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Once a padawan, now a freaking Jedi. I run really far, I write a bunch, and have super powers that allow me to grow amazing facial hair.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Race Report: The 2011 Nationwide Insurance Columbus Marathon

The Background

By far the easiest course of any race I have ever run, I signed up for the 2011 edition of the Columbus Marathon with self imposed expectation. Last year was my first time running a race on my home turf, and though I was undertrained, I unexpectedly ran what was then my fastest marathon time to date. (I later improved in Pittsburgh.) It was a great experience, full of familiar faces, running on streets that I see every day. Racing a location you are familiar with and have trained in makes the whole run so personal and emotional that you fall back in love with the same streets you have grown weary of. I cannot tell you how many miles of running I have done on High Street, but I'm certain it's close to a thousand. Running that same route with thousands of other runners and cheering crowds rejuvenates you whether you want it to or not. Coming to those realizations last October birthed more romanticized notions within me than I ever thought possible in respect to a road race. So with all that said, I was looking for something special with this year's outing.

Traditionally, my training falls apart around the end of June and doesn't show much promise until mid-September. I tried to counter that this year by loading my race schedule, thinking that I wouldn't slack off when I always had another race around the corner. I was wrong. I missed 3 races that I had signed up for, a 50K, a 50-miler, and what was to be my first 100-miler, Burning River. The problem though, was not just that I wasn't racing, I wasn't running at all.

Yeah... about that.

Those 44 miles in September had me hopeful though. I hadn't gained any weight, I was still at a relatively high level of fitness, and I was still just as fast as I was earlier in the year in my short mileage. Though I often gawk at 26.2 miles because I am an ultra guy, I sure as hell don't consider that to be short mileage, so there was a little worry over my endurance.

On top of my drop off in training for this race, I also dropped the ball for the charity I had agreed to play a major role with for this year. I had unwisely taken on a responsibility that I ended up not being able to fulfill with Susan G Komen. Starting out strong with grandiose and what I thought were innovative ideas, they all fell apart. Like most great things do, our Marathon for the Cure team survived despite my failures, and I do believe it ended up being one of the more successful years. This had little to do with me, and much more to do with individuals stepping up to the challenge, none of which I am more proud of than my friend Debbie Talbott who as the #2 fundraiser, raised $1,450 of the total $17,902!

Despite my shortcomings for the team, my involvement with Komen did do two very important things for me personally. The first is that I was able to honor my Mom, who is currently battling Stage 4 cancer, by naming a mile marker of the marathon after her. The second was that my involvement was enough to lure my parents out of Pennsylvania to pay their first visit to Columbus.

So to summarize... my late training had enough quality to give me hope but it was not extensive enough to give me complete confidence. In the realm of my charity work for this event, I felt like an utter failure, and to be completely honest I couldn't wait for this marathon to be over so I could stop feeling guilty about it. However the biggest thing for me was my parents. They have never seen me run, not even in high school track. I, despite all my independence, desire their approval and want them to be proud of the things I do. I had quite a few heated conversations with my Dad trying to convince him to make the trip here to see me run and having convinced them, I wanted this race to be perfect.

Race Eve

Friday afternoon and Saturday morning I was slotted to cover the Komen booth at the marathon expo. I was planning on my parents to arrive mid-afternoon on Saturday, expecting to have time between my obligations and their arrival to clean up the apartment. They called me at 11:15 AM saying they were 10-minutes from my place. I was supposed to be at the booth till Noon. This had me in a panic, because there was no way I could beat them home even with leaving the expo when they called. I phoned Mikayla who was also anticipating a bit more time to get ready, which sent her into a frenzied last minute preparation while I doubled the speed limit through residential Columbus.

The photo enforced red light on N 4th St and Chittenden
took this picture on my way home. Luckily they didn't get a good
picture of my license plate.

My parents came hungry and wanted to get a taste of the fine selection of cuisine we have here in the big city, so we took them to Bob Evans. After lunch I was planning on taking my parents around the city, taking them on a brief tour with the specific intention of showing them where they could watch the marathon. My Mom, who as I mentioned is battling cancer, became extremely sick due to some recent changes in her medication and treatment, so the tour was cut short and we took her back to the hotel to get some rest. Our intention was to meet back up later for dinner, but she wasn't well enough to go out again. We all hoped that she would be well enough by morning that she would be able to go to the race, but my Dad called me late that night to tell me they would head back that night because she was getting worse. There was no argument to be made with her fragility and poor health clearly on display to Mikayla and I earlier in the day, but I was certainly disappointed. I stopped caring as much about the race almost instantly. I had just a small amount of motivation to perform well and now it was on it's way back to Pennsylvania with my parents. I went to sleep early, planning on getting to the start line well before the gun at 7:30 AM the next morning.

I woke up the next morning feeling pretty fresh compared to most race mornings... my typical pre race night involves one too many gin and tonics and sleeping for 3 hours in a tent. After getting my gear together and making sure my water and chia gel was all topped off, Mikayla drove me downtown as close as we could get without being in a mess of traffic. This was the third time Mikayla has been with me during the final moments leading up to a race and I couldn't ask for a better person to see me off. She makes me feel like a better runner and a better person than I actually am, and that morning I needed it more than ever. We made plans for meeting up at the finish, and I jogged down the street to the starting line to join the 20,000 runners on East Broad Street. Somehow Adrienne Anderson, ended up next to me  in the corral, just as she did in Pittsburgh. It's always good to see someone I know at marathons, because the crowd is typically so large, you have an awkward sensation of being lonely in a crowd. Yet another reason I prefer ultras over marathons.

