Sunday, April 21, 2013

Report: On My Own Two Feet Marathon

This past week will be one of the most memorable for many and I'm no different. Monday was the 117th running of the Boston Marathon which ended in terrorism at the finish line. The hunt continued throughout the week for those who did it which ended Friday night. Tuesday was my 40th birthday where I took my normal vacation day and ran all day. Originally, I planned on 40 kilometers but instead decided to up that to a full marathon in honor of Boston but ended up with 29 miles since the 26.2 didn't quite get me back to my house. (note: this is not how to taper for a marathon!) I took Wednesday off for rest then ran a gentle 4 miles on Thursday morning to work the cobwebs out before another rest day on Friday along with lots of sushi (carbs and protein!). As I headed to bed Friday night, the forecast read the following for Saturday morning and the marathon (mind you, it hit 80F on Thursday!): windy, snow, temps in the low 30s and rising into the low 40s. WHAT?! Yes, this is NE Ohio and nothing should be a surprise to anyone...just like that 80F on Thursday!

The On My Own Two Feet Marathon is a dream realized by local runner, Melissa, who lives in Kent and is a good friend of mine. As a survivor of domestic violence, she created the race to wholly support battered womens' shelters and victims of domestic violence. This is year #2. I ran the half marathon last year. Not too long ago, a lady in nearby Twinsburg was killed by her husband. Melissa decided to dedicate this year's race to her, Tami Mitchell Wong. After a pre-race video of shoot of runners doing the Harlem Shake (not me, though!), Melissa read a dedication to Tami followed by a dedication she wrote in reaction to the Boston Marathon attack. The video of her dedication to Tami is below. (My phone hit its capacity limit so I don't have Boston speech...sorry!)

My wife was also running with me, or should I say "running the event that I was running." She was doing the 1/2 marathon and insisted that I run my own race and not stick with her. Typically, races that we both enter, we run together from start to finish. Her entry in this race came at last minute and I had already planned to run the marathon months ago. So, we hung out, stayed warm pre-race, then shared a kiss before taking off at the start. This is us prior to the start. See the Channel 5 van? They did a story on Friday night with Melissa and were out to cover the start of the race.
As the race started, I was actually running back from our car as I stashed my phone and Brooks sweatshirt so I started my Garmin late and was at the back of the pack. A shout from Melissa "Nick, this is a RACE!!!" got my tail moving and I quickly got into my groove on the towpath towards Towners Woods.

click on photo for full screen
The race is pretty simple to explain. For the first half, all of the runners follow the same course. We first leave race headquarters/start/finish at Beckwith Orchards and head east on the Portage Bike and Hike's crushed limestone towards Towners Woods, a local Portage County park with some beautiful trails. We arrived there in about a mile (or less) and do a 2 mile loop through before returning back to Beckwith Orchards en route to downtown Kent. The photo at right is me in Towners Woods, courtesy of photographer/runner Pat Dooley. Check out that tendon or whatever above my right knee. Crazy! Anyway, the route west towards downtown Kent is all bike and hike but varies in terrain from asphalt, dirt, gravel, and limestone, depending on the phase of updates/construction on the path. About a mile past Bauman, the sleet began. It was very windy, in my face, and felt like needles. In fact, it was white-out conditions! Remember...short sleeves and shorts. Honestly, I was perfectly comfy as I was plenty warmed up but needles? In late April? Come on, now! I actually started laughing at the absolute absurdity of this weather but I didn't stop/slow down/etc. Speaking of slowing down, I had relaxed into a pace hovering around 8:30 a mile. I had a cadence going that I liked. It was not a long stride, but a high foot strike/minute. My thought was this: I'll hold onto this turnover and eventually, the wheels will come off and I'll have to slow to a 9-9:30 pace. After all, I just ran 29 miles four days ago and I woke up this morning feeling very sluggish and tired...actually wanting to crawl right back into bed. So I went with it, holding dead on to that pace and watching my average pace on my Garmin to gauge how I was doing.

