The following race recap is long... grab a cup of jo or a German beer before reading!
The Berlin Marathon would be my 10th marathon and first one internationally. It's the 4th of the 6 marathon majors that I've raced with London and Tokyo left on the bucket list. Those might be in the cards for 2017 and 2018. Placing top 100 at those 6 races, an unthinkable goal 3 years ago (I ran my first < 2:30 marathon 3 years ago as of tomorrow) seems like a good challenge and that'd be something few, if any, could claim. I am one lucky SOB to have the wherewithal to chase these things. And even luckier to have so many friends and family out on the course a few thousand miles from home!
In short, training this season went better than ever. I knocked back 70-95 miles/week on the roads, ~90 easy minutes/week on the elliptical and plenty (by my lowly standards!) of strength work thrown in. My splits on the dreaded track workouts were a few seconds/mile faster than I've laid down before and I had a great tune up race up at the US 20k Championships 3 weeks prior. My only injury of concern was a jacked up left foot that has been swollen since late June. The weather was predictably excellent and I had no issues with the long travel. I had two other Marylanders (Conrad Laskowski and Kyle Stanton) on board with an aggressive pace until the wheels rattle off. As Conrad and I said to each other before the race, sometimes you have to give up the good and go for the great. I trusted that a tiny PR was there if I wanted it but I have no excuses to not go for faster. Let's chase some 3:22 kilometers... errrr 5:25 miles! If not now, when?
Conrad and I were total fanboys walking around the elite runner's hotel lobby on the eve of the race. We saw Eluid Kipchoge, Geoffrey Mutai, Emmanuel Mutai, Matt Llano, and German favorite, Anna Hahner. We are not worthy! Flash forward to the start line and we are up in the very back of the elite start corral making jokes, talking smack, peeing on stuff... you know, staying loose. Just another big run! The gun goes off and WOOSH - we are back in 200th place! Don't these people know how long they have to tire themselves out, still?? We linked up with Kyle and formed a little pack with the 3 of us in the lead and a handful of others in tow. (see attached photo for the MD trio). One guy trailed us so tightly that he clipped our heels no fewer than 20 times. I'm not sure why he thinks us schmucks who are running over 10% slower than the people chasing paydays need to be trailing that close! I'm all for drafting off a guy but hey, we're not chasing the world record here, bro! The Clipper hung on for awhile, unfortunately.
At around the 14k mark, that darn left foot started yipping. It's not as much of a pain as it is a cramping feeling, like it is stuck in dorsi-flexion. From here to the finish, that left lower leg wasn't firing 100%. Bummer. If that's the worst of my issues, I'll still run a PR. And you can never complain about a PR!
Somewhere around this point, Kyle took off from our pack and had to be 45 seconds ahead of us by 20k. Wow! Sorry for holding you back, man. Kyle went on to run 2:20:04 in negative split fashion which is nothing short of amazing. Killer stuff. Conrad and I continued alternating leading our pack of 8 or so, hitting the halfway mark in 1:11:23... that's fewer than 2 minutes from my half marathon PR and I think the 3rd fastest half I've run. It hadn't been since my very first marathon experience with Jordie Chang back in 2008 that I have had been able to actually run with a friend during it. Not many words were exchanged but none needed to be. We were all in and I think both of us found a bit of comfort that we were taking a ride on the pain train together.
We've all come to a fork in the road somewhere in a big race. You can dig in until the finish line or run pretty hard until the last minute or so where you want to look cool coming in. Don't get me wrong, I take the latter choice more than 9 times out of 10. Sorry, other races. But the end of a season means finding out what's there. I came to that crossroad at around 29k when the Clipper finally took the lead but was purposefully not moving around a runner going in reverse on the course. After a 30 second slowdown, I moved around him and carried on the pace. No turning around from here to the finish line! Okay I lied... I glanced back once at the last turn to look for Conrad in the form of a green blur.
I knew that from 21k to 30k, we had fallen off the early pace so 2:22 wasn't happening. Here's the mental math at 32k: 1:49:00 meant 1:49:45 with exactly 10 silly kilometer plumes on the road to go. 34:15/10 = 6:51 per 2k with no time to spare. My slowest 5k of the day is 17:20 so far and I can’t do worse than that or I’m going to pout at the finish line like a baby. 34 minutes to go that are supposed to justify a season of committed training. 35 minutes and I’ll be a bit annoyed. 33 and I’ll be ecstatic. Sports are finicky, huh? I hit my next 2k splits in 6:51, 6:51, 6:52, 6:49 - not exactly making headroom. And the Clipper is still clipping! At one point he nicked me 3 times in a single kilometer so I shot him a dirty look and either he backed off or was just plain tired.
