USATF New England Grand Prix Marathon Championship
Lowell Massachusetts was the repeat host for the USATF New England Grand Prix finale this past Sunday. The word was about six or so runners were shooting to go sub 2:30 even with last year’s top three Baystaters’ (Matt Pelletier, Ryan Carrara, and local Joe Hegarty) and #2 and #3 in this year overall standings out of action (Dan Vassallo adiNE and Matt Ely BAA). One name present this year: The GP individual leader Justin Fyfe who has been solid, improving with each and every race, and a clear pre-race favorite.
My expectations: a bit lower. 2:40. Maybe a minute or two faster if things go well. I do my best marathon training over the winter months. Summer being a busy time of the year to log the high volume weeks required to perform well at this distance. During the summer months the weekly mileage typically drops from a very consistent high 80’s to a varying mid 50-60 on average. The summer’s race season went reasonably well but not as great as I hoped. But I seem to be coming into some decent form as of late so expectations were muted but with shades of cautiously optimistic brushed in.
Like most others waiting in limbo during the final taper week, I check the weekend weather reports daily. It’s not looking good. Last year’s race temps were in the cool mid 40’s with very blustery winds that got worse as the day went on. By the final miles the wind gust reached 30-40mph. Mother Nature was promising an encore performance: with a bonus touch – some significant wet snow/rain with temps hovering just over the freezing point. Last year after all that hard work preparing for a sub 2:40, I was upset, no pissed-off, that I got screwed out of the PR I was so deserving of.
Eventually that bitterness goes away and, if you’re wise enough, you’ll draw from that experience, building the character and motivation required to succeed the next time out. I think I did just that. Over the winter months I steadily built back up my morale, determination and focus, logging some very good months that somehow seemed to strike a perfect balance between volume, quality and recovery. As the months progressed, my fitness level seemed to reach new levels without my body breaking down like it did last year.
I started the year by logging weeks in the 80’s - about 10-20 miles a week less than the previous year. I can’t honestly say at this point if last year’s big mileage weeks were the prerequisite to get to where I presently was, or I in fact, they were a detour that I was fortunate to navigate thru. Hopefully time will tell. But what’s clear was that I felt fitter, faster this time around. The speed workouts and early season race results confirmed this. By the time April came around, I could feel it in my bones. It was shaping up to big PR at Boston. The 2:36:46 was no surprise. The 2:42:59 at Holyoke two weeks later even less of a shock.
What was somewhat surprising: finding motivation after a very successful campaign can be just as hard as after an all-out failure. Despite a somewhat productive summer race season, I found myself in somewhat of an abyss without a goal marathon location or time to shoot for. The Hartford Marathon director showed no interest to my email request into their ‘New England Finest’ program. Unless you run in the 2:20’s, New York requires an early May commitment, right when I’m coming off Holyoke . The thought of another marathon training cycle seems less than appealing at that time. The master’s marathon championship in Twin Cites peeks my interest. A far travel that feels deserving of an all-in type effort. I just wasn’t there. Where I am, is here: a mid-October Sunday, 5 in the AM - cold, dark and raw - driving down the Mass Pike to Lowell, Massachusetts.
The day started bad – poor communication and execution on race day preparation. We get off later than originally planned and underestimate the time it will take to get into the parking garage once we get there. About 30 minutes is all Joe Fois and I have to get our bib numbers, hit the bathroom, and get in a short warm-up: stupid rookie mistakes by season runners. No excuse.
I got to the start line in ample time but I forgot my gu’s, body glide and band-aids for my nipples. The gu’s will not needed because with all the last minute panic, I have worked my stomach into knots. Maybe it was the adrenaline or the acceptance that it was going to be a crap day, it just didn’t feel that cold. I go with scull-cap, gloves, race singlet and arm warmers and that seemed just fine. You could feel the dampness in the air foretelling rain was inevitable. The less heavy cold wet clothes to weigh you down later on, the better.
The plan was to try to hit 6:00/pace early on and if it fortune befalls maybe a good group of runners will form. If such a group takes shape then stick with it as long as possible. Avoid an all day solo effort battling the wind and rain. Right around mile 3 a runner pulls up alongside and asks what I’m looking to run. Brian Ruhm, I believe, based on some race photos. I tell Brian 2:40 or better. He says this is his first marathon in four years and he’s looking to run 2:40 too. I recite the 6:03 mile 4 split 24:07 to see if he acknowledges that this is more like 2:38 pace. There’s no real response from Brian but he looks to be motoring along quite well. So we run side by side for a while and pick up a couple of runners on the next two miles. Before the Tyngsboro Bridge, we have grown into a pack of four runners adding Robert Emord of GBTC and Bob Dabrieo of Whirlaway and Per Ekegerd - again based on race photos, not familiarity of these guys.
Now that I have the opportunity to see the race results, name and faces, it explains why over these past couple of miles there been an unusual high number of people shouting out encouragement for me by name. “Go get them Bob”. “Bob you’re a beast”. Unusual because I only recognize a few faces and voices for sure. Brian’s has to inquire. “Ok which one of you is Bob and how the hell did you get such a big fan club” I pause for minute to see if anyone else pipes up - in part because I’m fully engrossed in the race effort to do much conversing. But mostly because I doubt I’m that popular. Oh, well, guess I’m not that lucky. Brian is the lucky one: surrounded by Bob’s
Joe Ryan of RUN team bridges the gap up to us at mile 9 and we close up on my GSH teammate Carlos Rivera. For a brief moment the pack is grown to six and we’re clicking off even sixes moving along nicely; an all too brief moment for me. My stomach has been churning for the past couple of miles and by mile 10 it’s becoming apparent I won’t be able to gut it out for another 16 miles. I’m going to have to make a pit stop. The sooner the better. So at mile 11 I stake out the biggest tree for maximum coverage and take care of business as expedient as I can. A couple hundred feet more and I spot a porta-potty where I decide to finish the deed once and for all and get back to racing once again. An 8:30 mile. Two minutes and 30 seconds is the damage done.
