End of Year Recap (2012)

2012 was a huge year.  A complete game changer, no question.  If I were to never run again after this year, I would say I went out with a bang.  If I continue this “hobby” for decades to come, I will point to 2012 as the year in which I realized I was capable of more than I thought possible.  Not only did I get faster, I became more confident, at times almost recklessly so.  I broke through some significant barriers, pushed myself farther and reevaluated the idea of improvement.

It is for these reasons and several others that I will have to abandon any humility I may have as I write this post.  Seriously, if self-congratulatory fist-pumping gives you an allergic reaction, stop reading now or go find an EpiPen because your throat is about to close up.  In the words of a fellow blogger, I’m sorry I’m not sorry, but I am damn proud of what I have achieved this year.  I put in a ton of time and sweat into training every single week without fail, dealing with everything from heavy snow to blistering heat.  I cut back on beers (which is more than I can say for a close friend), kept the partying down at several birthdays, woke up too early over the summer and eliminated key staples of my diet like milk and peanut butter.  In other words, I’d better have something to show for these meaningful lifestyle changes.

While not every accomplishment can be represented with numbers or drawings, that’s where I will start.

Recap_2012

On geography alone, this was a crazy year.  Thanks to miles hoarding, road tripping, doubling-up and a few perfectly timed airline deals, I was able to complete twelve states, nine of which I had never visited in my life: Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia, Minnesota, Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma and Nevada.

Race Stats

Half Marathons Run: 11
Fastest: 1:30:47 (Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon, PR)
Slowest: 2:08:32 (Madison Montana Half Marathon)*
Average: 1:39:55*

*1:37:04 is the average if we remove the lung-killing Montana race at 9,000+ feet.

Marathons Run: 6
Fastest: 3:25:12 (IMT Des Moines Marathon, PR)
Slowest: 3:54:38 (Run Crazy Horse Marathon)
Average: 3:37:54

Top 3 Half Marathon Medals:

Oak Barrel Half Marathon (#1)

Oak Barrel Half Marathon (#1)

Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon (#2)

Kentucky Derby Festival miniMarathon (#2)

Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon (#3)

Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon (#3)

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Top 3 Marathon Medals:

Williams Route 66 Marathon (#1)

Williams Route 66 Marathon (#1)

Run Crazy Horse Marathon (#2)

Run Crazy Horse Marathon (#2)

Little Rock Marathon (#3)

Little Rock Marathon (#3)

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Worst Medal of 2012: It was actually a great year for medals.  I can’t really find one that I truly dislike all that much.  However, if I had to pick one, it would be Idaho Falls, whose generic and rusty design I forgave because of its tiny field, excellent organization and post-race food spread.

Number of fellow runners: 142,971
Biggest race: 34,301 (Shamrock Shuffle 8K)
Smallest race: 69 (Madison Montana Half Marathon)

Mileage Stats:

Miles Run: 1,366.6 (new record, previously held by 2011: 1,195 miles)
Average Pace: 7:53 (new record, previously held by 2010: 7:55)
Race Miles Run: 329.4 (new record, previously held by 2011: 266.8 miles)
Average Pace: 7:50 (new record, previously held by 2010: 7:52 miles)

0129_miamihalf 01So there you have it.  I ran the most miles of any previous year, the most race miles, kept the fastest yearly pace and secured a PR at every single major race distance.  I broke 20 minutes at the 5K three times, broke 41 minutes at the 10K, ran under 1:33 three times at the half marathon and broke 3:30 twice at the full distance.  My average marathon finishing time of 3:37:54 was over three minutes faster than last year’s PR.  I ran a record number of races (24) and finished a record number of states (12).  I even managed two half marathons on consecutive days without serious consequences.

0407_1_oakbarrelhalf 25I also stopped being afraid of certain numbers.  I no longer doubt myself when I see a sub-7 pace in a half marathon split.  A sub-8 marathon split used to be a red flag, a sign that race myopia had taken over and that I’d soon regret it.  Not so much anymore.  Thanks to the lessons I learned in 2012, I have realized that it’s good to be aggressive sometimes, especially if the weather is perfect.  I feel I owe it to myself to go as hard as possible, even if I think I’m exhausting my limits.  Because of this attitude, I won my first age group award at the Oak Barrel Half Marathon.  And then I won three more.  I placed in the top 1% of finishers three times and earned a top 500 finisher in Indy.

0427_louisville 08But all these stats are meaningful only to one person: me.  I honestly don’t expect anyone to analyze and digest them or derive any sort of real conclusion from them.  Besides, everyone is different.  A sub-elite marathoner would see my results and pat my head with a mix of encouragement and pity, like a Bengal tiger staring down at a fat, Manx cat.  Similarly, there are those who consider me fast.  To them I say, you can definitely catch up to me.  It’s just a matter of gradual progress with a few spikes of reckless speed here and there.  But regardless of whether these “other” people are faster or slower, they really are what make the sport fun for me.

0505_mini 12Because I never run, I train.  I prepare.  Every single time I lace up and go outside or hit the treadmill, it’s in preparation for a race, which is like a training run except I die sooner, usually surrounded by others doing the same thing.  On occasion, I see familiar faces because I’ve coerced them into running with me.

mono-locoHere are 2012’s repeat offenders:

Otter (10 races, running hetero-lifemate status maintained)
Danielle / T-Rex (4)
Marla (4)
Greg (4)
Steve (3)
Nolan (2)
Regan (2)
Jeff (2)
Jim (2)

And therein lies the core of how awesome 2012 was.  While it’s true that I enjoy running and traveling by themselves, no race trip is ever made worse with company.  Not only did I get to run a ton of races with close friends, but I made new ones whose racing adventures will surely continue to overlap with mine.  finish-lineMuch like last year, I got the chance to hang out with friends from bygone times (college, high school and even middle school) both on and off the course.  I visited three enormous monuments (Crazy Horse, Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam), played spectator at the best race in the world, ran two races under 20°F, one above 9,000 feet and wolfed down amazing post-run burgers at Flip (AL), Bluegrass Brewing Company (KY), Blue Door (MN), Zombie (IA), Holsteins (NV) and more.

Did I also mention that I got married this year, a huge spike in my yearlong endorphin high?

0826_halfmadness 03But though 2012 was a year to remember fondly, it ended with a foot injury that I’m currently nursing.  Yes, I ran far too aggressively over the last three months without enough downtime or cross-training.  At least I think that explains it.  In fact, it shouldn’t surprise me at all that something happened, given how much additional work my feet and legs did this year, especially in the latter half.  But the optimist in me says that this is just another lesson that has to be learned.  Nobody’s invincible and even the meanest streak comes to an end.

