Thursday, October 22, 2009

Long Awaited

No good excuses for not getting to this post sooner. Here it is none the less. If you don't want all the mental blather and would rather just read about the race forward down to "long story longer."

Twin Cities Marathon with "Team in Training." So as the tri season ended last July I needed one last fundraiser to put me over the top for the Lifetime race with TNT. The annual "Cornhole" tournament did just that and then some. Never wanting to miss a race I joined the TNT marathon group to do the Twin Cities race Oct 4.
It was a fair challenge going to high miles on the run right away but my legs were mostly ready for it having done two half marathons and a half Iron this season.
I went into the training wanting to post a "Boston" qualifying time and if I felt good during my high miles in training to push for a three hour finish.
I took training very seriously and really enjoyed it. I was lucky enough to have the majority of my trainings fit around work and home schedules. The biggest challenge for me was learning to enjoy the long runs by myself without distraction (music). I grew to really love it putting in solo runs of 17, 19, 21, 19 and 17. I really learned how to better pay attention to my body and its stride. My position, my breathing, nutrition and how each thing is affected by the other.
The biggest benefit I had this training season was training with the team. Coach Jan Ochocki from TNT has more running experience than I will ever have and she really pushed me and gave me incredible valuable training tips to make a three hour marathon goal a reality. Group runs, track workouts and hill repeats with the team are always my favorites and everything together made for a perfect race day.
Race day, providing the weather is fair, is typically a reflection of your training and your mental state of mind. The weather was just right Oct 4 and I have raced enough to prepare myself mentally and physically for a good race, but one thing put me over the top.
As race day drew near I neglected to finish my fund raising and put out a last minute email to raise the last dollars for TNT for my race. I was overwhelmed by the generosity of my fellow teammates that I have raced with in the past. It was so touching to know they had my back and carried me to the "fund raising finish line." With one of those donations came my mental focus from Emily Selenski whom I raced the Phoenix marathon with Jan 08.

"Good luck, Andrew! You've been able to accomplish so many goals, I know you'll make this one. Think 3...1 hour for Adam, 1 hour for Dan, 1 hour for McKenna. We're cheering for you!"
Emily Selenski Wed Sep 30 07:55:19 EDT 2009

I can honestly say that her formula was the key to my success. Racing is 80% mental and work coming into the last two weeks before the race was crazy busy. I had little time to relax and less time to reflect on anything mental. Not good coming into a race but you cannot control everything, so you just have to go with what you have. Emily's encouragement brought it all into focus.

Long story longer....

Race morning was beautiful and my dad was kind enough to drop me off at the Metrodome early so I could warm up. It was a great start to the morning having his support and not having to worry about picking up a car later because the race is a point to point race and finishes in St. Paul. I meet Dan D a good friend from TNT for a early morning jog/warm-up, then we went into the dome to meet the rest of the group. It did not hurt that the Twins were in the middle of their miracle season ending, so seeing the field was a definite inspiration.
As I was reading the night before the race in the "couse info book" I noticed that there was not a pace group for runners less than 3:10. I was mentally banking on not having to think much and just following a pack of runners and pretending like I belonged. Not having this, really threw a kink in my plan so I quickly learned to like the thought of not knowing what was going to happen.
I made my last stop at the "Biff" and headed to "corral 1" for the race start. I moved my way to get just in front of the 3:10 pace group and looked around for someone that looked willing to chat. I found that there are not too many people up front there and even less of them looked willing to chat. No matter. I asked the guy next to me what he was planning to run it in and he said that last year he did 2:55 and planned for the same this year. He assured me that he always starts very slow and about half way through he starts to slowly speed up until the finish. I said "great" and asked if I could try to keep up, he said "sure" and we were off. I did my best not to be a shadow to him. It was a great relief for me to have a pace setter. Of course his "slow" pace was a 6:50-7:00 minute mile :)
My legs felt good and the run felt fast but comfortable. I knew I could do it but we were just two miles in. About mile three you come around the Walker Art center and turn up behind a good hill. I love hills so I really had to keep myself in check as we came down around lake of the Isles I realized I needed to really get into a mental zone. I recalled Emily's hourly encouragement and began my mental race.

