JJ Breaks Through For Big Marathon Win

by EJN Comments (0) Articles, Guest Post, Racing

Guest blog by Jim Johnson

Before we get on to the main feature, we just wanted to take a minute to congratulate Jim on his first marathon win. Winning is special because no matter the race or the shape you’re in, you need to be able to capitalize on the opportunities as they come along. Unless you’re elite and can take nearly all comers, the blue collar runner needs to be ready to throw down and also hope that a random pro doesn’t show up to win it as a workout. So not only did Jim capitalize on his opportunity, but he did it only a week after running a 2:35:38 for second place at the Clarence DeMar Marathon. And we noticed Jim sporting a certain stylish beanie in the pics from that race so we need to thank him for flying the Level colors there. Anyway, here’s Jim’s detailed race report.

Early in the a.m. I headed out yet again for a marathon (why not, I’m a big boy right?).  The second one in 7 days… This time, it was over to the NH Marathon (results).  This marathon was only about an hour away, in Bristol, NH.  It was going to give me 5 new towns in my quest to townbag all the NH towns.  The course runs counter-clockwise around Newfound Lake (plus an out and back section to the northwest).  It runs through the towns of Bristol, Bridgewater, Hebron, Groton, and Alexandria.  As I came to realize, it is a beautiful course.  I know nobody will watch it in it’s entirety, but if you are interested in seeing some of the hills and scenery (especially if you haven’t done the race and are contemplating doing it), I suggest to give this a watch (below)…

A nice ‘View the Race’ video of the actual course…

As I noted, this race is pretty hilly.  I had over 1200 feet of elevation gain on my Garmin data after the race and that may be conservative.  I knew this going in but still just wanted to go after an elusive Marathon win.  Last week’s Clarence Demar 2:35:38 effort got me 2nd place because of Patrick Moulton‘s insatiable desire to steal my thunder.  So I had to throw what I had left at this race.  I had peeked at the pre-reg list and saw Casey Carroll on the list.  He was the only name that stood out to me, but that didn’t mean much.  There could have been a dozen names on there that may have been able to give it a run…I wasn’t sure.  Casey has won the race multiple times and has gone under 2:40 there, which is very good.   Also, because you could register day-of, I figured someone (like Pat last week) would show up and ruin my quiet bid for marathon dominance.  Also the fact that there was prize money ($300 beans for the win) made it even more probably that maybe someone would show up.

After arriving and registering, I had quite a bit of time to try to stretch and get ready.  The weather was chilly but that’s good for a marathon I’m told.  It warmed up a decent amount and by the time I was making my way down to the start it was very pleasant.  It looked like there were a few good guys warming up and a few, including a BAA dude, were doing some strides and drills, etc.  I was pretty nervous at that point that my whole plan of being able to run ‘easy’ was going to be out the door.  Then I realized….there was also a 10K that started right at the same time and place that the marathon did (the Half Marathon started 13 miles away and headed down over the last part of the marathon course).  The 10K guys were the ones that were actually warming up and doing strides…that started to make sense as the race went off.

At the gun, the BAA guy (David Chorney) took off hard, followed by a couple other guys.  Then there was a pack of marathoners including me and Casey Carroll.  A couple of the guys around us I thought were doing the 10k and we were all just running a similar pace at the beginning.  I moved up a little and got on Casey’s shoulder and we chatted a bit in the first mile.  I told him I wanted to just run steady but not kill myself as I was pretty spent from the previous weekend.  He indicated he wanted to run in the low 2:40 range and if possible, maybe go under 2:40 if the conditions were right.  He did indicate the course was very hilly but it’s possible and he’s done it in the past.  I immediately figured I was at least going for 2nd at that point and he actually moved away a bit.  I settled back a ways into a gap between Casey and the next few guys behind (who I thought were running the 10k).  The first mile (if you watch the video you’ll see) is uphill a ways and is on the slow side. I was over 6:30 and was right near Casey so I knew it was going to probably be a very slow day for me at least (compared to last week)…. but little did I know, that would be my slowest mile all day.  I was glad I started out very easy (unlike last week) but a little apprehensive of what the next few miles would bring.