In the words of a mighty wizard, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.”  As I continue to move forward in life, keeping close ties with old friends and meeting new people, I’m thrilled that I can do it all by doing what the human body does best: run.  With every additional mile, I am reminded not only that I am fulfilling an evolutionary goal, but that happiness is a choice and not a consequence.  Some people run because they feel they have to – to maniac-dinnerlose weight or to mitigate the effects of a greasy meal.  I run because I want to, because I enjoy every step.

So can 2013 live up to these impossibly high standards?  I hope so.  I’m shifting focus away from speed and towards endurance, made most apparent by two races looming on the horizon: the Ice Age Trail 50k and the North Country Run 50-miler.  Though I certainly want to recover quickly and get back into a regular pattern of training, my left foot isn’t letting me just yet.  The Disney Marathon starts off 2013 in just under 3 weeks, which means I’m furiously rewriting my training regimen to keep 1215_1_hooverdammarathon 03fitness levels up without hurting myself further.  Tune in on January 14 to see if that happened.

And on that note, I bid ye all a Happy New Year.  May you achieve your goals, learn from your mistakes and keep pressing onwards with an insatiable desire to live.  Because we must always remember that whatever we do in this sport, we do ourselves.  Sometimes we receive encouragement from others and in certain instances we might get swept up in someone else’s training plan.  But at the end of the day, what you do and the choices you make are yours.  You plan, you prepare, you follow through and lastly, you learn.

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State 29: Nevada (2012 Hoover Dam Marathon)

1. Not Quite Ready to Rock

I had different intentions for the Silver State.  Very early in my searches for out-of-state races I came across Calico Racing, an organization that puts together many unique runs throughout Nevada.  Chief among them in my opinion was the E.T. Full Moon Midnight Marathon & 51K, which runs near the secretive Area 51 site (or so they say).  I had planned on running it this year but flights to Vegas weren’t cheap in early August and a certain bachelor party had already been planned for Sin City about a month later.  So in the interest of keeping me off food stamps, I postponed my Nevada race to another year.

That is, until I got this chat from my father-in-law:

Steve: thoughts about doing vegas half in dec?

Guess we're going back to Vegas

Guess we’re going back to Vegas.

He was, of course, referring to the Rock ‘n Roll Las Vegas Marathon & Half Marathon, whose suggestive catchphrase is “Strip at Night” because it gives runners the chance to run through the heart of Vegas without the sun to upstage the seizure of color happening all around you.  He and his two brothers had been throwing around the idea of doing the race and decided to rope me into the conversation.  Obviously, I had “thoughts” on the matter.

It may already be public knowledge that I’m not a big fan of Competitor’s Rock ‘n Roll races in general.  Though I’m not explicitly boycotting them, I try to work my way around them (which can be tough) when choosing races.  For starters, signing up for any of their events will burn a hole in your moisture-wicking pockets.  Their “early bird” rate for the 2013 Vegas race is $145.  I won’t pay that much money for any race unless it’s a World Marathon Major or has a cartoon mouse as the titular sponsor.  To make matters worse, the marathon and half marathons are priced equally, so you get gouged even harder comparatively for running half the distance (though I will admit that this tiny price differential is typical for most races).

While this wouldn’t be a huge dealbreaker for me, I just plain don’t like the glitter and noise that they throw into their events.  Plus, any organization that goes out of their way to promote Kate Gosselin or any “Real Housewife” as a celebrity in their event has a questionable modus operandi.  They aren’t the only organization that likes to tout their more famous runners, but Rock ‘n Roll’s focus on glitz and flash seems more pointed than other large races.

All that said, I would have still agreed to go were it not for one huge problem: last year’s race was a disaster.  While I didn’t run it myself, the blogosphere largely panned the race for several reasons, including an over-bloated field, a chaotic starting area, poorly designated half/full courses, riotous convergences between the two distances and even widely reported stomach conditions stemming from what could have been dirty water at certain aid stations.

So when I was offered my thoughts, I said I would rather wait until they get their ducks in a row before committing.  However, if Steve and his brothers were set on running a desert half in December, I knew of a smaller race called the Hoover Dam Marathon (put together by Calico Racing) that might interest them.  Lo and behold, they were not only interested but borderline gonzo about the marvel of engineering and within 24 hours everyone had signed up, bought flights, and made more than one Dam joke.  I guess that’s how it feels to be an adult.

We were headed for the shores of Lake Mead

We were headed for the shores of Lake Mead

I'm freaking out here, man ...

I’m freaking out here, man …

I brought a Jimmy John’s sandwich on the plane with me so I wasn’t starving when I landed.  However, I had neglected to tell the brothers that they should go and eat without me.  So the first thing that happened after I put my bags in the trunk of the rental car was drive to the Palms’ $9 buffet.  Fair enough, I can always eat more.  So I packed my plate with paella, shrimp scampi, mac-n-cheese, Thanksgiving turkey, sweet potato purée and several other carb-heavy foods.  It wasn’t the smartest choice I’ve made, but hey, when in Vegas.  So after my second lunch, we drove out to Boulder City to pick up our race packets at the Hacienda Hotel, the only sign of life for miles and likely the first lightning rod to lure out-of-state gamblers.  Once back in Vegas, we went to the Fremont Street Experience where we enjoyed a crazy psychedelic LED light show on a cylindrical ceiling draped over the boardwalk.

That night none of us were hungry for dinner.  The most I could put down was a last-minute CLIF bar before going to bed, wondering if the buffet gorge had been an egregious pre-race mistake.

2. Race Day

We were at the Hoover Dam, just outside of Boulder City, at 7:45 AM the next morning, just fifteen minutes shy of the marathon and 10k start.  I put on my usual base layer but added the official T-shirt that the brothers had made, which said “Team Chicago: Another Dam Race” on the back.  We took the pre-race group shot and I made my way to the timing clocks.  Since the half wouldn’t start for another hour, the brothers were left to hang out in the car, where I imagined they listened to gangsta rap and watched Key & Peele clips on their phones.

Left to right: Jim, Greg, Steve, Me

Left to right: Jim, Greg, Steve, Me

The first three miles of the race are all uphill on a paved sidewalk next to the main road with Lake Mead to our left.  We could see how much the water level had dropped on its stepped shores because the rock closest to the water was a much lighter color.  There were even a few islands in the middle that might not have been visible in previous years.  This unsettling detail though, wasn’t enough to detract from our enjoyment of the red and brown landscape before us.  Three slow uphill miles later, we were off the sidewalk and onto a trail path only about four people wide.  To reach the trail we had to pass through a chain link gate that was only partway open.  As Greg would later mention, that gate made us feel like running through this area was a huge privilege that few ever get.

