Tuesday, September 6, 2011
15 years later...
On September 5, 1996 I toed the line for my first ever organized cross country race. The memories of the race are a little vivid at this point, but I do recall being nervous, not feeling ready for awaited me, and anxious for the painful feeling my body would experience. Coach Doug Sept, who was my middle school cross country coach, was there to cheer me on, as were a handful of friends and fellow athletes. In that race I stayed with the leader until the final stretch where I was dropped and finished in 2nd place.
Fast forward 15 years to present day. On September 5, 2011 I toed the line for my first ever Heart of America Marathon. Very few things have changed in the past 15 years with my running. I was nervous for this race too, I did not feel adequately prepared for the 6 large hills that awaited me, and I was anxious for how painful this marathon would leave me. Not only did the hills have me concerned, but also the uncertainty of how much this marathon would hurt my burnt left hand. I burnt this hand the previous weekend and still have limited movement in my left index finger. One fortunate part of running the Heart of America Marathon is it allowed for a handful of friends to watch me compete again. This included Coach Sept. Coach said he would be at the mile 23.5 aid station waiting on me. My goal was to not have a repeat of the 1996 race when I died at the end, I wanted to prove to Coach that I could finish races better now.
A few weeks before the marathon I made arrangements to stay with my friend Luise King. She and I grew up together starting in 4th grade when her family moved over from South Africa. Luise was a tennis player in high school, but now does Ironman triathlons. It was an honor to be hosted by such a great athlete. Luckily Luise knew her way around the area really well and was able to show me the course, which consisted of the aforementioned 6 large hills. The biggest hill was at mile 12.4, it is called the Easly Hill. Personally I think having a 9% grade hill that lasts nearly a mile named Easly Hill is an improper use of "Eas", the hill should be called Beastly Hill.
Once the gun went off, I settled into a fairly easy pace. I passed the first mile in 6:36, my objective was to start easy and save it for Easly Hilly. I ended up taking the lead just prior to mile 3 and was fortunate to have Kurt on the lead bike to keep me company for the race. The course was beautiful. It went on rolling Missouri country roads, down to the Missouri River, and of course up 6 monster hills. Just prior to approaching Easly Hill, Kurt drank a cup of espresso coffee. He said it would give him power to push up the hill. As I start climbing the hill I noticed my friend Luise biking down the hill. "No Luise don't go down the hill!!" I screamed at her. Knowing good well she would have to bike back up it. Little did I know she was doing a bicycling hill repeat workout up Easly Hill while waiting for me to arrive, what a blow to my ego.
After cresting Easly Hill I attempted to access a GU gel that was in the back pocket of my shorts. Typically I grab these with my left hand, not thinking I tried that again. WOW did that hurt the burnt fingers. I did manage to take 1 GU gel, but gave up on trying to get any others out of my shorts pocket. It hurt my hand too much. The half way point was on top of Easly Hill, I reached this in 1:17:34, and had a 4 minute lead according to volunteers.
Eventually I made my way to the mile 23.5 marker, and sure enough Coach Sept was there. He had the old school chant going too, "AV, AV, AV..." "Lets Go Tigers" and that is all it took to put a little giddy up in my step. To say I was determined to finish fast would be an understatement. I was determined to prove to Coach I could finish races hard now, but...
I fought up one final hill, turned right, then left, then left, and finally a long straight away to the finish. I was now at a full bore sprint to the line, and somehow Coach Sept beat me to the finish line! Seriously? Either he is in great shape or had a strategically parked car somewhere! Either way, I managed to win the marathon over the tough course in 2:36:58, and celebrated by catching up with my former cross country coach, who ironically never saw me win a race in middle school or high school. Somethings just take 15 years to happen.
Thank you to BJ Worley, of the Columbia Missourian for taking such a great finish photo.