Archive for June, 2011

Dawn Landry and I made our way to Charleston, SC to visit Landry’s Grandmother in the hospital after her surgery on Tuesday.  The trip East was very uneventful, although Landry did have some fun on the flights today.

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is your pilot Landry, today we’ll be flying at 35,000 feet.
Landry and Dad had a great time with Pilot Steve talking about the trip out to Charleston.  This is Landry’s 5th airplane trip, which at 10 months might be some kind of frequent flyer record.  Fun times on the way to Charleston even though we wished we were going for another reason.
 
We landed a few minutes early and got a very welcome surprise as my mother was ready to be discharged only 48 hours after her surgery.
 
News was pretty positive all things considered, we of course were hoping against hope that the mass they found on the left side of my mothers brain would be benign, but instead we are dealing with stage II cancer.
 
Approximately 40-45% of the mass was removed, the remainder will be treated with radiation 5 times a week for the next 7 weeks.
 
Roughly 1/2 of my NYC Marathon Training Schedule – each of my 5 weekly runs will be in honor of my mother’s battle against this illness.  I plan on running each and every one of them like I’ll never run again.
 
If Lady marathon thought that I was locked and loaded on February 20th aiming for a big Day at the Livestrong Austin Marathon this past winter, New York better pack a lunch, because it is going to be a long f’ng day out there for that race course on November 6th.
 
I’ve run marathons afraid (my first), confident (my second), nicked up (my third), exhausted (my fourth 13 days after my third), and prepared (my last).  But never have I run one angry.  Well truth be told I’m just plain pissed off right now and the NYC Marathon is nothing more than 26.2 miles that were foolish enough to get in my way.
 
Last night’s race in 101 degree heat resulted in a time of 19:00 flat.  A :14 second course and series PR for me about 12 hours before my flight out to Charleston.  The whole race I felt like I wasn’t running fast enough, wasn’t running hard enough, that I had more to give …. perhaps I did.
 
We’ll find out on November 6th.  I am going to train my ass off for that race, harder than we ever have before.  We’ll see what kind of tricks the marathon has up it’s sleeve for us in November, it seems there is always something that race tries to throw at you on race day.
 
But it better be up to task this time around.  If I have 1% of the strength and determination I watched my 82 year-old mother roll out of that hospital with today, NYC doesn’t stand a chance.

Yesterday my mother went through surgery to have the mass that was causing pressure on the left side of her brain removed.  Or at least as much of it removed as was possible.

The Doctor was able to remove 40-45% of the mass, which was what his pre-surgery estimate was, so that appeared to go as planned.

Mom did very well with the surgery and is recovering comfortably in the Hospital in Charleston.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the mass indeed turned out to be stage II cancer.  Not a benign tumor as we had all hoped.

We will know more when the test results come back from pathology tomorrow, but it sounds right now as radiation will be used to treat the area, no mention of chemotherapy at this point, but we’ll know more by the time I get to the East Coast.

So today I’m tying things up at work, getting packed, getting Kayla to the Doggie Spa so Landry, Dawn and I can make our way out to Charleston in the morning. 

Tonight they are running the 8th Summer Sunstroke Stampede 5K of the season series downtown at 7:00 p.m.  I’m going to sneak down there and drop the hammer on the 3.1 mile course.  Try to let out some of this pressure that I feel building inside of me.

I’m not going to bring my watch with me.  I could pretty much care less what my time is or how I finish.

I’m so angry right now I find myself looking for a fight.  So cancer is back in our lives once again.

Bring it on.

I was out this afternoon swimming in the quarry over my lunch hour.  Three 750 M loops around the lake in open water with no breaks along the way.  A swim that 12 weeks ago while not only impossible for me, seemed absolutely absurd.  A 1.4 mile swim in a body of water with no sides to grab ahold of, no line on the bottom to sight by, no bottom to stand-up on if I got tired or needed a break.

No chance.

But time and hard work create the “new normal” all the time.  Runs that used to scare me before I completed my first marathon now are just circled on my training calendar as “interesting” or “challenging” – nothing seems impossible.

I have runner friends that tell me often that I’m a “tough runner”.

That when conditions are poor, oftentimes I run some of my best races.

