The 2013 Santa Rosa Marathon

“Here we go again”, I thought.  2,754 miles from home, give or take a mile, I lined up yet again for one last desperate attempt to secure a spot in the 2014 Boston marathon.

I nervously stood in the dark in the starting corral with some 1200 other runners awaiting the beginning of the Santa Rosa marathon.  I could tell you that I was supremely confident, but I’d be lying.  I really didn’t know what to expect as my training had been all over the place.  I was filled with confidence on the fourth of July when I knocked out a 19:11 5K in Myrtle Beach.  But only 5 weeks later, any such confidence was conspicuously absent when I bailed at mile 9 of a measly 12-mile run.  How was I supposed to run 26+ fast miles when I couldn’t even run 12 slow miles?  I was more than a little concerned.

But I knew I was relatively fit, fit enough that I should be able to string together a bunch of sub-7:40 miles.  A 7:38 pace would produce a 3:19:59, 5 minutes faster than my Boston qualifying time and surely fast enough to guarantee a spot in the Boston marathon.  So that became the goal.  But could I really run 26+ sub-7:40s – was that even possible?  We were about to find out.

If I look nervous, it's because I am.  This is the look of a man that knows he's about to be tortured.

If I look nervous, it’s because I am. This is the look of a man that knows he’s about to be tortured.

But before I get to the actual race, let me fill you in a little on the trip to Cali – I’ll try to be brief.  Who am I kidding?  Feel free to skip ahead to the race if all this non-race minutia bores you – it’s okay, I understand.

Pre-Race

Laura and I checked in early at the Charlotte Douglas Airport.  As most of you know by now, I always try to give myself a lot of extra time when traveling because I invariably run into snags, and this trip was no exception.  I printed out our boarding passes at one of the little Delta kiosks, we checked our bags, and then we headed over to the security line.  It didn’t take long before we ran into the first snafu of the trip.

Laura was stopped by the lady checking boarding passes.  Rejection – the slip Laura had, the one I just gave her, was not a boarding pass – it was only a receipt.  In my haste to get on the plane, I had walked away from the kiosk before it had printed out everything.  Back to the kiosk we went where this time we double and triple checked all printouts before walking away.  Only one snag at the airport – success!

From there we made it to California, San Francisco to be more precise, without significant incident.  Of course, as is nearly always the case, the lady seated next to me for one of the flights turned out to be obese and obnoxious (surely this is a karmic thing – apparently I was a really bad person in a prior life) – she yelled “Rude!” and shoved the guy’s seat in front of her when he attempted to recline.  When the flight attendant brought her the obligatory-ridiculously-needlessly-complicated beverage (“club soda, not too much ice, but not too little, with lime”), ordered with extra rudeness, then accepted with the over-the-top sarcastic response that came out phonetically as “Thank you ever so much”, but actually sounded much more like “It’s about goddamned time, you pathetic little shit.  What took you so long?  Don’t you know how important I am?”  Then she proceeded to angrily squeeze the lime which squirted the flight attendant directly in the eye.  With one eye shut and burning, he handed Laura and me our drinks with a conspiratorially raised eyebrow that conveyed, “Oh my god, can you believe this woman?!?”

The rude lady next to me on the flight out.  This is exactly how Little Red Riding Hood would have turned out after the Big Bad wolf incident if all she did the rest of her life was to sit around and eat fried chicken and ice cream.

The rude lady next to me on the flight out. This is exactly how Little Red Riding Hood would have turned out if all she ever did was sit around and eat fried chicken and ice cream.

Once in San Francisco, we rode the AirTrain over to the rental car area.  I nearly shat myself upon entering the building – there was a mass of humanity packed in there.  Lines containing hundreds of people meandered all over the place – it was virtually impossible to tell where one line started and another line ended – they seemed to intertwine everywhere. I thought we’d die of old age before we got a car.

