bittersweet

i’m not sure how best to sum up today’s race. i want to rejoice for a 20 minute personal best time, but i’m heartbroken for the pain and disappointment that ken is feeling. so, i guess i’ll just start at the beginning.
saturday was a day spent in two main locations: the car and the bathroom. actually, starting on friday i was putting away the fluids. i made sure i was balancing out water, gatorade and sweet drinks at meals. lemonade seemed to turn out to be a favorite. so, i was running for bathrooms at least every hour on saturday. that and driving the course. the course elevation guide didn’t seem to match what i remembered of the course when we last lived here, so i made a point to scope things out. after an initial circuit of the course, i knew the race was going to be brutal. the elevation guide was a ‘guide’, and the climbs and drops show were more of an average of the elevation for a mile, rather than an accurate representation of the hills on the course. to put it plainly, there were no flat sections.
i had trained for this, and have run races similar, so i wasn’t too worried, but when ken and i made a second drive of the course, i think he was shaken by just how much up and down the course held. one bonus, though, was that someone had put together a very accurate pace band, reflecting all of the elevation gain and loss, which proved to be dead on.
so, up at a decent hour this morning, i downed a big bowl of oatmeal, a banana and a cup of coffee and i was out the door. the race started at 7am, so i met ken near the start at 6:40. i was feeling really ready to start running, a tad bit anxious and on the cusp of being too hydrated. i said a quick prayer for our run and then we headed to the starting queue. the race started exactly on time and the 1000 runners set off on the inagural course. the weather couldn’t have been better. it was mostly clear, with some clouds moving in, a slight breeze and the temperature in the mid 50′s.
ken and i were focusing on going out conservatively. we had loaded a full extra minute from the pace bands into the first 10k to make sure that we wouldn’t try banking time. we hit the pace pretty consistently, dropping some seconds here, picking up some in other places. at about seven miles, i was commenting on how little i was perspiring, and just how cool the temperature felt for me. all that training at noon-3pm was really paying off. ken, on the other hand, was perspiring heavily. i made the comment that he’d probably have to pay close attention to his fluid intake since he was sweating more.
just after mile eight, we hit our first high point (the race has two high ‘plateaus’). no sooner had we crested it, when we started the quick drop down to lake samamish. the drop was something of epic proportions. as you crest the drop, it just got steeper and steeper and steeper until you finally see the true angle. it was brutal, and although i made sure to keep my form consistent to minimize the impact, i could feel it in my knees by the time we bottomed out.
on the lake parkway, we rolled along a six mile bluff, up and down long grades, with most of the miles being turned in somewhere between 7:20-7:45. we were starting to make up some of the minute that we’d put into the first 10k. stretching out the legs felt really good. i was really enjoying the pace and it felt quite natural to run at that speed. during our drive of the course, ken had stashed bottles of gatorade along the course, rather than rely on the water stations or carry anything himself.
his third bottle was near the half way point. we knew where it was and knew it wouldn’t be a problem finding it. only, we were distracted by a water station and the 13.1 chip pad. we took water, crossed the pad and ran for about a half mile before we realized that ken had missed his bottle. there was no going back for it. fortunately, i was REALLY hydrated, and wasn’t needing to take on as much cytomax as normal. i shared my fluids with him for the next couple miles.
we neared the end of the lake tour and as we climbed up some steep switchbacks on a bike path, ken let me know that he was starting to cramp in his calf. he took the hills fairly slow and we lost about 20 seconds over mile 15. if ken couldn’t kick the cramps, i knew it was going to be a struggle for him. i gave him as much encouragement as i could, tried my best to pace him well, remind him to watch his form and took extra water at the stations in case he needed it.
by mile 17, ken was struggling. he was having a really hard time staying on pace, and every time i looked at him, his face was screwed up in pain. he began telling me to run on at my own pace, which i replied to with emphatic NO’s. the course was throwing some really tough hills at us at this point, and the hill at mile 19 was especially rough. by the time we topped out, we had lost close to four minutes off our total pace. we had a five minute buffer, but we were eating it up quickly.
