Category Archives: Race Report

The Story Behind The Picture

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The Distance Medley Team

I like to think that when I make a promise, I keep a promise so this post represents a promise I made to the entire world via Face Book recently. Add to this is the fact that 67% of my devoted followers (yes, 2 people) actually asked for the story behind this picture so here it is.

I posted a picture of a relay team that included me the other day. I last remember seeing this news clipping over 20 years ago and had thought it was long lost. Until a few weeks ago when I discovered it while clearing out old files in our basement!  This is not just any picture, a picture that was published in the Grand Blanc News mid-May, 1970. The relay team consisted of four senior class runners who combined their talents on that day to break three records for the Distance Medley Relay event. In a medley relay event each member of the team runs a different distance. On that day Scott Mitchell ran the 1/4 mile, Dick Hahn ran the 3/4 mile, Mike Pierce the mile, and I ran the 880 or half mile leg.

As the photo’s caption notes, we set three records on that sunny and very windy day in Davison Michigan. First was the record for the Davison Relays event, followed by a new Grand Blanc High School record, and most importantly new record for the State of Michigan High School runners!  However, it was an “unofficial” State record because the event did not occur during a State finals event and the medley relay was not a regular competitive event recognized by the Michigan High School Athletic Association. Nonetheless we were as proud as punch and happy to have set each of the records!

Behind The Scene

But that’s not what the story behind this photo is really about. I suppose I can take it all the way back to the mid to late 1950’s when as a very young kid I remember watching a long distance race held on an indoor track on TV. I am guessing it may have been the Millrose Games? Regardless, I vividly remember my dad explaining to me how important that is was for the runners to start their race slow so they can finish faster at the end. That point still remains as perhaps the very best coaching advice I have ever received!  Too bad I forgot about it on race day in Davison. More about that later.

My leg of the race also started a week prior, at the first ever Genesee County HS Track Championships. I had been a 880 (half mile) runner my entire high school career. As a pudgy freshman I had struggled to break 2:20 for the half mile. Early in my senior year I was only a few seconds away from breaking the magic 2 minute mark. Then it happened! My final 880 race of my high school career, I ran a 1:59 and placed second in the county championships!  What I remember most is that it seemed so easy!  What took me so long to achieve this elusive goal?

At the Davison Relays meet a week later I was pegged to run the 880 leg of the medley team.  Our team was stacked with super fast runners for each leg of the race. Mike Pierce who in the coming week would become State Champ in the Mile was capable of running about a 4:15 mile. Scott Mitchell was a very strong and speedy 50 second 440 (quarter mile) runner, and Dick Hahn was a proven 880 runner who was capable of running the half mile near the 1:52 mark. Dick would move up to the 3/4 mile for this relay.  Then there was me, who ran a sub 2 minute half mile the previous week and it felt so easy!

The Race

I don’t recall if I ran the first or second leg of the relay, I do recall it was a warm, sunny, and very windy day that afternoon in Davison. Since my 1:59 performance seemed so easy to me the week prior, I was convinced I could run a much faster time if I simply took off at a very fast clip.  The 880 is a two lap race that is subdivided into 4 x 220 segments or half laps. I remember my first lap as being very fast, somewhere around 52 seconds. I remember feeling strong and confident as I zoomed past the Start/Finish line completing my first lap!

Lap Two

Still feeling my strength and striding long around the curve, this was still “sort of” easy!  It was not uncommon for me to run a 440 in 54-55 seconds as I did this as a part of my regular workouts each week, running as many as 8-12 repeats each session at that pace. So what if I had just ran my PR (personal record) for a 440?

Then came the long straight away, I was still kicking the pace, no slacking, I knew I could do it!.  I crossed the 660 mark (3/4 of my total race distance) somewhere at about 74-75 seconds!  I did not realize it for many years later but I was on pace at 3/4 my way through the 880 to run a 1:40!  Surely that would have been a new National Record!

But it wasn’t to be that day.

The Wall

It only took a few more strides past the 660 (3/4) mark when it happened!  That same dreaded feeling a marathon runner runner experiences somewhere around mile 20 of the marathon, the moment when all life is sucked out of a runners body, the dreaded WALL!

Almost instantly my arms, legs, chest, and entire body felt paralyzed! Some how I managed to keep moving although it felt as it I was the subject of a slow motion film.  Then to make matters worse, as I rounded my last turn the winds hit me and hit me hard!  No less than a 40 mph gust!  If I was still somehow managing to move, it surely had to be much slower now. It seemed to be taking forever to round the curve.

I did manage to run that last turn and hit the final short straight away (the start was in the middle of the straight away). I was simultaneously experience extreme agony and embarrassment. I had felt like I let my team down. That next exchange point in the relay could not come soon enough.

The Pass

With only a few more slow motion strides to go, I could hear my coaches screaming at Dick Hahn to get up to the exchange line and take that baton away from me ASAP!  And so he did, my toe could not have been more than an inch past the line which is actually before the official 880 distance, when Dick grabbed the baton and took off!

I was relieved my agony was over and nothing, absolutely nothing I could do to change the race. Where I had been running about 25 seconds for each 220, my last 220 split was closer to 50 seconds!  I still managed to contribute a decent 880 split but nowhere near what I had hoped to do.

The Photo

Each of my teammates ran outstanding legs of the relay and we did end up with several records that day.  We stood on top of the podium, received the team trophy. Following the award presentation the photographer from the Grand Blanc News asked us to pose. Take a close look at the photo.  Granted, it’s old and a bit faded, but look very closely.  You will see I am smiling. If you have looked closely enough you will see the reason why!  Hint: my good friend Dick Hahn was always a bit of a prankster.

Following the picture taking each member of the relay team insisted that I keep the trophy and take it home with me, forever.  I instead insisted that it be placed in the trophy case of the school along with many others and envisioned the day long into the future when I could come back and revisit my memories.

Many years later, perhaps 20-25 years, I traveled to Flint to once again compete in The Crim 10 Mile Road Race. The night prior to the Crim I took my young daughters Bridgett and Alexis with me to see the Expo, enjoy a pasta meal. Later we visited the halls of GBHS to search out the trophy and tell my story behind the trophy to my girls.  Well, the trophy was long gone, who knows for how long and who knows where.  The story was never fully told until now. Now the entire planet has access to this story.

The Moral

It really does not matter what the race distance is, the smartest advice any coach can provide is to start slow and save yourself do you can finish faster at the end.  That same advice my Dad had provided to me nearly 60 years ago now.

I hope you enjoyed this story, learned a lesson, and I thank you for your time and interest.

Run Happy 🙂

Coach Lee

PS:  I met up with my coach many years later at a class reunion.  We relived that race and Coach Stallcup confirmed that I had hit the 660 mark at 75 seconds. He had always issued meticulous split times of every runner the day following every meet.  I wish I had kept the mimeographed copy of his report from the 1970 Davison Relays.  Who knows, I  did find the photo after 20+ years of being lost, someday that mimeographed report may surface too.