I don’t seem to “fall off” as much as other runners do when it is hot or cold, windy or hilly.  I for whatever reason find a way to keep going, keep pushing hard, always try, always do my best.  It has become ingrained in me to not cede an inch, as if you start doing that it becomes easier and easier.  Before you know it you’ve quit.

And once you’ve quit one time, it makes quitting the next time easier and far more likely.

On my swim today I found myself alone with my thoughts, working on my catch and pull, listening to my breathing, noticing the sun beating down on me when I rotated out to catch a breath, warming my body – then as I rotated back down to take a long stroke the water felt cooler, refreshing.

It is amazing how much I am enjoying my time in the water now.  It just took 3 months, 12 lessons and more than 60 hours in the water …. but it came to me finally, just like everyone told me it would.

But today as I continued to try to get better at my swim, I thought a lot about where this supposed “toughness” comes from.  Why doesn’t everyone have it?  Why can’t everyone do it?  Why do I see people walking during races as they tire, but we keep pushing?

I think I am closer to figuring out that answer today than I was say a week ago or the week before that.  I think a large part of who we are comes from where we came from.

As I watch Landry learn to crawl, learn to eat, play, laugh and smile as she takes on the world through the eyes of a 10-month-old, I can see bits and pieces of Dawn and myself.  She is a part of our family now and we of course are a part of her.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) at Noon my mother will be going through a significant surgery to have a mass removed from the left side of her brain.

The pressure that this mass has been causing lately has created some memory issues for my mother and although we do not know the nature of this mass quite yet, only a biopsy will tell that story after her surgery, we do know that this has to be removed and we are all preparing for the various scenarios post-op.

Over the past 12 months I’ve seen a close friend ravaged by cancer and taken from all of us before his 40th birthday.  My best friend and Godfather to Landry lost his wife in a camping mishap 11 months ago.  My good running friend Scott Birk hit by a car and killed two weeks ago while out on a training run.

I’ve had my share of tests of faith over the course of the last year – of that there is no question.

But watching my Mother go through this situation with an amazing amount of courage and determination has been awe-inspiring.  She is one tough lady, and I know that there is simply no quit in her.  Whatever needs to happen after surgery tomorrow, she will make happen.

She has a lot of reasons to fight to stay in this world, watching her grandchildren and great-grandchildren grow up, watching her sons and daughter become the people she always hoped she would and many more years to spend with her husband of more than 50 years.

So perhaps I learned a little bit more about myself this week, that the next time things aren’t going exactly the way I planned, whether that is NYC, Boston or an Ironman finishing is not a goal, it is an absolute.

My mom didn’t raise no quitter, it’s just not an option.

Best to you tomorrow Mom, I love you.

J

Wednesday night marked the 7th race in the 2011 Sunstroke Summer Stampede race series.  I had to miss last week’s race as I was traveling on the East Coast, but with 3 more races needed to be elibible for any year ending awards, I decided to take advantage of the slightly lower temperatures and race again just 4 days after the Holland Cornfest 5K on Saturday.

Compliments of a pretty significant thunderstorm that rolled through Northwest Austin at 1:00 a.m. Wednesday morning, temperatures dropped 10-12 degrees from where they had been over the last several weeks.  This was our first rainfall of any kind since May 30th, breaking a streak of 17 consecutive days that reached 100 degrees.

Oh yeah, and summer only started on Wednesday.

This was going to be a tough race to predict as I had really been training hard since our race on Saturday.

12 miles at 7:24 pace on Sunday.

15 Miles on the Tri-Bike Monday morning.

1500 Meter Open Water Swim Monday afternoon.

6.25 Miles at 7:17 pace Tuesday morning.

Another 1500 Meters Open Water on Tuesday afternoon.

My legs were definitely feeling it from all the racing and training.  I was not exactly showing up with a knife to a gun fight, but I knew that I had very little chance of running my fastest race in the series on Wednesday night.  I was just a little bit on the tired side.

But it was cooler out ….. maybe that would help me a bit I thought.  That is the funny thing about racing.  You never really “know” what is going to happen.

