahead and I could hear the older gentleman closing in.

Just before hitting the mile 1 marker, the older gentleman flew by me. I check my watch, 6:00. Phew! A little fast!

I watched as our group of 4 began to look more like 4 groups of 1. The big guy continued to pull away, with the other two hanging on. I had two choices at this point. Do I follow, push myself to the limit and possibly injure myself, or do I continue along at what I perceived as max effort? I know that sounds contradictory. Luau, if you’re already pushing at max effort, how can you push any harder? I’ve always felt that what may feel like a maximum effort isn’t always so. That said, despite my training program saying I needed to approach this race as an all out effort, to paraphrase old Obi-wan, this wasn’t the race that I was training for. I would have kicked myself if I had maxed out my legs and ended up pulling something with 2 weeks to go until Smuttynose. Having come to that conclusion, I pushed on at the effort I was putting forth.

As the other three began to pull away, I glanced over my shoulder. Nobody. I once again found myself in the position I did at Lex’s Run. Barring disaster, or a huge rally by the guys behind me, I was sitting in the spot I was going to finish. Mile 2 came and went uneventfully in 6:24. I did some quick math and realized I had 7 1/2 minutes to cover 1.1 miles and get in under 20 minutes (my stated goal). It was going to be close. I felt my legs slowing down and I began thinking of the uphill near the end of the race. I could still see the leaders.

At this point the older gentleman had passed the 20-something. I realized too late that I was closer to them than I had thought. With a little over 1/4 mile to go, I saw that I was only about 200 yard behind he big guy and a little over 100 yards behind 20-something. I had no shot, but I pressed on the gas anyway. As I hit the final hill, I could feel gravity slowing me down. I could only watch helplessly as 20-something crested over the hill and used gravity to his advantage. Once I hit the downhill, I did the same. It was too late to catch 20-something, but I still had a shot at my first sub-20. Two more turns and I saw the clock just under 200 yards away. It was just clicking over to a 19-handle. The finish line looked so far away. Physically I felt like I had left it all on the hill, but I knew, I knew, I had something left in the tank. I forced myself to sprint. I’m not sure how I looked, and I didn’t really care. I was getting that sub-20 dammit! As I closed in on the finish line, I realized that not only was I going to finish in under 20 minutes, but I had a shot at 19:30! I could hear the people gathered cheering me on as I flew through the chute. I pressed my watch and looked – 19:30. Official time: 19:27. I found the other 3 guys, congratulated them and nearly threw up.

After taking a moment, I jogged back to the last turn and cheered runners in, encouraging them to either hold off the person behind them or catch the person in front of them. A few minutes later my friend Teri came around the corner. She was struggling – holding her own, keeping pace, but definitely struggling. As she came around the final turn, I broke into a run with her. Let’s go Teri! There’s the finish line! She wanted to stop. I wasn’t about to let her do that with just 150 yards to go. Come on! Let’s go! Look at the clock! LOOK AT THE CLOCK! The clock read 25:–. She kept moving. I started running backward right in front of her. You’ve got this! You’ve got your 25, but you can hit 25:30 Teri! Let’s go. She would later tell me that at that particular moment, she hated me and wanted to hit me. Intuitively, I stayed just out of reach, mentally trying to pull her along. At about 10 yards to go, I peeled off so she could run through the chute. 25:27. For about a minute or so she was miserable. Then she realized what she had done. You could see the pride and excitement grow in her face. She had achieved her goal and she felt great. She called her trainer to share the news. About 10 minutes later, the timekeepers put out the premiminary results. Teri had finished 30th overall (out of 185 finishers!), 10th among women, and 1st in her age group. 1ST IN HER AGE GROUP?!? She was ecstatic! I have to admit, I was just as happy for her and I was for me when I found out that I too had won my age group, finishing 4th overall.

For an inaugural event, this race was extremely well run. My only two notes of criticism would be that they didn’t have any course maps to check out (something they said would be addressed next year) and the race directors chose very odd age groups (31-40/41-50?). The course was fast and fun but challenging. Hopefully Teri and I can go back next year and defend our age group wins!