For the 10k, it was basically a 3 mile out and back.  As Chorney and the 2nd place guy came back at us, I realized that the guy who was WAY up in 3rd place (wearing a very bright orange singlet) was running the marathon as he kept going after the turnaround.  I was shocked.  I could barely see him at this point, only 3 miles into the race.  I actually thought he maybe missed the turnaround and went too far…and maybe he was still running the 10k…but he never turned.  He was hammering.  I think Casey was also pretty surprised. We all thought he was a 10k guy for sure and we thought we were definitely in 1-2 but now we were looking at 2-3.  Also to my surprise, was all the other guys not too far behind me, who I thought were running the 10k, continue on the marathon route as well.  I quickly realized it would possibly be a much different day than I had anticipated.

Somewhere around 4 miles or so, I rolled up on Casey and just got behind him.  Periodically I’d move next to him but I wasn’t in any rush. I just wanted to hang on, as I knew he was going to be doing his normal thing and that would be a great pace to roll with for as long as I could.  He knew the course and I really thought he’d be running away from me sooner than later, so I didn’t move ahead.  We quickly chatted somewhere around 5 or 6 about how that guy up ahead (who we could only see at this point on the very long stretches of highway) was either VERY good or running himself into the ground with way too hot of a pace for the nature of the course.   I knew he’d either beat us by a lot or we’d maybe catch him….or at least Casey would…  but most of me was leaning towards us eventually completely losing sight of him.  We were clicking off miles between 6 min to 6:10 or so and that was fine with me…right where I figured I needed to be.

Casey had taken a gel before the 8 mile water stop and it apparently did a number on his stomach.  As we rolled up (literally up a big hill) to the aid station, he moved right ahead of me and then immediately slowed almost to a walk as he asked for 2 waters.  I moved around him and quickly grabbed a cup of Gatorade, but then realized he wasn’t coming with me.  I slowed and moved kind of back and forth on the road, looking back, and waiting for him.  I did this for a little bit but each time I looked, he wasn’t catching me and I started to have a decent (inadvertent) gap.  Eventually, as I started to hit the downhill, I realized something was wrong.  He had either cramped or was not feeling well, etc.  It was clear now I was on my own.   I started rolling over the next few miles, keeping the same type of pace.  There were some nice downhills and twisting and turning country roads ahead for the next bunch of miles and I slowly started to pull away.  Eventually, I could only see Casey on the long back stretches.

I hit the next few miles maybe a bit quicker than I should have and kept telling myself to slow down. I could feel myself holding back and feeling very in control of the pace.  It felt like I was just out for a long run alone, and it was pretty comforting to know I was doing that around 6:00-6:10 pace without issue.  I couldn’t see the leader at all anymore.  I clicked through 10/11/12 on my way to 13 and somewhere around there would be the turnaround point on a small (out and back) section before dropping down the other side of the lake for the complete loop around the lake.  Somewhere around 12 or so, there was a long stretch up to a water stop and I actually caught a glimpse of the leader’s bright singlet.  I hadn’t seen him in miles.  That was the first time I thought that maybe I could roll up on him if he started to feel the early pace.

On the out and back section, there are some dirt stretches and some longer views where a couple of times, I started counting as he turned a corner…to see how far back I was.  The first couple times I did it, he had 1:20 or so on me.  As he hit the turnaround point and started back at me, I got to run right past him and see how he was doing.   He definitely looked to be struggling a little bit but not as much as I had anticipated.  I counted as I went by him, to see how long it would take me to get to the point where I had seen him go by me.  I turned and headed back and realized I had made up about 15 or so seconds since the last time I had counted.   I was definitely catching him.

I went by Casey who was still in 3rd as he headed towards me on my way back.  He looked to be OK but was pretty far back and I was feeling great, so I wasn’t really too concerned about someone catching me.   At that point in the race I was really just starting to focus on catching the leader.  It was a great distraction really. I think if I was leading then, the next bunch of miles would have been worse than they were.   But seeing I was just focusing solely on running him down, it made me take things one mile at a time.  As I passed the next guy (not too far back of Casey), he commented to me that the leader looked to be struggling and I should be able to get him.  I actually heard the same thing from a few people I started running by during the out and back section.   This got me pretty pumped.