Pre Race:  Dawn and Landry were not going to be able to make it to the race on Wednesday night, so my choice was between running my warm-up to the race from the house (2 miles) or driving to the trail head and running my warm-up there.  I decided to run over to the race from the house after a little bit of back and forth.  I knew my legs were a little heavy, so a good warm-up would certainly help them.

I wanted to gradually ramp up my pace and finish the two miles in 16:00 minutes.  Leaving the driveway my legs didn’t have a lot of snap to them.  The temperature felt a great deal cooler at only 90 degrees, amazing how nice 90 can feel when compared to the 100 or 101 we raced in the last few Wednesday nights.

By the time I pulled up at the race start, my legs had loosened up a bit and started feeling “runnerish”, still not perfect by any means, but not enough to change our race strategy.  My warm-up took 16:06.  Pretty darn close.  My friends Joe McClellon, Brendan Cahoon, Sean Lilly and Tom Munier all made it to the race.  There were some fast runners in attendance on Wednesday night, I wouldn’t have any problem finding some folks to chase.

Mile 1:  I was looking to complete mile one with 1/2 mile splits of 2:53 and 3:05 for an opening 5:58.  At the start of the race I settled in around the 7th or 8th position and started making my way around the lake.  My legs definitely didn’t have their usual get up and go, my pace felt a little bit labored, but I decided to just hang in and see where it took me.

The first 1/2 mile came in at 2:49, definitely a bit too fast given the circumstances.  I tried to slow down my next 1/2 mile and get back on target.  This is a tough part of the course to manage as it can be fairly technical with a few small looping turns, a hill and then a 90 degree turn up onto the surface of the dam.  You are never really “locked in” to a consistent pace – so managing effort is all you can really hope to do. 

As my watch beeped my second 1/2 mile split came in at 3:08.  Mile one – 5:57.  Just :01 ahead of my planned opening mile.

Mile 2:  I was pretty encouraged by my first mile and took aim at a runner ahead of me.  He had gone out quickly and had been more than :20 or so in front of me through the first mile.  I increased my effort just slightly and posted a third 1/2 mile of 3:05.  In the next 1/4 mile we would be approaching the turnaround point and the water stop, I thought that if I kept steady I would catch up to him before we made it to the aid station.

I pulled past the runner, grabbed a quick sip of water and headed back towards the hill that would take us up and over the dam to the finish.  My fourth 1/2 mile came in at 3:01 for a second mile of 6:06.  A pair of really solid opening miles on this course, but I could feel my legs going away from me racing again so close to Saturday’s effort up in Holland.

Mile 3:  As we hit the incline of the hill I heard footsteps closing in on me off of my right shoulder.  I had a feeling it would be my friend Sean Lilly as he had been hanging back a bit from me at the turnaround.  Out of the corner of my eye I spotted his blue race flats and Sean cruised past me on the climb.

As we reached the concrete switchback that takes the trail up and over the dam my fifth 1/2 mile came in at 3:18.  :05 seconds slower than our race here two weeks ago when we set our personal best on the Brushy Creek Course.  I had given back most of my margin vs. that performance.  It was going to be a tough last .60.

I hit the dam without anyone to chase and with nobody on my back.  This has been the theme of my races this summer, with only the exception of the race back on May 25th when I was duking it out with Sarah Mark over the closing 1/2 mile, I have been racing virtually all alone in the closing stages of these 5K races.  It makes it tough to keep pushing hard to the end of the course, but it is definitely good for building on that mental toughness to keep running hard when your body is sending you very different signals.

At the last turn before the final 1/10 of a mile my watch beeped with a final 1/2 mile split of 3:13.  I had fallen off pretty badly over the last mile posting a 6:31.

My closing miles this year in the series on the Brushy Creek Course have been:

Race 1:  6:32

Race 2:  6:28

Race 3:  6:26

Last Night: 6:31

Definitely a outlier as we had been trending down on our closing mile since the series started.  My final mile in Holland on Saturday came in at 6:05.  Now the elevation over that final mile was -8 feet net, comapred to the +46 feet net on the Brushy Creek Course, but it was still a bit disappointing that I couldn’t hold on just a bit longer.