Google Earth rendering of the first / last five miles of the course.

Google Earth rendering of the first / last five miles of the course.

The next two miles were the race’s best.  Before we could reach the dam’s electrical towers, we had to cross a few mountains on this trail, which was mostly packed red dirt with a few loose rocks.  To get through these mountains we went through five tunnels, each excavated by dynamite, presumably around the time the dam was built in the 1930s.  However, unlike most tunnels, the walls and roof of these were like the inside of a cave, jagged and wild.  Though the organization had laid out glowsticks in a straight line to mark the path, the ground was pitch black.  Even with my sunglasses perched on my hat, I couldn’t see the contour of the ground but I didn’t care.  I was loving it.  I also found myself wondering how much Steve and his brothers were going to enjoy this.

Two of the five tunnels (Evan Pilchik / Calico Racing Photography)

Two of the five tunnels (Evan Pilchik / Calico Racing Photography)

Around mile 5, we’re done with the tunnels and we’re getting close to the dam.  The 10k ends at there while everyone else has to turn around.

This last mile is also where we would encounter the steepest hills.  I picked up a lot of speed as I cruised downward, knowing full well I’d be climbing these in just a few minutes.  We reached a clearing where we ran in between two large clusters of electrical towers and pylons.  I heard what sounded like rain on a stretched plastic sheet, but soon learned it was the sound of electricity buzzing through the complex.  Not long after, we reached a sign that said “No Passing, No Headphones, 1/10 Mile.”  Shortly after, we were on a thin path surrounded by juts of red rock and a few quick turns (a fat man’s squeeze of sorts) followed by the switchbacks.

When you hear that word, you might think of zigzagging roads, slicing their way up or down a mountainous slope.  In Greg’s words, a more apt description would have been a long wheelchair ramp.  Runners descended this section in single-file, slingshotting their way around each 180-degree turn by holding on to a metal handrail.  We did this about six times before reaching a large platform overlooking the famous Hoover Dam.

To be perfectly honest, I was more in awe of the enormous bypass that connected both sides of the canyon.  It was the first thing I saw as we reached the dam because of its sheer enormity.  Recently completed in 2010, it rerouted a lot of the traffic away from the crest of the dam and is, as I’ve mentioned, enormous.  So I’m sad to report that when I looked left and saw the actual Hoover Dam, I was a little underwhelmed.  That, and there were web-like nets of electrical wires tainting the otherwise simple brilliance of the structure.  It was like reaching the statues of Easter Island but having to peer through bramble patches to see them.

Google Earth rendering of the Dam turnaround.

Google Earth rendering of the Dam turnaround.

I only had about six seconds to take it all in before I had to turn around and march in single file up the switchbacks.  I haven’t mentioned this yet, but the marathon is a two-loop course.  So everything I was doing I knew I had to do again, with 13.1 miles on my legs.  As I slogged my way up those narrow turns, I couldn’t help but think two things: this sucks, and douche almighty this is going to hurt during round two.

I spent the next fifty minutes undoing the entire route, but this time the majority of it was downhill.  I ran through the five tunnels again, went through the chain link gate, and re-entered the sidewalk for three miles of easy downhill.  The half marathon had started about twenty minutes earlier, so one by one, I saw the brothers running uphill: Jim (wave) then Greg (high-five) and then Steve (fist-bump).  I reached the bottom of the descent at a 7:15 pace, knowing I had probably gone too fast.  After rounding a volunteer at the finish line, it was time to déjà-run back to the dam.

Nope, not the finish.  Just the turnaround.

Nope, not the finish. Just the turnaround.

Back up those uphill miles.  Through the chain link gate.  Five more tunnels.  Another rocky downhill to the electrical towers.  Through the squeeze and down the switchbacks.  Jim, then Greg, then Steve.  Up until this point, it definitely felt like I had jumped backwards two hours in time.  I wasn’t deteriorating too quickly and I was in control of the race.  But as I climbed those switchbacks for the second time, my quads began to welcome the prickly and warm sensation just before a cramp.  Luckily, I made it past the squeeze and to the top before my legs could reach a full boil.

Once past the electrical towers and up the worst climb of the race, I came to a comforting realization.  I ran past the 20-mile marker and found that I wasn’t dying.  This wasn’t the easiest course, but 20 miles in I was still fighting.  With few hills left to climb, I felt confident about the 10k to go.  My demise was forgetting that in a marathon, the last 10k sucks even if it’s easy on a normal day.  But I was determined to fight it out.

Long-sleeve tech t-shirt, medal and bib

Long-sleeve tech t-shirt (back pictured), medal and bib

Past the tunnels, through the gate and back on the sidewalk, everything was going well.  Just three miles left and I would be done.  But right around mile 23, probably because I didn’t eat dinner the night before, I was struck down hard by a terrible bonk.  All day the weather had been hovering in the mid 40s, there was very little wind and I wasn’t sweating more than usual.  So I couldn’t blame it on heat or dehydration – this was the real deal.  I was out of sugar and my body was through.  Downhill meant nothing anymore.  Two hours earlier I had scorched down this path, bereft of all respect for the distance and practically pointing and laughing at everyone as they dragged themselves up.  This time, I was running almost two minutes per mile slower, wondering how the hell this felt so hard.

My watch beeped at 24.8 miles (the last 5k split) and I saw that my pace was in the low 9s.  I looked down and saw my feet moving at what I thought was faster than that.  But that pace kept dropping.  I saw Greg around mile 25, just before the final turnaround.  “Keep it up and you’ll catch me!” he taunted, but I knew I was finished.  My lungs were fine, my heart was still working, but my legs were shot.  The climbs and descents had put more than enough punishment in them to sponge up all the buffet food I had eaten the day before, leaving me to run purely on electrical impulses.

1215_1_hooverdammarathon 06Mercifully, the last 0.2 miles are downhill, ending in a quiet celebration at Lake Mead’s Boulder Beach, where several picnic tables were flush with energy drinks, water, cornbread, slices of ham, cinnamon rolls, and bowls of chili.  A volunteer asked me what I wanted and all I could do was slur my words through a warped mouth.  As I struggled to communicate, I learned that the race had gotten to more than just my legs.  Before I could eat anything, I had to settle down (and clean the chili off my shoes that I had spilled because I was a delirious mess of a person).  After lying down in the backseat for a few minutes, I was ready to chow down on some post-race savory treats.  It was also time to celebrate: I had finished my 12th marathon on the 12th month of the 12th year and with a respectable finishing time of 3:35.  As a side bonus, I became eligible to join the 50 States Marathon club!

