Monday, January 16, 2006

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

First I want to express my thanks to all of you who were kind enough to send me good wishes before and cheers after the race, I've been overwhelmed that people (other than me) really care about my progress and read this blog. My best goes out to all of you, and here's to a great year of running.

It's so great to have the race behind me, and to have put another stepping-stone down in front of me on the path of what I hope leads to me reaching my ultimate potential as a runner (or as near as I can get to it). There's still a long ways to go, but I think after struggling with different training regimens I've finally found a way that works for me in the Lydiard method.

The race was surreal. Knowing that Haille Gebrselassie was on the second half of the course, en route to a new half-marathon world record heightened the electricity, and while I'm not a fan of mega-marathons, the parking, buses, porta-john and start line facilities were above reproach. I drove up the evening before with my friend Lucas, who was running the half, and we stayed with my parents in Mesa where we had a nice, low-key dinner. As I sat with Lucas on a bench a short distance from the start I stared at a hand-writtten pace chart, with times from 5:58 per mile up to 6:06. After my long marathon pace runs, I thought I would be towards the lower times, but time would tell.

I hopped the gate into corral 1 at the close of the National Anthem, and the siren went off not a minute later. Prior results indicated I would be around the top 30, so I was immediately taken aback to see 60+ runners sprinting away from me. Needless to say, I got caught up in it and doubted my own pacing. I was rewarded with a 5:44 first mile, which was a bad move. Mile 2 and three went by in 5:55 and 5:49, and by now I was ten steps off the women's lead group. After mile 4 passed in 5:56 I realized they were settling into my goal pace so I edged up to a few steps behind them. While I have no problem pacing off the women's leaders, I feel that running within their pack, drafting and affecting their movements by being too close compromises their race. Miles 5-7 went by quickly in 6:03, 5:59 and 6:03, and I was feeling very good about my placement. We were beginning to pass runners now, and my lungs and legs felt fine. Miles 8-10 followed suit in 6:00, 5:58, and 5:58, but about halfway through mile 10 the women's lead pack started to get edgy, as a group of 4-5 Ethiopians started to toy with three women running alone with them. As one woman missed her bottle, the pack surged to try to rid themselves of her. I trailed off a little to give them more room, and soon after mile 10 found myself on their heels. They were racing now, using tactics to bring the weaker runners to the front by slowing down. I knew an even pace was my only chance, as that was how I had rehearsed these runs, so I forged ahead alone. When mile 11 passed in 6:11 and I had put about 5 seconds on the women, I knew I had made the right call as they must have dropped 15 seconds in one mile. I also had a feeling I would see them later, knowing their finishing times from last year. Miles 12-14 passed in 5:54, 5:59 and 5:55, and as I closed in on the next marker I started to feel a little under pressure. I knew I was at 6 minute pace at this point and I had some time to lose, so I started to back off just a little to hopefully regain my composure. 6:09 and 6:11 for 15 and 16 followed. Here the elite women suddenly zoomed past, running about 5:40 pace and looking great. "There's a lesson to be learned here", I thought to myself.

The stampede past me broke me out of my stupor, and 17-19 passed in 6:05, 6:08 and 6:04. If I could just hold on to this pace I would finish somewhere between 2:37 and 2:39. This sounded good, but the legs were starting to give. Both adductors were getting incredibly sore from bringing my legs up, and my calves, which have never given me any trouble, were tightening fast. 6:14 for mile 20. I've run 20 miles at precisely 6:01 pace, two more than my longest pace run and I'm done. Shit! Shit! Shit! It was slipping away, fast. All the favorable conditions of the first half of the race were exacting equal payment back. I'm not blaming the wind, we got as much as we gave, the timing of it just really sucked.

We were on a interminably long stretch of wide road now, battling McClintock Avenue for almost 4 miles straight. I could see the overpass in the distance that marked about the 24.5 mile mark. Seven lanes of desolation, punctuated by water-stops and horrible country bands. "So this is how it ends, with me grinding to a halt and giving back 10 minutes in six miles." It's not pretty, I'm feeling sorry for myself, and I'm biting down on my lip until the inside of my mouth bleeds to give me something other than my legs to focus on. Mile 21-22 in 6:12 and 6:15. I'm back to 10 seconds over per mile but it costs me. Mile 23 in 6:24 and I've given two miles of gains right back. The sad cliche, go out too hard, feel great and tempt fate, pay the price and crumple. But I'm still passing people. I've gone by three during my suffering, and I see three more. I remember hearing echoes of the announcer at the halfway point annoncing an Arizona runner going through about a minute or so before me. Was he still ahead? There's $1,000 for first Arizonan, $500 for second, plus the same amounts for Maricopa county residents.

It's not for money, it's not because I was dumb enough to write a concrete goal into my blog, it's not pride. Mile 24 in 5:34 and I don't know what the hell is going on. It can't be right, but I'm going through the underpass now and I can see the corner where we turn right onto University and directly into the headwind. I cut the turn so tight I almost knock two kids over, I can't run straight and I can't think straight. Mile 25 in 7:20, it begins to make sense as surely the last marker was off (I later average the two for 6:20 apiece). Singlet flapping, head forward, a look at the clock shows just over 7 minutes for the last 1.2 miles. There are tears, and for a second I just wish it was already too late so I could slow down.