PS, PS: I still relive that race nearly every time I train on the track, always wondering…

 

 

 

Finally, Do As I Do Too! or, My Detroit Marathon Story

Background

As a coach for the past seven years to many adults who are training to run a half marathon or marathon as a part of the Running Fit 501 program, I offer advice on how to successfully train and attain their goal for their race.  The problem is that what I tell these runners is much easier said than done. I ought to know for I have not been able to fully follow all of my marathon advice until the Detroit Marathon this past October.

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Pre Race, Cobo Joe’s Bar, downtown Detroit about 5 AM, thinking I’d rather be doing almost anything else than run a full marathon this morning!

First let me set the stage. I thought I had retired from competing in marathons in November of 2011 when I won my Age Group in the “City of Oaks Marathon” in Raleigh NC. That was until sometime early last summer when my daughter Alexis and I each were selected via a lottery to compete in the Chicago Marathon. It would have been Alexis’s first marathon. Unfortunately Alexis became injured late in her training and could not compete. On race day, I found myself alone again at the start line facing the challenge of a 26.2+ mile run. I knew how I was suppose to run a marathon, start slow, be smart, etc.  But this was Chicago, a nearly totally flat and therefore fast marathon.  I am accustomed to hilly courses.  So when I started faster than I should have, I thought this is great! I may run my fastest marathon in nearly 20 years!  Somewhere around mile 16 I was reminded of how all marathons can be very humbling.  I will spare you the details, let me simply say the next 10 miles were not pretty. Nonetheless, I was able to qualify to compete in the 2016 Boston Marathon with nearly 10 minutes to spare.  Regardless,  I knew my poor performance was my own mistake and I did not set a good example for my runners.

So it came to be that my daughter Alexis, her in-laws, and my other daughter Bridgett wanted to take a trip and run the Bayshore  Half Marathon in Traverse  City at the end of May (2015). Instead of running the half marathon, I was determined to avenge my Chicago disaster and compete in the full marathon at Bayshore. Like Chicago,  Bayshore has a reputation for being a fast and mostly flat route to race.  Well, I will spare you the details of that marathon except to say I made the same mistakes again. In fact if I had not had to make a pit stop at mile 16 my finish time (3:46) was nearly the same as Chicago.

Bayshore was not to be my last Marathon. My daughter Bridgett, was planning to run her first marathon at Detroit in October.  My plan was to surprise Bridgett at the starting line and run the entire marathon with her.  This would no doubt mean I would run my slowest marathon time, but instead this would be a once in a lifetime type event.  I prepared a training plan for Bridgett and she did very well adhering to the plan throughout the summer until the combination of higher miles, the hot and humid weather where she lives (NC), her final term as a grad student, along of course with family and work obligations all combined to cause her to pull out of her marathon training in mid- September.  Her decision was the right one for her. But it meant I had only a few weeks to “tweak” my physical and mental preparation.  Yes mental too.  I firmly believe that a marathoner needs to mentally prepare to compete in a marathon as much as they do physically too.

Race Prep

People can appreciate the time it takes to physically prepare to endure a marathon, but only a very few understand the importance and time required to prepare mentally.  With less than 5 weeks to marathon day the time to tweak my body and head was minimal. Nonetheless, I was convinced in my mind to make this my best marathon since my previous decoration to retire from marathoning 4 years earlier.  I decided to minimize my taper time from the normal 3 weeks to a minimal time of 2 weeks.  On each of my training runs I began to visualize my upcoming marathon. It helped greatly that over the course of the past several years I had participated in several marathon team relay events so I knew the quirks of the course, especially the final half.  I had also ran the first half of the course even more times as it is the Half Marathon route.  That along with being a native Detroiter and toured Detroit in the back of my grandfathers car more than half a century ago all helped greatly in taking on the mental challenge of the race course.  So each training run I visualized a part of the route.  My training hills became the stretch up the Ambassador Bridge.  My speed work on the track became my final kick along Fort St. and so on for many segments of the course.

While mental preparation is important if not critical, no amount of mental prep will result in a successful marathon if the runner fails to train their body for race day. Some of the training advice I offer runners for race day include:

  • Get plenty of rest the day before your marathon and hydrate
  • Start slow, make your first mile your slowest mile
  • Concentrate on running a negative split (second half faster than the first half).
  • Fuel properly during the race.
  • Do not go out too fast
  • Do not do anything new,  do not experiment on race day.
  • Do not go too slow  or too fast as you run up and down the Ambassador Bridge
  • Do not get caught up in the cheering crowds as you exit the underwater mile tunnel, you will waste too much energy too early (mile 8) in the race.

You would think these all are very sensible items therefore simple to do correct?  Well, no, ironically as simple as they sound they are very difficult to actually achieve. In fact I have never achieved all of these during my marathons.  I have never run a negative split in any race yet alone a marathon. I tend to be the runner who believes in miracles and start races a bit too fast thinking this time I can hang in there to the finish.  No, not even close, witness Chicago and Bayshore results!

If I was not going to run with Bridgett then I was convinced I would run my smartest marathon and avenge my Chicago and Bayshore Marathons.

The Marathon

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Do you see me?  I am the one with a blue hat and a finely crafted garbage bag running suit!  It was a very chilly start to the marathon.

The day before the marathon (rest day) I went downtown to watch my grandson Charlie run a kids mile race with his mom Alexis. Bridgett, her husband Shane, with granddaughter Katie, and I enjoyed watching Charlie and his fast finishing kick to the finish line.  Following Charlie’s race we trudged over to the race expo to pick up our race bib and a few souvenirs. This was all fun and good, but I was on my feet too long! Remember rule number one (see above) Lee!  I remember thinking most of that day that I really wished I had not entered the marathon.  What was I thinking!

Race morning came early, very early as we left the house at 4:00 AM to get to downtown. Parking was to be easy. Our training group had once again rented out Cobo Joe’s Bar.  It is strategically located near the start and finish area, but we needed to get downtown early to  avoid the street closures. Our bad, as the streets had closed much earlier than we had planned.  Our normal parking area was not accessible!  This only added to my stress and anxiety of not wanting to run not to mention a long walk to Cobo Joe’s too.

Soon enough it was time to lose my warm clothing, face the chilly elements wearing my thin racing gear, and get to the start line.  I always prefer to race in shorts and singlet (tank top style) race shirt.  My rule is if it is 40 degrees and rising then singlet and shorts are my dress.  This morning the temps were in the low 30’s and it was a bit breezy, and this was in and around the protective buildings of downtown Detroit.  Imagine the wind high on the open Ambassador Bridge! So I decided to wear a lightweight long sleeve shirt under my Brooks singlet.  This would still not be enough to ward off the predawn chill, so I also added my usual garbage bag cloak.

