My winter marathon experience: near debacle to salvation

I’ve been running marathons for some time now, for about a decade. However, since 2011, running has been tough. I broke my foot and femur, dropped out of the US Olympic Trials, and just struggled overall to get my own running back on track.

My femoral stress fracture was in June of 2013, just when I thought I had figured out what my problem was. It just shows that sometimes you gotta ride out the storm, even if it seems like it will never end! Long story short, it healed and we (my coaches and I ) started to try again. However, in order to move forward, I had to accept my diminished capacity and basically start over. So the plan was to build my mileage, do reduced workouts, and stay healthy! The Chicago marathon ended up being my goal focus for the fall, not to race rather pace my teammate mike Morgan as far as possible. I was able to take him through 14 miles at 5:05-5:06 pace so it was a success. There was improvement, consistent training, and I was healthy!

After a lot of thought and discussion with my coaches, we decided to continue to build on the momentum and train for the next marathon that made sense- Houston in January. We thought we’d be ok, because December is usually still pretty decent here in southeast Michigan. Of course, this would be the winter of the Polar Vortex.

Training for Houston went really well, until December 23. Then the “avalanche” opened up. I remember the day because it was the day of my Simulator workout (26.2 km at goal MP). We drove to the course where I was going to run, only to find it a sheet of black ice. For those of you who don’t know what black ice is, it’s basically asphalt that is frozen, but it looks like it’s just the road. Talk about a work hazard. So throwing up a Hail Mary, we drove to a parking lot loop about 20 minutes away. Luckily the loop was clear and the biggest workout of my segment could take place. It was cold and windy, but it had to be done. There really wasn’t any wiggle room on this one with Christmas and the travel to different places coming up. So, we did it and for about 18km, it went really quite well. The last 8km though, was a completely different story. Everything caught up to me and I am pretty sure I ran 6:00 miles for the last few km’s. However, I finished it and thought I would shake it off.

From that afternoon, of December 23, all the way to the afternoon of the 29th, I felt off. Not really too sick, but off. When my family and I got home from my parents house on the 29th, it was like somebody flipped a switch. I was down for the count. Over the next three days I thought it was all over. I lost nearly 10 pounds, was malnourished and dehydrated. To add to the scenario, it was the coldest air temperatures I had ever been in (below zero before the windchill) and the snowiest/iciest since I have lived in the Detroit area. “Great” I thought. Here we go again.

So, December was finally over and January blew in with a direct northerly wind, straight from Santa’s workshop. After regaining some strength, I decided I was sticking to the treadmill for the few days before I left to finally get to Florida. When I got to the Sunshine State, it was like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders- literally, because I didn’t have to run in my snowmobile suit! Seriously though, it was a game changer. My mood lifted and runs were instantly easier. I was convinced that I could now at least have a same day finish at Houston.

When I got to Houston I was in a precarious position. I was really fit at the beginning of December, but with everything that had happened, who knew anymore. Kevin and I talked for about 5 minutes at 5:30 AM on Sunday. The basic conclusion was to err on the side of caution. To the athlete’s I coach- I followed my own advice I always give you. I was at a point where if I were going to have a successful day (which at this point meant to a) finish and b) get an Olympic Trials standard out of the way) then I had to put myself in a good position at half way. What I mean by that is to a) be fast enough to even have a chance at a Trials standard and b) to be slow enough to have the opportunity to at least maintain my pace.

The morning was perfect- about 50 degrees, some sun, and barely a breeze. The course is very nice. Pretty flat, but a few little rollers in the second half. I actually prefer this because it breaks it up a little and they aren’t significant enough to really take anything out of you! I was lucky enough to find myself immediately in a small pack. Fortunately,one was a former Hanson’s-Brooks teammate and an athlete I coach, Tim Young. It was the perfect scenario for me!

The first half was low key and uneventful. I was completely able just zone out and wait until I absolutely needed to focus on the race. My 5k splits were 16:08 (5k) 16:12 (10k) 15:58 (15k) and 1:07:56 at the halfway mark. Tim and I came through the halfway mark and I said, “Well Tim, the good news is that we can run 1:10 for the next half and still qualify!” He laughed, and said, “Thanks, boss.” By then our group was down to 3 guys and the group ahead of us was feeling the consequences of going out way too hard for where they were at, fitness wise. Again, it was a perfect scenario.

Tim and I continued on, though I had to keep calming Tim down. He was really fit and itching to make a go for it. I held him back because I had ruined a lot of my own potentially amazing races between miles 14 and 20. We kept right at pace with 16:05 and 16:08 5k splits.

At this point, between 35 and 40 kilometers, I slowed down. It was my slowest split of 16:28 for that 5k. I’m not really sure what happened. I was feeling it, for sure. There’s no real way to completely avoid that feeling of, “oh man, I still have a ways to go.” However, I didn’t crumble. Mentally, I was still making coherent thoughts to myself, but I panicked a little bit. It had been so long since I had run a marathon that I just forgot how that feeling is.

What really surprised me is how I reacted. I really thought I would have caved in a little bit, but  I didn’t! I saw some of those guys coming back that had went too hard. I was catching them still and I used that to regroup. Looking at my splits, the last half mile was under 5:00 pace! I knew I was a little slow, but I knew I still had a good one going. I just had to keep it together and finish as strong as possible.

I crossed the line and sae 2:16:3x. It wasn’t my fastest time, but it was a race I could be proud of! It was a testament to just staying the course and doing what you can. It was a time that qualified me for my 3rd US Olympic Trials and a time that motivated me. It convinced me that I am still at a high level and there’s so much room for improvment. This race made me so excited for the next few years. I can’t wait to be in LA in February of 2016!