Serving as an official pace leader for a marathon is everything that Operation Jack stands for, all rolled into a marathon performance. It’s a tough, focused effort. It’s running to help others. It’s motivating people to push as hard as they can. It’s not worrying about my race time, because that’s not what matters. It’s staying focused on the finish line and getting there no matter what anybody else does. I led the 3:40 group at the Mankato (Minn.) Marathon Saturday, my fourth official pacing gig this year. For the fourth time, I had a blast.
I lined up the responsibility about three weeks ago and was pretty excited about it. It’s always fun to help people along, plus I knew it would be somewhat of a break for my legs. I know, for most people, running a 3:40 marathon doesn’t seem like a day off. But for me, it would be nice to not have to go full throttle.
The forecast was for rain, but that doesn’t faze me. I lined up in the start area and took a look around to see what kind of a group I had. I couldn’t really tell, because everything was so crowded, but I made small talk with those around me before we got going.
We started rolling and I locked into a pretty consistent groove within a mile or so. I wasn’t flawless, but I knew I was pretty good. I always want to be perfect, but as a human being, all I can do is try my best. Every time we passed a mile marker, I announced to my group how we were doing overall for the race. We were almost always within six or seven seconds of perfect — sometimes a touch fast, sometimes a touch slow, sometimes right on. But always very, very close. I knew the miles were good, my pace wasn’t varying and we were on target. I was pretty happy with that.
For most of the first half of the race, I had about 20 people fairly close to me. Different people would pop up and talk to me and then maybe move forward or fall back. I never missed an opportunity to talk about Operation Jack!
There were three moderate climbs and some gradual declines early, but I felt like I handled them well. We went through the half in 1:49:58. Half of 3:40 is 1:50, so that was pretty close to perfect. As the second half moved along, there was a long incline at around mile 15 or so that dropped some folks off the pace. I took that slow, but it was a little humid and I’m sure it was tough for runners pushing to run a 3:40. The sun started to come out at about mile 17 and it became tough to run.
We were on track through mile 21, with maybe 10 seconds in the bank for the race, but at that point I think the mile markers were off a little bit. When we hit 22, we were 14 seconds in the hole and I know we didn’t run an 8:47 mile. I absolutely did not want to finish slow, because I’m a moving target and if runners chose to kick at the end, I needed to be in the right place. If they finished ahead of me, they needed to be sub-3:40, period.
I ran the next mile a little quick, maybe at around 8:15 (pace needed to average 8:23), and we were about 12 seconds off. I knew I needed to run at about an 8:00 pace to get my target at the right pace. That was difficult to do, though. I know I’m a faster runner than that, but when you’re locked into a groove for 23 miles, it’s tough to step it up. For starters, I was fatigued. I am human, you know? Plus, with 23 miles of 8:23 muscle memory, it’s a tough push. And of course, my legs are dead from the 50 prior marathons I’ve run this year!
But I pushed to make sure I was in the right spot as a target. I closed to within maybe six or so seconds at mile 25 and kept moving. At mile 26, I was 19 seconds fast, but at this point, I’m not convinced the mile markers were in the right spot for those final four. I eased up to about an 8:30 pace for the final .2 miles, slightly off the 8:23 I needed. I ended up crossing the finish line in 3:39:53.
It was a tough run to manage. I stayed as consistent as I could and when I found out I was in a hole early, I tried to gradually move my target to get it in the right spot. Working with the mile markers, the course and the conditions, I feel confident that I did a good job. I was fast by less than 1/4 second per mile overall. Can’t really complain about that.
Overall, I thought the race was really nice. It was a first-time event, and for those, you never expect much. But I thought it was very well organized from start to finish. I was definitely impressed. It’s not a destination race, but it’s certainly a very nice, local marathon. I’ve run MUCH worse this year!
So, there you have it. Marathon No. 51 of Operation Jack is in the books. Only 10 more to go!
I dunno … it doesn’t really look like I ran a marathon. But I did, I swear!