The half marathon and marathon runners start together and run the same course until about the 13 mile mark.  Thus as you line up at the starting corral you don’t know who is running which race, unless you are able to see their bib color. They also place you somewhat in order of each runners anticipated pace. Faster runners to the front and slower runners towards the rear. Runners are further divided into waves.  Each wave consist of a limited number of runners and the start of each wave is about 2 minutes from the previous wave start.

I found myself up near the very front of the second wave with a bunch of other scary fast looking runners. Again, why am I here? Am I really going to run more than 26 miles, at a reasonably fast pace, without stopping, and hope to be done in about 3 hrs and 40 minutes?

Joining me at the start was Meg Schulte, a fast runner from the 501 training group. Meg had run the Chicago Marathon only one week ago and was planning on competing in the half in Detroit. We chatted about race strategies, she asked about my plan for the marathon, asked if I was planning on an 8 min or so pace. I simply said no way and proceeded to explain my last two marathons. My goal was to start out very slow (for me) perhaps not any faster than 8:45 and I would not be disappointed to start even slower maybe 9:00 pace.  I explained my goal to run a smart race and run a negative split. That was my focus!

I started as planned, very slow yet warm in my garbage bag cloak.  I did force myself to keep it slow and not stay with other runners, I just kept repeating “run my own race”.  It wasn’t long after that that teammate Meg Schulte came up along side of me and while I was tempted to run along with her I knew it would be race suicide to stay with her, so she ran off into the still dark of the pre-dawn ahead of me as I ran down Fort St.

My garbage kept me warm and I was determined to keep it on as long as possible. The problem is that runners need to be able to display their race bibs to Homeland Security agents as you approach the Ambassador Bridge (about mile 3) and begin to leave the good ole USA and run into Canada. So for nearly a mile I ran with the bottom of my bag pulled up over my stomach to display my bib.  Normally it probably would have been OK to lose the bag by now but we were heading up and over the bridge about 400 feet above the Detroit River and nothing to block the somewhat strong winds.  I continued to focus on holding my pace, no need to spend too much energy on this hill climb, yet no need to slow down too  much too.

Oh Canada

Top of the bridge, a beautiful view in all directions. Two countries and thousands of runners.  Pace picked up a bit on the downhill route into Canada. Off came my garbage bag as it found it’s next home appropriately enough in a garbage barrel. Running through Windsor Canada is always fun.  Its great to look up and see the thousands of runners behind me strolling down the Ambassador Bridge, great crowd support along Riverside Dr. too eh?  I remember seeing the Canadian election signs out in the yards.

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Mile 6, Riverside Drive in Windsor Canada, the Ambassador Bridge and Detroit River in the background

I also remember watching runners who appeared to be candidate for my age group ahead of me.  I ever so slowly gained real estate on them to the point where I could peripherally glance a peek at their  race bib and see that they were in the Half Marathon. Not a problem as I continued to slowly pass and see yet another potential competitor just ahead.

In the past I made the mistake of looking at my Garmin to see my pace etc. During the past few years as a Garmin runner I had come to depend too much on the device and less upon my “feel” as a runner. I knew that if I was to run a smart race I needed to rely more upon the feel of my legs and body and less on a satellite in outer space to run a smart race. After all, it worked well for me for over 40 years of running. Nonetheless, of course I gave an occasional glance at my Garmin but this time it was truly only occasional and it was to assure myself that I was still holding the pace back and not running too fast.  All through Canada, it felt like a very easy controlled controlled jog and I was still holding back. In fact, I had actually began to run a bit faster pace but not by all that much.  I told myself “all is going according to plan”, “you have been here before Lee”, “just hold this pace”.  In other words, a whole lot of positive reinforcement.

Running along Riverside Dr. in Windsor offers runners the best view of Detroit. Within the a few stride lengths the runner can see Detroit’s entire riverfront.  I was remembering back to my childhood the image of the riverfront, the Boblo boat docks, concrete silos, and an overall industrial look. Today’s view is much improved and will continue to improve. I also noticed the river walk location. The 23rd mile mark is along that area. I quickly put out of my head how much farther it was to there and redirected my brain to running consistently along Riverside Dr.

Runners soon make a few turns and head out of Canada and back to the good old USA by way of running under the Detroit River!  The tunnel is a truly unique feature for the marathon. While I was not cold, neither was I overheated in my running gear but the tunnel would soon change that. During the nice downhill path into the tunnel I unzipped my turtleneck shirt and removed my hat. Yes, as always, the tunnel air was warm and dry. Just about the time that the tunnel’s warm air was truly  becoming uncomfortable my legs felt the pavement’s incline and there really was that light at the end of this tunnel!

Back in the USA

One recommendation I always share with Detroit marathon runners, especially new marathoners, is to avoid a fast spurt of energy when you come out of the tunnel.  There is always a huge crowd awaiting and cheering the runners and you can easily get an adrenaline rush that will cause you to waste too much precious energy too early in the race.  Mile 8 of a marathon is not when you want to start your “kick”!  I thought I did pretty well in holding my pace out of the tunnel. When I exited and turned left onto Jefferson Ave. a race announcer announced “Lee Mamola, Novi, MI”!   Talk about trying to avoid an adrenaline rush!  Nonetheless, I have literally been down this road before and I managed to keep my cool and continued to the next downhill, under Cobo Hall.

The next stretch of the course was not to be my favorite. Runners run along a part of the Lodge expressway before returning to the streets of Detroit via the incline of an exit ramp.  It felt like this part was added only because officials needed to add some length to the route at some point. Then when you do return to the streets the route becomes long and straight. A few years ago my legs fell off at this point in the route while running in the Half Marathon.  I remember that this part required continued concentration.  I continued to tell myself my pace  was good, I still felt very fresh and relaxed, no sense of tiredness at all.

Before I knew it we were back onto the winding streets, into historic Corktown, and the bricks of Michigan Ave. The half way point was only a bit more than a mile or to be exact, 8 minutes and 37 secs away.  It was at this point that I started to target a runner ahead of me and focus on slowly gaining on them if I could.  Some I could, or rather wisely decided not to chase too, but of the ones that were maintaining a pace near mine, I did pass.  It’s especially fun to pass runners that are clearly at least 30 and sometimes 30+ years younger than me at this point in any race.  It was a great confidence builder as I headed to the midpoint of my marathon in Detroit.

Half Way There

Actually just prior to the 13 mile mark the half marathoners are separated from the marathoners as the half marathoners make a right turn to their finish line and marathoners continue the route.  My guess is that about 3 out of 4 runners are competing in the half marathon. So all of a sudden what was once a pack of familiar fannies you have been following suddenly diminishes to a much smaller group of serious marathoners. You also quickly realize that this is serious business and you need to continue to press ahead.

