Clarence DeMar Marathon
Keene, New Hampshire
Sunday, September 30, 2007
Pace: 6:59 min/mile
10th Place Overall
7th Place Age Group M01-39
1st Half: 1:31:45
2nd Half: 1:31:17
Splits at end.
On a crisp, clear early fall morning, with temperatures dipping into the thirties and a sun intent on sleeping in a bit longer, I toed the starting line of the Clarence DeMar Marathon, my 32nd marathon and 13th in 13 months. Perhaps more importantly, the marathon was also to be the completion of a goal set back many years ago. Only, as I lined up in sleepy Gilsum, NH for the start of this point-to-point race ending 26.2 miles later in downtown Keene, I hadn’t realized how satisfying it would be to achieve a goal stuck in my mind since 1995.
With a downhill start over the first two miles, where I ran at an effort much less than my actual splits would otherwise say (7:14, 7:20), I settled into a comfortable pace with a few other runners.
By Mile 3 (7:15), I was deep in conversation with a guy doing Ironman Germany next year. As we swapped stories of Iron, I couldn’t help but notice that every time the road smoothed long and narrow for a glimpse far ahead, there was only a group of, maybe, 25 runners sitting farther behind the race leaders, both of which were in a category unto themselves.
Up a hill, down a long gradual, and up and down some more, Mile 4 (7:24) grew uncomfortable not for the pace or terrain but rather the constant distraction that there were so few runners ahead of me.
To this point, I didn’t have a time goal coming into this event. The goal, if anything, was to finish the 26.2 miles with a smile on my face and an experience to keep me motivated through the remainder of my training for my upcoming November triathlon in Clearwater, Florida.
In my book this wasn’t even a race. I had a hard training week the week before, including midweek hill work on the run and an all-day Tear Down the Walls (Wallpaper) Love Fest at my new house the day before. Pace didn’t matter. This wasn’t to say I wanted to go easy, or hard, or keep pace at a set metric; rather it was that I wanted to get out and breath the air doing the one thing I love to do most, and do it on a course painted with the brilliant oranges and reds of fall. I would let the rest of the day come to me. Come it did.
The lure of the open road ahead, where only a trace few runners flew, drew me in for a race ahead. Mile 5 (6:45) lulled me into the thrill of running out near front, and although I wasn’t near front yet, it drew out the Stallion in my legs for the race that was to come.
First action was to catch the pack of runners several hundred yards ahead. I closed the gap quickly with a blazing Mile 6 (6:30). My calculated reward for catching up was business I had behind a bush – I had to go, nature was calling, and I knew it would be best to close the gap, then go, rather than go right away and be faced with double the gap to close, something that might seem too daunting. At Mile 7 (7:49), I found my secret hideout and, as expected, another large gap opened between the pack. I was hopeful I’d get them in a mile.
Mile 8 (6:25) was quick but effective, as I was finally able to get the pack back within striking distance. I made a mental note that behind this pack, where I had just come, was no-man’s land. If I couldn’t hold with this pack once I caught them, my race would be very long as I would have to go the entire rest of the way alone. Mile 9 (6:55) gave me time to move into the scattered pack for a bit of rest.
By then my legs were pumping and charging and wanting to go. As soon as I saw another pack up ahead, the pack I knew to be the lead pack minus the two or three young bucks in a category by themselves and probably already a mile or two ahead, my legs got back to the chase.
Miles 10 through 13 (6:52, 6:40, 6:48, 6:47), I steadily increased effort in attempts to hunt down the group ahead. I was slowly gaining on them but very careful to keep it controlled, because I now had much more fatigue in the legs. At one point I had to tell myself to stay relaxed as I yearned to be with the pack so that we could all work together. But I knew they were running too quickly for me to catch them without doing my race in.
The pack ahead, I figured, represented the guys in the Top 20. If I wanted Top 10, I had to be patient, so although I hadn’t caught them in the last four miles, I had to stay on my plan with the knowledge that I am stronger than them. I will catch them, I told myself. I put out of mind the first three runners – who by now were so far ahead I couldn’t see – and pretended the first place guy was the one leading the scattered pack.
Through the half marathon point, I was a bit surprised to see a 1:31:45. With my slow start and bathroom break, both of which I figured added to at least 3 minutes, I expected more a 1:35.
Mile 14 (6:46) with a few hills and quick turns, I made a move to get closer to the pack; by Mile 15 (6:49) I finally caught the group of 6 who were in the beginning stages of scattering even more. If I had more energy, I would have tried to get them all to work together. Plus, I had something else on my mind.
By Mile 16 (7:04), I was growing hot and needed to remove my long sleeved base layer. I stopped at the next water stop and, like in my triathlons, got tied up trying to get my sweat-soaked shirt off and another back on. A friendly volunteer stood by my side with an awaiting cup of Gatorade. Back on with my outer shirt and down with the Gatorade, before long I was back running and again with my scattered friends. Just in time for… nothing. The pack disintegrated at Mile 17 (7:02).
Fatigue mounted in the legs. I started thinking about the finish and quickly cut myself off. I still had much too much work to do, perhaps more effort than to get to this point, and knew not to start counting down just yet.
Mile 18 (6:48), just when I was plotting when my legs might have a push in them to break out in front of whoever remained of the group, I suddenly found myself running all by myself with not a single runner ahead as far as I could see.
More challenging terrain was ahead. Mile 19 (6:59), the course slipped onto a bike path that meandered with sharp rolling hills through a large state park. It was then when I started doubting my ability and even cursing my decision to go ahead of the pack, because each of the hills and uneven pathway revealed tiredness in my legs. I feared the slowdown of all slowdowns was only a mile ahead.
