Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Winning a Marathon

So, I won a marathon, again. You might be wondering, how does that feel? I can say, mentally and emotionally, it is great. As for Sunday while doing it, physically, it gradually felt quite bad. Yet, the discomfort and pain were well worth the internal reward of knowing you can be a Champion!
And we're off! Letting them know I mean business!

Through pain with determination, I arrive victorious!

Through the course of the past year I have had some nice successes in running, some PR's last fall in a couple of XC races, most notably having had a good day racing the Boston Marathon this spring and getting a long overdue PR.  I have similar goals for later this fall.  It is interesting to stop and think, In one year; I ran 3 marathons and won 2 of them. I will allow myself to be impressed.  Now, some of you who know me and my times relative to "what is a good time", or "elite" you might ask, "Who was in the race?"
True enough, yesterday at Chasing the Unicorn in Washington Crossing, PA, I took the lead right from the gun and lead the race wire to wire.  However, it is a difficult thing to force yourself to stay on a fast pace when you are following a cyclist who is clearing traffic in front of you.  At points, you start to wonder if you are falling in with the pace of the cyclist or if the cyclist is doing a really good job of listening for your footfalls.
Yesterday's race was one that I felt quite ready for. I have had quality long runs and many uptempo runs with my GSTC teammates throughout the past 6 weeks when they resumed training after their mid-yr break. I believe I went on long runs of 19, 20, 23, 19, 16, and 15 miles in the 6 weeks prior to the race. Most people will train in a bigger block for a marathon, and if I were keying on it as my premier race for the year, I might have bumped long runs a few miles about 10 weeks sooner. I ran this race for several reason.
1-I was asked to come and defend the title. The Champion, the "Unicorn Slayer"!
2-The park is beautiful, the Delaware River and the canal path are very nice to run alongside between Washington Crossing and New Hope.
3-I love the concept of a race where people are looking to qualify for Boston, it is new and I have a pioneering spirit, I love to make history in my sport! Small as this may be in memory years from now, it is a note on a page...somewhere.

Along the way from last yr's, less challenged victory (winning by 11mins), I got to know the President and race director of RunBucks, Pat McCloskey while last yr's race was in progress, he rode the lead cycle and I chatted with him at times during the race. We have communicated here and there about the CTU, and the running scene in general. Pat's genuine enthusiasm for running and putting on these events is magnetic. I have heard only good things about his events and plan to run others in the future.
For many of us, all over the country, that are marathoners, we felt the shock of the Boston Bombing April 15, 2013. It took about 18hrs before I decided I would run the race in 2014. Judit Ward (a runner friend of course!) posted a link in a fb group about this race, it had all the items on my checklist for a Boston Qualifier, not too far from home, relatively low cost compared to many other marathons, and it was placed on the calendar at a time of year when I didn't have other big goals that it conflicted with. So, I bulked up the mileage through the summer, started runs at 6:00 on the ultra hot days to get them done without suffering a heat stroke, and just got myself ready to run a bulletproof race in August. That is precisely what I did; a negative split race and nearly a PR! It was terrific to get the BQ, run a race where I felt strong and WIN!

At this yr's Boston Marathon, a number of people I know from NJ travelled up to Boston, to be there in support of all those who were racing, and I heard them, and saw them. Michael Loenser, an old training partner and teammate with Raritan Valley Road Runners was on the course somewhere around mile 15. His excitement for my performance was such a great boost to my spirits in that moment! He later told me how he was inspired to see me run by, looking strong and seeing all the other racers going by as well. It's true, the atmopshere of the Boston Marathon can breathe life back into running for you! For him, it rekindled that desire to train hard again and qualify for Boston in 2015. Loenser was an all-star for South Plainfield HS and ran for DII East Stroudsburg University, posting times that I will forever admire him for. His best marathon to date is a 2:37 and I tell him all the time he can get faster! We competed against one another in Middlesex County dual meets and Championships as High Schoolers. He is a knowledgeable runner who trains smart, an easy going guy that I am glad to call a friend.

At some point some months ago, in the middle of a run, Loenser was telling me about how he was trying to decide which race to run to enter in the hunt for a BQ. I reminded him about Chasing the Unicorn, as the race apporached sell out I urged him again, and he signed up. On a recent run, it occured to me that we should share a ride to the race, and so we left Sunday morning at 5am and made our way in my trusty old 5spd Honda Civic through darkness to Washington Crossing, PA. We listened to Black Sabbath Vol.4 and Coheed and Cambria-2nd stage Turbine Blade to get revved up to kick ass, Loenser reminisced about how he would always carry a walk-man around in high school and college to psych up for his races!  The mood was: On a mission. As Loenser put it, this was "a business trip", but I find a way to keep laughing going into these scenarios, you have to, or you get extra nervous and can get kinda' panicked.

On our 2nd to last run together before the race, Loenser tells me he has been battling Plantar Fasciitis, and admittedly hadn't done too much for it. Mostly taking 2 weeks off just a few days prior. This surprised me coming from a veteran like him. However, I was not going to let my buddy slip through the cracks, I know what to do for this. I told him all about KT tape, and how this can help get you through such problems. I convinced Loenser to come see me at the Westfield Running Company, where I taped his foot for him. We ran again the next day, Friday before the marathon, and he gave me some feedback. He felt the tape could have been tighter, so he re-did 2 of the 3 tape strips at home on his own. Apparently it worked, Loenser ran 3:01:08! Which, I believe should be a safe time to get in, and I hope it will be.  I am proud of Loenser for making it happen! I am very confident we will see him come in under the 2:50 mark next spring!

