A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 3; 1st Edition
26.2 miles raced in 2008
Race: Carlsbad Marathon
Place: Carlsbad, CA
Miles from home: 2,709 (last time a race will be from Arlington, VA in distance)
Course Difficulty: 4.5 out of 10
Course Enjoyability: 5.5 out of 10
Weather: 30s-50s Bright sunshine.
Finishers' Medal: 6.5 out of 10
Well, this came as much as a surprise to me, as it did to those from whom I kept it secret.
Out in California for my new job, I spent the night in Carlsbad, CA. Done with work for the day, I set out for a run. How could I resist? It was 60 degrees in the middle of January. A phone call to my hometown of Titusville a few minutes earlier had reminded me what real winter was (the greater DC area gets cold but it is nothing like NW Pennsylvania.
Me: “Hey, Dad. What’s shaking?”
Me: “I saw it was cold there. What’s the temperature?”
Dad: “I don’t think there is one.”
So yeah, I was going for a run.
In the waning daylight I could still catch glimpses of the road in front of me as the sun reflected off of the ocean. A few miles into the run I glanced down and saw "Carlsbad Marathon: Mile 2" marked on the pavement. I realized that even though I was in Oceanside presently, that Carlsbad was just around the corner. Had the marathon just been run the previous weekend or was it being run this weekend? My mind whirled. Should I try to run this race if I am in town?
I finished my run and went back to my hotel. I immediately logged onto my laptop (which will become ironic as you will learn) and checked the website for the race. Sure enough, it was in just a few days. But its registration had been full for weeks. Good, I thought. I had run two consecutive marathon PRs and one little worm that entered my mind was that I wanted to continue to run consecutive PRs for as long as possible. I might not reach Dick Beardsley’s world record thirteen straight PRs but I might give it a shot. By running a marathon before I was ready to do so, tired from a long trip (which would only get longer) I would all but guarantee to end that tiny little streak.
But I had to at least try to see if I could get into the race. I mean, I was probably going to be in the area on race day anyway. (The nature of this portion of my job, where I am mapping out potential race courses, leaves me with uncertainty of my whereabouts. As I travel up and down roads, looking for suitable running routes, I can never tell how smoothly the day will go. Some days I am able to find nearly double the miles of others. But I knew I was flying out of San Diego, Sunday so I had to be close on race day!) So I contacted the race and asked if they needed a 3:10 pace group leader which I saw they were lacking. I received an email the next day stating they would contact the pace group coordinator and get back to me.
As such, I let the issue slip my mind and went back to working the next morning. About halfway through my day, as I passed along the shores of Lake Elsinore, I received a phone call. It was from a gentleman that I had emailed with on a few occasions named Jim. Surprised to hear from him, I was even more surprised he knew I had recently been in Carlsbad. A little confused I asked how he knew. Jim then told me he was the pace group coordinator for the Carlsbad Marathon. Jim and I had been trying to coordinate our schedules for quite some time so that I could run a race for him as a pace group leader. I let out a huge laugh. Jim, who grew up just 15 miles from where I did in NW Pennsylvania, had finally got me to run one of his races.
Even though the week ended up being beyond exhausting (amongst other things, a thief had broken into my rental car and stole my laptop, my laptop bag [which contained more items than I care to mention; some irreplaceable]), I knew I would love every minute of being a pace group leader. You see, it was a pace group leader who helped me gain my first Boston qualifying time, just slightly over 3 years to the day of the Carlsbad Marathon. As such, every chance I can get, I try to karmically pay back the marathon gods.
So race morning came. I was nervous about being able to keep the right pace for my runners. Plus, I was doing a marathon no-no. Having only brought old shoes with me to run a few miles here and there, I decided to purchase brand new shoes at the expo to wear in the race the next day. Even though I have been very lucky in that aspect (nine of my top 10 marathon times of all time have been in different shoes; when the correct shoe company pays me the right money, I will tell you which one has my marathon PR) I knew I was still tempting fate.
Adrenaline coursed through my veins and thoughts of how I was going to replace what was stolen from me coursed through my mind. Both of these were making it difficult to slow the engine I wanted to rev and lose myself in the moment. But today I had a job. My job was to run as even-paced miles as possible and end up exactly at 3:10 when I crossed the finish line. With a small crowd behind me at the beginning, all eager to know how well-qualified I was to lead them (legitimate concerns) we exchange some light banter as the time to start drew nigh. Some were happy to see there was a 3:10 pacer given none had been listed on the website. Others saw my name on my pacer singlet and immediately asked me if I was the guy who had run 52 marathons in one year. I liked that question as it gave credence to my pedigree to take them to the promised-land: a Boston qualifying time (at least for 18-34 year old men).