But apparently this was common fare.  In no time, we were at the counter, speaking with a young gentleman that hailed from Istanbul, Turkey.  And he was hilarious, well worth the wait, telling us stories that ranged from broken bones and ruptured Achilles tendons to girlfriends and muscle cars, all while doing the necessary rental agent work.  It was more like a stand-up routine that threw in a rental car as a bonus – he kept Laura and me in stitches.  He really was wasting his talent working for Budget, but hey, it made our trip that much more interesting and enjoyable.  In minutes, we were in our MINI Cooper, jetting towards Santa Rosa, and while I can’t very well recommend owning this car (it is not particularly functional – no way 2 people over 5-feet tall could ever sit in the alleged back seats which are maybe 3 inches behind the front ones), I would highly recommend it for rental purposes – parking and getting around had never been easier.

The drive from San Fran to Santa Rosa started out with some incredible scenery.  Driving over the Golden Gate bridge, complete with breathtaking views of the bay, including Alcatraz, was simply sublime. Thank you Siri, for routing us over the bridge!  Laura snapped lots of beautiful pics, including this one:

The views alone, on the drive between San Fran and Santa Rosa, were worth the trip.

The views alone, on the drive between San Fran and Santa Rosa, were worth the trip.

Shortly after exiting the bridge, on the 101, apparently the primary thoroughfare (the only thoroughfare?), between San Francisco and Santa Rosa, we got bogged down in traffic.  It was a minor annoyance – we were in no rush.  We soaked in the scenery – pretty mountain and ocean views, even while every few seconds another crazy motorcyclist would zip between lanes of traffic.  “Man, I bet they scrape a lot of motorcyclists off this road”, I thought.

Eventually, we rolled into Santa Rosa and found our hotel, the Best Western on Santa Rosa Avenue.  I was worried – it looked like a dump and I had flashbacks to Towpath.  But the staff was pleasant enough, downright friendly and helpful, as they checked us in and gave us directions to Juliard Park, the site of the race start.  And I was pleasantly surprised when we walked into the room – it was much nicer than it had appeared from the outside (probably not $200 a night nice, but solidly decent nonetheless).

Mini and me in front of the not-so-appealing-from-the-outside hotel.  Outside paper towel dispensers do not exactly scream 5-star hotel.

MINI and me in front of the not-so-appealing-from-the-outside hotel. Outside paper towel dispensers do not exactly scream 5-star hotel.

We headed out to the expo at Deloach Vineyards, and picked up some nice swag, including a jacket.  Laura shed a tear or two, clearly upset over a recent hip injury that would prevent her from running the half.  I tried to console her, telling her supportive things that I knew wouldn’t work if I were in her shoes.  She clearly handled things much better than I would have had our roles been reversed.

Both of us were exhausted after a very full day of travel – it was about 10:00 PM Eastern time before we left the expo and set out in search of food.  But not before I snapped the mandatory vineyard pic:

Laura fought me on this, but I think she looks quite lovely here. And I have final say on this blog, so here she is.

Laura fought me on this, but I think she looks quite lovely here. And I have final say on this blog, so here she is.

As we exited the vineyard, Laura used her iPhone to pull up some local eateries.  Los Arcos had a lot of good reviews and it was nearby and on the way to the hotel so it won.  On numerous occasions, I have found phenomenal restaurants simply by using a smart phone.  This was not one of those occasions.  I honestly believe the Los Arcos in Kannapolis has better food than the Santa Rosa one.  And trust me, that is not high praise for Ktown’s mexican restaurant.  But at least we were provided with sustenance and the Corona was cold, so there’s that.  Utterly exhausted, we made it back to the Best Western and I think I was asleep before I was fully reclined.

Saturday, we took it easy and leisurely checked out the town.  It started with a lovely breakfast downtown at Arrigoni’s.  Arrigoni’s made up for the disappointment of Los Arcos and then some.  Everyone there was super friendly and the food was delicious – we both had the California omelets (when in Rome) and sipped coffee on the patio.  Ah, now that’s more like it.  I scarfed down mine and when the waiter reached for Laura’s plate, I barked, “No, I’ll finish hers!” to which he jokingly responded in a thick Middle Eastern accent, “Okay, hungry man, you finish.”  Moments later, when I had wiped out all remnants of food from both our plates, except for one lone packet of jelly, the waiter returned, took the plates, but left the jelly in front of me and said, “Just in case you’re not done!” and we all had a big laugh.

