call me ishmael.
it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
either way, this is going to be a novel, so get some joe, kick your feet up and let me regale you with the story of how i set an 18 minute pr and qualified for boston.
i’ll start a couple days back, just to set some history. the past week was your typical taper week, with mostly short runs and a shorter tempo run mixed in there. monday and tuesdays runs were fantastic and i was feeling ready to fly for sunday. but then thursday’s easy four miler came around and immediately into the run my shins got amazingly tight. so tight that i stopped at the half way point, squirted some cold water on them and stretched them out. nothing had changed with my pacing, my shoes…nothing. so i was dumbfounded as to why they were acting up. the only thing i could think of was anxiety about the race. so, i made sure i was relaxing and breathing deep the rest of the week. but then saturday morning’s two miler had the same result. crap. i resolved myself to put in some light warmup jogging on race morning and some stretching to make sure the same didn’t happen during the race.
so, race morning comes and i’m up at 4am. i’d had a great night sleep and was very well hydrated and fueled. i loaded up on some oatmeal and a banana, grabbed all the gear that i’d staged the day before and smsmh and i were out the door at 5:30am. we missed all the traffic getting to the start, so we rolled into a parking lot at about 6:00am. the start was clouded in fog and it was in the mid 40′s. i knew all the fog would burn off as soon as the sun rose, but it was a good indication that the weather was going to be good for the race.
i hit the honey buckets a couple times, stood around in my trash-bag jacket and eventually bumped into lori, a former co-worker and we chatted it up for a bit. at 7:10, i decided to do my warm up and then head to the start. as i headed to a spot to run, i bumped into colt, a guy that i’ve run with in back bay and then i bumped into ken, from seafair fame. he was running the half and let me know that he was all set to bike up the course from the finish and meet me at about mile 20 and carry some stuff for me.
i did some light jogging and then hopped into the starting crowd. i made my way to the front and ended up about 2 or three people from the very front of the crowd. but, believe it or not, the people that had secured the front of the race were half marathon walkers. don’t these people get it? well, the gun went off on time and within a few steps i was clear of them. the race was underway.
mile 1 went by a little quick, and i adjusted my pace and began to settle into my groove. mile 2 was right on target and i was set to get down to business. as mile two progressed, my shins began to get tight. i focused on my form and tried to land as lightly as possible. mile three was again right on pace, but the shins were feeling like they were going to burst. mile four came by and i was surprised at my split. 8:03. what? i figured that the mile marker was off, but still picked up the pace a little anyway. through mile four, the shins didn’t get any worse, so i thought that was a positive sign. i hit the mile five marker at 6:36, so i was confident that mile four was off.
no sooner had i passed five and i saw my first cheering crew. jeremy and jen, friends from church, along with jeremy’s brother, justin, had shown up. they had a huge banner and were cheering wildly as i approached them. they were screaming and hollering and had me laughing as i went past. for the next quarter mile, i could still hear them yelling my name. they get the award for the loudest cheering. thanks guys!
smsmh and a friend, wade, were at mile six with my first bottle swap. smsmh professionally operated the camera AND passed off fresh bottles. this portion of the course was on an out and back nipple, and smsmh had positioned herself so that she could cheer for me twice. as i rounded the sharp turn, i noticed two things. first, my shins weren’t bothering me anymore. i think they stopped sometime shortly after i passed jen and jeremy. second, my left sock was bunched and it was starting a hot spot. as i ran back toward smsmh, i made the decision to stop and adjust the sock. i quickly got the shoe off and retied, losing only about 20-30 seconds.