Miles 6 till around 11 are all within downtown Kent. One section is steps from the Cuyahoga River over a boardwalk-like area followed by rocks/roots then eventually on brand new Portage County Bike and Hike trail, mostly concrete or asphalt. This section is beautiful and an area that my family and I have been frequently visiting for afternoon walks. It is chock full of wildlife, train crossings, the Cuyahoga River and foliage of all types...and the waste water treatment plant. (just plug your nose for that brief section!) It's barely rolling but not pancake flat. There was still some of that sleet slush on the wooden bridges but that quickly disappeared as the sun made a brief appearance. At mile 8.5, we all reached the end of the path, an aid station, and the turn-around. Some pretzel rods, a quick drink, and I was off. At Mile 10, I crossed paths with my bride and we shared a quick "how ya doin'?" and kiss and said our goodbyes. She was doing great! I continued on, now with the wind at my back and cruising back to Beckwith Orchards, the half marathon point. No more sleet since that little burst earlier and the sun and clouds were fighting for sky space. I wasn't the slightest bit cold and was very much within a good rhythm with "all systems go."

As I arrived back at Beckwith Orchards, I was around the 1:50 mark, a very good half-marathon time in my opinion and I still felt great. Melissa was in sight and she ran over for a high five but I had other plans. I really just wanted to give her a big hug and let her know how thankful I was to be a part of the race. A big bear hug, a few words, I was off again. I did tell her "This is what it's all about...THANK YOU." It really is. With everything that has happened this past week, runners persevere, we fight, we don't give up! This race is giving in a very direct way to people who desperately need it...who are very much unseen by the public. Friends, we live in a very wretched, fallen world and violence behind closed doors, in marriages, and other places is far too frequent...and because its ugly, it often goes unseen and only appears when its too late, like it did for Tami Mitchell Wong. A race of solidarity like this one brings running back to its pure roots and gives us all more reason to charge on...and run. We can use this crazy running thing for so much good...and I was honored to be a part of it. "Thank you, Melissa!!! You go, girl!!!!!"

I was seriously starting to wonder when my wheels were going to come off. As I head back east to Towners Woods, my average pace for the race continued to sit at 8:30 +/- 1 second. I wasn't slowing down, speeding up, or showing any signs of problems. Here's the truth: in the marathon, you can be feeling like a million bucks at mile 14 or whatever and by mile 14.5, be cussing like a sailor and wondering "why did I do this????!!!" and be walking with head pointed towards the ground. Yes, it can happen that fast and often it does. Just this past Tuesday, my "wheels came off" around mile 22 and I was miserable! Today, though? Hmmm....still feeling great. So into the woods I went over dirt, rocks, roots, and soft grassy hills. THAT was my cup-o-tea! Emerging from the woods, instead of heading back like earlier in the day, we headed further east on the bike and hike trail. I was very much alone for the majority of the race and with 30 or so runners doing the full marathon (100-120 doing the half), I only occasionally saw another runner out here which was fine. I had Chris Tomlin and David Crowder playing in my head and my groove was still on, cadence high, and no signs of weakness appearing.

At mile 18.5 or so, I passed another aid station and grabbed a vanilla GU. My strategy with these GU's, especially on this cold day, was to hold them for 2-4 miles in my hand which brought them to my body's temperature...very toasty! The other option was cold "glop" barely making its way down my throat. This way, it was silky, warm smooth and easy to ingest. I needed the calories/electrolytes so this worked well. Once the next aid station was in sight, I took the GU then washed it down with some Heed at the station. I took 3 of them throughout the race along with a few pretzel sticks (nice and salty). At mile 19.1, I reached the turn-around, and headed on back west towards Bauman Orchards. Cadence STILL up and now, though, my AVERAGE pace for the whole marathon was falling on my at 8:29 per mile. To lower the average on the whole race, I'd have to be running faster than 8:15-ish. I was speeding up and didn't know how...nor if the wheels were about to go flying in multiple directions. Mile 20...passed.