My second half began with a downhill along Griswold and between Detroit’s tallest and significant buildings. I remember a little more than a year ago walking down this very street with my boss at the time Lou Trama. We had meetings in the Ford Building and Guardian Building. Lou had been ill and had a difficult time breathing during this short two block route, his lungs were not healthy. Within 6 months he would pass on to his next life.  I was remembering Lou and that day when I came across two enthusiastic members of the Running Fit 501 group. Thanks to the cheers from Ron Smerigan and Liz Wright my mind was just as quickly refocused to the marathon. These streets of Detroit have been in my head for over 60 years, it was like running in my own neighborhood.

It had also helped that for the past several years I had competed at various legs of the Marathon Relay too.  Familiarity with a race route, especially a marathon is crucial to a successful race. Last year I ran a nearly 7 mile leg of the relay beginning from just prior to the 13 mile mark to the 19+ mile mark.  This helped me greatly for the marathon.  The long stretch along Lafayette became more bearable. I also remember trying to listen closely to my body. The time to hold my pace was behind me, if I was going to reach my goal of a negative split then I needed to slowly increase my pace without increasing too much. I remember passing the historic streets of St. Aubin, Beaubeon, Mt. Elliot, and how these streets were named for the families that settled along the Detroit riverfront. With each passing street I knew I was getting closer to historic Indian Village.

Fueling My Marathon

During the summer I experimented with a new sports drink, a product called  UCAN. This product is designed to minimize the peaks and crashes of other energy sources that are primarily sugar based and instead it forces your muscles to burn energy from fat sources within your body. It has a taste that takes some getting use to liking but once you do it’s not all that bad.  I loaded up on the drink for 48 hours in advance of marathon Sunday while resting as much as I could.  Then on race morning I also drank sufficient amounts to extend my energy to about 2 hrs.

Throughout the marathon I would take cups of water or gator aide at every aid station (roughly every mile or so).  It also was very apparent to me that I was more than adequately hydrated for shortly after I drank a cup, I also lost a cup, all throughout the marathon. But for the first time ever I had never raced this length of 16 miles without some sort of energy gel or candy. The UCAN was doing it’s job!  Then shortly after the 16 mile mark I could begin to feel my legs beginning the start of feeling fatigued.  Every runner knows this feeling.  I did not bring any UCAN product with me, so at the next aide station at mile 17 I would take a gel.  I had packed a few “emergency gels” in my pants just in case they would be needed.  But at  mile 17 they were passing out a gel product called “Boom”  I had actually used this product in the past and had very good results. So I grabbed a banana flavored gel and washed it down with water as I began my entry into Indian Village. But before I did, I grabbed another “Boom” gel from  a volunteer.

Boom gels are very appropriately named because my legs did feel a boom as I returned to my senses and reminded myself that the 8:05 pace my Garmin was telling me was too fast at this point.  The run through Indian Village is essentially a run around a  big city block. It’s a block that includes many of the older and finer homes in Detroit. It also has maintained a vibrant neighborhood over many years despite the myriad of challenges that eternally seem to plague the city especially for the past 50 years or more. But on this beautiful sunny Sunday morning filled with God’s autumn colors, all was just fine with me.  My pace was steady, continued a bit faster as I started to pick off more and more runners during the next two miles.  Then before I knew it my trip to  and through Indian Village was coming to an end.  As much as I enjoyed this part of the route I was glad to take on the next segment.

The Wall?

I remembered this route from my leg of the marathon last year. Runners leave the cozy confines of Indian Village and are thrust onto the wide open venue of Jefferson Ave.  I remembered this stretch to be a short  distance before the route takes the runners over the Belle Isle Bridge. In fact this segment along Jefferson was much longer than I remembered. No problem I was still running strong, I felt relaxed, and kept telling myself how awesome this was as I continued to “pick-off” even more runners ahead of me!  My pace continued to steadily increase albeit at only a few seconds per mile, I looked at my watch and noticed I had crept down to below an 8 min mile pace, ouch! A bit too fast Lee, cool it!  So, I did, I relaxed, smiled and waved at the DJ along the course offering encouragement and focused on the next milestone which was a relay exchange point.

It was at the Jefferson Ave. exchange point where I ended my leg from last year passing off to my son-in-law Steve. Steve was a good sport just to participate in the family relay team last year.  It was this same spot several years ago that I stood awaiting to receive the relay tag from my teammate Jessica Shehab. I was very familiar with this point in the course and the many fond memories of running here in the past came back to me in a flash.

It wasn’t much longer when I found myself feeling isolated as I ran the length of the MacArthur Bridge and approached entry onto this famous island. As an architect I appreciated the fact that the island park was designed by the famous landscape architect Fredrick Law Olmsted. For those who may not know who Olmsted was, he is to the landscape architecture profession what Frank Lloyd Wright is to the architecture profession. He was also designed New York’s Central Park, many other parks in the city of Detroit, and even nearby Ypsilanti. This sense of history did not help me as I was beginning to bake in the warming morning sun.

Once again I unzipped my turtleneck and removed my hat to release some warmth. I could begin to feel my legs begin to fatigue.  This was surely the result of the “crash” side of taking the Boom gels earlier.  I needed to fend off this fatigue. I remembered the last minute sage advice from my training partner, an excellent marathoner herself, Jessica Shehab.  She sent me a note reminding me to have my mantra to get me thru any rough spot(s) in the race.  So as I was about to begin to exit the bridge, I knew I had to maintain my pace, I could not let myself slow down at all.  So I told myself the following: “I am a running machine, I am a running machine” over and over.  As I entered onto Belle Isle I could see that I as also approaching another aide station so I reached for my honey gel, grabbed a cup of water to wash it down and noticed the sign that read “Mile 20”.  I had just run 20 miles and frankly still feeling pretty good! My pace was about 8:10 per mile, not too shabby for this point in the race.

Belle Isle

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Mile 21.5+/-, struggling against the wind and feeling very isolated on Belle Isle.  “You’re a running machine Lee”.

Despite the natural beauty, scenic urban vistas, and level flatness, the Belle Isle portion of the marathon route is not a welcoming part of the marathon.  In many prior marathons the runners ran entirely around the island (about 6 miles) and in the early years the marathon finished on Belle Isle. More recently the organizers cut the marathon route to about half of the island, the half that looks back to downtown Detroit and where the finish line is located. The reason the island is not favored by runners is the nature of the elements along the route here.  Despite the weather conditions on the mainland, Belle Isle inevitably offers tougher running conditions. Runners will experience stronger head winds, minimal crowd support along the way, and most runners are battling the effects of “Hitting The Wall” all combine to make this a difficult struggle at best.