Finish:  The final .10 came and went in :42 seconds for a total time of 19:19 tying to the second my course PR from two weeks prior.  All things considered I should be happy with my race just 4 days after racing so well and so hard at Holland, posting a course record there of 18:51.  But somehow finishing with the same time as two weeks ago is bittersweet.  On rested legs I think we could have held on a bit better over that final mile.

We’ll get another chance on July 6th.

Post Race:  My time of 19:19 was good for 8th place overall, 1st place in the 40-44 year old Age group, My friend Brendon took home the Male Masters award with his time of 18:46.  Sean ran a great race in 19:04 just a couple of seconds short of his PR at the 5K distance for 7th place, 3rd in his age group of 35-39. 

Tom finished at 24:16, good for 5th in his age group of 45-49.

After catching up with my friends for a bit, it was time to run back to the house for a 2-mile cool down.  I was looking to once again cover the distance in 16:00 minutes.

The miles ticked by quickly and as I crested the hill and made the left turn onto our street I saw Dawn, Landry and Kayla out for their walk.  I ran down to the house, clicked off my watch and joined them for their evening walk around the neighborhood.  I even took Landry for a couple quick strides in the B.O.B. stroller.  She seemed to like going fast a bit.

My time for the cool-down run?  16:00 flat.  Pretty locked in right now, feeling good as the calendar flips to July and our first triathlon is now just over a month away.  Still a long way to go with our training, but things are certainly looking like July 31st might be my most “interesting” birthday out of the 44 I’ve had.

How many years do you have the chance to possibly drown, maybe experience a bike crash at over 20 mph and run 3 miles as fast as you can when you are hungry and tired ….. sounds like fun to me 🙂

Saturday’s race up in Holland went just about as well as I could have hoped for.  My goals going into the race were pretty well defined:

  1. Improve on last year’s race time of 19:30.
  2. Break through the 19:00 minute mark.
  3. Give absolutely maximum effort in memory of Scott Birk.
  4. AG win for the third consecutive year.

Things came together just about perfectly up in Holland and our time of 18:51 made it a four for four sweep of our pre-race goals.  Race days like that don’t come along very often, so I made sure to enjoy it as much as I could on Saturday.

Sunday morning arrived like it always does, and there was a shift in focus from a training perspective.  Yes I do in fact have 3 more 5K races over the next 4 weeks as we wrap up the Summer Sunstroke Stampede Series.  I need to post times in 8 of the 12 races to be eligible for any year-end awards at the banquet, so I will be sure to toe the line in at least 3 of the remaining 6 weeks.

But the next “A Race” on our calendar is Jack’s Generic Triathlon on July 31st.  Held on my 44th Birthday this is “only” a Sprint Triathlon, 500M swim, 13.8 mile bike, 3 mile run – but for someone who just started swimming 11 weeks ago, this is a big deal.

My first ever triathlon, and while I know it is always smart to have very simple goals in your “first ever” anything, such as:

  1. Finish.
  2. Have fun.
  3. Do your best.
  4. Don’t drown …. Things like that.

I really do want to leave it all out there on my birthday and race to the best of my abilities.  I have plus or minus 40 days to go before race day and I want to make sure that my race doesn’t end before I even get out of the water.

Last week I received an e-mail from Coach Claudia titled, “It’s Time”.

I knew before I read the message that she was implying that it was time for my first Open Water Swim.

This would be the final frontier if you will for my swim training, and it was a big, big deal.

No pool to stand up in.

No big black line to stare at to swim straight.

No wall to push off of.

No short breaks as you catch a breath at the end of each length.

Just me, out there swimming in the lake.

Claudia took me to Pure Austin – an indoor gym for outdoor people.  Truly an amazing facility over off of Braker Lane in North Austin.  A great gym, wonderful lap pool and of course access to the Quarry Lake for an Open Water Swim.

The lake is set up with floating platforms every 150 Meters or so to mark the course and also give swimmers a place to take a breather if they needed it.

The plan was for Coach to rent a kayak and paddle along next to me in case I ran into any trouble.

We walked down to the lake and stowed our gear, the next thing I knew Claudia dove into the lake and popped up.  I think she did this so I wouldn’t have a lot of time to really think about what we were about to do – she’s smart like that – so I just dove in right behind her.

