Spirit of Columbus Half Marathon race report

Here’s the short version.  Yesterday at the Spirit of Columbus Half Marathon, I set a new personal record:  1:51:48.

Funny thing is, I almost didn’t even run the race.  Back in the winter when I committed to training for and running the Chicago Marathon, my friend and running guru, Mike B, helped me put together a solid training plan, and he suggested a half marathon late in the summer as a tune-up for Chicago.  He had run the Spirit of Columbus half and thought the timing was just about right, so I signed up.  Since then, life has had its way of conspiring against the timing of this particular weekend.  Here’s what this weekend’s schedule ended up looking like:

  • Friday, immediately after work:  end of the year party for my younger boy’s baseball team.  Stand around in the hot sun.
  • Saturday morning until noon:  my company’s community service project where we helped a local YMCA build a new playground for the kids.  Shovel dirt into wheelbarrows, move wheel barrows, dump dirt, rake dirt.  Hot sun.
  • Saturday afternoon and evening: kickoff to younger son’s 2011 baseball team, where I am head coach.  Hot warehouse.

Not exactly how I’d describe resting and hydrating for a race.  By the time we got home, we knew we wouldn’t be able to make it up to Columbus until 10:00PM at the earliest, so we debated not going at all, or me just going alone.  In the end we all just piled into the car and made our way up there, and I am so glad we did.

Sunday morning came early after a fitful night of sleeping, which always seems to be the case before a race.  But, I was feeling pretty good, got a small bite to eat and drink, kissed my family and made my way over to the start.  My family planned to meet me somewhere around mile 5 or so, and then again at the finish.  I looked around to see if I recognized anyone, but no such luck, so I focused on stretching and getting my mind right for the race.

When the gun went off, I repeated a mantra over and over for the first mile:  nice and easy.  Watching runners go flying by me was tough on my ego, but I knew I’d be better off later in the race.  As I passed the first mile mark, I turned off the governor and spent some time finding a comfortable pace.  I had heard of runners who could find a “gear” and just go with it for miles without thinking about it.  I had never found that in race before, but it did this time.  I found a cadence that felt right, and just went with it.  By the time I hit mile three, I glanced down at my watch and saw that I was running at an 8:30 pace ,which was a surprise.  It was surprising because it felt so comfortable rather than like a big effort.  No huffing and puffing, just nice easy breathing.  A little worry crept into my head about going out too fast too soon, but I decided that I’d let my legs and lungs tell me if I was running too hard, not some artificial limit I had in my head.

So I had found my gear, and I just kept going.  Miles 2 through 9 were all right about 8:30 and I honestly wasn’t feeling tired at all.  At the 5 mile mark, I heard a voice yell, “Go Sean!” and I turned to see a friend from DailyMile, Jenny J.  She’s not only an amazing runner, but is an incredibly giving person who is constantly motivating people, both on DailyMile and in person.  What a great shot in the arm early in the race to hear someone cheering for you.  Fast forward to mile 7 or 8 (I can’t remember exactly), and who do I see but my wife and two boys cheering for me and giving me high fives as I ran by!  Then I noticed Jenny J was right there next to them cheering as well.  Boy does it make a difference to have people cheering for you in a race.  I found out after the race that they had gotten to talking before I passed by and had figured out the DailyMile connection.  About a mile later both my family and Jenny passed by the stream of runners in their cars and beeped their horns and cheered  a few more times before heading down to the finish line.  Again, incredibly uplifting.

When I arrived at the ten mile marker, I knew my goal of 1:55:00 was well within my reach, but I didn’t want to take my foot off the throttle just yet.  In fact, I was still feeling remarkably strong and comfortable, so I decided to pick up the pace a tad.  When I look back at my splits, I’m still a bit shocked by my last four miles.

  • Mile 10:  8:11
  • Mile 11: 8:16
  • Mile 12: 8:12
  • Mile 13: 8:06
Crossing the finish line in Columbus

I think the smile on my face tells the story.  Still feeling great as I passed the finish line.

