On September 21, I ran the Rochester Marathon. I try to learn something at every marathon. Writing about each race helps me figure out what I might have learned. After about 3000 words, I figured out this year's lesson. I'll cut right to the chase...
The marathon certainly is individual trial, but a support system can make all the difference in the world.
A while back, I wrote an entry about why I ran the marathon. In it was the following...
In 2013, I wasn't steadfast or confident.
Last year, I trained alone.
Sure, I went out on some runs with friends, but the long runs were solitary treks through summertime scorchers. I had the ever-present support of my fabulous wife throughout my 16 weeks of training. But that was when I wasn't running.
And while my long time, battle tested friend Joe was at the start (he was running the half which starts in the same location) to give me a send off and help me shake off the jitters, when the time came, I was the one running the marathon.
In short, I didn't have much confidence. My last long run didn't go as I would've hoped. I talked to myself about "finishing is good enough" and ended up dropping my A goal of 3:59:59 and accepting a "B" goal of 4:15:00.
I finished in 4:19:08. Joe was at the finish to hook me up with my first ever marathon medal and it was a great experience. But I didn't get the best out of myself.
This year, I joined Fleet Feet HFM Training. Through that, I met some people who worked hard and set ambitious goals for themselves. My ambitious goal was 3:40:00. Highly Ambitious. However, I was training better and faster than I did last year. Throughout training, I saw my training partners getting better and meeting or exceeding some of their goals. And importantly, I was receiving regular encouragement that they believed that I could achieve my ambitious goal.
As the race neared this year, I received constant feedback to trust my training. I was reassured by knowing that my training partners and coaches had seen the work that I put in during each workout and that this wasn't "rah-rah-you-can-do-anything-you-set-your-heart-on" feedback. This was real numbers and real effort feedback from people who had done it and were doing it. Their support encouraged me to stick with my "A" goal of 3:40:00.
I knew I had prepared.
On race morning, a friend from the program, Chuck was there to greet me as soon as I pulled into the parking lot at 5:50 in the morning (He was running 9 miles before running the half as a training run for Chicago marathon.)
My mindset instantly went from getting ready on a chilly, dark morning with the threat of thundershowers for 26 miles to "meeting some friends for a run." Suddenly this wasn't a solitary adventure. It sounds silly, but a simple little thing like that can completely change your outlook.
As I got ready for the race, mixing equal parts preparation and walking around, I was comfortable. Comfortable knowing that I was supposed to be there, I had a plan to succeed and that there were other people that believed I could succeed as well. I took time to chat with and thank volunteers. I even took a look at the finish line and visualized crossing at 3:39:59. Comfortable. Heck, a guy who ran something like 5 Iron Mans and countless marathons commented to me that I looked like a pro getting ready for this thing. Comfortable and confident.
And then walking to the starting line, well Joe wasn't there, and that sucked. But Jeff was. And Jeff and I ran fast together. So many more people were there as well. My coaches Maggie Quinn and Bruce Hedlund were there. People with whom I had put in the Hard Fought Miles. This wasn't a walk down the Green Mile toward suffering and despair. This was a celebration. We were getting ready for the party at the end of our training. And then the guy that was going to be with me for every step of the 26.2 showed up. Dave Justice and I were going to run 3:40 together. He believed I could do it and in turned I believed he could do it. And so, we would do it.
Side Note: So many people suggest that attempting to run a marathon *with* someone is an exercise in futility. And I can understand why. The places that one's mind will go and the frustrations that one can experience over the course of a marathon could be dramatically compounded if it means dealing with someone else's troubles as well. But if you can run with someone, if you and that person can run the same speed, share the same goal and the same understanding of what will happen along the journey then you both just might be setting yourselves up to get the most out of the day. Read on to find out if it worked for me and Dave.
The official race started with a moving version of the Star Spangled Banner and a more moving moment of silence for RPD Officer Daryl Pierson.
Suddenly it was time to run!
Settle into the pace and run easy. Breathe.
Me: "Dave, are you really carrying a bottle of Perrier?"
Okay, so mile one was a little fast (8:00) but we're on East Ave now. This is a nice downhill, let's just cruise.
Spectator to Dave: "Dude, I totally thought that was a bottle of beer"
2 mile split, 16:11
Dave has some energy today. I'm trying to decide if "Run in the moment" means not being worried about how I'll feel at mile 24 if we keep going this fast. It's not that much faster than planned. But it's a slight downhill, so a little faster is to be expected, plus we'll be walking through a water stop soon.
We've passed the turn for the half-marathon course. Looks like we're in it for the long haul. Here comes our first bit of uphill. Oh and that 5 seconds of water stop walking at the end of mile 3 was nice.