Did I learn anything? I was reminded that as a running community, we take pride in the achievements of others. I truly got a huge thrill from Teri’s age group win, knowing that in a small way I had helped push her a little harder than she was going to push herself.  Hopefully this is the first of many races for Teri.

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*Named changed, though not arbitrarily.

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I’m looking around at the crowd of runners gathering at the start of Lex’s Run for MDA. Like any race, there is a wide variety of runners. Every shape, size and age is represented. There are about 75 of us milling about. I’m looking to see who I think the lead runners will be. There’s my buddy Chris from Run Run Live. He’s fast, strong and experienced. There’s another, younger guy who has a team shirt on that looks pretty fast. I eavesdrop on his conversation with another fast looking kid. I’m doing the numbers in my head. I’ve got myself in 4th. That is, until I hear their conversation. They are talking about a man named Sawyer. From what I can gather, he’s 48 and he’s fast…real fast. I see them look over and nod. I follow their gaze and there he is. All 5’4″, maybe 120lbs on a day the sun and the moon are on the other side of the planet.

“There’s your winner,” I thought.

“There goes your winner,” said my friend Adam. I laughed. We would later joke that Sawyer had negative body fat and that every time he walked by, we all lost a pound.

Hmmm, okay, 5th place looks about right.

Another slender runner walked by. I would later find out his name is Jonathan. Much like the Sawyer, Jonathan is built like a your stereo-typical runner – long, lean, slender.

6th…shooting for 6th!

***

Before long, Doug called the runner to the starting line. I don’t necessarily like starting at the front of the pack, but Chris urged me to join him on the line. Sawyer and Jonathan positioned themselves to my left. As Doug blared the foghorn you could hear our four stopwatches beep just slightly out of sync with each other. We were off! Within about 400 yards, the four of us had created a gap with the pack. I had run this part of the course with Doug earlier so I acted as the navigator. Chris took the lead with the three of us following close behind.

I had no real strategy for this race. My friend Sheila had suggested running like my hair was on fire. Chris kept the pace hard as we worked our way through the first several turns. The first half mile, on a park trail, was relatively narrow, not allowing for a lot of movement, but then the course opened up a bit. It was at this point that Sawyer made his move and took the lead. Almost immediately he began to push the pace. The three of us held on for another quarter mile or so, but I got the sense that had he wanted, Sawyer could have left us completely in the dust 10 yards into the race.

Coming out of the park at 3/4 of a mile we hit “the hill”. The hill was a 154 foot climb over a quarter mile stretch. Sawyer pushed the accelerator down. Jonathan stayed closed behind him. I heard Chris yell, “Good luck boys” or something to that affect. I decided to try to run with the big boys. I was only about 3 or 4 yards behind them, but I couldn’t close the gap. 2/3 of the way of the hill, I yelled that I didn’t think I was gonna be able to keep pace. Jonathan yelled back words of encouragement, but it was no use. These two guys were simply much faster than I was. Little by little they began to pull away. As we hit the top of the hill, an EMT cheered us on. With my lungs and leg on fire, I remember thinking, I may need this guy soon!

Legs burning, lungs on fire...

As we made the turn I looked down at a glorious downhill. Nearly a mile of downhill grade. I thought maybe I could use gravity to close the gap a little with the two leaders, but they must have been thinking the same thing. Part way down the hill I glanced over my shoulder to see if Chris or anybody else was closing in on me.

Nobody.

I was sitting comfortably in third, and this is when my head started to play games with me. Barring a stumble, there really was no way I was catching Jonathan or Sawyer. Looking back, I had created about a 200 yard gap between me and the next runner.

What are you running so hard for? Ease up on the gas. You don’t need to be going this fast. You can’t catch those guys. That guy can’t catch you. These were the thoughts that drifted through my mind as I tried to push through. I got so lost in thought that I almost missed the water station. I had no intention on grabbing a drink, but I yelled at one of the kids there to throw the water in my face. She missed and hit my chest, but it was the refreshing jolt that I needed. I heard the girl and the mother laugh as I flew by.

