The marathon's a crotchety old beast to slay.
A dozen ingredients must be tossed into the pressure cooker in just the right order and amount to crush it: training regimen, general health, lack of injury, taper, carb loading, temperature, wind direction and speed, cloud cover, humidity, course elevation, a fast pack to push the pace and plenteous amounts of bovine growth hormone. Murphy's law typically rears and a few variables are cruddy on race day: too hot, hamstring injury jabs a leg or I forgot to smear runner's lube in the crotchical area.
And yet, once or twice in a lifetime, every single factor that needs to be just right is so when the gun fires.
This is that race.
June 18, 7:32 am: The pistol's yet to smoke, someone yells "MOVE THAT BUS!!" as 6,500 runners fidget and spit. Light drizzle tapered a half hour ago, water drains from the cracked asphalt of Highway 61. 48 degrees, a crispy tail/cross wind nips and whispers: fast conditions, let's go.
Greg and Ryan are wearing matching $3 Royal Spice Wal*Mart women's jackets, we nudge the throttle into a comfortable rhythm. First mile in 6:09, Greg unzips his nylon/polyester/parachute/horse hair abomination, chucks it at a nondescript lady and yells "I'LL BE BACK LATER TO PICK THAT UP, YOU HOLD ONTO THAT NOW, YOU HEAR ME?!" Martin and I crack up, Ryan wads and tosses his jacket and blows a snot rocket.
Mile two splits 5:55, lock the speed control and maintain for a 2:35 finish if our quads don't shred. Our original goal was 6 minute miles for a 2:37, but the cool tailwind allows us to readjust and crack the whip.
|Martin, Ryan, Greg and Tank|
I'm usually mute on game day, opting to keep the calories bottled up for deployment after mile 20. Not this morning, the four of us talked continuously. Flying along Lake Superior in formation, with only a small smear of sweat down the back, it felt effortless. We're used to red-facing it through 90 degree soup (it's all about the dew point), so this chilly morning was a Susan G. Komen breast jog compared to our regular swelter-tempo runs.
Passed a she-Kenyan a few miles in, Martin offers encouragement/taunting with a "nice job, you're almost there!" By "there", I think he meant the next mile marker, since we had 23 to go.
Squirrel bladder needed relief at the 30 minute mark. My training buds can attest I'm used to stopping a half hour into every long run to sign my initials in yellow. This day, they'd drop me in three blinks if I tarried for a turbo pee. So I did what had to be done:
1) Find a long stretch of road with no spectators in sight.
2) At full stride, pull the ol' wiener out the left leg hole.
3) Fire! Er...hold on, wait a second...wait for it...still waiting. I had stage fright and was shooting blanks.
Failed to get the trickle started, D1 makes it look so easy. Someone suggested water sounds might help, so Martin made some gurgling water whooshes and popped his cheek. Problem solved, I relaxed and let 'er rip. Greg was also run-and-gunnin' beside me. Hot piss was spraying everywhere like a dirty power sprinkler, some of it more than 6 feet high. Was praying the MarathonFoto paparazzi were nowhere near, and where's a lemon scented wet nap when you need one?
We noticed the first elite Kenyan pulled over to the side of the road at mile 6, maybe he thought the weather was too frigid, no? A college runner in orange joined us to make 5, said he was aiming for sub-2:37. The kid mentioned he runs 31 minute 10Ks in school. Sounds legit, keep up. He stayed with us for a few miles.
|Martin goes white boy gangsta|
Waved at Greg's wife, she was smiling a couple spots along the course. It was nice to see a friendly face among a sea of strangers.
We yakked and annoyed anyone in earshot, asking questions of runners we passed, yelling at the crowd to wake up, telling others they were almost done (hours remained). One clump of spectators stood there in a daze looking at the ground. I yelled "C'mon, clap or something, quit being awkward!" They responded with a tiny sympathy clap.
There's the bagpipe player alongside the road in his
skirt kilt. I'm a little warm, a light rain dribbles for 10 minutes to cool us off. It was as if God was up there flipping toggle switches on the clouds and wind to keep us comfortable and hauling the mail.
Thump slap, hear those footsteps moving in?
The SCRC train's rollin' through, jump on or move over.
Passed a few runners, but there weren't all that many in front of us. We'd go several miles and not see jack squat, only trees and Lake Superior on our left. The half came at 1:17:35, we needed to be under 1:18:30 to punch 2:37. Our second half was over a minute faster, but we only passed 20 people the last 13 miles. Brutal when we did pass: a four-part cluster bomb surrounded our victim, fragged 'em, then tightened the screws and vanished.
