Finishing Strong: What a Feeling

2011 Publix Georgia Marathon: Part 2 of my earlier post about the race’s  new sponsor.

This marathon marked my fourth 26.2 in an 18-month span and the first time I decided to run one with friends. Usually, I prefer to go it alone. I decided to run with my friend Rich, a long-time cyclist who was running his first marathon. Rich and I did countless long runs leading up to race day, yet we never really discussed our race-day strategy. Note: If you are going to run a marathon with a friend, make sure you both discuss your plan before the starting gun goes off.

Bang! We’re off. My only goal for the day was to break 3:30, just like I had done a year earlier.
To do so, we would need to average 8 mins/mile. No problem, I figured. That’s the same pace Rich and I had run together MANY times.

Things started out great for both us. Too great, actually. We’re slightly ahead of pace for the first 8 miles. Rich and I take turns trying to slow each other down. My simple strategy is to make sure we don’t go up the hills too hard. We’ll make up any time lost on the uphills when we go back down the hills, I figure.

At Mile 8, the half and full marathoners split off from each other. Of the 18,000 or so people at the starting line, only 2,200 are doing the full 26.2. We now have a LOT of running room. We continue moving along at a steady pace. No problems yet.

At Mile 13, we meet up with Chance, a mutual friend and training partner. Chance and Rich have known each other for many years. The plan was for him to join us and help bring us home strong. Or if needed, to help motivate one of us to keep going if the going got tough. At this point, we were at 1:42, putting us about 5 minutes ahead of pace. Uh-oh.

At Mile 16, the going started to get tough for Rich. None of us expected the dreaded side stitch to strike, but it did. Over the next six miles, Rich started to slow down and cramp up. This was the first time I had run with him when this happened. I soon found myself wondering what to do. If I had been hurting, too, it would have been an easy decision. I would have slowed and run alongside him to the finish line. However, I felt great. I don’t mean that I felt good, I mean, I felt great! My strategy of taking it easy on the uphills was really paying off.

Somewhere at about Mile 17, I run up on Jim (aka @JimCantSwim), a friend of a mutual friend (aka Slayer).  I had never met Jim in person, but instantly recognized him by the titled head, saliva dripping from his lower lip and the caked-on sodium glow coming from his face. He looked a little something like this:

As I slow to run with Rich and Chance, I let Jim run off into the distance. “We shall meet again,” I mumble to myself.

At Mile 20, my tank was still plenty full and I was raring to go. I keep finding  myself 1/4 mile ahead of Rich and Chance. I was having a hard time slowing down. Chance had assumed the role of Rich’s on-course coach at this point. Although I knew he was in good hands, I didn’t really want to leave Rich. We had never discussed what we would do if one of us felt better than the other late in the race. I naively figured we would both finish together at 3:30. This is where Chance’s experience (he ran his first marathon in 6th grade!) really paid off.  While all I could muster was “how ya feelin’ Rich?” Chance was peppering him with one motivating tactic after another. I was out of my league as far as being a coach. I was more useless than usual.

By the time we reached Mile 22 in Piedmont Park, my watch said 3 hours.  To get to the finish line in under 3:30, I knew I had to step on it. It was now or never. After a quick chat with Chance to make sure he was going to bring Rich home, I took off. I have honestly never felt so strong this late in a marathon and covered the final 4.2 miles in under 30 minutes. Normally, that pace is not a big deal, but to do it that late in a marathon over some serious hills gave me a huge rush. Looking back on it, I wish I had counted how many people I passed over this stretch. It had to be close to 200, if not more.

At Mile 24, I spot Jim off in the distance. At this point, he’s not a runner to me, he’s just another VICTIM! I blow past him as if he was running uphill on a road covered in molasses. I shout to him: “Come ‘on Jim, show me what you got!” He had nothing… other than enough sodium residue on his face to line the rims of a dozen margarita glasses.. I’m pretty sure he gave me the finger and cursed at me as I disappeared into the distance.

Here I am approaching the finish line, urging the people to “Make Some Noise!” My official time was 3:29:39. I got in under the wire with 21 seconds to spare.

Speaking of “Make Some Noise”, I’m diggin’ the new Beastie Boys song. Word…

Looking at my Garmin file after the race, you can see what was going on between Miles 16-22. Then … as Brian Collins likes to say “Boom Goes The Dynamite!

After crossing the line, I wait to greet Rich. He comes across with a VERY respectable time of 3:42:14, beating my time from my first marathon by 4 minutes. In truth, his race was much more impressive than mine considering how much pain he had to fight through. His determination was beyond impressive.

Everybody has bad days, but we live and run for the “good days.” For me, this race will go down as one of my best days. I hope to have many more. If I don’t, I will always remember what it felt like to be able to finish strong on this day. Pace yourself. Keep some extra gas in the tank. Then, let it all hang out down the stretch. You’ll love the rush.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Finishing Strong: What a Feeling

  1. I have always found it to be an unwritten rule that on race day you ultimately have to run your race. What a great feeling to finish strong! There is nothing like being in control of your race!

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