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Posts Tagged ‘race report’

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.

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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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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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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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4:30AMI imagine that many are already up, awake after a sleepless night.  They are stumbling about their homes or hotel rooms, checking, double checking, triple checking their gear for the day.  I am asleep.

5:30AMSomewhat bleary-eyed, but full of excitement, thousands head for the buses at the Boston Commons.  As sleepy as they may be, their bodies are buzzing.  I am asleep.

6:00AM The buses for the first wave are now leaving, with buses for the second and third wave leaving at 6:30 and 7:00. My alarm finally goes off, only because Jess still has to work today and I need to go down to the kitchen to pack her a breakfast and lunch.

6:00AM –  8:00AM – They will sit on the bus, some sleeping, some chatting a mile a minute, some silently staring off into space, contemplating what lies ahead.  I will make myself a simple breakfast, have some tea and wait for my kids to wake up.  No school for them on Patriot’s Day.

8:00AM – 10:00AM – They wait.  This is one of my favorite parts of the Boston Marathon.  They will nervously wait in the athlete’s village.  If they are running with a charity, they will all sit together, otherwise, they will find friends who they only see once or twice a year – friends who they know through the blogosphere or Facebook or dailymile or Twitter.  It will be comforting because these are people that, despite not knowing each other, they know each other. Some will be relaxed, others will be nervous, most will be a combination of both.  Despite the comfort of the village, all will want to get this race started.  I’ll shower and lay my running gear out…maybe I’ll double check it, maybe I won’t.

10:00AM – The first wave is off.  I say a little prayer for all of the runners as the temperatures look to climb into the high 80’s.  I am not so worried about the elite runners and those that will be near the front of the first wave.  Though they will not necessarily have banner days, they will be finishing just as the temperatures get brutal.  It is the later runners like my charge Lynda, who I will be pacing from mile 16 to the finish line, and my dear friends Mike and Judith and Brian who are experienced marathoners, but starting in the third wave, that I am concerned about.  They are the heroes of Monday who will be subjecting their bodies the tough, hot, extreme elements.  Meanwhile, I will drop one of my kids off for a play date and bring the other with me to run some errands.

10:40AM – The third wave will be under way.  For those all the way in the back (as I was in 2010 – I was literally the last person to start in 2010) it may take as much as 20 minutes to cross the starting line.  Brooke and I will finish up our errands and go home to play a little – maybe a little painting, maybe some reading.

11:30AM – The elites are probably somewhere near Wellesley College at this point – almost half way home.  If they’re smart, they’ll stop for a kiss in the scream tunnel.  Depending on how long it took to get to the start, my friends in wave three are somewhere between 4 and 5 miles in.  Hopefully they are taking their time, soaking in the crowd and not worried about their pace. The babysitter arrives and I begin to check my phone for alerts on my charge Lynda.  She is hoping to run at 11:00 to 12:00 pace.  I check to make sure I have my Charlie Card so I can get back home via the T after I run her to the finish.  I check the interwebs for the T-stop I need to drive to. 

12:15PM – The alerts have been coming in, not just of my friends from wave three, but of my other friends as well.  Maddy, Steve, and many more. At this point, Lynda is anywhere between 5 and 8 mile.  She probably won’t be at mile 16 until 1:40ish, but I don’t want to take any chances. I hop in the car and head to the local T-stop, dressed to run, shuffle, walk – whatever it takes to get Lynda to the finish line. 

1:00PM – Arriving at mile 16, I will make my way through the crowd and cheer on the runners, looking for friends, keeping track of Lynda.

Our 2 roads are about to converge…

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Whenever I go to small, local races (all of 3 or 4 in total) I inevitably start looking around for who may be the winner.  I size the other runners up – she looks fast!  he’s definitely a speedster!  – and as I do, I try to place myself among them.  The Liver Lover 5K was no different.  Upon arriving, I immediately started sizing up those who appeared to be fast runners.  Over on a bench was a long, lean guy who looked like he could flat out run.  Over by the check in table was a shorter women who looked all of 100 lbs.  She pulled off her sweatshirt to reveal a Boston Running Club singlet.  Crap! Another speedster!  As I surveyed the crowd I tried to figure out who was faster than me.  I had myself coming in somewhere around 5th.  When my Race Menu teammate Lisa showed up, I knocked myself down another peg.  6th place.

