Thursday, April 7, 2011

National Marathon - 3:10 Pacer - 3/26/2011

   The SunTrust National Marathon is a nice figure-8 course through all parts of D.C., without repeating the Marine Corps Marathon course at all, or very little.  I returned to National this March for the third straight year as a pacer.  In 2009, I was a 3:10 pacer, but I was secretly using it as a 'race' to qualify for Boston.  Luckily, I managed to be right on with a 3:10:37 chip time, 3:10:59 gun time that year.  Last year, in 2010, I paced 3:15.  With a slightly fast first half, I slowed the pace group down a little bit in the second half and came across in 3:14:46 chip time, 3:15:40 gun time.  That year, the highlight was a man named Tony, who I met the day before the race at our Pace Team table at the expo.  He was dead-set on qualifying for Boston (needed 3:15) after having had some frustrating attempts.  He was the only person to stay right by my side that entire race, as I brought him in at 3:14:high.  He was ecstatic.  And I felt like I was qualifying for the first time all over again myself.  That remains one of the highlights of my running career.
   This year, Tony was back, and gunning for a sub-3:10.  This would help guarantee that he'll be able to register for Boston 2012 before it fills up, with the new registration process.  He found me a few miles into the race and latched on to me once again.
Mile 12 - Tony is the one waving
   I was joined this year by another 3:10 pacer, Ben Waite.  It was nice having him so that we could constantly keep each other in check with the pace.  That was especially good considering I only slept 2.5 hours the night before and had barely eaten anything - wasn't sure how that was gonna work out.  We were both wearing Garmins, but they were not agreeing with the Mile Markers on the course at all (when there were markers, that is).  We decided it best to go by Mile Markers, though. 
   We stepped on the timing mat at the 13.1 mile mark at 1:35:00 on my watch.  I was pretty stoked about that.
Mile 15 - Me, Ben, Tony (pink socks) and the rest of the 3:10 gang
    As the race progressed, the group got gradually smaller, but we maintained a nice pack through mile 23 or so.  The course is generally flat, with the exception of uphills from about mile 6 to mile 8, and slightly rolling hills for the last 3 miles or so.  We hit those rollers with a small group still latched on to us, including Tony.  Tony was expressing concern that he started closer to the front of the pack than Ben and I did, so if we all crossed at the same time, his time would be a little slower.  We offered encouragement to the runners going up the hills, reassuring them that we were on pace.  The group strung out a little bit over the last mile or two.  I was focusing on Tony, making sure I got him across in time again.  The last couple miles were strikingly similar to the same miles in 2010.  Tony was clearly putting out and hurting.  We got very vocal as we approached the finish, and Tony kept asking all the way to the last tenth of a mile, "We good!? Are we gonna make it!?" 
   Ben and I crossed the finish line in 3:09:36 chip time, 3:10:10 gun time.  Running a reliable race as a pacer is definitely just as satisfying to me as running a great race of my own.  Prior to this marathon, I had expressed that if I had to choose between running a reliable 3:10 at National and running a PR at Boston on April 18th, I'd choose the reliable pacing.  It's a truly awesome experience, which I highly recommend to any seasoned runners. 
Tony sprints in to the finish right around that turn
    And Tony?  He crossed the line with a chip time of 3:09:52.  He made his goal by 8 seconds, PRing by 5 minutes, and was almost as ecstatic as he was at the finish line a year earlier when he qualified for Boston for the first time.
Tony, Me
The 3:10 pacers

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