Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wicked 1/2 Marathon Race Report

This report is long overdue but things at work have been a little hectic lately.  Finishing up college recommendation letters have taken a priority.  If I am totally honest about it, I could have done the letters if I had sat down one afternoon, but those letters can sometimes be difficult to start but are usually easy to finish.

Anyway this race was scary, daunting and a total blast all at the same time.  Leading up to the race, I was a little concerned about my prep and training.  Two weeks prior I completed the FIRM MAN 1/2 Iron aquabike (1.2 mile swim and 56 mile bike).  I did my longest run (8.7 miles) to date 3 days after the aquabike and felt pretty good.  The run included going from Salem State College all the way to Marblehead and around the "Neck" and back.  It included all of the big hills (both up and down) on the course.  Living so close to the run course helped so much allowing me to do most of my training on the actual course.  That next weekend (1 week prior to the 1/2 marathon) I did my last triathlon of the season.  The TDD sprint in Douglas, MA.

The week before I did two more shorter runs (3.1 and 2.8 miles) and a short bike ride.  The weather forecast was looking pretty warm for late September with no rain in the forecast.  I was excited to know that Rob and Maggie were coming down from NH with their children and Maggie's mom to watch the race.  They are friends from NH I met doing the Timberman sprint race.  Rob was offering to be there for me after the race for a post-race massage as he is a registered massage therapist.  We invited them to stay for lunch at our place after the race.  This was looking like it was going to be a great day.

One of the things I have started to do with my  races, is to determine a "target" finish time.  I worked hard to figure out I thought I could stick to 14:30 minutes/mile.   That would put me crossing the line at 3:09:57.

The race was set to start at 7AM at the Bentley School in Salem.  I was up at about 4AM in order to go through my usual pre-race routine of nutrition.  A protein smoothie I put together and a bagel with PB.  I make sure to drink one full bottle of water and then another 1/2 water and 1/2 Gatorade prior to the race.  I make sure I am done drinking 1 hour prior in order to make my usual (3) trips to the porta-john prior to the race.

I got to the Salem Willows around 5:30AM and waited for the shuttle ride down to the Bentley School.  Once at the school I went inside and started to get ready.  Some simple stretching in the gym and then of course, a chance to see some familiar faces.  I asked Sue to write on both of my biceps, "My 1st 1/2".  I got a number of well-wishes from strangers and 2 people mentioned it was there first 1/2 as well.

I saw John Russell from the Y and Denise from Team Comp, with all of us wishing each other well.  As we got ready I could sense a lot of people commenting on how warm and humid it was feeling.  I didn't really sense that at all.  I don't know if it was from my triathlon racing, since the run portion is usually later in the morning of a race.  I did see Rob and Maggie before the race start and told them where Sue and Owen would be waiting.  They chose to hang around the start and then find things to do prior to my finish.

I did some light running and stretching outside and then proceeded to the start area.  As usual, I set myself up near the back of the pack on the right side.

There was a very loud air horn to start the race and before I knew it, we were off.  The starting pace was fine with me with lots of people passing me, but also a number staying with me as we went along.  I knew that Andrea from Team Comp was planning on waiting for me near her home off of Lafayette, but I did not expect to have her run with me.  Her place was a little before mile 2 and there she was ready to run with me.  It was a real boost and much appreciated.  As we approached SSC, I could Sue and Owen at the intersection and hear him ringing the cowbell.
Andrea and I approaching SSC.

 Owen giving me the boost I needed to RUN!!

I knew Sue and Owen would be there, but none the less, it was GREAT to see the both of them.  Owen came out to give me a big "HIGH - 5" and then I continued on.  Sue and Owen went off them to do a few things prior to meeting me at the finish.  They were going to have breakfast out at the Salem Diner ( SO JEALOUS) and then Owen would have his swimming lesson at the Salem Y.

