Sunday, October 24, 2010

Running for the Bay Marathon Recap

A Runner's Ramblings: Volume 5; 33rd Edition 
881.2 miles raced; 350 yards swam and 9 miles biked in 2010
Race: Running for the Bay Marathon
Place: Apalachicola, FL
Miles from home: 2081 miles
Weather: 70-80s; Bright sunshine; very windy

Sure there were some snafus. But the medals were pretty.  And honestly, people will remember medals long after they forget that the course could have had a few more manned aid stations or that the leaders were misdirected on the course on an occasion or two.  I don't mean to be flippant with the medal comment but my point is that the human mind romanticizes the good in the events in our lives and often forgets that bad things.  This is necessary in order to get through life.

With the Running for the Bay Marathon, there lies great potential. I mention the medal earlier because having a good medal means a great deal and not just in the "Hey, this is pretty!"sort of way.  No, the finisher's medal shows an attention to detail and care by the race organizers to the desires of its participants.  It shows they care enough to try and please their runners.  Heck, this race even had multiple-Olympian Keith Brantly come and speak to the participants at dinner.  Even if the runners may not have known who he was at first  (a knock on the knowledge of the average runner and not Mr. Brantly himself) it is an effort that means a great deal in country of nearly 500 marathons and far less attention spans.

Personally, this race presented a chance for me to do one of two things.  First, I wanted to run a 3:02 marathon simply because I have never run that time.  I have run every other time from 2:58 to 3:31 but I have never run a 3:02.  When I stated these intentions a few in the know said that a 3:02 would probably be enough to win the marathon outright.  Of course, now that thought was in my head.  So I said if it was close enough at the end, I would eschew the 3:02 and go for the "W" but the pace I would set from the start would be 3:02.  I could see that the weather would be warm, far more humid than my body can function in ideally and promised to be also produce a cloudless sky.  All things not in my favor.  In addition, as the weekend wore on and a lot more energy was being expended in places I was not expecting, I doubted a 3:02 would happen at all. Nevertheless, a 7:00 minute mile was the plan.  I shared this with tons of people at the expo the day before the race, listened to their stories and met, as usual, a ton of awesome people.
As the race settled into the final few minutes before the gun, I took a few seconds to thank both Scott Elder and Marshall McClanahan of Freedom Sports.  Not only had they allowed me to join them and lead their weekly Thursday night Bridge Run in Panama City in the days before the race, they had more or less chauffeured me around all weekend.  I could not thank them enough and would be hard pressed to think of two nicer guys to run a running and triathlon sports store.  It is no surprise that athletes in the general vicinity drive two hours to visit their store for sports needs. And through Marshall's daughter, Kelsi, I learned that Arkansas Tech might have the greatest mascot name ever- the Wonder Boys (I am SO getting a t-shirt with that on it.)

First 6 Miles: 7:09, 6:58, 7:07, 6:54, 7:33, 6:53

After the gun was fired for the solo wheelchair competitor the rest of us lined up for our start.  I usually avoid the front of the line, realizing that not many runners get to start right at the front of a race but here no one seemed to want to move up.  So I took the initiative and moved up along with an Air Force runner Nathan who I had met the previous day.  I knew he would be in the running for the overall victory as well so I thought it would be best to keep him in sight. With the signaled "GO!" Nathan, an older gentleman, and myself shot out.  Within meters the older gentleman who, not to judge a book by its cover, did not appear to be in the appropriate place, took the lead.  However, within 100 meters, he fell back and Nathan took over.

Having looked over the course extensively, I was a little taken aback when we streamed past what I thought was the first turn we would take before climbing the biggest hill of the course, up onto the Gorrie Bridge.  I asked a cyclist on the corner, who had the air of a race official, if this was the turn and she said "Go straight!"  About 100 meters later I turned my shoulder and saw that everyone else was making the turn.  "Mother trucker," I thought - or close.  I screamed forward to Nathan and when he turned I motioned with my hand that we needed to turn around.  We didn't exactly run a mile off of course but this was a rather inauspicious start.

Climbing the bridge in darkness, Nathan passed me and we soon passed the entire field save one runner in front.  With an almost full moon lighting our way through the darkness, I settled into a pace that felt good and ignored both the bad start and the grumbling in my tummy.  We slipped into a steady stream of about 5 or 6 runners in a row and plodded through the night on the completely flat causeway which would also be where we would return about 2 hours later.  I wondered how warm it would be here as I was already sweating profusely.  I knew the present saving grace of the wind cooling us would probably be a hindrance later in the race but did my best to enjoy it here.