See the guy through the window in the yellow shirt?  He is seated at the exact table Laura and I shared at Arrigoni's. (photo courtesy of Arrigonis.com)

See the guy in the yellow shirt through the window? He is seated one table over from where Laura and I enjoyed our delicious breakfast. (photo courtesy of Arrigonis.com)

With our bellies full, we headed over to Heart & Sole, the local running store.  Jordan suggested that I visit, that this place was founded by his high school coach (Jordan hails from Santa Rosa).  I always love to visit the locally owned running store(s) of the race town.  I didn’t get a chance to talk to Jordan’s old coach, but I chatted with a couple of the guys and Laura and I both bought Heart & Sole singlets.  One really cool feature of this store is that local running standouts donate (and often autograph) singlets from their alma maters.  We snapped a photo of a real life replica of Jordan Kinley’s high school singlet (see pic below).  Hey Ed Frye – let me know if you ever want to do this for Phidippides in Concord – I’ll see if I can dig up that old Central Cabarrus singlet for you.

An exact replica of the singlet worn in high school by one Jordan Kinley.

An exact replica of the singlet worn in high school by one Jordan Kinley.

Then we drove back to the expo so Laura could pick up her packet and I could get my swag bottle of wine that I forgot the night before.

After our final expo visit, I drove the course while Laura navigated.  I literally got nauseous because 1) I got really scared – you forget how far 26.2 miles is until you drive it and 2) the roads were so beat up that the bouncing around actually did make me feel sick.  I’d seen enough.  We headed back to the hotel.  I lied down and started hydrating with Fizz after Laura and I had a real life Who’s On First routine:

“How’d you know about Fizz?”

“Hammer.”

“When did you talk to Hammer?”

“That time we were at Charlotte Running Company, that day it rained so hard.”

“Hammer was at Charlotte Running Company that day?”

“Yeah, he works there.”

“Who does?”

“Hammer.”

“Hammer that makes Fizz?”

“Hammer makes Fizz?  No.  He just works at Charlotte Running Company.”

“Hammer like Hammer gel?”

“No, Hammer like Mark Carbone.  Hammer is Mark Carbone.”

I forgot that Hammer is also the name of the company that puts out Fizz, HEED sports drink, Hammer gel, etc.  So yeah, in retrospect, I can see how that got confusing.  But it made for a funny conversation.

In the hotel room, Laura and I drifted in and out of consciousness while we watched the hilarious new HBO movie Clear History – I highly recommend this film to all you Larry David fans out there (Jay, Scott – I’m looking at you).

After a heavenly few hours of relaxation, we headed back downtown to Mary’s for some carb loading.  Laura had a salad while I chowed on spaghetti, my usual pre-race fare.  I was flipping-out nervous so I ordered a beer to help me calm down, but then got panicky that this one beer would somehow totally derail my race – I “made” Laura drink the last three-fourths of it.  That was a hard sell – really great tasting locally brewed California ale from Anchor Brewing.

And then we went back to the room where I fell fast asleep before 9:00.  I’ve never slept so soundly the night before a race.

Finally, for the love of God, the Race:

I’ll spare you most of  the race morning preparation – nothing unusual or exciting happened.  I woke up before my alarm could sound at 4:00.  The only “out of the ordinary” happenings were: Laura lent me her heart rate monitor and Garmin 405 (strictly to monitor heart rate) and the mile numbers 20 – 23 peeled off when I applied my Pace Tat.  Nothing particularly exciting.  A little after 5:15 or so, we left the hotel to make the long 1.25 mile drive to Juliard Park.

Laura pulled into a nearby parking deck before 5:30.  We were just around the corner from the starting line and well in time for the 6:00 AM start.  Finally, it was nearly time to race.  Here goes nothing.

I lined up in the starting corral according to where I thought my fitness level and ability dictated I should – there were pace signs on trees by the road so I lined up closer to the 8:00 tree than the 7:00 tree. Kudos to the person whose idea it was to post these!  I got mildly miffed when the 4-hour pace group leader lined up in front of me.  I wanted to hug the guy who pointed out to her that she was lined up ahead of where a 3:30 marathoner should be.  Then I nervously waited and tried to relax.

