August, 12, 2007Finish: 4:09:34 / 9:30 pace
1st Place Overall (of 1 plus a bunch of pacers)
1st Place Age Group M30-39
1st Half: 2:05:59
2nd Half: 2:03:35
Even though August was to be the final month in my quest at Marathon-A-Month for a year and a month to culminate the accomplishment of a goal set a year earlier, I wasn’t looking forward to it. August in New England, with its hazy, hot and humid days, is known more for its after-work fun runs and weekend scorcher 5K’s than its endurance events. Marathons are few and, in the case of August, far between – so far that there are none anywhere for the entire region.
As excited as I was about being on the verge of completing this journey of 12 marathons in 12 months, the unfortunate alignment of calendar and lack of races had me contemplating extending the Marathon-A-Month streak another month or two so that I could have a more proper celebration during a more official event, because in the back of my mind I knew I’d have to throw my own event to get me through August.
And that’s just it: August was lining up to be something to get through, nothing more. I looked upon the marathon landscape toward September and October for official completion of this goal. But I still had to do something with August – I couldn’t just skip it. I knew it would involve running marathon distance; I only hoped I could rope a few of my running pals to join the charge.
As the first few days of August marched on, I started mentally preparing for running marathon distance and shifting focus to continue the streak another month or two. August would be low-key with no fanfare or support, for this I was sure. That’s when I decided I would go back to the town of Wakefield, MA and run the USATF certified course used as the Lord Wakefield Marathon, the exact course I ran as my July marathon – month number 11 – a few weeks earlier.
The only part remaining was to pick a date. Knowing I had Timberman Half Iron, a B-race for me, in the middle of the month, and knowing that John (LRR), my good running buddy, would not be available the weekend after Timberman and also the last weekend in the month, I decided on the date Sunday, August 12. It would be a date that would enable my closest running friends, minus my buddy Andy, to keep me company. Since Timberman was only a B-race, maybe even C, I wasn’t worried about tapering or having to race it on “marathon” legs. August 12th it was.
Days before my unofficial non-event marathon distance run for which I was none too excited, I sent out a note to my small running group to see who wanted to keep me company. The official marathon route I was to run consisted of eight 5K loops around Lake Quannapowitt plus one mile, so it would be ideal for folks to join in any distance they wanted; they could chose by number of loops. Three buddies gracefully agreed to join for anywhere between 1 and 3 loops. Another two were non-committal but said they’d try to show for a loop or two. Another dozen proclaimed, “You’re a fook’n nut!” but sent good luck wishes anyway. By then I envisioned running solo for the last 3 or 4 laps, and because this wasn’t all that appealing, I decided that before I could talk myself out of it and thus blow my marathon-a-month on the very last month, I decided to make the best of it and prepare myself for a long and possibly boring yet challenging run. To make it appetizing, I came up with the idea to bring a lawn chair and a beer so that after I finished, I could lounge under a tree by the side of the lake and crack a beer, all by my lonesome, and nibble on a PowerBar. What a combination. I was sure I would celebrate by myself. And now that I was mentally prepared, I finally started to look forward to it.
Only at that point in my preparations, little did I know just how this ordinary non-event would turn into the most memorable “official” marathon I would ever run, and it just got better and better as each loop around the lake unfolded, to where the very last was something I will never, to the end of the world, ever forget. It was that amazing.
A quarter to 5 race morning I awoke with not a jitter in my bones. This was just a very long run, I told myself. I’ve done the distance before – 11 times in the last 11 months to be precise. I will have a cooler filled with water and Gatorade and Bananas and Gu’s and even salt tabs and PowerBars. It was just a long self-supported run. Maybe a few folks would show up to keep me company. Yeah, maybe.
Up and right at the early morning, I washed a banana down with a full 20-ounce glass of water and nibbled on a PowerBar between getting dressed, taping my nipples, and filling my cooler and stocking my hydration belt.
Because running friends Roger and Jean had gracefully agreed to join me for a 5:30 AM start for two loops (of 8 total), I had to get to race site at least 10 minutes earlier so that I could tag on the extra mile so that I could complete the marathon distance at the end of the eighth lap.
I arrived at the Lord Wakefield Hotel at 5:15 AM and pulled into a parking spot away from the hotel, right along water’s edge. Promptly I put my cooler outside the car, locked up, and got ready to run. Before firing the imaginary gun to begin the race, I knew I still had something to do – something to show appreciation, something to make it official. I placed my right hand over my heart and attempted best I could to remember the National Anthem. “O say, can you see,” I sang to myself, “…and the flag was still there…” I laughed at how corny I can be sometimes and skipped to the end, “…and the home of the brave!” With that I clicked my watch and started the lonely mile (7:45) into the darkness of the morning. It would be the fastest mile of the day. But it would also be the loneliest.
