The first of the special ladies is Ishani, a young girl battling pediatric cancer. Her story is what inspired me to join Team Lemon this year, and her mother had told me that the family might come out and watch the finish. I know it might sound cliche, but I really did feel like I was at least in part running for her, and that somehow I'd be letting her and the other kids with cancer down if I didn't meet my goal. I kept thinking about all the pain and discomfort they go through for months at a time with chemo and radiation; how could I let a little short-lived pain and discomfort stop me? Especially knowing that she might be there at the end of the race with her family... what was I going to say: "things got tough so I gave up"? And yes, the family did show up! Here's a picture right after the race with Ishani. I'm pretty sure the look on her face is saying "who is this old guy that looks (and smells) awful, and why is my mom taking a picture of us?" :)
Another special lady that was on my mind was Valodia; who lives in Les Abricot, Haiti. Our family sponsors Valodia's education through the Hope for Kids program, and I get to spend time visiting with her when we go on our sister church visits to Haiti each year. This year's trip is indefinitely postponed due to the earthquake and its aftermath, so the people of Les Abricot have been on my mind a lot as we wonder how they are doing and wait to go see them. Les Abricot is far enough away from the quake epicenter that the village itself is probably OK, but everyone there (including Valodia) has family and friends in Port Au Prince - so I am anxious to get back and help however I can. Here's a picture of me and Valodia from my last trip to Haiti:
And the third special lady is the most important one in my life, my wife Susie. She puts up with so much as I train and participate in these events, and asks for very little in return. We had discussed that if I qualified for the Boston Marathon, that we'd probably go ahead and make the trip next year. She was all for that, as she really loved our trip earlier this year. She didn't talk about it a lot, because I know she didn't want me to feel pressure, but I could tell she really wanted to go. And yes, we could of course go anyway (and likely would have at some point); but you know how that goes - without a specific priority of WHEN to go, it's so easy for it to drift off into the "one of these years" category. So, when it got to those last few miles, I thought a lot about how I owed it to her to push through and make that trip happen. Writing this, I think that logic may seem a bit twisted (welcome to my world); but I really did want to achieve that goal for both of us.
OK, so now on to the race report. Great weather for a marathon, about 40 degrees when it started at 7am and probably low 50's by the end (high was upper 60's, but not until much later). Being a cold wimp, this was my outfit for the day. I had on a sleeveless shirt underneath the Team Lemon shirt that you can see; plus I wore running gloves (and wore the handy Hefty garbage bag "jacket" over everything for the first couple of miles). And yes, those are arm and ear warmers I'm wearing :) The arm and ear warmers came off before the race was over, of course, but served their purpose early in the morning.
Speaking of early, here's a picture of me before the race started, right near the start line. Came out weird (cell phone photo), but I kind of like the way it looks - sort of like it was painted.
I broke the race down into 5 major sections when I was planning my race strategy, so I'll do the same for the details of the race report. One interesting note about pacing and marathons: you have to take into account that you run MORE than 26.2 miles. The 26.2 mile measurement only applies if you follow the *perfect* line with no weaving or wasted movement. I learned that when I first got my Garmin 305 GPS watch and noticed the discrepancy in my first couple of long races, and I tried to keep that in mind and minimize it during the race. It seemed to work, as my measured distance for the race was 26.52 miles, as compared to 26.76 miles for the Austin Marathon and 26.72 miles for the Boston Marathon this past year. 2 tenths of a mile is over 1 1/2 minutes at my pace - which obviously can be important!
Miles 0 - 3.5
Right after the start, the course is mostly uphill for the next 5K, so my goal was to keep it around 8:00/mile; balancing the fresh legs and initial adrenaline with the need to conserve energy for the many miles that follow. And that is pretty much what I did, just held the pace and kept on target.
Miles 3.5 - 8
What goes up, must come down. After the first 3+ miles, you turn once for a short piece, then head back the other way; so there is an equivalent downhill for the uphill section just completed. Then it flattens out for the last couple miles. This gave me the opportunity to speed up a little bit, while still keeping the HR down and holding some in reserve.
Miles 8 - 14
This is where the Tarrytown hills begin. They don't necessarily look that tough in the course profile, nor feel too terrible when you are running them; but they take their toll. Many people don't take this section seriously enough, and pay for it dearly later in the run. My plan for this section was to just try to keep steady at around 8:00 min/mile, and I kept to that other than one port-a-potty break. As you can tell by my finishing time, good thing I didn't need more than one!
Miles 14 -18.5
Still trending uphill, but not as many rollers and not quite as tough. Just holding the pace again, but able to open run a little freer without the hills to worry about. There's one nice long straight stretch that goes from just before mile 16 to just after 17, and then you start the turns that eventually lead to the final (and predominantly downhill) section. I was actually feeling very good by the end of this part, although a little troubled that I was so close to the goal time and didn't have much time to spare.
Miles 18.5 - Finish
Since the end of the course is mostly downhill (mostly... I'll get back to that in a second...); there was no longer much point in conserving or holding back too much; as I can usually gauge fairly well where I stand and how much I have left in the tank to finish. As mentioned above, I was confident that I'd meet my goal time, but didn't have a lot of room for error. The "mostly" downhill had a few inclines in it that caused a couple of rough patches between miles 20 and 24. Inclines that you normally wouldn't think of as being a big deal can become big deals when your legs are really fatigued, and every slowdown means that you now have some time to make up. I think having been ill the last few days might have been taking some toll at that point as well, and the first doubts started creeping in. This is where the "three special ladies" became very important in keeping me moving and motivated!
The final couple of miles is where things got really interesting. I knew that I had a little time to spare, but you can lose that in a hurry with one bad mile; and I kept thinking of how horrible it would be to miss by just a few seconds! Just after I passed mile 25, I could see a long rise in the road, and that was NOT a welcome sight. If you look at the course profile, you'll notice a little "bump" at the end. Future marathoner's beware and take note... little bumps at the end of a marathon are not at all a good thing! It's not that it was a tremendously difficult incline, it's just that my legs were burning at that point and having to climb for a mile and hold my pace was fairly painful. I finally reached the Texas State Capitol building, made my way around it (when did it become that long to get around...), and made my way down the final stretch (downhill... yeah!!!) - and crossed the line in 3:29:58. Here's a picture Ishani's mom took just after I crossed the line; and you can kind of see the pain on my face and in the way I'm holding my body.
After meeting briefly with Ishani and her family, I made my way down the street and collected my finisher's shirt; then had to sit on the ground for a few minutes and drink some water. I had about 7 blocks to walk to get to my car, and that was a long and painful process, with at least 3 rest stops on the way :) I'm not usually that sore right afterwards, so I guess I really did push hard those last few miles. Finally made it to my car, and it was time to head home, mission accomplished.
Help the kids!
Alex's Lemonade Stand Foundation: to find a cure for childhood cancer for kids like Ishani ... Please help them by donating HERE
Hope For Kidz: program to help educate children in Haiti