To ask for better conditions would have been to demand perfection from Mother Nature.  The temperature was right around 58 and would hold steady for the next few hours.  Although I couldn’t see it yet, the sky was slightly overcast and there was virtually no wind.  I wouldn’t be able to blame the weather on this day – if I had a bad race, it certainly wasn’t going to be due to the weather.

It was still pitch black out a little before 6:00 so I couldn’t see either of my watches very well.  When I angled toward a streetlight to get a better view of the timepieces, I noticed that Laura’s 405 was no longer displaying heart rate, but instead showed the time of day, completely worthless to me.  I fidgeted around with it, trying to pull the heart rate display back up, but since it’s been a while since I drove a 405, and since I’m not the most adept Garmin user out there, I couldn’t recall, or figure out, how to do it. I looked around to find Laura to either have her help resolve or to just give her the damn thing but I had lost her in the crowd and the dark and I was rapidly running out of time.  Then I heard the announcer cry out, “10 seconds” so I decided I’d better quit worrying about the damn watch and start worrying about the damn race.

“Go!”  And just like that I started running my tenth marathon.

Still unable to see a watch, I told myself to relax, to err on the side of starting too slowly – I wanted to run the first mile in about 7:50, sticking to some sage Coach Hadley advice to start a marathon at slower-than-goal pace.  Both of my Achilles tendons hurt but this is typical for me in the early stages of a run so there was no need to panic…yet.  We had an inordinate number of turns early on and I was trying to hit the tangents which is never easy to do in a big crowd and damned near impossible when the turns are coming at you as rapid fire as these were, in the dark no less.  Maybe a quarter of a mile in, we passed under some street lights where I was able to see my Garmin.  It informed me that I was traveling at 8:18 pace.  Now there was a need to panic.  Speed up!

And of course I over shot it, crossing the first mile in 7:39.  Well that wasn’t much of a surprise – we all knew I would go out too fast.  Nothing especially egregious.  But as we looped around and entered the greenway in the park and my Garmin beeped to signal mile 2, I looked down just as I crossed under another light and saw 7:29.  I cursed at myself and inwardly screamed, “Unbelievable.  When are you going to learn?!?  Seriously, nearly dying in Boston wasn’t enough?  Do you really want to go through that again?”  But at least I felt better than I did in the early stages of the Myrtle Beach marathon, where I struggled mightily to maintain goal pace.  I decided to look at the fact that I was comfortable and forcing myself to throttle back as a good sign.

I relaxed and settled in right around goal race pace.  Moments later, the sun rose and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise over the majestic mountains off to our right.  To add to the splendor, we ran next to incredibly beautiful vineyards.  For a moment or two, I lost myself amidst the glorious surroundings of wine country.  It was just me and a few hundred of my friends out enjoying a lovely morning run.  A girl pulled up next to me and said calmly, very matter of factly, “Pretty sunrise”.  I might have chosen some other adjective like majestic, spectacular, amazing, or gorgeous, but pretty worked.  “Yeah”, I responded.

But I had work to attend to.  I enjoyed the surroundings but I also focused on the task at hand.  By mile 5, I had hit the early splits, but an alarming trend was developing – the Garmin registered the mile splits before the actual mile markers, and at each marker, it registered earlier and earlier.  It was Towpath all over again.  Luckily, at least now I was knowledgeable and prepared, unlike Towpath where this phenomenon had caught me completely off guard. This time I had a pace tattoo – at every mile marker, I would check my actual time against the pace tattoo and see where I stood.  Again, I told myself not to panic – I had a long way to try to make up time.

Just past mile 5, still on the greenway, I heard a familiar voice up ahead  – it was Laura exuberantly cheering me on.  I was grateful to see her because 1) I love her and 2) I could finally unburden myself the excess weight of the extra Garmin and the unused heart rate monitor.  But as I approached, I couldn’t get the watch off in time and I didn’t even try the monitor.  Hurt hip and all, Laura ran beside me ready to accept whatever I handed her but I couldn’t get the watch off – it turns out to be a rather tricky maneuver at 7:30-something pace.  I cried out, “I’ll give it to you later.”  I quit fiddling with it and carried on, still perfectly comfortable and running dead-on goal pace.