She asked me to swim to the first platform on the right of the course, what would traditionally be the last buoy if you were swimming around the entire 750 meter lake and get used to the water.

I tried to remember all of the advice I’ve gotten about swimming in open water (OWS), and just stayed as calm and relaxed as possible.  I found my stroke, found my breathing and swam out to the platform.

We chatted for a minute or so, I caught my breath and she asked how I was feeling.  The truth was I felt pretty darn good and we swam back in to the dock.

Claudia asked if I thought I was good to go without the kayak for support and I told her that I really did feel just fine.  We headed out, Claudia swimming off of my right side and made our way to the first platform.

I was going a little bit too fast, and could feel my shoulders getting a bit tired, but I was smooth and was doing a pretty good job of sighting.  Every 5 or 6 strokes instead of catching my breath and then immediately rotating into the water with my head, I would sneak a quick peak to the horizon and spot the next platform.

I was swimming pretty straight for my first OWS, and we went platform to platform.  After 450 Meters I bypassed the final platform and swam back in all the way to shore.  300 Meters or so without stopping – I felt like the last 10-11 weeks of swim training had all been worth it.

I SWAM OPEN WATER FOR 300 METERS!

Afterwards we did some fast, slow, fast, slow, fast drills using the buoys in front of the dock to mark the intervals.  Coach wanted me to practice swimming hard in the water, then getting back on pace and getting my breathing back under control.

This way if I got too excited on race day and went out too fast, I would be able to get it together, calm down and find my groove.  A pretty successful first OWS, like I’ve said before, it helps to have a great coach.

Pure Austin = Pure Awesome

On Monday I decided to head back out to the Quarry and hop in for my 2nd OWS in 4 days.  There is nothing like repetition when you are trying to master a new activity or task.  I thought that the sooner I could get back out there, the better.

This time with no coach alongside I swam around the entire course without stopping for a rest.

750 Meters.  1 ½ times as far as I will have to swim at Jack’s Triathlon.

17 minutes and 24 seconds.

I took a brief 2-3 minute rest to enjoy the accomplishment and then I went out and did it again.

750 Meters, this time in 18:24.

I was a little slower on the second loop, perhaps I did not sight as accurately and ended up swimming a little bit longer or perhaps I was a bit more fatigued – but the important part is that I did it.

For the first time I actually feel like a triathlete.  I don’t think I’ll refer to myself in that way until after July 31st; I’m still a marathoner trying something new.  But I’m getting closer that’s for sure.

Now it’s all about getting faster …. Right up my alley.

The third Saturday in June is the celebration of the local cash crop – corn – being harvested in the small town of Holland, TX – population 1,233.  It also marks the annual corn festival now in its 37th year.

For me it means race day.  Our “A race” 5K of the late spring/early summer.  The first road race after we make the switch from marathon training and racing in the fall and winter months to the shorter, faster races held in the heat of our Texas summer.  Even though the race attracts only a little more than 250 participants, it is a well organized event that returns many of the same runners year after year.  Holland, just north of Georgetown and just south of Temple is about an hour by car from our home in Northwest Austin.  A little far to travel for a 5K, but every year the event is more and more fun.

I plan on keeping it on my calendar for many years to come.

As is usually the case before a race that I care about, I had a hard time sleeping on Friday night.  I slept soundly until about 4:00 a.m., then dozed on and off for the last hour and a half before it was time to get up, grab a quick bagel for breakfast, slam down a grape gatorade, shower and dress for the race.

It was going to be another hot one on Saturday morning, 82-85 degrees at the start of the race at 8:00 a.m., but more troubling was the humidity which was hovering around 84%.  To make matters worse, the wind which had been relatively calm for the last couple of weeks was back on Saturday.  It was blowing out of the West 12-15 mph.

I tried to play the race course over in my mind when I walked outside to check on the conditions, wondering if the wind would be in our faces on the way out or on the way back.  I thought that it would be blowing into our faces on the first 1.5 miles, then helping us slightly on the way back to the finish line if I had remembered correctly. 

No matter.  The elements are the same for everybody, you just have to block that stuff out and race hard.  That is the only way I know how to do it when it comes to dealing with less than ideal race conditions.

