Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Bit of Closure - NAIA Marathon

When my cross country season ended last November, I had thought my career of being a college athlete had ended as well.  Shawnee State had never competed as a varsity track team and I was going to forgo running as a club team, like in the previous years, and divert my focus to ultra-running - that was my plan for a couple years leading up to that point.  To make that focus even more real I competed in two ultras less than two months after cross country ended and I had no plans on stopping the trend.  Then, February came around...

I heard some news from my teammates that Eric was making a push to get a varsity track program approved for the upcoming outdoor season.  This happened every year and the proposal was always shot down from the board, so there was no reason to get our hopes up this time.  This time was different; there were new members on the board and by the first week of March, it was official that Shawnee State was able to compete as a varsity track team (this is to say that the cross country team made up - and will make up for several years - the entire track team).  My plans in ultra-running halted and I began to map out a season of running track once again.

The NAIA is different from the NCAA in a couple ways.  1.)  5K Racewalk is an event at Nationals - I personally don't think this is an event that should be held but it is an Olympic event and it makes the NAIA different in that regard.  2.)  The Marathon is an event at Nationals.  People from the NCAA find this amusing and make fun of the NAIA for this, but if there is an meet displaying all distances of running, how can the marathon be left out?  This also gives a chance for seniors not able to qualify in another event to run at Nationals and represent their team.  Even though I also qualified for the 10K, I decided to train and go to Nationals in the marathon.

This was a perfect opportunity for me.  My training was more geared for a marathon, I was interested in seeing what I could run in a marathon, and most importantly, the All-American status that had eluded me in cross country was up for grabs for the top 6 finishers.  I also thought I had a good chance of winning the entire race - and was aiming for first.

The set up at the Indiana Wesleyan was great for Nationals.  All of the athletes stayed in the college dorms and dined at the dining hall on campus.  It was suppose to mimic the Olympic Village atmosphere with everyone staying in one location.  This also made it great for the schools to plan the trip.  I arrived to campus late Wednesday and relaxed watching all the prelims on two gloomy days leading up to the marathon that started at 6 a.m. on Saturday.
Early in the race, before 5 miles.
My goal was to put myself in position to win the race.  I did not know how to do this efficiently but shortly into the race I decided I should do this by sticking with whoever was leading.  The course was two loops with a 2 mile finishing section that was not repeated.  On the backside of the loop was a semi challenging portion with many little turns and many short hills; this section was miles 3-7 and 15-19.  After the hills was a 2 mile straight stretch that was fairly flat but this was also the only section that we encountered wind.  After the straight was when we turned onto the Cardinal Greenway, which is a Rails to Trail path that lasted a little over 2 miles.  Turning off the path we went downhill for about a mile where we made a 120 degree turn onto the second loop or straight into campus to finish.
Gaynor and me near mile 5.
There was a pack of about 10 people for the first couple miles of the race.  This narrowed down to four people, Tubei from Park, Gaynor from Malone, a kid from Biola, and myself at around three miles.  This pack remained close until halfway through the greenway when the Biola kid dropped off.  Once he dropped off Tonui from Hannibal came roaring past us and Gaynor and Tubei went with him.  I stayed a few seconds back and a mile later we were all packed together again.  I didn't want to make any drastic pace changes this early.  Tonui fell behind us after his surge but did this type of thing several more times throughout the race, each time coming back.
Before 9 miles, lead pack of 4.  Winner is on the far left.
Through the half mark it was the four of us running in front at 1:13:50.  Near the entrance to the hills, another Park runner Chelulei caught us and the two Park Kenyon's took off with the lead.  Gaynor and Tonui went with them for a little bit and I didn't at all.  All of us in the lead pack started to string out now and I was in 5th.  I tried to push hard through these hills but I was noticing my splits were getting slower and slower.  After consistently staying under 5:35 for the previous 6 miles, mile 17 was 5:47.  Then, mile 18 was 5:52.  It is not that the hills were super steep or long, but they were just a nuisance.  Every time a hills started, it was after a 90 degree turn to begin the climb - it was hard to keep momentum through this section.  

Although I was slowing down and the leaders were pulling away, I managed to pass Gaynor and move into 4th place again.  But, as soon as I passed one Malone guy, the other Malone runner, Tony Migliozzi, who I was most worried about, came up on me and I was unable to go with him.  It seemed that he had ran a smart first half and was just getting rolling when he passed me.  Back in 5th.
Gaynor with me trailing around 14 miles.
  I tried to keep everyone in front of me in sight - but pushing hard through the hills was catching up with me as I ran 5:59, 6:01, and 6:03 from miles 19-21.  This is also where two teammates from Oklahoma Baptist passed me.  I was now in 7th, non All-American, for the first time in the race.  This was that terrible straight stretch with the wind in the my face.  I learned throughout this race that wind was something I deal with worse mentally than anything else in a race.

