Sunday, May 3, 2009

47th Annual Walter Childs Race of Champions
aka Holyoke Marathon
May 3, 2009

What a day. Words can't describe how I feel right now. Thrilled. Elated. Glorious. Exhausted. All of these and so much more.

I feel fortunate to have accomplished all that I have these past two weeks. A much more reflective look back, and forward, is in order. But it's getting close to 9 o'clock and I'm spent. The body and mind are in much need of rest, so this quick summary will have to suffice for now.

Apologies in advance for any mis-spellings, grammar and race and names inaccuracies. I'm starting to feel quite ill. The adrenaline is starting to wear off and today's effort is taking hold.

The past two weeks have gone quite well. I have recovered from Boston. This week's runs have been easy and have gone according to plan. Everything seemed to indicate I would be ready today. The weather was superb for running. Maybe the best Holyoke ever. Low 40's. I don't recall much, if any, wind; even through the Whiting Reservoir.

At the start I spot Mike Carroll, a 5-time winner. Mike's a solid runner, veteran marathoner and all around cool guy. We chat briefly at the starting line as I scan the crowd for today's other challengers. I spot several Narragansett runners, including one that looks familiar.
My suspicions of a challenging day ahead would quickly be confirmed. I establish the pace early over the first mile that includes several incline and declines before a severe 1/4 mile free fall.

I reach Whiting Reservoir first. The 6:10 first mile was a little quicker than planned. I ease back. A little less than 25 miles to go. A long way for sure. It takes less than a 1/2 mile before a pair of the Narragansett runners to pull ahead, Michael Tammaro closely followed by Brian McNeisce. Mike Carroll, having just run another great time (2:46) at his 11th Boston, is not too far behind. Carroll always seems to run a smartly paced race. His 2007 victory was a textbook example of how to bide your time on this course.

Tammaro clicks off a steady series of low 6's on the first two loops around the res. By 10k, he has steadily built a lead of maybe over a minute. It was getting time to plan out today's possible outcomes. Michael was looking fresh. The spring in his step hasn't subsided and he looks determined to power his way to victory today. He's on about 2:38-2:40 pace right now. An effort I doubt I will be able to match. Even on an ideal day for running like today, a sub 2:40 would be stellar on this course.

I decide to run my own race. I settle into a marathoner's rhythm and will just have to patiently wait to see how the day will unfold. On the final loop around, my pace picks up ever so slightly. I click off 6:01 and 6:00 miles as I pass Brian. By the 9 mile marker and the uphill exit out of the Reservoir, the lead has shrunk to about 20+ seconds.

Michael continues running some very strong miles. His lead expands a little over miles 10-12. We draw even on the series of big downhills right before the halfway point which we split in about 1:19:45. That's about 3 minutes faster than I ever have gone thru the half here at Holyoke.

Michael stays right on me as a after I take the lead on the downhills. I figure he’s decided leading this race is no fun and will sit on me for a while, conserving for decisive move later on. To my surprise Michael retakes the lead after only a more than a mile in my draft. I follow closely behind for a little bit. I know the course well. I am not anxious to push the pace just yet. We still have about 10 miles to go including a short section of uphill dirt gravel road that can sap the strength right out of your legs. I find myself back in the lead just before that dirt section and set a reasonable pace knowing there are some faster miles ahead.

I clicked off some solid 6:07-6:10 miles over the gently rolling hills. By the time we cross over Route 141 at mile 18 I believe I have my first gap. I no longer hear footsteps. It appears the two other Narragansett runners have their families here routing them on. Like my wife, they're making frequent stops along the route, offering bottles of water and shouting words of encouragement. But being the local fav, I have the advantage, or least delusion, that everyone is routing for me today. It's a huge lift.

The lead has risen to almost a minute by mile 20 without having to dig down too deep. I'm just maintaining pace right now. Turning the corner onto Route 5 the lead extends to a minute and a half. The final 5-6 miles of any marathon are critical - especially here at Holyoke.
The last 2.5 miles are mainly uphill. The grade rises ever so slightly before the becoming more pronounced. The hill rises, stretches and bends for the better part of a mile. The traffic light marks the final right hand. Another 1/2 mile of nasty uphill is all that remains. It's one mother of a momentum killer. I have never finished strongly over the last 3 miles here. This year will be no different.

My legs feel good but the tank is quickly approaching 'E'. Panic was starting to seep in.

I breathe a huge sigh of relief to learn I have built up a 3 minute cushion.
I hold onto it dearly. It feels like a soft, warm security blanket.
Thoughts of a final 10 minute mile seem quite possible.

Luckily I finish the day ok. Disastrous crash averted.
At the end I feel elated and absolutely wiped out.

A tough day for sure. I'm glad it's over. I need some rest.

I have many people I would like to thank. First and foremost my wife, Barbara.
Her endless support and understanding as I train, train and train some more has made this all possible. I would have never had been able to do any of this without her. She has been the inspiration that got me going down this road in the first place.

Also my 5 year old daughter Brianna. She tells me in no uncertain terms that watching me race "is sooo boring". I suspect she is old enough to get it a little now. Hopefully she will look back and think what her Dad did was cool: even though is he is bit a running geek. In the eyes of the non-runners, we are all just geeks.

And thanks to my fellow running partner Mark Baillargeon. Mark's an awesome guy to have on your side. Someone to listen, offer advice and help you ride thru the highs and lows.

Afterwards, I hung out with Mike Carroll, Mark Baillargeon, Joe Fois and Dan McNair as we went thru a cooler full of some quality German beers... and a few Bud Lights. We talk shop for a while; swapping the usual training regimens, race stories and punchlines oblivious to the light drizzle that has capped off a perfect day for running. Good times.

Finally a big thanks to all the race day volunteers, Pate Stasz, the Greater Springfield Harriers and Christine Bedson, the race director and granddaughter to this race's namesake for all their hard work in making this race possible every year.

The splits...
12:27 (6:16),
18:37 (6:09),
24:48 (6:11),
30:59 (6:11),
37:08 (6:09),
43:11 (6:03),
49:13 (6:02),
55:14 (6:01),
1:01:42 (6:28),
1:07:55 (6:13),
1:13:53 (5:58), Half ~ 1:19:48
1:25:16 (11:23)
1:31:19 (6:03),
1:43:43 (12:24),
1:55:50 (12:07),
2:01:58 (6:08),
2:08:07 (6:09),
2:14:24 (6:17),
2:20:38 (6:14),
2:27:04 (6:26),
2:33:34 (6:30),
2:40:55 (7:21),
2:42:59 (2:04)