The head winds of Belle Isle were upon me as I ran along the southern edge that overlooked Canada to the South. Yes, this is the only area of the world were Canada is actually south of the USA! I could feel my form weaken and I knew this was that turning point in the race where it would be easy to give up emotionally and struggle to finish the final few miles.  Thankfully I was able to fight this off and began to focus on catching the runner who was about 50 yards ahead of me. I focused on maintaining a steady pace as I fought off the head wind. Up ahead I could see the fountain. This is where the route would turn and the wind would be at my back.  I caught the next runner as I passed the fountain.

Just ahead was the next relay point. I was very familiar with this part of the route from running here the past two years. I had flashbacks of passing off to my teammate Marianne Carter here.  Before I reached the actual relay point I ran over the finish line of the Detroit Grand Prix!  I also grabbed another gel to fuel up for the final portion of the course. Mile 22 was now behind me. I told myself the race was going good. “I was a running machine, just continue to hold your strong pace Lee”.

There were not many runners arond me as I headed for the final turn before leaving Belle Isle and the long run over the bridge. There was a woman standing along side the route cheering. She noticed my name on my bib and shouted encouragement to me  “Lee, you’re a running machine Lee, you look strong”!  How did this woman know my mantra that had kept me going through the toughest part of the course?  I took it as some sort of a magic sign, took her advice, and picked up the pace over the bridge back to the mainland.

River Walk

There was great crowd support for runners departing the bridge. Their cheers helped me keep strong as I ran down Jefferson Ave. heading towards the Detroit River Walk park.  Between Jefferson and the River Walk we ran down a part of the course where Charlie had ran the day before.  I remembered how Charlie managed his “final kick”, if Charlie could reach down and go for it surely his Papa could too!

I finally reached the River Walk, the part of the route I was both anxiously awaiting and dreading. I welcomed this part of the route as it represented the beginning of the end. I dreaded it because of the uncertainty of the winds a runner might need to resist and certain twists and turns in the route would require additional energy resources from my continually dwindling reservoir.

I remember a young lady runner was attempting to pass me. I decided not to let this runner who was likely 40 years younger than me pass this old dude. It meant my pace would need to increase slightly as I fought her off for the next half mile or so.  This was the part of the river park where there were several twists and turns in the route.  My proven radar for running the tangents (shortest distance between two points) ultimately allowed me to pass this young runner for the last time. Next, focus on another runner.

The next runner was actually RF 501 coach Suzi and 501’r Raymond Yost, They acted surprised to see me and yelled encouragement, told be I was looking strong (I felt strong too). Suzi encourage me to catch the only 501’r who was only a few hundred yards ahead of me. Another young-in 30 years my elder, Anthony Miller. I was not going to focus on Anthony I was going to focus on my own race effort. I felt strong, knowing too that the end was coming.  I continued to run strong along Atwater St. passing runners as I did. I remember some runners turning their heads as I passed them and telling me I was looking strong!  Keep up the good work guy! When you receive encouragement from fellow runners along the way it only serves to keep you going even stronger.

The next part of the route was a challenging little hill between Atwater and Jefferson. This was a huge struggle!  It was short but relatively steep hill at a very strategic part of the course. Normally I charge up hills, not this time though.  My brain decide to take it easy, do not waste any energy, just get to the top in one piece. It was slow, but my legs kept turning and before I knew it the hill had passed and I was crossing Jefferson, approaching Larned.

The Final Kick

I survived the little hill and was turning onto Larned. Ahead was the parking lot I used to park in when coming downtown for meetings with AIA Detroit and the Michigan Architectural Foundation. I was surrounded by buildings I was very familiar with for many years. My legs were feeling totally drained. The crowds along the route where larger again. Many voices from strangers reinforcing my effort.  I could not let them down. I came upon Woodward Ave. How many times have I been at the intersection of Woodward and Larned in my life?

I was aware the finish line was approaching but I was not ready for the next turn leading to the finish line approaching so fast!  Before I knew it I was back on Griswold for a short stint, an uphill stint too!  Ugh! There were two runners just ahead of me as I approached the bottom of the hill. They were running strong. I was determined to show these “young  kids” how to finish a race. Knowing this was the last hill in the marathon and that the finish was near, I kicked my pace into another gear, pumped my arms, held my head up high, finished the hill and rounded the final turn!

There it was the finish!  Yikes it was not that far away, just a few blocks to go!  So I continued to run even a bit faster passing several more marathoners!  I simultaneously felt totally fatigued and strong as I did my best to focus on the finish line.  The announcer called out “Lee Mamola from Novi finishing”. Finally, arms reached in a victory reach as I crossed the finish line!  My final kick was at a 6:10 per mile pace!

I was relieved the marathon was done, I  was greeted by volunteers placing a finisher’s medal around my neck and another wrapping me in a mylar heat blanket. Over to my left were Bridgett and Alexis who each had finished their half marathons and came back to see me finish and finish my strongest marathon too!

Finish Bright
26.2 Mile Mark, The Finish !  II felt strong, and finished fast. It took months of training, two previous “rehearsal” marathons, hundreds of miles of running, and a strong willed determination to successfully cross this line.

It took some time and effort to exit the finish area but before I did, Bridgett and Alexis joined me in the area and we posed together for a finishers final picture.  Between the three of us we ran 52.4 miles this Sunday morning!

Results

The final numbers are in, once you have completed a race there is nothing you can do to change the actual results and nobody can ever take away the fact that you completed a race, especially a marathon!

My final net time of 3:41:06 (8:26/mile average pace) was good enough for a 3rd of 68, Place finish in my age group, 503 of over 3,800 other marathoners. I hit my goal of running a negative split by nearly two minutes, felt strong throughout the entire marathon, and finally avenged my previous two marathons in Chicago and Bayshore (Traverse City, MI). The final notable mark is that I also qualified to run the Boston Marathon (should I elect to run) with nearly 10 minutes to spare for 2017!  I finally ran a race the way I coach other runners to do. 

Following a slow and somewhat chilly walk from the finish area with Bridgett and Alexis, I returned to Cobo Joe’s to be very warmly greeting with applause and cheers from all the great folks and running buds from Running Fit 501!  I must admit that caught me totally off guard.  I don’t remember what I wanted to do more at that moment, change into dry pants or devour some of those juicy looking chili fries and onion rings some folks were already having.  I do remember the fries, onion rungs, and the suds that washed them all down tasted great!

1165_175382
Proud Dad with his support crew, Alexis and Bridgett, very fine runners too!

I was onto the long walk back to our car, a refreshing shower, and more eats as we celebrated our youngest granddaughter Katie Jane’s second birthday too!

Thanks to all who took the time to read this long story, it was about a marathon after all.  This has taken me weeks to gather and ultimately post. I look forward to any comments, feedback, and especially from anyone who may now be inspired to run a Marathon!

Thanks again and remember to always RUN HAPPY!

Coach Lee

 

 

 

The Tradition Continues

Crim start

Judging solely by the title you might think this is about Christmas or a similar special event. Well, it is about a special event but has almost nothing to do with Christmas. More on the Christmas part later.

