Fitting, perhaps, that my return to the marathon distance was with a race with "New" in the name. In a lot of ways, this dedicated block of life - the decision to sign up, train, and experience in the event itself - was something "New", from my approach in training, and my circumstance in life, even though I had experienced the marathon four times prior.
It was in December with Avery's upcoming 5 year old birthday - itself a milestone that just rings of an age that is stepping into childhood with more independence - that i realized my days are precious and ticking where my kids will have a chance for some memories of their father while they are young and impressionable. And so since I hadn't really been too active in committed running and racing since Boston in 2012, i knew i had to sign back up for a race and get things moving again. I looked up late Spring marathons which would give me enough time to train, and found one that not only fit my date target, but also had some icing on the cake in that it was in the mountains, near Boone, picturesque, and along a route that we did workouts in while I was on the cross country team at Appalachian State University. What's not to love?!
I won't recount my training here as this is mainly a race - recap, but during this entire training and through the race itself my approach has been different that it ever has in my life of running. When my GPS watch was lost I didn't replace it, i just used a regular stop watch. When that died, i stopped wearing a watch all together - this was about a year ago. So when my "training" began in earnest I stuck to form and didn't ever wear a watch. Also, going into the race I set aside time goals, as I just wanted to reclaim the fitness to complete 26.2 miles without having to walk, where i could compete the distance at a suitable jog/run pace-so getting there was mainly just building a base. I didn't incorporate any workouts, but what i did do back in Dec. was look to sign up for a race every month of the year leading up to it so i would then have some familiarity of pushing myself. Lastly, in a spiritual sense, I got some running books for Christmas that provided me a great orientation to looking at running in a more holistic way of benefit to mind body and spirit, which really opened me up to new awareness and contemplation while running. (Running with the Mind of Meditation...and Running and Being---both i highly recommend) This all was very rewarding and made the training more attractive and steered off the dregs of drudgery and duty.
Anyway from previous posts on Cooper River Bridge Run, Trail Half Marathon, and me telling you here I also did a 10 miler in Feb, an 8k and a 4 miler in Jan. I had some races under my belt, and had hit my 20 mile run two weeks prior to the marathon thus completing my requisite training. The races were fun and i was able to pass people the second half of each with good negative splits, so i was learning to not go out too hard and to find the next gear and push myself towards the end, and got my long runs in with a 14-17-20 mile Sundays in consecutive weeks, although my 20 mile run was rough (made it through 18 but had to walk jog the last two) and took me 3 hours! After that, my rest was good and I stayed with my recovery and maintenance runs during the taper 2 weeks before the race. I noticed my legs had fully recovered and were feeling like "spring loaded rockets" on the shake out runs of Wednesday and Friday before race Saturday.
I was getting excited the week of, because I knew it was going to be a great course and that I would enjoy getting to participate in it more because my good good friend Josh Brewer was also coming to do it as well. He had just run Boston 3 weeks prior but was stoked and said he was feeling recovered enough to be looking forward to it as well. Quite amazing to do 2 marathons in 3 weeks! Also, i was looking forward to the race because my family was coming up and we were going to hang out in Boone before and after which is always a treat. My girls were going to get to watch me and be with me, making it very special.