Finally, the grumbling took over all thoughts and I had to duck into the portapotty and take care of business.  If I had waited much longer, I am pretty sure I would have had a brand new problem to deal with.  Fortunately, my break only slowed me for about a minute and it appeared just two runners passed me.  I was soon back in the hunt and tracking them down.

To the Half: 6:58, 6:57, 7:05, 7:05, 7:20, 7:16, 7:12

Getting off of this bridge and onto the mainland again gave the runners both a respite from the wind but also a change of terrain and scenery.  I knew we would be soon crossing the Bryant Patton Bridge (at 6.6km, it’s the third longest bridge in Florida) on our way to St. George Island.  As such, this would allow me a chance to test out my wheels on a slightly windy road and try to lasso in the runners in front of me.  Nearing the bridge, I had done just that and with the turnaround for the half-marathon having passed, it looked like one of the runners in front of me had been running the half as I no longer saw him climbing onto the bridge in front of me.  I soon passed one runner and was within footfalls of another when I turned my head east and saw the brilliant red and hazy sun erupting from the coastline.  Pretty gorgeous indeed.  Unfortunately, this position was where I would remain.  In spite of picking up the pace, I gained nothing on the runner immediately in front of me, even while those in the lead were getting closer.  I had a feeling the runner in front of me might actually be harder to pass than the leaders when all was said and done.

Crossing over first a large bump in this bridge and then a smaller one almost at the island, I could feel my energy beginning to ebb a little.  I knew we had approximately four miles on St. George Island to run before turning back onto the bridge and wanted to use this virtually pancake flat section to see what I had left in the tank.  Unfortunately it did not feel like I had much and soon, after passing the halfway point, the runners in front of me became much smaller.

To Mile 20: 7:17, 7:32, 8:11, 7:43, 8:05,  8:07, 8:04

Once again on the Patton Bridge, I had a surprisingly fast mile even with an uphill.  Here was where I came to a realization that while the race was obviously experiencing some growing pains in some areas, that it had nailed the mile markers.  More often than not, markers can be a little askew. But every one of these markers appeared to be exactly where they should be.  However, that realization was soon placed with another - that it was far hotter than I wanted it to be, my stomach was not happy and I was going to throw up.  Right before the 17th mile, I heard footsteps and upon turning my head was pleasantly surprised that it was the lead woman, Jacqueline. A gem of a girl I had met the previous day at my book signing, I could not have been happier that she was winning.  She told me I had kept her up the previous night before laughing and say "I mean your book did!" A few volunteers at the aid station laughed at this exchange.

She motioned for me to stay with her and I told her I would try in just minute.  When she got another 100 yards away I was faced with a decision: puke on the road and make other poor runners have to sidestep as they ran on the shoulder of the bridge or feed the fishes.  Fishes it was as I emptied the contents of my stomach over the side of the Patton Bridge and prayed no fisherman was passing under at the time.

Feeling instantly better I made an executive decision: I was not going to repeat my Maui experience of complete dehydration, cramps and nearly not finishing.  So it was time to slow down and run 8 minute miles.  As Jacqueline pulled away a little bit I settled into what I figured would be my pace for the rest of the race.  No victory, no 3:02, but also no med tent would be in my future.

To the Finish: 8:22, 7:51, 7:32, 7:41, 8:00, 7:30, 1:21

After an initial surge, I could see that without speeding up, I was falling back into Jacqueline's elongated slipstream. So, I kicked it up a few notches but only after leaving an aid station manned by cyclist who said "Tailwind the rest of the way" to which I retorted "And I look great and it is nothing but downhill from here on out, right?" to loud laughter.  As we made a left turn and began the long straightaway towards home with about 4 miles left, I approached Jacqueline.  She told me her legs were hurting.  I replied, in an extremely corny way, but which can be forgiven at mile 20 of a marathon, that her feet probably were hurting as well from all the ass-kicking she was doing.  She smiled but I could tell she wasn't lying - she was giving her all.  That was when I made my second executive decision of the day - I was going to run with Jacqueline all the way until the end of the race.

