Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Memphis Marathon: Bittersweet on Beale Street

It was a weekend to remember. 

I'm not sure I adequately know how to put this last weekend into words.  But, I'm going to try. It was incredible, scenic, adventurous, exciting, atmospheric, culminating, gritty, disappointing, pensive, introspective, celebratory.... not all at the same time, but, there was certainly a war of emotions going on and it was a battle that didn't need to be FOUGHT as much as it just needed to be FELT.

I went to Memphis on Friday and connected with my BFF and awesome training teamie, Laura.  We have been training hard with a lot of the same goals and supporting each other in the daily grind of trying to train and compete at the highest level we can.  It has been an incredible year and we've weathered a lot both on our own and together.  You need team mates to survive.  Period.  I have an incredible support system in my wonderful wife, kiddos, STL Slayers team mates here where I live, and a mix of long distance team mates who share in this love/battle with me. 

I picked up Laura and her dad up from the airport since I drove into Memphis and like true runners we NERDED out for the entire day.  Race expo, gear, fuel, course talk, weather, paces, plans... BBQ.  Memphis has some of the best BBQ in the world and it certainly did not disappoint.  Let's just say, carbs were certainly being LOADED and after a big dinner that night at the famous Marlowe's I was fueled as best I could be fueled.  It was time to relax for the night and get my mind straight for the task that was ahead of me.  There was a lot to think about. 

It has been an incredible year.  I already mentioned this, but it is so true.  I knew it would be tough to try and line up 2 hard-effort marathons with only 9wks between them, but I wanted to try.  I wanted the push...I wanted the results.  After an amazing day back in October, I was fired up and ready to put it all out there for another training block, another peak, and another chance at a Boston Qualifying time. (I need to run under 3:05... my PR in October was 3:06:26) 

The training block was OK.  Honestly, it really didn't go perfectly.  In fact, it was quite a bit less than ideal.  I am the first to admit this and I DID admit this to many people around me as I ramped up towards race day.  It is hard to be realistic AND resiliently optimistic at the exact same time.  Somewhere in there a dose of real honesty has to be clear.  I tried to be clear. 

Over the 9 weeks, I missed runs, skipped long runs because I was feeling weird tweeks and potential injuries, didn't build up my mileage to where it needed to be, and ended up getting semi-sick for the 8 days leading up to the race.  HOWEVER, those are not excuses and I refuse to let them be.  I DID train hard, I ran some good longer runs, I did some killer speed workouts with great results.... I thought that 3:05 fitness might just be there still.  I never actually PEAKED again...but I thought maybe my legs were still ready.  It wouldn't be until mid-race the next morning that I would know for sure.  Guys and gals, you NEVER know "for sure".  This is life.  But life demands that we try, and push, and pull either way, regardless of the clarity and confidence we so desperately want to possess before we commit.   I promised after my last race that I wouldn't let doubt and fear control me or my outcome on the next go-round.  So that's what I was determined to do.  One last massive effort to wrap up the year.  One last "all in" shot at going to Boston.

So after all that (and a decent night's sleep)... there I was... walking to the starting line.  I was decked in my Hammer Nutrition duds as always, and ready to go.  National anthem.... nervously jogging around... a fist bump and a smirk up to Laura.  She was starting in the Elite Coral right in front of me and theirs was the first wave to go.  GUN.  Elites were gone... 2 minutes til my go-time.  I watched them disappear down the road.  I said a prayer, took several deep breaths, and then BANG.... off we went. 

I settled in just a bit, but not really.  It was about 53 degrees, WINDY, cloudy, dreary, and felt cold.  The ground was wet from the pouring rain from the day and night before.  We began winding through city streets and packing together in small clusters, even though the masses started to spread out a bit.  The first mile went in 7:00, which was right on target.  Miles 2, 3, and 4 went fairly quickly as I took my first Hammer Gel and was getting good fluids.  We were somewhere in the 28:15 range through 4 miles but it felt like it was much faster.  I was running fairly smoothly but my breathing was more heavy and elevated than it should be and I felt like I was laboring a bit too much for such an early point in the race.  Yes, we ran a couple sub 7's up front (.. a 6:53 and a 6:57 in there) but it was relative to the course and felt like the right effort level.  Although, NOTHING felt "right" to me... not even at that point.  I knew I wasn't quite myself, but I figured maybe I'd settle in and find a rhythm.