When you're reaching the E level of your gas tank, all you have left is you and your running form. The "you" part isn't terribly hard to get the most out of. You just have to try hard! So at this stage in the game I like to focus on good, clean form. Stay relaxed, pump the arms a bit, and grit it out one step at a time. That's all you can do when you're maxed out. That is universal for a guy closing an 800m with a 50 second lap or someone trying to hold on to 12:00/mile pace trotting at the end of a 100 miler!
I saw my “fans” once more on the home stretch and they can probably attest that I was all business. I'd rather be showboating a bit but the clock was relentless! I hit the line in 2:23:59 gun time. Holy hell... worked hard for that one. The Clipper finished a few seconds back. He thanked me and I half-jokingly replied that you owe me a damn beer. Still waiting for that beer...I later found my Baltimore friends snagged a video of me coming which is linked below (credit to Jon Koop for being 6'8" and seeing over the crowd).
Conrad came in exactly 2 minutes later for a big PR himself. We were lucky enough to exchange a few words with Josh Cox, Geoffrey Mutai, Matt Llano (grew up in Maryland, 12th place overall and 1st American in 2:12!), and Matt's coach - Ben. While sipping an alcohol free victory beer (that's all they give out... what's up with that!?), I heard that Thom Ripley accomplished his goal of BQ-ing. Now, I've never coached another runner before and I'm not Thom's coach but I'm closer to that role with him than I have been with anyone else. Sure, I dole out advice to anyone who is in ear shot after I have a beer in hand but I've never really prescribed workouts, critiqued form, and checked in regularly with someone to see how things are progressing. So I was very excited to hear that big Thom didn't run like total crap and instead did the opposite with a 19 minute PR of 3:02. I'm not surprised by the monster improvements but it's still awesome to see when the training comes to fruition on race day. The celebrating carried into the night with many sausages and beers. Having 19 family and friends (15 with ties to Baltimore) taking over a few tables at a beer garden across the pond is something I likely won't luck into again!
A big thank you is owed to the most committed spectator of the day - my sister, Kaylyn. I doubted her ability to read a course map but I never doubted her commitment! She got the job done and caught me more than anyone. Her screaming was loud and I could sense the tinge of nervousness she had for me in her voice at 37k! Lindsay, my mom, and Conrad's soon-to-be much better half, Amy, were out there in force as well. By most 2015 human's standards, my dad should be using a handicap car pass due to an undisclosed ailment but his stubborn self even made it to the halfway point which is a good 3 miles from the start line. So I appreciated the effort that took. I had the chance to do nearly all of my hard running this summer with my friends on Falls Road Running Team. I'd list their names but you know who you are and truthfully, I don't think we'd be much of a team without our leader, Ryan McGrath. So thanks for being the man, RM. And of course, thank you to Saucony for making the best damn running shoes in the world. I raced in the Type A6 and I don't think there's anything better when you mean business on the roads. I train in the Ride most easy runs and either the Mirage or Breakthru for quality long runs. For most workouts, I like the Fastwitch.
This is just some musing but during this season more than any in the past, I found truth in that you don’t know what you have until it’s gone. Just 4 years ago, my family all raced at the Wineglass Marathon. It didn’t seem like a particularly great morning of racing at the time. I averaged under 6:00/mile for the first time; my mom and sister ran their current personal bests of 3:50 and 3:05, respectively; and my 54 year dad proudly ran with his daughter for the first bit of her first marathon and waltzed to a ho-hum 3:09. Hey, this will all happen again! Today, Kay has a protruding heel bone, my mom “doesn’t wanna run anymore marathons”, and my dad’s days of waltzing 3:09 marathons are probably numbered. He might run a 3:09 but you bet there won’t be stops at the local tavern! Who’s to say I won’t have something come up or just lose the fire! Honestly, I shake my head when I think about how much fun I have finding my strong at these races and how lucky I have been to perform as consistently as I have. Just take a second and be grateful for your good health and the health of those around you.
The rest of the fall ll be catching up on life with maybe a trip out to the JFK 50 Miler. I won't be revving the training back up all the way for until my head tells me to. That doesn't mean I can't dip under 6:00 at JFK and there's plenty of appeal to me in doing that! This fall was my fifth straight season training for a marathon or longer distance so for a change of pace, pun intended, I'm going to train to peak for either the Broad Street 10 Miler or the US US Half Marathon Championship next spring. I have a silly streak of 5 consecutive years with a sub 2:35 marathon so whether I try to chip away at 5:2x/mile for 26.2 or just do it to do it, I'll be doing a fall marathon in 2016.
Strava data : https://www.strava.com/activities/401193218
Thanks for reading!