For me, running a marathon on November 7 is a big deal. It was the day I broke my neck back in 1991, the day I wasn’t paralyzed, the day my legs were spared. I celebrate it as a birthday for my legs, so what better way to celebrate than to run a marathon?
Sunday’s race was the Eye Q Two Cities Marathon in Fresno, Calif. This was marathon No. 53 of the Operation Jack train. 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 and I want him to have an impact on the world. Because of what he goes through, I’m attempting to run 61 marathons in his honor to raise money and awareness for a charity I’m a part of called Train 4 Autism.
I felt decent heading into Sunday’s race. Not totally solid, but I’ve been getter as my challenging September becomes more of a distant memory. My legs are coming back a tiny bit, I’m doing some speedwork and mentally, I’m in a good place. I’m starting to get pretty excited.
I don’t really set A goals, B goals or C goals — I set A hopes, B hopes or C hopes. I always go as hard as I can. I just try to guess what I think I’m going to do and I hope I can maximize what I have in me. I felt like I had a good shot at being faster that last weekend’s 3:23 at the Marine Corps Marathon. I would have been thrilled with another Boston qualifier, 3:15:59, but I didn’t think I’d be able to go much faster than 3:20. I would have been pretty disappointed if I went slower than I did last week.
So there you have my A hope, B hope and C hope. Sub-3:20 is what I was really after. Before the race, I met up with somebody I met through Twitter named Megan, who was super nice and had a great run — 3:26 and second in her age group! I also met up with somebody named Kathy who I met through an online running community.
The coolest thing happened on my warmup run, though. I was running past three women and once I passed them, I heard one of them say, “Look, it’s that autism runner!” I turned and went back and said hello. Right before the start, I saw someone I met through Operation Jack named Linda and it was great to see her. Some folks I’ve met this year have been good to talk to about various non-Operation Jack stuff, and she’s one of them. It was great to see her, give her a hug and smile for a picture.
And then I was off. I felt fairly good early, jumping out a tiny bit quick but turning in miles in the 7:15 range early. I’m totally fine with doing that, even though I know I can’t run a 3:10 right now. I don’t fall apart after banking time. I just lose juice in my legs from a year’s worth of fatigue. It’s something you’d understand if you’ve run all-out in as many marathons as I have this year.
The course itself was pretty unremarkable. It seemed to be primarily on paved trails and alongside a park that looked like a nice area you’d hike in. There weren’t any eyesores, but I’ve seen a lot of courses this year and this one didn’t have a wow factor to me. It was a pretty flat, fast course, with only a couple of small hills and some very mild inclines and declines.
I could tell within about three miles that I didn’t have a ton of zip, but I felt like I had a fighting chance to run well if I was mentally willing to push. I started to slow down a tiny bit by mile seven, but I noticed my heart rate was low. I told myself to suck it up and I started moving more at the rate I’m capable of, around 6:45/mile. I was turning in mostly decent miles and hit the half in about 1:37.
I was doing OK for a little while in the second half, but I did my weekly fall-apart at about mile 18. My legs started getting pretty stiff and my pace was slipping. Mentally, I got kind of angry when the aid stations all started being out of Gatorade at mile 18. With the layout of the course, I didn’t come up to the very back of the half-marathon pack until about mile 19. So basically, it all went to them.
I don’t have a problem with half-marathoners getting Gatorade. I have a problem with race organizers not figuring out a way to make sure marathoners on a sub-3:20 pace get sports drink. I threw a little bit of a pity party for myself as I wrapped up the run.
I knew a 3:15 wasn’t happening, but I wanted to stay under 3:20. I knew it would be close and I knew with about 1.5 miles to go that I’d finish with either a 3:19 or a 3:20. With 1/2 mile to go, I knew I had it if I held on strong to the finish. I saw Linda holding up a sign and that sparked me on my final kick. I ran pretty hard and felt good to be running fast. It was probably about a 5K effort.
I crossed the finish line in 3:19:36, and was pretty happy with that. I’d score myself with about 18 B+ miles and 8 C- miles. Not a great run by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m content with my effort in my 53rd marathon of the year. I did what I’d hoped I’d be able to do, and I knocked another race off the schedule.
So there you have it, 53 down, only eight to go! I … can … do … this!
Me and Linda after the race.