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March 09, 2010

Napa Valley Marathon (3/7/10) Jeff Reichbach’s VICTORIOUS post-race entry!

Written by Dena Evans

WARNING: Really Long Post!

The last few days before the race were kinda surreal. I guess most people probably get a bit nervous in those few days before a goal race. Many people also probably feel a little disconcerted because they’ve only run a few miles in the past several days and their legs start getting restless. I experienced these things too, but what struck me most in those days was how strange it felt to actual believe that I was going to make it to the starting line of another marathon… and that it could be one by which I qualify for the Boston Marathon. It was just really hard to believe.

So, after getting into bed at about 8:30pm on the night before the race, with a belly full of pasta and a well thought out pacing and hydration plan, it’s probably not hard for you to imagine that I would only really sleep about 3 hours before getting out of bed 20 minutes ahead my 4am alarm. I just couldn’t stop thinking about all the details of what I needed to do and how

It’d been over 4 years since I’d last run a marathon, let alone a race that I’d attached more significance to than any athletic endeavor I’d attempted since high school. Four years is as long as high school or college. But, instead of just having a big graduation celebration after 4 years of preparation, I had one final test to pass. That test would solely determine whether I got my diploma or not and whether I would have a graduation celebration (a chance to run the Boston Marathon as a qualified runner).

With all of my clothes, food, and drink neatly prepared the night before, I quickly got dressed and ready for Sachie (my extremely generous and helpful girlfriend) to drive me to the bus drop off. My bus arrived at the starting line at about 5:45am while it was still pitch black and about 40 degrees – pretty familiar territory for me by now. The hour and a quarter until the starting gun went by in the blink of an eye with special drink drop off, warm-up stretching and standing in port-o-potty lines. In fact, the lines were so long that I didn’t get a real warm-up run and strides in and only got back to the starting line about 2 minutes before the singing of the Star Spangled Banner (by an 85 year-old Brit turned American citizen who’d run a sub 3hr world record marathon when he was 72 or something).

The sunrise was gorgeous, the weather was perfect, and I felt good and ready to go. The race began easily and the crowd thinned much more quickly than the mega-marathons I’ve run before. There was very little need to jockey for position or to weave to move to my proper place in the pack. I ticked off the first 3 miles at right about 7:20 pace, dropped the long sleeve shirt I’d bought for 5 bucks at the expo the night before, but kept my gloves on.

Mile 4 was significantly downhill, and though I didn’t notice it at all, I ran it in 6:58, which was my fastest mile of the race. After that, I cruised the next 13 miles or so focusing on staying calm, in control, and collected, as the road meandered through lush green hills contrasted with clear blue skies, a bright yellow sun, and overlooking endless vineyards all around. The spectators weren’t especially numerous, but they were gathered at various intersections and were very supportive and enthusiastic.

I was never really able to settle into a really solid rhythm because of all the ups and downs, but by maintaining my heart rate at around 160 bpm, I kept my pace between 7:10 and 7:20 for that long stretch. I passed the halfway point at 1hr 34min and some change, which was right on the target Tom and I had discussed earlier in the week.

For mile 18, the road is gradually, but continuously, downhill. I was still feeling great, so I let myself take a little advantage with a 7:04 mile. I figured that I’d keep it under control for another two or three miles, and then after the big downhill that starts about halfway through mile 21 I’d just start reeling them in and bring it on home, accelerating the whole way.

That’s not quite the way it went, and I’m not sure my optimism at that point was clouded somewhat by my endorphins. Somehow, mile 19 went by at 7:17, even though most of it was downhill with just a couple of short uphill and flat sections. From the 19 mile mark to almost 20.5 miles is a continuous uphill stretch, which is never very steep, but it keeps you working for longer than any other hill on the course. I figured the gradual slope would mean that it wouldn’t be much to concern myself with and that it would make the downhill following it an enjoyable change of pace. Mile 20 was my slowest of the race at 7:29. I still felt ok at this point, but the euphoria of the early miles had worn off and I knew that what I was doing was work.