I assured all we would not be running too fast to begin, that I would not run-walk, that I would not walk through aid-stations and that yes, I most assuredly would be carrying the three-foot dowel rod with a laminated piece of paper attached to the top, emblazoned with our goal time and mile pace, for the entire race.
Eagerness bursting forth from the seams, the race finally began.
Mile 1: 8:02
I barely had to say a single word as we went through this first mile in a seemingly slow pace. Every single runner looked at his/her watch and scoffed. We all knew the first mile marker was a little askew.
Mile 2: 6:53
When one mile is off, the next mile usually has to be as well. That was the case here as the average of the first two miles was just about what we wanted it to be. I pointed out the mile 2 on the side of the road which had been the impetus for me pacing.
One runner (named Dan, who pointed out his name was like mine minus the “e”; Thanks, Dan) seemed stunned I had just decided to run a few days before. I told him not to worry.
Mile 3: 7:02
A slight downhill and our first view of the coastline quickened our pace and our pulse. The crowd was still rather thick here as both marathoners and half-marathoners ran together. A few early-morning fans cheered us on as we left an off-ramp and entered Carlsbad.
Mile 4: 6:57
With our cumulative time at exactly 29:00 (or 7:15 minute pace) I turn to my group and say: “See? Stick with me.” I tell a few jokes and pass out a few morsels of advice. I turn around and run backward for a few steps to see what sort of group I have. It had grown.
Mile 5: 7:19
We finally catch the 1:35 half-marathon pace group leader who admittedly tells us they went out a smidgen too fast. Knowing we split courses soon, I jokingly ask the pace group leader if he knows exactly where the real runners peel off.
Mile 6: 7:24
Up the first decent hill since mile 1, we take it down just a notch to steady ourselves for the first real hills of the course. I tell everyone that I have studied the course and this will be the hardest part.
Mile 7: 7:19
I turn to Chad, an airman in the Air Force and ask him to hold the pace sign. You see, his pace leader has to pee (and had since the start of the race). As I saw some bushes and we were a little off the beaten-path, I do my best to help prevent forest fires. I then blame Chad for our pace being 4 seconds off once I catch up and take the sign from him again.
Mile 8: 7:10
And then I go 5 seconds too fast. Up a hill. Whoops.
Mile 9-10: 14:35
Giving more tips to my runners about how to tackle an uphill as we crest the biggest hill on the course, I totally miss the mile 9 marker. Hitting the 10th mile, I tell everyone we are now well past 1/3 of the way done and into double digits.
Mile 11: 6:45
As we go down the very hills we just went up, we pick up some speed. I still feel like I am holding back so much. Man, I love downhills. We see some of the other pace groups on the other side of the road and pass yet another early-starting pace group. I smack the pace group leader on the tush with my sign and tell her to pick it up.
Mile 12: 6:54
I notice for the first time a gentleman right off of my right shoulder. No matter how fast or slow I move he is always there. It is sort of annoying when I try to speed up to get a glass of water and get out of the way of the rest of the running group and he speeds up as well, directly in my way. I ask him his name and he simply says "Demsas". Not sure if he is rude, focused or foreign but he says nothing more.
Mile 13: 7:04
My group has thinned a little bit but we also picked up some runners who had been in front of us. I tell them to fall in-step behind and use me to break the wind in front of them. It makes no sense to run alone in a group, I say. When I add I am here to be used this morning, it is met with a few chuckles. One young fella named Andrew says he wants to qualify for Boston. I tell him if he sticks with me, he will.
Mile 14: 7:13
We catch up to a well-built man who I saw at the beginning of the race. He tells me we are running a little bit too fast. I tell him he is wrong. I’ll trust my 72 marathons worth of experience over his GPS any day.
Mile 15: 7:22
The cool morning temps have warmed a bit and the crystal blue sky means no cloud cover. My group is down to about 8 or so. I tell them to work together and start sharing secrets on how to not think about the miles. I warn them about making sure they drink as it is deceptively warm.