back into the race, i hit mile seven at about 10 seconds slow. mile eight was back on pace, but i was starting to feel like a bathroom stop was going to be necessary. again, i figured that doing it sooner, rather than later was the right choice. i hit a honey bucket and in 22 seconds had finished my business. i hit mile nine 22 off of pace. coincidence? heh
at mile nine, smsmh’s mom and step father were out cheering. it was a nice surprise, since i thought that if they came out, they’d be with smsmh or smsmh’s sister. it was a great confidence boost. oh, back at eight, we split from the half marathoners, which was good and bad. good, in that i didn’t have to see racers streaming past me anymore, bad in that i was now basically running all alone. shortly after nine, we turned inland and began what was the start of a brutally long incline. mile ten was back on pace, and although i was down 1:40 from my target overall time, i wasn’t too concerned. mile eleven was a tad slower by about 10 seconds, and as we entered the on-ramp for the toll road, i could see the long, uphill all the way to mile 15.
tim and jeannie were at mile twelve with my next set of bottles. they had positioned themselves right after a water stop, so i timed it perfect to take my gu, wash it down with water and then do the swap with tim. they had the whole thing set up like clockwork, with jeannie ready to hand me extra gu, band aids or vaseline. i must have slowed coming up the onramp and taking gu and the hand-off, because mile 12 went by 44 seconds off pace. woah.
i dug a little and felt like i was getting back where i needed to be, but the uphill was beginning to take it’s toll. i hit mile 13 and was surprised to see 6:42. but then i’d realized that i hit the split button late at mile 12. it looked like i was right on pace. i passed the half way point at 1:34:34, about 2:10 off pace. i pushed along, thinking that i was running right at 7:00 still, and was somewhat surprised to see a 7:26 as i hit fourteen. and then a 7:36 as i hit 15. i was dropping time like mad and i felt like i was putting forth the 7:00 effort that i needed.
at 15, we turned off of the toll road and onto the back portion of the course. it was lonely back there, with very little cheering. 15 dropped downhill for about a quarter mile and then began it’s climb again. i pushed along, feeling like i’d made up some time on the downhill, but ended up with a 37 second deficit in the mile at 16. wade and his friend were somewhere along there and it was good to see a familiar face. at this point, i came to the realization that i wasn’t going to be able to run sub 3, no matter how good i felt on the last 10k. i continued to push what i thought was my goal pace, but the long uphill was really taking it’s toll and slowing me down.
mile 17 was supposed to be a 6:50 mile, and it passed at 7:29. i began calculating how that would affect my qualifying time, and was comfortable in the knowledge that even if i ran 7:30′s the whole way back, i’d still have plenty of time to run sub 3:15. that was a comforting thought. as i rounded a corner at 17, i realized that they’d changed the course. i had a slight downhill for a bit, so i stretched it out and tried to pick up some time. i really felt like i was flying here, and that felt good. as i rounded that corner, i could hear someone banging a cowbell, and i knew it was my brother-in-law, lyn, with his family.
i hit the turn around on this out-and-back and started climbing back up to the turn. i passed lyn, grabbed my bottles and checked the time. i was about five minutes down from sub 3 pace. i let him know, hoping that he’d text the coach with my progress. i continued to push, still hoping to get on my target pace of 6:45, but passed 18 in 7:37. that pissed me off, so i dug a little more trying to get down to the 6:40 for mile 19 and was able to turn in a 7:29. that made me laugh at the futility. smsmh’s mom and step-father were at the top of the incline at mile 19, and they had everyone at that turn cheering for me. again, it was good to have people pulling for me late in the race.
i turned the corner at 19, and it appeared to level off some, so i pushed, trying desperately to drop down to sub 7 pace. i was greeted with another 7:29. “well,” i thought, “if i don’t drop below 8 minutes, i’ll still qualify”. and then the incline continued. i rounded another corner and could see the hills continuing. i had thought that the downhill started at mile 20, but because of the out-and-back being moved from 23 to 17, the downhill wasn’t going to start until about 21.5. i didn’t realize this, and it really messed with my head when i hit 21 and i still wasn’t going downhill, but looking up a nasty, long incline. i could tell that the effort was taking it’s toll, and i hit my slowest mile yet at 7:48. that spooked me.