Just as I re-entered the hotel parking lot to complete the mile, I was able to make out a car parked beside mine. As advertise, it was Roger and Jean. How cool was it that they would keep me company at 5:30 on a Sunday morning? I was stoked. We shook hands. “Ready?” I asked. Roger yawned. Jean nodded. “Let’s get this over with.” We were off.
The sun, a mere trace on the horizon during the first loop around the lake, cast a magnificent orange glow indicating the day would be hot. Although this also meant a hot morning, I wasn’t worried because my July marathon, run on this very course, had a race time start temperature of 92F with extreme humidity. I took a gulp of Gatorade from one of the bottles in my hydration belt and chatted much of the first loop away, still having no idea just what was about to unfold before me.
Jean talked about the New York City Marathon. She had run it back in 1991, and since I had run it in ’94, we reminisced about the hills of Central Park. We agreed that they can come out of nowhere. Roger told me he was training for Reach the Beach, and just as I was telling him he had to talk with John, who should be joining us in a lap or two, because he too was doing Reach the Beach, a mini-van pulled along side us. It was John!
As John slowed the van down to our pace, he held out a white rectangular sheet of paper. “Here,” he said motioning for me to take it. “It’s not a race unless you have a number.” I laughed at my jokester friend and grabbed the sheet of paper. I couldn’t believe. It was a race number – number 97.
“Got a few more surprises,” John said as he drove away toward the hotel. After he was gone, I held the number up for all to see. “Hey,” Jean said as she pointed at the number, “That’s today’s date!” Scribbled in permanent marker beneath the number was today’s date: “August 12, 2007” Along the top read ‘Quannapowitt Marathon.’
Unbeknownst to me, and still shy of completing the first of eight laps around the lake, the fun and the miracle that was to become the most memorable marathon I would ever run, was just beginning.
At the completion of Loop 1 (37:36, ~4.1 miles), we picked up John. He told a bunch of jokes while we plodded on. The sun, although still low, was now completely lighting the way. On the other side of the lake, fish flopped and jumped as if feeding time. Speaking of feeding, it was during this time when John mentioned that there would be an official Pancake Breakfast. As much as I knew to never doubt him, I couldn’t believe he would or could arrange that. I was sure of it; after all, he was slated to run 3 laps with me, which would leave him another two hours; surely he wouldn’t hang around.
By the end of Loop 2 (31:57, ~7.2 miles) we picked up Kim, the very best Bunghole Surfer this side of the Corn patch. Kim is an absolute blast to run with. Not only is she witty, she also has a quick mind for comebacks and loves to joke. She’s brought much laughter into the few runs we’ve done together, and on this morning it would be no different.
The cast of running characters grew. In came Flying Frankie for Loop 3 (31:27 ~10.3 miles), then Lori and Kathleen for Loop 4 (28:46 ~13.4), at the end of which we picked up Paul for Loop 5 (30:29 ~16.5) and beyond. Gator Girl Shawn played tricks on us by going the other way for Loop 6 (27:14 ~19.6). And before you knew it, John, with a knowing grin and saying nothing more than, “there’s few more surprises in store,” signed off to start preparations on the Pancake Breakfast. He wasn’t kidding, because by the time we came around again, this time with Frankie finishing up his stint, the smell of sizzling bacon greeted us, and it did with the completion of each lap.
Kim was the first to hit the pancakes, as she had to scat early for a day at the beach. Meanwhile, Paul and Lori and Kathleen were seeing me through my next loop. By Loop 7 (31:24 ~22.7), Paul dropped off for home, leaving me and Lori as my lone stable-mate. This was also when the heat was starting to bear down. I was putting away much more water and Gatorade than normal, but since I was still sweating, I worried little about it. However, my legs were really starting to tire and my lower back, from all the running on concrete sidewalk, starting to fatigue.
Knowing there was only one lap remaining, I ignored the pain and instead thought about just what it took to run 12 marathons in 12 months. Before I got too far along that path, I kept falling back to a few thoughts.
When before starting this day I had been saddened that a more formal celebration for completing my Marathon-A-Month would have to wait another month or two, I now realized that what was unfolding before me was more fitting, and more in line with a proper celebration, for it was the more proper of them all, because of the friendship earned of years of running together.
Here I was, running with Lori, The Diesel, while John and Gator Girl were back at race site preparing a celebration with pancakes, and my other running friends came to help me get to this point, it was then when I started to realize just how special this really was. Like being a part of history, my personal history, and knowing it while it was happening, I knew – I just knew! – this was a day and a marathon, an official marathon, the 2007 Quannapowitt Marathon of Friendship, I would never, ever forget. I had the best of all worlds. I got to complete my quest at Marathon-A-Month for a year while running the very last in the warm embrace that is the friendship of running buddies. The only thing that could have made it better was if our other soldier in arms, the Andy-man, could have been there.