I was also happy to learn that the reaction from the brothers was unanimously positive.  From the challenge to the scenery and unexpected terrain, they had a great time.  Given that I had shifted their plans from a huge, big city production to a small, scenic alternative, I was relieved.  The whole event was very understated and quiet.  There were no spectators to speak of and the calm nature of the finish line mirrored the quiet landscape all around us.  But whatever zen-like peace we might have achieved on the shores and slopes around Lake Mead, we instantly dispelled it when we returned to Las Vegas.

Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo, Tempura Avocado and Steak Fries

Kobe Beef, Teriyaki Glaze, Nori Furikake, Crispy Yam, Spicy Mayo, Tempura Avocado and Steak Fries

Since my bachelor party weekend in early September, I have been dreaming of the Rising Sun burger at Holstein’s.  Located in the shopping center of the Cosmopolitan, my friends and I randomly found it and loved it.  It was therefore the frontrunner for my post-race meal.  I called Damian, a friend of mine from Chicago (who I actually know since childhood) who had recently moved to Vegas.  It had been just a few weeks since his wife had given birth to their first child, so I was unsure if he would be available to join me for a face-stuffing.  Fortunately, he was, and despite his best efforts at recommending restaurants, I couldn’t convince my stomach that there was an option better than Holstein’s.  We caught up over a spirited conversation whose topics ranged from the questionable virtues of Las Vegas conservatives to the subtle spark of well-seasoned greens and even a quick tutorial on his and his wife’s favorite game, Spot the Ho.

Left to right: Holsteins Cow, Me, Damian

Left to right: Holsteins Cow, Me, Damian

By Vegas standards, it was a tame weekend.  Nobody (to my knowledge) drained their net worth, accidentally married a stripper or woke up in an opium den handcuffed to a severed leg.  But I won’t complain.  I had a great time with the brothers Snyder, often feeling myself like the youngest sibling.  I continued my streak of fast marathon times and beheld another world-famous monument, this time through the barebones organization of Calico Racing.  Lastly, this was my last race for 2012, which has been a truly game-changing year.

But more on that later.  For now, it’s time to eat and be merry.

Marathon_Map 036 (NV)

State 28: Oklahoma (2012 Williams Route 66 Marathon)

1. Injury Paranoia

A normal person would say that there are many things wrong with signing up for five marathons in five months.  However, my biggest problem with it is the constant danger of injury.  One slip and it can jeopardize your training and throw your peak fitness into a tailspin, ruining good performances at all of your races.  It wouldn’t be such a big deal if injuring yourself meant falling down an elevator shaft or getting hit in the face with a wrecking ball.  If that were the case, few people would ever hobble their way to the starting line.  Instead, injuries happen from tiny changes, like putting just 1% more power into your left foot when you run or tilting your hips by a miniscule amount because new shorts make you chafe in odd places.

But this fall season, I was doing alright.  I was lucky to be churning through my training while avoiding all injuries, serious or trivial.  But not everyone was blessed with such providential good fortune a statistical outlier.  In fact, a lot of my running compatriots were getting injured.  Glenn started feeling pains in his foot right before the Marine Corps Marathon; Otter became acquainted with some dastardly IT issues after Chicago; even ultrarunner Jeff, an otherwise fast, sturdy and prolific runner, was sidelined with pains.  It was like walking down your street and seeing everyone’s house randomly catching fire, knowing it was just a matter of time before yours ignited.

Though I haven’t had a real, painful detour in my training regimen since after last year’s Chicago Marathon, I have spent most of this year battling tiny, nagging discomforts.  In late spring, my left arch was acting up, but that eventually went away.  A few months later, it was my second toe that was giving me grief.  But once I switched over to the lightweight Saucony Kinvaras, it all seemed to magically go away.  I don’t like believing in magic bullets, but for the time, it seemed like I had found one.  No matter how far or how fast I ran in those shoes, I always felt completely invincible.  Crazy Horse could have crippled me, but it didn’t.  Three weeks later, I ran a huge PR in Des Moines and kept going without a single issue.  I felt like nothing could stop me.

So it was clearly frustrating when I strained my lower back painting our apartment the weekend before the Williams Route 66 Marathon.

Painting the apartment.  Standing against a wall, rolling up, rolling down.  Maybe if I had done this while parkouring a jagged cliff face or street fighting a drug cartel, I’d be a little less upset.  Or not.  But the point is, I got injured doing an activity that nobody would call exercise (except maybe for your palms).

It’s not the first time this has happened.  I first strained it during the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon in 2010 and most recently five days before this year’s Grandma’s Marathon.  It’s a perpetual tightness in my lumbars that makes every waking moment uncomfortable.  Straight leg lifts cause intense pain, lying down involves constant fidgeting, never quite comfortable, and if sitting for 9 hours a day at a workstation is bad, then standing up afterward is the worst.  And that’s how I found myself the week before this race.

2. A Sneaky Compatriot

Sometime in September I received an email from Nolan, my friend from middle school with whom I ran the 2011 Georgia Half Marathon and the 2012 Mercedes-Benz Half Marathon, telling me he was “trying to decide if running a marathon a week before Thanksgiving is a good idea.”  I obviously told him it was a great idea and that I was running the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa.  Given that Tulsa isn’t exactly the most exotic city, I was shocked when he signed up.  To date I’m not entirely sure what motivated him (because in the interest of full disclosure, what drew me to the race was the medal), but I’m glad he decided to tag along.

We both landed at the exact same time on Saturday and hopped into our rental car, which was a beige Ford Crown Victoria straight from an 80s cop movie.  Easily the most old-fashioned rental I’ve ever been given.  It tilted slightly when I turned the key, the CD player was definitely twenty years old and you could smell the grandfather in the leather seats.  We were about to leave the parking lot when my phone rang.  It was Otter.

“Hey buddy, where are you?” he asked.
“In Tulsa, pulling out of the rental lot.”
“Stop.”
I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a car behind me, a much nicer one.
“Uh, I can’t.  There’s a car behind me.”
“Dude, I’m in Tulsa.”
“What?” I said looking at Nolan, who was not entire sure what was going on.  “No you’re not.”
“That’s a nice striped sweater you’re wearing.”

I instantly burst into laughter.  At first I thought he was in the car behind me, trailing me like a spy.  He wasn’t.  He had been sitting near the terminal exit, waiting for me to come out.  However, his espionage skills were as rusty as my rental’s exhaust, so he lost me very quickly.  He had planned several different ways of surprising me but instead was relegated to a phone call.  All those times he had told me how jealous he was that I was running Route 66 were all lies.  Lies!

“So,” he started, sheepishly, “can you come pick me up?”

I turned the car around and circled the airport.  He was at the departures dropoff with two bags.  After the requisite introductions and general what-the-hell questions, I asked him where he was staying.

“With you guys.”

