Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Jacksonville Bank Marathon

Apologies in advance for this indulgent, self-congratulatory post but I’m really pleased with my performance in the Jacksonville Bank Marathon this weekend.  I’ve been patting myself on the back so much I think I hurt myself.

To begin with, 10 days before the race I had no idea I would be running.  Since the Marine Corps Marathon I have not done any distance training.  After a brief recovery period I spent my time trying to acclimate to running in huaraches and making improvements to my form.  I had run a lot, but the longest distance I had run was 8 miles.  I guess you can count two 5k’s as speed workouts and the runs in huaraches were as stressful on my legs as long runs.  So it was more than just fun and games even though it didn’t feel like training.

When I got the call offering a position as a pace leader for the race, I immediately ran a 19 mile long run, with no advance preparation, just to give myself the confidence that I was up to the task.  To say that I was pleased with my ability to do this is a huge understatement.

I was up at 3 am for the commute to Jacksonville which meant about 4.5 hours sleep. That’s par for course for me.  Someday I’ll find out if a solid night’s sleep can improve race day performance.

I was assigned to be the 4:45 pace leader.  We were instructed to run even splits and warned not to “bank” time.  This meant averaging about 10:52 per mile, almost a full minute under my usual race pace.  I was confident in my ability to finish the race, but I have to admit I was nervous about trying to run it with that strategy.

It turned out to be an awesome race.  I found that pace very comfortable and never even felt winded during the entire 26.2 miles.  This meant lots of time and energy for conversation and I met some great folks along the way.

I started with a small group of about 6 people and picked up and dropped runners throughout the race.  I had one runner that was with me from the start that stayed with me for over 20 miles, a local runner named Steve who was running his first marathon.  I knew he was starting to struggle by about mile 18 when I heard him start to shuffle his feet.  I encouraged him on and he made it another 2 miles before he dropped back.  I have to admit I suffered a moral dilemma at that point trying to decide whether to hold my pace or help this one runner that had stayed with me for so long.  I slowed down for a bit but eventually continued to run my assigned pace.  I found Steve after the race and he told me he finished right at five hours and was happy with that.

I was pleased to discover that I was running with several people with ultramarathon and trail running experience.  I picked up some good tips and race recommendations including several in Alabama I intend to check out, thanks to Bill from Birmingham.

I finished the race with two runners including a first timer named Chris from Pennsylvania who had not run more than 10 miles in training, on a treadmill no less!  Oh to be young again.


1. Really not many from a runner’s perspective.  There was some confusion behind the scenes for pacers like confused assignments and some of the balloons we were supposed to carry indicating our pace were popped or missing.  I doubt this was anything most of the runners would have noticed.  This didn’t affect my enjoyment of the race in the least.
2. Traffic.  There were a few times late in the race that cars and runners shared the road.  It was just a few vehicles and I never felt endangered.  I was towards the back of the pack though and this might not have been the experience of the runners up front.
3. Hydration.  I find cool weather hydration tricky.  Over hydrating before the race caused me to make several pit stops in the first half of the race.
4. My Garmin died on me.  It’s out of warranty by just 2 months and suddenly the battery life plummeted to about 2.5 hours.  It quit on me just after I passed the midpoint of the race.  The pace band I was wearing combined with the frequent time clocks proved to be invaluable to keep me on track.
5. My bib#:  666.  How unlucky is that!


1. The course itself.  This is promoted as Florida’s Fastest Marathon and I can see why.  There was hardly anything that even this flatlander would consider an incline.  It was mostly run on shady, tree canopied streets through some beautiful neighborhoods.
2. The weather was perfect.  High 40’s for the start and I was comfortable in short sleeves.  The streets were often half in shade and half in sun which made regulating your temperature easy just by moving in and out of the sun.
3. Time clocks at nearly every mile marker were a real luxury and near the end of the race there were clocks at both the full and half marathon mile markers which I presume were offset by about a tenth of a mile.
4. The volunteers were awesome.  The water stops were well staffed by people who seemed to know what they were doing.  The race as a whole was very well organized.
5. My bib#: 666.  I was singled out and cheered for by both spectators and other runners thanks to that number.  It turned out to be a lot of fun and I relished every moment of it.  How lucky is that!