I get it back in gear quickly aided more by a rush of adrenaline than a smooth, efficient stride. 1:21:47 for the half (Mile 12-13 6:03, 6:13 up over the bridge). I spot teammate Carlos shortly thereafter and pass him around mile 15. He’s clearly not having a good day. He guts out a 3:30. The next runner in sight of note was Brian McNiece. I recognize him by his Narragassett singlet and a somewhat tallish frame. Mike ran a 2:45 3rd place at the Holyoke Marathon this May. A couple of 6:03 and 6:04 miles ands the gap closes to less than 15 seconds before the second pass of the Tyngsboro Bridge. I use the decline off the bridge to pass one more runner, getting to within maybe 10 seconds of Brian. That was the closest I will get today. The 6:15 then 6:20 miles start creeping in. By mile 20 it’s clear I’m not going to catch Brian and more importantly a sub 2:40 is long far gone.
As I pass the bridge that closes out the 2nd loop the cluster of half marathon walk-joggers merge in between Brian and myself. Like last year I lose focus on the runner ahead and instead let the slow drone-like pace of the halfer’s creep into my psyche. I think it was at this point I declare the race over.
6:21 and 6:29 miles follow. By mile 23, a 6:38. Then all of a sudden, without warning, GBTC’s Tomoaki Uchiki flies by me like I’m standing still. I don’t remember ever being passed that easily before. A shock to the system. I needed that. I’m sure if that didn’t happen at that point I would have settled into 7 min pace for the remainder. Getting passed that harshly stokes the fire a little and I get somewhat back into the race. But the engine has downshifted into economy mode and 6:33 pace will be all that I’m willing to reply with.
Then the real unfortunate happens. I let not one, not two, but three runners pass me in miles 24-25. I never should have let that happen once I spotted them. Two of them are Whirlaway men. Mike Cooney and Criag Fram - big time master runners.
Mike and Craig are seasoned racers and after a patiently biding their time are now finishing off in a strong 6 flat pace teaching the less savvy, skilled runners like myself more than smart pacing. No matter what kind of day you are having. No matter how sure in your head that you have locked in, or been shut out of the top positions - never stop pushing.
Mike keeps looking back, checking his progress and applying the gas to discourage any thoughts of chasing him down. It’s not a look of panic. It’s the look of a season racer, a fighter, who lives for these moments. Whether or not I’m strong enough to respond and beat him to the finish, he put himself in position to win. He’s not going to lose without a fight.
Without focus, without drive, I put in only a slight fight to reclaim position. I chase down the one non-master of the trio - token consolation. The race was right there in front of me but it didn’t matter. I was, at that point – completely detached from the race. A humbling, but hopefully, a learning experience. There’s a difference between running fast and racing. For some racing comes naturally. Perhaps for myself, it will take some more losses to engrain that killer instinct needed to make it to the next level.
# Pl/Div Div Pace Net Name Team
1 1/187 M2029 5:39 2:27:53 Brandon Newbould WHIRL
2 2/187 M2029 5:40 2:28:15 Justin Fyffe CMS
3 3/187 M2029 5:41 2:29:02 Andy McCarron CMS
4 1/296 M3039 5:48 2:31:40 Mark Hudson WHIRL
5 4/187 M2029 5:49 2:32:26 Tom Casey RUN
6 5/187 M2029 5:50 2:32:46 Tom Deeg WHIRL
7 6/187 M2029 5:51 2:33:08 Scott Leslie CMS
8 2/296 M3039 5:54 2:34:33* Joe Navas WHIRL
9 7/187 M2029 5:54 2:34:35 Matthew Terrasi
10 8/187 M2029 5:54 2:34:39 Mike Brown BAA
11 3/296 M3039 5:55 2:34:48 Ryan Aschbrenner GBTC
12 4/296 M3039 5:56 2:35:11 Mike Brouillette GSH
13 5/296 M3039 6:01 2:37:46 Jim Johnson CMS
14 1/317 M4049 6:02 2:38:05 Titus Mutinda RUN
15 6/296 M3039 6:04 2:38:46 Per Ekegerd
16 9/187 M2029 6:05 2:39:14 Joseph Ryan RUN
17 10/187 M2029 6:10 2:41:32 Kevin Tilton CMS
18 7/296 M3039 6:11 2:41:58 Chris Mahoney WHIRL
19 8/296 M3039 6:12 2:42:31 Tomoaki Uchiki GBTC
20 11/187 M2029 6:14 2:43:13 Robert Emord GBTC
21 2/317 M4049 6:14 2:43:17* Mike Cooney WHIRL
22 9/296 M3039 6:14 2:43:20 Brian McNeiece NRA
23 3/317 M4049 6:14 2:43:24 Brian Ruhm
24 12/187 M2029 6:16 2:44:20 Tim Stickney GBTC
25 4/317 M4049 6:17 2:44:40 Joseph Koech RUN
26 1/159 M5059 6:17 2:44:44* Craig Fram WHIRL
27 5/317 M4049 6:18 2:44:52 Mark Engerman TRIAD
28 6/317 M4049 6:19 2:45:17 Robert Landry GSH
1:21:10 (6:12), 1:21:47