I took my first Gu mere moments later, exactly according to plan, one every 40 minutes.  I still felt completely comfortable – through mile 5 and goal marathon pace felt like any easy daily run, exactly as I had hoped and expected to feel with tapered legs and virtually perfect conditions.

Things were going well, the Garmin discrepancy notwithstanding.  I felt fine, I had no difficulty drinking at water stops, the Gu tasted good (I carried Mint Chocolate Chip and Vanilla Bean flavors – they tasted more like cake icing than nutritional supplements and the truth be told, they probably are much closer to the former than the latter).  I could already see myself in Hopkinton.  I was through mile 6 and within a few seconds of where I was supposed to be.

Around mile 6, I eased up beside a girl who was hiccuping violently.  After each hiccup, she would whimper a little – she was clearly in the throes of some digestive tract distress.  But all the while, she maintained sub-7:40 pace and ran right beside me.  When she started spitting, I thought, “Uh-oh.  Puke imminent.”  I sped up – I felt quite sorry for her but I also didn’t want her vomiting on me – smelling puke for 20 miles is not exactly conducive to PR setting.  I dropped a 7:30 mile, thanks in no small part to puke-avoidance motivation.

Nearing mile 7 and about to exit the trail, I heard Laura again before I could see her – I immediately went to work on the watch again.  So absorbed was I that I completely missed her sign:

Laura told me later that 2 runners yelled "I love you, too!" before I showed up.

Laura told me later that at least 2 other runners yelled “I love you, too!” before I showed up.

I tugged at the watch as I neared Laura, but before I got there, it disengaged from my wrist and fell to the trail.  I stopped and turned around to get it when Laura yelled, “Leave it!  Leave it!” So I did, crying “Sorry!”  All I could do was carry on and hope that I hadn’t busted Laura’s watch.

We exited the trail and I was grateful.  As lovely as the view was, the trail was narrow and winding and crowded.  After seven miles of rubbing shoulders with other runners, I was ready to spread out – I had started to feel claustrophobic.  Finally we strung out and hit the flatter, wider roads.  I focused on trying to reel in some guys up ahead.  We headed down Olivet Road, toward DeLoach Vineyards, the site of the expo.

As we turned into the vineyard, I edged up beside a chubby guy in a yellow singlet.  Every volunteer we passed, and there were at least 10 of them, prompted this guy to jokingly called out, “Where’s the wine tasting?  When do we get to taste the wine?” It was mildly funny the first time, maybe slightly funny the second time, not funny at all the third time, and just plain annoying at each subsequent volunteer.  I intentionally sped up so I could drop this guy and avoid hearing that lame joke again.

I have this recurring dream where I’m in a road race and the course takes us inside a building.  This was the first race ever where this actually happened in real life.  We literally ran through the wine room, by racks of bottles, by barrel after barrel, and by giant (what I assumed to be) fermenting tanks.  It felt surreal and oddly familiar after years of running through buildings in dreams.  I left the comedian, the wine room, and the winery behind as we exited the vineyard and returned to the more conventional road racing venue, the roads.

This is the room we ran through - sorry about the tiny, low res pic, but it's the only photo I could find on the internetz.

This is the room we ran through – sorry about the tiny, low res pic, but it’s the only photo I could find on the internetz.

Miles 10 through 12 held the only significant hills of the course.  I’d classify them as gentle rollers and I welcomed them as they provided a much needed opportunity to utilize some different muscle groups.  A bigger guy, like NFL receiver big, maybe 6′ 2″, 195 pounds, passed me up one of these hills.  I passed him back going down.  And so and so and so forth for the next couple of miles.  And again, this too was welcomed as this little race within the race took my mind off the bigger picture.  NFL receiver and I were running side by side when he ducked into a port-a-john just past mile 12. I never saw him again.

On we went, cruising along the little back roads next to vineyards.  Along these roads, I kept encountering flattened roadkill snake corpses and I wondered, “What kind of snakes are these?  Is there a kind of snake that eats grapes?” when I realized that all snakes are carnivorous – whatever these snakes are, they most likely eat the things that eat grapes and are therefore welcomed, perhaps even imported, by the vineyard owners.  Such are the wondering thoughts of a runner locked into pace.