4 mile split, 32:49
Mile 5, 6
Dave and I begin discussing the differences in our GPS. I'm using the Virtual Partner which is updating our aggregate pace against a 8:20/mile and letting me know by the second if we are ahead or behind our pace (currently ahead.) He is using the average pace per mile to make sure we are at 8:20 for each mile overall. He has us pretty near target and I have us a few seconds fast... more on this story as it develops.
Mile 7, 8
The spectators have been pretty awesome up to this point. While I can't read their signs (because I didn't wear my glasses due to the forecasted rains) I can certainly hear their cheering. They're shouting our names and clapping and playing music. What a great feeling. It's right around here that I get my first view of a guy wearing a Sehgahunda Marathon sweatshirt. Excellent. Sehgahunda is a pretty special trail race. Seeing fellow Sehgahunda runners always gives me a little extra boost. Happily, I would see him about 4 more times as it seemed that he was following me through the whole course. I found out later his son was the 3:45 pacer who happened to be a few minutes behind us. I also found out that he was 79 when he ran Sehgahunda. Badass.
8 mile split, 1:05:41
Onto what might be the biggest climb on the course (other one I'll discuss later)... Up Fairport Road to Perinton Park and the Canal. We will take the canal around the eastern side of the city, through Pittsford and across to the University of Rochester. As of now, the forecasted thunderstorms have held off. The weather is warming up just a few degrees, but it is still nice and comfortable for running if only a touch humid.
Mile 10, 11, 12
Just strolling down the canal. We've tried to figure out the GPS difference a little more. It seems I am hitting mile splits slightly earlier than Dave. Even though there aren't many turns and therefore not much opportunity for us to run different distances based on tangents. I reset my auto-lap counter at mile 9 and I was a .02 miles off from the measured signage on the course.
I still have us pretty solidly ahead of pace.
Mile 13 and 13.1
Still strolling along that canal. Halfway is a cause for celebration on most days. But not today. Today we celebrate at the finish.
20K split time 1:42:35
13.1 split time 1:48:26 (1:34 ahead of pace)
Now up until this point, the rain had held off for us. I had been very diligent about eating and drinking every 30 minutes. I had Gels at 0, 30, 60 and 90 minutes. It became a pretty humid affair so I had salt tabs at each point as well. We were a little fast. Dave and I couldn't sort out the GPS/time difference between our watches, but things were still going pretty good.
Mile 14, 15, 16
It is great to run into and through Pittsford. The crowd at Schoen place is always full of energy. High fives, fun signs... and Sehgahunda sweatshirts. But then once through Pittsford there is a pretty long stretch to get through the remaining canal, which can feel down right empty in parts. It's important to keep your head right when you get out of Pittsford. Oh... and it started to rain a little bit.
I had a hunch about the watch pacing right around here... I think maybe that our stops at water stops where we took 5-8 seconds to drink may have thrown off the Average Lap pace. And then caused us to run a little faster in order to bring the overall mile pace back to 8:20.
I remember looking at some after my training runs and finding that after a brief moment walking or waiting for a street light, I would end up going sub-8:00 for a few seconds in order to get the average lap time down to the normal range. Looking at my run data now, that seems to be the case, but I haven't put the exact location of the water stop into the data. I might nerd out on this a bit more in the future, but for now... back to the race...
Mile 17, 18
Thank goodness for Dave. While we were still on pace and still continuing our practice of walking through the water stops, it seemed as though Dave would stay vigilant and pull us out of the water stop pretty quickly. Ideally I would've liked to walk about 5 seconds longer, but Dave would get moving and I'd be pulled right along. While I was definitely 'inconvenienced' by this at the time, I realized the benefit of getting out of the water stop quickly and getting moving again. It was something I sorely needed. In my last marathon, granted it was a trail marathon, I spent far too long at checkpoints and often found it difficlut to get moving again. The comfort and comraderie can be very alluring.
So thanks to Dave for getting us out of there quickly... especially at all the stops after mile 16.
30K split time 2:34:01
Mile 19, 20
The quiet miles. So there may have been points earlier in the run where Dave and I were quiet simply running together and not talking as much, but I distinctly remember these miles as not only us being quiet, but those we passed being pretty quiet (or did we even pass anyone?)
Also of note during these miles, this is the first time I lost track of how far we ran. "Does Mile 19 mean we ran 19 or are starting 19?" and it's also the time when I called Dave "Steve" and it's also the time when after I called him Steve, I forgot what I was going to say to him, or to Steve. Basically, all 3 of us were happy to hit mile 20.