BEALE STREET.  The 5 mile mark goes right down the famous Beale Street and the crowds were actually very large at that point.  They were LOUD too, which is nice!  I saw Laura's dad and he was shooting Go-Pro footage as I pointed at him and kept motoring along.  We were flying a bit down the tightly wound cobblestone at that point but I had found another guy as tall as me to sit behind to help break some of the wind up front and I was just focused on sticking to his heels as best I could.  I hit the 10K mark right where I needed to be for splits, and rolled down a big hill with the river on my left.

Guys were starting to chat a bit, "Hey I'm Joe, I'm hoping for about 3:05... you?"  "Sweet, I'm Tim, yeah somewhere in there... we'll see!", "Ok cool...let's go.. good luck"  It's good to find people you can work with on the course.  It's good to relax and find a rhythm next to someone you KNOW has the same goal as you.  I said nothing.  I listened, labored, shook out my arms... but said nothing.  Then I turned on my music and put both ear buds in.  I needed something... I needed something to focus on and to help me stay relaxed.  Maybe I would find my groove. 

I didn't find my groove.  I went through the 8mi mark down the path by the zoo, and took my time through an aid station running very slowly getting fluids in and taking an Endurolyte capsule to get some sodium and electrolyes.  I tried to find a good flow after that and latched onto some guys running quickly down the hill out of that path area.  A mile clicked over at 7:19.... In October I didn't run a 7:19 mile until mile 25.  This was mile 9 and I knew I was in trouble.  I was in pretty heavy denial though and feeling like I could still possibly fight through it and find something special.  You don't make any decisions at mile 9.  You RUN and try to relax.

Then we ran through St. Jude's.  My goodness.  I tried hard to be PRESENT for this.  This was why we were here, after all.  They were loud, happy, many wrapped like little eskimos with beanies covering their cute little heads with little to no hair.  They loved it... I loved them back as best I could and tried to forget my seemingly unimportant "struggle" that was taking place. (compared to the the daily struggle these little angels endure)  And as quickly as I went through, I was OUT the other side and to the 10mi mark.  I hit 10mi in about 1:10:30, and again that was still "on pace".  That was right where I needed to be but I was FEELING IT.  I was hurting already.  Already?  What in the world..... I still had 10 miles before the "halfway point" at 20 miles where I should have ACTUALLY started hurting pretty good.   

I took another gel, swallowed hard, and fought my way up and down several rollers on a main through street.  Bands... cheering.... funny signs.... I've seen it all a hundred times but I could NOT connect with any of it.  I couldn't even connect with my own body.  I couldn't make my brain and my legs connect and at this point I was having a hard time even connecting my heart to the race.  I knew I wasn't focused anymore.  I didn't have that calm, smooth, effortless rhythm that I had back in October when I smirked my way past 18 miles and then crushed the rest with everything I had. 

I went through mile 12 with a 7:46 mile, and then the half-marathon point in about 1:34, high.  But, that 7:46 was a turning point.  7:46???  "What is going on.. what am I doing", I muttered to myself past sporadic and heavy breathing.   I saw a familiar face on the sidelines in Mark S., from St. Louis... he cheered and we made eye contact.  I had seen him on Beale street too and it was great to be in good company.  That gave me a tiny jolt at mile 12, again.  It was what I needed mentally, but my body simply couldn't respond.  I was walking now... WALKING, at mile 13.  Halfway.  Losing time.  Then the 3:10 pace group BLEW by me... I got a quick pep-talk from another STL face who passed me and said, "It's NOT OVER!!  It is NOT over Luke... let's GO!".  I tried to go with her... I picked up the pace and surged ahead, and immediately stopped to walk again.  I just... couldn't go.  I was mentally done, and physically losing steam very very fast.

At mile 14 I approached the aid station (right next to where I was parked).  I stopped in the middle of the road, both hands on my hips, looked at the ground, looked ahead, looked behind me, then back up the road.  It felt like I stood there for an eternity.  Then, as if my body was making the decision for me, I turned to my right and walked off the course.  I stood there on the sidewalk for a second, stunned.  I couldn't hear anything.  It was so quiet, or maybe I "went somewhere else" for a second and just shut the world out.  I stood bent over with my hands on my knees, staring at my shoes for about a full minute.  I stood up, walked across the road and starting walking up the sidewalk back towards the cut-through street to the start/finish area.  I was emotionally numb, physically spent, and freezing cold.  I had never abandoned a race before.  I had never "quit" ANYTHING... ever.  It was official now.  I was off the course and there was NO going back.  