ken continued to cramp on and off through the next mile, but when we turned the corner at mile 20 and started into the downhill toward the finish, he began to pick it up again. he continued to tell me to run on at my own pace, but i continued to refuse. we started hitting our pace again, and it began to look like there was going to be hope. through 21 we kept on pace, hovering right around the 3:30 pace point. through 21, though, there was a final rise before a long, steep downhill to 22. that rise killed ken. he shuffled up it at about a nine minute pace and we lost the remainder of our time buffer.
as we rounded the corner and started the downhill, we began to let it fly, hoping to make up some precious time over the next couple miles. and then ken cramped so badly that he nearly fell. on the downhill, we slowed to a jog. ken was adamant about me continuing on my own, but i wasn’t going to leave him if there was still a chance of him qualifying. as we continued on, we were hitting our miles at about 30 seconds off pace. ken was concerned that he wouldn’t be able to continue running for much longer.
i gave all the encouragement that i could, but ken wasn’t going to be able to do anything about his pace. at 22.5 he emphatically told me to go on ahead. i didn’t want to, but after looking at the time, i thought there might be a chance i could still eek out at 3:30 if i really poured it on. i had a feeling that ken wanted me to go on ahead so that i wouldn’t see him struggling like he was. i was really torn, as after all, this was ken’s race, not mine. knowing there wasn’t any chance that ken was going to be able to qualify, though, i decided to go.
for the rest of the race, i struggled with whether or not it was the right thing to do. i really needed a strong time to help build my confidence for my own qualifier in january. if i rolled in at 3:45 at a shuffle, that wasn’t going to do much for me. on the other hand, i had stated my goal as getting ken his qualifier, and upon failing to do that, i felt like i was abandoning him. but that’s a decision i’ll have to live with. i’m sure ken and i will talk about it soon, and knowing ken, he’ll be honest with me about it.
so, that’s the bitter. watching ken suffer and struggle. watching his goal of qualifying slip through his fingers. knowing the emotional weight he’d placed on this race. all bitter memories of the race.
and then there’s the sweet. i never struggled on a hill. i never felt fatigued through the 22.5 i ran with ken. i never came close to having my muscles lather. i never felt warm, or hungry or dehydrated nor did my muscles feel lactic or joints feel pain. i felt fantastic and on the miles where we got to stretch out and turn in low 7′s, i was in pure heaven. at 22.5, i knew that if i could put in the remaining miles at a 7 minute pace, i could break 3:30. so i tried.
for the next 1.5 miles, up to mile 24, i went like the wind. i felt good, and fluid and alive. i shouted encouragement to everyone i passed. i was going to do it. during mile 24, i saw stacey, ken’s wife. without thinking, i stopped and told her about ken. i lost about a minute and lost some momentum. i’m not sure why i felt like i should stop, but my hope of a 3:30 went out the window as i did.
when i started back up, it was a struggle to keep the pace at a low 7:30. i wasn’t quite sure what pace i was running at this point, but it wasn’t quick enough. i know that i hit 26 somewhere around 3:30. the last mile was somewhat of a blur, as i struggled to keep the pace quick and mentally pull myself along the uphill finish. i rounded the finishing corner and saw the clock at something around 3:33 as i came across the pads.
i slowed to a walk, got a finishing blanket, water and a medal and then heard smsmh calling to me. i turned, saw her, she saw ken wasn’t with me, and i started to cry. i walked over to her, hugged her for a while and then realized that i needed to keep walking. i walked around near the finish, eating some bananas and sipping water, while i waited for ken to come in.
he finally came across the finish around 3:39. we sat for a bit while he cooled down and then walked out of the finishers area to meet up with our families. i tried to tell ken that the difficulty was because of the course, which i KNOW to be the case. yeah, he was perspiring heavily early, but that was a result of the hills. it was all hills. ken seemed to have moved past it, though, and was already planning his next attempt. tuscon, december.
from there, it was back to the room, a quick shower, some room service pizza and then a nap. i really haven’t processed the run yet, i don’t really want to talk about it much, and i have a sort of bittersweet feeling about it.
i’m not sure whether or not to call it a success.