 So how’d I do?

I finished with a chip time of 4:44:12 a mere 48 seconds ahead of my assigned time of 4:45:00 (accomplished without the benefit of my Garmin for half the race – thank you very much!).

My half marathon splits were 2:21:33 and 2:22:39.  I hope the 66 second differential between the first and second half of the race met the race organizer’s expectation for even splits.

Would I do it again?  In a heartbeat!

There is something to be said for reaching the finish line invigorated instead of spent.  Sure my legs were fatigued and I had some of the usual post marathon aches but now, just two days after the race I feel fine.  I also really enjoyed the social aspect of being a pacer.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

How accurate is your GPS?

I was irritated by this article in the NY Times yesterday attacking the accuracy of GPS watches and felt compelled to respond. The reporter apparently believes that Google Maps is the final arbiter of accuracy in measuring distances.

Out of curiosity I compared the distances recorded by my Garmin Forerunner 205 to the certified distances in races I have run this year to test its accuracy.  Here are the results:

(I did exclude one race.  My Garmin measured the Bridge of Lions 5k at 3.0 miles, the one and only time I measured a race shorter than the certified distance. However I received an error during that race caused by exceeding the memory capacity of the watch.  I had never cleared the history, something I routinely do now.)

That’s 99% accuracy in a consumer grade device that cost me $100 and that doesn’t even account for the fact that race directors intentionally lay out race courses a little long to account for potential error.   Nor does it account for the fact that unless you run the course perfectly, rounding turns on the tangents, you will add a few feet of distance with every turn compared to the certified route.  I think that’s pretty impressive.

Based on the simultaneous distance alerts I hear when I run with large groups, I can also confirm that this accuracy is not unique to my watch.

It’s a sad state for modern journalism that reporters routinely rely on Google for research and not much else.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Marathon Pace Wrist Bands

I thought I would share this handy tool I plan to use to help me stay on my target pace (10:52) for the Jacksonville Bank Marathon this weekend.

I long ago figured out that even simple math is beyond my mental capacity once I pass the 20 mile mark in a run.  With a glance at my Garmin I can easily determine stats like my current pace, average pace for the current mile and my average pace for the entire race.  If I'm off target though, I find it very hard to calculate how much I need to speed up or slow down in order to get back on track.

I tried to do exactly that calculation late in the Marine Corps Marathon and ultimately gave up.  I finished the race with a PR which was awesome but just missed the goal I had set for myself and couldn't help but be just a little disappointed.

I would hate to fall short of my responsibility as a pace leader this weekend because of a math error.  This wrist band, courtesy of Marathon Guide, should help.

Thursday, December 8, 2011


Guess who has the honor of a being a pace leader at the Jacksonville Bank Marathon on December 18, 2011.

I am excited, and a little nervous, about the challenge, to maintain a fairly constant pace and complete a marathon in a precise amount of time while at the same time fooling everyone who runs with me into thinking that I actually know what I'm doing. 

So, for the next 10 days I am going to be be completely obsessed with the time 4:45.

I wonder how heavy that little sign is.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

A moment in the life . . . .

I glanced up from setting the table on the back porch and caught a glimpse of her in the kitchen window.  She was preparing dinner, head down, focused on her task.  A stray beam of light from the setting sun glistened through her hair.

I couldn’t help but think to myself, “How did I ever get so fortunate?”

My mouth was already watering.  She’d prepared this meal once before and the aroma wafting from the kitchen instantly triggered the memory of the savory dish, panko breaded chicken with a hummus, cilantro and lime sauce served over a bed of wild rice and asparagus.  It was absolutely delicious.

We talked back and forth through the window about our plans for the next evening, a private showing of Spirit of the Marathon for WVR at a local wine bar.