Pre-Race:  My friend Neil picked me up at ten minutes after 6:00 to make the ride up to Holland.  Dawn and Landry would be making the trip up a bit later to take in the awards ceremony and the parade.  With no traffic Neil and I made our way to the race start to pick up our race packets and retreive our bibs.

I opened up my bag and saw my number.

Rule Number one, I'm number one.

The number seemed fitting as I wanted to really run my race on Saturday after the events of the past week.

I was going to leave it all out there and try to break through the 19:00 minute mark, which would be a :23 second improvement over last year at this event and :42 seconds faster than my time in 2009.  It was a time I was capable of on the rural, hilly course.  But with the heat, humidity and wind, it certainly wasn’t going to be easy.  Not too much is when it comes to racing a fast 5K.

Warm-Up:  I got back to the car, pinned my bib to my shorts and fired up my GPS watch.  I wanted to run an easy 2-mile warm-up.  Something around 16:00 minutes total, just enough to get a good sweat going, but easy enough not to sap my rested legs.  I ran out onto the race course and covered the initial .25 miles up to the first turn and the next .75 miles down to the first foot bridge at the bottom of the first climb. 

I turned around and ran back to the finish to wrap up my warm-up, looking at the curves in the road and planning out how I was going to tangent the turns.  I wanted to run the shortest route possible, making sure my race was as close to 3.1 miles exactly as possible.

I hit the 2.00 mile mark in 15:54.  Just :06 seconds fast.  I was pretty much dialed in.

Mile 1:  I had chatted with my friend Paul from Temple, TX, his son and his friend about their goals and pace for the race.  It sounded like they wanted to run about a 6:30 opening mile.  I was thinking more along the lines of 5:55.  We were all tucked into the starting chute and a couple of minutes ticked by.  I felt my legs tightening a bit, so I ran two quick striders in front of the starting line.  Just two :15 second bursts – just enough to stay loose.

I tucked back in to the chute and at the horn we were off.

I surged out in front of the pack and got into the line I wanted to take the the first turn to the left.  The road has a significant camber to it and falls off quite a bit to the left.  I wanted to make sure I was running on the flat part of the street, about 30 feet from the left edge.  I would cut hard to the corner and make a tight left turn. 

As we approached the turn I was running in third position, no traffic on my inside and I was able to nip right along the edge of the turn.  Perfect.

I felt a few runners coming up on my hip as we approached the first 1/2 mile split and realized it was Paul and his son.  My watch beeped with an opening 1/2 mile of 2:53.  I called the time out to the runners with me and Paul and his son backed off the pace, they had started out a bit too fast which is an all-too common occurance in short distance races.  It takes a lot of discipline to lock in on your pace and not waver no matter who is running around you and how fast they are going.

We hit the slight downhill section leading to the bottom of mile 1 and two high school runners moved ahead of me.  I passed Paul’s friend and settled in to 6th position.  At the beep my second 1/2 mile came in at 3:01.  I had run a 5:54 opening mile, just :01 second ahead of my goal for that split.  Perfect.

Mile 2:  In any 5K this is the “money mile”, it is the mile where your pace starts to slow and you have to increase your effort to hold the same time.  The trouble is if you have opened the race too aggressively, you don’t have anywhere to go.  The pedal is already to the floor, so you can’t run harder.  Your pace then slows down and you fall back from the pack.  The key to running a solid second mile for me, is running a solid first mile.

Too fast over mile 1 and I’m cooked too early. 

At Holland, this also marks the beginning of a 51 foot climb over the next 1/2 mile to the turnaround point.  It is spread out over two hills.  Put together they are a little bit higher than a 5 story building.  This would be my slowest 1/2 mile split of the race unless I fell apart at the end.  That was not the issue.  The issue was how slow it would be.  I was hoping to run this stretch in 3:10 or 6:20 pace.

I pulled past one of the two high-school boys ahead of me and was running alone with nobody to help cut the wind.  Tough break.

At the beep I glanced down at my watch and caught my third 1/2 mile split – 3:13.  I was :03 slow.