Re-focused, I concentrated simply on finishing strong. As I hit 2 miles, the course flattened out and took a turn back toward the start. I could see both Sawyer and Jonathan in the distance and decided that I would try to, at the very least, keep them in sight. With a little over 1/2 mile to go, I glanced over my shoulder. I had stretched my lead on the next runner to about 300 hundred yards. As I went into the final turns of the race, I was aware of people cheering but could not hear them. My hair was on fire and the only way to put it out was to cross the finish line. At the final turn I saw the clock. My goal had been to run a 19-handle, but the clock had already rolled over to 20. I sprinted through the chute at 20:27. 3rd overall out of over 70 runners. Not bad for a first 5K. Initially I was disappointed with my time, but after some reflection, I realized that the course was not considered an easy one. The climb on the hill probably took more out of me than I was willing to admit, especially since most of my training this summer has been on flat roads.

After crossing the finish line, I found Jonathan. Sawyer had gone out for a cool down, but I wanted to cheer everybody in (easy to do when it’s 70+ people). Over the next 30 minute Jonathan & I (joined a few minutes later by my dailymile and twitter bud Adam) chatted and cheered everybody in. Jonathan, it turns out, had started running only recently. A few years ago, pushing 250 lbs, he had decided to change his life. He went out the door and ran 5 minutes from his house, stopped and then turned around and ran back. He slowly built up to 10 minutes, then 15. After being able to run consistently for 30 minutes, he started running for distance. The miles added up, the pounds dropped off, and now he’s running 5K’s in 19 minutes, along with running marathons and competing in triathlons. Adam actually has a similarly inspirational story you can find here.

As the rest of the racers came in, I got to meet several other runners, a lot of them with neat, interesting stories of their own. One woman, Mary McManus, had run Boston 2009 after being diagnosed with post-polio syndrome in 2006. You can find her on the web here.

So what did I learn from this race? I’m not sure yet. That a 150 foot climb over a quarter mile is hard? I don’t think I needed this race to learn that. What WAS reaffirmed was that the running community is vast and varied, and that running brings us the peace of solitude and the joys of community.

I hope that if you are relatively local, you’ll consider running Lex’s Run in 2011. Doug’s wife Lex, suffers from adult onset muscular dystrophy, and they have created this race to give back to the association that has done so much for them. You can find their homepage here.

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Jonathan, Me and Adam post-race courtesy of Chris

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Last night night I ran the Marathon Sports 5 Miler.  It was, to say the least, a very new experience for me.  I had never raced anything shorter than a 10K, so I wasn’t sure how I was going to approach this.  I was running on two teams last night.  One was the RaceMenu/mix1 team that I have been running with since April, the other was an informal coming together of friends to form a coed foursome to compete in the team competition of the race.  We had no actual chance of winning the competition outright, but we did have a friendly wager with some friends who had formed a team of their own.  It was Team We Run This Shizzle (with Doug, Jamie, Nina and myself) versus  Team Runners Through The Jungle (with Hugh, Michael, Alett and Lizette).  The winning team was to buy the losing team a beer.

When Jamie and I arrived at the high school where the race was starting, I looked around and knew placing high was going to be tough.  I have never seen so many high school and just out of high school runners at a race since, well, high school.  And these kids looked serious.  There are some races that bring out the more hard core runners, and I think that the Marathon Sports 5 Miler is one of them.  We finally managed to find both Team Shizzle and Team Jungle, and the smack talk began.  At one point I asked Hugh what the strategy was for running a 5 Miler, and he looked at me deadpan and said, “run faster than a 10K.”

Soon we were called to the start.  The race started at a local high school on one of its fields.  As the Marathon Sports website describes the course:

The course is a moderately difficult certified 5-mile combination of hilly roads, grass, and trails, starts like a shoulder-to-shoulder cross country classic, and finishes with a flourish on the High School track.

RaceMenu leader, Alain, called me up to the starting line.

“How fast you running this,” he asked.

“I’m hoping around 32:30”

“Ok, I’m running with you.  Stay up here.”

