Sunday, December 5, 2010

Running for Boston at White Rock

"It is mile 5 of  the White Rock marathon and my Garmin has just clicked over my fifth consecutive sub-7 mile.  It occurs to me that I'm either going to have a breakout day, or I've made a huge mistake.  But I've played my hand quite deliberately and I'll live with whatever it brings"

I've thought about today ever since I signed up after Frankenthon. The White Rock marathon became a big deal to me, and I earmarked it as a major goal race.  I put in the hard fast miles, prayed for good (ie cold) weather, and hoped it would be my day.

And the weather cooperated, with temperatures in the 30s.  It was a little windy, but I'll take that.  My goal for the day was to beat my previous marathon PR of 3:34, try to run a sub-8 minute mile marathon, and if possible run 7:50s and grab a 3:25 finish.

I'd worked hard to carefully build my mental defenses, and I was feeling good though slightly nervous.  After all, it doesn't matter how well you run in training if you don't transfer that to race day.

And I really wanted it.

And I was prepared to suffer to get it.

Now I always start out fast, but I've never run the first 5 miles of a marathon at sub-7 pace before.  And to be honest, it didn't feel like I was running all that hard.  But I still asked myself why I was pushing that much when my goal was 7:50s.

Until the little voice in my head answered straight back "we're not going for 7:50s, we're going for 7:20s".

And then everything clicked.  You see, 7:20s equates to a 3:15 marathon, which is my Boston qualifying time.  I know, because I looked it up and worked it out several weeks ago.

But why did I even look it up?  It's way out of my league.

But have you wondered why I've been so excited about pushing my midweek runs under 7:20 pace?  About running a sub-7 12 miler last week?  Could it be that subconsciously I've been training myself to take a shot at a goal I believed was unreachable?

And just like that I realized that it wasn't out of reach, and that the only thing holding me back was myself.  My race goals changed, and 5 miles into the marathon a 3:15 finish was the new target.  After all, I'm in the best shape of my life, I've trained at the required pace, the weather was on my side, and my mental game was locked in.

Time to roll the dice.

I went through 10k in a new PR of 43:52 and the half marathon distance in a new PR of 1:33:40.  I knew we were going to be exposed to the wind around the lake, and that there were hills in the latter miles, so I made sure to take advantage of any downhills or flats we found to bank time.

The course was pretty - there are some beautiful houses, and the crowd support along the way was wonderful.  There were also some funny signs - "your foot is hurting because you're kicking butt" was one of my favorites.

But as we made the turn down to the lake, I saw one that really hit me.  It said "There is no try.  You either do it or you don't".

And the little voice in my head agreed.  And I knew with utter certainty - about 12 miles into the race - that I was going to qualify for Boston.

The second half was just a blur.  My focus narrowed, my concentration intensified, and the only things that mattered were the road in front of me and the pace display on my garmin.

Whenever I slowed down, I made myself speed up again.  Whenever a hint of doubt entered my head it was instantly silenced.  If I started to feel tired, I just kicked it up a bit until I learned to ignore it.

I systematically ground away everything that would stop me reaching my goal until the only thing left for me to do was run.

We hit the famous hills known as the "Dolly Partons" between miles 20 and 23.  To be honest, I'm not sure exactly where we passed them.  I train on hills a lot, and these were nothing special.

I distracted myself by imagining how I was going to break the news to Nancy.

With 3 miles to go, I knew that barring disaster I had it in the bag.  The rest of the course was downhill, and I could run 8 minute miles and still make it with something to spare.

But I couldn't let myself coast, I wanted to get everything I could out of this run.  So I started talking to myself - saying anything I could think of to motivate myself.  "Don't give it away" and "finish the f***ing thing" were my favorites.

We joined up with the half marathoners for the last mile, which I hadn't anticipated, and I'm sure they must have thought I was crazy as I sped past chattering away to myself.

It was an unbelievable feeling to cross that finish line in 3:12:46 (7:21 pace), knowing I'd just qualified for Boston when I hadn't even considered it a possibility at the start of the race.

I was so buzzed.  I couldn't wait to get my medal and shirt and get back to the car.  I called Nancy and my first words were "so do you want to plan a trip to Boston in 2012"?

She was silent until it sunk in and then she screamed down the phone.  I think she was more excited than I was.

According to the unofficial results, I finished 165th out of 4578 finishers.  Their stats also tell me I passed 37 runners in the last quarter of the race (hooray) and was in turn eclipsed by 8 speedier souls (if I had but known I would've tripped 'em!!!).

I enjoyed this race - I've heard great things about it from a lot of people and they were all well deserved.  But of course, I would say that when I've just smashed my marathon PR by 22 minutes and qualified for Boston!!

There's a lot to take in from this race, and a lot of questions I need to ponder.  I'm going to have to take a few days to process it all before I come up with answers.

But for now I'm off to enjoy some Gavin time.


JohnF said...


clea said...

Oh wow! I was thinking your time was a 3:10. I had no idea you had qualified. I am soooo excited we both get to go in 2012!!!! Now we just have to figure out how to get registered when about a million people have the same idea. Mike said he'd have every computer ready at work, hitting refresh if we have to. I am so excited and happy for you!

K said...

This post left me with a huge lump in my throat! Love that you were able to break through the only barrier that ever seems to stop us...

So happy for you, Mark!

Paul Mastin said...

Mark--I need to train with you! I started out yesterday aiming for 3:20 (my BQ time--I guess I'm older than you!) and was on track feeling good for the first half. 1:39 at the halfway point. I stayed on pace for a mile or 2 after that, but then ran out of gas. Every mile was slower than the one before. Their little online tool tells me what I already knew: during the last quarter, about a million people passed me and I only passed one guy who was limping badly. Congrats on the BQ! Great work! You dug deep and rose to the challenge!

brendaontheRun said...

That's fantastic - well done Mark!

Allen said...

Mark, that is awesome!!! Now that I just read that, I'm gonna go run 10 or so today, which is more than I've done in a long time. Probably since I saw you at the huntsville 50k.... I've been slackin', but your site sure keeps me motivated. I think I'll wait til I'm about 60 before I try for boston.... Those times are more reasonable hahaha

Mark said...

Thanks everyone

Clea - since Boston sold out so quickly in 2011, I just hope they don't alter the qualifying times for 2012 :-)

Allen - your comment made me laugh, because that's almost word-for-word what I would have said until a few days ago.

chris mcpeake said...

Congrats on the BQ and huge PB. way to go

DavidH said...

Flippin' awesome dude! So happy for you. With all the trail running you do, the dollies are just some rollers.

Loved the focus and self-talk!