“So does this place serve any food?” she asked.

Oblivious to the looming peril I replied, “I think we’re going to order pizza from the restaurant next door.”

The smack of a spoon against the counter shocked me back to lucidity.

“You runners and your damn carbs!”

. . . .

We so often take for granted the toll our obsession takes on our loved ones.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Mile 24

Mile 24 is a very bad place.

I spent the day on the sidelines of the Space Coast Marathon yesterday, taking photos and playing the part of cheerleader.  I have to admit being more than a little envious.  Unfortunately I can’t run every race and as friends were lining up at the start I was disappointed that I was not joining in.

I usually position myself close to the finish to get a contact high from the excitement as people get that first look at the finish line.  This time I spent a lot of time at mile 24 and it brought back a flood of memories.

The memory of the last few miles of my first marathon last year has not receded a bit with time.  Overcoming the emotional low I experienced while fruitlessly attempting to run past the wall was such a singular moment of my life that the memory perseveres.

As I watched the faces of hundreds of runners move past me I could empathize.  Sure, there were those lucky few that seemed to relish every moment of the race, but the vast majority were in obvious discomfort.  Muscle cramps, sore knees or shins or hips, hunched over with aching backs.




They just wanted it to be over.

At mile 24 the finish seems at the same time close and impossibly far away.  Time slows and minutes seem like an eternity.

Early on in the race the miles rolled off effortlessly but eventually you start to measure your progress in tenths of a mile, then hundredths, then landmarks (please let me just make it to that next tree or block or driveway).

Then you start to count your steps.

Every attempt to reassure yourself that the race is almost over fails miserably.  Two miles seems like an impossible distance to cover when every effort to will your legs to move is met with a refusal.  The sense of frustration and defeat is overpowering.

I ran with some, talked with some, tried to offer encouragement.  My words seemed to be met with equal measures of gratitude and irritation, but I understood.  More than that, I was inspired by their strength of will.  Despite the agony and suffering, no one quit.  Universally, they all kept moving forward.

So now I have another memory of mile 24 that will persevere.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

St. Francis Trail

I have known about this trail for years and never seemed to be able to make  the time to check it out.  St. Francis was a booming town at the turn of the 20th Century serving steam boat traffic on the St. Johns River.  When the railroads civilized Florida the town vanished along with the riverboats.  That's right!  I'm talking about a honest to goodness Ghost Town!

This seven mile loop trail just west of Deland leads to the remains of the town.  I’ve read that there are no structures remaining, but some of the foundations are still visible.

I drive past this trail every time I make that “over the river and through the woods” trek to grandmother’s house.  Today I decided to stop off and check it out on my way home after Thanksgiving.  It would also give me a chance to try out the 4mm Invisible Shoes Connect soles that I got a deal on last week.

The trail run went something like this – ouch . . . . dammit . . . .ooomph . . . . crap . . . . cough thgthhttgggg (spits out spider web) . . . . ouch . . . . You get the idea.

This was a challenging trail to run.  It was a little overgrown and had some deadfall obstacles.  It doesn’t look like it has had much traffic lately – at least not by anyone tall enough to clear the spider webs at the height of my face.  The ground was a tangle of tree roots and cypress knees that would test the limits of any shoe, and the mere 4mm of rubber I had laced to the soles of my feet didn’t offer much protection.  When I landed wrong on a cypress knee I definitely felt it.   Fortunately there were some stretches of boardwalk to provide relief.

It required diligent attention to the ground ahead of me while I was running so keeping a lookout for trail blazes wasn’t easy and it was hard to enjoy the surroundings while I was so focused on the ground.  It was also late in the day so the setting sun would occasionally blind me when it shone through the canopy.  I did manage to spot some wild turkeys just off the trail.

And the mosquitos!  It’s almost December!  We’re not supposed to be having a mosquito problem this time of year.  I would get swarmed every time I stopped moving.

This seems like a lot of bitching which isn’t fair because I still managed to have a lot of fun on the run.  I even took time to shoot some video of me running in the Invisible Shoes.