I really carb loaded for this race. I slept well too leading up to it. I was healthy, not even battling any nagging injuries or even slight illnesses. I was going to need all i could get with my limited mileage. My highest mileage was 35 miles, which i did those last 2 weeks before the taper when i had my 20 and 17 mile long runs. I averaged about 4 days a week running, and would go about 45-65 mins so i was nearing the edge of "trained" and "not sure if i could make 26" - which is always fun :)
Josh Brewer said he wanted to run along with me. That was great, Not only would it help me mentally with making the race go by quicker and easier with me feeding off him, but i was just glad to experience the day with a good friend, one who I've shared a running bond since 1998. As he picked me up and drove us to the race that morning, i realized 25 mins before the start that I had forgotten my race number. This was crucial because my timing chip was on there, and without it i wouldn't register as a participant, thus making my entry fee for naught, let alone the ability to see my name and time after months of training. I called my wife and explained and she rushed over with my number just making it before the gun. Whew. Big shout out to her, what a save! This also explains the mood going into the race. Of course being low on great expectations, no watch, and the nonchalance of not even bringing my vital documents to line up to race, the mood was pretty slack. I was literally pinning my number to my shirt as we started on that first mile, and stuffing my energy gels and chews into my pockets while running. Josh decided to forgo the watch also, so we literally we just out there relying on internal clocks and feel, at the same time traveling down a course neither of us had been on nor exactly knew what to expect or lay ahead. it really was pretty adventurous and exciting, and not only that, we both were extremely chatty because of our excitement, and it seemed like we were just out for a Sunday stroll, as opposed to being in the vortex of a quarter of a years culmination of time and effort. In fact, after 3 miles I said - i think we better be quiet for a while and find the zone - but for whatever reason i thought, no - this is good - let it be natural because this is really going to help later in the race when it does seem like we have been out there for a while, so i need to embrace this early ease of doing business.
Legs felt good, pace felt comfortable, and the miles were ticking by effortlessly. We made a turn away from the New River about 4 miles in and hit our first hill climb. YES! i was excited about this and we both got up without hindrance and kept out easy pace. We continued on, talking about running form, old friends, and silly jokes that suddenly came to mind from the past or present. Mood was light and were talked about the gratefulness of the natural beauty and the volunteer support in this race, feeding off the good vibes. Josh got be on track with drinking liquids at just about every stop. I had been taking Sport Jelly Beans throughout the first third of the race, and around mile 8 or 9 i took my first Gel, after we climbed the second hill. This was steep, but welcomed as it provided a change of pace from the flatness that paralleled the river. We always were in sigh of other runners around us, although it was far from crowded. The race probably only fielded about 300 participants in the Full and Half together. As we made a loop back to the start/finish we passed our first crowd support. then we were back to the quietness of the course, onto the second loop.
Mile 10 i took stock of how my legs felt, and noticed they were beginning to feel a little wear which is to be expected after 10 miles. But i was good. No pains or nags, and cardio was still good because Josh and I remained conversational. Another gel around mile 14 along with waters and Gatorade along the way every couple of miles. Oh - the weather was perfect - 50 degrees and clear. Beautiful.
I remember us saying that we were almost kind of sad that the race was already half over, because we wanted to enjoy the experience as long as we could. Probably from our duration at that point, our minds and talks shifted to more spiritual, scientific, and philosophical chats. I think this happens in the runners mind after the mind and spirit open up from the blood flow and movement, but we were able to put these to word together since we were side by side keeping our minds on the moment rather than at this point pushing for any time. We were bereft of competitive tendencies at this point.
We passed a group of volunteers handing out water who told us that we would see them again in 7 miles as we were on the loop which we would return back to the finish. After continuing down the road further we made a left and were leaving the river and going into the woods on a dirt road. This was about mile 17. The soft ground felt good from the pounding we were piling up from the pavement, and the air felt cooler as we entered into the trail surrounded by trees and foliage. The road, being away from the river, rose and we began to climb our third and last hill of the course. The beginning was rolling, and Josh and I were side by side here, but as it rolled the terrain started to send me into a different pace where I was beginning to speed up on the hills - i think subconsciously because i needed to handled them mentally in a quick way so i could concentrate back on the flat rhythm that would be there for the last 6 miles. As rolled along the easy hills of the trail, I found myself ahead of josh for the first time all day, and then came to the paved main hill on this last climb, where I decided I needed to keep it up because slowing down on the hill would prove to throw me off my pace and maybe unsettle my race. So I pushed that last hill and passed people, many of whom were subjected to walking up it - and once crested, saw the steep descent down with a pair of runners ahead that were moving well that i potentially could catch. I knew that the hill was an area I could tackle better than most given my long legs for a runner, so I used the downhill to open up my stride and try and catch them while putting distance behind my competitors. Yes, this is definitely when my competitive juices started flowing.
