Have you ever woken up and known that you were going to have a great day? Not thinking you were or hoping you were, but really knowing. Well Sunday was that kind of day for me. I remember showing up to the starting line of the Pittsburgh Marathon in 2009 with a great deal of confidence.
I had gone through a great training cycle with a singular goal. 3:19:59 and an entry to the most storied Marathon in the world at Boston. I remember showing up that morning to the starting area, mind you this was only my second marathon, but I knew that I had a Boston time in me. I had done all the work, had a great race plan and all that was left was for me to go out and execute.
I remember running the final miles that day with time in the bank and a smile on my face. I was crushing my goal time and would finish at 3:17:43. Since that day in May 2009, I’ve never had that same race day feeling. Sure I’ve run well in many of the races since. I’ve even posted a few PR’s that I was proud of. But I had never been able to recapture that feeling.
I woke up 5 minutes before my alarm clock set for 5:00 a.m., three hours before the starter’s gun. Instead of rolling over and grabbing those final 5 minutes of sleep, I bounced out of bed and couldn’t wait to get going.
I had laid out my race clothes the night before, the only real question was whether or not I would be running “topless” or with a lightweight singlet, so I decided to pin my bib number to my race shorts. I made my way to the kitchen, ate a bagel smeared with Peter Pan Peanut Butter and drank a bottle of water.
After stretching on the family room floor, I loaded up the truck, said goodbye to Dawn and made my way over to the IBM campus. To park close to the start I would have to arrive prior to 6:45 a.m. when the road closures would go into effect. I got a great spot in the parking garage about one hour and fifteen minutes before race time and relaxed by reading the newspaper online and went over the race course for the seventh or eighth time.
At 7:00 a.m. I was in need of a porta-potty as I had just finished my second bottle of water. There was already a buzz in the starting area as a lot of runners and volunteers were getting ready for the event. I decided to leave my asics trainers on my feet to jog up to the starting area and then back to the truck after my pit stop to shake loose.
I said a few “hellos”, took care of business in one of the many porta-potties with no lines (Yay!) and jogged slowly back to change into my race flats. Due to a pretty significant mileage reduction this week, only running 7, 8 and 2 miles on Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday respectively – I felt like I was running on springs. My legs had a lot of bounce and with the exception of a little bit of tightness in my left hamstring, I felt ….. Perfect.
At 7:30 a.m. I made my way back to the starting area, took a few strides and ran a relaxed ½ mile warm-up. Just about that time my friend Mick showed up and we got a chance to visit a bit in the starting area. Mick was not running on Sunday, but was there to “root home” some of the members of his running group from Georgetown.
A few moments later a fellow runner Tom who had been following Dom’s battle with cancer here on Run for Dom came by to introduce himself. We chatted a bit and before I knew it we were assembling for the Star Spangled Banner.
I decided to in fact discard my singlet, and Mick graciously took it from me for safe keeping during the race. The temperature was right around 60 degrees with very little wind. Perfect.
Dawn, Landry and our friends Sarah and Tedd were going to be at the race, but due to the layout and the nature of the large looping course, I was unsure if they would be able to get to the start/finish area or if they would be out somewhere along the 6.2 mile route.
I knew that the first turn on the course would be to the right, so I found myself in a great spot, just short of the starting line on the right hand side of the corral. As the National Anthem began I began to have a hard time standing still. I found myself shifting from left foot to right and back again, nervous energy was starting to build inside of me.
During the last refrain I looked up at a beautiful TX morning sky and thought of Dom.
In a way that is hard to describe, I felt a calm come over me. I stopped bouncing and calmly edged up to the start. I turned on my iPod and kicked off a new Playlist that I put together specifically for this race. I rubbed my hands together, gave one more nod to the sky and tucked in with the first 20 runners at the start.
There would be approximately 1,200 runners participating in the Uptown Classic 10K, another 1,800 runners participating in the fun run portion of the event. There was a lot of great energy in the starting area, a lot of young high-school and college runners who would be looking to crush the IBM course. We of course were looking to “go low”, a new PR was the goal coming in under 40:00.
The last thing I thought of before the gun was an exchange I had with my good friend Steve Spiers from Virginia Beach. Steve who is an incredible athlete and courageous distance runner has had a truly amazing 2010. He has been running faster and stronger than at almost any point in his life. Steve’s message to me on Saturday night was:
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but I honestly think you’re in sub-39:00 shape, and that quite frankly is quite a conservative prediction. I’ve been guilty of selling myself short in the past, and have found that confidence is a wonderful thing. Some of my recent race first mile splits would have scared the life out of the old Steve, but now I just tend to go with the flow and attack the remainder of the race.”
I don’t know if it was the message itself, or the source of that message – but it really struck a chord with me. I felt like I had a great race inside of me, I just needed to have the confidence to put it out there. To have the courage to go all-in and see just what I was capable of doing with this gift from above.
Days like this don’t come along very often in life I thought to myself. Time to go to work.
Just like that we were across the mat and out onto the course. Although I had never run IBM before, I felt like I knew every twist and turn. I would be able to manage the corners, knew what side of the road to choose and exactly where the difficult parts of the race would be found. There would be no surprises for me on Sunday ahead. No blind turns or doubt about where to go next. I felt 100% locked in and ready to rock.
