“…4, 3, 2, 1, main engine start, zero, and LIFT OFF of the Atlas V with ‘Curiosity.’ Seeking clues to the planitary puzzle about life on Mars.”
With that, the Atlas V Rocket lifted off and began its 8 month journey to Mars.
The Atlas V rocket carrying the new Mars Rover named ‘Curiosity,’ screamed into the heavens beginning its 8 month trek the red planet. It was a fitting start to the Space Coast Marathon weekend. My vantage point for the launch was the front gate of the Kennedy Space Center where the Health and Fitness Expo was taking place.
This was the 40th Space Coast Marathon, but my first time running it. I had visions of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, but I had a few complicating factors. Just one month ago I had run the Mount Lemmon Marathon in Tucson, AZ which is called “The Toughest Road Marathon in the World,” and I was still dealing with physical issues from it. I had suffered a nasty stress fracture in my left leg which had put a damper on my training, and my weight was up a few pounds. By “few” I mean 15. It is amazing that in 42 years I could not gain weight to save my life, but I quit running for a few weeks and gain 15 pounds with relative ease. Fuckin Domino’s pizza, right? But that’s another blog…
So I had doubts about achieving my High Goal of Boston. My Main Goal was to finish, and have fun doing it. As this was the 40th running of the event, special finishers medals had been made. Medals are the ‘bling’ of the marathoners world.
On this trip I wasn’t alone, My friend and business partner, Megan G flew in from Utah to run her first half marathon. She and I met trough the fitness world a few years back. Megs has been a source of great inspiration for me because of her personal growth and dedication. I have witnessed her change from a very quiet, introverted and painfully shy person unhappy with who was in her mirror into a someone very self aware and physically confident with herself. We have both had the great fortune to meet with Jillian Michaels, but Megan has worked with Chalene Johnson, creator of Turbo Jam and Turbo Fire and Tony Horton Creator of P90X, P90X2 and 10 Minute Trainer. Megs and I opened a branch of the fitness company called Beachbody. It produces some of the most popular home fitness programs in the world: Turbo Jam, Turbo Fire, P90X, Insanity, and now the most anticipated program to come along in years, P90X2. But this blog is not a sales pitch for those products, we are talking about running 26.2 and 13.1 miles. I had bet Megs that she couldn’t finish her first half marathon in under 2:30 and she had come to Florida to kick my ass.
The Expo had all kinds of product demos. From a self massaging rolling pin called “The Stick,” to sunglasses and jewelry. Brooks Shoes were a major sponsor of the event and their booth was massive. Megs and I both got cool Brooks jackets embroidered with the special 40th Space Coast Marathon logo. We hung out for a bit and then headed back to the Radisson to rest up.
Just a quick word about the Radisson at the Port: This is a lovely place. All inclusive, restaurant, pub, massive pool with a huge waterfall in the middle of it, and poolside live entertainment every night. There was even a great koi fish pond!
The Pasta Diner would bring us back to the Kennedy Space Center later that evening. From the front gate we marched over to the awaiting busses which took us out the Apollo/ Saturn V Complex. This complex is a celebration of mans journey into space and contains an actual Saturn V rocket and we ate our meal beneath it. The guest speaker was Kathrine Switzer: the first woman to ever complete the Boston Marathon. She told her harrowing tale of how the race director attacked her and tried to tear off her race number, but her boyfriend (a 260 pound Olympic hammer thrower) counter attacked the director and she was able to finish.
The story of the race into space, and Kathrine’s story of overcoming the odds both played well into the theme of running a marathon. There are endless obstacles to overcome to achieve the greatness of a Finish Line.
Both story lines tied well into the task of training endless hours, running in the rain, changing ones diet, time away from loved ones and everything else that goes into the prep work of running a marathon. You see the actual running of a marathon is the glory part, the icing on the cake. It has little to do with the work which has to take place in order to finish. Those endless hours running at 5:00am are the actual marathon. The event day is mainly the pomp and circumstance of your reward for doing the actual work.