By 16 and 17 I had closed the gap considerably and by the time the 17 mile mark was hit, I was almost on him.  It had taken a few miles, but I was being very patient.  I kept telling myself the more and more he got closer to me, to slow down and just keep pace.  I felt myself getting quicker at times and really tried to scale it back. I knew I was going to catch him with my current pace eventually and didn’t want to spend too much additional energy when I didn’t have to.  There was still a lot of race to go and I had NO clue how hilly the rest of the course was.  I didn’t know anything about where the hills or flats, etc. were and maybe that was actually a good thing.

Right about at 17.5 or so, during a big uphill, I finally rolled up along side the leader.  He was way out front and out of view for 17.5 miles but I finally took the lead with about 8.5 miles to go.  He was definitely spent from the early pace and was in no shape to hop on board as I went by (even with my invitation).  By 18 miles, I had gapped him considerably.  I started passing through back of the pack half marathoners who were all cheering me on as I went by.

Occasionally I would peek back and only see his bright shirt way in the distance.  Eventually it was only on the super long stretches.  I couldn’t see anyone else, which was very comforting.  I knew he wouldn’t be rebounding enough to catch me and there was no way anyone else was going to make up that much time on me over the last few miles unless I really blew up.   Even though I was keeping a fairly even and manageable pace, given the rolling hills (I actually came through my 20 mile split in just under 6), as I hit 20 miles, the same thing happened to me that happened last week.  I suddenly got this overwhelming feeling of despair.  Even though I hadn’t hit ‘the wall’ physically per se, mentally I started thinking about having an entire 10k to go….soon, like I did last week, I started thinking about every mile I had left and it seemed like an eternity.  I just don’t do that many long runs anymore so it’s probably natural to feel this way after 20…

The last 6.2 miles go by VERY slowly.  I hit 21 and started thinking about how long I had….5 whole miles…. then 22…same thing…4 entire miles…… then 23…an entire 5k+ to go….. It was a grind…physically and mentally for me.  Even though I was actually running alright and faster than my last miles of the previous week’s marathon, I was starting to check out. I was a little motivated that I was in no way hitting the wall like I did at Demar last week, and my miles were still quicker than last week… but I was just wanting to be done.  I started to slow up even more as I looked back and didn’t see anyone.  I hit 24 and that’s kind of the magic number really.  Just over 2 miles to go.  To get caught over the last 2 miles in a marathon, when you either have a good gap or you can’t even see anyone behind (like was now the case), is almost impossible unless you completely blow up and start walking.  I was far from that.  The last couple miles have zero hills and have some slight downs.  One of the volunteers told me that as I hit the last turn onto 3A with 2 miles to go.  At this point I was just in finishing mode.  I still managed a 6:17 and 6:12 last 2 miles as I was just simply running.  No longer trying to race to a victory. I knew I had it and was pretty much just trying to make it official by reaching the damn line…

I turned into the last small loop around the block near the school and dropped down into the field where I just nearly missed going under 2:41.  I came through the line in 2:41:06 for my first ever marathon win.  6:09 pace for a very hilly race, only 6 days removed from running 2:35 at Clarence Demar.  I’ll take it!   After the year I’ve had (with injury), being 38 now, and not having done any specific marathon training of any kind, I can’t be anything but pleased.  What made the race even more rewarding and exciting for me, was the way it played out.  Being way back… initially in 3rd place for 8 miles and thinking 3rd would be the best it would get…. to clawing my way up to the lead and then holding it strong for a big stretch over a beautiful course.  The $300 bucks for the win was also a nice bonus :).

The dude who was initially in 4th at the turnaround (who told me I could catch the leader) ended up running a strong 2nd place (3:30 back of me) and Casey hung on for the last podium spot in 3rd, despite having the stomach issues from 8 miles on.  The leader early on, finished 4th in 2:52, losing a lot of time over the last 8.5 miles.  I’d love to know what his 10 mile split was…. pretty impressive early running from him…but the race was 26.2 miles and he quickly found that out after the halfway point….lesson learned for sure.

I had to quickly hop in the car and take off, as I had to be in Boston by 6pm and I had to first go home, shower, pick up the family, drop the kids off at my parents, and then head down… It was kind of sad to have to rush out of there, but I had accomplished most of what I had set out to do (win a marathon was the B goal….win 2 in a week’s time was really the A goal but thanks to Patrick Moulton, that may have to wait) :)… that may have been a little too greedy anyways so maybe it suits me right that he ruined my evil plans :)….

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