I have to admit that I was extremely excited for this race. 2013 was easily my best year I’ve ever had for training, but it only led to two PRs in my last two races of the year (3:24 in the marathon and 1:29 in the half). My goal in 2014 was to build on my great 2013. Coming into the year, I thought I’d be optimistic and set goals of 3:10 for the marathon (which I broke in May! and 1:27 in the half marathon. In 2013, I ran 6 half marathons. This year, one of my favorite races got cancelled (Fishhook Half Marathon) and I opted for the full marathon instead of the half at the Fargo Marathon. Scheduling conflicts also led me to swap out a fairly fast race for a trail half marathon. All of those reasons (excuses?) combined with a late Minnesota spring led to me just not having a lot of opportunities to go out and truly run at what I believed was my fitness level. Coming into this race, I truly thought running 1:27 give or take a little bit would be a great goal. Five weeks ago, I ran 1 1:29:13 half marathon and said I thought this course was 2:30 to 3:00 faster. The weather line up to be just about perfect (35-40 degrees with just a touch of wind).
Mile 1 – 6:23 – Unlike the Fargo marathon, I had no real plan on what pace to go out for the first mile in. In my last race, I felt like I was crawling in the first mile and I went out in 6:43. I was thinking I might be somewhere in the 6:30-6:40 range here as well. I used to have a horrendous habit of going out way above my fitness level (more like the fitness level I aspired to be at) and paid for it later in the race. To help combat that, I loaded my Spotify playlist with mellow songs. I listened to “Are You What You Want to Be” by Foster the People and “Stay Close” – a song that reminds me of my 4-year old daughter Quinn ever since I used it in a year-end video when she was 2. Last year, I finished 20th running 1:29:24, so I figured I’d start out in similar position. But from the gun, I found myself in about 10th place. 400 meters into the race, I could already tell the guy that was going to run away with the race. Following him as a group of 4 guys. Right behind them was myself in a group of about 6 including two women. The pace felt perfect and it was great thinking I’d have a pack to run with. I have to admit that I saw the mile split and thought “oh crap… did I go out too fast?” I decided to trust my fitness and the feedback my body was giving me.
Mile 2 – 6:16 – As this mile progressed, our pack of 6 started to dwindled. One by one, people were falling off. By the middle of this mile, there were three of us in the group. A girl, a guy with a rocking mullet, and myself. I still felt very comfortable. About half way through this mile, another runner caught up with our group from behind. I recognized him as he coached my friend (and Perham XC coach) Jeff Morris in college in North Carolina (he’s now at Valley City State). From the moment he caught our group, the pace started to pick up just the slightest bit. I knew that if I were to go run a 6:05, it could be suicidal, so I sadly maintained my pace and let them go. I have to admit I was shocked when I saw 6:16 for my split. I was equally parts excited (because it felt relatively comfortably) and nervous (because it seemed “too fast”). As a side note, I got lost as to which state I was in during this race. We crossed from North Dakota into Minnesota. Following along the Red River, North Dakota winds up being to the east and Minnesota to the west. Having grown up in a United States where it’s pretty universally accepted that ND is west of MN, this threw me for quite a loop for about a half mile. I was trying to figure out if we crossed the river back into ND and I just hadn’t noticed it.
Mile 3 – 6:20 – Again was feeling really good, but it was strange to be by myself. The group ahead of me put about 50 meters on me. Taking a peek back and I couldn’t see anyone. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a decent sized race like this and been completely by myself. I’m glad I took a look at the course map before the race because by the time I’d hit mile 4, I’d be running by myself to the point where I couldn’t even see the runners ahead of me making turns. I got to see my mom and daughter Quinn on this mile. I’ve always enjoyed seeing people I know during races, but I don’t think if anything can top the feeling of seeing how excited a 4-year old gets to see her daddy and give him a high five.