A mere two miles from the trailhead the light was already starting to dim and I knew I wouldn’t have time to make it the entire 7 miles around the loop.  The exact same time I that I came to that realization, the ecosystem changed in the blink of an eye to a dryer pine forest, so I decided to press on just a little bit further.  I’m glad I did because I came across this foot bridge:

I shot a few videos crossing the bridge and I think they capture one of the advantages of running in these sandals – check out how my foot is able to grip the logs.

Even with bruising the soles of my feet and the involuntary blood donations to the mosquitoes, I had a ton of fun and I didn’t even make it to the St. Francis site.  The shoes performed well, but weren’t up to the task of saving my feet from the obstacles on this particular trail so I can’t wait to try them out under better conditions.

I will have to reprise this run very soon.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shh! What's that sound?

Miles of wilderness all to myself.

The wind.  

Animals scurrying through the brush.  

The call of a bird overhead.  

The gurgling of water from a nearby creek.

My footsteps.

My breathing.  

My heartbeat.  

Nothing else.  

It’s a beautiful sound.  

It’s musical.

I never understood why people put plugs in their ears when they run.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Race Report: Dash for Dad 5k

I haven’t made a serious effort at a 5k PR since last December.  I’ve entered a few 5k’s in the past 12 months, but treated them as fun runs, running and walking with friends.  I did run the St. Augustine Bridge of Lions 5k at my maximum effort, but give me a break, that was July, and my time reflected the hot, humid conditions.

So, on an almost spur of the moment decision, I entered the Dash for Dad 5k in The Villages, FL a charity race to benefit prostate cancer research and treatment.

I have run a lot of 400m intervals over the past few months and I hoped that all of that effort would reward me with a new 5k PR.  My goals for the race were to break through that 23:00 wall I’ve been slamming into and to try to clock a mile under 7:00.

This was a small race run near a retirement community and the competition reflected that fact.  100 yards from the start I found myself among the leaders in 4th place behind a young kid who took off like a flash of lightning and a couple that appeared to be running together.  Less than half a mile in, the Flash faded, slowed to a walk, and I found myself in 3rd place two steps back from the leaders.  My pace felt comfortably hard and I knew I had enough speed in me to take the lead for the first time ever.  I checked my pace though and realized I was already running too fast to maintain so I eased in behind the leaders.  A few minutes later we were passed by another younger guy who ultimately won the race and the threesome slowly started to pull away from me.

For most of the first mile I maintained a pace under 7:00 but as I approached the mile marker I saw the clock tick off 6:58…6:59…7:00 (damn!) and finally passed it 6 seconds later.  7:06, beating my fastest mile ever by 8 seconds but just missing that 7:00 goal.  Well there were still two more miles left in the race.

That’s when I heard Mr. Green making his move.  I’ll call him Mr. Green because he was dressed in green.  He spotted me warming up before the race, jokingly warned me not to run too fast, and took to calling me Mr. Speedy.  He even warned other people about me at the start line – “Watch out for Mr. Speedy over here.”  When I heard those footsteps behind me I knew exactly who it was. I glanced over my shoulder and there he was, 10-15 years my junior and built like a pro running back I leaned forward and vowed to hold him off as long as I could.

The turnaround for the course was at the end of a cul-de-sac. The turn was a little tight but much better than turning on a traffic cone as is often the case in these smaller races.  I held off Mr. Green until just after that turn.  As he passed I gave him a thumbs up and took pride in the effort that showed on his face.  At least I didn’t make it easy for him.

At two miles the first three runners were still in sight but there was no way I was catching them.  Mr. Green was close but I was struggling to keep him in striking distance.  My only hope was a small hill that I remembered in the first mile.  If I was lucky, Mr. Green was weak on hills and I might have an opportunity to catch him.  I looked behind me and the next runner was no threat.  I realized I had a lock on 5th place overall and a shot at 4th.

