Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The 2009 Columbus Marathon

from left to right: Mike Barga, stranger, Mary Dillhoff, Dave Calvert, and Me

Now that the dust has settled from last weekend’s marathon I thought I’d take the time to write up my race report with a clear head. My perspective on a race can sometimes be off the day of or day after a race because the pain is still fresh. Thoughts like, never again, or fast enough, are always at the forefront of my thinking. After just a couple of days those thoughts fade away and all the great things about a race and the road leading to that day come to the forefront.

I came into Columbus with a fairly reasonable goal, to break 3:00, which for me represented a 10 minute marathon PR. I ran 3:10 at Cleveland while training for my first 100, without doing a great deal of speed work, so I thought breaking 3:00 wouldn’t be too difficult with training more tailored to a marathon. I think that initial overconfidence really affected my training efforts for the worse. Even though I ran quality speed workouts and quality long runs each week I did very little, almost nothing, between those two workouts. I think I was just dealing with that post-marathon lull that people go through where people have a hard time ramping things back up for the next race. For me it was a post-100 lull. Instead of taking a few months off, I was doing things half-assed for a couple of months. Although my training results were very up and down I had a few very good runs the weeks leading up to the race and I found myself pretty confident come race day. I’ve come to realize that confidence in your own abilities is ½ the battle in an endurance event.

Conditions on race day were very conducive to a fast time. Although it was a little cold at the start, there was little wind, and no precipitation. This wasn’t my first rodeo but the race day nerves never go away, and I just wanted to get this thing started. At one point it looked like there would be a small army of people running as a group, trying to break 3:00 together, but on race day it was just Mary and I at the start together. We would rely on each other to reign in the urge to run quicker or to slow down throughout the race. Looking back on things I think that worked to our advantage, as a large group is hard to keep together.

As the race started we quickly settled into our pace, hitting the first mile just a tad ahead of pace. We had planned on doing the first two miles at 7:00 or 7:10 pace to ease into race pace but you know what they say about the best laid plans… The good thing is that things felt easy early on and we did our best to stay at marathon pace and not run too fast. By mile 8 we had attracted a little crowd of strong female runners. I’d like to think they were there because of my good looks :) - but it was pretty apparent that they were trying to stick by Mary who was moving up in the overall rankings. Dave Calvert of Fleet Feet joined us around mile 10 and he would work with us the rest of the way, making our little team three people strong.

We went through the ½ way point in 1:28:30, which was a little quick but overall right about where we wanted to be. We were still on cruise control, but this is the first point at which you take an inventory of how your feeling. I was running strong but had only been taking water thus far so I made myself eat a pack of Sport Beans, which would pay off late in the race. I started to have my first sign of difficulty around mile 15, circling OSU’s off-campus housing but luckily I had Dave and Mary to pace off of for a few minutes and before I knew it I was through it and feeling good again. In a marathon you’re going to have spots that are difficult, you just hope that they’re fleeting like this one was.

As we left OSU’s west-campus I had another difficult stretch and again set in behind Mary and Dave and was lucky to have this spot of bother pass quickly as well. By mile 20, the make or break point of the race I was feeling strong. Our training partner, and soon to be sub-3:00 marathoner, Mike Barga joined us at mile 20 to bring us home. Mike’s running MCM next weekend but didn’t let that stop him from pacing Eric for several miles on his way to a 2:49 and us for 6 miles. It was more than he should have been doing a week before his big race, but that’s Mike for you. He’s a team player and is just as invested in his friends races as he is his own.

At mile 20 our pack cracked a little bit as I took over the pacing duties, doing my best to maintain 6:45 pace. Dave was by my side, but Mary was a few seconds back. I knew she’d be in good hands with Mike with her so I fought to stay on pace. I was happy to hear Michelle and Co. going crazy cheering for Mary as I came down Grandview Ave. at mile 22.5 because I know Mary was right with us and hadn’t fallen off pace. Things were getting very tough and it was difficult to maintain 6:45 miles at this point but Dave and I were still working together to hold it together. Miles 24 and 25 were extremely painful but I knew it would all be over in less than 20 minutes. Dave was dragging me through these miles – if he was hurting he was doing a good job of hiding it because he looked in control and relaxed.