This is Crim week, the week prior to the fourth Saturday of August. The Crim 10 Mile road race is one of the best, if not the best 10 Mile road race in the US. It began back in 1977 and while I was working as a young architect in Flint at the time, I was not aware of the race. Back in 77 the race occurred 5 weeks before my wedding day so I had other things on my mind the summer of 77 besides running a grueling 10 miles in the afternoon sun. It has been 30 years now since I first ran Crim and this will be my 27th Crim race. Only a few more and I can join the truly elite runners who also have run 30 Crims and get a 10 minute head start on the field of over 10,000 runners.

So what makes it so special for me? Easy, it’s always been sort of a homecoming. It’s the area where my running career began as a high school runner in track and later cross country for Grand Blanc. Not long after that first Crim, I relocated from the Flint area to Metro Detroit where I continued to run primarily for fitness, not for competition. My passion to run long distances along rural roads or race along the curve of a flat track remained in my blood. Then late in 1983 I hooked up with a group of like-minded runners in the form of The Novi Trackers and I suppose you can say the rest is history.

I ran my first Crim race in 1984 wearing cotton gear and my very expensive $36 running shoes. Back then the race started away from the finish area downtown Flint. It started on the campus of Mott Community College. There were no timing chips, no corrals, no wave, just the national anthem and the gun. Runners lined up as close to the start as possible and dared to run across dangerous curbs and damp lawns to get as fast as start as possible. I vividly remember standing in the crowded start, wondering if I would even finish a 10 mile race my longest race distance was only 4 miles. I just wanted to survive, literally!  It was only about 18 months prior that my father passed away from a heart attack in a room of St. Joe’s Hospital that overlooked the start of the Crim course. I looked to that window and asked him to overlook my race.

A few years later the start was moved to downtown Flint and the crowd of runners grew from 2,000 to 5,000, to now over 10,000 for the 10 Mile race. They also now have several other races and events that spread over several days, and there is a full time staff to administer the good work of the Crim Foundation.

Since my first Crim I have had several personal traditions, all have evolved over the past thirty years and I trust they will continue to evolve and new ones started. In somewhat chronological order they are:

  • The first is the Saturday afternoon nap! It’s tough for me to get a good night’s sleep prior to any distance race so by the time it’s over, I am dog tired and need to recover.
  •  I have also always waked very early on Crim race morning, typically awake by 4AM. I get dressed, have a pre-race breakfast then drive up to Flint (about an hour north) and arrive just as others begin to arrive to downtown Flint, including the sun! It’s a dark ride and I enjoy my running tunes while munching on energy food or playing chauffeur to some of my running friends also racing 10 miles.
  •  Then it’s to a parking space, which has varied over the years but seldom beyond a 100 ft radius.

Bill Robin Lee

  •  For the past 20 years or so I drive up to Flint late Friday afternoon to visit the race expo. Pick up my race bib, T-shirt, goody bag, and scope out the Expo. Until 2 years ago the Crim also had a vast array of Crim related merchandise for sale. Posters, hoodies, polo shirts, even chairs and umbrellas. But my favorite has always been the coffee mugs. I must have nearly every coffee mug sold for the past 20 years. Always tastefully designed with the creative artwork by a local artist. Unfortunately this sales area no longer exists. Apparently the Crim Foundation has instead delegated the sales of such items to a major running gear company, not happy.
  •  For many years my pre-race tradition on race morning has been to simply sit on the steps of the Citizens Bank Building which fronts the starting area and simply people watch. I have met people there that morning that I have not seen in decades!
  • The race itself has many numerous traditions, the weather conditions, the start, the course, the entertainment, and the finish line. Perhaps the best feature of the Crim finish are the frozen popsicles and cold wet paper towels racers receive after running a grueling 10 miles in hot, humid, hilly, and sunny conditions. Forget the cool heavy weighted finisher’s medal it’s all about the popsicles and other post race goodies at the finish line.
  •  In early August several years ago I was inspired to sit down and type out a mile by mile description of how to race the Crim course. I titled it “Touring The Crim Course”. It’s a stride by stride of how to strategically race the course and provide a preview of what to expect along the way. I re-issue this 8 page article with update. Ironically, I found my own description very helpful to me during the Crim races since.
  • Post finish line has its own separate traditions. It begins with lining up with other race finishers to receive a hot slice of pizza and a cold beer. Yes it’s probably only about 10AM but this is one morning this combo works.
  •  Just a few feet away from the end of the pizza and beer line tent is a drive way to the parking lot. I have been arranging to meet people at this point for years. Usually people from years ago. It’s also a great spot to simply sit and people watch even after the pizza and beer are long gone.
  •  Up until about 8 years ago that would have been the end of my Crim race day. For the past 8 years I have been a part of the Running Fit 501 Marathon Training group. Each summer we have 50-80 runners race the Crim. Each year we also form some form of team and compete in the Crim Race Team event or our own event. It has always been a fun post race party regardless of how well one raced that day.

501 Crim Start

  •  Ultimately it’s back home for that well deserved nap but that’s not the end of the Crim race day tradition! Up until about 4-6 years ago, you could relive that morning’s race on TV. The local Flint public TV station had perhaps the best race coverage of any race on TV anywhere, yes even including word class events such as the Olympics! WFUM’s team did an excellent job of not only covering the leaders and elites but also the common runners too. They would regularly cut away from the elite coverage and show the middle of the pack runners in live time. I remember seeing myself struggle up the Bradley Hills at the 5 mile mark one year. That shot taught me to look up when running uphill!
  •  The TV coverage is long gone only to be replaced by same day results on the web and many YouTube videos. It’s a different world.
  •  Other ancillary traditions include stopping at my mother’s house in Grand Blanc either the night before the race or post race on my return home. The last such visit was in 2004 as she passed from this life 10 months later. My sister who lives in Flint also sends me the pre and post race clippings from the Flint Journal. I still have many of those old clippings. Good thing because the Flint Journal is also a victim of the digital age.

So, what about that Christmas tradition I mentioned at the start of this lengthy post? Well, I suppose you could say the Crim race extends to the Christmas season in our house too. For the past 6 Christmases I decorate our tree with race medals from that year and medals from my most memorable races from prior years. So adoring the Christmas tree with my medals from the New York City, Boston, Detroit, and Raleigh, Marathons are many Crim medals from the current year and many years prior.

Christmas Tree 2013

Thanks for taking the time to read this lengthy piece. By the time this gets posted I will be heading up to Flint to perhaps start a new tradition by competing in this year’s USATF, Masters 1 Mile National Championship Race.

Run Happy.

Lee

To Win A Marathon

City of Oaks Marathon Finish

This was originally written shortly after The City of Oaks Marathon, Nov. 2011.  During a visit back to Raleigh this past weekend I met up with some avid runners and we shared a few running stories. I am  reposting this race report for their review and to continue my mental prep to run the Chicago Marathon with my other daughter October 12.