My own efforts at this year were more challenging than the previous year's. I think I might have over eaten the night before and at too late a time as well. There is a chance that the tomatoes I added into the Ragu might have gone bad.  Oops.  Yea, I had some GI troubles during the race.  I'll get into some of that in a bit. But on with race scene, prep, start, etc.

Loenser and I walked from the parking area in the last moments of the night toward the registration/start/finish area, the area was incredibly peaceful and the only sounds were some other runners arriving in their automobiles and the faint hum of a power generator for the finish line clock.  We were greeted by Pat, who gave me a big hug! I introduced him to Loenser, and we chatted briefly. Pat had race director business to handle. Loenser and I both got our race bibs, walked back over to the Civic and did the typical things. Pin the bib to the singlet, apply anti-chafing balm, put on the racing socks/shoes, put on a cammo head band in honor of Andrew Capizzi, put on a gps watch, pinned energy/electrolyte gels to our shorts, and then began a slow/easy warmup jog toward the porta-johns.  My nerves were now getting to be on edge. I have to admit, I feel better at "big marathons" where you have a large amount of down time being shuttled to the start site with a later start time. This allows more time for the Gastro-Intestinal Tract to do what it has to do before you start the race.
So, I ran about 1/4mile, hit the toilet, ran another 1/2mile easy, did some light dynamic stretches and hit the toilet one last time.  I saw the first wave of 50 or so runners was gathered up behind the starting line, and so I made my way through the crowd to the front. I found some other very fit looking fellows clustered up near the front, I was unphased; I had my plan, their presence would not intimidate me.

Pat McCloskey, spoke over the PA system, welcoming everyone, giving last minute instructions. Kindly, he introduced me to the crowd as "The Unicorn Slayer", and to "try to stay out of his way" because "he is going for a 2:30". I can't recall that I ever actually told Pat that I was going to aim for 2:29-2:30, but he knows the score. The national anthem is played over the PA, Pat says "Ready, set, go!" I took off quickly, I wanted to set the tone for my legs immediately, I was definitely out kind of hard for the first 1/2mile, but I settled down and clipped a 5:52. I figured I could run a 5:45vg over the first half, and if things were going well, run the back half around 5:37avg, for the magic 5:42(2:29:5x). But none of that was in the cards for me this day, and that's alright. Things were alright through 11miles, up to that point avg pace of 5:49, and then suddenly, I was suffering from GI distress, I knew I was going to have to stop, but I was 2miles away from the start/finish and toilets near them. Those were a rough 2miles.

Halfway split 1:16:32(ironically the same as my split from Boston this spring), after the pit-stop, I had lost about 2minutes already. I knew the sub 2:30 was gone, a PR was likely gone as well. Over the next few miles I realized, I was not totally alright, and I had to stop again, the next opportunity didn't come along until mile 17.7. I lost another 90seconds there no doubt. Now I was fairly sure that breaking my course record from the previous yr was also out of the question. I chatted a bit with the lead cyclist when there were no runners ahead and the view was clear for a while.  I told him that the goals were out the window, but I was fighting to stay on pace to be as close as I could and to hold the lead that I had from the first step.
He said, "I'll be your carrot", so he stayed ahead a little bit and I fought to bring the pace back to the 5:50's, I got a few miles in there back under 6. At the 20mile turn around I saw the 2nd place runner, who was now closer than he was when we had turned at 6.55 and 13.1 (no surprise, I stopped twice). Naturally, this prodded me and I pushed once again, clipping a 5:51and 5:58 for miles 21 and 22. That was the last of my best. My calves felt like crap from about 10miles and they just got progressively worse.

The last 4 miles were 6:09, 6:16, 6:28, 6:40, the last .2 was probably a touch slower.  I looked over my shoulder a few times in those last few miles, I knew I was fading hard and fought to hold it together. So, yea, I actually separated from the 2nd runner (Rafer Dannehauer, 23 of Shutesbury, MA) a bit after all, while he was actually 1:06 back at the 20mile turn-around, in the moment; it felt and looked like less. In the end I beat him by 2:37, but you don't let yourself think you have it in the bag when you are hurting.  There was surrprising crowd support for a small Sunday morning race, and  more than the previous year! Also, I have to say, most all the other runners I passed as we ran back and forth along the 6.55mile stretch; encouraged me as they themselves were working to get their own BQ or PR.

As I made the last turn back into Washington Crossing Historic Park, I thought, "Just another couple minutes and your done." My left foot was hurting, my calves were like dead wood (and 3 days later, they still are), and I was glad to have the win. I cruised through the finish line to applause, got my finisher's medal and a bottle of water. I took my socks and shoes off immediately, and shortly thereafter sat my tired ass down. Pat came over and asked how I was, with honesty I told him, "I had a rough time out there". But I was relieved. It was nice that the 2nd and 3rd finishers came in just a few minutes later, we posed for a few photos for the sponsors and family members of the other two guys Last year, I thought, "I never thought I would win a marathon", and a year later I am equally surprised to have done it again. I mean, seriously, who WINS a marathon?! Again, it wasn't my best day, but not far off. Given the struggles I experienced on a warm/humid morning, I'll say it was a strong run. I am proud of my 2:38:57!

After Loenser finished, we walked back over to the car, got on some dry clothes and regathered with Jeff and Ardena Blough for the post race meal that was provided. Chatted with other runners and saw some great moments of other proud finishers reuniting with one another and their supporters! Numerous people came by to congratulate me, and I congratulated them as well. There accomplishments' are equal to mine. I am just the lucky guy who got the W!
Left to right, Kevin Hoyt 3rd, Mike Anis 1st, Rafer Dannenhauer 2nd.

and some more photos:
The shoes that won the race, the singlet they gave everyone, and my Bib!

Sunrise at Washington's Crossign Park