As we walked over to the starting line, it became apparent to me that there was one kid who was not running the same race as the rest of us.  Tall, skinny, a runner’s body and a college singlet on.  Turned out he was 23 years old.  My plan had been to go out with the leaders and see where I was after a mile.  I was gonna have to let this kid go.  After a touching rendition of the National Anthem, it was time to go.

Ready…

Six or seven us crouched at the starting line.

Set…

We put our hands on our GPS watches.

GO!!!

A multitude of beeps and we were off.  Tall, Skinny Kid shot off the starting line and for whatever reason, I gave chase.  After 25 yards, I looked down at my watch – 7:05 per mile pace – didn’t feel like we were running that slow, but I thought, okay, I can keep up with this guy!

At about 200 yards, my lungs really started to burn.  Something wasn’t right.  Tall, skinny guy was slowly pulling away, but I was still pretty close.  At 300 yards I looked at my watch -5:30 pace AND he was pulling away even faster!

Uh oh! I thought.  This is not good! I slowed down.  I can’t run that fast for much long than a 1/2 mile and if I do, I’m throwing up at the end.  Panic started to set in.  Back pain from the day before suddenly started to hurt (though I’m pretty sure it was mental).  A half mile in and I was filled with doubt and could now hear footsteps of people catching me from behind.

I had blown my race barely before it even got started.

The young woman I had spied earlier and a kid in a bright green shirt passed me like I was standing still.  I wanted to follow, but I had to let them go – I would just have to make sure that I didn’t let them get too far ahead of me.

I hit the first mile in 6:33.  Obviously much slower than the 5:30 I had gone out in, but worse, in my mind, 9 seconds slower than my planned 6:24 pace (I was attempting to finish in 20:00).

The young woman and the Green shirt kid were not too far ahead of me.  As we made a right turn, they initially started to go too far to the right.  For just a split second I thought of letting them go, but the true competitor in me wouldn’t have been able to live with that.  I yelled at them that they were going the wrong way.  They probably lost no more than a second or two off their time.

I continued to chase them as we went over a hill.  Lately, for whatever reason, uphills have been where I’ve been closing the distance on people, and this race was no different.  Very quickly I pulled within about 10 feet of the two of them.  They were able to maintain their distance on the downhill.

But just before 1.5 miles, we made another turn and hit another hill.  As we made the turn, Green Shirt Kid began to fade, but the Young Woman was pushing hard.

Now the race was on.

I caught up to her about 2/3 of the way of the hill.  Through her heavy breathing she asked me if mile 1 felt long.  I said it did and we continued to run in silence, listening to the pounding of our feet.  At about 1.8 miles we were flying downhill again.  I opened up a bit of a lead, but as soon as we flattened out, she caught and passed me again.

I had never been in a back and forth race, and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure if I had the mental determination to take it to the end.

As we passed mile 2 at 13:00, I started doing math again.  I had 7:00 to cover 1.1 miles.  I was gonna have to run a 6:36 mile the rest of the way – faster than 9 miles per hour.  I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it.  I thought about letting the Young Woman go – she seemed to be speeding up (or was I slowing down?) – but I knew, once again, that I had to leave it all on the course if I wanted to get a true reading of where my fitness level was.  If I was opting to race a 5K instead of running my scheduled 18-miler, then dammit I was going to make it worthwhile.

1.1 miles – it was time to let it all hang out.  I could bear the pain for 7 minutes.

At about 2.2 miles, I caught the Young Woman on a turn on to a bike path and passed her.   I had the gas pressed to the floor.  I was just hoping I wouldn’t run out of gas before the end of the race.  As we came back out on to the road, I could hear her footsteps behind me.  I kept thinking that any minute now she was gonna find her final gear and blow past me.  We had a half mile to go and my whole body felt like it was on fire.

Her footsteps were getting closer – if I could just hold on.

With about 300 yards to go I could see the finish line.  It was time to completely empty the tank.

Trying to create some distance between me and the Young Woman

I found a final gear, covering those last 300 yards in sub-5:45 per mile pace,

Increasing the gap with one final kick...

crossing the finish line in 19:40 and finishing in a personal best 2nd place.

Not one of my more flattering race pics...and why am I slowing down BEFORE the finish line?

