First, some background. This is my seventh marathon, so I'm not exactly a newbie. I'm also from Columbus Ohio, although I haven't lived there for the last 9 years or so.
About 6 months ago, my sister in law and her fiance told me that they were going to run the Columbus half marathon. I hadn't signed up for a fall marathon yet, so Columbus seemed like as good a race as any. My training went well and I felt great about the race. Until Friday at least.
On the Friday before the race, I flew to Columbus with my wife and two toddlers. Mikey and Tommy had been a little snotty all week, but I'd managed to avoid getting sick. We got in around lunch time and headed downtown to take my mother in law out for a surprise lunch. Half way through a crappy lunch, I started to feel sick. By the time I got to my parents house and got the boys down for a nap, I was exhausted. I felt like crap. After a 3 hour nap, I didn't feel any better. I woke up in time to eat an early dinner and then head to bed. It wasn't looking good.
Saturday I still felt like crap. I wasn't sure if I could even run the race, let alone come close to my goal of a sub 3:40. I took some advil and went to get my race packet. Afterwards, I watched my kids compete in the diaper dash, a 60 yard race for 1-3 year olds. My 1 year old won his age bracket :) That night, I had a light spaghetti dinner and got to bed around 10. I still didn't feel good, but I felt good enough to at least try the race.
The next morning, I woke up at 5am, showered, ate and headed to the race. It was about 33º out. Luckily, my Dad gave me an old sweatshirt to wear and throw away. I got to the corrals about 40 minutes before the race time and found my pace group. I decided to try to stick with the 3:35 group for as long as I could, but not to push it. Even though it was cold, I was never uncomfortable. Race volunteers were handing out free gloves which was a really nice touch. Before I knew it, they were playing the national anthem and then starting the race.
The first mile was a bit slow. I hit the mile marker 8:25 after I started, about 13 seconds off our pace. The pace leader clearly noticed that and picked up the pace. I stuck with them for a few minutes but eventually decided he was moving to fast for me and held off. I felt okay, but not great and I didn't want to go out too fast.
I just ran easy for a few miles. We ran through downtown and then through a section of incredible houses. I was surprised at the number of spectators and the number of bands and DJs on the course. It seemed like there was some kind of entertainment around every quarter mile.
Before the race, Jen had told me to look for her at the corner near the mile 4 marker. As I approached the turn, I heard her voice cheering. I was originally planning just to wave and keep moving, but due to my slower pace, I decided to head over and hug the kids. I gave them both quick kisses and headed out. I'm not sure what happened, but I suddenly felt a lot better. My pace picked up and I was starting to really enjoy myself.
Before I knew it, I was at mile 5. The Columbus marathon was sponsored by the local children's hospital. As part of the branding, they have a patient champion at every mile. At each marker there is a picture of the child along with a description of their illness. At mile 5, the sign read "Josh has had 130 chemo treatments, 5 for every mile you are running." Being married to a pediatric oncologist, that hit me hard. I teared up and suddenly found myself running just a little faster. By the time I hit mile 6, I realized my pace was close to 8:05. By mile 7 I had caught and passed the 3:35 pace group.
Mile 8 was another emotional moment. I passed a group of people carrying a stretcher with what looked like bags of coffee on it. In fact, that's exactly what it was, https://support.woundedwarriorproject.org/individual-fundraising/Columbuscoffeecarrymarathon. They were raising money for the wounded warrior project. I happened to have a bit of cash in my pocket, so I doubled back and dropped it in their bucket. As I sped off, one of the people running with them caught up with me and thanked me for the donation. It felt great and I started running just a little faster.
Before I knew it, I was at mile 13 and the half marathon folks were dropping off. At this point, I was running about a 7:50 pace. I had no idea how I was doing it, but it felt great. Running towards campus was a lot of fun. I knew my family would be there to see me a few times and I would get to run through the stadium. I saw them at mile 16 and got a few hugs. At mile 17, I ran through Ohio Stadium. As a kid, I'd always dreamed of running out of the tunnel and onto the field. Doing that as part of the marathon was crazy! At mile 18, I hugged the kids and set off for the last 8 miles. At that point, I was feeling pretty good. I was on pace for a PR as long as I didn't fall apart.
Mile 18 is about where I normally fall apart. In the past, I've given up and slowed way down around that point. Mile 18 also happens to be the place where Columbus gets just a little hilly. The hills are gentle and rolling, but big enough to feel at mile 18. As I cruised towards 19, I could feel myself slowing down. Before I knew it, I was running a 9:10. Normally, I would just give up and keep cruising. This time, something was a little different. This time, I picked up the pace. My next mile was 8:45. Then 8:30. Suddenly, I didn't feel so tired.
I kept plodding along at about an 8:30 pace until about mile 24.5 when I was paced by the 3:35 pace leader. I was crushed. I thought I was going to beat the group and suddenly they were passing me and pulling away. Instead of giving up, I picked up my pace. Over the next half mile or so I got to even with him. At mile 25, I passed him and decided to stay just in front. At mile 25.5 or so, he shouted out that we were making the next to last turn. He said it's a straight shot until you turn for the finish. Then he yelled "Now Move! I don't want to see any of your ugly faces again." That was enough for me. I picked up the pace again.
The turn for the finishers chute was right about the 26 mile mark. After making the turn, I just started sprinting. I was flying and passing people as I ran to the finish. When I looked up, my finish time was 3:24:25. Not only was it a PR, but it was a PR by more than ten minutes.
This was far and away my best marathon ever. Not only was I better trained physically, but I also did better mentally. There were times where I wanted to give up and coast. For the first time ever I kept pushing. I did slow down at the end, but I kept pushing myself. Now that I know I can push myself, I can't wait to see what I can do next!
I was really impressed with the Columbus Marathon. Not only was the course nice, but the race was really well organized. There was plenty of entertainment on the course. There were frequent water and gatorade stops which were well marked. It may not be NYC, but if you're looking for a fall marathon, I would definitely consider Columbus.
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