I always thought it would be cool, never participating in any athletics growing up, to one day return to my hometown and race. Kind of a strange twist… I left town an artist to return as an athlete.
We hopped the train to DC Friday afternoon bags filled with beer, wine and Clif Bars. Survival is key. Arriving at my Bonus-Mom’s house everyone was ready to start scarfing pizza (they had already started on beer). I didn’t grow up here, my step-brothers did, but have spent the last 10-12 years calling it home. Role call: Christine, Ryan, Maggie, Jeff, Phil, Naomi, Cayden, Owen, me and Abs. There was much race talk as it was Ryan’s first Half Marathon. I also got to see my nephew Cayden and Owens’ awesome cheer squad sign that they had made!
The next day Ryan, Abbe and I did a shakeout run down to the High School to pick up our bibs. One of the beautiful things about this race was that it was less than a mile from the house. It was raining and 55 degrees. It actually felt really good out and we tried to be positive for our race the next day insisting Bruce would be up there looking out for us. Dad also had a sense of humor so maybe we should have foreseen what was in store…
We met some really cool people at bib pickup. We were informed that we could drive right up to the high school and park in the lots the next morning. Score! We also found out that 15 minutes before the race they would march us out to the Start. Basically, that meant we could hop in the car 20-25 minutes before gun time which in turn meant more sleeping and coffee time.
After a quick shower we hit the Old Brogue in Great Falls for some hearty grub.
That night everyone came back over (including cousins Kelly and Ben) while Abbe prepared a pasta feast for us. Sauteed red and green peppers, tomatoes and shrimp mixed into pasta in a most harmonious way. It was perfect. SIDENOTE: After a bit of trial and error I make sure that pasta and shrimp are in all of my pre-race meals for optimum performance.
We were all in bed by 10. Not bad.
Having to wake up at 6AM for a race rocks as that’s when I naturally wake up daily. Abbe had her alarm set to the tune of ‘Happy’ which in turn made me happy. We rocked some coffee, prepared some oatmeal and discussed the looming storm we were about to race in. Basically, it was going to rain (it hadn’t stopped from the day before) and turn colder by say Noon. It was also closer to 35 degrees, much different from Saturday’s 55 degrees.
SIDENOTE: In 2010 I came down to race a local triathlon. My Father, then sick with Lymphoma, had never seen me race and I thought it would be a fun opportunity. On race day the weather was almost identical. He and I stood out in the garage looking out at the rain and I bailed. My Father would never get to see me race unfortunately.
Today, on this shitty day, I was going to race in my hometown and I was going to go hard.
We headed out, trying to stay positive. It was coming down pretty hard and I kept telling us that the worst is about to be over. Liar!
We arrived at the High School and within 2 minutes of being inside they lined Marathoners up to head to the Start. Perfect timing! We bid Ryan farewell and made our way.
I was wearing shorts, 2 thin layers plus my trusty windbreaker that got me through the Connemarathon last year. I was cold but knew once I got going my body would regulate itself. They had a guy sing the National Anthem and he had us sing along to stay warm. The wind was ripping through us and we all huddled together and tried our best. I was just wishing for that start gun so I could get going. I kissed Abbe goodbye as the gun went off. We were in the very back so I had some navigational work to do. (It was a 2 loop course, 1 loop for the Half Marathoners who were starting 30 minutes after us.)
As we got out onto the main road it widened a bit and I found a good pace. I was running naked (no Garmin) AND there were no clocks on the course so I was really going Jedi-style. The next left we took put us straight into the wind and it really sucked. I had a visor on which makes all the difference in a rain storm. I don’t know how far back I was to the leaders, I just pressed forward. If I had to guess I would say we were running 7’s. My legs definitely didn’t feel as great as they dd the day before but that could also be nerves getting to me.
Passing mile 3, we were in single file race formation. I seriously had no idea what my time was and I kind of liked it.
Right before mile 4 I saw the family cheering us on! I gave a wave and then made my way down onto one of the legs on paved trails. These would prove to make the course a lot more difficult than I had expected. They were in hilly ravines with small rivers (from the 36 hours of rain) flowing over them.
We popped out onto streets for the next few miles and I was relieved. Some guy also yelled to me that he thought I was in 6th Place. Overall? What? I was now running with 2 other guys (the only guys in sight) and would continue with them the next 20 miles, leapfrogging.
The aid stations were awesome. Every 2 miles you had water, Gatorade, Gu, oranges, bananas, cookies, pop-tarts and so forth. Essentially, you didn’t have to carry anything on you. Big ups to all the volunteers who were hanging out in the downpours all day too!
Mile 8 was a small out-and-back. As I hit the turn-around I realized one of the guys in our little 3 man run squad was Lam! He and I gave a wave to each other and continued on. We also got a glimpse of the leader and he was crushing it. No way any of us were catching this guy. He had a 3-4 minute lead (and gaining) at mile 8…
By now the temperature had dropped a bit and the wind was picking up. I was soaked (and had been since mile 1). My upper body was pretty warm but my hands and feet were pretty frozen. This was the first race I had zero knee pain though, so I was so happy to be out in the soup running! Thanks Dr. Levine!