Entering the Cardinal Greenway for the second time I knew I needed to get something rolling again and I began to focus on the next guy ahead of me, which was the pesky Tonui.  I didn't catch him until about 23.5 miles.  It was weird that when I passed him he started to walk.  He ended up finishing 8th.  I was now happy to be in the top 6 and it seemed I was fairly far away from the two Okla. Bap. guys in 4-5th.  Turning off of the greenway and onto the downhill straight stretch into campus I started feeling good and making a push for the finish.  This is when I realized I could catch the two Okla. Bap. guys and Chelulei from Park who was noticeably struggling.  Before I passed him I watch as he trotted through the last aid station - I moved into 5th.

With 2.2 miles to go I set my sights on the two teammates ahead of me and was surprised to pass them right as we entered the campus.  There was about 1.5 miles left and I was in 3rd.  At this point I just mentally told myself not fall off and get re-passed.

One emotionally charged moment for me was at the mile 25 mark when I saw and heard my parents and grandpa.  The last time they saw me, I was in 7th place and probably looked like I was struggling.  They were very enthusiastic sounding and very happy to see I was in 3rd place.  I got chills as I ran past them.  I ended up finishing 3rd at 2:30:07.  Tubei won in 2:27:12 and Migliozzi was ahead of me at 2:28:29.


So, after four years of running not quite good enough to be All-American, I finally got a last chance to do it and the dream came true.  It was nice to get the track program at SSU started off in the right direction and give Coach Putnam his 5th All-American.    

Here are my splits in the race.  It was easy to see where I started falling off, and luckily regrouping:

5:15 (This mile marker was said to be short, which makes sense)
11:42 for miles 9-10
5:32 (1:13:50 for 13.1)
11:48 for miles 23-24
1:11 for last .2 (1:16:17 for second 13.1)

As far as time goes, I am pleased.  I know with a faster course and more competition I could drop that time considerably.  Looking back on this day, I wish I would have started out a little slower, because I think I could have ran the last half a lot faster than I did.  That might of gave me a better chance of getting 2nd or maybe winning.  But, I went with the top group and tried to hold on and even though I fell off it wasn't too much.

People are telling me I should focus on marathons for a while and try to hit the 2:19 Olympic Trials standard.  Can I go over 11 minutes faster?  Who knows.  Maybe if I hired a coach or trained the way marathoners trained I could make a solid attempt, but those are the exact reasons I don't want to run marathons.  My reluctance to do more marathons would hold me back to much for me to even try to make an attempt.  I don't want to cheat running like that.  Maybe someday?  For now, I want to run on trails, not have to worry about cranking 10 mile tempo runs and bashing my feet into concrete for 26.2 miles.  I want to continue what I love.

Run On


Sunday, May 22, 2011

It Came Natural

When I first started running my sophomore year of high school, I knew I had found something I loved.  It's when you start imagining things, that you know you love something.  I spent a lot of time when I was younger running on long dirt roads from my house in Meigs County - alone.  Although this was a time before I knew that there was such a thing as ultra running, I was already imagining running long distances.  Even on little five mile runs, I was imagining that I was finishing some epic 100 mile race through the mountains.  Or, I would dream about running across America - I didn't know people actually did these thing; I thought Forest Gump was the only person to do those types of things.  I had no concept of trails winding through the mountains, or that went from Maine to Georgia.

Nothing has changed now that I know a good bit about those things.  Instead of imagining running "some" 100 mile race against blank faces, I am racing Western States against Anton and Geoff.  I now have a face to those blank figures that used to push me along the dirt roads of my youth.  It is something I do nearly every run that I run alone.  My mind drifts into a different scene where I am 80 miles into a race and I am with the leaders.  I imagine taking in gels and going through aid stations as quickly as possible, getting through the fatigue in my legs, and holding off the leaders - I always win these races in my mind.

Imagination is something that I thrive on.  Before I enter a race - or any situation in life for that matter - I have usually already imagined something similar to that situation.  Once we loose our imagination, we are no longer going forward.

No one had to tell me to love running long distances or to be a competitor.  It is something I figured out on my own - it came natural.

Run On!