30 thoughts on “bittersweet

  1. What an emotional rollercoaster this race was! Of course you need time to process all this. I just wanted to say, that I am truly touched by your caring for your friend. He’s a lucky guy. And what a great frame of mind you described. Very proud of you!

  2. SO heartbreaking.
    I hope that you both walk away from the race with the clear understanding that I, and many others, think that the two of you simply ran breathtaking times. Whether or not the race was what you hoped for, you both still had fantastic races.
    Well done, and good luck on your next marathons!

  3. i have been thinking about how to say something. i don’t have the wisdom or the experience but i still feel so proud about how you handled the situation and that you did the best you could. i hope that in time you will be able to see the great experience that went in to training for the race and the experiences with your buddy, and this will make the next race even sweeter.

  4. Jeff, just reading this report cements the feelings I have that you are an amazing person. What a friend you are…I’m sure you did just what he wanted you to do. I can’t imagine the emotions you are feeling right now…but you should be proud of your day.

  5. Ken honored you by sending you on, and you honored him by going on. Maybe this is the path that Ken needs to take to Boston. Maybe he will reach Boston better for it. That doesn’t erase the disappointments but I can’t help but believe that it’s all worth the while.

  6. What a great buddy you are! I’m sure once you take time to think about it’ll be very positive. You both did wonderfully.

  7. What an emotional race, but well done though, I can imagine how hard it was to go on without Ken. But you both hung tough!

  8. Hopefully you are feeling better today, kudos to you both. The 26.2 mile journey is as much an emotional challenge as it is a physical one. Great report I felt like I was running along beside you.

  9. That was very bittersweet reading even. I agree with what everyone else has written here. I hope that if I were in your running shoes I would have done the same.

  10. Jeff,
    This is, in EVERY sense of the word, a SUCCESS. You ran a tremendous race and it is more than obvious you would have crossed in under 3:30 if not for the choice you made to stay with your friend.
    As for Ken, the choice you made to stay with him as long as you did, and the torn and bitter feelings you have, I have these things to say:
    The marathon is a marathon. It is 26.2 miles. Most people have NO idea how far that is and what a struggle it can be to a) Complete the distance and b) have all the pieces come together for a BQ, a PR or whatever. Ken knows this. That much is certain since, as you mentioned, he already began planning his next attempt moments after he finished.
    Yes, it is disappointing to miss the mark and come up short but I can tell you from experience that it will be all the more sweet when he DOES qualify. In my case, it took five attempts to get my sub-3:45 and when I got it, all the other disappointments were instantaneously washed away and replaced with (I dare say it) even GREATER appreciation for the accomplishment.
    As for you, you are a fantastic friend. You made a sacrifice to stay with Ken and Ken recognized that by urging you multiple times to go ahead. Again, I have some personal experience with this when I say that I have had people try to stay back with me and I made them go ahead because I had enough to worry about – I did not also want to feel guilty for the other person sacrificing for me. PLUS, I needed all my energy I had to focus on just running and getting through the cramps!
    In a circumstance such as the one you went through, you almost need to have a code. Like, struggling is ok to hang back but when cramps come or an injury manifests, you separate knowing the “healthy” runner can’t do anything to help the one having problems. Know what I mean? Aaron and I have that code. We try to stay together but we also understand the marathon is, in the end, a personal journey that sometimes must be done alone.
    In the end, the marathon is only the 3 to 5 hours of running at the end of a long journey of running and friendship and guess what? Know matter when you finish, you two friends will meet up at the finish line to close one book and open another.
    Release the guilt Jeff. You honestly should have none.
    And rejoice in the knowledge that there were lessons in that race for Ken that he will learn from and that will make him a better runner. He’s going to get to Boston. In the greater scheme of things, what is 6 months out of one’s life?
    Now go celebrate cuz you deserve it!
    Well done!
    (I’d have you by my side any day)

  11. I think your race was indeed a success. A really rough race to be sure. Trying to make a decision like that during the race is especially tough. It would be hard enough to make that choice, sitting comfortably at your desk reading a blog, but out there, in the race, I’m not sure how I would have handled it. But it sounds like you made the right decision, and I think Ken is glad you did too.

  12. Jeff, you are so awesome! I wish everyone could have a friend like you. I’m sorry Ken didn’t get his qualifying time but you both still ran a wonderful race! But I’m glad he’s already jumped back on board to try again in December. And you have no reason to feel guilty! You were wonderful! A definite success.

  13. After all the comments, there is nothing left unsaid. Mark summed it up well. And I agree with Lara you honor Ken by going on. As the person that is usually doing the urging…..you know you’ll finish, and sometimes you need that alone time to pull it together..
    Amazing race….

  14. The race was a measure of time and ended a measley nine minutes too long for Ken. The marathon was weeks and weeks of training, strategy, planning, companionship and teamwork. The marathon was everything and more that you can want out of life. Yeah; you’re the man.

  15. Wow, what a race. I can understand why you would have mixed feelings about it. I think all the other comments hit the important points. You did your best for Ken and that is all you can do. Enjoy how well you did.

