Memory Lane in Napa Valley (~ March 1st 1998 RRCA National Marathon Championships
This was perhaps as close as I have come to the perfect race in a marathon. Not so much from the splits as it is very difficult to run even pace at the Napa Valley marathon due to the course undulation but rather due to the well managed expenditure of effort dispersed throughout the race. I knew I was ready to race. Four weeks before, my coach Greg Brock, had his 50th birthday and wanted to run a sub 10 miler on the track in under the hour at one of our local high schools in Santa Cruz California to celebrate his significant milestone and he commanded his charges to assist him in the effort. I was not going to argue with him. That Sunday February 1st 1998 I ran (after 11 hours of sleep according to my blog) in 55 degree full on El Ninjo weather after a night of tremendous rainstorms 4 miles warm up on the track at 7 min pace, then was sent off to run 8 miles on the road at 7 min pace, round trip to the Forest of Nisene Marks, (one of my very favorite places on earth to run). At the point when I returned to the track, Greg and the boys were waiting for me to finish my 12 miles, I changed into my flats and we were off with Jimmy Clarke ,my friend and great rival clipping off 88 second laps.Lane 1 was waterlogged and I remember discussion of working around the puddles in lane two. But I was in no mood, already tired from running 12 miles beforehand and in the middle of a 76 mile week, and having endured my best friend, Mike Johnson bail on joining us right before we started, deciding instead to sit in the bleachers and hurl abuse at us, believe me,I was not going to run one yard further than I had to. It was going to be 40 laps right through the water… I pulled away from Jimmy in the last mile and concluded with a 72 second lap to conclude my 22 miler in 2.24.00 at an average of 6.33 per mile- I knew I was ready for another breakthrough marathon. (Coach made his goal of running 10 miles in less than one hour on his 50th birthday) Coming in to Napa, my PR was 2.42.22 run the prior November in New York, also in torrential rain. Come race day in Napa I woke up early and as day break came I knew it was all falling into place. I like to run my marathons in 40 degree temperatures (or at least commencing in 40 degree weather) and that is exactly what it was that morning of March 1st…. it was calm with only a light whisp of a breeze and crystal blue skies with clean Napa Valley air ! Perfect for me ! My instructions were settle into pace of 6 minutes early and feel my way into the race from there. The only other instructions were trust in your training, negative split the race and don’t worry about the long hill at mile 19, it won’t be a problem as long as you control yourself early on. The race is on the Silverado trail which is actually a beautiful asphalt road, smooth and in great shape to run on and the race goes from Calistoga to Napa finishing on the campus of Vintage high school. The day before I ran in 60 degree weather after arriving from Santa Cruz in the afternoon. The 21 mins passed by effortlessly and I couldn’t wait for it to be game on. I was trained, lean, fit and hungry for success ! The next morning, it was race time and I passed through the first mile in 5.59 like I was jogging. I had agonized the day before over which shoes to wear. I ran for Runner’s Factory a great running store in Los Gatos and Jeff the owner had given me two pairs. A pair of Adidas flats and a pair of Nike air mariahs….I went with the Mariah’s and was delighted with the slipper fit. I liked the Adidas and they were originally the shoes I expected to run in but I could not get a snug fit around the heel counter. My next 9 splits were 6.03-5.57-5.45-5.53-6.00-5.55-5.51-5.55-6.00 for a 59 min and change first ten miles- I sat in about 13th place. I felt fresh and began to pick it up- 5.48-5.53-5.43 (now up to 10th place)-
(up the long long hill) now up to 4th place- I got antsy and began to dream of winning the race, I picked off the # 3 runner and went after # 2 with back to back 5.41 and 5.46 miles, I came up alongside top master’s runner Rob Reid from Vancouver who was the second place runner. I thought I could take him. I threw in another 5.47 and moved into second place. Could this be happening? Could I have come this far literally and figuratively? Four years earlier in the same race, I believed I was ready to qualify for Boston which at the time meant running my first ever sub 3.10 in my age group to make it to Boston. Without a coach and with much less running experience at the time I unwisely ran a suicide first 20 miles that day putting time in the bank only to experience dread and exhaustion in the final 10k. I had 13 minutes in the bank (ahead of my Boston qualifying goal) at 20 miles that morning and Boston was secured- or was it? I progressively slowed and tried to do the math in my head. How much time could I afford to lose in the last 6 miles and still make it?- I couldn’t work it out and all I knew is that I was leaking oil in the worst way and couldn’t find the leak!!…..but I had dreamed of Boston for four years at the time and now I was on the cusp- don’t let it go GP, For God’s sake, don’t let it go !!- I rounded the corner to the final straight away to the finish line at Vintage high school and crossed the line in possibly the most mis managed race of my life but I had made it with 2 minutes to spare- I had lost 11 minutes in that final 10k- but it was all so different this day, four years later, I was fitter, faster, more experienced, 10bs lighter and much stronger and now I had a great coach who trusted in me and in whom I trusted implicitly- he had never let me down and never steered me wrong- I knew if I could take Rob and if something happened up ahead to Eoin Fahey that I could win a National title- The RRCA 1998 National Marathon Championships. but then as quick as my adrenaline spiked, fatigue began to set in and Rob went by me, fourth place was not far behind but I wanted that 3rd place if not better- 3rd place is on the podium and I had to be on the podium- a 6.06-6.02 next two miles followed- fourth place was fading and Rob was pulling away ahead of me. I blew it. I should have been more patient and used my mile speed to take Rob out in a sprint finish. There is not a doubt in my mind to this day that I could have done that- that 72 second lap on the track a month before at the end of 22 miles proved that to me-but so did Rob think that and he wasn’t going to stick around to find out- He and I have actually talked and laughed about that since then. Kudos to him. He was the better man on the day and my battle for now was to keep third place- I wanted the glory of coming in in the bronze medal position in a marathon- I finished up with my slowest mile, a 6.14 and then a 77 second last .2 to set a new PR of 2.34.43 and a third place marathon finish….. it was not the perfect race but in running a minute faster in the second 10 miles (58 mins and change) compared to the first ten miles it was as close as I would ever come in a marathon. It earned me a pair of Asics shoes and a great lunch ! I called my coach and in his uniquely understated way, he said ” Good work GP” …from Greg, that was all I needed- it was pure Gold !!
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