Then I approach the metal band. Twice as loud as the rest, probably twice as bad. I push on, the form is gone, it's all guts. I see the turn that leads to the sidestreets that lead eventually to the finish. I'm still at least 400 meters from the mile mark but I make a stand. The legs are shaking as I stomp forward, sprinting now (if you can call it that). I see the clock at mile 26, I have 1:14 to make it. When I ran that short 10K that was really 6 miles someone said, "Just add a minute". For some reason I think of this and still believe I have a chance, though .2 miles after 26 is certainly different. I round the final turn and I see 2:39:50 above the line and I'm still down the road. Tunnel vision as I stomp ahead, then it's finally over.

I wasn't even sure I'd made it, but "Mike in Boston", a commenter here and on letsrun.com found me and introduced himself afterwards. He'd watched Geb get the record by riding his bike to different places on the course and had seen my finish and told me I'd made it. It was nice to meet him, and it was also nice to see my parents after the race. My dad had endured plenty of poor cross-country showings by me as well as an imfamous state-championship two mile race where I was lapped and pulled from the race.

But that was me before Arthur Lydiard.

21 comments:

Hunter said...

What a great run!

Thomas said...

"I'm biting down on my lip until the inside of my mouth bleeds to give me something other than my legs to focus on". Blimey, that's determination.

You know the "mistake" you made early on and you will know to avoid it next time.

That was a fantastic race. Congratulations.

Zeke said...

Awesome report! Sub-2:40. No one can take that away from you. Way to go!!!

Scooter said...

Great report!
The part of your post where you said, "I don't know what the hell is going on", made me think of Buddy Edelen in Frank Murphy's "A Cold, Clear Day" where Edelen's running Yonkers in '64 (the Olympic Trials) and Murphy has him repeating "just don't fall off the road." (A book to seek out if you haven't read it.) A quick start and tactical racing happening around you was a difficult circumstance. You did well in spite of it! Again, Congrats!

Anonymous said...

Hey, nice to meet you, too!

I want to mention to everyone (since modesty may be preventing Mike from doing so) that he was flying at the end compared to everyone else around him. Toughing out those months with Lydiard sure made for a strong finish.

Awesome job!

Mike Galib (aka mikeinboston)

Thomas Sørensen said...

WOW!!!. I'm actually a little bit moved, I can feel the beginning of a tear in the outside of my eyes. I'm so happy you made it just under 2:40. What an accomplishment. Congratulations. You are one determined bugger.

Bart said...

Wow, Mike, what a great report! I could almost feel your pain through the final miles.

angie's pink fuzzy said...

Oh my god, that was riveting. Thrilling. And I loved how you ended it - "that was me before Arthur Lydiard."

Congratulations!!!!!!!

Mr Carter said...

well done mike, what a finish! wish i had guts like that.

tb1 said...

Congatulations Mike! Not only does your story sound great, you actually put the newspaper to shame with that blow by blow account of a portion of the women's race. You da man!

Duncan Larkin said...

You can't congratulate a person enough for putting determined pen to clean-slate paper to worn shoes at 4am to reality. Your posting did what all good writing does, it put me and the rest of us right there with you as you gutted it out -- stride for stride. Recover well, and looking forward to reading about the next plan of attack. Nothing's impossible Mike.

Johnny Lyons said...

Brilliant!!! I can still feel the determination you wrote about. Congrats!!!

brian said...

Congratulations Mike! That's the way to suck it up and reach your goal!

Love2Run said...

Amazing post Mike! Thanks for sharing this awesome race. The sheer guts it took to pull it off and keep on steaming ahead is inspiring to runners of all levels. Never give up, never say die and never stop running!!

Anonymous said...

Wow! You were cranking at 5:30 pace for that final 1:12! Awesome!
Get that pacing thing right and you'll be well below 2:40 next time.
Great job!

MarathonMind

ronin said...

Congrats to your race and overall running improvement. As I said earlier, you're an inspiration to many, especially with your management of the family duties.
Just a little obvious comment from a little faster admirer: next time hold yourself back in the first half, no matter what. It's so much better when you storm past people at the fashion of the elite women did past you, than to be passed. But you know that, I am sure.
Good job!

D said...

Incredible Mike! Congratulations!

olga said...

Great run! What a feeling!

Mike said...

Thank you everyone, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't glad it was over! tb1, congrats on your run, a marathon is a real achievement in and of itself, and I respect and admire that you saw it through. I hope you come back for more! Scooter, "A Cold, Clear Day" is on my reading list, a half.com seller flaked out and thus it didn't make it under the X-mas tree. Ronin, you are right, and hopefully I can get it right next time, slowing down is no fun.

Flatman said...

Wow...great race and a great report! Thanks for sharing your journey with us!!!

Rae said...

Awesome job, what an amazing finish!