Andrea continued on down the hill towards Marblehead before she turned around to head back home.  Again, it was amazing to have a friend along.  I managed to run up a lot of the big hill into Marblehead but had to walk some of it.  As I passed mile 3 I made note of the time and I was already ahead of my pace.  I was hoping I wasn't going too fast, but I felt great.  Heading towards West Shore Dr. I noticed a runner walking the other way.  As I past him, he yelled out that he couldn't finish, but encouraged me to keep going strong.  A little while later, I started to see the leaders already heading back in.

The water stops along the course were about 1.5 miles apart which worked out well for me.  I didn't like the smaller "DIXIE" cups they were using.  I later found out the race organizers were trying to be a bit "greener" this year so they avoided bottles and the larger green Gatorade cups.  Something they said they would reinstate next year.

I turned the corner onto Ocean Ave. by the firehouse and there was a crowd there with a lot of people cheering.  A number of my students said they might come out to watch and cheer.  I guess it was a little too early (about 8AM by now) for them, because none made it out.  No big deal at this point.  At mile 4, my pace was about 4 minutes faster than planned.  As I reached the causeway, the crowd of runners heading back now was pretty big.  Lots of us cheering each other on.  I recognized a few, Denise from Team Comp and Brian Travers (more about him later), to name a couple.  Also, lots of people cheering us on by the parking lot to Devereux  Beach.  Right in the middle of the causeway I chose to yell at the top of my lungs, "If it was easy, everyone would do this!!!".  Lots of people cheered.  I don't know what caused me to say that, but I felt the need.

As I neared the end of the causeway I could hear a couple of people calling my name.  It was Jeff and Janeen Barnett.  They have 3 children who went to Pingree, in fact their youngest daughter is a senior here this year.  I was lucky enough to teach Jake a couple of times when he was a student here.  Jeff was in fact, carrying a flip cam and filmed me as I approached.  Here is the link of that video.

Video #1 -The Causeway

As I passed by, Janeen gave me a big hug and it was such a BOOST emotional state.  The run was going to become really hard now for two reasons.  The "neck" of Marblehead is the hilliest part of the course with a few rollers.  More importantly, I would no longer be seeing runners going the other way.  The only other people I would see on the course now would be those who passed me, and those I might pass.  Jeff cycled with me for a while chatting about other races and then he took off ahead of me.

I was really feeling pretty good as I went along and was managing to still keep ahead of my 14:30/mile pace.  There was a water stop just past mile 6 and at this point, still no back pain at all.  As I was just reaching the half way point, I mentally wrapped my mind around the fact, that I was starting to head back towards Salem.

Just before mile 7, as I reached the bottom of a pretty tough hill, I noticed Jeff and Janeen again, cheering and filming my approach.  Had there been no one there, I probably would have walked up the hill.  But, with someone filming, I had to run.

Video #2 - Back side of Marblehead Neck

You might notice a person in the video.  She was ahead of me (within eyesight) for most of the run and I was actually able to pass her down the neck hill.  After I reached the bottom, she promptly passed me and I was never able to pass her again.  I wanted to, but was trying best to stay WITHIN THE BOX.  This is a mental place I have read about that helps you stay within the parameters YOU set for yourself.  You can leave the BOX near the end of race, but the last thing you want to do is try to blow past someone to early and then have nothing left as the pass you near the end.

As I got to the end of the "neck" I could feel a stiff breeze and it helped cool me down some.  One last water stop and then I was almost at the Marbledhead Fire Station.  Another Team Comp member was planning on meeting me at the station and was going to run with me the rest of the way.  As I got close to the corner and I could see Nancy Hatfield warming up and waiting for me.  And then I could hear her cheering as well. 

Five miles to go and I was almost back into Salem.  It was so great to have Nancy there with me.  Part of wished she pushed me a bit and then another part of wondered if I was running slower because of her.  Whatever it was, mentally I was glad she was there.  We talked about racing, life, family, our jobs, God, music, and other things I can't remember.  Nancy was offering me water along the way which was so very helpful.