I guess I was the only tool who didn’t write anything clever on his bib.

Very sneaky, Otter.  So what was once a solo trip out to Oklahoma to tackle a quirky marathon had become a dudes weekend.  I say “quirky” because there were several components to this race that stood out from the hundreds of other marathons out there.  For one, they give extra perks to serial marathoners – the Marathon Maniacs, the Half Fanatics and 50-States Club.  Second, they have an official, race-sanctioned 0.3-mile optional detour to an underwhelming architectural landmark called the “Center of the Universe.”  It’s basically a circular plaza where you can hear your echo if you stand right in the middle.  Lastly, this race gives out amazing medals, all inspired by American vintage cars.  There’s a website hosted by a serial marathoner named Paul Gentry called “26.2 Medals” that puts out a yearly list of the best marathon medals, selected by a committee of running veterans.  Route 66 has made the top 3 spots in the last three years.  This year’s medals, in the organizers’ words, “honor the strength and beauty of the 1936 Dodge pickup truck.”

As someone who runs for the hardware, I had no choice but to run this one.

(left to right): Otter, Danielle (T-Rex), Me, Amanda, Nolan

After getting lunch at Café Elote and hitting up the Expo, we checked into our hotel, which was right next to the starting line.  Later that night we went to Olive Garden for a dinner that had been co-organized by the one and only T-Rex Runner.  Once there we met several Marathon Maniacs and like-minded long-distance enthusiasts.  It was a fun gathering because it gave us a glimpse into the Maniacs culture, even for just a couple of hours.  Most everyone was wearing a SWAG shirt of some kind, showing off the races they’ve finished and talking about their most recent exploit.  Some members stood up and gave short speeches, others detailed the rest of the year’s race schedule, inside jokes were said, people called out.  It was like bearing witness to the “minutes” of a secret club.  All in all, it was a very fun night and I’m glad we decided to be part of it.

3.  Race Day

We were in our corrals by 7:50, ready to make it happen.  Nolan had just one marathon under his belt and despite a great training season, came down with congestion and a headcold the week before.  This wasn’t helping his confidence, so he said he’d play it safe.  Otter was still battling a knee injury, so he decided to run with T-Rex at a slower pace.  I however, was feeling awesome.  My back was at around 80%, I was feeling fresh, and it was in the low 40s much to my delight.  After a Native American prayer and the National Anthem, we were off, released into downtown Tulsa.

Nolan has three poses. This is one of them.

But not for long.  The course started south on Main Street before making a left onto 15th and taking us away from the downtown area.  Only a mile into the race, we were already climbing the first of many hills.  Slow up, fast down.  That’s always been my strategy and I started using it from the very beginning.  I had to focus on my legs, breathing and back because the course wasn’t giving me much else to admire for those first miles.  There was a nice detour around a residential pond, but it wasn’t until mile 3 that we entered Cascia Hall’s campus (go Commandos!).  This Catholic preparatory institution, as it turns out, is where my friend Jayne went to school.  However, when I first saw the multistory building, which looked like a Mediterranean Luxury Hotel or a Tuscan Fortress, I would have never guessed that it was a high school.

A trip through Cascia’s Campus, aka, a vacation in Italy

Regardless, for the next four miles we would run through gorgeous neighborhoods with enormous houses made of stone.  I was keeping a steady pace, just under 8 minutes per mile, enjoying the pristine lawns and occasional pockets of spectators.  This beautiful strip of race ended as we hit the Arkansas River around mile 7.  The next six consisted of an out-and-back with a slight detour into a commercial strip, which I did not like at all.  I love running through downtown urban centers and neighborhoods – but hate strip malls for some reason.  I was happy to be back alongside the river, despite the insistent headwinds we were facing.  After the U-turn, the wind was at my back and the half marathoners could feel the end approaching.

I thought it was going to sting to see the half marathoners jut out and gleefully finish their race, right as we marathon warriors come to the realization that we are only halfway done.  But fueled by my success four weeks ago in Des Moines, I told myself that the true race had just begun.  I crossed the half mat in 1:44:33, the fastest first half I’ve ever run.  That could have frightened me a little – I wasn’t running as conservatively as I had planned.  But instead, I saw it as a sign that I’m just faster now.  Something happened in the last four months to turn me into a faster marathoner (that “something” by the way, was summer ending).  So I pressed on, speeding up and passing runners.

Otter at the Center of the Universe. Nolan is unimpressed.

Though it was easy to keep up a fast pace in the second half of the race in Des Moines, Tulsa was proving much harder.  Not only were some significant winds pushing me back, but the worst of the hills were all in the second 13.1 miles.  On more than one occasion, I found myself analyzing my energy levels pessimistically and I had to repress them, convincing myself that anyone would be tired after running 16 miles.  Right?

After passing several domes, hospitals and parking lots, we were in a depressed area of town that we had seen the day before when we visited the Center of the Universe.  I recognized Archer Street, where the detour takes place, and saw a banner up ahead for it.  However, I messed up.  A volunteer told the runner ahead of me to “just go ahead” in a dismissive tone, which I interpreted to mean “if you go this way, you’ll avoid the detour.”  So I turned left onto a bridge on Cincinnati Avenue.  At the top, I looked right and saw the rusty tower that overlooks the Center of the Universe one street down, knowing I had goofed.  I guess that meant I wasn’t running “the world’s shortest ultra marathon” anymore.  For some reason, I felt determined to PR now.  I hadn’t skipped that gimmicky detour for nothing – it was my obligation to run my fastest marathon now.

But goddamn these hills weren’t going to make that easy.  And the worst was yet to come.

A stroll through the University of Tulsa

After rounding Centennial Park at mile 18, the course heads south on Peoria Avenue, where for the next two miles we would climb with the winds pushing down against us, as if sliding down the road.  To make matters worse, we were running through more commercial strips, devoid of any scenery.  In fact, it wouldn’t be until around mile 21 that we would enter the University of Tulsa’s campus for a nice break from the monotony.  By that point, keeping a 7:40 pace was a chore.  I wanted to slow down but my PR was quite literally at my heels.  Slowing down wasn’t an option, so the kick continued, my feet slipping into prickly numbness for minutes at a time only to come back to life at the next turn.  I thought of Jeff “RunFactory” Lung’s advice about pushing through the pain, almost embracing it, and kept moving forward.

Finish Line!  Is … is that building sinking?

But I soon learned that the mantra only works on flat terrain.  By mile 24, even the downhills were killing me, so you can imagine how bad it was to climb.  More than one cruel hill at mile 25 made me slow down back into the 8s.  It was then that I did the sad math: I wouldn’t be PRing today, but not by a large margin.