The four of us made a gentleman's agreement to stick together the first 18 miles. Then it would be a free-for-all death march after that. I knew I'd likely get dropped by Martin and Greg the final 5 miles, but would keep them on radar and stay within a minute.
Mile 19: As a beast of burden leans into the yoke, Martin dips his head down and strides out. We chewed the mile in 5:40. Caught up to a Luther runner, Greg's arch nemesis from his college glory days. Greg served him by shouting out the entire Luther fight song 12" from the dude's face, then we said bye bye.
Going strong into 20 miles, heavier breathing and a deeper dig on Powerade at aid stations were the only indicators we were burning coal. Finally caught Robin of Runablaze, we'd been choking on her fumes the past 7+ miles. She was reeling in 3-time winner Mary Akor, we told her to hang with us. She fell back and yelled, "wish I had a rope!" Robin finished in 2:35, good enough to hit the Olympic Trials A standard time. Not shabby for a 38-year-old with a couple kids.
Martin slowly pulled away mile 21 and 22 heading to Lemon Drop Hill, I barked at Greg to go with him and I'd see them at the finish. 5:40 for me eating the hill, Greg got the jump on Martin cresting Lemon Drop and was in the 5:30's. Ryan was fading. Bruno Mar's The Lazy Song blasted on speaker as we were going for broke working on mile 23. Beer foam and underage drinkers lined the streets; we'd passed from quiet country the first 20 miles to vuvuzelas and broosky bombs the waning 10K.
Three miles to go, my right calf twitches and seizes as thighs soften to pulled pork. Kept the boil on and pace under 5:48, let's get this mother done. Mile 24, I suppress a gag past a vendor frying chicken, the grease reeks. We bound on brick, loud crowds push from both sides.
The final mile's a punch in the stomach, looping around the pier close to the finish line, with a 90 degree turn tossed in to dissolve the legs.
Martin crosses in 2:32, I hear the announcer yelling Greg's name up ahead as he finishes. I squint to see if Greg's doing his "punching midgets" dance move across the line. The digi-clock's counting up from 2:33, ridiculous and not a time I'd ever expect to touch. Martin, Greg and I high five beyond the finish line, then train on the clock and watch Ryan fly in at 2:37.
Limped to the massage tent for a deep tissue rubdown, then regrouped and waited for the rest of the 10+ in our contingent to finish. Martin's second marathon, he PR'ed by 13+ minutes. Greg and I bettered our best times by 10+ minutes, and Ryan by 3 minutes.
We'd labored and trained together for 6 months, raced in a pack under perfect conditions and beat our goal. It was magical, I'll never forget this one.
I'll finish with word from my cronies. I asked each of them to do a quick dump on what this one meant to them.
Martin: "A picture is worth a thousand words. This one sums up the 24 hours leading to the gun, screen shot of the radar 2.5 hours before the race:
Quote's I remember:
'C'mon CHEER! YEEEAH!' - Tank/Greg
'We're GUYS!' - Tank in response to hearing 'Go, Girls!'
This marathon was much different from the other marathon I've run. It was just like a Saturday morning run with the fellas, joking around through mile 20. Then the race started. After finishing, 3/4 of the group waited for the 4th with an eye on the clock as he finished right at our 2:37 goal! We trained together, raced together, and celebrated our achievement together. That was the best part."
Greg: "2:37 seemed like a stretch goal when we started training in January. I put together a plan and with each passing month and race tuneup the 2:37 became more of a realization. After Dam to Dam I decided I wanted to go for 2:35:14, but it would be a stretch goal. Anything from there up to 2:37:20 would be acceptable in my eyes.
Race day brought perfect weather conditions, no injuries to worry about, and the hay was in the barn. The 2:37 crew played to the crowd and felt effortless for 20+ miles. From mile 20-finish the “race” was on and we increased our cadence. With three miles to the finish I realized that sub 2:35 was in the bag and a good push could bring me to the 2:33 range. 2:33:09!!! I never considered that a possibility and feel like we really did something special. The stars aligned for one day, and it was truly an enjoyable run. I can’t say that about my previous two marathons. Third time is the charm! Three is the magic number!"
Ryan: "I've run 21 marathons now and out of any of them, I had more fun training for this one than any other. I haven't had this type of team and camaraderie since high school. It was a pleasure to train and run this race with you guys. By the end of 6 months of training I was feeling burnt out. But after as well as we all ran, I've never been more excited to run another marathon. Two years ago I never thought I'd even get under 2:50 for a marathon and now I'm thinking about sub-2:30. I can't wait to see what we can do next."
Lace 'em tight,