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Dreams happen when you keep trying

LAST SUNDAY I ran the Hamilton marathon in just over three hours, my first 42.2-kilometre race since New York, two years ago. It wasn’t my fastest ever – in fact, it was pretty average. But one of the joys was racing with loads of my training partners from the Guelph Victors. I drove down in a van load of six; I ran the first 25 kilometres in lockstep with Stephen and Lisa; and the finish line had a strong Victors vibe as we all cheered our teammates home. I had my eye out for one teammate in particular, but I never saw him, not at the start nor at the finish.

Warren Nethercott and I have a special, running bond. We met during a 24-hour running relay five years ago. I was impressed with his determination and pace. He was about 10 years younger than me but shared a similar marathon pedigree, with several ~3:03 races to his credit and a stubborn desire to break three hours and join that smallish club of masters runners.

Warren is a busy parent of three soccer-playing young boys. He works as a pharmacist at our hospital; his wife is as an ER doctor in Kitchener. They live 10 km out in the country. I’m sure that finding time to train for a marathon is no easy matter for him, but he kept at it, year after year.

I achieved my sub-3 dream in spring 2010, with a 2:56 marathon in Mississauga. Warren still wrestled the monster. He often felt sick when he tried to drink Gatorade while racing, and once had to quit because of nausea, scoring a dreaded DNF. We ran the New York marathon together two years ago and both clocked under 1:30 for the first half – but then failed to close the deal in the second half of the race (see photo). I reached Central Park in 3:06, Warren in 3:03.

Last spring in Mississauga Warren seemed ready after a winter of hard work. I was near the finish as he rolled in – again, just over 3 hours. Ugh.

Last Sunday he slayed the beast, finally, running mostly with club mates Tanya and Luke, both of them sub-3 veterans. (Tanya finished as the third place woman overall; Luke was 3:03.) Here’s our post-race email exchange –

Art: I didn’t see you at the start, middle or finish – was beginning to doubt you’d even raced – but there you are in the results: 2:57. Hallelujah! That’s just great. You were also the first Victor, with Tanya right behind. You must be one happy guy!

Warren: I am definitely one happy man! After 4 marathons @ 3:02–3:03 I was beginning to wonder if it wasn’t meant to be. Thankfully Tanya and Luke were there to drag me along at times. I struggled a little in the middle kilometres and twice almost lost touch with them. It was strange that I started to feel great around the 30K mark. Just fell into a comfortable rhythm that I was able to maintain to the finish. Luke was looking great but started to struggle around 30K. Tanya looked strong the whole race!

How was your race? The 3:05 must have felt pretty good given all the injury problems you’ve had the last couple of years. It was too bad I didn’t see you. I knew you were running today and I had my eyes open for you but for whatever reason, we didn’t cross paths. Hopefully  we’ll get a chance to talk soon.

A: Great race. Best I’ve EVER felt in the closing stages. Nearly even splits, less than one minute difference between the two halves, and this in spite of the long downhill in the first half. I ran 4:30 pace through the first 10K, but like you I clicked into a new gear when we lost the slower half-marathon racers who were dominating the bike path, and averaged 4:15 for that final 5K.

And, I saw my family three times, despite that confusing, looping mess of a course. A really great day.

The marathon is a strange beast. You have to prepare, but then let it come to you. You can’t make it happen. Why did you go sub-3 in Hamilton and not Mississauga last spring? Were you in better shape, or is it inexplicable?

After many marathons, it’s easy to fall into a “this is how things go now” attitude – and fail to be alert to a sudden window of opportunity late in the race – you’re not in any real pain, you haven’t bonked, and by golly, you could actually run a little faster! You can’t plan this – it just happens, and you don’t want to miss it – it might be your only chance.

W: I am happy you had a such a great race. It’s quite a difficult task to run nearly even splits and feel great doing it! And to have your family there cheering you on must have been icing on the cake.

The marathon certainly is a strange beast! I may have been in marginally better shape for Hamilton than I was for Mississauga. But definitely not enough of a difference to account for six minutes! I think I was better prepared mentally to run sub-3 than I had been in previous attempts.

With the 5K of downhill mid-race I figured that smashing the three hour barrier by 3–4 minutes would be possible. No more planning my race to stagger across the finish line in 2:59:59! The weather certainly couldn’t have been any better for me either. I was excited about the cool, sunny conditions going into the race.

It’s funny how things work out. I figured the long downhill section would be the easiest part of the race. However, it was a bit of a struggle. I almost lost touch with Luke and Tanya twice. But both times I figured I had to pick it up and stay with them or my shot at sub-3 would be over.

I probably would have packed it in mentally and run another 3:03 if they had gotten away. But something clicked at 30K. Strangely, everything felt great and the racing became easy. I almost felt guilty!

A: I didn’t love the long downhill either – it gave me worrisome twinges in funny places – and Stephen was really pushing the pace too. But the three of us made a game of cutting long tangents on the curvy highway. Everyone else was ignoring them while we crossed from one shoulder to the other. You had to look way ahead and pick the straightest line.

So, the teamwork was good for me too. Unfortunately, Lisa fell off at 25K – held close until 30, then really struggled to get in. Stephen held pace, I think, while I sped up. I caught a couple of Victors – Geoff and Kelly – but you three had too big a lead.

What was your time at the half?

W: I think we were 1:26:40 at the half. Managed to lose over a minute by 30K. Dodging all the half-marathoners on the twisty trail probably accounted for most of that minute. I think I was 2:05:19 at 30K. Had a small heart attack when it seemed to take 5:15 seconds to reach 31K!. Was it in the correct spot (my eyes were watering so maybe I didn’t read my watch correctly)? However, I essentially maintained that two-minute cushion from 30K to the finish, so everything worked out in the end!

Sounded like you had a great group to run with as well. It’s too bad that Lisa had a difficult last quarter. I thought she was poised to take another good chunk off her 3:09 PB, like she did last spring.

A: Your race was nearly identical to my sub-3 in 2010 – I was 1:27 at the half, so felt pretty darn confident. Your “cushion” was larger than three minutes, you realize, eh? After the half, even splits would have given you 2:54, so your cushion was six minutes really, not three. Even a 1:32 second half would have got you sub-3! Still, I’m glad you hung on to Luke and Tanya. As we know, if your pace starts slipping in the last part of the race, your lovely cushion dissolves into a puddle very quickly!

Congrats again. Heal up, and we’ll see you out on the streets this winter I hope. Hi to Natalie and the boys.

We’ll have to come up with a new goal, eh?

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. Tony Roberts #

    Hi Art,As always, an eloquent and interesting post. Out of interest ,why did the email mention a password is required.I almost didn’t click the link, thinking I didn’t have it.Congrats on a good run.Tony

    Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2012 17:21:42 +0000 To: tonyroberts@outlook.com

    November 7, 2012
  2. thanks tony!
    the password thing was temporary, as i worked on a draft of the post. shouldn’t require a password now.

    November 9, 2012

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