Santa Rosa Marathon

While in flight to California, I spent around a half hour on the plane studying my training log. Over the summer I had clocked and recorded most of my running sessions. This wasn’t the first time I scrutinized my training record. As the days drew closer to the Santa Rosa marathon I would frequently look at my current pace; my current miles logged and compare that to the training of my previous marathons. Could I do it? Would I run a sub four hour marathon and qualify for the Boston Marathon?

Over the summer I’d been fortunate to have my friend Janet Johnson accompany me during my long runs. In fact in 2008 it was Janet who met up with me for the last two hours of my final three hour training run prior to the Ironman. She’s been a part of my biggest athletic dreams and would be in California with me. Unfortunately an injury would keep her from running the full marathon but come race day she put in around 18 miles pacing our group. Also meeting us would be Janet’s college roommate Janet from Raleigh N.C. My parents were driving up and Mom was going to power walk the half marathon.  Our fun foursome was ready to go along with my Dad who supported us all the way.

Santa Rosa marathon touts itself as fast and flat with about a third of its participants qualifying for Boston. The day before the race we went to the race expo to retrieve our number and timing chip. It was a small expo with some friendly volunteers.  A local artist made interesting metal cube like sculptures for the primary winners which were on display at the expo. From there we explored the race course which would take place on the Santa Rosa Greenway trail. Previewing the course map I had some concerns that I might get lost on the course which basically meandered alongside of a creek. There were a few overpasses which would involve looping over or under streets switching sides of the stream. We went out and found that there were directional arrows taped to the ground. Green arrows out and then coming back we would follow the yellow arrows. Simple G1Y2, I wrote that on my hand.

Race day started with perfect  overcast cool weather. We ran a double loop out and back, flat with some sidewalk, some hard pack trail. I have to go slow on my first mile or I aggravate my hamstrings. There was a 3:55 pace group out on the course and I tried to figure out how quickly I could catch up to them. Turns out I caught them around the fourth mile. I ran in the bunch and suddenly Janet was running beside me asking how I was feeling. We ran a couple miles and then she positioned herself to run with Janet and later would walk some with my Mom. During the first 13 miles I realized that I did not like being in the pace group pack. People were close, it was hard to see plus the pace sort of surged and then would slow down.  I decided to leave the bunch and run ahead of the group.  At this point I handed the driving over to God. I asked him to guide and direct my path.  The next six miles out I ran ahead of the pace group and worked to stay there. Headed out on that second loop I was sub two hours and felt that I had a great chance to finish up sub four.  That confidence disappeared when I reached mile 20 at three hours. I was ahead of the 3:55 pace group and had figured to be sub three.  I panicked and wondered how I could manufacture the energy to pick up my pace.   All I can say is that each mile from that point on got progressively harder.  Each step, each mile, each breath teetering on the edge of how long I could maintain the pace, wondering if my body would hold up to the end. I had run efficiently not wasting a single second. There was nothing left but to keep going. Five more miles, four more miles and then I told myself to just hang on until I saw Janet. She’d planned to run the last couple miles with me and I pushed on with three more miles to go. Everything hurt as my body jostled landing on the gravel path. And then there she was, Janet asking me how I felt. Two more to go and all I could do was moan “Oh Janet.” When I wasn’t groaning “Oh Janet,” I was asking “Do you think I will make it?”

She would do the math; tell me how much farther I had to go and how long I had to do it. “Yes you can do it” Janet reassured me.

I wasn’t so sure, finishing was a big question mark, maintaining the same pace was another uncertainty.  With less than a half mile to go Janet pulled out her cell phone to alert my parents that I was headed to the finish. She had been keeping Maurice informed via text messages and sent him an update as she turned around and headed back to run with Janet during her last few miles.

With the finish line in sight I surged pouring out every bit of effort and energy I had left.  I crossed the line with a breathing combination of sobbing and gasping all at once.  Finish time 3:55:45 qualifying me for Boston.

About an hour before this my Mom had finished the half marathon. As she came in my Dad mentioned to the announcer that she was 73 years old and this was broadcast as she finished. Later the local press came and interviewed my mom who was the oldest woman participant.(You can read about it here.)

This is a small race with about 500 half marathoners and 500 marathoners which made it nice not having to work your way through a crowd to find your friends and family. There was local produce in big tubs, a post-race farmers market for the athletes, some wonderful locally grown and brewed coffee and huge plate size pancakes. A live band performed while we sat at a table eating and drinking.

There wasn’t a lot of crowd support out on the course and this gave me time to think.  Never did I feel alone because I had my race director God with me. I spent many miles filled with gratitude for some of my dearest family and friends who encouraged me to give this another try, who believed in me, who loved me regardless of how I perform as an athlete.  You know who you are. Thank you, I never could have done it without you. Woo hoo BQ!