Hour one was for Dan. I needed to start with Dan because he one of the most impressive people I have ever known. His example in my life set the spiritual and moral frame work for me at a pivotal time in my life. As life sometimes happenes Dan lost his fight with cancer at the age of 32. Hour one with Dan was key for my to set the frame work of my day and reflect on God's love for us no matter what. Finding joy no matter what...knowing that it is not about us....loving and serving others above ourselves. Hour one was great and the time flew.
I was keeping pace with my pace setter but I really had to focus on being relaxed so not to over compensate with the rest of my body. I tend to tense up and that burns a lot of energy.

Hour two was going to be crucial. I gave that hour to the memory of McKenna Johnson our honored team mate who was lost to cancer during our Phoenix season. What an honor it was to be inspired by McKenna for hour two. She was a bright light in the world that was taken too soon. I have had the privileged to get to talk to her parents a few times since the Phoenix marathon season and they have been an incredible inspiration choosing to continue to work with TNT, fund raising and racing multiple races now. I cannot say enough about them and how they have inspired me. As I would reflect on them and loosing a daughter at such a young age. My mind would quickly jump to my family and the tenderness of childhood, the gift it is and the difficulties of so many that loose their children so early in life. That hour went the quickest. The half way point came and went and I felt great but I knew from my first marathon in Phoenix that those feeling would soon be fleeting. I did my best to end the hour on and inspirational note and did just that as I saw my pacing partner slowly start to pull away.

Time for work...hour three!

Hour three was a no brainier.....Adam. The embodiment of hard work, no nonsense, just do it stupid! His example of ignoring pain during his struggle with cancer has always been a weapon for me in endurance events. I needed Adam for hour three and he did not let me down. I had no doubt that I could keep a 7 minuite pace for the race but realizing that I needed a 6:50 pace just a couple days before the race put a new spin on things. That is where the mental game comes into play.
So my pacer is long gone now. I did my best to keep him in sight but he did just as he said and was really motoring my mile 17-18. I was solo now and coming into the hardest part of the race, miles 19-21. Mile 20 starts the St. Thomas hill. I love that hill, I have run it so many times but only once at mile 20 of a run, and when I did that one, I cramped up bad! What would race day bring me? Be smart listen to my body and "just do it stupid" as Adam would have said. I had been hitting my water and nutrition to that point perfectly and so when I came to the top of the St. Thomas hill feeling half way decent I felt like I had just won the race! I knew there was a long way to go but the major hill challenges were done and I was on pace for my 3 hr finish according the crowd. I headed up the steady gradual climb of summit doing my best to keep relaxed and just keep my wheels turning. I reflected on child hood memories ...skiing... climbing.... fishing... working...playing, often checking my watch to make sure I was keeping pace. As mile 23-24 came I realized that my pace was slowing and it was getting harder to keep even a 7 min pace. The mile markers seemed to get further and further apart and the legs were ready do be done. Mom and dad were at mile 22 giving me a huge boost, all though difficult to keep my emotions in check seeing them while focusing on Adam, I know they believed in me and that they were proud of my efforts no matter what and that made me want to dig deep and finish strong. Each mile now was an eternity and thankfully Janet and Jayna where there after Mom and Dad to give me a much needed boost. There were so many TNT team mates there in the later miles that gave me encouragement. What a gift! I never once wondered if I would make my goal of 3 hours. I just wanted to do my best to keep pace and whatever happened, happened. At mile 24 I made small goals. Knowing the course I told myself to just get past the bridge...then just make it to the church....then just keep that pace around the corner....and once you get to the top of Summit turn the corner it's all down hill! I wish it would have been that easy. It seemed like forever to get to the top but I made it. I knew I kept a decent enough pace to that point, and someone on the side made my day and said "keep it up your under three hours." Just 1.2 miles to go all down hill. The most beautiful part of the course going by one of the most beautiful churches in the country and finishing at the beautiful capitol. Problem is I have come to realize that I do not run faster down hill. My body enjoys going up better than going down so it was a lot of work to keep pace even going down hill. I was so thankful I was going down but it was not as easy I has anticipated. The crowd was loud and lifted my spirits at that point your are running on the clouds but all I could think about was Adam and how much I missed him. I really did not care that I just broke three hours...I missed my brother... but I was happy. I keep racing because he never gave up and neither will I. My goals are not to break records but to do the best I can, whatever that means.

I was able to finish under three because of the people around me. The people that partner with me to help families cope with cancer. I finish strong because of my team mates that I train and race with. I finish strong because the people that are closest to me love me and believe in me and just want me to do my best, what ever that is.