I remained relatively comfortable through halfway, although I began to feel the first signs of fatigue.  According to the Garmin 610, I was on pace,  hitting 13.1 in under 1:40.  It lied.  I crossed the actual, real-world physical half marathon mat in 1:41:02.  Halfway done and now I was starting to get a little annoyed at the Garmin for consistently lying to me.  Just like Towpath, the watch kept telling me I was sufficiently under pace, but in reality I was over a minute behind.

I knew that I needed to run faster if I had any shot at breaking 3:20.  I also knew that running much faster would be playing with fire as the faster I ran now, the greater the risk of crashing and burning later.  I tried to increase the pace ever so gradually while carefully gauging how I felt.  I ran miles 14 and 15 in 7:28 and 7:33 respectively.

Somewhere around 7:45AM or so, the clouds broke up.  Now we were running down open roads with no shade.  The sun teamed up with the miles to exacerbate the energy-sapping process.  Those last two sub-7:35 miles had taken some considerable effort – I quickly recognized that I couldn’t maintain this pace.  I had made the tiniest of dents in my time deficit but I knew I couldn’t keep it up.  The sub-3:20 dream died and now I adjusted my goal to beating my 3:24:50 Myrtle Beach Boston qualifier by as much time as possible.  I felt like 3:22 or 3:23 was still realistic if I could just hang on at high-7:30/low-7:40 pace.

Laura showed up again at mile 15 and I was more grateful than ever to see her.  I needed love, support, and someone to take more of this stuff that was weighing me down – I finally got to lose the heart rate monitor.  First, I ripped off the singlet, now so soaked in sweat that it probably weighed three or four pounds.  I threw it down near Laura and then went to work on the heart rate monitor as she ran along beside me.  I finally succeeded in wrenching it free and handed it to her.  I yelled “Thanks!” and carried on.

The sun beat down.  I wore my sunglasses for the first time – until now, they had been propped atop my head, wedged into place by the strap of my visor.  But when I put them on, they were all fogged up and caused me to run blind.  Curses, better to deal with the sun than with complete blindness, I yanked them off my face and shoved them back on top of my head.  I was growing more and more tired, but this section of the course was flat and straight so I was still able to stay on pace through mile 19.

Laura was like a guardian angel, showing up at precisely the right moments.  I held on by a thread until mile 19, and just as I felt like I was starting to fade, there she was, cheering loudly and snapping this pic:

Check out those sweet nipple crop circles, complete with Nip-Aids (if there's not a product with that name, there should be)!

Check out those sweet nipple crop circles, complete with Nip-Aids (if there’s not a product with that name, there should be)!

I wear a Nathan belt and typically carry 5 Gu’s for a marathon.  I had already used 3 so I continued the trend of getting lighter by shoving the two remaining gels into my pocket and handing the belt to Laura.  As I handed her the belt, I laughed and said, “This is like a very long strip tease!”  It’s a good sign if I’m laughing at mile 19 of a marathon.

We re-entered the trail and I steeled myself for the bonk, or as I affectionately refer to it, “The Darkness“.  This is where I start internally yelling every motivational slogan I can think of at myself.  Queue the theme to Rocky.  Let’s do this.

But all the motivational sayings and songs in the world won’t make you fitter.  The splits started falling off.  It was the usual – time was slipping away like sand through an hourglass, and no matter how hard I tried, I got slower and slower.  Whereas miles 18 and 19 had been 7:38 and 7:40, mile 20 was a 7:50 and 21 was a 7:55.  Different day, different place, same old story.

Laura would tell me her story later – she had a tough day of her own going on, racing the MINI all over the streets of Santa Rosa to meet me along the course.  Throughout the day, she was texting with my buddy Scott Helms who was checking in on my progress.  Here is a screenshot of the texts they sent while I ran miles 19 to 22:

scott text to laura

Here is the pic that Laura sent Scott next:

Uh-oh.

Uh-oh.

The splits started falling off while I struggled to hang on.  Mile 20, 7:50.  Mile 21, 7:55.  Mile 22, 7:58.  Uh-oh.  Very uh-oh.