I sped up a bit through the downhill in mile 21, but didn’t overdo it (7:11), knowing I’d need to save some for the final miles. But, when I hit the long, flat, straightaway, I started getting the feeling that I was grinding out the miles. I went through a rough patch here. Where I was trying to accelerate gradually I was hitting a rough patch and actually slowed a bit with a 7:20 and a 7:25 pace for miles 22 and 23. It felt like I was grinding to a halt. The temperature had risen just enough to make the heat noticeable. It was probably in the low sixties.

I think that I decided that it was time to really dig in and try to pick up the pace and bring it home at that point. I was hurting, but I couldn’t let the pace continue to get away from me. I was still a little ahead of pace, but not by much. During this mile, a guy in yellow caught up to me and we fell into lock-step pacing each other contentedly. I’m pretty sure he was shooting for the 3:10 goal too. Out of nowhere, at around 23.5 miles my right calf began to twitch painfully and uncontrollably in what seemed like an attempt to cramp. I suddenly started dropping back from the guy in yellow as I limp-ran in pain.

Now, I don’t remember his exact words, but he shouted something to the effect of , “Oh no you don’t! Stay with me!” Somehow, the tone of his voice, if not the words themselves brought focus to my mind. It reminded me of how important this goal was to me, how important it must be for him, and how I had find a way through this. I immediately started chanting with each breath and foot strike, “Relax! Relax! Relax!” My forehead unwrinkled, my shoulders dropped back and down, and amazingly after what felt like an eternity, but might not have been more than a couple tenths of a mile, my calf settled down and let me focus on just grinding out the last couple of miles.

I clocked those last 3 miles or so at just about 7:20 pace, as I’d begun the race. When I saw the clock at the finish line from 50 or 100 yards away ticking away the seconds of the 3:10 minute, I almost couldn’t believe I was going to do it. It was going to be very close, but I knew that as long as I didn’t fall down I would make it.

3:10:34 – Gun time

3:10:23 – Chip time

7:16 – Average pace

I threw my arms up and crossed the line. I smiled, laughed, cried, hugged Sachie, stumbled toward the hot soup, met up with close friends who came up to the race to support me, took off my shoes, got a free stretch/massage, and was honored and humbled by the gift that Sachie gave me.

It was another medal on a ribbon. But, it wasn’t metal. It was made of cards, on which each of my family members and friends had written a congratulatory message for me. Seeing how much everyone was pulling for me, had so much confidence in me, and cared about my success changed my mindset instantly. The pain was lost in an overwhelming wave of joy and gratefulness.

I apologize for this extremely long post. I hope that if you’ve read this far, you’ve enjoyed it. I’ve certainly enjoyed sharing my experiences with everyone. I’d like to include just one more paragraph to try to thank everyone who helped me achieve this personal goal.

Thank you: my whole family, my girlfriend, all of my friends, Tom, Dena, everyone else at FnF who has had a hand in my training schedule, all of the great physical therapists at Agile PT, massage therapists at SMI and the Message Therapy Center, the organizers and volunteers at the Napa Valley Marathon, and so many other people who’ve made this dream possible for me. I’ll never again think of an endeavor of this sort or magnitude as an individual pursuit.

Last modified on October 10, 2010
Dena Evans

Dena Evans

Dena Evans joined runcoach in July, 2008 and has a wide range of experience working with athletes of all stripes- from youth to veteran division competitors, novice to international caliber athletes.

From 1999-2005, she served on the Stanford Track & Field/ Cross Country staff. Dena earned NCAA Women’s Cross Country Coach of the Year honors in 2003 as Stanford won the NCAA Division I Championship. She was named Pac-10 Cross Country Coach of the Year in 2003-04, and West Regional Coach of the Year in 2004.

From 2006-08, she worked with the Bay Area Women’s Sports Initiative, helping to expand the after school fitness programs for elementary school aged girls to Mountain View, East Menlo Park, and Redwood City. She has also served both the Stanford Center on Ethics and the Stanford Center on the Legal Profession as a program coordinator.

Dena graduated from Stanford in 1996.

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