Right. So 4:00am comes quickly and as per my normal marathon day routine I shower, dress and eat… oh crap. I forgot my normal eats of rice and eggs, so I wolfed down three chocolate energy bars. Hmmm. We will revisit this choice again in a bit.
The busses picked us up and delivered us to the Finish Line Village. Thousands of people wandered about. Hundreds waited in line at the port-o-potty. We wandered over to the Start Line and watched the video loop of Space Shuttles and Darth Vader music. (Very cool BTW.)
The Space Coast Marathon is in its 40th year and they really have the event down to a science. I must say it is the most professional and well put on event I have ever attended. Around every corner there are a dozen things which you would only think of on a race day like placing the bag drop right between the Start and Finish line so little thought has to be put into where you need to go. Large friendly signs that point toward, well, everything you want: busses, port-o-pottys, food, Start and Finish Lines… etc, etc.
The Start Line had a super large HiDef TV with images from NASA and the space program flashing on it to Star Wars Music. Corrals were set up for different pace times with the faster runners up front. Like I said I wanted to qualify Boston with my run here.
Lets revisit that thought just for a minute. Qualifying for Boston is not an easy thing. If it were easy, everyone would do it. Two things had changed making the qualifications harder for this year:
First: Seconds do not count anymore. Before this year if you needed to run a 3:20 time and you Finished in 3:20:59, you still got in. Now if you need a 3:20 and you ran a 3:20:01 you were out. So that is almost an entire minute. So to compensate you have to give yourself that minute back by running a 3:19. Twice in training I have run a 3:19 marathon distance, so I know I have it in me.
Second: My age group qualifying time for Boston had been raised to 3:15. So now to give myself the minute padding, I have to run a 3:13 marathon. That is 6 minutes off of my time. Difficult? Yep. To be honest, it was playing heavy on my mind.
One of the reasons I had chosen the Space Coast Marathon was because they offered pacers who will run at the right pace to keep you on track for your goal. It is easier to run with someone and keep pace sometimes than run with yourself. At least that was my thought. However the fastest pacer they offered was a 3:20. I needed to run faster than most of this pack of 4000 people in order to achieve my goal. Heavy on my mind? Yeah. We are at Def Con Six, baby.
Megs and I sauntered over to the Starting line, wished each other well and I climbed up to the front of the pack.
The race is called the Space Coast and this was the 40th running of it. It just so happens that 2011 was the final year of the Space Shuttle Program. In classic style, the countdown to our Start was on that huge TV screen with images of every sort of space ship NASA has ever launched. Classic.
I was running a marathon.
At first the Half Marathon and Marathon runners were together but soon we peeled off to run a 6.525 mile out and back loop then we would run the other 6.525 loop that was the Half Marathon loop to make up the other half.
We had bunches of turns and twists in the first mile, but then settled down to a nice straight course that took us along the Indian River. At 65f at the Starting Line, it was warm, humid and heating up fast.
The first three miles ticked off quickly. My head was in a good place, my legs were steady and I felt strong. It was just so damn hot. This first leg was an out and back course so going out for 6 miles the water would be on my right, and then coming back in the water would be on my left. At mile four I saw the storm coming in. The black cloud boiling in from the ocean, pouring rain down on us all. I didn’t mind a bit. The warm wind blew the cool rain over us in sheets. There were moments of concern when the wind whipped palm leaves down and across the group of runners in front of us, but thankfully they were only large leaves.
I ran by a woman walking her dog and said ‘good morning.’ She said it back.
I ran by a couple whose golden lab was holding a newspaper in his mouth. Good dog!
The first cramp hit me just before the turn around. Damn energy bars. I always wear my Fuel Belt with my super secret drink mix and I took a hit of it. The cramp past but I began to think about a port-o-potty. (aka The Little Blue Room.)
Quick note to those who are not runners or triathletes: The use of a port-o-potty is sub-optimal. The use of a port-o-potty in soaking wet spandex is below sub-optimal.
The cramps did not go away.
At this point I would like to give a loud and very heartfelt shout out to all the volunteers who all dressed up and manned the aid stations. Being a “Space” themed event there were the Buzz Lightyear, Star Wars, and Star Trek aid stations but my favorite one was Space Balls.