I put my toe on the line and looked around.  I remember thinking to myself, “I do NOT belong with these guys.”  All around me were “real” runners.  Next to me were a pack of BAA (Boston Athletic Association) runners.  It was intimidating.  I looked back to wave at Teams Shizzle and Jungle but couldn’t find them in the sea of runners.  As I scanned the crowd I realized more and more that this was a serious crowd of hard core runners.  More doubt began to creep in.

The starter raised the bullhorn…

Now, this was the first race since the Manchester Marathon in November that I ran naked.  No, for you non-runners, that doesn’t mean without my clothes.  No, naked means running without music or your GPS enabled phone or watch.  I did cheat a little by wearing my stopwatch, but running without music and more importantly Runkeeper, meant that I wasn’t going to have my normal half-mile splits to tell me just how fast I was going.

…and we were off!

Alain and I took off like jackrabbits across the large field.  As we made the first turn off the hill, the course dipped drastically and it was all I could do not to slide down the grass.  Within 90 seconds were back on road and looking around I knew I was in trouble.  I was huffing and puffing already while getting passed by scores of high school runners.  I thought to myself, “man, it sucks to be old!”

3 minutes in I asked Alain if his garmin said how far we were.  He looked but couldn’t tell.  I was hoping to hear we were on a 6:00 – 6:15 pace.  A couple of minutes later I saw the 1st mile marker.  From a distance I could make out the first number.  A “5”.  Crap! Alain and I passed the marker at 5:35 – way too fast for me!  Alain tried to pull me along, but I had to ease up and recover.  I waved him on and watched him slowly pull away.

Mentally I was in crisis mode.  I realized that I had truly screwed up my race plan by going out so fast.  To be nearly 45 seconds faster than my planned pace was too much.  Part of me wanted to stop, but I knew I couldn’t let Team Shizzle down.  As I approached the 2nd mile marker I heard Hugh yell from behind me.

“Hey Luau!

“Yeah?”

“When I told you to run faster than your 10K pace, I didn’t mean twice as fast!”

I tried to laugh but I was still recovering.  My whole body was aching, but I was determined to just get to mile 3.  As long as I could get to mile 3 I knew I could finish.  Hugh paused for a beat and then moved on.

I hit mile 2 at 12:26 (a 6:51 second mile).  At this point I knew I was on my own for the rest of the race.  I had originally hoped to run with either Alain or Hugh, but had burned through too much fuel in the first mile.  I was just going to have to hang on for dear life.  At the next water stop I grabbed one cup and downed it and then a second cup and poured it over my head.  As I left the water stop I heard a little boy say, “Dad?  Why did that man pour it on his head?”  I laughed.

Mile 3 came quickly in 6:02, though I wonder if that mile marker was misplaced.  18:28 through 3 miles.  Despite having killed myself in that first mile, I still had a shot at a 32-handle if I could just maintain a 7:00 minute pace.  Normally, that’s a pace I can manage, but man, I was hurting.  I focused on just staying steady, keeping the feet moving.

Mile 4 arrived in 7:04.  I was fading and fading fast.  At 25:32, I knew I just needed to maintain to reach my goal time, but it was a struggle.  I was getting passed and I wasn’t passing anyone; psychologically that can be a game crusher.  But with about 3/4 of a mile to go, something happened.  Up ahead I could see I was actually gaining on some people.  I wasn’t the only one struggling this late in the game.  I found new energy and kicked it up just a bit.  I wasn’t going to try to catch them in one fell swoop.   I knew I had a little bit of time to reel them in.

My engine was sputtering but I was determined.  My legs and lungs were yelling, screaming at me, but I mentally plugged my ears and yelled “lalalalalalalala!” as loud as I could in my head.  A young blond girl passed my on my right.  I latched on and stayed with her.  With a half mile to go, the course returned to grass for a little over a quarter mile before finishing on the local high school’s track.  The girl started to pull away (I’d find out later that she is a nationally ranked high school miler) as we hit the track.

The moment my feet hit the track, a flood of memories came back.  I had not run competitively on a track in over 22 years, but it all came back.  The crowds, the pain, the adrenaline.