By the time I came out of deep thought, lap number 8 (30:32 – 26.2 miles) was nearly complete. Over the final mile, Lori told me to go on. “Finish strong,” she urged. To that I replied, “I am finishing strong… I’m running with you… I’m still talking… That IS strong!” I didn’t know how to say that I *wanted* to finish with her, with friends. The impact of just what I was about to accomplish was starting to hit me. I knew then that it was not about how fast we do things or how many age group medals we accumulate; it wasn’t about that at all. It was about how we do things and who we include that dictate the traces of memories and whether they will last a lifetime. It is something we chose, but also something we earn, over time, in the give and take that is friendship.
As Lori and I rounded the final corner, I looked expectantly way down by where Johnny Crocker had set up shop, way off to the side of the official finish line. Whereas earlier laps I saw him and Gator Girl working the stove, this time there was no movement. In fact, there was nobody.
Just then I saw movement over by the finish that was still an eighth of a mile away. Waving and shouting something, John and Shawn seemed spaced a few feet apart and holding something between themselves. As I we neared, my heart smiled with joy at what I saw. Between them they held yellow police caution tape, as if a ribbon, across the real finish line. “It’s a race,” I envisioned Johnny as saying, “someone has to break tape.”
At Lori’s urging – “Go, pick it up!” – I finally picked it up. Johnny, now straight ahead, yelled for me to sprint. As I picked up speed, the dreamer in me sensationalized the entire moment. I made crowd noises as if thousands of fans going wild. I blew a kiss to the crowd, then another, and pumped my fist. As I did, I saw John say something to a lady passing by. She stopped what she was doing and took an end of the caution tape from John. As I saw him step back and draw up a camera, I hooted and hollered and ran as fast as my legs would allow. Along the way was a guy walking toward the hotel. Upon hearing the noise, hearing me, hearing John and Shawn, he stopped to watch, as if he realized something special was going on. I pump my fist at my crowd of one and shouted: “Yeah, dog!” His smile sent me en route toward the finish, to my first career win, to my first place, and to the celebration of a goal completed among friends.
The moment before crossing the finish line and breaking tape came in slow motion. As if out of body, I saw myself from above, from the side, and then back from within. When the magical moment ended, I broke the tape for my first career win, even if it was in an event of one. One thing is certain: I could not have done it without the support of my running buddies.
Little did I know, even then, in the ever unfolding morning, the best was yet to come.
Immediately after busting through the police caution tape marking the finish line, my legs started to stiffen while the sweat, now that I had stopped running, began to stream. John and Shawn came over for a high five and distant non-sweaty hug. I was too thrust in the moment to notice the fatigue in the legs and the pain in my lower back.
The passerby lady who kindly assisted by holding the other end of the tape congratulated me, and just as she was leaving, I saw Lori come in with smiles. Behind her in the distance was our crowd support of one – the guy who had been cutting through to the hotel who noticed something special going on and stopped to watch. He was still looking on. He was still smiling. I waved over.
Just then John came up to me with something in his hand. “You won,” he said as he held up a shiny object. It was a medal, complete with red, white, and blue ribbon. He showed the front too quickly for a glimpse and flipped it over. “Here’s your finisher’s medal,” he said as he pointed at the back, where scrawled in permanent marker were the words “2007 Quannapowitt Marathon.” He flipped it back to the front, where I now saw “1st Place” embossed in metal. “You won… you came in first.” Just as the thrill of victory swelled my head, he added, “But you also came in last.” The agony of defeat didn’t last long. Because I knew that this medal meant far more than the thrill of any victory or even the agony of any defeat. It represented much more than that.
After cleaning up, I quickly made my way to the post race party. I was about to grab a seat under a shade tree when John put aside his Johnny Crocker duties to dig for something more. “One more thing,” he said holding up a shirt. “It’s not a race unless you have a t-shirt.” The shirt, an older Asics t-shirt, had permanently penned onto it: 2007 Quannapowitt Marathon.
There three of us – Lori (The Diesel), Shawn (Gator Girl), and I – sat in foldable lawn chairs while John whipped up a relaxing breakfast of champions including blueberry pancakes with syrup and orange juice and even a pat of butter.
At one point I started fumbling around, almost as if I were uncomfortable. That prompted John to look my way. “You don’t have to wear the medal,” he said.
“I know,” I replied then preceded to slip out of my shirt, on with my Finisher Shirt, and back on with the medal. “Yeah, I know… but I want to.”
As we chatted the morning away, I in my shirt with my medal around my neck, and John and Shawn in their official volunteer shirts – I kid you not – and Lori in… well, she was still in her sweaty gear… I thought about how there was no other way I’d rather end this journey than here, at the lake, among friends. I found it ironic that when I had started this day I never imagined it would end this way. That’s when I realized that this journey among friends was not the end; rather it was just the beginning, or even a stopping point along the way, as if a milestone, for at least four more years.
1 – 37:46 (includes extra mile)
2 – 31:57
3 – 31:27
4 – 28:46
13.1 – 2:05:59
5 – 30:29
6 – 27:14
7 – 31:24
8 – 30:32
26.2 – 4:09:34