I navigated the cornstalk turnaround and grabbed a quick splash of water at the aid station.  I didn’t want to take more than one sip as my breathing was perfect, so I just wet my lips and pitched the cup.  We could now see the runners who had been behind us, as I pulled past the second high school runner I was now in 4th position.  No threats from the rear, but unfortunately I was a solid :15-:20 seconds behind the third place runner.

Unless they came back to me I would be running the final 1 1/2 miles alone.  Nobody to push me, nobody to chase.

I focused on my form and keeping my legs churning.  I needed to make up a little bit of time lost on the uphill split.  At the top of mile 2 my watch beeped once again marking my 4th 1/2 mile split at 2:58.  2:58?  I was right back on track.

Mile 3:  The next mile has a slight uphill tilt to it.  Nothing too terrible, but it is long and gradual.  I focused on running up on my toes a bit and tried to keep my stride long.  Not letting the change in the grade shorten my length.  Split number 5 came in at 3:04, Split number 6 at 3:01, I had just run a 6:05 third mile.  It was time to kick, we had a real shot at that sub 19:00 time.

The Finish:  Thankfully this part of the course tilts in the runners favor to the finish – my final 1/10 of a mile clocked in at :39 seconds.

As I hit the timing mat the clock read 18:51.2

During a week where I lost a good friend and a tremendous running partner in Scott Birk to a tragic accident, I had turned in what was easily my best race since the last time I ran with Scott, the 3M Half-Marathon back in January.

With Scott’s initials on my left shoe and Dom’s initials on my right – I wanted to make sure I left it all out there on the course for those two men on Saturday.  Not to be overly dramatic about it, but I placed their names on my race flats with the ultimate measure of respect.  They deserve nothing short of my very best.  It felt really wonderful to deliver the goods for them.

I grabbed a quick sip of water and caught my breath.  I saw Paul Lopez and my friend Erin Ruyle come through the chute finishing up their races then I jogged back up to the top of the final stretch of the course.  I told my friend Neil that I would pace him in over the final 1/4 mile and help him close out strong.

My timing was just about perfect as I got in position to run in with Neil with .30 miles left in his race.

Running just ahead of him, challenging him to get on my back, run harder, run through the timing mat – push all the way to the finish.

Neil came to the race with a goal of running a time under 24:00 minutes.  As he hit the mat I looked at the clock:

23:55.

Tremendous.

Dad, Landry and Uncle Neil

Awards Ceremony: Dawn and Landry made it to the race to join the party as Erin, Paul and his son Jonathan would all receive age group awards for their performances on Saturday.

Superwife Dawn and Landry

As for me, I finished in 4th place overall, my highest finish at the Holland Race.  We also came away with our third straight Age Group 1st place award.  As I was walking up to the stage the Race Director said, “1st place in the 40-44 Male Age group with a time of 18:51 …. wow, that’s a fast time …. is Joe Marruchella …..”  Hearing the comments of the Director was quite a compliment, he seemed genuinely surprised that one of us “old guys”, could throw down a time under 19:00 minutes. 

The goal was to go for the three-peat.  Mission accomplished.  We’ll be able to come back next year, our final year racing in the 40-44 age group and see if we can make it 4 straight.

Three-Peat ....

Landry was kind enough to make the trip up to the stage with me to pick up our Cornfest Trophy.

Landry and Dad

Great race, great day and to be totally honest something I really needed after learning about Scott’s death on Monday.  I know that if he had been at the race on Saturday he would have been the very first person to come up to me, offer me a big bear hug and tell me just how wonderful a race I had run.

Of course, he would have beaten me by a few seconds.

Maybe that’s why I was running all alone over the final 1.5 miles on Saturday.  Scott Birk was missing.

On Monday while I was sitting in the airport waiting for my 9:55 flight that would take me north and east to New York City one of my close running friends here in Austin was struck by a car while out on a run crossing over 2222.  A route that he had run literally thousands of times. 

According to police, a Dodge Durango was traveling south on RM 2222 at River Place Boulevard about 9 a.m. when it struck a man who was attempting to cross FM 2222.  The Dodge had the green light when the pedestrian ran out in front of it and was struck, police said.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

Scott Birk, a 48 year-old stay at home Dad, lost in the blink of an eye.  Senseless.  Tragic. 

