I had set out on this race with the goal of setting a new personal best on this course, first place in my age group, and a top 5 overall finish. I started off with a 6:37 split and planned on holding it till the beginning of the rolling hills and climbs. This course is packed with over 3,000 ft of climbing. It can deceive runners into setting a fast pace the first half only to kill their legs, struggle up the climbs, and having very little for the last half. I had done this course enough to respect it's ferocity and would approach it conservatively.
I was enjoying the the solitude and scenic beauty when a runner came up on my left and said, "hey man, remember me?" It was my runner friend Jose whom I ran the Morgan Hill marathon last year with. Smiles broke out and we chatted, catching each other up on life. This is one thing I really appreciate about running. Despite running being a sport practiced individually, it breeds sincere friendships among runners. I asked him if he had any specific goals for this marathon, he said he wanted to break the 3 hour mark. I responded, "let's make it happen."
We teamed up and ran in synchronized strides. You may not get the physical benefit of drafting as you would in cycling, but you get a mental draft benefit, something that links you with the runner(s) you are running with that provides a mental boost and a sense of comradery. Running together makes you run better. From mile 3 we stayed side by side swallowing up riders as we traversed the hilly course. Runners we passed gave us crazy looks as they saw us talking, thinking it was rather awkward that two runners could hold a conversation running sub 6:40 splits in a full marathon. Randomly we howled and screamed in excitement, making sure we stayed positive and didn't drop in morale.
We approached a left turn around mile 19 where a course marshal said, "great job guys, you are the top 3rd and 4th runners in the full marathon. I turned to Jose, "I think I heard him wrong. Did he say we are 3rd and 4th overall?" "Yeah man!" Jose said with an excited smile. There I was, finding myself on the brink of yet another big goal, making the podium with an overall top finish.
As much as I wanted it, I wanted Jose to also achieve his goal. We ran together, encouraging one another when one of us would start to lag. We knew that this race meant something to both of us, and the miles we ran together reminded me that you don't run against others in a race, you run with them. We reached mile 24 and that's when Jose started to fade. I was feeling strong and able to push. I turned to Jose and said, "You did it Jose. You're going to break the 3 hour mark. I'm going to push ahead. You're welcome to join if you think you've got enough juice." Jose waved me on and gave me his blessing. I pushed forward and ran the last 2 miles with all my heart, breaking the 3 hour mark (total time 02:55:49).
I stood up on the podium with the other top finishers. There in first place was a Kenyan by the name of Bihama Vedaste, who ran the marathon in a very impressive 2 hours 34 minutes. He turned to me and with his thick Kenyan accent said, "good job." I got chills from that, and congratulated him as well.
Challenges make life exciting. Overcoming them, makes life meaningful.
Be well and run on!