  16. I got chicken skin from reading about your race. Having run marathons with a friend of differing abilities 3 times, sometimes the slower, sometimes the faster, I know how hard it is to make that decision to split up. There’s no good decision there. Congratulations on a new PR, and best of luck for next time.

  17. Wow, Jeff! What a race! First of all congratulations! However more than by your impressive timing, I’m amazed by your loyalty to your friend. Not everyone would have behaved the way you did and although you had to let go you were there with him in spirit. I think you should feel really proud of yourself and let this be an enourmous confidence builder, I am so happy you felt so well throughout! Great job!!! And I hope your friend feels better.

  18. Wow, it sounds like you both have a great friend in each other.
    My heart goes out to Ken for his struggles through the race, but I’m very impressed (that’s not really strong enough of a word) that both of you finished on such a tough course. That’s definitely an accomplishment in itself!

  19. Life is complicated for those who truly care about others. When you look back on this race a while from now, I hope you remember both the bitter and the sweet, but in the light of what you both learned from the experience.
    Revel in your strength, and delight in how well you felt physically on the course. Value Ken’s effort and his concern for your race, even when he was himself struggling.
    You took time out to console Ken’s wife, even though that meant losing your own 3:30. You saved her a lot of worry and grief, and probably helped her support her hubby better.
    You and Ken may not have gained what you aimed for yesterday, but when you do eventually achieve it, you will appreciate its worth so much more. This was not friendship vs. race, or even your race vs. his, it was just the way struggles go sometimes, and I think your friendship will deepen through it.

  20. congratulations jeff, … you are an amazing friend and running partner, and i’m sure ken would agree. you both finished a marathon (one of many, i know).. but to a beginner like me, just finishing is something to be proud of.
    my hats off to you and ken, and i hope, given time, you will be able to look back on this race and recognize the achievement!

  21. I am just really impressed with your whole blog! This race report is touching and amazing. you have brought to me a whole new perspective of running,, and one can really feel that through reading your post… Congratulations.
    Heather

  22. Well, for your part I’d say that you did everything you could, and I include heading out when Ken wanted you to. Don’t beat yourself up – ultimately, on race day its everyone against the same clock, and these things will happen. As for your race though, well, lets just say that I’m really looking forward to reading your Boston report next April!
    Oh, and with a 3:39 in difficult conditions I’m sure that Ken will be able to qualify on an easier course!

  23. What they said …
    I’ve been on Ken’s end more than a couple of times, and (speaking just for me) sometimes knowing that you’re dragging down a friend’s performance compounds other challenges. You ran the race he wanted you to – supporting until given the go-ahead to fly.
    Ken will get there, and I’m sure you will be there helping him train, etc. Do not dwell on it – 3:39 is a fine time for anyone, and spitting distance to Boston, especially on a tough course.
    You, my friend, are a stand-up guy.

  24. WOW…that is a lot to work through. Ken sounds like a fairly serious runner (with time goals and such) so I am sure he understands the need for speed :) i am sure he encouraged you to go ahead BECAUSE he understands. you two really gave it the old college try which is awesome in and of itself.
    and i am glad you felt so great. it bodes very well for your own goals.
    recover well.

  25. Finishing any marathon is a success in some way. Time goals will not always be achieved but lessons are always learned. Well done on sticking with your mate until he told you to run on by yourself. A PB is never to be sneezed at!
    I still get teary thinking back to my last marathon which did not go as planned but it was more emotional standing at the finish after I had finished to cheer home the other members of my club who had trained just as hard and were still running home.

  26. My feelings to both of you. You ran a valiant race, and you’ll run again. I’m so sorry I wasn’t able to see it.

  27. So many have already said it. Jeff, by all means your race was a success. You stayed with Ken and gave him all you could. Because of you he likely finished and still with not a bad time even if it wasn’t what he had planned.
    Should I stay or should I go is always a tough choice in these situations. You were completely selfless in your efforts chosing his needs over your own.
    You are a great friend and a great runner!!!

  28. Well, I’m pretty belated in reading and commenting. Everyone else has said it, but I’m so sorry that your goals and your friend’s goals didn’t quite work out. There is so much to be learned from every race, both mentally and physically. I know that both of you will take away new knowledge from the experience that will surely be useful down the road.
    Take care and I hope you’re recovering well!

  29. I’m a bit late, too, but sounds like a terrific run to me! Way to go. Great time.
    Everyone has said what can be said I think so I won’t add much but I’m impressed…that’s for sure. With both of you!

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