being my first ever 'destination' race, i was up and at 'em early on saturday morning making the 4.5 hour drive across the u.s. border to presque isle state park - site of the race expo and start/finish line. after a short pause in st. catherines to stretch my legs and fit in an easy 4km jog, i crossed the peace bridge into the united states.
the border control guard was a riot. in response to his question about my reason for entering the country, i told him that i was racing in a marathon - to which he quickly said "how many miles is that?". telling him 26, he continued to quiz me about how many times a week i'd run as well as the average distances. after about 4 minutes of running-related banter, he simply said "wow patrick, you are the man. go have a great race!" - and sent me on my merry way.
the race expo at presque isle state park's rotary pavilion was well staffed and easy to navigate - mostly because it was pretty spartan. about 10 windows for race kit pick-up (no ID required) meant that you had your bag in hand within 30 seconds of arrival and then it was time to peruse the five or so vendor tents that were set up. even though there wasn't much to see, i have to say that i was impressed with the goodies that came with race registration.
yes, you even get socks!
after checking into the "America's Best Value Inn" (courtesy of priceline.com) i met up with stan and his family for supper at the local Eat'n Park. this was a great find, as i'd never stopped into one before and they have this crazy all-you-can-eat soup & salad bar for something like $2.25. my spaghetti meal (can you say carbo load?) and unlimited soup/salad came to just over $9.00 USD. unreal.
bedtime came early, around 8pm. settled into my nicely 70s-decor room and faded off to la-la land.
between the early morning race start (scheduled for 7:00 am - i arrived at the park at about 5:45 am) and the tree-canopied drive in the park, it was about as a dark as could be. even after being directed by volunteers to the appropriate parking lot and space, i could barely make out the directions to the start area.
the lineups for the park washrooms and porta-potties was unreal. i started out waiting for the men's washroom in one of the park buildings, but after a 25 min. wait and only advancing about six feet forward, i decided to take my chances by wandering towards the start area where more porta-potties were situated. the wait there didn't turn out to be much better, but i knew that i needed to clear my system before getting into the race so i waited - for a grand total of 50 min. in line. i got into the starting chute just as the Star Spangled Banner was wrapping up, so had about 3 min. to spare.
while warming up in the crowd awaiting the starter's horn, i heard "patrick? patrick voo?" odd given that i was about 400km from home in a different country.
it turned out to be patrick connor, a fellow that i'd met twice before at the mississauga marathon (2012, 2013). in 2012 we were the only two "patricks" in the marathon field and we finished within a second of one another. crazy small world it is.
as the race started, we moved from a pavilion area onto the path out toward the main road - this meant bottlenecking. while i did want to start out conservatively, this was a shuffle pace (foreshadowing, folks). it took about 800m to clear the congestion and find a lane with some other runners aiming to go at about 4:30/km.
i'd promised my coach, rick ball, that i would stick to the plan and the pace band that he'd provided for me. and for the first half of the race, that's exactly how things went. i was to cross 10k in 45:00 - i did so in 45:11 (not bad considering the time i lost during the first km). running the tangents and meeting only two slight incline portions along the route, i hit the halfway mark at gun time 1:35:47, at which point stan (who'd been waiting there since the 7:30 am half marathon start) joined to help pace me through to the end.
the second half started out ok - stan indicated that things looked and sounded good, since my breathing was not laboured and we were able to keep to the 4:30ish pace. it was at about 27km that the wheels started to come off.
it began as a slight decline in pace. i expected that there would be tough points along the way, so this was not a surprise. i tried to power through it, but it was what came next that really was the body blow.
i experienced tightness in my core that was reminiscent of the strange diaphragm spasms that i had at the end of the beaches jazz run. it was increasingly difficult to breathe, and as a result i had to slow my pace down until finally stan stopped me so that we could do an upper torso stretch. when it was possible to breathe clearly again, we started back out trying to reclaim the pace, if not the lost time - but this was short-lived, as after every 800m or so i felt the full onslaught of this constriction again.
time began slipping away, and when i finally realized that this was not going to end well, i urged stan to run on as he was hoping to get back to toronto that afternoon to compete in the league championship game with his soccer team (what an athlete!).
this left me to meander my way through the rest of the race - meander being the operative word, as my hamstrings and calves started to spasm because of the lack of oxygen getting to them during my spurts of running. eventually the running became staggered sections of shuffling (at about a 7:00-7:20/km pace). however, along the way i did make some new friends - others who i stopped to encourage (and was encouraged by) as muscle spasms made for stretching and walking breaks.
the 26 mile marker was a welcome sign, and when the final turn was made and the finish line was in sight, i mustered up enough pride to start turning the legs over so that the final leg photographs would be of me at least simulating a running cadence.
i hung out a bit to take advantage of the chocolate milk, fresh subs, water and cookies. while munching down i paused to cheer on various other finishers in both the half and full marathons as they came down the finishing chute - all this while still in stunned confusion as to what had just happened to me on the same course.
after a quick change of clothes, i decided that there was no reason to hang out around erie much longer than i needed to and so headed back down the interstate toward niagara falls. the trek home was long enough for me to drift across geographical and mental states ... i wafted from 'maybe it's time to call it a running career' to 'just take your break until next spring' to 'i hope that boston's sold out anyway'. stan also texted me with words of encouragement, indicating that he and his wife wondered if i wasn't dealing with exercise-induced bronchoconstriction.
by the time that i rolled into my driveway i'd settled on the fact that much like one of my running heroes, yuki kawauchi, i would race again. soon.
(incidentally, also like yuki, i shaved my head the next day in shame because i felt that i'd let down my coach and running partners)
and with that, i registered the next day for the hamilton marathon. with seven weeks between races, it will be the shortest break i will have taken between marathon attempts. it's a race that a i ran last year and quite enjoyed, for the company if not for the result. but with a steely determination, i am focused on conquering the mountain and coming away with a new personal record.
so it is that i will leave behind my worst 'serious' race to date. my only real solace (besides the fact that i managed to not claim this world record) is that in less than two months i will once again try to best this grueling contest.
bet against me if you will.