My hopes were dashed though as he held firmly onto his lead.  I didn’t gain any distance on him on the hill and as we reached the final stretch he started to slowly increase his lead.  I was really starting to feel the effort and I looked at my watch remembering that my real adversary in this race was time – that 23:00 barrier.  I was slowing down and I knew it was going to be close.

The course circled around toward the finish line so that the clock was not visible until the last minute.  I had to resort to repeatedly checking my watch.  At 22:23 I tried to judge the distance left, it didn’t look good.   22:45…22:55…23:00 (dangit!)  I finally finished the final turn and crossed the finish line 28 seconds later.

I had a good conversation with Mr. Green (his real name was Richard) after the race.  He told me that I helped to push him during the race.  I think I surprised him which makes me feel good.

So I finished with no PR and no 7:00 minute mile. On the positive side though I did run my fastest mile ever 7:06, it was my first top 5 finish in a race, first time ever running in the front of the pack, and I won a first in age group award.  So I’m still happy with how the race went.

Kudos to the race organizer Front Running Sports for well run race and to the principal sponsors Zero (The Project to End Prostate Cancer), The Advanced Prostate Cancer Institute, and all of the other sponsors.  The race went off without a hitch and the post race goodies were extravagant.  This is the second year for this nationwide charity race which is hoping to match the success of the Susan G. Koman breast cancer races.

So now for the excuses analysis - Why didn’t I hit my goals?

This was only 20 days out from the Marine Corps Marathon.  I feel great, but it’s possible I’m not fully recovered from that race.

I haven’t done any speed work since I started my taper for the MCM and haven’t done any serious training since the MCM.  I’ve been focused on having fun running in sandals for the past few weeks.

It was also a pretty warm day.  The temperature at the start was in the upper 60’s.  It was comfortable but not optimal.

I probably started out too fast and burnt up a lot of energy trying to hold off and then keep up with Mr. Green.  If I had run a more conservative race in the first half I might have had more energy for a kick at the end.

Lessons learned.  With 5k’s virtually every weekend for the next few months I think I have a pretty good shot at having a breakout race before spring.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

While others surf the internet for porn . . . .

I get my digital stimulation from pictures like this:

Dean Karnazes running in the Badwater Ultra
There is definitely something wrong with me.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I'm getting better at this

It's almost as much fun making these as it is running in them.

A little surprise centered under my arch.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

100 Up Challenge

Have you heard about the new movement?  It’s called the 100 Up.

It started with an article by Christopher McDougall author of Born to Run, in the New York Times earlier this month.  In it, he described an exercise called the 100 Up that is supposed to help you master the “ideal” running style, if one exists.  The exercise is simply a modified running in place movement.

You can see a demonstration of the 100 Up in this video.

Faster than Usain Bolt, news of this miraculous exercise shot through the running blogosphere and has now morphed into the 100 Up Challenge.  Try the exercise every day for a month and see what effect, if any, it has on your running.

Seems simple enough.

I’m in.

Will it live up to the hype?

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

I miss the sun.

I took a 3 mile run tonight in my Invisible Shoes. At least I feel confident enough in them now that I can wear them in the dark.

48 hours seems to be sufficient recovery time between runs.  My calves aren’t sore at all after this run.  I tried running on consecutive days over the weekend and that proved to be bit too much too soon.

I started experimenting with these with the intention of using them for trail running, but since the Marine Corps Marathon I have only run in regular shoes twice.  Every other run has been in either these or my home made “Jesus sandals.”  They really are working out well on hard surfaces like asphalt and concrete I will just have to take my time increasing mileage.

They’ve also added a new dimension to my running – fun.

I think I might go for 5 miles this weekend.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Analyzing Foot Strike in Huaraches

I captured some stills from the video I shot yesterday trying to analyze the effect of the Huaraches on my stride and foot strike.

My stride is shorter than usual with a faster turnover.  I measured the cadence at between 176 and 180 steps per minute.  I’m also landing on my forefoot.  I can hear a double splat with each step from the sound of both my forefoot and heel striking the ground.

