You train, you rest, you race.
You rest some more, train some more, you race again.
One workout goes well, one not so much, but on race day – you hope that all the hard work that you put in over the weeks, months and miles pays off.
There are no guarantees of course. Just the hope that all of those early morning alarm clocks, sweat soaked 20 mile training runs and hill repeats that make every muscle in your legs tremor after the workout will manifest themselves on a perfect morning somewhere down the line.
The kind of day when the temperature drops seemingly overnight, the wind is still, the sky bright as a postcard and your legs show up on race day.
Sunday was that day.
After writing a pre-race post about just how unlikely it was for me to go out in week number 14 of marathon training and run a fast time at the IBM Uptown Classic – once again Dom was pulling strings for me upstairs and asking the powers that be to let me go out and lay one down on a perfect race morning.
I ran a quick 2-mile shakeout early Saturday morning that felt like my legs were on auto-pilot.
When I pulled up at the driveway with a time of 12:43, I saw my final ½ mile split was 2:58.
I felt like I wasn’t even pushing.
Huh. Strange to feel so fresh at this point in the training plan, especially after just running 16 miles on Tuesday, followed by another 10 on Wednesday. Could I really be ready to run strong at IBM? I guess we would find out on Sunday.
All day Saturday I felt phantom pangs of soreness in my right knee. I think it was my self-conscience giving me an out if I wasn’t able to run a solid time at IBM in the 38:30 range.
I rested throughout the day on Saturday, watched the Gamecocks blow yet another game to Auburn and the Phillies after a brief scare in the 1st inning settle down and throttle the Cardinals. I made one of my favorite pre-race meals of Penne Pasta tossed with Shrimp and Scallops – Landry threw down the scallops like nobody’s business – and I turned in early for bed.
Big day on Sunday – we would find out just what we are capable of in NYC at the end of 10 Kilometers.
Pre Race: I woke up about 10 minutes before my alarm was set to go off at 5:30. 2 ½ hours before race time as is my routine. Brushed my teeth, got dressed in my race gear, checked my race bag one final time to make sure my flats and timing chip were in there, tied my trainers and said a quick goodbye to Dawn.
Dawn and Landry were going to skip the race and meet up with me at the Frisco Shop for post-race breakfast. The best part of race day.
I drove over to the race site, parked in the IBM parking garage at 6:55 and got a quick text from my friend Ed. He was racing on Sunday as well and we said that we would try to meet up in the start area before the race.
It was a cool morning, down into the high 50’s which felt like the 40’s after the hot summer we have suffered through here in Austin. I was in my tight Boston Athletic Association “booty shorts” that I ran well at IBM last year in. A singlet and a sweatshirt as I made my way to the start.
I hit the portapoties and hopped up on a picnic table to stretch. I was chatting with a few people when Ed came by. We decided to run an easy warm-up to get loose and get the blood flowing to the legs. Nothing fast, just an easy mile.
Warm-Up: Ed and I chatted as we took a leisurely paced jog onto the race course and up the first hill. I had driven the course on Friday to download the topography one more time into my brain. It had been a year since I raced the IBM course and I wanted to be ready for all of the twists, turns and the technical hill section from mile 4.5 to the finish.
As we neared the turnaround point for our warm-up at .50 miles I saw my good friend Brendon Cahoon come around the corner heading back to the start. Brendon looked smooth as silk finishing up his warm-up.
We would be chasing Brendon. Again.
Ed made a few comments about me busting through the 38:00 minute mark and I pooh-poohed the idea telling him that I was hoping to run something around :02-:03 seconds per mile slower than last year. That given where I am with my training and my fatigued legs, which would bode well for New York City.
He told me he thought I was selling myself short. I again reminded him that I had been doing strength and endurance work, not speed work these last 8-10 weeks. A PR was just not in the cards. The last comment I made to Ed before we got back was, “I have to say though Ed. Man, my legs really feel great.”
Race Time: I discarded my singlet and decided even with the chill in the air to race without a top. Worked well last year at IBM, why tempt fate. There was no wind and the sun was really shining bright as it rose in the East. I felt like once that sun got up, I would be thankful to be running without a shirt.
After the Star – Spangled Banner I quickly rubbed my fingers over Scott Birk’s initials on my left shoe and Dom’s initials on my right. A quick point to the sky to remember two close friends lost in the last year and I tucked in behind some of the young “fast” kids.
Just don’t go crazy over this first mile I thought. Something right around 6:00 min./mile and just see how you feel.
I knew I had been starting too quickly over the last few races, I wanted to be more disciplined over the opening mile. The Marathon is a thinking man’s race. Discipline rules the first 20 miles.
“Runners to your mark!” HORN!
The Start: IBM opens on a beautiful, wide lane that also serves as the last 2/10 of a mile on the course on the way back to the start/finish line. Being one of the larger 10K races in Austin, it attracts a ton of runners and the opening mile is crowded and tight.
To complicate matters this year a 5K was added to the 10K finishing ½ way through the race course. We would be racing with the 5K runners for the first 3.1 miles adding to the congestion.
In the first 300 meters I took a runners right elbow to the left ribs, I searched for open area to lock into pace, but couldn’t escape the crowd for the opening ¼ mile. Finally when we hit Burnet Road I found some space and at the beep of my watch I looked down at my opening ½ mile – 2:55.
Fast, but not quite as bad as the 2:52’s I had been opening with. I smiled a bit to myself as I turned right on Kremer. My legs felt awesome.
The second ½ mile split clicked in at 2:57. An opening mile of 5:52.
Mile two opened uneventfully, I grabbed a quick splash of water at the water stop and looked up ahead to see where Brendon was. I was running in about 40th position, but it was tough to tell with the 5K runners mixed in with the runners who were going the full 10 Kilometers.