As I approached Towners Woods again, there is a meadow-like area called Butterfly-something ?? Anyway, I guess there are lots of butterflies here in the summer months, which I'll confirm this year! It's basically an offshoot of the trail that is a sort-of-oval of rolling, grassy meadow. It was a nice little break from the straight, crushed limestone path. It also got my heart racing again due to a few little rises in there. Emerging from the meadow, I exchanged a high-five with volunteer and fellow runner, Matt, and charged on towards Beckwith Orchards...still, pace strong and average pace ticking down...again. Faster. Back at Beckwith Orchards, Melissa yelled out final instructions since I was only around the 23 mile point: "Go to the aid station and turn around!!!!" I grabbed a drink and kept on going but also looking for my wife who should've finished. She wasn't in sight but her car was still there. I was ahead of schedule so I only hoped she would be at the finish in less than 30 minutes.

Pace..still strong, still dropping! I continued on with a renewed vigor. I was now absolutely confident that no wheels were coming off. I kept the cadence up and refused to listen to the tiredness/soreness/whatever. No doubt...I was tired, I was beat, but I was in the groove and refused to back down. Reaching the turn-around, two little boys were there volunteering. I took a quick drink, gave one of them a high-five, said my regular thanks to the volunteers and charged on. I was now looking at my overall time and running some math in my head. Here's the reality of the day: I had a pipe dream of a 4hr finish. I had realistically expected 4:15 to 4:30 finish. I hadn't trained to run a sub-4hr finish, done any speedwork, etc. and heck, I just ran 29 miles four days ago!!!! Right?! But, I remember from years ago when I did train that way that I was far below the 4hr point...and even under 3:45. I was in complete awe at what I was doing and couldn't make any sense of it. So as I crunched the numbers, I thought that maybe 3:40 could be reached. The x-factor here is that I didn't start my Garmin at the start on time...remember? So, I chased it anyhow. That last mile was under 8 minutes! I was at full tilt and giving it everything I had. I wanted to leave nothing on the course. I wanted to give it everything...every last drop. As I approached the finish, I saw my wife waving (thank goodness!!!) and I ran as strong as can be across the finish line...hand over my heart and Boston ribbon and giving some thanks to the One who made it all possible. 3 hours, 41 minutes, 11 seconds!!!! I hadn't slowed but my starting time on my Garmin was nearly 2 minutes behind. That time resulted in a 8:26 pace! I ran a negative split marathon AND the last 6 miles were the fastest and faster by the mile. I seriously couldn't believe it!
3 hrs, 41min, 11 sec
Looking back over my previous 26 marathons, that was my fastest finish since April 2008 at the Athens Marathon at Ohio University. I remember that day well. I had trained specifically to qualify for the Boston Marathon and the wheels fell off! I ran a 3:26 marathon that day but it was ugly. UGLY! Today, not so much. Thrilled beyond comprehension!

Now, I'm not a guy who ever wins hardware. I never place or anything. But, given the small field of competitors, I won my age group! Even cooler was that Melissa had some awesome age group awards...pewter-like bobble heads on gold pedestals. Here is mine...holding the Boston ribbon I wore all race.

After the race, we relaxed inside the warm Bauman Orchards and enjoyed some fresh strawberries, oranges, bananas, and hummus/pita chips. There were also some FABULOUS vegan homemade cupcakes. WOW, they were awesome! After a short rest, we headed on home.

I have nothing but great memories from this race. Like I said, I am honored to be a part of it. I am also thankful that things worked out this year that I could bring my Brooks sponsorship to the race. I am really, really happy that Brooks could have a presence there. Given the raw, pure nature of the race, Brooks would be happy to know they were a part of it. It certainly fits in with Brooks whole "Run Happy" concept and being an inspirational part of the running community. To Melissa: "Thank you. Thank you for not only having a dream and passion, but thank you for acting on it and making it a reality. You have taken something out of your life that wasn't so good and turned it around for the not just "average" good but exponentially great! You will never know the full ripple effect of your actions through this race and that's OK. I hope you are happy and content with the outcome of the race. You did well as did your army of volunteers. I must add, too, that they did a great job mixing the Heed at the aid stations. That's all I drink and I know a poorly-made electrolyte drink! They nailed it! Thanks so much and thank you for your and Matt's friendship."

That's it, friends. #27 is in the books and it was an off-the-chart memorable and meaningful race. Did I "Run Happy"??? Come on, now...what do YOU think?!

Run Happy, friends!

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