From fat, overweight blob to king of the mediocre, our backwater boy hit the smalltime with a number 66 single and grandiose self-love. But what was behind his meteoric rise to the middle? And did all the goofy Top 100 hats and self-showered accolades leave him in shambles, a twisted mess of man hopped up on chocolate cake and Milwaukee’s Best? Come with us Behind the Music and find out the rest of the story….
The week leading up to the race was uneventful but stressful. I was silently freaking out. I couldn’t concentrate at work, I was getting mouth sores from stress, I was checking the weather every 10 minutes. The early forecast was for warm and humid. Terrible. I was all over the map trying to finalize a race strategy and decide on a goal pace, and the potential warm weather just threw it all into bigger doubt. Some people told me to “go for it!” Meaning sub-3 hours. Others said, “lots of really good runners ‘go for it’ and fail badly. Stay conservative and run with the 3:10 pace group.” One person in particular told me multiple times, “you better just stay with the 3:10 group. They’re going to pass you at mile 22 anyway.” I also would read in online forums about the experiences of people aiming for sub-3 hours and one minute I’d think “I can do that” and the next I’d think “who am I kidding? Look at the mileage they’re running.” Basically, I didn’t believe in myself. I never have.
Then several things started to change that. First, I ran across something Bill Bowerman (I think) was supposed to have said: “it’s not the miles, it’s the man.” There wasn’t anything magic about X miles. So I wasn’t running X, I had still put in the work. The rest was up to me. Believe in my training, believe in myself, and I could do it.
Second, I read this New York Times article. What struck me was this: “You are always capable of doing more than you are doing.” I realized that was true for me, that I always do better than I think I’m capable of. I sell myself short. I decided to fight those thoughts.
Next, a friend forwarded a race report from a finisher of the Leadville 100 trail race. It was filled with spiritual nuggets, and in reading it, it dawned on me that the race wasn’t about goal pace or finishing time or strength of will. He wrote, “the work was yet to be done but the reward present.” That’s when it struck me that yes, the race was a reward, difficult sure, but a chance to, as Gilbert loves to say, “run with joy.”
Also, despite all the conservative advice, there were a few people who really believed in me. Jessica. Pat. John. Noel. (Uh, right? Y’all believed?) And of course Gilbert. (“If you eat, 2:50!!”) I kept asking myself, why do other people believe in me more than I believe in myself? I realized they must believe in me for a reason, and I started to come around.
So slowly there was a shift in my thinking over the last few days. Yeah, I continued to waffle back and forth on strategy right up through the middle of the race, but I was much more at peace with whatever happened. Outwardly, I would tell people to expect anything from a DNF to a sub-3, and that I didn’t know what to expect myself, but inwardly I was starting to believe I could do it.
Training-wise over the last week I brought it down a notch. I didn’t think I needed much, if any, taper, given the mileage I’m running. Especially since I missed a month of training, I felt like I needed as much fitness as possible. So last Sunday I did a 12 mile run with 8 miles at goal pace. It was supposed to be a psychological boost, and on the one hand it freaked me out because I thought it was too hard, but on the other it reaffirmed that I could run that pace. Monday I did a couple more miles at goal pace. Thursday I did fartlek. Finally, Friday I took off and rested, but Saturday I did the special, super-carbo-three-minute-eat-till-you-puke workout.
Ah, the special workout, my bowels remember you fondly.
Three weeks before the race I ran a 20-miler on a Saturday and tested out this super-loading plan on Friday. For my weight, I’m supposed to consume upwards of 700g of carbs in the 24 hours leading up to the run. The amount of food that requires is actually kind of sickening. I felt gross most of Friday, though I was surprised I was actually hungry that night. I guess my stomach expanded. And the 3 minute sprint was very taxing (think 1000m race), leaving my legs surprisingly tired.
I wasn’t sure it helped for that 20 miler, but it didn’t seem to harm me, so I decided to do it for White Rock. I did normal “carbo-loading” starting Wednesday, then Saturday morning I warmed up for 20 minutes and did the 3 minute sprint. This time though, I bought two CarboForce drinks (100g carbs/400 calories each) and immediately downed them after the sprint. I also had a gu (25g) and two Clif bars (45g each), plus some banana pancakes with syrup and orange juice. At this point I was feeling sick, but they say the first 20 minutes is the most important and I figure I had at least 400g of carbs.