It turns out the Tall Skinny Kid finished in 16:18 – like I said, he was running a completely different race.  I must admit, I was pretty pleased with my finish.  There were plenty of moments where I wanted to take my foot off of the gas, but I pushed through the pain and was able to finish better than I had expected.  The 2nd place finish was fabulous (I even won a $30 gift certificate to a local running shop), but the best part is that I continued the validation of switching to the Furman FIRST program.  After Quincy 2 weeks earlier, McMillan’s Running Calculator put me at a 3:15:07 marathon – huge progress from the Superbowl Sunday 5-Miler that had me at a 3:25 marathon.  Last Sunday’s race, albeit it was a short one at 5K, puts me at a 3:11:43 marathon.

My continued improvement serves as a great confidence booster going into Sugarload come late-May.  I am just going to have to make sure that I don’t make the same mistake I made last year at Boston, where instead of running a disciplined race at the pace I had trained for (3:15), I ended up going for sub-3:10.

Kudos to Jess Rossman for putting together a well run race.  I will definitely be back next year to try and improve on my time.  Hopefully Tall Skinny Guy doesn’t show up.

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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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[tweetmeme source=”luau” only_single=false http://www.URL.com]

I am not sure where to begin.

The beginning? The middle? The end?

Honestly, there is still a lot of processing going on.

***

October 3rd, 2010 – yapping with a group of dailymilers before the Smuttynose Marathon

Doug: Seriously, you should run the Vermont 50 with me.
Me: You’re crazy, dude.  50 miles?  That’s just nuts.
Doug: Nah, come on!

After much prodding…and more to just get Doug to shut up…

Me: Fine.  Tell you what – if I qualify for Boston today, I’ll run the Vermont 50 with you.

Damn!  My logic was sound. I  figured that were I to qualify I would be set to run Boston for two years.  In addition, I think I thought this whole Vermont 50 idea would just go away.


***

Summer 2011

After running a half-marathon on Memorial Day this year, I essentially lost my motivation to run.  The summer would prove to be a time when my mileage declined significantly.  After logging nearly 1000 miles in the first 5 month of the year, I went from 100 miles in June, to 80 miles in July, to barely 60 miles in August to less than 40 miles in September.  I was not even running at maintenance pace.  Add to that the fact that by September 25th I would have a total of 6 lifetime miles of trail running under my belt, I was in no shape, NO SHAPE, to be running 50.5 miles through the mountain trails of Vermont.

***

I know tired.

No, I really do.

You run 7 marathons over the course of 21 months and you’re pretty much a partial owner of the market on tired and exhaustion.

So yeah, I like to think that I know tired…

…well, hmmm, I guess I THOUGHT I knew tired because, you know, marathons are long…26.2 miles long…long enough to kill Pheidippides oh so many years ago.

***

So with that in mind, I began my 50.5 mile trek last Sunday at 6:35AM  in the mountains of Vermont.

The start was painful…painfully slow.  As our group of six runners crossed the starting line, we took off at a blistering 10:00 per mile pace.  The only times I have ever run slower in a “race” is when I have bonked, and bonked badly.  My legs kept wanting to push the pace, but runners smarter than me kept reining me in.  I knew the first few miles would feel slow, because they would have to be slow, but I was having a hard time not running at a comfortable pace.

“Slow it down there, Luau,” JD, our experienced team leader would say.  It would become his refrain over the next 30 miles.

I really had no idea what I was getting into- and I mean that not only had I never run the distance, but also that I really had no idea what my body, mind and soul were in for.  I hadn’t had a run over 20 miles since the end of July, my monthly mileage had been dramatically dropping since the end of May.  I really hadn’t wrapped my brain around the concept of going for 50 miles (50.5 if we’re gonna get technical – the flooding from Irene forced organizers to reroute some of the course).

My goal was to have fun, enjoy the ride and get my dear friend Doug across the finish line in under 11:00.  For some crazy reason, Doug wants to be able to run the Western States 100, and one way to get into the lottery for that race is to finish the Vermont 50 in under 11 hours.  More on that later.

As we left Ascutney Mountain, I was chatting everybody up, running backwards, sideways and forwards.  At one point I found I could speed walk at the pace we were running.  I felt like I was going out for an easy morning jog.

This isn’t so bad.  I could do this ALL day! Have you ever had one of those thoughts?  The “I could do this all day” thoughts.  Think again the next time you have one.