The last two miles were one straight shot down 21st street, heading west towards the river, where the finish line and post-race party were waiting for me.  “Straight” doesn’t mean “flat” so my pace was erratic.  Although my PR ghost had passed me, I was still feeling relatively good.  My legs were tired and my feet felt like ground beef, but my lungs were doing alright and my back hadn’t made a single complaint.  Plus, I was practically replicating my PR time from four weeks ago on a considerably tougher course.  By any measurable standard, I was thrilled.  So when I turned into Veteran’s Park for the last 0.2 miles, I couldn’t help but be happy.  I churned out a hard effort with very little recovery time and still managed to stop the clock at just over 3:27.  While I had suspected that Des Moines could have been a fluke, this race seemed to suggest that this was my new normal.  Awesome.

However, not everyone would share my enthusiasm.  Nolan was doing well until mile 19.8, where he went through a devastating bonk that kept him from running more than a third of a mile at a time.  Otter’s knee didn’t cooperate either, but he still managed to get through the entire course without being dragged away on a stretcher.  The good news for him is that his race schedule has ended for the year (or so he says) so he can dedicate more time to recovery and less to eeking out respectable times on a gimp knee.  As for Nolan, he has future dates set with the marathon, so his redemptive run is also on the horizon.  But we all finished the same race, climbed the same hills, and earned the beautiful 2012 medal (which Otter described appropriately as “a flying guitar pick”).

Regular chump medal (left), Special Marathon Maniacs medal (right)

After a few celebratory beers in the post-race party, we hopped on the shuttles and went back to shower at the hotel.  Not long after, we were at McNellie’s, where we stuffed our faces with hefty burgers and craft brews.  I opted for an open-faced chili cheeseburger and a sampler of dark ales, all of which hit the spot quite perfectly.  We paid the tab and made our way to the airport, where we dropped off our “casket on wheels” as the Budget attendant so eloquently put it.  Otter and I were on the same flight back to Chicago and Nolan would share his flight with T-Rex and her friend Amanda.

CRAMP

All in all, a very successful weekend (for me anyway).  I ran my 300th race mile for the year, finished my 11th marathon, 9th marathon state and 28th overall state towards my half marathon goal.  And I confirmed that yes, the Route 66 Marathon is unique.  The organizers go beyond the typical expectations for a large race and give serial marathoners extra perks to really stand out.  In addition to the unique medals for Maniacs, Fanatics and 50-Staters, first time finishers get a “My First Marathon” medal to proudly hang on their wall.  Because as long as we’re being honest, it’s a hard sell to get anyone to run Tulsa specifically.  No offense to locals, but it’s not exactly the most cosmopolitan city (though I can’t say you won’t be offended if you asked Nolan for his opinion).  But despite that, I had fun and hope I can say the same for my friends.

Now it’s time to recover and slowly build back up for the Hoover Dam Marathon in four weeks.  Maybe Otter will show up unannounced to that one too.

State 27: Iowa (2012 IMT Des Moines Marathon)

1. The Fires of Envy

Otter and I have shared many races together, which is why the athlete-tracking website Athlinks easily named us “Rivals.”  However, with all due respect to my running hetero-lifemate and his recent successes in the sport, we have never really been competitive.  I would run my race, he would run his, and our main targets were our own previous times.  We’d use our own accomplishments as personal benchmarks and we’d never puff our chests and brag about who was faster or whose legs could take the most pain.  If one of us ran a blazing time, we’d definitely share it, but not as an ego-boosting path to validation.  In fact, we were each “guilty” of these moments of celebration.  But as one would get faster, so would the other in neat, parallel lines.  Given how consistently we were training and improving, I never honestly felt like he was ever going to overtake me.

Until he had the audacity to run a marathon within 3 minutes of my PR.

I knew that weather conditions at the 2012 Chicago Marathon were going to be ideal well ahead of time and I did everything possible to not draw blood from my lips or palms as I cheered for the over 40,000 runners cruising through the Windy City.  Later that week, I would be completely blown away by how many people had run crazy fast times.  Envious though I was, I was having an awesome day.  At one point, I checked my phone to see how Otter’s progress was looking and was flabbergasted to see that he had maintained a steady pace in the mid 8s through 30k.  My PR, achieved at the Little Rock Marathon this year, was run at 8:22 per mile, which is exactly the pace he was commanding into the last 12k of the race.  That rapid son of a …

Sights set on Des Moines (In picture: Western Gateway Park)

As his detailed recap will show you, he felt in full control over the last stretch, even dialing it back a bit to prevent a sudden collapse.  But about an hour later, he had smashed his old PR by an unreasonable amount of time, leaving me both proud of a friend and flummoxed by how close he came to what I thought was a hard effort for me, a time hardly in danger of being challenged.

So with the IMT Des Moines Marathon just two weeks away, I set my sights on an aggressive PR.  If all the pieces came together on race day, I felt like I was in the right shape to pull it off.  There were many reasons to be confident, namely:

  • I had put in the highest-mileage taper of any marathon attempt ever.
  • The 10-day forecast had pegged the weather comfortably in the “awesome” category.
  • My legs were feeling great and I had logged some really fast tempo and interval runs.
  • I had transitioned successfully to the Saucony Kinvaras, which felt light and fast.

But there were also several reasons to be slightly wary, if not cautious:

  • I had put in the highest-mileage taper of any marathon attempt ever, which included a tough marathon three weeks before.
  • 10-day weather forecasts don’t know anything about anything ever.
  • I had transitioned to the Kinvaras but had never run farther than 12 miles in them.

At the starting line (Left to right: Me, Otter, Ryan)

So, really, there was no way of knowing what would happen.  Plus, I’ve learned throughout the years that the marathon experience is completely unpredictable.  Fortunately, the IMT Des Moines Marathon webpage was so full of information that I could try and mitigate some factors before the race even started.  Seriously, they put an impressive amount of detail into this site, including everything from average split times for course records and median finishing times, biographies of each individual pacer, and the names of each musician or band playing on-course.  So far, it wins the prize for attention to detail.

And why was I reading pacer bios?  Two reasons.  One, it turns out Andy, who paced the first half of my Little Rock Marathon PR in March, was also pacing this race but at a slower (4 hour) pace.  Two, I decided to join a pace group in hopes of facilitating a fast time.  But I’d have to confront my troublesome history with running in a pack.  Just a few examples:

  • 2010 Chicago Marathon: abandoned the group after 2 miles, bonked hard at mile 19.
  • 2011 Holiday Half Marathon: abandoned the group after 2 miles, PR’d by a few seconds
  • 2012 Little Rock Marathon: abandoned the group after 12 miles, PR’d by a few minutes
  • 2012 Grandma’s Marathon: abandoned the group after 2 miles, bonked hard at mile 19.