20 Mile split time 2:45:37 (2:11 ahead of pace)
Miles 21, 22
Just running. Happy to be off the canal and moving onto the riverwalk. If I was capable of being happy at this point. We were heading into the city. That was good. Civilization was in the city. Random thoughts from these miles, "If this is what running 3:40 feels like, I don't want to feel 3:30", "Really could use a water stop somewhere near here. Oh, we just went through one a few minutes ago? *sigh*"
Mile 23, 24
University of Rochester campus. Here is where things get blurry, sketchy and tired. Lots of thoughts were going through my head at this point. This is where those aforementioned running partnerships can head south pretty quickly. One person's inspirational and motivational quip can be a nagging and grating albatross on the other person's neck. I'm not sure how many times Dave and I each encouraged the other. I'm also not sure how many times the other didn't want said encouragement. What was important is that it seemed each time I needed it, Dave was right there with it. And while I tried to spin a negative thought into something positive, I was having a hard time. More than once I would say something to Dave and found that I was saying it more for myself than I was for him. But if he wasn't there, I most likely wouldn't have said it.
40K split time 3:27:01 (1:31 ahead of pace)
Miles 25, 26
"We're on the river. After the river comes downtown. After downtown comes this finish." You know that saying that if you say something enough times, you start to believe that it's true?
Well... You might imagine how many times I repeated that phrase. And you'd be off by an order of magnitude.
I told myself that the lesson I learned last year was to not "count down the steps" at the end of the marathon. During this year's marathon, I learned that I'm not there quite yet. As much as I tried to Run the Mile I was, I couldn't help but think about the miles ahead.
I struggled with this the whole race. On mile 3, I was making sure I did things to make mile 25 easier. And after mile 25 I was thinking that I only had 1.2 miles remaining. And at mile 25.1, I was thinking that I only had 1.1 miles remaining.
25 Mile split time 3:29:49 (4 seconds behind pace)
-- Note this split is with 1.2 remaining... and technically 25.18 completed. Read more about that in an upcoming article.
Oh! And my quads were sore. With just over 1 mile remaining there is a small little hill to get up from the riverwalk and onto the Ford Street Bridge. That hill felt like a mountain. This! This was the biggest climb of the 26 miles. Baby step, baby step, baby step... okay... Ford Street Bridge, down through the High School kids on Exchange and onto South Plymouth. With Dave about 30 yards ahead of me, I trudged forward. There was nothing pretty or graceful about what I was doing at this point.
26 - 26.2
This is the fun part. They close down Plymouth Avenue just for me. I have wide open spaces and all the lights are green! The crowd is back and super excited. And there's Chuck. After having run 9 miles and then completing the half marathon, he stuck around for 2 more hours to see us finish! At this point, I was running so slow that I was able to casually ask Chuck how his race went, how his 9 miles before that went, explain to him about my sore quads and make arrangements to meet him at the finish line (whenever I eventually got around to getting there.) He was very encouraging in trying to get me to catch Dave. And he listened patiently as I explained that while Dave was only 30 yards ahead, he might as well have been at the Finish Line. After my 20 minute chat over tea and sandwiches with Chuck, I decided to finish my marathon.
And then, the piece I had been waiting (running?) for... the part that always gets me through mile 25... Summer and the kids were waiting for me in front of Frontier Field. It may not have been a good idea to kneel down and get some hugs only in that I wasn't sure I'd be able to get back up, but I couldn't resist. They're so darn cute. And I was so happy to see them.
After hugs, I'm not sure if Dave waited for me at the last corner or if I just ran faster, but we turned down Morrie Silver Way together and we crossed the finish line together.
Finish time 3:41:41. (For those that might be slow with the maths, that is 1:41 off target.)
Well... I didn't hit 3:40:00. But I was almost 38 minutes better than last year. And I never gave up on my 'A' goal.
By the way... Did I mention, 3:41:41? Because that's my time for this year. I ran a marathon in 3 hours 41 minutes and 41 seconds! (Eat that cake, Blerch!)
Huge Huge Thank You to all of the volunteers and the Yellow Jacket Racing staff that braved the weather. A marathon is a LONG run. And it is an even longer for those that are working. Thank You so much.
I learned a few things along the way about preparation and execution that I will share over the next few weeks as I prepare to run the NYC Marathon. Thanks for reading.
By the way... I am running the New York City Marathon as part of Team Healthy Kids to raise money for Action For Healthy Kids. As of this writing I am about $500 away from my goal with 5 weeks until race day. I'd really appreciate if you would take the time to make a donation to my campaign and share with someone else who might appreciate the chance to donate. (It will take less time than it took to read this article.)