The rest of the day I snacked on granola, bananas and double concentrated Gatorade. Some Clif Bar samples at the expo. A normal Subway lunch and a large dinner of penne pasta, mac ‘n’ cheese, half a PBJ, and garlic bread. More bananas and granola and gatorade later that night. Woke up at 3:30 a.m. and another granola bar and gatorade. Another CarboForce drink and Clif Bar before the race.
With that much food, I was afraid of “G.I. issues”, but it was never a problem. I did have to wee wee the whole race, though I never stopped to do that. But I never felt like I hit the wall, I kept consistent splits, and felt strong at the end. So I think it helped. But the amount of food you have to eat is pretty gross, so it may not be for everyone.
Woke up at 5:45, laid there for awhile, then got up and got busy.
I didn’t know what to do. I was nervous. Tuned into the weather (40s and drizzly) but couldn’t decide on clothing. Finally went with the high red socks and that was all she wrote. I was planning on wearing them all along, then chickened out due to embarrassment, then finally said to hell with it.
I had the 3:00 and 3:10 pace bands. I was embarrassed to wear the 3:00 band. “Who does that guy think he’s kidding?” I covered it up with the 3:10 band.
Went with the Asics over the Brooks. Trained all fall with the Brooks, but a couple days prior Gilbert had said, “you’ll lose 10 minutes with those things.” So I tried out the Asics again the day before the race and after the clodhopping Brooks, the Asics felt so light it was like I was running barefoot. I figured that had to be good. My shins would eventually recover and .4 ounces can add up over the course of 40,000 strides.
Nervous pacing in the lobby. Silent shuttle to the start. Porta-potty pee. Aimlessly wander. I was alone. My warm-up consisted of peeing again in a parking garage and jogging back to the start area.
Trying not to throw up, searching for something to do, a familiar face, anything to take my mind off the race. I drank my CarboForce drink, decided on my final clothing lineup (no hat, one long-sleeve shirt, gloves), did the bag check and tried to stay warm. I kept searching in vain for a familiar face, for the Gazelles banner, for anything to do. Finally I heard the women and wheelchair starts so I wandered up to the start line. It was surprisingly uncrowded. I had to wee-wee again at the starting line against the fence next to four other guys and a squatting girl.
I was still unsure of my strategy and goal pace. The 3:10 pace group was right near the front and in some weird way that kind of clinched it for me: I was going to go for it, so I lined up in front of them. I remembered a past 5K or something where I had been jogging along at 7:20 pace and had to snap myself out of the mesmerizing pull of those around me. I knew that I tended to adopt the pace of the runners around me. If I went 3:10, I may never escape.
Then I heard a familiar voice calling out my name and was I ever so glad to see David A. I wandered back to say hi and he had a few encouraging words. Then he said, “hey, just have fun.” The way he said it was just what I needed to hear. I was still just trying not to vomit, but I was ready to run.
As soon as I crossed the finish line I was in a daze. I was trying not to cry, not to scream. I should have done both. I stared at my shoes for awhile. The ground. Nothing. There was a guy standing there, a volunteer, who knows? I just stared at him. Finally, I said, “what do I do now?” He pointed me to the hats and medals. I stared at another volunteer but she didn’t see me. I tapped her on the shoulder and she gave me this look of pity then gave me a medal.
Another finisher walked up to me and said, “I feel like I just gave birth.” He also said, “Dude, you were so strong the whole way. I just kept your socks in sight and tried to stay with you. You never wavered.” He asked if it was a P.R. and I told him it was my first one. “You deserve that hat, man. Get your hat.” Huh? Oh, I got my “Top 100” hat. Ugly and goofy but precious. That’s the best feeling to get compliments from fellow runners. And oh yeah, everyone loves the socks.
I walked over to get my picture taken. I was already starting to stiffen up and get cold. That tinfoil thing they put on you was a joke in this cold, windy, wet weather so I threw it away. I didn’t know if my family was here or not but I was too tired to look. We were supposed to meet but I just wanted to go lay down somewhere. Somehow I made it into the AA center and was confronted with the damn stairs down to the floor and the food. I looked for somewhere to lay down. I couldn’t bear it, so I just sat down. I wasn’t hungry anyway.
I just sat there by myself for a long time and thought about what I had done and tried not to cry. The run was so hard. Just so damn hard. And I made it through the pain to the other side. I thought about my training buddies, about my family, about my coach. I remembered specific runs, of waking up at 5 a.m. and nothing on my mind but this day. Thinking of this day and this finish had kept me going with every slogging step. And now it was here and I had done what I dreamed of. Small dreams maybe, but my dreams. It made me fond of all those mornings, the hot summer runs, the solo stomps around my neighborhood, the PBJ runs, even the aqua jogging. I thought about Ivi. Eventually I gave up trying not to cry and let it go a little bit. The half-marathoners were flowing by, staring at my socks and my tears, so I propped my legs on the chair in front, put on my “Top 100” hat, and made sure everyone could see both.