Mile 4 – 6:38 – I’m not sure why this mile was slow. I was hitting a slight headwind, but it wasn’t a gale force wind or anything. I felt okay and didn’t feel like I was slowing down. I was hoping this wasn’t like some races I’d had in the past where I went out a touch to quick and eventually slowed and started to hurt to the point where the last few miles were pitiful. Even though this mile was slow, I had a lot of confidence in my training and knew I had a boatload of strength from the miles and miles of training I put in. I put my head down convinced I wanted to see how close to 6:30 I could keep the rest of these miles.
Mile 5 – 6:39 – I was feeling a little down by the this mile split as well. Then I got to thinking (doing math is one of my favorite mid-race past-times). My last race was a 1:29 that averaged 6:48 per mile. The last two miles were 10 seconds per mile quicker than my pace in my last half. If I could hold on an run the rest of the race at 6:40 pace (which seemed reasonable at the time), I’d have a PR by nearly 3 minutes in the 1:26 range. Even if I could only manage 6:50 pace the rest of the race, I’d still PR by almost a minute and a half! The thought of a big PR continues to push me to keep grinding.
Mile 6 – 6:31 – A majority of this race is on a bike path that I first started running on during my last year of college. It’s one of my favorite running spots to this day. Near the end of this mile, we crossed from Fargo back into Moorhead. I saw my mom and daughter once again on this mile which was a bit of a boost. This mile actually had a lot of spectators as it crossed between two popular F/M parks (Lindenwood/Gooseberry). Since I was essentially all by myself (nobody within 2 blocks in front and behind me), I got a lot of attention from fans which was cool. When I saw the mile split, I got a big burst of confidence that I wasn’t falling off.
Mile 7 – 6:36 – I was getting a little nervous during this mile because I just didn’t know where I was going. The course was clearly marked, but it was off the bike path and onto the streets. Oh well… I never got lost. With every mile, I’m gaining confidence because I’m running fast and I’m really not feeling any fatigue. In the past, I’ll hit this part of the race and just know that the slowdown is coming eventually. I’m not feeling any of those feelings now which is fantastic.
Mile 8 – 6:30 – A confusing mile. You take a right, go about a block and do a 180 degree turn. Run a half mile, take a right, go about a half block and do another 180 degree turn. From this point on, almost the entire race was head to head traffic which was kind of fun. At the very least, it gave me something to look at it. I got a chance to see where I was in the race. As I expected, I was in 8th place. I was surprised to see the guy in 9th place behind me had closed the gap considerably on me.
Mile 9 – 6:36 – Spent most of this mile people-watching. I was trying to figure out what pace these people were going. I figured out they were right around the gigantic pack of masses that run around 2:00 for a half marathon. I spent this mile in somewhat of a reflection of how far I’ve come as a runner. When I first started getting into running, I ran 2:02 and a shade over 2:00 for my first half marathon. During my two year (2010-11) stint where I almost never ran, I ran a 2:01 half marathon. That literally was the best I had to offer at the time. Now, thanks to a commitment to being consistent every single week and training really, REALLY hard, I was miles ahead of people – likely some of whom have beat me in a race before!
Mile 10 – 6:30 – In 2008, I ran a 10 mile race. Similar to this year, I was in really good shape, but I just hadn’t had very many good weather running days to show it. In September of that year, I entered a little 10-mile race and ran a touch over 1:07 (6:42/mi pace) and was completely blown away. I had just been hoping to break 1:10. I’d always wanted to break that record because it was one of my better ones, but there just aren’t that many 10 mile races around. So, when I went through the 10 mile barrier in 1:04:52, it brought a smile to my face. Still feeling strong and I’m amazed at how little of the race is left! Saw
Mile 11 – 6:32 – Before the race, I had a strange thought cross my head. It took me almost 10 years to break 20 minutes in a 5k. Mostly because I didn’t like running anaerobically and didn’t enter 5ks very often (I’ve run way faster than 20 on my treadmill all the time… I think my best is 17:45 or somewhere around there). I’ve only ran 3 non-winter 5ks since 2010. Anyway, I just thought “how cool would it be to run a sub-20 last 5k of the race). I’d been running around 6:30 for the past few miles. If I ran the next two miles in 6:30, I’d only have to run like a 6:20 last mile to do it! Saw Quinn and my mom again this mile which, as usual, was huge emotionally. I got passed by a runner, but wasn’t feeling awful because it had more to do with him running strong than it was me falling off.
