After having a few hiccups getting to the starting line of a road marathon since Boston in 2011, I have been very quiet about my sign-up and intention to run the Two Rivers Marathon on March 15th. To chronicle my issues, in 2012, I got violently ill the day before Steamtown, in 2013, I had a stress fracture before Harrisburg and recently the cancellation of George Washington Birthday Marathon. Obviously, with three false starts, I did not want to make much of it. Plus, my goal at Two Rivers was not to chase any particular time but more to gauge my ability to run a marathon along with using it as a tool towards next month's 100K.
Also, I was driving up the morning of the race and driving home immediately after. A trip that was close to 3 hours each way. I told my partner that I was aiming to go under 3 and maybe 2:45. She would not be coming up with me mainly because I did not see any reason due to it being a small race. Not to mention, this race is one week after the Seneca Greenway Trail Race (aka the 34 mile 50K.) Further adding no reason to expect much performance wise except the stated goals.
However, there was one thing that could factor into my performance, the course. The profile of the course is a largely downhill course without any major climbs. Think of it like Steamtown without the final 4 miles or California International Marathon with a larger drop. Still not expecting the world.
I say all this because it was my mindset of expectations going into Two Rivers. And then.....two days before the race, a roster of entrants was sent out by the race director. Obviously, being curious, I did some looking at who was racing. And I knew of one registrant in particular: Chuck Engle . He is an incredible talent with his ability to churn out quality marathons like no tomorrow. I figured he would be the man to beat and that I could run with him. That became my plan on race day. Or so I thought.....
On race morning, as I was walking to my car, Chuck passed by and said hi. Apparently, I was known. I was taken back a bit. I'm not someone who expects to be known by other runners unless it is a local road race or maybe an ultra where the same people tend to be seen. For much of the hour before the race, I got to enjoy some pleasant conversation with him. We both had an understanding that we were the two guys in the marathon.
Just prior to 9am, we lined up at the starting line in Hawley, PA at the Woodloch Resort. (Well, the road near the resort but then again, it is a large resort.) As the start command was given by RD Marck Hughes, off all of us went. And it was within maybe 50 feet of starting, I had a choice to make: run with Chuck or just go. I just went for it. Not entirely sure why I had that thought. Looking back, it feels like it was just something that needed to happen, like I just had to do it. So off I went pounding the pavement pushing my pace. With Chuck in the field, I knew my decision could backfire. I immensely respected his ability and knew the risk I was taking that I could be caught. But I kept going. In the past, I would mark my splits on the watch, this time I did not do it. I also did not even look at the watch every mile or do any head calculation. In retrospect, those moves might have been a sign of how all in I was. Mile by mile I kept pushing. By the half way point, I was pushing into a darn headwind!!!! Really?! All that I could think was to keep going, worrying about getting caught and that if I am lucky have a tailwind on the way back during the out and back section. Usually, I hate out and back sections. This one not as much. I think the winding road helped and the relatively flatness of this section. As the miles ticked by, I was beginning to pine away for the turnaround. And there it was!!!!! After the turn, I glanced at my watch. This was where I could see how much of a lead I had. I did not expect it to be much but had no clue what it was at all since I had not looked back since maybe mile 5. Around 4 1/2 minutes later, I saw Chuck. 9 minutes, I had 9 minutes with around a 10K to go. I just kept pushing. Pushing. I looked at my watch. I had over 40 minutes on the clock before 2:30. It was at that moment, I began to realize, I could hit my PR. Not only that but hit the time I had as a goal. Just not the goal at this race. I kept pushing. Pushing. Before I knew it the bridge crossing came up. I was there! I was going to do it! Just did not realize by how much. I made the final turn and saw the clock. Not my watch but the clock...2:24! HOLY COW....
I was happy! Really happy. I was shouting in joy pumping my fist in the air. (While the awards for the other races were occurring.) Official time: 2:24:55!
Not only sub 2:30 but 2:25!!!
Thankfully, I had made the last minute choice to put a bag in the trailer carrying bags to the finish line. Warm clothes! Yay! I savored those clothes.
Mark Hughes presented me with my overall award. I chatted with a number of nice people while waiting for Chuck to finish. As soon as I spotted him on the bridge I cheered him in. When he saw me on my way in from the turnaround, he was so encouraging. It shows how great a sport running is. And I was honored to cheer him in. His time: 2:35:30. A great time.
I did not talk with Chuck nearly enough after the race but I thank his presence at the race. (The reason I did not stay around long was, the shuttle bus came and I hopped it to make the trek to the car to drive home.) It helped push me. It encouraged me. To him, I say thank you.
One thing, I do think made this performance possible has been my increasing dedication to ultras. Running longer and longer has had an impact on my ability to sustain my speed longer. And today, I think that played a part much more than I thought it would have. It shows that I still have potential to tap and growth to experience.
Also, importantly, I thank everyone who has been a supporter of my running. My family, friends, teammates and competitors. All played a part in yesterday. Thank you all!
My CR only lasted a day as today's winner (it was a two day festival with marathons each day) ran a 2:22:49. Darn. However, I wonder what would have gone down with both of us in it together.