To Win A Marathon

by Lee Mamola on 11/15/11

There are probably as many reasons to run a marathon as there are people who run marathons. With seven previous marathons to my record I had thought that I ran out of reasons earlier this year. After all how could it get any better than my last marathon in New York City in 2008. The conditions were perfect in NY, I ran my best marathon ever and had fun all along the way. You always hear about the elite athlete who retires while still on top of their game, so why not just call it a career for the marathon?

Early this year I had decided to participate in the City of Oaks races in Raleigh NC on November 6th. I had run the Half Marathon races there in 2007 and 2010, earning a second place finish in my five year age group (AG) each time. This year however I would be competing near the end of my age group. Being one of the older runners in my AG it becomes tougher to be competitive against the younger runners. So I decided that if I was not going to be able to be competitive this year then why not run the full marathon course? I would certainly not be competitive in the marathon either but this may be my very last opportunity to run through the beautiful and scenic Umstead State Park which Runners World magazine cited as one of the most beautiful running routes in America.

So it was. I would run the marathon as strictly an enjoyable experience. Take in the sights and experiences and be happy to be able to run a very tough, hilly, and challenging course before I start the sixth decade of my life. How many other people are able to take on such a challenge and how many (or few) of them actually do take on this type of a challenge?

My serious training to prep for this marathon began back in late June shortly after I paid the entry fee. My weekly running mileage was at least 40 miles/week and my weekly long runs became longer. Then it happened!  Somewhere in the middle of the summer I did my due diligence research on the race and discovered that the winning time in last year’s marathon was 3hrs and 29 minutes, which was my finishing time for the NYC Marathon just 3 years ago. The City of Oaks Marathon course was a much tougher course than NYC and it certainly did not have the crowd support of NYC but it was still the same 26.2 miles long. How much tougher could the course be after all?

The summer training morphed into fall racing and before I knew it the fall races were over and the time had come to begin my final preps for the marathon. Perhaps the most critical part of any marathon training period is tapering. The final three weeks prior to race day is the toughest part of the marathon training to pass. If not done correctly you will find yourself in a state of tired anguish during the marathon. If done correctly, running a marathon is the last thing you really want to do in the final days before the race.

So it was for me, as our bags were packed and my wife and I began the 12 hour drive to Raleigh. I was looking forward to the trip to visit my daughter, her husband, and their dog Barley, but I did not “feel” like a runner at all. I felt fat, bloated, and generally not too interested in running period, let alone a full marathon.  As if this was not enough incentive not to run, I was fighting off a nasty cold and I was beginning to have a hacking cough too!

The day prior to race day included a drive around most of the first half of the course. This is the part of the course I had ran last year during the half marathon and the challenging hills in and about downtown Raleigh were all still there! This year’s race featured a new start and finish area in front of the iconic clock tower on the campus of NC State University.  We were able to drive a short way along part of the second half of the course but most of the last 13+ miles would need to be experienced by me for the first time during the actual marathon. This was just as I preferred too, I wanted to be surprised by the beauty of Umstead.

While many marathoners focus on running long distances  and logging mega miles per week during their training, I instead focused on running many hills. The long runs were there, but I only had two weeks where I ran over 50 miles. I did this in prep for the Raleigh course and specifically the hills in Umstead. The profile of the race course was published on-line and the most challenging part of the race would begin somewhere after the 13 mile mark with a series of never ending hills highlighted by a several hundred foot climb beginning about mile 18 through to mile 24.

My race strategy was to start slow and easy, do not allow myself to become caught up in racing with others but rather to run my own race. I also did not want to be embarrassed and have a bad effort on race day. After all, I had been telling many other runners in our training group how to run a marathon and just what to do. They were all on my mind come race day too. I was thinking it would be nice to run a 3:30 marathon, (8 min/mile average pace) but that it was not going to happen on this course. “Just run your best Lee and let the time take care of itself”.

The City of Oaks Marathon field included about 600 runners and several thousand half marathoners with hundreds of others there to run a 10k race too. It would also be a crowded field at the start.

Because the race rules would be using the “gun time” (versus chip time) as the official scoring I made it a point to line up near the start of the crowd. The conditions could not be better including the time! It was the first morning of the time change from daylight time and the 7AM start really felt much closer to an 8AM start, including temps that were rising from the low 40’s. So there I stood dressed in my skimpy and very light weight Brooks racing outfit, throw away painter’s hat and a huge garbage bag over my body to keep me warm up until gun time. With 30 seconds to spare, I shredded my bag and was ready to race.

The first mile was generally downhill. Not a good thing when you need to start slow and run 26.2 miles. I did start what I felt was a slow pace. Many runners were quick to pass me and I fought off the urge to run fast, “just take it easy Lee”. As we crossed the mile mark my watch read 7:30! Way too fast for the first mile! Not to worry as the next mile was all uphill. So I continued to relax and not get too worried about the hill. Before I knew it the second mile split came up, another 7:30 mile!  Dang, I was now worried that I might be wasting an entire summer/fall training season by this quick start.

It did not take too long for my continued internal mindset to take over and before I knew it I was running very comfortably along at just under an 8 min/mile pace. Perhaps too fast but then I also felt very comfortable and relaxed, so I just continued to tell myself to enjoy the scene and run my race according to my feel.

The aide stations came and went. I took my Accelerade gels at the appropriate times as planned. Generally early in the race so the chemicals would be in my system later when needed in the race. The first came at 4 miles, then at the 8, 14 and 17 mile marks.  Much of the first half of the course was in and around downtown Raleigh and most of the course was very familiar to me from having run the half marathon event in prior years. It was not until the course began to meander out of the city that I felt the real marathon race was beginning. This was at the 10 mile mark. I remember hitting the 10 mile mark at nearly exactly 78 minutes and thinking that 78 mins was a decent finishing time for the Crim 10 Mile race and here I had more than 16 miles yet to go! But I continued to feel good.

It remained a cool day but the sun was out and shining brightly. My kind of day for a run. A few more quick turns in the course and the marathoners were separated from the half marathoners. What was somewhat of a bunched pack of runners quickly became a long line of isolated runners with long stretches between each runner.

Almost as instantly the crowd support became non-existent too. The road that was previously totally closed to all traffic became open to guarded traffic and a lane for runners. It was just the runner, the road, the elements, and the mind of the runner. It was all good.

Following another turn we came across a farm field where huge Guernsey cows were grazing nearby. How ironic, here at about the exact same time some of my good running buds were on Staten Island about to start their journey in the New York City Marathon and here I was already deep into my marathon running along side a field of beautiful cows!