I’ve never managed to really stick with a group for longer than twelve miles.  I don’t know why exactly but I have some ideas.  Perhaps I prefer to run my own race and don’t like my speed being dictated by other people.  Maybe since I train by myself I prefer solitude out of habit.  Or maybe pacers tend to be too larger-than-life or boisterous to be with for almost four hours.  But this time I decided, stick with the 3:35 pace group.  If you just stick with them until the end, it’s a guaranteed PR.  Just hang in there and make it happen.

2. Race Weekend

Up until recently, a high school friend of mine had lived in Des Moines and knew the lay of the land very well.  In a recent get-together with him I asked for a post-race burger recommendation and he threw out a place called Zombie Burger without hesitation.  Upon perusing their zombie-themed menu for a few seconds, I instantly knew I had to share this with others.  Otter had already signed up for the trip and I extended the invitation to two close friends and zombiephiles, Ryan and Paul.  All it took for them was a quick perusal of the menu to join us, with Ryan even going so far as to sign up for the 5K race.  It was a big deal for him because, as he puts it, he “hadn’t participated in any official sports competitions since the Clinton years.”

After a raucous six hour drive from Chicago to Des Moines, which included many inappropriate and juvenile jokes, we made it to the Expo at Hy-Vee Hall.  Taking care of business quickly, we settled into our respective hotels, watched the (disappointing) Northwestern-Nebraska game and then went to the Raccoon River Brewing Company for dinner.  Though we were all in agreement that Des Moines wasn’t the most thrilling city, we had already managed to find a great spot for dinner and brews.

I met up with the 3:35 pace group about thirty minutes before race start.  Abby was the ringleader of the group and she was louder than life.  You could tell just by seeing her talk with people for a few minutes that she was that breed of loveable nutjob that is always surrounded by equally frenetic people.  Besides her banshee voice and the “3:35” rod, she stood out from other runners by wearing giraffe ears and tail.  She yelled her pacing strategy to the group as if at a pep rally; we’d be starting considerably slower than a 3:35 pace to warm up, then gradually dialing it up.  Given that my biggest problem is that I start too fast, I decided I could live with that.

2012 Des Moines Marathon Map - A true tour of the city

The race starts on Grand Avenue, heading east towards the Iowa State Capitol, a huge building with several towers surrounding a giant golden dome.  All 6,000 racers were bunched up, some in paced clumps, others running their own race.  We’d be running in the high 8s, warming up to our eventual average pace of 8:12.  In the meantime, Abby started regaling her pace group and everyone surrounding her with stories of her “shithead dogs” and the hell they’ve raised in her household.  I had established my area about twenty feet ahead of the pace group but made sure her stories kept me close to the group.

Just before mile 3, the half marathoners cut left and head into a park, where they run the majority of their race.  Marathoners veer right and enter the residential areas of Des Moines.  The shade was no longer courtesy of buildings, but of the thick canopy of autumn colors overhanging the street.  While most of Chicago’s trees are now brown and haggard, Des Moines was still in full blush.  The bright reds above us were a great distraction from the first climb of the race, which lasted about a mile.  Abby told us to take it easy on the uphill, assuring us we’d “kill this bitch” on the way down.  We hadn’t yet caught up with the 3:40 group, but that would happen around the 10k mark after plenty of hills.

Right at 10k, my watch died.  I had been wearing my MOTOACTV because my Garmin had kicked the bucket late that week.  I had failed to properly charge the ACTV so it spat out its last metric 52 minutes into the race.  From that point, I would have no idea of how fast I was running.  Curiously enough, it was also then that I decided to start pushing the pace a little.  I could still hear Abby and the 3:35 group just a ways behind me, so I’d always have a frame of reference.  But then I heard a different voice.

Why are you doing this?  You’re only eight miles in; you have no idea what is going to happen in the next 18 miles.  This is foolhardy!

Approaching the finish line

True, I thought.  But it had turned out to be a surprisingly cool day and I thought I could move a little faster.  Plus, we were still behind the actual 3:35 pace if we had done even miles from the beginning.  At mile 8.5, the course does a quick out-and-back through a small neighborhood loop.  Coming back from this detour, I saw the 3:30 group.  I pointed at them like they had stolen my wallet and yelled, “Watch out – I’m going to catch you guys!”  A few steps later, I thought, you wish.

But I kept up a solid pace through mile 10 on Kingman Boulevard, looking back every now and then to gauge how far away the 3:35 group was.  At the race’s northernmost point we were at Drake University.  I had locked in step with another runner who turned to me and asked, “Want to sprint the Blue Oval?”  I must have given him a crazy look because he smirked and asked again, “Want to sprint a lap around the Blue Oval?”  It turns out that the race includes a lap around Drake University’s track, which is pained light blue.  Once I realized this, I politely declined the offer, insisting that I felt great at the moment and didn’t want to jeopardize my performance.

Once back on Kingman Boulevard, I saw the 4:00 pace group go by on the other side of the road.  I yelled props to Andy, who responded in kind.  Just a few minutes later I crossed the half marathon mats, the clock on the course reading exactly 1:47:30, which if you do the math, means a 3:35 finish.  However, I had to speed up to reach that point and the black screen on my wrist wasn’t telling me my current pace.  That doesn’t mean I didn’t habitually look at it every ten minutes.

Two miles later we’d have another out-and-back segment.  Just after the turnaround, I saw the 3:35 group a few minutes behind me.  I flashed some devil horns and Abby replied with apoplectic shouts of encouragement.  Man I hope I don’t see them again, I thought.  At Grandma’s Marathon a few months ago, I had taken off from the 3:35 group only to have them catch me at mile 19.  The instant they passed me, it was like being kicked in the back of the knee.  It was as if they were dragging behind them a toxic fog of fatigue and I breathed it all in as soon as they left me behind.

But not this time, I thought.  This time I’d stay ahead.  Hopefully.

The race started out in the middle of a rising maze of steel and concrete.  A few miles later we’d be running through neighborhoods, surrounded by homes, yards and lawn signs.  By mile 16, the course further abandoned civilization by becoming a bike path through the woods.  Two miles later we would be running alongside streams and lakes, all signs of civilization limited to just cheery volunteers.  The area was called Water Works Park and it was the most beautiful part of the course.  But this scenic encounter with nature wasn’t distracting me enough from the fact that I was running faster than I ever had at the marathon distance.  Despite knowing the pitfalls of going too hard, I was relentless.  Nobody, and I mean absolutely nobody, had passed me since I picked up the pace at the halfway point.  And that was worrying me.