I wasn't making any conscious effort to change my stride.  The change seems to be a natural consequence of the "tactile feedback" you receive while running without any cushioning under your feet. In other words, your body finds a way to run that doesn't hurt.

In this first image, I’m still swinging my leg forward.  My foot is angled slightly downward with toes splayed reaching for the ground.

Next, just before contact with the ground my foot rotates slightly to the outside.

The first contact with the ground occurs on the outside of my forefoot with just a slight bend in the knee.

Finally, my foot rolls back to level upon contact with the ground, my ankle bends as my shin moves to a vertical position and my heel strikes the ground.  My knee is also bent.

So theoretically, the impact forces from this massive specimen of humanity smashing into the ground 180 times per minute are being distributed throughout the entire foot and leg.  Splayed toes strike first, the ankle absorbs some of the force as the foot rolls inward then bends to lower the heel, and finally when the full weight of my body is transferred to the foot, my knee is bent to act like a shock absorber.

So far the change feels good until I start to get fatigued.  This is a new motion that I particularly feel in my Achilles and calf.  Building up mileage slowly will be very important to avoid injury.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Video: Running in Huaraches

I took a few videos during a 4 mile run this morning.  Sorry about the dizzying perspective in the first one.

There were actually some other people on this new trail this morning.  I got a few double takes.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Oorah! MCM 2011

What an adventure!

I spent an awesome Halloween weekend in Washington, DC for the Marine Corps Marathon with WVR’s Grand Poobah, Jennifer, and WVR’s resident expert on running, resident expert on training, resident expert on . . . WVR's Resident Expert, Drew.  The weekend will prove to be one of the highlights of my life.

I arrived a day early in the hopes getting a chance to see the sites as it was my first time in the Capital.  Wishful thinking.  I had just enough time Friday evening to take a nice long walk on the National Mall and get in a decent meal.  The mall was beautiful at night and it just whetted my appetite for more.  I have to go back.

I slept in Saturday (what a luxury) and dedicated the day to the expo.  The DC Armory was packed but the Marines are the epitome of efficiency and crowd control and I moved quickly through lines collecting my bib, shirt and a few other goodies.  It was difficult to get around but there were plenty of exhibiters to see and I even got a brief glimpse at Ryan Hall doing a meet and greet.  I didn’t plan well for nutrition during the expo and ate only a couple of granola bars I had packed, a hot dog, samples cliff bars, and assorted sports and nutrition products.  Not exactly the best way to eat the day before a marathon.

Late in the afternoon I met up with Jennifer, Drew and Jeff (a WVR member that relocated to DC and who thankfully played the part of our guide on Saturday).  On the way back to the hotel we stopped for last minute supplies at Walmart and were greeted by snow when we exited the store.  We made fools of ourselves playing in the snow in the parking lot.  You would have thought we were from Florida.

Washington embraces this race in a way I have never experienced before.  Runners take over the town.  I struck up conversations with people from all over the country everywhere I went and the locals were great hosts.

We finished the day with an Italian dinner and retired early to try to get a decent night’s rest before the race.

I woke at 4 am Sunday morning which gave plenty of time to get dressed and leisurely make our way to the Metro for the short trip to the Pentagon. There was a little confusion finding our way to the staging area but we made it with plenty of time to spare.

The bad weather broke Saturday night and we were greeted by clear and crisp weather freezing cold conditions arctic like conditions for the race.  There was the typical line for port-a-potties but the wait was reasonable and the drop bag drop-off went very smoothly thanks to a fleet of UPS trucks.  We waited until the last minute to shed our extra layers before moving to the starting area.  With our extra sweat shirts and coats finally stashed in our drop bags the cold chilled us to the bone, but we only had to suffer through it for about half an hour.

At Walmart the previous evening I purchased a short sleeve shirt to wear as base layer beneath a long sleeve T.  I didn’t pay close attention to what I purchased and wound up with a compression T by mistake.  When I first tried it on I thought I had accidently purchased a child sized shirt.  I’d never tried compression clothing before and I was worried about trying it for the first time during a marathon.  The gamble paid off though and it turned out to be a great base layer.