Finally I got up in search of food and was sorely disappointed. I just wanted a banana, not a pickle on a stick. Maybe a bagel, not sushi or grilled mystery meat. I got a cookie and water and went to sit back down. A guy said “nice hat” and he was wearing one too. We talked for awhile, members of a club. I kept looking for my family, for another Gazelle, but didn’t see anyone. Finally I left.
Oh lord, the stairs. I had to gimp back up the stairs to get out of there. Saw Jay in the clothing bag retrieval line. Had a nice conversation.
Back to the hotel and still no family, and no room key. Locked out of the hotel room. I only wanted to lay down. Finally my family arrived, and three hours after the finish could I at last share my elation with someone and just lay down. I wished they could have seen me finish. I wanted to cry again when I saw them.
I was dazed the rest of the day, as those who saw me can attest. I think I was still shocked. Saw Russ and he looked like a million bucks. Five minute negative split. Holy crikey. Saw Frank and Scott, both gave great efforts. Drove home, stuck in time, more days and more dazed.
And that’s it. It slowly recedes, the memory fades, the pain eases, the joy softens. I want to hold on to it, but know I should let it go. It’s done, it happened, it seemed momentous at the time, but I can hear people snicker. Whatever. It was my dream, my race, my red socks.
Odds and Ends
The expo was lame. I’m not a gear guy. I saw Bill Rodgers in the hotel lobby the night before the race.
Me: I saw Bill Rodgers.
Jessica: That’s nice.
Me: You don’t know who that is do you?
In that picture of me above, I distinctly remember my state of mind at that point. I was starting to suffer, I was thinking, “take the turn as close as possible to the curb, run as little as you have to. Just get to the top. It’s gonna hurt even more, just get to the top and try to survive.” It doesn’t look like much of a hill, or even the start of a hill there, but I was already suffering and I was steeling myself for more.
Further review of my splits leads me to seriously question that 6:04 pace over the last 2.2 miles. See, what happened was this: my watch was all messed up and I didn’t capture splits, but the email alerts gave me a few:
If you do the math, you’ll see that the 24 mile overall pace should actually be 6:52. But if you take my time at that split (2:45:03) and assume my pace (6:44) is correct, and plug them into a pace calculator, you’ll get a distance of 24.5. Meaning the last segment was actually 1.7 miles not 2.2, and meaning my last segment pace was actually 7:51 not 6:04. But I don’t think that’s right either, because it would mean I covered 19-24.5 at 6:37 pace, and that included two miles of hills.
Also, according to the pace band I was consistently 1:30-2:00 minutes ahead of 3 hour pace the whole race. Now suddenly in the last 1.7 miles I lost 1:10 per mile (i.e. I dropped from 6:44 through mile 24.5 to 7:51) yet still finished 1:35 under 3 hours, the same as my half-split (1:30 under)? Dizzying, and moot, but it just doesn’t add up. I guess I wouldn’t be surprised with either 6:04 or 7:51. It’s probably somewhere in the middle.
I would have won the 1896, 1900 and 1904 Olympic marathons. I would have held the Marathon world record until 1908. Of course those early races varied in distance. Only 2% of marathons are run faster than three hours. Lance Armstrong ran a 2:59:36 in his first marathon.
My heart rate never got too high, breathing was fine, upper body held up. My legs wore out though. My interrupted training and only two 20 milers three months apart hurt here. Weights in the future? Longer long runs?
I keep expecting to hear about my race on the radio or TV, read about it in the news: “In other news, DV debuted in the White Rock marathon with…. sources say….”
Out of the top 100, I passed 11 guys after 19 miles. No one passed me. I hit 19 at the exact same time as 2 other guys. One beat me by 2 seconds, the other finished in 3:02.
Every now and then I get the random urge to stop and scream at the top of my lungs: “Fuck yeah!”
I’ve been scouring the net for pictures or mentions of the red socks. Surely someone out there fell in love?
Been in a haze ever since. Only 72 hours later can I walk, though still with pain. No one cares anymore, and most people have no idea what finishing a marathon even means. People ask, “is that a good time? Didn’t Oprah run a marathon?” A guy saw me limping, I told him I ran a marathon on Sunday, and he said, “yeah, I ran one once, didn’t think it was that hard. No big deal. What was your time?” Shrug.