Then disaster struck in the form of a hamstring cramp.  And the problem was much more than pain.  Don’t get me wrong, it hurt, it hurt like hell, but I’ve run through painful cramps before.  The real problem was that the hamstring knotted so badly that it locked up.  As in my leg was physically stuck in a straight position.  The best I could do was a slow Frankenstein-esque walk.  I screamed out loud, “God damn it!”  “That’s it.  It’s over.” I thought.

But I couldn’t give up – I’d worked too hard.  I stopped and tried to stretch, to no avail.  I tried any stretch I could think of, but nothing seemed to help.  I tried a lunge and felt, through the intense pain, the hamstring pulling – I visualized pulling two ends of a knot until it untied.  Something popped and released and suddenly I could run again.  Mile 23, 8:12.  Mile 24, 8:11.

I was on the verge of tears.  Yet another failed attempt.  Yet again, I was hemorrhaging time in the bonk.  The Darkness cackled it’s evil laugh in my face and I bowed my head.  I was content to slog it in.

Then I heard footsteps.  A lot of them.  A group approached and several of them passed me, one of them carried a sign that read “3:25”.  Inside my head, I screamed “NOOOO!” I thought, “Don’t you give up now!  You did not work your ass off to come out here and run a 3:30.  Run, you sorry sack of shit!  RUN!”  I took off.  Assuming these guys were dead-on pace, I needed to beat them by at least 11 seconds to better my time from Myrtle Beach.

I ran as hard as I could without hyperventilating (I would feel it coming on, so I’d back off, then speed up again ’til I felt it again, and so on).  The footsteps receded.  I pushed until I couldn’t hear them at all.  The left hamstring cramped again but didn’t lock up, thank god.  The left calf cramped.  Then the right.  But I pushed on until I could no longer hear any footsteps behind me.

I hurt everywhere. And I was long-run loopy.  I tried to look at my pace tattoo but the numbers all ran together.  “Just run”, I told myself, and I quit looking at the watch.

And then I heard footsteps again, but only one set.  Somebody approached me from behind and said, “Hey man, I’m using you.” I turned around and saw the guy carrying the 3:25 pace sign.  “I’m using YOU!” I called back.  I said, “3:25 is my BQ!” And I sped up and tried to drop this 3:25 demon from the bowels of hell.

Distance in the bonk gets extended.  Mile 25 felt longer than the first 14 miles combined – it seemingly lasted forever.  I tried my damnedest to drop the 3:25 pace leader, but he pulled alongside me and asked, “Hey, how am I doing?  How much ahead am I?” He said something like he didn’t have a watch, or couldn’t tell the time, or something, but I was confused.  I was not particularly coherent and a pacer was asking me about where we were and I couldn’t fathom how he didn’t know what his time was.  And he had lost everybody pacing off him.  I tried to make heads or tails of my watch and pace tattoo (remember how part of the tattoo had peeled off when I applied it?  That added to my confusion), but I was having a really hard time.  From what I could gather, we were about a minute ahead and I told him so.  “Well stay with me and you’ll get your BQ”, he said.  Then he dropped me.

I tried to go with him, but to no avail.  I reminded myself that to pace 3:25, he had to be at least a 3:15 guy, and there was no way at this point that I could keep up with a 3:15 guy.  I came through mile 25 in 7:45 and was ecstatic that I had been able to go that fast.  But now I was crashing hard and hanging on by a thread.

I told myself to break 8:00 for mile 26 and I’d still come in under 3:24:50.  But I was struggling, and the cramps were firing off everywhere in my legs.  “Ignore them, ignore them!” I tried to implore.  My body screamed, “Stop!” and my mind screamed, “Go!”  I slogged out an 8:08 mile 26.

We were back on the roads and both my calves were one giant cramp.  I told my legs to kick but they just laughed at me.  For the final stretch, I looked up and saw the seconds beyond 3:24 ticking away.  I told myself that every second counted – what if I slog it in now and that one second that I let go is the one that would have gotten me into Boston?  I could hear Laura in the crowd but I kept my eyes on the finish line as I desperately limped across the line.  I crossed in 3:24:30.

I felt like a failure.  I fought back tears.  The finisher’s medal looked like something Flavor Flav would wear and nearly took me to the ground when a volunteer put it around my neck:

Me with my finisher's medal.

Me with my finisher’s medal.