Once i was back on the flat loop heading towards the finish, immediately there was the 20 mile marker, signifying 10k to go until it was all over. Regardless of my lead on Josh at this point, I decided that I was in race mode and wanted to make these last 6 miles focused and competitive to see how many people i could catch ahead of me, and to come to the finish line feeling like i gave it my all. This is where runners experience the "Wall" as it's commonly known that at 20 miles the ballgame changes, and some runners succumb to lactic acid and fatigue so great that their last miles are a bit of a death march. I have experienced that - my last marathon in Boston 2012. And even when you don't "bonk" from my other marathons I have found the last 6 miles a true test of will and determination, where I have fought serious fatigue, and natural slow in pace even if it's not the wheels coming off, and even bouts of nausea and disorientation that one deals with during 20-26. Yet here, I was not only mentally coming into peak form, but physically my legs were responding to my demands of picking it up, and I was able to execute what my mind was telling me to do. Something I have not experience so well in any marathon I have done. This is surprising given I couldn't even run 20 miles 2 weeks before, but I think made possible from the early looseness of body, mind, and spirit from running with Josh those first 18 miles.
And so I pushed on. I passed the 20 mile drink stop without taking one but did ingest my last energy food. I started reeling in runners who were classically slowing down at this juncture, and passed water stop where I consumed my final time with some water and Gatorade. 4 miles to go. Ever since entering back onto the loop from the hill, a strong headwind and developed that we were facing that made things really like you were literally fighting the air. It felt like a bout with nature, self, and competitors on the course. Yet I was winning this fight. I don't know my pace from not having a watch but it felt so much faster than before. I was not only gaping Josh - who I don't think fell off his pace, just that I had found another gear (and also i do think the reality of him racing a marathon 3 weeks prior is something you are not fully recovered from to the deepest of damaged bodily makeup), but passing everyone I saw in front. With 2 miles to go I started playing games with my head where I would find a spot in front, just run to there i told my self, and then do it again, to help make the mile go by. It was coming true, something Josh and I talked about earlier in the race, where early miles feel like they are so short, and late miles feels never ending - yet they are measured the same. Perception is a funny thing, especially when you are in different states of fatigue. One mile to go. I knew I would make it and not fall apart. While I felt real confident that last 10k, I did have a sliver of "what if" where I might go to hard and then just totally hit a wall and have to walk/struggle in way off pace. But I could tell i was home free and this wouldn't happen. Less than a mile to go, a man who had done the half was encouraging runners, and gave me a visual marker of the last bend before i would see the finish. I ran to it, then saw the finish, then strode into my last yards where I saw my family who looked quite surprised to see me so soon. I remember I was just smiling with Joy the last few miles because I was running my best in such late stages and feeling like i was conquering all i set out to do.
It was the surprise of the day as to what the clock would show when i got in eyesight of it, and the surprise was pretty great in that I was much faster than I thought I might finish. 3 hours, 27 minutes. An overall pace of 7:54 per mile. Exceeding my expectation thoroughly. I know we had some easy mid 8 min miles, so closing the gap really pushed my overall pace per mile down, and i'm glad it was below 8 minutes. This was a little of a redemptive race from Boston where I literally went to Hell and back, but also a major step back into my loved world of running that gave me such a boost this 2016 from training day one to finish of marathon. And even after the race I felt great. I had energy, could walk, and wasn't dying - like i typically had felt after all the other marathons. Josh came in 2 places behind me, and he closed very well passing just about all the ones we had in front after the hill as well. What a joy the race was all in all. Something i won't forget.
Now, I'm ready to get back on the roads later this week and continue the journey. I'd like to continue doing one race a calendar month. For now, I'm thinking of doing a 10k here in Charlotte I found June 25th. Maybe I'll throw in some faster shorter runs to prepare now that i have a base, and see if this competitive bugs comes back out to play!