Included in this blog will be my race report for the 2013 Tucson “Holualoa” marathon, some shout-outs to some really fantastic people and a brief note about what’s in my near future and what my plans are going from there.
Yesterday, I ran my first marathon with a time of 3:55:00. My goal was THE sub four-hour mark and I made it with five minutes to spare, but it wasn’t easy.
My wife and I started off really early. Had my oatmeal and was waiting for my tea to cool but got busy with other things and left the tea sitting on the counter next to my medication. Once I was on the bus, I remembered my tea wistfully. It was my luck to see my friend Andrew from the Daily Mile tracking website and one of my Fleet Feet mates, Josh. We cojoled and discussed by the light of our smart phones as the bus sped north along State Highway 77, all of us subconsciously recording the climbs and dips that we would be running soon, in reverse.
The day before, I had gone to Goodwill and gotten a rather nice lined jacket for $6 and a small beanie for $1. This, along with some sweatpants that were a little big on me now, was my ‘throw-away’ gear. Because it was going to be cold, and we runners are only masochistic when we have to be, we buy clothing to keep us warm with the intent on ditching it right before the race or somewhere along the way. Race volunteers go along afterward and pick it all up, donate it to Goodwill and everyone is happy. As a side note – if you’re looking for running gear, it might be a good idea to hit up your local second hand stores in the days following a local Marathon; some of the items I saw laying along side the road were really good quality.
We all poured out of the buses and went straight to the port-o-potty lines. We eventually retreated back to the buses for another half-hour to stay warm. It was something of a snow-ball effect in that my new ‘warm’ bus had even more of our group as well as my friend, Steve. He was back toward the back of the bus and while we were talking back there, a stranger came up to me and said, “Are you Kristen’s husband?”. She was wearing bib no. 7 – this was my wife’s co-workers’ boyfriends’ sister! Kristen texted me to be on the look-out but I didn’t really hold any hope of finding ‘bib no. 7’ amongst all these runners and here she was. We laughed and wished each other well; a small warm place with friends in the cold darkness of Oro Valley.
Our small band attached ourselves to the 4 hour pacer in lieue of the start and with minutes to go, I shed my sweat-pants. I had to keep the jacket so I threw it into my personal bag to be picked up at the finish line.
There’s something about a race. It’s one of those things I love the most.. the atmosphere. There’s music and it’s usually early and cold, but there are people all around you smiling and laughing, full of life and energy and some of us are dancing and some of us are jumping up and down to get the blood pumping while others are stretching. Some are stone-faced while others seem oblivious to the race as they catch up with old friends. The sun is either fresh or soon to rise and you’re in the middle of a small road somewhere waiting to slow-down, breathe, relax.. run. It’s magical and wonderful and new and exciting and it’s a party and everyone’s invited.
The gun goes off and I start to run.
The group I’m with and the pacer are taking off. I’m pretty sure that isn’t a four hour pace and after a short distance my Cyclemeter app is telling me to ‘Decrease speed’. I had set it with a limit of 8:15 on the fast end and 9:00 on the slow end so I was running faster than 8:15/mile – slow down, Nellie! So I pulled in the reigns and watched my four hour pace group speed off with my friends. Kind of causes you to doubt yourself a bit; Surely they know what they’re doing but why are they going so fast? Am I just giving in to fear by holding myself back? And, of course, the whole psychology of getting passed.. that’s no fun, but by now I should be used to it. There’s a bit of pride that I consistently hold myself back and catch people later on in the race. But maybe I could speed up just a little, yah? And catch them just a bit sooner, right?
Got my music going and ran by myself in a stream of other runners for about 6 or 7 miles when Andrew pulls up alongside me. He must have been holding himself back even more because now he was moving strong and slightly faster than I was going. I matched pace and we talked for a long time. What a great time, just bantering back and forth, me repeating the encouragements I was getting over facebook and through my app and him actually texting people while running; cracked me up. Around mile 15 or 16 we started getting quiet. The path had narrowed quite a bit with barely room to pass other runners and still stay inside the cones and we were both struggling. Me, the usual fatigue and mental challenge and, I found out another mile down the road, Andrew was in terrific pain in one of his feet. Approaching the water-station, he told me to go on, he would walk for a bit to ease it off. I did, and looked back at him and felt bad for leaving him, but I wouldn’t have wanted to hold him back either if it were my foot so off I went.
I was alone now and struggling. From the next two miles I ran and tried shutting out my body; tuning out, distracting myself, whatever. Then I saw another friend way up ahead and we hit a hill. By hill, I mean a long, slight incline that stretched for at least a million miles. I like to think I’m strong on hills, ‘I AM strong on hills!’ I told myself, and sure enough, I was slowly reeling him in. I kept thinking, why doesn’t he stop. If he would stop, then I can stop, but Steve doesn’t stop. He says I’m a great runner, but he’s got it all backwards, he’s a great runner who never quits and I’m just trying to keep up.
I caught up to him shortly after a turn. We’re both battle-worn, sweating and breathing stumble our way into more rolling hills. We ran together for a while. I quoted the “Jabberwocky” to him, which did wonders for distracting myself, but when I asked if he wanted another poem, he responded quickly in the negative. He told me to go on, he needed to be on his own pace. So I picked it up again and wished him well.
At one stop, I got a Cliff Energy shot but my hands were so cold I couldn’t open it. My fingers just didn’t work. “Someone open this for me?” I cried out, possibly with a sincere feeling of futility and helplessness, when a spectator took it from me and effortlessly ripped the tab off. You will probably never read this, but THANK YOU! I truly appreciate it.
Kristen called me around mile 23. It was nice hearing from her, ‘Three more miles’. She told me she loved me and ‘You got this!’. I kept running.
It felt like there were a ton of water stops in those last three miles. I kept stopping to walk while drinking down waters and gatorades; really any excuse at all to walk. Then I would start running again and walk at intervals. Holly came up behind me, as bright and fresh as could be, strong and apparently not fatigued at all. “Come on, Geoff!” she encouraged, “Just run with me!”. We ran together for maybe half a mile when I dropped off again, “I just need to walk” I said and she bounced away. I walked that corner leading onto the final long stretch.
And I ran and kept running this time. I was in the last mile and I kept going this time, and as I got closer I could hear the music and the cheering. I forgot about the pain for a minute and found my legs.. for a minute. The last turn – I sped around it and looked up to see the clock.. ‘3:54:..and counting! Another kick and I shot down the left-side with my hand out; High-Fives for everyone and the crowd was totally into it. This must be what it feels like to be a football player shooting out of the tunnel. There was Kristen with a HUGE smile on her face, excitement and we high-fived as I ran by.
I did it. So much pain, but after a year and a half, I did it. And I did it by standing on the shoulders of my Fleet Feet Training group, the awesome coaches, my friends, the Andrew’s and Steve’s and Holly’s out there and my number one fan, Kristen. Thanks so much all of you.
From here, after a short recovery, I go to surgery for a hernia and then an even longer recovery. The second recovery will be in the warmth and welcoming home of my in-laws in beautiful Vermont. After that, slowly. Walking leading to light, short jogs and then a little more. I have a Spartan Spring in February that I need to train for and won’t have much time to do it. Once that’s done.. trail running? Racing?
And yes, I do want to do another Marathon. Can’t wait, actually.