Mile 12 – 6:34 – Maybe the one disappointment in the race. As we got to two miles remaining in the race, we hit the 10k turnaround, so I started running into huge packs of runners that were running considerably slower than I was. It was frustrating. This part of the race was the bike path that was 8-10 feet wide. Not a big deal for people running the same pace, but I was running 2-3 minutes per mile faster than almost everyone I was passing. I had tried to pace off of the guy that had passed me, but it was difficult when I’d have to slow down even a little bit to try to pass a group of two or three runners. It wasn’t terrible, but it would be my sole complaint about the race this year. Given I had to pass so many 10k runners on the “going out” or “coming back” part of the race, I figured out after the race that I went by 275 runners in the last two miles of this race.
Mile 13 – 6:27 – I really wanted to push this mile. In my head, I thought if I could run a 6:15, I could break 1:25. Again, I just couldn’t get around all of the 10k runners. Some of them were walking up hills. I burned a lot of mentally energy just trying to figure out which direction I needed to go to dodge runners. I really wish I could’ve just focused on grinding the last few miles. That being said, I was pretty proud with how hard I’d pushed myself this race.
Last 0.1+ – 0:56 – By this point, I knew that sub-1:25 was out of the cards as I was about 15-20 seconds off from my mile split to the marked course mile splits. This last 0.1 turned out to be 0.15 according to the GPS. It wasn’t the dead sprint to the finish line that I hoped it would be, but mentally I’d given up at this point. Too much dodging and weaving. I’m just find comfortably cruising in knowing that I’ve just absolutely crushed my PR.
Finish Time – 1:25:25 – A new PR of 3 minutes and 48 seconds! Words probably don’t do justice to how excited I am about this. I’ve probably run over 100 races in my lifetime. Of those 100 races, 97 of them I went in thinking I could run (x) time. And my result was almost always (x) plus a few seconds/minutes. Even in races where I set a new PR, I came in knowing I was definitely in PR shape and probably was expecting better. I can only think of three times in my entire running life that I’ve gone out and totally smashed was I thought I was capable of doing. The first was the 10 mile race in 2008. The second was the marathon this past May. And this was the third. I could’ve run 1:27 flat and been 100% ecstatic with what I’d done. But to run nearly four minutes faster than I’d ever run this distance before was both shocking and exhilarating. I wound up taking 9th place overall and I was third in my age group.
This likely will be my last race of what has been a great 2014 (running and otherwise). According to my Garmin, I set en-route PRs at both the 8k, 10k, 15k and 10 mile during this race. If this is the last race of the year, I will have set a PR in the 5k, 8k, 10k, 15k, 10 mile, half marathon, and marathon this year. Before my last two races of last year, I’d gone 5 years without setting a single PR!
It gives me confidence that shooting for a BQ and possibly sub-3 hr marathon next year is a realistic goal. I’m not planning on training anymore in 2015 than I did in 2014. In fact, given my new circumstances in life – having a 3-1/2 week old daughter and now running while having 2 children vs having 1 child – I probably can’t commit to running next year the way that I did this year. Which is perfectly okay. I can commit to being consistent and trying to fit runs in when I can (hello once again 4 and 5 AM runs along with my daily lunch run). That’s all perfectly fine with me. I went to the movie “Gone Girl” with my wife last night (great first 90% of a movie with a pretty “meh” ending) and I was just talking about how happy I am with how life is unfolding. I’m very happy with my job. I’m happy with my marriage and especially with my kids. My running and my coaching is something that helps me to feel alive. I still have aspirations to achieve more and be better, but for now, I’m just soaking in the fact that I’ve worked incredibly hard and been incredibly consistent. My favorite thing about running is that no matter what, you can’t fake it. There are no shortcuts to getting better other than doing the right things – working hard, eating better, and trying to repeat that process every single day.