i started desperately looking for ken, who i knew would be coming along on the bike any moment. i spotted rich and cassi somewhere at the base of the final hill and rich was cracking jokes about running with me the rest of the way with his camcorder. it was awesome to see them out there, as it was really lonely out on that stretch of the course. somewhere along here, i spotted ken. he rode up quickly and asked if i needed anything. “company”, i responded. i handed him the bottle on my belt, just mentally lighten the load, and in return, he handed me a sponge soaked in ice water. awesome.
i dug and gave it my all on that final hill, hoping to get back on pace, but feeling like i was beginning to drag. a 7:59 split at 22 was what greeted me. ugh. i was finding it harder and harder to keep the turnover quick. i wasn’t bonking, as i still felt mentally okay, but the legs were just fatigued from over 12 miles of climbing. i spotted julie, eric, ian and stacey just past mile 22 and passed on taking any bottles from her, since i still had plenty of cytomax from the bottle lyn had given me at 18. again, it was great to see people i knew, cheering me on. i kept checking my watch and was realizing that if i didn’t pick it up, i was going to miss qualifying. i needed to run sub 8 for the remainder of the race. and then mile 23 came by in 8:14. uh oh. i was going the wrong way. i FELT like i was pushing harder, but the times just kept getting slower and slower. and i was on the downhill portion now.
ken got really concerned about my pace and ditched his bike in the bushes somewhere around mile 23 to run with me instead. that was a huge boost. i have to say, i knew the situation i was in, and knew what i needed to do to get to the finish in time, but having ken there made it much more manageable. just the comradery, the presence and his desire to see me pull this off…that meant the world.
so, i dug. i kept telling myself that i hadn’t run this far, this hard to not go to boston. i was getting pissed. i passed my work shortly after 23 and anne and her godfather were out cheering like madmen. anne ran along side pointing at me saying, “this is jeff, cheer for jeff” as she passed the other spectators. it was awesome and i may not have been laughing on the outside, but i was chuckling on the inside. immediately after work, i climbed an overpass and felt the first twinges of cramps in my calves. i focused hard on keeping my form, knowing that the instant that cramps hit, i was done. it was coming so close to the wire at this point that i couldn’t afford to be slowed for a second. dave and kristin were at the top of the overpass at 23.5 and it was awesome to see them cheering and holding their banner.
ken and i kept pushing along with ken encouraging me the whole way. i hit 24 with a split of 8:04, better than the last mile, but it still needed to be faster. ken was keeping quiet about my pace, but we both knew the situation. i dug deep and lengthened my stride. i really started to pick it up. the calves were twitching, threatening to cramp, but focusing on form kept them at bay. i passed 25 at 7:42. my folks were there, cheering like the proud parents they are. my mom kept shouting “oohrah! oohrah!” what a nut. it was awesome though.
i continued to push, battling the twinges in my calves. as we went over the final overpass at mile 26, my right it spasmed and pain shot all through my right leg. it passed as we crested the top of the overpass, and i hit mile 26 in 7:32. i now had just a little over two minutes to finish and qualify. i flew, pumping my arms and forcing the fast turnover. i rounded the last corner, saw the clock right at 3:15 and pushed across the line as the clock ticked to 3:15:13.
46 seconds to spare.
ken was immediately by my side holding me up. i could tell that he was choked up and emotion overwhelmed me. i spotted smsmh and went to the side and hugged her saying over and over, “i did it! i did it!”. i was in a daze, not knowing whether to cheer wildly or break down and sob. so, i just hobbled along, sipping on water.
it was surreal, moving through the crowd, realizing that i had indeed, just done it.
but it wasn’t just me that had done it, it was the corporate support of everyone that had been involved from ken, to the people who have supported me online, to my coach, to those that came out and crewed and cheered, to my amazingly supportive wife. there is no way i could have pulled this off without each and every one of them. i’m glad to have not run sub three. i think it was a lesson in humility and a vivid reminder of just how important the support of family and friends is.