At mile 25 the pain goes away as thousands of fans line the course. Their cheers and words of encouragement offer a distraction from the pain. Wanting to put on a good show, the body offers a little extra energy that you didn’t know you had a mile earlier, and luckily the last mile turns out to be one of the quickest – the fact that it happens to be downhill doesn’t hurt either. For the first time of the day I switch the watch over to show my overall time, I had my sub-3:00 marathon in the bag. My watch clicks over to 26.2 miles and reads 2:56:32, but wait we’re still not on Nationwide Blvd – doggonit either my Garmin is off again or this course is long! Keep it together! The last ¼ mile is always tough, you’re willing the body to run faster but it’s fighting you. I’m not sure if it’s the pain of the finishing kick, the sense of accomplishment for knowing you’ve made it, or the fact that your focus finally breaks and you soak it all in and look at all the crowd cheering for YOU! Whatever the case may be I always get emotional at the end of a marathon.

I came across the line in 2:58:15, a 12 minute PR and my first time sub-3:00. Darrin was there to congratulate me and then make sure I was ok, after all he had a job to do as medical director. Esposito and Julie were there to give me my metal. I turned around to see Dave finish right behind me, his chip time would be identical to my own. We hung around, against everyone’s instructions to keep moving through the finishers chute, because I wanted to see Mary come across that line. Sure enough, with time to spare Mary came through in 2:59:36, finishing as the 7th female! The fact that all three of us accomplished our goal made it all the more special, there was no consoling anyone who came up short, it was pure jubilation!

As always, it was a banner day for dozens of MIT teammates and friends, who had run Columbus that day. Eric’s 2:49, Roger’s 2:51, Ashley’s 3:07, Patrick’s 3:20, Terri and Michelle breaking 3:30, Ron Ross also breaking 3:30 the week after running the Towpath Marathon and only two weeks after a 103 mile effort at NC24! I could list 50 people who set PRs or qualified for Boston at Columbus, it was that type of day. Congrats to everyone that ran on Sunday! I look forward to hearing each and every one of your stories on a run in the near future.

It feels like this race marks the conclusion of a long season of training but it’s actually the commencement of my fall/winter racing season. I plan on ramping up my training to include 4 days of running a week, including long runs on Saturdays and Sundays in preparation for some longer races. This upcoming Sunday I will be participating in the Running with Scissors Double Marathon+, which is a 53.4 mile trail run. I plan on taking the first loop really easy and playing the second loop by ear. On November 14th I will be participating in Bill’s Bad Ass 50k, which is an unofficial event but I plan on running hard. On December 12th I'll be running the Festivus 50k here in Columbus, hoping to go sub-4:00 on an easy course. On January 17th I’ll be running the Run for Regis 50k, which I DNF’ed at last year and hope to do well in this year. My fall/winter season all builds up to my second 100 mile race on February 6th – the Rocky Raccoon 100 in Huntsville Texas. Not only is Rocky Raccoon my favorite Beatles song but it’s also the name of one of the most popular 100 mile races in the country, and it’s early enough that it won’t disrupt my spring marathon training.

That's my plan and I'm sticking to it...


  1. Great blog Mike. You guys did very well. As I told Mary. I have not seen her in that much pain. She really dug deep Sunday for that sub 3.
    very much looking forward to MCM on Sunday. the weather changed a bit. It is now calling for breezy but warm conditions. If this happens I will adjust accordingly. will keep you posted and see ya on the train.

  2. Congratulations on the sub-3:00 - and your blog is a really fun read for those of us ex runners who are considering re-entry. :)

    Congrats again!

  3. Nice are Mike the Machine! Awesome time.

  4. I'm so happy for you! I cannot wait to see you on Sunday!