Mile 1: I had planned on going out right around goal pace for the opening mile given the uphill nature of the course. I quickly dismissed that strategy as I settled in at the top of the first straightaway. The incline was not slowing my turnover at all. A 6:26 pace first mile at goal pace would definitely be selling myself short as Steve put it. I decided to simply let myself go a bit and clip of the first mile at a comfortably hard pace.
A handful of runners were passing me over the first mile, but all were of the “collegiate runner” variety. It is tough when that happens to not get caught up in “racing” the other runners. I knew that despite the fact I was losing “track position” I was running strong. No need to change anything.
I glanced down at my GPS at the 1st mile marker. 5:56 pace over the opening mile. About :10 seconds short of my opening pace during a 5K. No need to panic, it was fast, but felt just about perfect.
Mile 2: I backed off the pace just a touch over mile number 2. I knew that this mile as well as mile 3 was very “fair”. Basically a net elevation change of zero. This was the part of the course to zero in on pace and stay smooth, consistent and strong.
I decided to grab a splash of water at the water station and was able to grab the cup, pinch the top, take a nice cool sip and even toss the cup directly into one of the waste baskets. At the beep mile 2 came in at 6:09 pace. My race plan had called for a second mile of 6:15. We were off to a great start.
Mile 3: Little did I know that this was where Dawn, Landry and company had set-up shop. I had tried to look through a few of the crowds to sneak a peak of them, but I was running with a great sense of purpose and focus. I was gobbling up the ground pretty quickly, and with my iPod blasting Green Day away at me, I never heard their shouts of encouragement.
Mile 3 came in at 5:59 pace. Half-way there, just needed to keep it together.
Mile 4: I knew by studying the course on Friday that mile 4 would be the last “easy” mile of the day. It was the last mile before the climb back uphill over mile 5. I didn’t want to “go crazy” at this point, but I didn’t want to play it too safe either.
I decided to hold steady with my leg turnover and see how close we could come to our effort over mile 4. At the beep my GPS showed a split of 6:03. Four down, two miles to go.
Mile 5: The climb began just past the water station. I grabbed a cup, pinched, sipped, swallowed and pitched all in one motion. I knew upon first driving the course on Friday that this was going to be where the race would come together for me …. or not.
The elevation change turned out to be 84 feet over mile 5 or a little bit more than an 8 story office building. I was feeling strong heading up hill, but knew that my pace was slipping. It was still too far from the finish to really put the hammer down, so I decided to rely on all of the hill-repeats we have been doing this summer and fall to keep our form together.
Just stay smooth and consistent I thought to myself, we are going to give some time back to the clock, the question was only how much.
I glanced down at my watch as I hit the Mile 5 sign on the course, 6:33. Only :07 seconds slower than goal pace.
Gotta love those hill repeats.
Mile 6: The early portions of mile 6 served as a bit of a recovery mile from mile 5. I was feeling pretty good actually when I noticed a runner that I had been “chasing” for some time slowing to the side of the course.
He had just said “Hi” to his wife and child in a stroller on the left of the course which grabbed my attention. As he slowed to a walk, I came up on him and as I pulled even I realized that it was my friend Andy.
I clapped my hands together quickly and shouted to Andy, “Let’s go, let’s go, you’ve got this” …. Sure enough in the next 2/10 of a mile Andy pulled back alongside me and took his place back ahead. Andy would finish :03 seconds ahead of me on Sunday.
8 years my junior, I can live with that – I know he would have done exactly the same thing for me.
Mile 6 came in at 6:13 pace. I had recovered well from the climb at mile 5, it was time to kick.
Final .20: As we made the turn onto the final straight away I could see the finishing chute and race clock in the distance. The clock was still reading time in the 37 minute + range, I was too far away to break the 38:00 minute mark, but I was still flying along at a strong pace.
About 100 Meters from the finish I couldn’t help but smile and spread my arms out wide.
I felt like an airplane coming in for a landing and just as the final 2/10 of a mile at Pittsburgh in 2009 was a celebration, so too was the closing stretch at IBM.
I was hoping to wrap this final portion of the race up in 1:20, but was able to close in 1:15 (5:20 pace).
It’s tough to know how much time the “airplane arms” cost us. But it really didn’t matter at that point. A new 10K PR by 3 minutes and 1 second. Boom.
IBM Marked the end point of our summer race season and the start to Austin Marathon training that starts on Monday morning. We entered May with a 19:43 minute 5K PR which now sits at 18:12. I had never raced at the 10K distance before, and now have a PR of less than 39:00 minutes. Most importantly we leave October a much stronger, faster and more confident runner.
I look forward to enjoying this race today and tomorrow, then getting ready to get back to work on Tuesday from Connecticut as we take our first strides toward the starting line of the Austin Marathon.
One thing I know for sure is that we have more left to give. I have yet to run my best marathon.
There are no guarantees in marathoning, that race is a cruel, cruel distance that can test a runner like no other. But the one thing I can guarantee is that we are going to give our all during this training cycle to toe the starting line with the same confidence in our race preparation as we did this morning.
February 20, 2011 – the 20th running of the Austin Marathon, Boom goes the dynamite.