Trust your training, I coached myself. You know you can push hard and lighten up a little for enough rest only to go hard again. You do it on the bike all the time. Keep the effort hard. You can do it here, too.
I trusted in my training. Mile 20 (6:48) came, and although I was now holding on where my time was now limited before crashing, I was able to resume a decent pace on down hills. This told me I still had a few miles in the tank. But would it be enough – I needed another 6.2 miles?
Mile 21 (7:02) greeted me with a most welcome sight. For the first time in miles, I finally spotted two runners up ahead. They, I knew, must be hitting the wall. I knew I’d catch them quickly. Quickly I did.
Mile 22 (6:56) hurt. I was holding on and wishing the rest of the course would be flat and straight, just like this mile. I knew it wouldn’t be. I was told about the killer hill at 23.
As advertised, a monster hill awaited at Mile 23 (7:14). I crawled up it with a stride so short you could fit a nickel between footfalls. Surprisingly, my pace was enough to pass another guy who was in very bad shape. I pumped my arms even harder to compensate for legs that didn’t want to move. I told myself that if I could resume pace and just hold on for a 3:05 marathon or even a Top 10 finish, I would reward myself with a visit to the Elm City Brewery in town after the race.
Finally over the hill, I laughed at my sorry ploy for fresh brewed beer because I knew I was heading there regardless of how the race went. Still, it was good enough to take my mind off the pain and get me over the hill.
Mile 24 (6:58), holding on by a bitty thread, I got a source of motivation by seeing a guy in white way up ahead, maybe a quarter mile. To inspire myself to hold onto my pace when I knew I was only a hill away from crashing a hard burn, I pretended he was in 10th place overall and stood in the way between me and a Top 10 finish.
Mile 25 (7:05) hurt like hell. Instead of focusing on wanting the pain to end, I kept forcing focus back to closing the gap on the guy in white.
At 25.5, I closed the gap. I knew that if I were to pass, I had to do it with authority such that he wouldn’t even think to give chase, for he would see there was no way he could catch me. With that I decided that I would begin early my final kick. I had just gone near all out for the past 2 hours; surely I had a few more minutes of even harder effort. As if to drive a knife in deep, I passed this guy with an amazing display of speed.
Mile 26 (7:04), now with only .2 miles to go, I glanced back once to make sure I was in the clear. Another glance just to be sure told me I was indeed in the clear I was.
As I rounded the final turn with the finish line looming all the way down the road, I glanced at the clock. Just when I thought it would read 3:05, it ticked rather comfortably under at 3:02:34… :35. Although I knew there was probably too much pavement between where I was and the finish to finish with the clock reading 3:02 and change, I gave it all I had. When I finally hit the finish line, the clock read a very satisfying and very hard-earned 3:03:02.
After results were posted, I discovered that the guy I had imagined to be in 10th place overall – the guy who I had passed near mile 26 – was indeed in position 10. That pass earned me a spot in the Top 10 of all finishers.
Later in the day, at the Elm City Brewery sipping away at an Octoberfest brew, I felt an immense sense of peace, even pride. Strangely, it wasn’t because I finished in a respectable (for me) 3:03; nor was it that I finished in the Top 10. All of those were good, but this feeling was more dated than that.
The feeling I had was that of accomplishing a goal set back in the early ‘90’s. Back then, when I first started running marathons, I set as a goal to run a marathon in each of the 7 New England States including New York. Up until Clarence DeMar, I had all states but New Hampshire, and although it was a minor goal, it was something I thought about during that entire time, as if a blemish on a record.
With the accomplishment of one goal, the dreams that were set therein forming that accomplishment are now set free to float and flutter abound. When they come down, as if sprinkling into your consciousness in the form of good feelings, they often crystallize together to form other goals. And although it’s too ripe to see inside these sprinkles, a few grains of these seemed to have formed into one that reads “50 States.” I have run a marathon in 14 different states. Perhaps I have 36 remaining…
1 – 7:14 – Crisp, clear 35 degree morning.
2 – 7:20 – Settling into comfortable pace with conversation.
3 – 7:15 – Trying to ignore there’s *only* 25 people ahead of me.
4 – 7:24 – Ignoring there’s now fewer runners ahead of me.
5 – 6:45 – The lure of open space was too much. I pick up pace.
6 – 6:30 – Trying to catch pack ahead so that I could run with somebody.
7 – 7:49 – Oops… Bathroom Break
8 – 6:25 – Back on the horse in no-man’s land trying to catch pack.
9 – 6:55 – Caught pack but see another ahead.
10 – 6:52 – Trying to catch next pack a quarter mile ahead.
11 – 6:49 – Still trying to catch pack.
12 – 6:48 – Wow. My legs are shot. Still have too much to go.
13 – 6:47 – Starting to pick off several pack runners who are now fading.
13.1 – 1:31:45
14 – 6:46 – Still trying to catch pack.
15 – 6:49 – Finally caught pack.
16 – 7:04 – Sitting in with pack to rest. I’m tired.
17 – 7:02 – So much for the pack – it disintegrates quickly.
18 – 6:48 – I pull away. Running all by myself. Nobody in sight ahead.
19 – 6:59 – Hills are getting to me. Stride a quarter inch going up them.
20 – 6:48 – But still feeling fluid enough on downs, still nobody ahead.
21 – 7:02 – More up hills. Spot two runners and pass.
22 – 6:56 – Open road. Few people around. Wondering about my overall place.
23 – 7:14 – Monster hill. And I mean monster. Pass one guy.
24 – 6:58 – Legs fried but holding on. See guy in white waaay up ahead.
25 – 7:05 – Holding on for dear life as I near guy in white.
26 – 7:04 – Finally catch and pass guy in white. Glance back to make sure he stays there.
26.2 – 1:22 (6:50) – Wow. I held on!