The adrenaline!!!  Thank God for adrenaline.  As we rounded the turn to head for the final straightaway, I heard Alain cheer me on.  It was time for the kick, and man did I kick!  I passed the girl and three other runners as I stretched out my stride and just went.  The last guy in my sights got away by 2 seconds.  I patted him on the back and we shook hands.

You want to know what those 2 seconds cost me?  A top 100 finish overall and a top 20 finish in my age group.  I finished with a 32:14 (16 seconds faster than my goal), 101st of 915 overall and 21st of 156 in my age group.  By far not my best finish, but to accomplish that in this field felt pretty good.  I found both Alain and Hugh.  In the end they had each finished about a minute ahead of me, so I didn’t feel too bad.

I went back out on to the field to cheer on the rest of the runner.  In came Mike, then Jamie, Doug, Alett, Lizette and Nina.  Team Shizzle initially thought we had lost, but when I checked the scoreboard later that evening, Surprise!, we had actually beaten Team Jungle by 98 seconds.

After taking a few photo-op shots with the RaceMenu/mix1 team and O-Water, Teams Jungle and Shizzle made their way to my car where we cracked open a few beers to celebrate the competition.

Jamie, Doug, Me, Nina, Alett, Hugh and Lizette

Despite having run for RaceMenu for several months now, this was my first race where I was running in a team competition.  I absolutely loved the extra motivation it gave me to run hard.  Before the race, Jamie was telling me that she was concerned about how she was going to run and that she didn’t want to let her teammates down.  This despite the fact that she was a last minute addition and didn’t actually know the runners.  It is great motivation to run your best, and she did!  She ran a 36:20, coming in over a minute faster than what she was hoping for.  I know that when I wanted to give up at mile 2, knowing that I’d be letting the team down was a huge motivator to keep going.

So now it’s back to training for the Smuttynose Marathon, but I already have my eye on next year’s Marathon Sports 5 Miler, and I’m hoping we can have the same friendly bet again, because next time Hugh, I’m taking you down…I’m taking you down to Chinatown.  Let the smack talk begin!

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On Sunday I ran Boston 13.1.

When the alarm went off at 4AM, I thought, this is NOT going to go well. In fact, I had had that exact same thought as I finally drifted off to sleep just a little over 3 hours earlier. Despite having plans to run on Sunday, the wife and I had gone out to dinner with cousins and stayed out relatively late. 4AM arrived way too quickly.

After a shower and a quick bite to eat, I was off. Despite having to wake up at 4AM, I was thankful for the 6:15 race start. With temperatures quickly rising to 80° by 10AM, anything later would have made the race simply unbearable.

Turns out that the 13.1 Marathon Series Boston Edition didn’t actually take place in Boston. Instead, it was in the rolling hills of Milton and Canton. Rolling hills is putting it lightly, but more on that later. After failing to find my teammate Chris (the one who came in 4th last week) and my buddy Erin (in from Georgia), I made my way to the starting line. The starting corral was organized into pace sections (6:00 mile, 7:00 mile, etc). I wasn’t sure what my game plan was yet, nor did I have any clue as to how I was going to run. 3 hours of sleep and already rising temperatures made me a little nervous about going out too fast. I essentially wanted to beat 1:40, with my secret “time to beat” for the day a 1:35. With summer in full effect I knew there was no way I was going to challenge my Half-Mary PR of 1:33:14. So I placed myself at the front of the 8:00/mile pack, figuring I’d run somewhere in the 7:30 – 7:45 range for the race.

After a few minutes we were off. Unlike last week where I got sucked out by the Kenyan leaders, this week I was careful to go out with a little patience – or so I thought. I looked around for someone to latch onto but much like the Boston Run To Remember, nobody seemed to fit a pace that was comfortable for me. After a few minutes of bobbing and weaving, I found a couple that was running together and seemed to be moving along at a decent clip. I settled in behind them and focused on form. When we hit the first mile marker I was a bit surprised – 7:18. Huh! I was feeling pretty good, so I figured why not keep it up. As we hit the second mile in 7:19, I heard the guy say to his girlfriend that he thought they should pick up the pace. Again, I figured I was still feeling pretty good so why not keep up?