We were a happy Gang of Six during the few several miles.  Doug (the instigator), Jeremy D (our experienced leader), Jeremy B (the barefooter – yes, he ran the whole way in VFF Treks – my hero!), me, Adam (the streaker) and Sarah (Miss Ultra).  Shuffling along, we, along with everyone else around us joked about thinking this a a 5K or a 5 miler. Everybody was all smiles.  The only distraction was a runner whose fanny pack must have had a bottle or two of advil tablets in it.

Shake shake shake! Shake shake shake!

Slow down, speed up – no matter what we did, he maintained pace with us – didn’t say a word to us, just ran in lock step.

As we were about to hit mile 1 we came to our first hill.  My inclination of course was to keep running, but everyone, not just our gang of six, slowed to power walk pace.  I figured when in Rome.  JD set the pace and we all fell in step.  It was weird to me that we were walking up this hill – it wouldn’t be so weird to me later in the race.

There are 10 aid stations throughout the Vermont 50, ranging in distance to each from 3.8 miles to 7 miles.  For my own mental well-being, I had to break up the day into 11 shorter runs.  Our first aid station came at 4.2 miles.

Doug, JD, Sarah and me

For the first time ever, I had decided to carry to water bottles.  As we pulled in, I fumbled to open them for a refill.  I would have to get better at the process.  JD pushed us to pick up the pace.  We didn’t want to linger too long at any aid station, he said.  I grabbed a few orange slices and a piece of peanutbutter and jelly sandwich and we were off.

The next several miles were a bit of a blur, running through the forest on muddy, single track trails.  We had to climb up a hill to get to the next aid station.

The next aid station (Skunk Hollow) was 3.8 miles away and was the first place we could meet our crew.  Doug’s wife and best friend, along with Adam’s wife had very kindly volunteered to crew for us.  This entailed grabbing our drop bag, helping us fill water bottles, checking on us, etc.  Without them, I don’t know that I would have made it to the finish.  As we made our way to Skunk Hollow, our Gang of Six became a Team of Four.  Adam’s heels were barking at him and Sarah stayed with him.  As Doug, the two Jeremy’s and I continued on, we laughed and joked our way through the woods.  None of us were feeling the effects yet of the rapidly warming temperatures.

In good spirits

Laughing it up

As we pulled into Skunk Hollow, I thought about changing my socks.  I had stepped into a couple of deep mud puddles and my feet were soaked.  We were only a little over 12 miles into our day, about a quarter of the way done.  I should have taken the time to switch out, but I was eager to keep things going.  We were well on pace to get Doug in in under 10 1/2 hours.

Pulling into Skunk Hollow

Still happy as a clam

I think this is me telling Doug to get his butt moving...he was greasing up his feet - I probably should have taken the time to do the same

Now came what would be one of the hardest parts of the day for me – 7 miles, no aid stations.  Garvin Hill (the next aid station) would be at the 19.3 mile marker.  Not only was it 7 miles away, but it was also all uphill – over 1,100 feet of climb.  Two things crossed my mind at that point:  1.) I had not run anywhere close to 20 miles since the end of July and 2.) the next aid station where I could change my socks was at mile 30 – almost 20 miles away.

About 3 miles into this leg I felt an all too familiar, terrifying twinge.  My left quad began to cramp.  I tried kicking my heel to my butt to try to stretch it out on the run, but to no avail.  15 miles in, 35 miles to go – there was no way I could do that on a cramped quad.  I began muttering to myself, somewhat in a panic.  What was I going to do?  Doug pulled up next to me and asked me what was wrong.  I mentioned the quad and without hesitation he told me to pop a Nuun tablet right into my mouth and let it dissolve on my tongue until I couldn’t take it anymore.

Really?  Ew!

But you know what? I worked.  Within a few hundred yards the cramp was gone and my legs were fine.  Throughout most of this leg we were in the woods, climbing, climbing, climbing.  As we came out, I thought YES! Finally some flats! But to no avail.  They didn’t call this aid station Garvin Hill for nothing.   We still had a bit of a climb before we got to the top of Garvin Hill to refill our water bottles and snack on some food.  By this time the temperatures were into the high 70’s and the humidity was intense.  Still, we knew we were 40% of the way done.

Still smiling after almost 20 miles

20 miles in, 30 miles to get back to the other side of that mountain in the distance.

