Monday, April 28, 2008

Lessons Learned

OK, everyone can stop sitting, cease chirping, quit whining and start reading - without further a due, here's my much ballyhooed race report from last Monday's 112th running of the Boston Marathon.

So where to start? Good question, and not sure I have the answer to it, so let's begin by piggybacking off the same question every other person asks me after congratulating me on my incredible 56th-place performance a week ago.

(For the record, I'd use a few different adjectives to describe my own race, but since a 2:30:24 seemingly hinges on the border of incredible that's what we'll go with for the time being.)

Am I happy with my race?

For now, let's just say I'm not totally unhappy with it. I'll explain.

It's hard to be happy when 25 or so people pass you over the last 10 miles of a race, regardless if you still finish 56th in a field of 21,963. It's tough to crack a smile when you look at the results afterward and see that two guys you beat in a 10 miler nine weeks before were the same two guys who finished 23rd and 24th overall while you crossed the finish line a good 5 minutes and twenty some-odd places behind them. Sorry, but those are tough pills to swallow for any competitor, regardless of the circumstances. If they went down easy then I'd need to find myself a new hobby.

Disappointments aside, there's still a lot to keep my head up about. Aside from the incredible and unforgettable experience of my first Boston Marathon, I walked, err, hobbled, away from this race having learned a lot things - a lot about the marathon itself and a lot more about the guy who wore #1063 on his chest.

Lesson Learned # 1. Boston will beat the shit out of you. Run wisely.

The marathon experts - and there are many of them - seem to agree that the most efficient plan of attack for conquering a 26.2-mile footrace is to keep an even keeled approach from one mile to the next, that is running consistent splits, every 1,609 meters, for as long as your road-hardened legs will allow. Boston is no exception.

Let me repeat, slowly.

I'm no expert, or apparently I just had a hard time practicing the lessons that those who are preach, but I did anything but run even splits from Hopkinton to Boston last Monday. Hell, the first and second halves of my race were about as uneven as my sideburns from that bad haircut I got in the eighth grade. Yep, that bad.

Going into Boston I figured that I was fit enough to average 5:35 per mile for 26.2 miles. In retrospect, it did me no good to average 5:26's for the first 10K only to muster 6:04's for the final 6.2 miles.

The lessons here? Never let the new girl at the barber shop cut your hair and don't go out in 1:12:13 for the first half of a marathon if you're gonna come back in 1:18:11. Both choices make for a long day and neither is worth the embarrassment.

Lesson Learned # 2. Once you commit, you're committed. Oh, and you're an idiot for doing so.

So if I was fit enough to run 5:35 a mile for 26.2 miles, why the hell did I commit to a pack that was running at a pace much faster than that?

It's called racing, and as we all know sometimes racing makes people do stupid things. Salazar said, "Standing on the starting line we're all cowards." Well, ol' Al was wrong. Standing on the starting line we're all idiots, at least I was last Monday. But hey, sometimes stupidity pays off. Idiots can win races, too, ya know.

The lesson here? You can get away with being an idiot in a mile, maybe even a 5 or 10K, but longer than that and it's likely you're gonna be in trouble. Big trouble.

Lesson Learned # 3. Sticking it out is well worth the effort, even if it damn near kills you.

At 15K into last Monday's 26.2 mile affair, the clock read 50:50, or 14 seconds faster than I had run two weeks prior at the Boston Tuneup 15K in undulating Upton, Mass. I'm not gonna lie, I knew at the 9.3-mile mark in Natick that I wasn't feeling as comfortable as I should have with roughly an hour and a half of running still ahead of me, but I was determined to keep going at the pace I was running for as long as my legs would allow. By the time I reached Wellesley three miles later I could feel the funkiness starting to creep its way into my legs, and when I crossed over 128 at 16-1/2 miles my pace had slowed considerably and I knew I was in big trouble. Good pal and former teammate Fran Guardabascio, taking it all in from the convenience of his employer's sidewalk, told me afterward that I "didn't look good." I sure as hell didn't feel good, either, and a few miles later I would feel, and look, much worse.

Cue Mile 19. This picture - taken by soon-to-be new momma Melissa Kinney - pretty much sums up my last 10 miles. The head is down and I'm hurtin' - bad. I covered the 5K stretch from 30-35K in 19:25, yep, an average of 6:19 a mile. I was suffering.

But I kept going. By Mile 20 all I wanted to do was crawl into a hole and call it a day, but I didn't. I couldn't. I wouldn't let myself. I might have been dying but I sure as hell wasn't quitting.

I knew my brother was stationed at Mile 22 and my New Balance Boston teammates were camped out at Mile 23. Looking forward to seeing these people got me through those next few arduous miles.

That's when it happened.

What happened? Damned if I know, still trying to figure it out in fact, but something clicked. I hit Cleveland Circle and suddenly I was moving again. No, I didn't start dropping 5:30 miles - hell, I barely snuck back under 6's - but all of a sudden I had a new outlook on life. No longer was I feeling sorry for the idiot who went out way over his head, but instead I was charging toward the finish line with whatever life I had left in my legs, which admittedly wasn't much. I quit looking at my splits but I didn't quit on myself. I might have died - and died hard - to 2:30:24, but I can honestly say I gave it all I had for 26.2 miles, and that I can live it.

The lesson here?

Don't give up, though the pace seems slow
You might succeed with another blow.
Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup.
And he learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out -
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt -
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit -
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.

So back to that question everyone wants the answer to...

...Am I happy with my race?

All things considered, yeah, I guess you could say that.


Anonymous said...

Mario - great report on your race. It echoes some of the feelings and observations of my own race.

When you passed me coming down the backside of Heartbreak Hill I was almost crying because I was in so much pain so it was nice to see you running by.

Congratulations on your race. Take care - Barbara M.

Anonymous said...

Mario - You gave it all you had and
came out on top. Nana would have been proud of you maybe she was watching you and gave you that second chance to catch those Kenans
Congratulations Auntie Patty

JARRIN said...

Mario - I've said this once and will say it again: they get easier the more you do them; with every marathon you will get stronger and wiser. Your performance was INCREDIBLE. Relish the history you made because you deserve it. But don't let frustration ruin you either - faster is just around the corner, as is 2:19:00. So internalize the message from Longernecker and make it your mantra for marathoning and for life.

And of course - trust what an old wise man once told you, "Don't run like an asshole."


PS - Now where's my training guide?


S. M. Miller said...

Mario, commendable job hanging in there. We could barely see you for a stretch on Beacon St, but you had regrouped around that point. You offered us a little motivation, a bit of a tease, that's it. Nice race, all in all. (Remember when you weren't sure if you'd even be able to run?)

It's worth rolling the dice now and then because if you don't gamble you won't have that breakthrough marathon. The sun took a lot out of us too, and we didn't expect that to be a major factor in Hopkinton.

But Jarrin's right, they get easier. If you keep your brand of training up, then good things will happen.

Anonymous said...

Now you know.
Experiment letting loose.
And try not to make the same mistake again.

Anonymous said...

Mario, you're a friggin' animal. Congrats on the journey. We're all rooting for you.

Big Jim

Anonymous said...

Great report and great race. You did a hell of a job of not really falling apart at the end. You looked like you were on a mission when you went by me just after 20 miles. Get rested up and on to the next one.

The Bostonienne said...

Do people still use the word "ballyhooed?"

Anonymous said...

Soooo, did you hang up the ol' runnin' sneaks or what?? We have room for you in the middle of the pack. Come join us!