After a lengthy stop at a Little Blue Room’ I gathered my self, cranked up a little Fatboy Slim and began to work the math on what my pace had to be to salvage my Boston goal. The rain returned. It felt good.
I found it impossible to pass another Little Blue Room and had to make a second stop. My time clicked away.
I was not half way done yet and the cramps were still not going away.
By the time I came back through town, and crossed the Start Line area again to begin the second half, it was clear I was going to have to let go of achieving Boston this go around. I would have had to achieve a pace grater than 6.00 and I was not capable of it in my current state. Finishing became the order of the day. Having passed the halfway mark I was now encountering the half marathoners finishing their race. At mile 16 Megan appeared. She shrugged her shoulders as if to say “What happened?” I smiled and slapped her a high five. I knew she would hit 2:30 if she hustled.
Mile 17 brought a moment that was very cool. A man came beside me and said “Hey did you run Mount Lemmon?” “Yes I did.” “Hey man, we rode to the start line together on the bus.” It was very cool that I bumped into him again. I am so sorry that I do not remember his name. I was in the middle of bonking and trying to ignore it, but it was so cool to bump into him.
In every marathon I’ve run to date, at mile 13.1 I have taken two Advil. With trying to calculate my pace, and dealing with an upset stomach I had missed it this trip. At mile 18 the wheels came off. Try as I may, I could not keep things moving at the pace I wanted. Or any pace really. I was baked. I had changed things in my race day routine and I was paying for them now. At an aid station I got two Gu packs and hit them right away. My secret drink wasn’t doing what I wanted it to do and I was in a free fall of doubt.
At that moment I noticed the house I was running by. There was a man on a ladder working under the eve of the house. Another runner, a woman then ran into my field of vision. She was also looking at the ladder man. In a moment so clear I can still hear her voice she turned and looked me straight in the eye and said “Damn. That looks like REAL work” and she ran off. I became hysterical at the irony of a woman running a marathon calling what he was doing ‘work.’ I had to stop I was laughing so hard. Here I was tied up so far in my own head I had forgotten I was out here to have fun. I gathered myself and ran on.
I began to run along with a woman in a blue sports bra. We passed each other a number of times. There was a man in front of the two of us who pointed out into the water and said something. I was still in iPod land so I heard “whaal- whenns” I looked and saw a sailboat so I thought he said ‘sailboat.’ There were 4000 people running this thing, some of them could be from out west and had never seen a sailboat. Blue Bra woman smacked me and said “Dolphins!” I looked and sure enough there they were! Right at the end of one of the house docks, two dolphins! One of them had a small fish that he threw into the air! It was so surreal!
My body was spent and I still had three or four miles to go. Finishing became my goal. There are people out there who aspire to finish one marathon and this year I had run three of them, including one called “The Worlds Toughest Road Marathon.” I was not going to beat myself up about bonking out.
The Finish Line Pavilion brought me around the complex across a stage to my Finish Line where I gave a Blazeman roll in honor of Jon Blais. (www.waronals.com) These marathoners don’t know what a Blazeman roll is because some dude came running over to help me up. Back off runner boy, Triathlete coming through.
5:00:09. Hands down my slowest marathon time ever, but I finished and I am proud of my efforts. Some people would have ducked out and taken the DNF. Not me.
Megs hit her mark and ran a 2:23:17! Big props to Megan! It was her first Half Marathon and she did very well. I am very proud of her.
The festival went on into the afternoon with space creatures wondering about the Pavilion. I saw Jabba the Hut, a blue Avitar woman and Princess Leia in her metal bikini.
I did find out that only 14 of the 4000 runners finished with a 3:15 or better. It made me smile. While my performance was not on par with my efforts, or training level, I must say that this event was the most professionally run event I have ever attended anywhere. With NASA as their backdrop, and even having the luck of witnessing the launch of an interplanetary rocket, The 40th Space Coast Marathon was a fantastic event! While my goal now is to run a marathon in each of the 50 states, I will return to the Space Coast again for this event. My thanks to Race Director, Denise Piercy and her entire staff of volunteers for putting on the best marathon on Earth!