Attempting to Live Tweet - lack of signal made my tweets sparse

As I paused to tweet my progress I took a look at my Garmin – 20 miles, nearly 4 hours.  Holy Cow.  6 miles less and 40 minutes longer than what I would run a marathon in.  It struck me at that moment just how different an ultra is from a typical marathon.

There were two more aid stations and 12 more miles between Garvin Hill and Dugdale’s, which was the next spot where we could meet our crew.  My feet were barking.  I could feel blisters forming.  I cursed myself for not switching socks and greasing up my feet when I had the chance. It didn’t help that the trails were muddy and tough to navigate.

Doug leading the way as I trail behind trying to step where he stepped

The heat continued to rise and on the advice of JD the Texan, I grabbed some ice at one of the aid stations and put it in my hat.  I would do that at every aid station the rest of the way.  At this point the legs and feet hurt, but the pain was manageable.  However, a couple of miles before Dugdale’s my right forearm began to tingle.  Not a lot at first, but it was definitely there.  Initially I thought that maybe it was because of fatigue.  I had never carried two water bottles before and normally, I carry my hydration in my left hand.  The tingling continued to intensify.  As it got stronger, it began to spread up my arm. I have to be honest here and say that I began to get a little scared. When we finally pulled in to Dugdale’s I went straight to my drop bag to switch socks and shoes and restock my supply of Nuun and Shotblocks.

As I squatted down to reach into my bag, that’s when it hit me.  The tingling quickly spread from my forearm to my bicep, up the right side of my neck and my face.  My nose and teeth were numb.  I looked over at Doug.  He was busy restocking.

pulling into Dugdale's aid station - I was hurtin'!

I couldn’t focus.  I couldn’t see straight.  I stumbled over to the food table to refill my water bottles.  I couldn’t get them open.  I felt like I might pass out.  My day was done.  I had made a promise to Jess a long time ago not to risk my health in these runs that I do.  There was no way I could cover another 20 miles, no less one more mile, feeling like this.  I looked around for Doug or either of the Jeremy’s to let them know I was cooked.

But that is when a woman, I wish I knew what her name was, came up to me and asked me how I felt.  I explained to her what was going on and she very calmly, almost divinely calmly (I know, that’s not English) offered to fill my water bottles.  She then brought me a cup of ramen noodles in soup.  I watched as she sprinkled salt onto the already salty soup.  Take this she said.  You just need salt.  She then handed me a couple of endurolytes.  As I began to down the ramen, the rest of my crew came over.  I looked at them, told them how I felt and that I didn’t think I would make it.  They all said there was no way they were leaving me behind, but honestly, I was cooked.

Then a funny thing happened.  As I downed the last bite of the overly salty ramen, the tingling and numbness disappeared, just like that.  And with that, I was back.  As the boys began to leave Dugdale’s, I ran back to the food table and grabbed another cup of ramen.  This stuff was the food of the gods.

I caught up to the group and we were off again.

Our pace had slowed considerably, but we were still in the running to get Doug in on time.  I don’t remember much from the next 10 miles or so.  We were all just focused on moving forward.  At this point our bodies were spent – we were moving along only because our minds were forcing us to.  I do remember that at this point the transitions from power walking the uphills to running the flats and downhills was becoming increasingly difficult.  In some ways running was much easier than power walking – maybe because I hadn’t done any power walking to prepare for the day.

Somewhere around mile 38 my Garmin conked out.  It had helped me to know how much ground we were covering and not knowing was killing me.  Mentally I kept thinking that the next aid station HAD to be right around the next corner.  More often than not I would turn a corner or come out of the woods only to see more trail.

Physically I was on empty.

Mentally I was on reserve.

Emotionally I was running out of fuel.

At around 41 we hit another aid station.

I'm in the blue shirt, looking for ramen and ice

We would now hit the second longest leg of the day – a 6 mile trip to the final aid station, where our crew would have one last chance to see us before the finish.  It was a hard push.  I kept trying to guess how far we had gone based on the time that had passed, but it didn’t help me in the slightest. Still, the views were incredible.  Occasionally I had to take a moment to take it all in.

Somewhere after mile 42, I heard Doug whimper.  Something was wrong.  His knee had decided to act up and it was affecting his gait.  As the two Jeremy’s began to pull ahead, I told Doug to set his pace and I would stay behind him.    A few miles later he seemed to right himself, though I think it was more out of sheer will than anything else.  Still, we were all struggling.  At one point I asked out loud why there weren’t any mile markers on the course…and as if the running gods had heard me…

5. Miles. To. GO!!!

5 miles to go.  5 MILES TO GO!  I have told myself in past races that I can do 5 miles.  No matter what, I can do 5 miles.  We had covered over 45 miles and were now just 5 miles away – and only a little over 2 away from the next aid station.