I saw Brendon’s orange shirt up ahead, it appeared he had about :15 on me which was just about right for this stage of the race. I didn’t recognize any of the other runners around me, but felt like I was in a great spot. I locked things in and stayed smooth and even.
My third half-mile split was 3:03. The adrenaline of the start of the race had worn off a bit, I pushed ever so slightly on the gas to lock back in under 3:00. My fourth half-mile split was back on pace at 2:58.
A 6:01 second mile. Perfect.
Mile three takes runners through the shopping district in the middle of the Domain. The course turns around Neiman Marcus and then runners climb back up hill before turning left again towards Burnet Road. It is a smooth part of the course with a few long straight-aways. I decided to lock in and push a little bit harder up the hill to stay on pace. Just then my friend Scott McIntyre slid past me on the right.
Scott led the three hour pace group at this February’s Austin marathon. Tremendous runner Scott. I felt like I needed to keep him in contact as long as I could. If I could stay close until we made it to the hills at mile 4.5, I might have a chance to take him down the stretch.
My next two ½ mile splits were 2:58 and 3:01.
A 5:59 third mile as we approached the 5K finish line.
The 10K runners stayed to the left through the 5K finishing chute – I snuck a peak at the clock as we passed underneath, 18:34 at the 5K point. Not a shabby showing in the 5K, just :22 off of my PR.
Somebody’s race legs had shown up.
As we made the turn back out onto Burnet Road I found myself behind a runner whose pace was not matching up with mine. He didn’t want to be passed, but every time I nudged ahead he would speed up to keep me behind him.
He would then slow down and in turn, break my cadence. I would pass, he would speed up, then slow down. FRUSTRATING.
I didn’t want to speed up too much and burn the energy I would need over the final mile. I decided to play his game of cat and mouse until the hills. I would leave him there.
My next two half-mile splits came in 2:57 and 3:00.
A 5:57 4th mile. For the first time the thought of a PR entered into my mind. 2.2 miles to go. It was time to climb.
The Hills: The IBM course to this point is nice and quick. It mixes gradual inclines with long gradual descents. You never feel like you are really working hard to go up a hill and never feel like you need to brace yourself going down. It makes for nice smooth running and you can click by at a smooth cadence.
Until just past mile 4. The course goes up and it goes up for awhile. Basically the entire 5th mile, with just one little break that allows you to gather yourself half-way to the top.
As we made our way up the first climb I saw Scott and the group he was running in just ahead. I was about :06 seconds behind him to this point. Time to see if all those hill repeats would pay off.
I took the next ½ mile in 3:13 followed by the next ½ mile in 3:09. I had caught up to Scott and passed him. If I could just hold him off over the final 1.2 miles I knew I would have a shot at a strong finishing time. Mile 5 came in at 6:22.
A full :11 seconds faster than the same mile a year ago.
Final Mile: I was able to get my breathing back under control quickly and fell back into the same pace I had held over the opening 4 miles of the race. When I passed by Scott he looked over at me and said,
“You are going to PR today Joe.”
Amazingly my breathing allowed me to answer Scott with – “38:06 Scott … I don’t know”
As my watch beeped at me from the bottom of the final descent on Burnet Road and we turned right back on to the IBM Campus I glanced down at my GPS – 2:59.
I made my way back uphill to wrap up mile 6 where the course would turn a smooth left arch toward the downhill finish.
My last full ½ mile split 2:58. I couldn’t quite make out the time on the race clock but I knew it was time to go. Kick I thought. All you have to do now is kick.
I heard a spectator yell encouragement to Scott as I took my third stride past them. I was holding off Scott down the stretch.
I saw the finish line clock tick over 37:23, 37:24, 37:25 as I dug down and emptied the tank.
Final :20 miles – 1:14. Last year I ran it in 1:15.
37:30, 33rd place overall, 2nd in the 40-44 Age Group.
I had placed 2nd in one of the most competitive age groups at one of the “major races” here in Austin.
Honestly, I could hardly believe it. There is a part of me that still can’t.
For the finish line video – click HERE:
Brendon was one of the first to greet me in the chute, followed by Scott who gave me a big man-hug in the finish area. He said some very kind words to me as we cooled down and shared with me his thoughts as to where I am with respect to New York City.
He said to me, “You know, when I passed you at mile 3 I reminded myself to tell you afterwards that you went out too fast. That you just needed to rein it in a bit in the beginning and you would finish strong. Then you passed me and I got to watch you from behind over the final couple of miles.
You never faltered, you never looked like you were working – even though I knew you were. You looked smooth and steady through to the finish. You surprised me today. You are so ready for 3 hours”.
What does it all mean?: The last few hours I have been asking myself that very question. I think what it means is that there is a big difference between self-confidence and self-realization.
Self-confidence for a runner allows them to feel like they can do something.
Self-realization is the act of finally letting them “know” they can do something.
Perhaps all that has been standing in the way of me chasing down 2:59:59 is the feeling that I wasn’t quite ready. Not quite fast enough. Not quite good enough. I was not experienced enough. I just simply wasn’t that strong a runner.
Well Virginia, maybe there is a Santa Claus after all.
As my friend Winston Kenton who will be running NYC with me said, “The only failing you can do in New York Joe, is failing to go for it.”
If I was willing to say that a time of 38:30 according to Greg McMillan and the McMillan Running Calculator was accurate in projecting me at 3:00:41, then why would I not believe his projection of 2:55:59 when I enter my time of 37:30?
Just like life – you can’t have it both ways.
So here we are. This very well may be my last best chance to go for it. I said a long time ago that no matter what, I owed it to Dom to always try. No matter how hard things got, I would always try my best.
Dom, this one is for you in New York, but it’s for me too.
I always wanted to know if I could ever be a 2:59 guy. Time to find out.