I was recently reminded of something I said a couple of years ago. I was in my fifth year at UC Riverside where I had mostly struggled to stay healthy for long enough to run well. In the video I am covered in sweat and a relieved smile that beams- ‘Finally!’ I had just run 13:51 for the 5K, which was a 30 second PR, 2nd all time in school history and was one of the fastest collegian times in the country at that point in the track season.
I get asked, “You have been injured on and off for years, for those people in similar circumstances, is it worth it, why keep putting in the effort?”
My response still speaks to me, “Because magical nights like this do happen. Keep believing, keep working… You will have your day.”
Link to full video:
This year at the Dublin Marathon, over three years since that warm spring evening in Palo Alto, I was reminded—magical mornings do happen! I ran a five minute marathon PR, running 2:14:28 to take 5th. At the time I was only the fifth American to run sub 2:15 in 2018. But, time aside, it was the complete race that all runners dream about on easy runs; my feet felt like they never touched the ground until about 34km.
Getting to Dublin in the first place was a bit of a dream come true. Both Lauren and I have always wanted to race in Europe. We really enjoy the US road racing circuit but there is some mystique to flying across the Atlantic and lining up for a big European city marathon. I am a racer; the bigger/louder/brighter the race, the better I tend to run. Big city marathoning checks all these boxes, so when the door opened to race at Dublin I was grateful and hungry! I then trained like a hungry/ slightly cray-cray for the next three months. (More to come on that in another blog…) Here is what my buildup looked like in sweaty workout photos.
Friday morning I text my dad panicked. I woke up with a dripping sinus, a sore throat, a runny nose and a sinking feeling that three months were about to go down the toilet. I told my dad, “I really really want to be 100% and be able to pour out everything I have invested in this race. If I don’t run as fast as I hope I can live with that as long as I have the opportunity to give everything. Pray I have the opportunity to give it everything.” Emptying the tank, every last drop, is my goal every time I pin on a number. There was a time I took this for granted, but as I have gotten older I’ve realized that even emptying the tank is not a guarantee. Airplane colds happen, achilles tendons get sore; things happen. All I wanted in Dublin was to empty the tank I had been filling since CIM last year.
The moment I woke up on Sunday and took my first breath, I knew it was going to be a good day. The first winter storm of the year blew over Ireland on Friday, bringing with it literal arctic air, rain and spots of hail. On Saturday when I woke up and peered out the hotel window dark clouds brooded trees swaying and loosing the last of their leaves to the arctic wind. On Sunday the sun was shinning and the trees still.
I don’t remember much between waking up and the gun going off. I had Picky Bar Oats, “Cant Beet Me”, a beet shot and a cup of coffee. I remember trying to take my warm up easy as all the African’s, and even though I ran 9:30 for my first warmup mile, I was running circles around them in the little square we were jogging in. The final thing I remember is that my breathe-right strip stuck perfectly on my nose, which, it often doesn’t. When it stuck perfect, I knew it was on.
We came through the first mile in 4:59, I glanced twice at my watch, since it felt like we power walked the first mile. I half expected to see 5:59. After that first split I decided not to look at my watch again. I knew almost immediately I had good legs and didn’t want to limit what I could do because my splits intimidated me. I learned this goes for fast or slow miles. There were lots of slow miles in the race and had I seen those slow splits, I would have been equally intimidated as I would have been if I saw my 4:48 19th mile split. Side note: I was fascinated post race to look at my splits and see how all over the place they are. I have learned in this last year that at big non-paced races, the pace will not ever be steady. It’s either all out, or jogging waiting for it to be all out again, my Strava file below tells more of that story:
At mile 7 or 8 I hit the front and all I could think is, “my wife is not going to like this.” The plan was to sit in for as long as I could and try and win in the last 3-5Km. But, on the first major downhill of the race I found my self braking and stumbling to not trip on the group around me. I quickly realized that at 4-8 inches taller then everyone else in the front pack, I naturally ran the downhill much quicker. So, I decided when we hit a long down hill at mile 8 to just open up my jumbo stride and use it to my advantage on the downhill. The group never let me get away in large part because the lead I would build up on the downhills I would give back on the uphills. I started letting the group come back to me on the uphills, which allowed me to keep my effort low on the hills and save gas for later. That was until about 15 km when I hit the front in the middle of a village square where it was LOUD! The crowd was going nuts for the lead of the race, which to my great surprise was me. At that point the media van pulled up next to me. The TV helicopter was directly over head and I was flanked by a TV motorbike and a police motor bike. Here I was racing my first race in Europe and I found myself on the front; the adrenaline surged through me.
At 25km I looked around at the eight other athletes in the front group and realized they were all in just as much discomfort as I was. In this moment all the 4:30 am alarm clocks became worth it—all my training had worked. I was fit and just as capable as my competitors. I don’t know what it was but in this moment I decided that it was time to see just how much I had in the tank. I threw off my arm sleeves to a little girl on the side of the road with a cute dog and proceeded to run a 4:47 18th mile. In that moment I felt so good, so strong and so capable, an ear to ear smile broke out across my face. I stayed on the gas emptying everything I had, running 4:59 avg. for miles 18-21. The only problem is that the marathon is not over at 22 miles. At mile 22 we hit Dublin’s version of “Heart Break Hill” and I was slightly broken. The last four miles were a grind, but a grind I knew was coming.
In my first marathon, last year at CIM I suffered home and will never forget rounding the corner to the finish line and reading the clock tick: 2:18:58-2:18:59-2:19:00-2:19:01…. The Olympic Trials qualifying standard is 2:19:00, watching the clock click past this time while I was in the finishing straight burned. It was a burn that sat in my get all year and it was this burn that powered me through darkest moments and kept me driving for home. Driving for this feeling…
Looking back now, two weeks later, my heart is still so full of gratitude. Good races are never a guarantee. Even with good preparation, there are so many variables that are out of our control. To have a good day, these variables have to fall into place and on this Fall morning in Dublin, they fell in place for me. I am so thankful for this.
If you take one thing away from my race experience I hope it’s this: Keep believing. Keep Working. Your day will come.
For those interested in really reliving the full race experience below is the race coverage. The coverage starts around 2 hours. (And yes the commentators think I am a big Russian dude for much of the race…)