Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vermont City Marathon:

Sunday morning I ended my current training cycle with my first serious attempt at the marathon distance. Fyffe and I got to Battery Park a little bit after seven and hung out under a tree and waited for various familiar faces to show up for support. At around seven-thirty I decided to do a short jog around the starting line while listening to some Pearl Jam. I had been trying to steer clear of the PJ all weekend to avoid getting over amped. I was pretty chilled out so I was confident that a little Corduroy with a short Eddie dance session would have me set for twenty-six point two miles of madness.
The starting line experience was one of the most beautiful and brilliant moments of my entire life. With a minute to go until the gun the press box started blasting the intro to Where the Streets Have No Name. As the Edge came in I looked down at my legs and realized that every square centimeter was completely covered in goose-bumps. I looked at my arms and every tiny hair was standing on end. The most incredible wave of emotion consumed my entire body. The realization that I was perched not only on the end of an incredible journey, but on the edge of soul wrenching experience that would have a profound effect on the rest of my life. Tha
t song will never be the same for me after this moment.

Off the line I fought every instinct I had in my body and immediately tucked into the second pack with Fyffe and Curtis Wheeler. Jon, Gavin, Juan Carlos, and Trent took it out like men on a mission. We were controlled during the first mile (5:38) before getting into a serious rhythm. Looping back around to town to run past the start again was the most intense race feeling I have ever gotten before. I can only imagine the energy and excitement that traces a route like Boston or New York. As we headed out on the high way section I was totally locked in and focused like never before. I will list my full line of splits later but throughout the first half of the race I was either right on pace or a few ticks fast. Coming back into town Fyffe and Wheeler gaped my and I ran five to ten seconds off their pace. Mile nine to ten was the fastest of the race with the long downhill from Church Street to the bottom of Main Street. I was a little alarmed to see 5:10 on my watch but was
comforted by seeing 54:00 on the clock as I passed ten. A shaded quick but noting to panic about.

My next three miles were a blessing and a curse at the same time. I was
locked in on pace and as a result closed the gap on Justin and Curtis. Just before thirteen I had the frustrating experience of missing one of my bottles but I did not let it rattle my rhythm. I passed the half in 70:49 and thought I was in business to take a crack at 2:21. When we hit the base of Battery Hill my rhythm broke for the first time. I was having my first tiny bad patch of the race and this short steep hill punched me right in the gut. Justin and Curtis easily gaped my and I knew that I had to let them go. The mile split for the Battery Hill segment was 5:51 which was not all that bad. I took a few more minutes to re-establish my rhythm and start my quest to make it to the fire house at the twenty mile mark. Justin and Curtis were still in sight but I knew my chances of beating them now relied on them blowing up.

Just before seventeen my fortunes changed and I was able to go on the hunt which helped trigger some much needed adrenaline. Juan-Carlos was within sight and I could tell that he was in trouble. As we approached the first neighborhood loop I had overtaken the Colombian and moved into seventh place. More importantly I had found my way back to mid 5:20 pace for these critical miles. As I left the first neighborhood I noticed Trent a few minutes up the road. His bold proclamation of a sub 2:17 clocking was obviously evaporating with every stride. As we turned into the park just before the nineteen mile mark I decided that I should not even acknowledge Trent as I passed him. I wanted the move to be like the old Seinfeld band-aid adage. Be a man, just rip it off!

Between nineteen and twenty alarms started going off in the control room. My calf muscles were in serious trouble and getting worse with every stride. I achieved my goal of making it to the fire house and was ready to attack the last 10k. Twenty passed in 1:49.10 and that's when I had to change my plans on the fly. My calfs were toast! Every step was taking tremendous effort and now I was all alone. Jon Fasulo was nearly a half mile ahead and I was beginning to blow-up. Just then something amazing happened, I didn't panic. I let my training take over and carry me the remainder of the race. As I headed down the steep hill just before the bike path I knew that the next thirty-minutes of my life were going to be incredibly difficult and test every dark recess of my inner strength.

