10, 9, 8..."Am I really ready for this?"
7, 6, 5..."I kind of need to use the bathroom."
4, 3, 2..."Well, here goes nothing!"
I had been excitedly dreading this moment for the past 5 months. You see, this was the fourth marathon I’d signed up for. My projected debut at the 2016 United States Olympic Marathon Trials ended 3 days prematurely as I was rushed into emergency surgery for appendicitis the night before I was scheduled to fly to Los Angeles. I pulled the plug on the 2017 Houston Marathon after completing a second round of the powerful acne medication that temporarily left me a brittle old man in a 25 year old’s body. Finally, I dejectedly resigned my spot on the starting line at the 2017 USATF Marathon Championships in Sacramento after a personnel change at work that necessitated 12 hour days while being on call 24/7 that left me burnt out mentally and physically from marathon training. It had been an arduous journey just to even make it to this point. But here I was, among the top marathoners in the United States, taking my shot at this mystical event that I had dreamt about racing since this journey began over a decade ago.
The gun went off and I locked in with a couple runners targeting my goal 5:15 pace, notably Joey Whalen and Dan Lennon of Stotan Racing. You might be interested to know that I purposefully elected NOT to wear a watch during this race. I know, I know...you might think I’m foolish for not tracking my time, especially in the early miles when it’s easy to get carried away with your pacing. But I’d learned through trial and error in college that when I raced for a specific time, any deviation from the desired splits caused a negative mental block, while racing without a watch and focusing on competition gave me an edge no matter what the intermediate times showed. With competition in mind, and a vigilant watch over how my body actually felt and handled the effort (emphasis on EFFORT and not pace), I knew I would compete to the best of my ability.
Tick-tock, some other dude’s watch took the mile splits from the clock. The first glimpse into my progress came at 10k where I breezed by in 32:19. That’s 2:16:48 pace! I knew that was decently quick given my expected finishing time, but I felt fantastic. The miles continued to float by in an endless stream of dense green pine trees, blanketing fog and screaming aid station volunteers. I started counting the holes on the guy’s golden Nike singlet in front of me. There were about 128. At the aid stations around miles 5, 9, and 13 I took a pre-mixed concoction of 5 ounces of water and Gu, with another 3 bottles awaiting me at miles 15, 19, and 22. Everything was going about as smoothly as one could expect.
The next split came at the halfway point. The clock turned over to 1:08:40 and this thing became real. I was on pace for 2:17:20 AND FELT ABSOLUTELY NO STRAIN. Not physically, not mentally, not spiritually, not in my stomach, not in my lungs, and not in my heart, which was starting to realize an Olympic Trials qualifying effort was possible. Now it was time to hold on for dear life.
At mile 17 I started to feel it. My good friend Drew Bean told me this would happen. He said that at some point in the marathon, when I’m deep in the second half and committed to the effort, I’ll start to ache. Not the “scream at you why the heck are you doing this” last 100 meters in a track race kind of ache, but something heavier. Like your bones were soaking up all the pain that is to come and layering on the pounds in your slow grind to the finish line. Within 3 miles, the monkey (and a few of his friends) were on my back having a grand old time. The split at the 20 mile marker was 1:44:38, still more than a minute ahead of pace for an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying effort! I did the quick math in my head...10k to go *exhale* 34:20 until 2:19:00 *inhale* 5:30-ish pace will do it *wheeze*.
Remember what I told you earlier? How I wanted to focus on competition rather than the time, thus ditching the timing device on the wrist? Well, now time was squarely on my mind. I was no longer running with a group, but I was gobbling up stragglers from the lead pack. The next split wouldn’t come until the 25 mile marker. The best way I can articulate this segment to you is that I felt like I was running in a stone mortar, and the marathon was like a pulverizing pestle individually grinding each muscle into a finely made guacamole à la Ryan. Friends, teammates, and family began streaming by as I stumbled toward the finish line. My dad was at mile 22 shouting encouragement and even jogging next to me for a handful of seconds. Brock and Jarrett, my training partners and friends from Houston, were around mile 24 howling some kind of encouragement. My fiancé Lacie was whispering Prefontaine quotes into my earpiece to keep me motivated all the way through the line. Okay maybe not that last one, but I definitely wasn’t sacrificing the gift by giving less than my best.
The 25 mile marker blew by in haze, but I managed the catch a glimpse of the clock. 2:12:25. 6:35 to glory, or about 5:20 pace. Unfortunately, this is where the big man above threw a monkey wrench into the otherwise perfectly planned day. We reversed course right into a headwind for the majority of that last 1.2 miles. Gritted teeth, pumping arms and a will to break 2:19 just wasn’t going to be enough. There is a 300 meter straightaway to finish the marathon in the heart of downtown Duluth that is completely flanked on both sides by people cheering the runners on. The clock just above the finish line is in sight for the entirety of this straightaway. It’s a pretty helpless feeling, 100 meters out, when you are dragging your ragged body along to see the seconds slip away and know there is nothing more you can do to get yourself there quicker. My clock stopped at 2:19:17.
A mixture of “holy shit, that was a much better debut marathon than I expected” and “holy shit, I WAS SOO CLOSE” washed over me as I found my Dad, friends, and connected with so many people via call, text and social media. I proceeded to hobble back to the hotel, soak in the hot tub for an hour and then nap for 3 before munching on mediocre Minnesotan Mexican food down by the finish line. It was over and an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time would have to wait a few more months.
Thanks to rabbit for the endless support both on and off the roads, Klean Athlete for the top notch supplements, including a multivitamin that I truly believe is the backbone of my recovery program and Dana Lyons from Finish Strong Coaching, for providing me a long distance training program that gave me the ability to reach the starting line healthy and ready to compete.
Next up, the USATF Marathon Championships at the California International Marathon in December.
Photos by Grandma's Marathon