It was 35 degrees at the start of the race.  Drew and I waited for the start at the 4:00 corral while Jennifer made her way toward the front of the pack with the other speedsters.  While we waited, parachute jump teams descended with a flag in tow and there was a fly over by a pair of MV-22 Ospreys – those things are totally badass!  The guest MC of the starting ceremonies was Drew Carey who was running his first marathon.

I was wearing a pair of shorts under sweat pants, the compression shirt, two long sleeve T’s, and my Saucony Kinvara 2’s.  I shed the first long sleeve T as soon as the Howitzer blast signaled the start of the race.  The sweat pants were stripped off around mile 6, and I was comfortable for the rest of the race in shorts, the compression T, and long sleeve T.  I would have been OK with just one layer but shedding another shirt would have meant messing with my bib.  The temperature never exceeded 40 degrees but I was never uncomfortable during the run.

My goal for the race was to try to finish under a 10 minute mile average pace, about a 4:21 total time.  My strategy was to start slow and walk through the water stations.  I would have been content with an 11 minute pace for the first few miles but we were a bit faster than that, averaging 10:03 over the first 3 miles, most of which was uphill.  I opened it up during a downhill mile 4 and finished it at a comfortable 8:41 which could have been even faster but for the crowded conditions.  That was my fastest mile of the race.

Things leveled out after that and Drew and I settled into a comfortable 9:45 pace for the next 11 miles. My slowest mile of the race came during this period, 10:54 in mile 7 accounted for by a stop to water some bushes and to strip off my sweat pants.

Drew and I ran side by side for over 20 miles, seldom straying more than a few feet apart.  It was great to share this experience with him.  Our pace started to creep above 10:00 between miles 16 and 20.  But this is also the stretch of the course that winds around the National Mall.  As we passed the monuments and Capitol we stopped to take pictures and I even took time to upload some of them to facebook.  Even with the stopping our slowest mile during this stretch was only 10:35.

I was feeling great at mile 20 and felt like I had energy to burn.  I checked my watch and saw that our overall average pace had increased to 9:50.  My goal was still achievable but that dreaded final 6 miles was still ahead of me and potentially another encounter with “the wall.”  With the photo ops behind us, I leaned forward and decided to start taking this race seriously.  I was able to increase my pace well below 10:00.

It was great to feel that much energy 20 miles into a marathon, but my ignorance of the course showed through and I found out that it was a very poor place kick in the afterburners.  The course moved onto I-395, bridged the Potomac, and for the next several miles undulated up and down as interstates are wont to do.  There were also very few spectators that ventured onto the interstate to cheer us on.  Throughout the entire race I was amazed at how uplifting was the support of the spectators.  Whenever I started to feel myself reaching an emotional low, I made my way to the edge of the road, high fived a few kids and was instantly rejuvenated.  There were even points in the race that I slalomed from one side of the road to the other slapping hands as I ran past.  It’s impossible to express how motivating the crowd support was.  Between the lack of crowd support on the interstate and the hilly roadway, my spurt of energy lasted a paltry 2 miles and I saw the last of my sub 10:00 miles.

I took in the last of my sustenance during mile 23 after we finally exited the freeway, but what a smorgasbord it was.  I ate the last of the four gels I was carrying (Power Bar Energy) approaching the water station, drank Gatorade instead of water, snacked on a chocolate donut hole shortly after the water stop, and as I rounded the next corner accepted some beer from some very generous spectators.  How I avoided puking I’ll never know.  All that snacking resulted in a 10:40 mile 23.

I checked my average pace again and it had ticked up another few seconds.  I tried to do the math to figure out how many seconds of give I had in each mile in order to stay below that 10:00 goal but the solution escaped me.  I long ago learned that I find even simple addition and subtraction extraordinarily difficult during long runs.   I gave up on the math and resolved to just give it my all and ignore the pace readings on my Garmin until I crossed the finish line.