Just before mile 2 the hills started to kick in. They weren’t nasty – not yet anyway – but definitely provided a bit of a challenge this early in the morning. The course had several out and back branches, the first one starting at mile 3. This first branch was only about 2 1/2 miles altogether and was uneventful except that I was able to get a glimpse of the leader as he ran past in the other direction. This early in the race, it appeared that he already had a good 3 – 4 minute lead. I was happy to see my RaceMenu teammate Chris sitting comfortably in 2nd. We’ve exchanged hello’s as we passed each other. As I made it back to the start of this first branch, I realized that I was running steadily in the low 7’s. Much faster than I had planned, but feeling good nonetheless. Visions of a PR started to dance in my head – that is until I turned the corner onto out and back branch number 2 at mile 5. I took a deep breath as I stared at a hill that simply went up and appeared to continue up as the path turned around another corner. I found out over 7 1/2 minutes later that the hill went up for a full mile. For the non-runner, a 30 second drop in pace may not seem much, but add it up over 13 miles and you’re talking about a 6 1/2 minutes swing in your time.

While tackling this hill I was struck with doubt. I seriously wondered if I had been unwise to run the first 5 miles at the pace I had with as little sleep as I had had the night before. I tried to employ my falling uphill technique with mixed results. I could only do it in spurts, but it was carrying me past dozens of people, and even when I had to straighten up, momentum continued to carry me. I must have passed 30 people on the way up the hill. When I realized this, my attitude began to change for a second time.

As we approached the turnaround just past mile 7 I began counting the runners coming the other way. The leader had come and gone minutes earlier. Chris was in a battle for 2nd place some 5 – 6 minutes behind. We slapped 5 as we passed each in a neat moment I will not forget. A minute or so after that came the rest of the pack. 4, 5, 6…10, 15, 20…25, 26, 30…35, 40…45, 50, 60…69, 70, 72…77, 78, 79… I was sitting in the 80th spot. Okay, I can deal with that. 80th. That’s not bad. But then I started thinking about the previous week’s race. I didn’t want to get passed. My goal had been to finish in the top 100 in this race, and yes, I was sitting at 80th, but there was another 6.1 miles to go.

After the turnaround, there was a slight uphill, where my falling uphill technique helped my catch 4 or 5 runners, and then it was downhill for the next 2 1/2 miles. It sounds great, but it is tough on the quads! As I hit mile 8 I heard a woman yell “LUAU!!!”. I turned just in time to see my Twitter/Dailymile buddy Erin go running by in the other direction. I waved as best I could and kept going.

By this time, the runners had spread out pretty thinly. There were two runner about 30 yards ahead of me. I set my sights on reeling them in. At about mile 9 I caught them. As I contemplated whether to run with them or try to pass them, one of them looked at me and said, “Hey! Are you that guy with that blog on dailymile?” I did a double take. Well, uh, yeah, actually I am. He told me that he had just stumbled onto my blog not 4 or 5 days before. In fact, he had sent me an email asking me a question about running in Vibrams (Eric, I promise I’m getting around to answering that email very shortly!). We chatted over the next mile about running marathons (I found out he had run a 3:09 marathon and qualified for Boston) and running in general. At about mile 10 he backed off and I looked ahead to the next group of runners in front of me. Our pace had closed the gap significantly on the next group. As we rounded a corner at 10.5 I realized that I was probably sitting now somewhere around 60th. I chugged along to mile 11, blissfully clipping along.

Then came mile 12. Ever since mile 6, the hills had been relatively mild. But mile 12 made mile 6 look like a wannabe. It just went and went at a much steeper incline. Again I took a deep breath, but this time I was determined to take the battle to the hill. I shortened my stride, controlled my breathing and went. Leaning into the hill, I passed 5 runners just as the hill started. I felt like I was either moving at a decent clip or the runners in front of me were losing their fight with the hill (turns out it was a little of both – I wasn’t going as nearly as fast as I would have hoped, but it was fast enough to pass these runners). I passed another group of 4 or 5 runners. Now there were no more pods in front of me, just lone islands of single runners struggling to make it to 12. One by one I picked them off. I tried to control my breathing, softening it as I went by those that were struggling. I didn’t want them to know that I was feeling the pain too. I kept running and I slowing kept passing runners. As I approached the top of the hill I came upon the last water station.

