This is probably going to be a weird race report, because most of it might not be about the race. I was preoccupied with a few things during Sunday’s Jacksonville Marathon, but I knocked out marathon No. 60 of the year and I’m pretty happy with how the race went.
Real quick, just in case you’ve never been here before, I’m a father of three and a marathon runner. My middle child, 7-year-old Jack, is severely autistic. I’m attempting to use my running to help him have an impact on the world, so I’m attempting to run 61 marathons this year to raise money and awareness for a charity I’m a part of called Train 4 Autism. I wouldn’t be doing this if not for Jack, so I know that any good that comes out of this is because of him.
I named my endeavor Operation Jack, after him. As I mentioned, Jacksonville was No. 60. The finish line of my longest marathon ever is getting pretty close!
Anyways, I wasn’t too into the race mentally. I’m tired, I had a disappointing race last weekend in Tucson and I’m really busy. Back home, my wife is sick, my oldest son hasn’t been on his best behavior this weekend and Jack’s been waking up early. He woke up at 4:50 a.m. yesterday morning, leaving my wife Tiffany tired all day while she felt sick. I feel terrible when things don’t go well when I’m gone.
Today’s race started at 7 a.m., which is 4 a.m. back home. 30 minutes before the start, I got a text from Tiff that Jack was up and she didn’t think he was going back to bed. I figured she was a little middle-of-the-night groggy and tried to give her some advice to get her to go back to sleep. But I had to power down my phone about 10 minutes before the race and I knew I’d spend the entire race wondering what was exactly what happened.
I was also thinking about the race of Luke Thompson, who was running his second lifetime marathon in Jacksonville. I met him through Operation Jack and hung out with him and his friend Andy last night. I knew from his training times that we was ready to go sub-3 with ease, but he seemed nervous because he blew up in his first marathon. I talked to him about how I would run the race with his legs, and really, really hoped not to see him during the race.
And then, of course, there’s this whole Operation Jack Marathon I’m putting on next week. That’s keeping me busy and stressed. I’m worried about all the details of everything, and it’s weighing on my mind. It’s fair to say that I was looking ahead to that one.
So, my mind, while barely awake, was focused on everything but the race. But I still had to run it. My strategy, since I’ve done such a good job blowing up, was to go out, run 7:20s and accelerate my heart rate after 6 miles.
The course is flat and fast and fairly boring. I’d say 23 miles of it wrapped through residential areas. It was a nice, calm run, but it was still pretty boring. But it was a flat course and the weather was great for running. High 40s, some humidity, some wind. Not perfect, but perfect never happens and this was pretty good.
By about mile 4, I adjusted my plan. I decided to stretch that 7:20 thing to mile 10. My heart rate was in the low 160s and I wanted to remain conservative and not go for broke. I really wanted to get a Boston qualifier, so I tried to play it somewhat safe and not risk a blow-up. I’ve done enough of that lately.
I haven’t hit all of my individual performance goals this year, but I figured it would be pretty cool to BQ in my 60th marathon of the year. I’d be content with that.
As I closed in on mile 10, I was running consistently. My miles were all in that 7:20 range. Some as quick as 7:15, some as slow as 7:30 or so. Most of them were right on target and I was pretty consistent, although slowly slightly — maybe 2-3 seconds per mile by mile 10. My average pace for the race slipped from 7:18 to 7:21.
I decided to not step up my effort by heart rate. I was more interested in fighting to stay consistent since I was on target for that BQ. I decided I’d see what I had at mile 20. So, I kept rolling and started to gradually fatigue. I felt some pain in my left leg, but nothing in my right leg like I have so much over the past few months.
When I hit 20, I did the math and saw I needed to close with a 48-minute 10K to hit a 3:15, which I was confident I could do. I started to push when my body would let me. Sometimes it cooperated, sometimes it didn’t. It was nice and cool, but there was some headwind at times.
As I started to knock down those final few miles, I was doing the math in my head and could tell I was starting to build a little bit of a cushion. With three to go, I needed to average about 7:40 to get that BQ. With two to go, I needed closer to 8:00. With a mile to go, I was in great shape, although I wanted sub-3:15 — I didn’t want the extra 59 seconds you’re allowed (a 3:15:59 is a BQ).
All of a sudden, my legs got really stiff, like they wanted to quit on me. I know the feeling. They’ve been doing that a lot lately. I started thinking, “Oh, not now Sam. Not now. You’ve come too far.” I really wanted to nab that BQ in my 60th marathon of the year. I had run a solid race for 25.2 miles and I couldn’t let it slip away in one little mile.
Right then, I thought about my friend Ashley I met in St. Charles and Memphis. She has a saying about feeding a dog. There’s some profanity in there, but I ignore that part of it. The point is, when you need to suck it up and dig down and get something done, you just need to feed the dog. Feed the dog. I was telling myself, “Feed the dog, feed the dog” … I needed to own that mile. I kept repeating that to myself for a good quarter mile.
And I sure as heck owned that mile. I went 7:06, my fastest of the day. I kicked really strong at the end and hit the final 0.3 at a 6:10 pace. I went 3:14:21. I was so happy, you have no idea. It wasn’t my fastest run, it wasn’t my best run. But I dug down hard and this time I got it done. I was really happy about that. I’ll look back at this race and not really remember much of anything except for getting it done in that last mile. I’m completely content with this one.
After the race, I found Luke. I figured with his talk of how he was going to approach the race, he would go conservative and run a 2:57. But he went for it because he felt great and went 2:54:51. Also, I talked to Tiff and Jack went back to sleep. She woke up feeling well rested and she didn’t feel as sick as she did.
All-in-all, a great day. And to top it all off, I’m going to fly home tonight and I won’t have to leave any more for Operation Jack! Next week’s race is less than a one-hour drive from my house!
So there you have it — 60 down, ONE to go!
Andy, Luke and me after the race.