I was briefly energized and we trekked along, keeping our eyes open for the next mile marker.  It was at mile 46 that my complete lack of training finally caught up to me.  As I said before, I had run very little this summer and almost not at all on the trails.  Try as I might, I could not keep up with the rest of the crew.  They began to pull away.  At one point Doug turned to look at me.  I waved him on.  He had a time to beat, I just needed to finish.

I was able to keep them in my sites, but I was fading fast.  I tried to close the gap as we pulled into the final aid station.

If you look carefully, you can see me over Doug's right shoulder

Less than 3 miles to go at this point and I was spent.  Doug was on a mission.  He had 38 minutes to get to the finish to get in in under 11 hours.  Under normal circumstances I would laugh at covering 2.8 miles in 38 minutes, but with 47.7 miles under my belt, I wasn’t sure I could do it in that time.  It didn’t help that the next 2 miles would be all uphill.  Doug and JD rushed through the aid station and were off.  I took my time and told JB that if he caught the other two to tell them to get it done and I would see them at the finish.  He took off after them, I grabbed some more ramen and ice and walked back onto the course.  I could see them off in the distance, but the switchbacks made them look like they were much closer than they really were.   I power walked for about a quarter mile and realized that I had a little left in the tank – ramen, it does amazing things on the trail!  I started to jog and slowly began amping up the speed.  I didn’t let the climb slow me down.  I wanted to catch my crew.  As I ran past other runners I could see I was closing the gap on my friend.

I passed the “2 miles to go” marker and that gave me a little zip.  I broke into an all out run, bounding past other runners, receiving “WHOOPS!” and “GO GO GO!’s” as I went.  Big mistake.  Though I was able to catch my friends, I was now completely spent and there was still at least a mile and a half to go.

They were surprised to see me.  I said hello and proceeded to say goodbye.  I needed to walk.  I encouraged Doug to go.

During my all out sprint, I had managed to tweak my right knee.  I hobbled along for maybe a half mile, cursing myself but determined to finish.  With maybe a little less than a mile to go, I began to jog again.  After two more rolling hills, it was now time for the downhill ending.  I started to pick up the pace again.  With a little less than a half mile to go, I saw a sign that said, SMILE – Camera person ahead.  I did my best to smile.

less than 1/2 mile to go!

After a quarter mile of downhill switchbacks, it was straight down the mountain.

Chugging down the hill - trying to get rid of my water bottles

realizing that I might not be able to stop myself...

Thank goodness you guys caught me!

Asking myself if I really just ran 50.5 miles on no training...

I had crossed the finish line in 11:04:37.  I finished.  A moment later I was elated at what I had done.  Doug? He had finished in 10:57.  He qualified for the Western States 100 Lottery – he’s crazy.  JB actually finished first from our group with JD coming in right after Doug.

My favorite picture of the day! Me, JB, Doug and JD.

After the race, we grabbed some food.

Doug and me...happy...exhausted

20 miles of mud...the other pair are way worse!

I have never been more exhausted in my life.  At the end of the day I was completely spent on all levels – physically, mentally, emotionally.  I walked around afterward saying that this was it for me and Ultras.  Scratch it off the bucket list.  I woke up the next morning wondering, if I actually train for this sucker, maybe I could get in under 10 hours!  Watch out VT50 2012!  I’m gunning for ya!

Our friend Sarah came in just under the 12 hour cut off.  Adam unfortunately had to call it a day at 47 miles.

I had promised Jess that I wouldn’t have a beer right after the race because we had no idea what alcohol would do to me after a  day like this.  With a 3 hour drive home, I had to agree.  So when I finally got home, I pulled two bottles of my new favorite beer out of the fridge – Left Hand Milk Stout.

Finally! My post race beer!

I went upstairs, crawled into bed, kissed Jess goodnight.  I took 3 sips of my beer and I was out.

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[tweetmeme source=”luau” only_single=false http://www.URL.com%5D

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

-Somewhere near mile 22

[tweetmeme source=”luau” only_single=false http://www.URL.com]

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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Some other photos from the race:

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