I know I could have finished.... I could have slowed down, jogged, walked, SLOGGED to the finish line with my body temperature dropping and muscles tightening up.  But, I've done that before, and the result was a brutal near-4hr finish in the cold and an IT band injury that lasted for nearly 4 months.  I couldn't afford that...I didn't WANT that.  For the first time in a long time, "finishing" wasn't what the day was about.  I know I can finish anything I want to finish, and I had nothing to prove to myself.  I went all in.  I went for it.  I had a goal and I WENT. AFTER. IT.  That's all there is somedays.  I stopped trying to rationalize with myself internally and I just let myself FEEL.  I didn't know what to think...but I know what I FELT.  

I finally got into the stadium where the finish area was, wrapped myself in a space blanket and sat down on the infield grass.  My watch said 1:55, and was still ticking.  I let it go.  I just couldn't push "stop".  I knew Laura was out there on the course but had no idea how she was doing.  I waited, talked to a couple other people... and then fixed my eyes on the corner where marathoners were coming around and down the final straight away to the finish.  I watched the clock tick for an entire hour straight... my watch still running.  I won't publicly steal her thunder about the details of her race but I saw her fly around the corner, looked at the clock and saw her CRUUUSH  that finish line.  YES!!!  We hugged, and laughed, and I lamented for a second, but then we were on a mission to find her dad, keys, gear, phones and get WARM. 

It was an odd feeling to walk away from the race with NO result.  No time.  No finish.  No medal.  No nothing.  I could tell I had immediately started to repress it like it never happened at all.  I almost didn't believe that it HAD.  I didn't WANT to believe it.  But it was true.  It was a dose of honesty in the purest and most physically raw way.  It just, wasn't my day.   

I wouldn't have survived this experience without great company, encouragement, and relaxing perspective for the hours following the race as I said my goodbyes and drove the 4.5 hours back to St. Louis.  The weekend itself was a BLAST and it was a time I'll never ever forget.  I can't even describe how much it meant to me.     

It has been an incredible YEAR.  I cannot be more thankful to my wife Beth for being the ultimate wife, and RUNNER'S wife at that.  From making pasta on Friday nights because she knows I need Carbs, to understanding me being gone every Saturday morning until breakfast for long runs, to dealing with sick kids while I travel and race, to being an encouraging fire of love and understanding when I come home from a very disappointing experience..... I LOVE that woman more than words can describe and I wouldn't be where I am today without her support.  She is my rock. 

And to my team mates...  My other "rocks".   This year of running and banding together as STL Slayers, long distance pals, daily encouragers, listening ears, venting partners.... you make it POSSIBLE.  You make the passion that I have become a PURPOSE and you help me keep my dreams alive and on fire. 

And to my friends... you know I'm crazy.  Thanks for embracing it and keeping me grounded and connected. 

And to Hammer Nutrition.....  what a year.... just wait for next year :)

My 2015 Goals post is coming soon.... they've been written and waiting in the wings for over a month. 


LET'S....  GO. 




  1. Hey man, tough last race of the year, but really well written post. I'll be looking forward to seein how next year goes for you. Good luck on chasing Boston.

  2. How do I possibly respond to this in less than a novel? The short story version-- Luke you never cease to amaze and inspire- My dad and I had a BLAST kicking it around Memphis with you. You have worked your ass off this year, and that has not gone to waste. 2015 is going to be epic- and you've got the support of everyone, and the strength within you- to make it all happen. I was incredibly grateful to get to spend time with you, smirk like bosses, pirate bash, cheers some beer, fist bump at the start, and hug at the finish.

  3. It never seems like it at the time, but it's experiences like feast it will make your victory so much sweeter when it comes. Your determination is so inspiring! Don't ever give up! You got it :)

  4. Just found you through Laura's blog...what a great, honest recap. I'm sorry it didn't go as you hoped but coming into a race after being sick is never easy, and you know you gave it your all...what more can you do?
    I'm on a similar path as you chasing that BQ...it sure sounds like you're putting in the work and are so close. That time will come, just keep working your ass off and you'll get there!