Before I knew it, I was running up towards SSC on my way into downtown Salem.  When we reached the last water stop we noticed they no longer had cups left.  Luckily, Nancy was able to fill up her water bottles.  Running towards downtown I realized I had now been running further than I ever had before.  My knees were starting to get sore, but otherwise all else was fine.  There was a group of volunteers cheering us on as we neared the corner at Derby St.  Then I almost lost my cookies!

As we passed by the Wendy's a group entered the restaurant and I got a big whiff of the smells coming out of there and it almost made me sick.  I usually like Wendy's, but at this point, after running 11 miles, I was not in the mood for their food.  The odor quickly left as I turned the corner and headed for the Salem waterfront.

After passing the Friendship, I remembered standing on the steps of the Customs House when I became a US citizen back in 2007.  Salem really is a great town.  I was disappointed as we passed a runner who had already finished the race, when she yelled out.  "There is no use running anymore.  They have run out of medals."  I wasn't upset about the medals, but more about her view that there was now no more reason to run.

Well, we kept going and Nancy was still at my side doing her best to take my mind off of the running.  We talked more about playgrounds and a bit about both of our spouses.  We are both amazed how much support we get from them respective partners.  Neither one of them has a desire to do what we love to do, yet they are there either cheering or simply being there with our children when we are off making fools of ourselves.

With about a mile left, another friend showed up to run with me.  Bryan Lyons is a local guy who is also a triathlete.  We've connected at a number of different races and he wanted to help motivate me to finish strong. 

I now was a bit behind pace, looking to finish over my target time, but I WAS GOING TO FINISH!  With a mile left, we closed in on Salem Willows.  Lots of athletes were heading back to their cars and cheering me on to keep going.  I mentioned about about the lack of medals at the end and remarked, getting a hug from my son Owen, is all I need around my neck when I'm done.  Nancy later remarked that  she almost burst into tears hearing me say that.  One last push and we passed by Kathy Karch's place.  She knew I was running, and just as I passed her house she came out (8 months pregnant) to cheer me on to the end. 

I was going to do this, I could see the school and then the finish arch.  More importantly, I could see and hear Sue and Owen.  Both Bryan and Nancy peeled off as I made the "sprint" for the finish chute.

Right near the finish chute!!!
I looked at my watch and I was to later find, times were a bit off.  According to the official times, I was done in 3:11:00.  I was hoping for a 3:09:58, so not much to complain about.  Hugs from Sue and Owen and then a big surprise.   A finishers medal.  Bryan put it around my neck.  I guess after the rush of finishing I realized that Bryan had given me his medal.  What a awesome gesture from a fellow racer.

Feeling pretty good after running 13.1 miles

About 5 minutes after finishing, a woman came up to me in tears and wanted to tell me about her cousin who lives in Seattle.  He has achondroplasia like I do, and he also suffers from some major back and leg pain.  I faced the same pain 3 years ago and now can't believe I am doing what I'm doing.  I think the main reason I don't want to stop is that I'm worried I won't be able to do it in the future.  

I ended up finishing 2nd as a challenged athlete to Eric Stairs who finished first.  He was on a hand-cycle and by coincidence, his children go to the same elementary school as Owen.

Getting my engraved pint glass for 2nd place from Steve Dion

Well, a 5K in late October here in Salem, a mile 5 run on Thanksgiving, and then another 5K in December to benefit Special Olympics are the races left on my schedule for 2010.

This will probably be my last race report until 2011.  Thanks so much for those of you who take the time to read them and comment as well.  It is much appreciated.


  1. Congratulations! Sounds like a great time/great race. Great pic of the family. I don't think I ever saw them clearly before in your other posts. So, Happy Holidays until 2011!

  2. Great write-up John. Love hearing about other runners perspectives on a race. Congrats on a great run. :o) T.R.

  3. Happy Thanksgiving/Season's greetings from Ecuador!

  4. Hi John, I am the woman who approached you after the race telling you about my cousin in Seattle. I took your advice and am now following your blog. I talked with my cousin, told him about your blog, story and he was surely motivated by it. THANK YOU for being such a powerful example to me, my cousin, LPA and athletes in general. I hope to see you at another race! Wishing you well,

    Dani :)