As I turned onto the bike path I realized that Fasulo was less than a minute ahead. I stated to visualize every step making up an inch at a time on Jon. With nearly two thousand miles of preparation for this marathon in my legs it seemed a positively brilliant twist of irony that I was now thinking in terms of inches. Every passing step, every inch made was met with terrible suffering in my legs. At twenty-three miles I fought off the urge to stop and stretch for a second. Once this train stopped it was stopping for good. Jon was twenty meters ahead and I told myself that I just needed to be tough for another fifteen minutes. Just before twenty-four I picked up my last bottle. I tossed my GU and just blasted myself in the face with water. Somehow this worked and I was able to overtake Jon shortly there after. It must have been an incredible sight for the spectators on the bike path. Two beat-up, crashing, desperate marathoners battling each other and their emanate collapse for fifth place.

Once Jon disappeared I locked into my own world for the remaining eight minutes of the race. Every fiber of my existence was begging for relief. My mind shifted to the finish and what the swan song of this journey would look like. As I continued to battle every step I decided that the finish was not going to get the best of me. No falling over, no medical tent, just walk it off with whatever shred of will I had left. Approaching the park I saw Mary ahead on the side of the trail. I knew that she knew what was happening. She was such a welcome sight that all I could think about was meeting her at the finish. Running into the park I realized that trouble was really starting to set in in a most terrifying way. Suddenly may face was completely numb like I was having a major stroke in front of thousands of witnesses. Passing twenty-six miles I could hear them announcing my name at the finish. At that point I did what was natural, I kicked. That last quarter mile was filled with unreal euphoria and terror. Suddenly I was in an alien body that was not my own. My legs bent and wobbled like they were made out of rubber, and then it was over.

I stayed true to my pact that I made earlier. I stayed upright and walked it off as all the emotions that I had been suppressing the past two hours came rushing back in like a tsunami. My escort did his best to get me to go to the medical tent but I refused. At that point in my chaotic emotional state all I wanted was Mary's soothing touch. I managed to find Mary at the barrier and just let go. There is something so simple and beautiful about the feeling of being completely broken down to your most elemental level like this. As we left Mary, my escort led me to the vip tent to collect myself and my belongings. In the tent I reconnected with Justin who was on his own emotional high after his massive breakthrough. It was the ultimate Trial of miles, miles of trials moments in my athletic life.

The clock stopped at 2:25.43. A little slower than I was hoping but I am not disappointed in the slightest. I did everything the best I could have done it on Sunday and that is what I got. I am already looking forward to restarting my training in preparation for a fall marathon.

More than anything I need to thank Mary and all of my friends that have supported me with energy and encouragement throughout this process. Here's to many more great days from the Keene training group!

Splits: 5:38, 5:21, 5:25, 5:18, 5:25, 5:20, 5:27, 5:29, 5:23, 5:10 (Downhill 54:00 @10) 5:23, 5:30, 5:20, 5:22, 5:30, 5:51 (Battery Hill), 5:41, 5:32, 5:28, 5:37 (20 @ 1:49.15), 5:48, 5:46, 5:58, 5:55, 5:53, 5:49, 73. 2:25.43.



  1. Great stuff Mark! Great to see you and Fyffe and Wheeler all bring it! You guys should all be very proud of your efforts. I'm excited to see what the fall brings!!!!

  2. Awesome stuff Mark! Reading about the experience is inspirational and motivating. The splits are great, but reading about the journey is where the real meat is. Enjoy some well earned R&R.

  3. Wow.....awesome write up. You should be very proud of putting everything you had into the race. Just awesome.....Congrats!

  4. Great race Mark, and a great write up. Every split under 6, hills and all. Very impressive. Sounds like a hell of a race, you should be very proud of your effort and all you accomplished. Hope to see you for a beer this afternoon.

  5. Great work Mark! Awesome story as well!

  6. Your write up kept me on the edge of my seat. A must read for any runner thinking about putting it all out there for a marathon. Congrats on a super race.

  7. you have a gift for running and writing, simply fantastic :-)

  8. What a fantastic sharing of your first marathon and a brilliant race/time. It's so interesting to hear what is going through the head of a front-runner during such a long and trying race. Thanks for sharing. Wait until you run Chicago or Boston...