We jumped back into some trails for the next few miles and all I could think of (since there were also markers for the second loop) was ‘Holy cow, are you kidding me! The final miles are up and down these brutal little hills?!’ My legs were already deteriorating and I could hardly imagine what they were going to be like the next time around. I did see a rather large deer staring at me at one point though which was kind of cool. He wasn’t manning an aid station or anything, just doing deer stuff.
I was now in 4th Place with Tall Guy, as we shall call him, and Lam trailing close. I knew that with 13 more miles to go any outcome was still possible. As we hit the halfway marker Tall Guy turned on the juice hard, very negative-split pre-meditated. I just chuckled to myself, not because he was doing it wrong, but because I could not follow.
Nearing mile 15 Lam started to pull up towards me. We chatted for a minute as I told him how I grew up here and my house was right up the street. This also made me wonder why I shouldn’t just run home and right onto the shower. Lam also alerted me that we were running 7 flats. Cool, I’ll take it. I was back in 5th Place now. I started to wonder how long I could keep this thing going.
Back on the first set of trails I pushed positive thoughts into my head. ‘One step at a time. One mile at a time. Just keep those legs running.’ Although the rain wasn’t quite a downpour anymore it was quickly getting colder.
As mile 18 approached my calf muscles felt like they were going to pop out of my legs and run away. Ew. Seriously, they hurt a lot. I just plugged along. I was on the heels of Tall Guy but Lam was slowly putting some distance between us. I was still waving and saying ‘hi’ to all the volunteers. They were pretty awesome.
At mile 20 as we dipped back down into the hard set of trails I started mentally psyching myself up. “Just one loop of Central Park is left, that’s all.” I was also thinking about ‘The Wall’ people hit and I decided it’s a bad way to describe it. I think it should be called, ‘When Everything Sucks and Will Continue to Suck Until you Stop Running.’
Somewhere around here I stepped in mud crossing onto a street and almost lost my shoe! Hot tamales!
At this point me and Tall Guy were leapfrogging quite a bit. I had no intention of trying to outrun him, our paces started to become erratic. I started to feel better at say mile 22. It was here that I had my first (and only) Gu. It was also at this point I passed Tall Guy and just kept going.
Up and down all these damn hills, left then right, through the woods. I wanted to walk so very bad. We were now lapping slower Half Marathoners. My mind wandered, thinking of my Dad and how were he alive how very excited he would be at this hometown race. He would be so jazzed to see not only me, but his step-son Ryan and daughter-to-be Abbe running this thing as a family. It helped put some power into my steps.
As I cleared the final hill and made my way up onto the road with 2 miles to go I set it the fuck off. “The pain you feel is only in your mind.”
I was so excited to be so close. I was also now in 4th Place and as long as I held off Tall Guy it was mine. I have never placed in a full marathon before so 4th sounded great. I passed mile 25 still flying as I noticed up ahead this fit guy in a green top and black pants. “Is that the 2nd Place guy?” (Now 3rd as Lam had passed him.) He was making attempts to run but stopped. I passed him, nodded and gave him a peace sign.
Entering the finish chute everyone kept yelling to me that I was 3rd Place! I was ecstatic, but needed to finish before I died. Just before I was to take a left onto the High School track I saw Lam running ‘at’ me. Totally confused I just waved at him and made my way onto the track ahead of him. The rain was really coming down now and there were very few cheerers towards the Finish. My family, however, was there in full effect. I could hear them before I could see them. My brother Phil was holding his son Cayden and ran down the fence line with me towards the end. I looked at the clock and with the seconds counting down to 3:10 (my Boston Qualifier) I sped up as to secure it.
Final Time: 3:09:51
After collecting my hardware I got some high fives from everyone and was then instructed that we need to go inside to the High School cafeteria because that’s where everyone was hanging out. My Bonus Mom also told me Abs DNF’d because of her IT Band and I got concerned.
It turns out the overall winner beat me by 25 minutes or so! He came in at 2:44:xx and was none other than ultrarunner Michael Wardian.
The cafeteria was great. They had pizza, sodas, coffee you name it! I found our table and gave Ryan a high five for finishing his first Half Marathon! Then, I hugged and chatted with Abbe making sure she was okay. We all hung out Family Style, taking pics and getting warm waiting for the awards ceremony. I chatted with Lam briefly and it he took a wrong turn towards the end, which is why I passed him. Once they did the overall marathoners we took off. We had an after party to go to at the house complete with burgers and dogs by Phil and potato and cucumber salad by Maggie.
Ryan, Abs and I made it back first and Abs made us Manhattans. We had a bit of a sentimental toast, talking of Dad and what it meant for us to run this (without getting too teary eyed) and then hit the much needed showers.
Once everyone arrived the food and drinks came out. Our friends Amber and Jason also came by with their 1 year old son Erik. Erik and my nephew Owen were born 2 days apart so they kinda got along, in a no talking kinda way.
The afterparty sadly ended way too soon. Abs and I had a train to catch back to NYC and so we needed to head out.
As Jason and Amber drove us into DC at 2PM (thanks for the ride guys, seriously) it was snowing! Like, heavy stick to the ground snowing. We made our train and ended the weekend with a peaceful ride up to Gotham.
I would recommend this race to anyone looking for an amazing ‘home grown’ race with a challenging course. The organizers and volunteers rock and there is loads of pizza at the finish! C’mon!
Big ups to my step-brother Ryan who has proven he is ‘beyond defeat’ in running his first Half Marathon.
Abs, I will see you in Paris for your redemption race.