By the time the gun had gone off, I had decided I was going for a 3:20 right out of the gate. I had nothing to lose anyhow. As I dodged slower runners, I found the 3:25 pace group and settled into my stride with them. My plan at the time was to stay with that group until I either couldn't maintain the pace or I hit mile 18 where I would pick up speed if I had any left. The trek down East Broad into Bexley brought back memories of the year prior, and the familiarity made the running more comfortable. As we wound are way into German Village I thought back to how I ran into my friend Tad at mile 9 in 2010 and how that was basically the sole reason I ran a PR. I was hoping to run into some familiar face to give me a similar boost, but I would have to wait. As we turned onto South High I felt alone, more of me was in my mind than on the street. In ultras being in that kind of pattern can ruin your race, it had never happened to me during a marathon until then, but apparently it can ruin them as well. I noticed my thoughts creeping to negative things and in an attempt to stop the process I struck up a conversation with a man who I noticed was wearing a Green Jewel 50K shirt... a fellow ultra guy. I was looking for some happy thoughts, but by no fault of his, I found the opposite. We started talking about how much we hate running marathons, road races, going this fast, not having junk food at the aid stations. Then his conclusion was the death blow to my motivation... "All these things are just training runs man, just really expensive group training runs." With the Masochist looming in November, my spirits down, and nothing to really run with my heart for, I almost decided to take the turn with the half marathoners and call it quits.

At that point I was still on pace to crush my PR, averaging 7:47/mile but I didn't have it in me to go much further at the kind of pace. When we reached the corner of 9th and High where I had lived for the last two years, I stopped running, it was just before mile 15. I walked two blocks before running again. As we ran through campus I deflated. I wouldn't even make it a mile at a time without stopping again. The mile marker named after my Mom was supposed to be the 18th, right at my proverbial and infamous "wall". I had less than 3 miles to get to that point. I wasn't willing to run a completely bum marathon just yet. I was telling myself I would be happy with a 3:45. I alternated running and walking, planning on going back to a solid effort for the last 8.2 miles.

On campus I ran into Mike Patton whom I first met last December when we ran through Columbus together during the Nypaver's "I Believe" run. We have seen each other at various races since and I know how much faster he is than me, so I was surprised to see him all the back where I was. He was helping his brother finish his first marathon since a surgery, which explained his slower than normal pace. I started to run more to keep him in eye sight. I could make something of this marathon yet, I was getting motivated!

Then as the course turned onto John Herrick, I knew mile 18 was soon. This was where my parents had planned on seeing me, right at the mile marker that bore my Mom's name. I saw the marker ahead, too far away to read yet. As I drew closer, running faster as it came into view, my jaw dropped. It wasn't named after my Mom. I had switched markers with someone who was running the half marathon and I suddenly was angry. They hadn't made the switch. I passed the marker with her name without a thought or notice, expecting it much later. I was angry. I stopped running. I didn't care about anything now. I almost ran to my house, which at this point was a hell of a lot closer than the finish line.

Some of the rational thoughts in my mind prevailed. Why not just finish? Just another marathon finish to add to my credentials, who cares what time the finish is. I ran/walked again, not really putting forth any amount of effort. When I got to mile 22 I instantly regretted my defeatist mindset... the marker had my Mom's name on it. I was glad I wasn't walking when I saw it, but I wished I had gotten there about 40-minutes sooner than I had. My quads weren't cooperating with my complete will, but as long as they weren't locked up I was running the rest of the way.

As I had gone along I was passed by each pace group... first was 3:35, then 3:45. I had no intention of running anything slower than a 4-hour marathon, so I just ran a comfortable pace thinking if 3:55 caught me, I would suck it up and finish with them. I made it to Victorian Village just a few miles shy of the finish line when the 4:00 pacers caught me. There was no 3:55 group. I took off again to stay ahead. The walking had my legs tight, so I wasn't setting any records, but I was staying ahead of the 4-hour group. When I crossed the finish line and saw my time, I realized the pacers were off. I finished ahead of them, but not faster than 4-hours. I checked in with my second worst marathon performance to date: 4:01:04

It wasn't my day, that's for certain. Even if I had put in the training I should have, I'm not sure my mind would have been sound enough for a 3:20 finish. Stoic as I can be sometimes, having my parents so close to seeing me run, and then not being able to, took its toll. I hope my Mom is well enough some day to see me do what I love, but until then I need to refocus my running and do it because it's truly a passion. I run for a lot of reasons, sometimes differing from race to race, training run to training run, but I never knew how much an audience of just two people meant to me.

The day was not wasted by any means. I ran a solid 15 miles at a faster pace than I have ever run that distance. I struggled in my mind for 11 miles more intensely than ever before and made it through. I was a small part of a great team that raised almost $18K for breast cancer research. Despite them not being able to see me run, I saw that my parents cared enough about what I do to make the effort of coming to Columbus with the intention of supporting me.  I saw how supportive Mikayla is of me, despite my performance, being there for me (and my Mom) the whole weekend. I got to meet some cool people and be on the course for some my friends who put up great times. David outpaced me for a new marathon PR of 3:58 and Debbie shattered her previous best by running a 4:13!

I finish out the year with three more races. The Marine Corps Marathon on the 30th, the Masochist on November 6th where I will be looking to PR at the 50-mile distance, and then the Bigfoot 50K where last year I met the girl I'm in love with!

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