I loved the course the Spirit of Columbus organizers put together.  Having a half marathon at the end of August in Ohio is really rolling the dice, but I believe the course they chose went a long way toward making it a non-factor.  The grand majority of the run was along a shaded path along the Scioto River, which meant that although the heat did start to build in the morning, we didn’t really feel it until the end of the race when we emerged from that path and into downtown Columbus.  The shade really helped us keep cool.  They also did a great job with water stops and having sponges with cold water available.

Finally, while I’m proud of having set a new PR in this race, the greatest benefit was not my time.  This point in full marathon training for Chicago can be quite a slog.   High mileage and long training runs in the heat of the summer gets pretty old after a while.  Having a great race, which really proved to me just how far my fitness level has progressed is priceless to me.  What price can I put on that kind of confidence?

After the race with my family. Taken by Jenny J.

Running with a purpose

I’ll admit it, when I started running a little less than a year ago, I did it for selfish purposes. I felt old, fat, and honestly, not a very good example for my two young boys or my wife. Running has helped me become a better example for my family.

As I got into running more and more, and started to participate in the running community, I also noticed that there where many regular people out there who were runners that I could look up to and gain inspiration from. While I figured that more experienced runners would be able to give me tips and advice on my running, what I didn’t know is that I would find people whose lives were true examples of the very characteristics I want to teach my boys: hard working, giving, positive, loyal, and there for you when needed most. One of those people is Joe Marruchella.

I first “met” Joe on DailyMile, a social site for runners and other endurance athletes. What I first noticed about Joe was how incredibly positive he is and how much he gave of himself. I’d see him giving encouragement, pats on the back and sometimes, a kick in the butt to other runners on DailyMile. Always in a positive way. Always with a you can do this attitude. And he had the credibility as an accomplished runner to deserve the numerous “followers” he had. On one particular day early this year, I was reading an entry he made on DailyMile where he talked about Running For Dom, got curious, and clicked through to his blog to see what it was all about. This is where things changed for me.

Joe’s lifelong friend, Dom D’Eramo, had been diagnosed with cancer in the spring of 2009, just a few months after the birth of his second child, a daughter. Joe, a self-described “regular guy,” decided to take on an extraordinary task as a means to raise money to help his friend fight this disease. Joe would run two marathons in the span of just thirteen days in the spring of this year. No, he didn’t choose the easiest marathons, he chose two of the most challenging: the Boston Marathon and the Pittsburgh Marathon. As I read about his incredible journey to help his friend Dom fight for his life, I knew I wanted to help.

I decided to reach out to Joe just say that I admired what he was doing for his friend and wished him good luck on his runs. It was from these brief exchanges that a friendship was born. Joe finished those two marathons for his friend, and in the process raised $26,200 to help with the mountain of medical bills the D’Eramos faced. Not that this alone was not enough, but if you really want to get a glimpse into the kind of human being Joe is, please read his race recap of that second marathon. This man, physically and emotionally spent, decided he’d just keep on giving, and helped other hurting runners make it to their finish line. Waiting for him at the finish of the Pittsburgh Marathon was Dom. As it should be.

Joe and Dom

You just can’t sit back and read about someone giving his all like this, you have to reach out and say, “What can I do to help?” And so that’s what I did. I helped Joe reach his fundraising goal, which helped the D’Eramos cope with medical expenses.

Dominic D’Eramo fought and fought and fought. But cancer took him last Sunday, August 15, 2010. He left behind a wife and two young children.

When Joe returned from the funeral services, instead of simply wallowing in sadness, he immediately started thinking of how he could continue to honor Dom’s memory, but more importantly, how he could make sure Dom’s children were taken care of in the way Dom himself would have wanted. Since then, Joe has been helping the family setup and begin to fund 529 College Savings Accounts for the two D’Eramo children.

And so, I am doing what I can to help raise money to help fund these accounts. I’ve decide to run the Chicago Marathon for Dom.

I’d really love your help in raising money. If you can spare any amount, please go over to a site I’ve set up and pledge what you can for my run. If you pledge $1 per mile and I complete the marathon, I’ll ask for a $26.20 donation. If you can pledge $10 per mile, your donation would end up being $262.00.