I think that decision was for the best because I improved over the next three miles.

I finished mile 24 in 10:15.

Mile 25 ticked off another 10:19 and I realized that for the first time ever in a marathon I was not going to hit the wall.  Thrilled, I dug deep in mile 26, ignored my many body parts that were complaining, and improved my pace to 10:01.

Then came the final two-tenths.  I looked around for the finish line and when it finally came into view . . . .

Holy Crap!

Are you kidding me?

I knew this race had an uphill finish but I was completely shocked by the climb that lay ahead of me.  I slowed to a walk almost as soon as I hit the incline.  Frustrated that I was letting this race get the best of me for the first time all day I stared at my feet and watched my legs struggle to lift them with every step.

“Come on!” I yelled at myself, less than a quarter mile to go.


Thinking of it in terms of a quarter mile was what flipped the switch.  My mind flashed back to all those intervals I’ve been running over the past few months.  Track Tuesdays.  95 seconds.  That’s all it will take.  I consistently run those quarter mile intervals in 95 seconds.  95 seconds and this race is over!

With that thought I started running again and made it the rest of the way to the finish.

The Marine Corps expertise at logistics was again demonstrated as we were quickly ushered through the finish area.  The finishing chute quickly narrowed and the runners were herded like cattle, forced forward by the crowd behind.  We were separated into individual lanes to receive our medals.  A Marine placed my medal around my neck, shook my hand and congratulated me, a ritual he must have repeated thousands of times before I reached him, but which still seemed so genuine that I found it very moving.

Another Marine draped an emergency blanket around my shoulders and the chill that had started to set in since I stopped running was immediately relieved.

When I finally thought to check my watch, the average pace read 10:00.  Did I make my goal?  I looked at the other statistics and saw my total time was 4:24:57 but the distance measured a little long, which is normal, at 26.49 miles.  What did it mean?  Did I make my goal?  Again the math was proving to be too difficult and I suddenly couldn’t even remember my prior PR.  I’d have to wait for the official results to figure it out.

We posed for official photos in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial and then moved along in an orderly line to receive Gatorade, water, bagels, bananas and a box of treats.  Nearly every need was met, except a place to sit down.  I was still woozy after the run and desperately needed a place to sit down, but I understood their need to keep the crowd moving in order to avoid a bottleneck that would have backed up onto the race course.

I soon found a sunny spot to sit and lean against a fence.  I took a few minutes to collect myself and drink a bit and then set off in search of Jennifer, Drew and Jeff.  There was a bit of a walk to retrieve our drop bags and we found each other along the way.  We found a sunny spot to sit, put on some warmer clothes and munched on our snacks.

When we were feeling better we went searching for the beer tent and wonder of wonders discovered there was no wait for beer.  Those Marines are miracle workers.

After replenishing some carbs it was time for some real food.  We discovered that the DC Metro is not nearly as skilled at crowd control as the Marines.  We decided to forgo the long line and hoof it across the bridge to Georgetown.  There was no hope of following my usual post run recovery routine, but I think all of this walking went far to abate my  aches and pains.  We ducked in to the first sports bar we found and spent a few hours devouring burgers and wings and watching football.

Sated and exhausted, we had to endure another walk back to the metro station where the line had thankfully dissipated.  After a short ride we were back at the hotel, raided the market across the street for beer and comfort food, and spent the evening laughing, reminiscing and telling war stories.

It was an awesome weekend and one I will never forget.

Oh, I almost forgot.  Did you want to find out if I made my goal?

My official time was 4:24:48, which beat my personal record from the Charleston earlier this year by 70 seconds.

I finished 8,248 out of 21,013 finishers.

I placed 5,802 out of 12,420 men.

I placed 725 out of 1,531 in my age division.

My average pace . . . .10:06.

I didn’t make my goal, but am I unhappy?  Not in the least.

The difference between making my goal and not was stopping to take pictures like this:

And I would not trade these for the world.