Tuesday, November 8, 2011
BQ Coming Through... Thank You!
That was what I yelled (exuberantly yet politely) the last 2.2 miles of the Pocatello Marathon dodging 5K walkers as I neared the finish line. All marathoners are mathematicians toward the end of our races, and I had figured out that I could run a 9-10 minute per mile pace the rest of the way and still qualify for Boston. That knowledge was comforting and it injected more energy and excitement into me as I picked up the pace, as I churned my legs, and as I barreled heroically (in my mind) to the finish I had been dreaming about since my first marathon. It took seven years, sixteen marathons (MCM 2004, MCM 2005, San Diego RNR 2006, Richmond 2006, National 2007, Baltimore 2007, Philadelphia 2007, National 2008, Columbus 2008, National 2009, Philadelphia 2009, National 2010, Wineglass 2010, NYC 2010, Providence 2011, Pocatello 2011), eight different states plus the District (CA, VA, MD, PA, OH, NY, RI, ID + DC), 50+ pairs of sneakers (Nike Pegasus, Mizuno Wave Rider, Asics Gel Nimbus - all size 9.5), 20,000 miles run (estimated), and countless GU's, but I finally ran a Boston-qualifying time according to the open men's standard (18-34). I posted a new personal best of 3:07:36, three minutes faster than I needed and six minutes faster than my old personal best recorded last year. What an incredible journey it has been. I remember that day in 2004 when I signed up to run the Marine Corps Marathon on the last possible day they were accepting applications. Since it was a lottery, I figured there wasn't much of a chance I would get in, but a few days later arrived the email notifying me that I had a spot in the race. That meant I had to actually train for the race. And, before I joined DC Road Runners Club, my idea of training for a marathon consisted of running once a weekend for two hours. A few weeks before the marathon, the baseball playoffs were in full effect and the Red Sox had completed an amazing comeback on the Yankees, down three-games-to-none, to win a spot in the World Series. I was prepared to head up to Boston for what would be Games 6 and 7, which were October 30 and 31, since I wanted to be in Boston when the Sox finally won the World Series. But, when the Sox swept to win it in four games and I went out to St. Louis for Game 3, heading up to Boston wasn't in the cards anymore. And that meant I would be in town for the marathon on race day, Halloween Day 2011. The best advice I received going into that race was to not go out too fast. I took that to heart as I did my best to just run "easy." I remember sticking with a guy from the Boston-area the first couple of miles and into Georgetown. I remember doing a little walking on the course, and I remember the feeling of finishing and calling my folks to tell them I finished a marathon in a respectable four hours and ten minutes. How far I have come since! Grace Leonard, my running buddy, and I traveled to this race together, landing in Salt Lake City (after transferring in Houston), and staying near the airport. After the free breakfast at the hotel, we hopped into our rented red Mustang (upgraded for free) and drove north about two plus hours. We stopped for gas just over the state line and to admire the scenery. Once in Pocatello, we were all business: packet pick-up, hotel check-in, then we drove the course to get the feel. A nice dip in the hotel's hot tub by the pool, and we were ready for the race. (My only complaint was at the pasta dinner, they did not have marinara sauce, just meat sauce. As a vegetarian and runner, I expected a red sauce with no meat, thank you very much.) We should have returned to the place we got lunch earlier in the day - a tiny Italian restaurant in town that we adored. Race morning I rose bright and early and ate a bagel and banana. Grace dropped me off at the buses for the ride (she was running the half as a soccer injury curtailed her training), and it was a short drive to the start. Once there, we waited in the pitch black - I nudged a fellow runner to ask what those dotted lights in the sky were and he informed me they were stars to which I replied sarcastically, "Oh, we don't see many of those in DC!" The weather was cool and perfect for racing and since the bag drop-off was right by the start and only 600 runners were racing the full, it was easy to drop off my stuff minutes before the starting gun. When the gun did go off, it was still pitch black around 6:15 am, and away we went down the hill. Starting elevation was roughly 6000 feet above sea level and it dropped to 4500 feet by mile 15 then was mostly flat with a few hills the rest of the way. I was able to maintain a comfortable just-below-seven minute per mile pace with ease as I let gravity bring me down the hills, all while focusing on my breathing to make sure the altitude didn't affect my ability to get complete breaths. For the first couple of miles, I was running side-by-side with a 20's some young runner from the Boston area. He wanted to qualify for Boston, and from his past races, he sounds like quite the sprinter. I dropped him by the sixth mile and I heard he missed qualifying by a few minutes, but as I learned, there is always the next race. The first challenge I faced was the off-shoot road they made us run along by the seven mile marker. It was uphill, so a change for my legs, and then when you hit the turn-around, you are back to running downhill. I stayed in my zone, and just kept thinking about my breathing, my form (mid-foot strike, slight lean forward, arms up), and the song stuck in my head, "Pumped up Kicks" by Foster the People (You better run, better run!). I hit the ten mile mark right around 70 minutes (I remember racing my first Cherry Blossom Ten Miler in 70 minutes!), and then the next uphill occurred a mile before for the midway point. I passed Grace who was cheering for me and waiting for the half to start and shouted to her, "70 at the ten and 1:31 at the half." The loud roar of the crowd gave me a huge boost as I had my first visions of finally qualifying for Boston. At mile 14, a woman caught me running strong and I decided to stay with her, which I did until mile 17. She was holding a steady 7 minute pace, which was my goal, but I decided to let her go because I knew I was on pace for a BQ, but I didn't want to risk "blowing up." In retrospect, playing it safe may have cost me a few minutes, but I wasn't willing to gamble away Boston. She later went on to win the women's race. Doubt crept in near the 20 mile mark as my pace certainly slowed right around the start of the 10K race. I remember experiencing the fear that my race was falling apart as so many had before; but, this time I was able to remember my training and dial up some confidence. If I could just hold this pace, if I just kept churning my legs, if I just didn't quit I would come in under 3:10. Don't give up, just don't give up, Kenny! I hit the final hill where two guys were walking up and kept churning away - this may hurt, but quitting will feel worse - as I made it up and recollected myself by mile marker 23. By then, my legs were back, I did the math, and if I ran 9-10 minute miles or better the rest of the way, I would have my BQ! The more I knew Boston was in sight, the better I felt and the better I felt, the faster I could feel myself running... or so it felt. Just keep this pace, just keep running... and then, I hit the walkers from the 5K race! They crowded the roped area of the highway, so as politely as I could, I shouted, "BQ coming through - thank you!" And, they moved to pave a path for me as I hit the final bend in the road, and turned on to the straight-away where I could see the finish line. The most glorious, emotionally charged finish I have experience occurred as I was crossing the finish line, in 3:07:36, a new PR by almost six minutes and a BQ by more than three! I finally did it - after all the efforts and failures and training - it was finally a dream come true! I did it! I raced the perfect race and achieved my goal!