As we ran side by side, I did my best to dispense as many tidbits of advice I could to keep her mind off these last few miles.  In my conversation with her (where I instructed her to only listen or, at most, nod) I found that not only was this her first marathon in the state of Florida but it was, wait for it, her first marathon ever!  By now we were at mile 24 and I was as giddy for her as I think anyone could be.  I looked over my shoulder and saw no one but the occasional half-marathoner we were passing.  I told her to begin taking in this moment.  Very few people get to win marathons outright, let alone in their first ever and she needed to take in every ounce of this special day.  That was when she said something almost inaudible that made my heart leap.

"It's my birthday."

Are you freaking kidding me?!  This is awesome.  With one mile left, and Jacqueline's husband appearing in the horizon pushing their two children in a running stroller (yep, first time marathoner, leading the Running for the Bay Marathon, was also a mother of two - what's your excuse again?) she turned to me and said: "How can I thank you?"  I told her she had already given me the best ending to one of my recaps ever- I owed her!

We neared the finish and I began shouting to those in attendance that this was the first female and to give her cheers.  I kept telling her to savor the moment as there will be few sweeter things than this.  Sure she was sore, tired and ready to be done but this only happens once.  As we neared the finish, I pulled back a few steps and let her cross the line alone.  My biggest complaint was that there was no tape for her to break. I say this over and over again to races - it doesn't matter if it is only a piece of kite string- have something there for the winner to break.

But literal or figurative tape aside, winning the marathon, on a windy, humid and warm day in a time of 3:15:49 and taking either 5th or 6th overall (there appears to be a slight discrepancy in one of the finishers ahead of her athat I am checking into) Jacqueline was one of my new favorite people.  I had the pleasure of being the first one to get a hug from her before she turned to her husband and embraced him as well.

On a day where I had to re-evaluate my own personal goals, and had the potential to have a disappointing day, I ended up with one of my favorite marathon memories of all time.

Thank you, Jacqueline for being an integral part of that.  I hope the rest of your racing experiences are just as sweet.


Opaczewski said...

Good man. Great re-cap. Great ending.

Julie said...

I love this! Way to go Dane and Jacqueline!

Unknown said...

Dane, loved this write up. I am so glad you came to run in Florida and hope you will be back. What a great memory for you and certainly Jacqueline.

lmische said...

Tears of joy for Jacqueline and a belated Happy Birthday shoutout! And for Dane, you rock for being there w/her and sharing the story!

Unknown said...

Hi! Wife of "Air Force runner Nathan" here (not Navy, but easy mistake since you probably met lots of Navy guys). Awesome recount of the marathon. Definitely going to print this one out for the memories. I also started tearing up when you guys crossed the finish line. It was an emotional run! Come back again next year when they have the kinks worked out!


Yellow Scuba said...

What a great story for Jacqueline! Wow! Congratulations to her, and kudos to you, Dane, for supporting her to the line. You certainly found the silver lining to that race.

Unknown said...

Way to go Jackie! Everyone is so proud of you back home. Thanks for the encouragement Dane.
-Ben & Katie

Hannah said...

I love it. What an awesome awesome race once it was all said and done. Incredible! Gives me chills!

Unknown said...

Jacqueline is one of my best friends, and this doesn't surprise me, SHE IS NOT HUMAN! haha
We are so excited for her and I know she will never forget you...thanks for sharing!

malvs2walk said...

It was a great pleasure to meet you at the race expo! Great recap of a tough event..., and congrats on a fantastic finish!
What an awesome feeling that must have been for Jacqueline... winning her first ever marathon on her birthday!

Unknown said...

In 6 short days and on the eve of your next marathon, Dane, my life and more has changed because of you and your generous recap of my first 26.2. My twin (the real running star in the family) was moved to tears and has, unbelievably, laced up her sneakers again (joy). Relatives, old friends and new friends are connected, inspired, excited and kind (imagine the flurry of well wishes from missed loved ones and new friends). My parents are beaming, two of my employees now goes on. And all of this, NOT because I texted, e-mailed or announced that I completed or even won my first marathon. No, each is so moved ONLY after reading your beautiful blog. So, I ask you again, how can I thank you?

Dane said...

Thanks everyone!

Your comment was thanks enough, Jacqueline.

Unknown said...

Great race dude!!! I'm glad I was there to witness the emotions that were at the finish line. Such a great day for Jacqueline.