Laura rushed to me as I bent over and put my hands on my knees and tried not to burst into tears and/or pass out.  I just kept limping around, trying to keep moving because if I stopped, I was sure I’d puke and then pass out.  I drank some water, staggered over to this huge field, sight of the massive post-race festivities, and collapsed.

Laura cared for me, getting a chocolate milk for me to drink to help recover.  Then when I started to get cold – temps were still near the 50s and I was shirtless and drenched in sweat – she set out in search of clothing.  She came back with one of the long-sleeved tech tees from the 5K.  Screw that whole “you can’t wear the shirt from a race you didn’t run” business – I put that thing on before hypothermia set in.

After about half an hour, I quit beating myself up.  So I didn’t better my BQ by 5 minutes – I still bettered it.  I just hoped it was enough to get me into Boston.  It would all be worth it if only I got in.

Post-Race

I’ll try to make this brief (somebody somewhere just said, “Riiigggghhhht!”) After about an hour of me trying to gather myself, Laura helped me to the car and we headed back to the hotel.  I showered, iced down all my cramping, aching muscles, and then we came back to Juliard Park and all the cool post-race festivities.  No way we were going to skip our free beer.  Laura snapped this pic of us enjoying ourselves:

Post race fun.  Yeah, shocker, I look wiped.

Post race fun. Yeah, shocker, I look wiped.

Here’s the rest of the day in a nutshell:

We tried to go to the Russian River Brewing Company but it was packed and the hostess told us the wait for a table was over an hour, so we moved elsewhere, walking through Santa Rosa’s cute little downtown.  As we strolled, slowly as I could barely walk, I told Laura, “All I want is some good beer and a giant burger.”  When we found a quiet little pub with a lot of local draught on tap, with, and I quote, “The Giant Burger”, on the menu, I was sold.  We took a seat outside where we chatted for probably an hour with this very inebriated gentleman, Matthew, and his super sweet dachshund, Riley:

Matthew and Riley, our impromptu downtown Santa Rosa buddies.

Matthew and Riley, our impromptu downtown Santa Rosa buddies.

Even though his speech was quite slurred, Matthew made for good conversation while Riley parked it under my chair and dozed while I scratched his belly.  After a beer or 2, once I finally polished off the giant burger, Laura and I headed out to find Armstrong Redwoods State Natural Reserve, which Matthew assured us was a short drive.

We made it to Armstrong and parked.  The first trail we spotted was straight up and I turned to Laura and said, “Oh hell no.”  But after perusing the park map, we found a .1 mile trail that was listed as an “easy, flat” hike – “Yeah, this is the one”, I said.  Minutes later, on the trail, Laura snapped this photo of me marveling at this massive tree:

Now that's a big tree!

Now that’s a big tree!

We didn’t spend a lot of time in the park – it didn’t take long to appreciate the majesty of these wonders.  And I was Exhausted, yes with a capital E.  We drove back to the hotel and passed out.

Monday, on the drive back to the San Francisco airport, we stopped in Petaluma to check out the Lagunitas brewery, where we took these pics:

Lagunitas had an amazing tap room set up.  This pic doesn't do the outside justice - they even have their own amphitheater!

Lagunitas has an amazing tap room set up. This pic doesn’t do the outside justice – they even have their own amphitheater!

These signs give you a feel of the comic vibe of Lagunitas.  We some workers on skateboards heading to the warehouse.  I think this just might be the coolest place in the world to work - the exact opposite of my job on the Death Star.

These signs give you a feel of the comic vibe of Lagunitas. We saw some workers ride by on skateboards on their way to the warehouse. I am pretty sure that this is the coolest place to work on the planet – the exact opposite of my job on the Death Star.

And that was our Santa Rosa adventure.

Now I’m back home with the usual knocked-your-immune-system-down-running-a-marathon-and-then-out-by-pounding-beers-afterward sickness.  I called in sick yesterday and am pretty sure my boss thought I was lying so I could have a long Labor Day weekend.  I didn’t even know it was the Labor Day weekend.

Yesterday, the news came out that Boston will let in 36,000 runners this year, about 9,000 more than usual.  I think even my time will get in.  Hurray!  I hope to see many of you in Beantown.  Stay tuned for a few more adventures between now and then.

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