Mile 16: 7:42
The last big hill of the whole course has me telling everyone to ease into it and enjoy. Alison, a female from Tucson (who I also think is also in the armed forces) has been running strong all day. At one point I tell her she is in third place. She says she thinks she is in fifth. I tell her she is wrong.
Mile 17: 7:14
We pass the 2nd place girl on the downhill. Won’t these people learn to listen to me? ;)
Mile 18: 7:23
Down to about 4 or 5 people, I am torn between shouting a lot of encouragement to those behind us who are faltering or paying attention to those holding the pace. Every runner we lose I take as a personal loss. I want to finish in a group of 20 and have a group hug at the end. I love hugging at the end of a marathon.
Mile 19: 7:20
Alison, Chad and Sam (a friend from the internet who I met for the first time in person) all fall back. I yell back that they can all keep with us. I think it falls on deaf ears. Sam totally has an excuse. He ran a marathon the day before in 3:17!!
Mile 20: 7:17
Andrew, whose labored breath I can hear, Desmas and I are all that remain of the original group. I tell them we only have 3 separate 2-mile runs to go. Anyone can run two miles. Think of nothing but those two miles.
Mile 21: 7:08
Desmas actually pulls me along a little faster than I wanted to do. He is chomping at the bit. I tell him he can soar ahead if he feels good and he almost immediately falls to my side again. Andrew says he feels tired. I tell him he is supposed to. It’s a marathon.
We pick up Rich from Denver who looks strong.
Mile 22: 7:00
We all stroke a little too fast during this mile, partially from the adrenaline of dodging half-marathon walkers. I thoroughly relish being able to yell "Walkers to the RIGHT, please!" without recourse as well, that is my job today.
I then yell “Thank you. Looking great!”, lest you think I am a total prick.
Andrew disappears in spite of my encouragement.
Mile 23: 7:10
Andrew reappears. Rich from Denver tells him that is the way to run!
Mile 24: 7:20
Rich falls back. Andrew slips behind me. Desmas leads the charge up a small steep hill. More walkers in our way having me shouting more than I wish to, wasting energy I would rather be using to encourage my guys.
Mile 25: 7:24
Desmas runs very wide on a turn and I yell at him to get back inside as he is running too damn far (and much further than he needs to. I now am using my dowel-rod sign as a pointer to show Desmas the cracks in the half-marathoner walkers that we are weaving through.
Mile 26: 7:09
Our quicker pace puts me near the finish sooner than I wanted to. Desmas and I are alone.
Mile .2: 1:44
Jim the pace guy comes out of the crowd and begins to run the last 100 yards or so with me. He asks me how I am and I tell him great.
I wave to the crowd, cross the timing mat, grab the top of the dowel rod and plant it into the cement like I just claimed this land for Spain.
The clock read 3:09:59. My chip time is 3:09:50.
I hand the 3:10 sign to Desmas (3:09:44 Chip time) and give him a big hug. The announcer mentioned Desmas’ name and he receives a big cheer.
I smile and give a slight wave to the crowd when the announcer does the same for me. I then turn around and look for Andrew. I see him sprinting along and he passes the finish with 16 seconds to spare in 3:10:44. Andrew is going to Boston! (I later learn his chip time was 3:08:58; he qualified by over two minutes!). Andrew gives me a huge hug and thanks me for getting him there. I tell him I just provided the pace for the training that already existed in him. Then I say he better try and find a hotel in Boston real soon.
Alison finished in 3:14:40. This was good enough not only for second place overall but was a three minute PR!
I received this email from her late in the week:
"Subject: Thank You!!
Just managed to track down your e-mail address (thanks to the very cool Fiddy2 website you've got). I really wanted to say thanks again (when I wasn't so out of breath) for all of your help on Sunday. I was feeling so good running with you guys through 19 and then something (perhaps a wall) hit me and I needed to slow down a bit. I'm still so happy with the PR (and 2nd place!) and running with you for so long was absolutely key to both of those things. So, thanks so much for your encouragement and help - it really made the race for me.
It was great to meet and run with you. Good luck with your move! "
It appears my sign-holder Chad had a rough go at the end, falling off the pace for a 3:37. I hope he rebounds and runs his 3:10 soon.
All told, in a week that, personally, was one of the most difficult I have ever experienced, the marathon was spectacular for my mental recovery. Hopefully, as time passes, I will forget the troubles I went through this week, my stolen items will be found and all that will remain is the good memories of 26.2 miles.
And Dick, you can breathe a sigh of relief now. Your record is probably safe for quite some time.