Here in Austin, if you were a runner who liked to race, you ran with Scott.  When I visited his profile on Athlinks.com – a site that tracks all recorded races for an amateur runner, I counted 208 races that Scott competed in since 1998.  37 Marathons, 28 Half-Marathons, 52 5K’s.  22 races in just 2010 alone.

Scott’s routine was to get his son ready for school and then go out and train.  He would log close to 100 miles every week and at the age of 48 was still getting better and better.  Just last month Scott ran an 18:01 at the Chuy’s 5K here in Austin.  That is 5:47 pace at age 48, an extremely talented athlete.

But when I think of Scott, I don’t think of any of that stuff to be honest with you.  Scott was one of the very first runners who ever congratulated me after a race in Austin.  It is racing here locally where I started to come into my own a bit as a runner.  As I improved I began running closer and closer to the front of the Age Group field, and it is there where I found Scott.

Scott who was at least 5 inches taller than me truly stood out among the crowd in the starting area.  Most of the “fast guys” are all around 5′ 9″-5′ 10″, thin, willowy and just flat-out fast.  Scott was closer to 6′ 1″, broad in the shoulders and just darn fit.   He would be wearing a black singlet and shorts.  Always.  And he would be “holding court” with a group of runners keeping everyone loose, everyone smiling and laughing.

But make no mistake, when that gun sounded, Scott was off like a rocket.  What I loved about seeing Scott at a race was I knew that if I could keep him in my sights, I was on my way to a PR or darn close to it.  We raced similar times and were always near each other on the course.

The last four races I ran with Scott went like this:

IBM Uptown Classic 10K:  Scott 38:00, Joe 38:06

Run for the Water 10-Mile:  Scott 1:02:47, Joe 1:03:47

Resolution Run 5K:  Scott 18:03, Joe 18:12

3M Half Marathon:  Scott 1:24:52, Joe 1:23:55

I finally “got” Scott at the 3M Half Marathon in our lead up to the Austin Marathon this past winter.  After I caught my breath, grabbed a bottle of water and started looking for Dawn and Landry there was a giant right hand squeezing my shoulder.  Scott Birk.

He gave me a big sweaty man-hug and said, “You were killing it out there!  When you went past me at mile 11 I thought about going with you but I could see the look on your face and knew there was no way I was going to stay with you ….”

That was Scott.  He was always the first one to downplay his own performances and congratulate another runner for their accomplishments.

He truly was a wonderful, wonderful runner.  No doubt about it.

But Scott was something much more important and relevant than just how fast someone can run down the street.  Scott was a tremendous person and a wonderful husband, father and friend.   I heard the news about Scott from the other guy that I look for at every race I show up to around Austin.  My friend Andy Bitner.  Andy and I met last year at the Holland, TX 5K.  Racing the final 1/2 mile together, Andy beating me by :09 seconds.

Tomorrow morning I will be driving up to Holland to race for the third consecutive year.  Andy is away up in Michigan, and won’t be making it to Holland, I won’t be able to race with him this year as I look for my third straight age group win in the event.

When we are milling around the starting area I know that I am going to be looking around, searching for that black singlet on Scott out of habit.  It became as much a pre-race ritual of mine as running my fingers over Dom’s initials on my shoes.

I have a new pair of Brooks T7 Racers being delivered to the house this afternoon, just in time for tomorrow.  I hope you don’t mind Dom, but your initials are going to have some company on this pair of race flats.  You would have absolutely loved “Scotty Boy” Dom, everybody did.

Scott, I can’t imagine what happened on Monday along a road that you know so very well, as such an experienced runner.  I know that you are going to be missed by your wife Carla and your son and that there is nothing that anyone can do to change any of this or bring you back. 

But I am going to do all that I can to help the fund that they have established in your name – The Scott Birk Fund – to put a pedestrian footbridge over 2222 and River Place.  Tomorrow morning Scott, I feel bad for the rest of those 40+ year olds. 

They don’t stand a snowball’s chance on a hot TX Saturday morning.

Tomorrow is for you Scott.  I plan on making sure that when that race is over, everyone knows that I was there.

Scott at this year's 3M Half Marathon