Learning has (not) occurred

For the past few months, I have written about the heat and how I’ve dealt with it on a number of occasions. In a post in June titled “Learning to run in the heat”, I actually wrote these words:

“A bunch of more experienced runners all say the same thing: when you run in heat and humidity, you need to slow down.”

Although I know I’ve made some progress, I also know I need to get it through my thick skull that it’s OK to run at a slower pace. Today’s long run was scheduled to be 18 miles, and I went into the weekend feeling pretty confident that I’d be able to handle it since last weekend’s 17 went so very well. But this week’s weather has simply not been good, and frankly, I did a terrible job adapting and being smart about it. Since Tuesday, every day this week has had heat indices in the triple digits. Highs in the mid 90s and humidity also extremely high. So what did I do? Nothing different. Dumb. By the end yesterday’s mid length run (8 miles), I was wrecked, but rather than thinking through why that might be, I just chalked it up to “not feeling it.” Then I spent most of the rest of the day standing out in the sun.

This morning I got up early to try to beat the heat for my long run, but I didn’t take into account the humidity. When I started out at 6:00, it was only 75 degrees, but the humidity was at 100%. The fog was so thick, it was hard to see in some places. So what did I do different? Again, nothing. Noticing a pattern? I went out running 8:40 miles. By just a few miles into the run, I was absolutely soaked head to toe with sweat. Even my shoes. I did try to keep up by drinking more water than I usually do, but anyone who has every played any sport knows, you can’t catch up on hydration. Just after seven miles, it really started to get bad. I started to get very shaky and noticed I had stopped sweating. At least I had the brains enough to know that was a bad sign and I shouldn’t just push through it. Nevertheless, a failed long run.

I’ve written about my two boys many times. One of them is 10 years old, the other is 8. Ask either one of them to name the most important muscle and they’ll point to their head. I’ve told them to use their brains first a million times. If only their father would listen to his own advice.

Two months until the Chicago Marathon

Things always seem so far away when a journey begins, then time seems to accelerate as you get closer.

Well, August has begun and the heat from July has decided to stick around for one (hopefully) last hurrah. As of today, I am two months away from an attempt at achieving a lifelong goal: complete a marathon. The Chicago Marathon is on October 10, 2010, and I’ll be there toeing the line with roughly 44,999 others. I’ll be the one in running shorts.

This past Sunday was the longest run of my life: 17 miles. I was so nervous about it that I didn’t sleep well the night before and awoke in the morning long before my 5:30 alarm went off. After grabbing a quick bite to eat (my pre-long run traditional banana with peanut butter), a drink or two of water and doing some stretching, I set out at 6:05 AM. As I started down the road I live on, it turns east and I had a picture-perfect view of the moon with just the tiniest hint of a sliver. The sky was still pre-dawn dark blue and as I looked up at the moon I saw a meteor streak by. I figured that had to be a good omen. For the next couple of hours I wound through the streets of my hometown, try my damnedest to maintain a steady, even cadence and pace. All in all, my Garmin tells me I did a good job at that. At about mile 13, my wife met me to give me fresh, cold water bottles and good conversation to keep my mind off the running. Both the water and the talking helped a ton. I finished up in 2:33:03, or a pace of 8:59/mile. Now this week’s 18 miler doesn’t seem so daunting.

I’ve found running to be like a parent watching their children grow. The growth happens in tiny, almost imperceptible, little increments, every day. But every once in a while you get a glimpse of some startling, new capability and you just smile. When I could only run 30 seconds at a time without getting winded, 17 miles might as well have been to the moon. When I finished my run on Sunday, I allowed myself a little smile in recognition of how far I’ve come.

But, I’m not done yet. I’ve got more buidling to do if I’m going to make it to 26.2, so that little smile is all I get at the moment. Now it’s back to building up the milage in the heat and humidity of August.

Here they are, my stated goals for the Chicago Marathon, in order of priority:

  1. Finish the race without injury.
  2. Finish the race within 5 hours. (avg. pace:  11:25/mile)
  3. Finish the race within 4 hours. (avg. pace: 9:09/mile)

I believe I can attain all three of these goals, so now I need to do the rest of the work to get there.