This past Saturday morning I toed the line with 111 of the best American marathoners. I had qualified for the Olympic Marathon Trials (OT) in my debut marathon at the California International Marathon (CIM) in December of 2010. Leading into CIM I had done only 4 weeks above 100 miles in that build-up and walked away with a 2:17:22 personal best. I did very few workouts at marathon pace in that build-up and honestly I may have been a bit lucky in that race, plus CIM might be the fastest course in the country. After CIM, my training and racing has been spectacular with the exception of a few races this fall. Between CIM and the OT I never missed one day of training for sickness, injury, or lack of motivation (which is next to impossible for me). The only days off were scheduled days off. In that time, I averaged 100 miles per week if you do not count the two weeks off I took after Grandma’s and Chicago marathons. That’s a pretty impressive amount of training and I did all of the little things right to be well prepared for Saturday from nutrition to massages to sleeping and everything in between.
The last 8 days before the race I was lucky to have met a friend of a friend who let me stay at his home in Houston. It was a blast getting to know Sean who is one of the most dedicated athletes I’ve met. When I got to Houston I felt pretty tired and slept nearly 10 hours the first two nights, which was uncharacteristic of me. In all of the running the last 2 weeks I never quite freshened up. I kept feeling a bit flat and not able to get that extra pop in my step. The last two days before the marathon I started feeling better, but never reached the effortless running feeling you should have before a race. I kept mentally strong though and tried to “fake it until you make it.” That basically means that you stay positive and fake your body into believing you feel good. The support before the race was outstanding. I was attempting to read a book the night before but it felt like I’d turn a page and get a text message good luck. I’m said it before, I’ll say it now, and I’ll say it again – I’ve met a ton of great people through running and I’m lucky to have a supportive family, friends and sponsors.
Race morning I get over to the start area, jam out to some music, and catch up with Luke Watson, who I’m very sad to say retired after the race since he’s one of the nicest friends I’ve ever met. I’ll miss running with him and seeing him at races. After about 8 minutes of easy running, I toed the line and one of my idols Frank Shorter fired the gun to start the race. I’m not sure if he pulled the trigger, but Ryan Hall and Meb were certainly shot out of a cannon! The pace was flying and I laid back on a much more intelligent pace. I came through the first mile a little fast (5:00) but was probably in 75th place, so I was excited that so many people went out too aggressively. (5:00/mi converts to around 2:11. Four guys ran faster than that pace for the whole race). I ran with a good group of guys for the next 13 miles before joining up with Drew Polley and another guy for the next few miles. At the start of the 3rd loop with 8 miles to go in the race I was feeling very good. I had been able to grab all of my bottles/gels and was feeling smooth. I thought at the 19th mile mark I was going to negative split and run 2:14 low or possibly even break it. Quick calculation in my head had me around 2:14 low pace.
Then, things went wrong fast. The course is on roads that were made of cement, which is supposedly three times harder than macadam. The combination of likely not being quite rested enough and these hard roads had beat my legs pretty good. On the way down an overpass just after 20 miles my legs were feeling wobbly and it felt like I could collapse from some muscle giving out at any second. The best way to describe the feeling is if you were to put 150lbs on the squat rack and do a series of squads until you couldn’t do another…then try to run 5:10 miles. I knew I had a ton of support from friends and family so there was no way I was going to not finish. I forced myself ahead and my pace slowed to low 6 minute miles the last couple. However, I finished and I’m damn proud of that! The marathon is different than a 10k or any other event. I bet my heart rate was in the 120s the last few miles yet I could not run any faster. I finished 50th in 2:19:56. Here’s a video of the finishing straight from Sean. These steps were slow, painful, and my time embarrassing to me, but I’ve never been prouder of these strides because they were the toughest I’ve ever done.
Far from the 2:14-2:15 I was hoping for. Since the race I’ve done some thinking of what went right vs what went wrong. I think this video from RunColo.com sums up the race experience pretty well. The video was taken about two hours after finishing, so give me a little slack for sounding a bit downbeat.
I really cannot thank my friends, family, sponsors, and training partners enough. The guys in my group – Fernando Cabada (7th, 2:11), James Carney (9th, 2:12), and Patrick Rizzo (13, 2:13) as well as Benita Willis (2:28 at Houston Marathon – qualifies her for 4th Australian Olympic Team) ran awesome and I cannot be happier for them all. My coach Brad Hudson (fantastic interview/article on him) is a phenomenal coach and we will together get the marathon figured out for me. All of the men/women/high schoolers that I coach were unbelievably supportive. All of my sponsors helped me in so many ways. The outpouring of support pre- and especially post-race was unbelievable. This race was a disappointment, but it will make me a better runner in the long term. I do love running – training and racing is a joy to me. I’m certainly not a big fan of 1k repeats on the track, but outside of that I love the sport 😉
Thank you all for supporting me, reading this blog post, and following my journey. It’s young and I have a long way to go. In the pre-race blog post I wrote on flotrack.org I titled the post “Unbroken” after a great book I read and how I wanted to stay unbroken in the race. I didn’t live up to the 2:14 that I wanted, but I wasn’t broke and didn’t finish. My career isn’t broken. Coach Sullivan summed it up better than I ever could have, “At the end of the day it is sport, and it is meant to challenge us.”
I’m writing this during a deserved week off of running. I’ll be back training next week. I’m going to make sure I have a lot of fun in the next month of life/training/racing. One of my favorite road races in 2011 was the Pensacola Double Bridge Run and I’ll be returning on Feb 4th to do that. Coming off of marathon fitness and being rested, I wouldn’t be surprised to run faster than I did the previous year. The week after that I’m flying to Japan to compete in the Iwaki City Sunshine Marathon – the “sister city race” of the Kauai Marathon. Last year it was won in 2:27 and I hope I can bring a victory back to the USA.
Until next time,
5:18.35 (1:43:08 through 20 miles – 5:09 avg pace)
7:44.95 last 1.21 miles