I was a bit surprised by the extent of traffic that flowed along the road as we turned to begin the several mile journey along side the edge of Umstead. It was getting close to the 12 mile mark and I still was holding my pace and feeling good. The runners were scarce. I had passed several runners in the previous miles since splitting to solely the marathon field. I then sensed and heard a runner coming up from behind me. Was it one of the runners that I had passed? I hate to have a runner pass me after I pass them! It was not someone I passed but rather another runner. A guy who was easily several age groups younger than me. It’s OK to let a much younger runner pass me. We exchanged greetings but I was not there to battle him.  Before I knew it I was at the official 13.1 mile or halfway mark. My official split was 1:43:48. Still way too fast but it was a downhill for the last mile too.

The course continued to flow downhill although it was difficult to see any actual drop in topography. The downhill slope helped to speed my way along the roadside to the 14 mile mark but before I could actually complete the 14th mile I would have to run up a hill that was definitely discernible!  The roller coaster portion of the course was here! While I had yet to enter the forested trail through Umstead, I was apparently close enough to the park to enjoy the ever changing terrain that Umstead is also famous for! It became very tough to run my pace during next two miles. So I didn’t. While I did not give up, I simply did not try too much harder either. I kept telling myself to continue to run MY race.

I was also surprised to see that the small group of runners who had been several hundred yards ahead of me or so were now much closer! Apparently they did not do as much hill training as I did this summer and they had to have been feeling much worse than me, actually I was still feeling fine at this time! Well, at least as fine as one can feel for running a hilly marathon course.

Suddenly, the reason I was motivated to run this race came, I was approaching the 17 mile mark and ready to enter Umstead Park.  However before we could do that there was a slight quirk in the course. Race officials were there directing us to make a right turn instead of a left turn?  There was one confused young man ahead of me who did as directed. He was the last of a group of runners I had been chasing up the last long hill. The right turn was actually a brief hairpin turn that was likely required to make the course the official distance. I used the hairpin portion of this turn to pass this fellow who was easily 20 if not 30 years younger than me to pass him!  A few more strides, a shot of my Accelerade GU, a drink of water, and I was onto the path in Umstead!

Urged on by the group of volunteers at the last aide station as I entered Umstead, I found myself running all alone. There were a few runners behind me, but the next closest runner was several hundred yards ahead of me. My run through Umstead was going to feel like a nice solo run through a park. The path changed from asphalt pavement to a hard packed dirt with gravel path about the width of a single lane road. The sun shone through the dense forest of tall oaks with their golden leaves waiving gently at me. The road began to climb a bit as it also began to meander. This was everything that had been promised it would be, except that I was still running a marathon.  A few runners began to pass me!  But not to threat for as they were running much faster than I cared to run, they also were wearing a sign on their back that read “Relay”. Meaning they had just begun to run their part of their relay leg. Since these folks were not my competition and since they were obviously had much fresher legs. I let them on their way. It was actually a small blessing for now I had someone to follow through this course.

For the next three miles the course continued much the same. Hills that only seemed to go in one direction and the quiet of the wooded forest. There were no aide stations apparently allowed within the park, it was all about running. There were an occasional runner or two running in the park purely as a part of their personal workout for the day. There was also a few people following along on their bikes too. One lady on a bike came up from behind me and congratulated me and told me I was looking very good (as a runner I assume). I did not realize it at the time but at this point in the race there were less than 70 runners ahead of me and nearly 500 runners that were behind me! So I guess I was looking sort of good 🙂

It was not all uphill in Umstead, there was a point at which shortly after passing two runners we came upon a downhill. The downhills were never as long as the uphills of course. Nonetheless I used this strategically placed downhill to race hard, kicking out a 7:49 18th mile!  Was I nuts?  Apparently so, for I slowed a bit the next few miles.

It was a little bittersweet to see the next aide station after the 20 mile mark for I was now leaving Umstead and returning to the sun drenched asphalt bike path and roads. I was still feeling good and remember mistakenly thinking that I had survived the worse of the hills. I might have survived the worse but I was not done with the hills yet. I had at least two more miles of “rolling” hills to conquer before I could begin to think about the finish. It was at this point that I began to break down the balance of the course into 2 mile splits. I also continued to pass the few runners that were ahead of me. Some were walking now and that certainly did look inviting, but it was not in my vocabulary that day.

I remember making one of the last turns back onto the main road and feeling totally lost!  Which direction? left? right? Fortunately there was a traffic cop there to direct me in the right direction but I feel I lost several hundred feet at least of distance. Surely the next turn would put me back onto the main road to the finish! Uhm, no… well maybe the next turn?  No,  my mind was playing tricks and I could not think right any longer. Why waste the effort, I was finally able to spot the last turn and I knew just a few more miles to the generally flat to downhill finish.

It was at this point that another runner came up to me and began to pass me. This fellow looked at least my age and was not wearing a “Relay” bib either!  I really did not feel like racing him at this point and my fatigued brain let him run ahead of me for a few hundred yards, at least until the next aide station. It was here that he STOPPED to take a drink and while I wished I could stop I saw this as an opportunity to pass him and take the lead versus him for the last few miles.

There were a few folks standing along the side of the road cheering me on again. Now they were able to see my name on the race bib and gave me a personal “Go Lee” cheer. Of course it probably helped that I was running slow enough for them to actually read it too.

Before too long the isolated cheers gave way to the lined streets of the finish line. I still had at least a mile and a half yet to go, 6 laps I told myself. There was one last stinking hill! It came and went and I ran as best as I could towards the sound of the PA speaker at the finish line. I could see the finish banner ahead now too. I had a few miles in the mid to upper 8 min/per mile pace while in Umstead and I knew I was not going to hit the magical 3:30 mark but I also knew I was running well and in just a few moments the marathon would be history!

The finish line clock read 3:34 ! as the seconds continued to tick away I passed the last runner ahead of me and watched the clock hit the 3:35 mark with just a few strides to go! Not to shabby for this old body today 🙂

Official chip time, 3:35:09, official clock time 3:35:12.!

I wanted to stop but had to keep my legs moving, keep the blood flowing.  I walked around the crowded finish looking for my daughter Bridgett and her husband Shane. They had each ran the half marathon. I am proud to report that they each achieved a personal record (PR) for their effort in the HM too!  For Bridgett it was her first HM and she battled through a number of injuries during her summer training to finish more than 15 minutes better than she anticipated! We posed for a small group picture at the finish and headed back to their house.

It was not until later that evening that I discovered that I had actually won my Age Group! I had WON A  MARATHON! What makes this win especially important to me is that I did this with only a few weeks left as a competitor in the 55-59 age group too, for next year I move up to the next 5 yr group.

So the question is, is this the time to retire from running marathons? At this time I truly have no desire to return to defend my position next year and I lack the fire within to run another marathon. I will however have a very good and lasting memory of  The City of Oaks Marathon.

Thank you to the organizers, volunteers, sponsors, and people of Raleigh for this event, you are all to be congratulated.

Thank you for this extra long race report, it was a report about a marathon after all 🙂

Run Happy.

Lee