1.1 miles to go.

I saw 3 or 4 runners slowing down to grab a drink. Did I have a strong enough 1.1 left in me to pass up this last water station? I decided to gamble and blew right through.

1.1 miles to go. I knew I was less than 8 minutes from the finish. I could suffer through 8 minutes.

I caught a few more runners. There in the distance was one more runner in blue. He had to be at least 50 – 60 yards ahead of me. At this point, there was about a quarter mile to go. There was simply no way to catch him. It couldn’t be done. But I again flashed to the Father’s Day 10K from the previous week. I remembered how I had been passed in the final mile. I remembered how I gave up trying to catch him with about 200 yards to go. I remembered how that guy cost me a 2nd place finish in my age group.

NOT. THIS. FRAKKING. TIME!

I turned the engine into overdrive. I had already kicked it up a notch at the start of the hill, but I was able to find another gear and then another after that. I kept looking at him and then at the finish line and then back at him again. He was in cruise mode, settled into his place.

I was closing, but running out of real estate.

I kept pushing. My legs were screaming, my lungs were burning.

I heard the crowd pick up the volume. They knew what I was trying to do.

With 70 yards to go, he was still a good 20 yards in front of me.

Suddenly he sensed something was wrong. Maybe someone in the crowd tipped him off. His head turned slightly as he pick up his pace. I covered 20 yards in the time it took him to cover 10. We were now 10 yards apart, with 50 yards to go. He tried to turn on the gas but it was too late. I was flying and his engine was in cruise control. I passed him with 1 yard to go. It was close enough that both of our guntimes read 1:33:58. But I know I beat him to the finish.

He came over and patted me on the back. I chatted with a few of the runners that came in right after me, exchanging congratulations. As I left the finishing chute, I ran into Chris. He had finished in second, pulling away late in the race from his rival. I waited and cheered Erin in. We exchanged big sweaty hugs. She PR’d by 10 minutes!

In the end, I didn’t PR. Officially my time was 1:33:47, a half minute off my PR, but I managed to finish 41st overall out 2681 finishers and 4th in my age group (out of 106 men ages 40 – 44, and out of 188 men in their 40’s). Yes, another 4th place finish in my age group and unfortunately, this time there were no 40 year olds in the top three overall finishers. That said, I felt pretty damned good about my result, especially considering that when I woke up Sunday morning, I was pretty convinced that this race was not going to end well for me.

The race itself, though great for me, was somewhat of a disaster organizationally speaking. The finishing chute was too crowded with no easy exit. The medals, usually handed out to runners as they finish, were only available across a large field in an unmarked location. The usual amenities one expects at a half or full marathon (i.e. massage tents, food and beer) were only available to runners who ran with Team Challenge. But the very worst mistake that I heard about later was that the organizers ran out of cups at the water stations midway through the race. Though I wasn’t carrying my own hydration, I was lucky to be ahead enough to have missed that, but many of the runners were forced to take swigs out of gallon jugs as they went through the water stations. I can’t imagine having to drink from a bottle that the sweaty stranger in front of you just slobbered all over. And from what I understand, a couple of the stations actually ran out of water all together. A definite liability in the hot and humid weather.

That said, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I was able to run much faster than I expected and the hills that I was so worried about turned out to help me in the end.

Here’s the elevation chart:

Miles 6 & 12 were killers

With this race out of the way, it’s time to concentrate on my five miler coming up at the end of July. I’ve never run a race that short, and I realize that I have to work on speed – a topic for another post.

Erin & I right after she PR'd by 10 minutes. You gotta love a girl who's willing to give you a big, sweaty hug and not care!

I also ran into Eric post-race. I promise that email reply is coming!

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