Rocking the bling with a winning smile

It’s an odd thing about the marathon.  The great Haile Gebrselassie himself said that with the marathon, since the distance is so great, there are many opportunities for things to go wrong.  Because of this, it’s easy to doubt yourself.  A cynical fan around mile 7 had a homemade sign that read “Feeling good?  It won’t last.”  I remember seeing that and thinking, what a jackass.  But he’s right.  Feeling good at mile 18 won’t guarantee feeling good just two miles down the road.  But for the time being, I was cruising.  I had no idea what my pace was, nor how much distance I had put ahead of the pace group.  I decided to just enjoy it while it lasted.

And then at mile 20, I saw them ahead of me.  While I had threatened them earlier mostly in jest, I didn’t think I would actually catch up to them.  But there they were, the 3:30 pace group.  They had dwindled to about five guys, all practically coordinating footfalls, hoping that they’d keep it up for the last 10k.

“What did I tell you?” I asked the pacer, who was wearing a black beanie and didn’t seem at all tired.  “I told you I’d catch you.”

After exchanging a few quick pleasantries in quick, explosive breaths, it was time to make a decision.  I had read an article on racing tips that said to never let someone pace you if you had to catch up to them.  You ran faster than them, so why slow yourself down now?  Plus, I honestly felt like their pace was slow.  I felt relaxed and that drive to continue moving forward was lessened.  So this is what happened in my head and I left them behind.

I was only at mile 21 and that great unknown still lay before me.  We were still plodding along a bike path in between trees and small bodies of water.  It felt like aid stations were popping up every two minutes, so I skipped a few.  My feet were holding out remarkably well in shoes that had never gone past twelve miles, my stomach was far from cramping and my lungs had yet to close up.  So I kept my foot firmly on the gas, my upper body ticking ever so slightly left and right like a metronome, waiting for that inevitable moment where an invisible stack of bricks falls from the sky on my shoulders.

Zombie Burger Decor (1 of 2)

But the weather proved to be on my side.  Despite a forecasted hi of 79, I never felt warm.  There was a constant, cool breeze keeping my sweat evaporating and my skin cool.  Never during this race, even in the last parts, which were seldom free from the exposed sun, did I ever feel the necessity to hydrate.  Just before mile 23, the course crossed Gray’s Lake on a narrow bridge.  I still felt awesome so I continued to accelerate, passing more people in the process, wondering if I was ever going to bonk.  Even in my fast marathons, there comes a time where I feel like death, so surely it was just a matter of time.

Zombie Burger Decor (2 of 2)

That time came at mile 24, but nowhere near as dramatically as in previous efforts.  Right at that point we were on the outskirts of the park and were beginning to reenter flat, urban grays.  I kept up a solid pace, but could no longer keep the speed of the last 4 miles.  But I still had some magic left in me and forward I continued, the heart of the city drawing ever closer.  There were no spectators, no trees, no landmarks, just a boring stretch of road with cones dotting the middle.  It wasn’t until we turned left onto 3rd Street that I beheld the finish line in the distance.  Almost as if waiting for me to see it, huge crowds materialized out of nowhere.

I glanced behind me just to make sure I hadn’t let 3:30 creep up on me but found nobody.  So for the first time ever in a marathon, in my tenth attempt at the distance, I found an extra gear and started kicking towards the blue banner.  With a huge PR completely guaranteed save for a last-minute dinosaur attack, I broke into a smile just a few hundred feet from the finish line.  As is customary, I threw my arms in the air as I crossed, channeling Abby the pacer for one last hair-raising shriek to commemorate the best race of my life.

Since my watch was dead and I couldn’t find a clock at the finish line, I didn’t know my official time.  I was guessing 3:27.  Otter saw me cross and checked his watch to give a similar estimate.  But a few hours later I would check the official results to find that I had finished in 3:25:12.  I broke my PR by over fourteen minutes, running the second half in 1:38.  It was a great feeling being surprised by my own time, especially since I’m usually 100% focused on my watch while I run.  Maybe there’s something to just running on your own without a watch, feeling your way through each split without feeling pressured by numbers on a digital screen.  Either way, I was amped.  My decision to take off and abandon the pace group was worth it because it allowed me to completely destroy my tenth marathon.

3. Gorge Romero

After the race, I felt great.  No stitches, cramps or pains to report.  Sure, I was stiff and wanted to relax, but it wasn’t like most marathons where I’m a complete mess and want to die.  Ryan had long since finished his 5K and Otter had dropped down to the half marathon distance to keep a nagging knee issue from becoming a full-fledged injury.  So we were all pretty much ready to go.  A quick shower and a short drive later, we were at Zombie Burger, ready to face the culinary apocalypse.  I ate the Planet Terror, which included bacon, cheese, barbecue sauce, caramelized onions and ranch dressing.  Though it would be a heavy burger by a normal restaurant’s standards, it was a wedge salad in comparison to what my companions consumed.

Planet Terror and a Boulevard Wheat.  Beyond my burger you can see Otter’s messy splattered brains of a burger.

Let’s start with Paul (and if you think that by not posting a single picture of him from this trip is any indication of how close a friend he is, please observe this picture and be proven wrong – hint: he’s the one with the microphone).  He ordered the Trailer Trash Zombie Burger, which comes with cheese, a fried pickle, chicken fried bacon, cheese curds and ranch dressing (note, none of those were sides, they were all between the buns).  Ryan opted for the “They’re Coming to Get You Barbara” which substitutes grilled cheese sandwiches for buns in addition to everything I had in my burger.  Finally, Otter topped us all by ordering The Walking Ched, which substitutes breaded and deep fried macaroni for buns and includes regular macaroni as an ingredient on top of bacon, cheese and caramelized onions.  He tried eating it with hands but ended up digging his fingers into the “patties” and made a huge mess.  At one point, we compared it to a (deliciously) rotting corpse.

“Are you supposed to eat this with fork and knife?” he asked as the waitress looked down on him with a mixed look of pity and disgust.
“Most people do.”

And that’s the story of how I PR’d a marathon and then ate like an idiot.  If you’re thinking that four guys eating a heavy meal like that right before a six hour drive is a bad idea, you’d be correct.  But we made up for all toxicity by making enough crude jokes to easily bar us from holding public office.  Seriously, if any of us becomes mortal enemies with the other, we are all in huge trouble.

And on that note, if you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading.  It was a great trip full of good friends, good food and a race I won’t forget any time soon.  I’m happy I managed to log this fast time now because the next three races I have planned aren’t necessarily conducive to PRs.  But let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet.  For now, it’s time to relax, decompress, celebrate scratching off the Midwest on my 50-states goal and make sure I stay strong and structurally sound for the next one.  And lastly, Otter, that is what happens when you threaten my PR.  Onwards!