The morning of March 27th began under cloudy skies and a wind just brisk enough to run a chill down your spine. I took my sweet time waking up, showering and changing into my racing clothes, since my hotel was right around the corner from the starting line. I felt less pressure than in prior races. I ate well. I slept well. I was relaxed and feeling…well…confident. There was no nervous tension turning my stomach as I grabbed my overnight bag and closed the hotel room door behind me. Somehow, the specter of the prior night’s dinner was a distant memory as I exited the hotel and took in the crisp, damp air.
The walk to the starting area was a simple 2-block excursion. I realized that the overcast skies and the damp air could make the run feel unseasonably cold for a bit – but after a few miles the warmth of my exertion should chase the chill away and result in a fantastic effort. As I stood around the starting area after dropping off my luggage at bag check, good omens began to present themselves. First I saw one of my Team for Kids coaches – Coach Glen. Glen is a fantastic runner with an easy stride and a phenomenal work ethic. We briefly chatted before he headed toward the starting line – it was good to see a friendly face.
Then, more great omens arrived: fellow Marathon Maniacs from all over the place converged on the starting area. The mustard-yellow jerseys were easy to identify from a distance, and they seemed to draw teammates together with the simple thought that there is an inner strength in numbers. Two of my fellow Maniacs walked with me to the starting line just minutes before the gun went off. The starting line was a spray-painted orange line on the asphalt. To our right, the sound of the waves hitting the beach. A trumpeter played the Star Spangled Banner. The horn then sounded, and off we went. This was my kind of race. No fancy starting line. No fanfare. No huge throngs of fans. No TV. Just 26.2 miles of road, and a bunch of runners to share it with. There was something quite pure about this race.
The pace was a bit quicker than I had liked – about a 9:20 pace for the first couple of miles. Rookie mistake, and quite improper given the fact that no one ever wins a marathon in the first mile….but professionals know that a marathon can indeed be LOST right from the start. About five kilometers into the race, my two Maniac teammates and I backed off the throttle a bit and began to settle in to a nice, flowing rhythm. We chatted about our goals (which, to some, might sound a bit…extreme), such as running a marathon in all 50 states, earning more Marathon Maniac “stars” (more “stars” are earned by Maniacs that execute more….shall we say…..aggressive….marathon schedules), running ultras (any race over the marathon distance), and other rather interesting ideas. (note to reader: I had one extremely INSANE idea to raise money for the Dream Team – but let’s get through this year’s marathon of marathons first). (….in case you didn’t notice, that’s what we aspiring authors call a “teaser”. LOL).
The first 6…7…8 miles were going by smooth as silk. But this is me we are talking about. Nothing ever stays this way.
At around mile nine, I was still breathing smoothly and my legs felt like they had a lot of juice in them. All systems were still go. The course hugged the coastline and took us through one small town after another. There was a headwind that made the race a bit more difficult than optimal – but still quite enjoyable. I truly felt like this was the race that I was going to blast through the 5 hour barrier and grab a 4:45 finishing time.
A third of the way through the course, The Tool was nowhere in sight. The three of us decided to use our gels / energy shots at this point. As I was not a big fan of the taste of GUs, my energy source was a more solid, jelly-like substance cut into gooey cubes. They were squishy and reminded me of my childhood adoration of gummy bears. (Oh please – how can ANYONE dislike gummy bears). I popped one of these gummy cubes into my mouth, bit down and……
I chipped a tooth.
There must have been something solid in it, as this was NOT a scenario I ever prepared for whilst running through my marathon gameplan. I quickly moved the gummy cube to the right side of my jaw, and…..
It stuck to the crown of my lower molar.
I tried to extract it…… And the crown came out with it.
Now I a small chip in one tooth and a large hole on the other side of my mouth. And in my hand: the crown that belonged in the rear of my jaw. So I did what any marathoner would do at this point: I stuck the crown in my pocket and just kept on going.
The extremely odd circumstances at mile nine became an utter distraction, as it completely took my mind off of what I was doing. Dumb thoughts kept racing through my brain, such as:
• I have to see my dentist now. This sucks.
• Well, I won’t be able to take in any fuel for the remainder of the race. This sucks.
• How the hell am I going to handle miles 20 – finish without fuel? This sucks.
• Belmont doesn’t open until Memorial Day, and I really felt like betting on the horses. This sucks.
• (see….I am odd)
The distraction disrupted my running chi. I began to lose my focus. Although I hit the halfway point at 2 hours and 15 minutes, my breathing got away from me. Then my arm swing faltered. Then, by mile 17, I began running out of fuel. I would have to fight just to finish. The wheels had come off.
The next few miles went by in a very slow, deliberate haze. Although I felt very little pain from the miles of effort, I simply had nothing left in my tank. You can have a fantastic car – state of the art – but it’s not going to budge without some Chateau Exxon 2012. I waddled to the finish line, just simply thrilled to earn my third marathon finish of the year. No personal record today – but one heck of a story to tell.
In three months, I had run three marathons. One in 25 degree temperatures. I lost a tooth in another. That’s….well….unique. The Tool rode with me all the way home, enjoying the view on the bus from Atlantic City’s terminal to Port Authority. No, he didn’t look out the window at the New Jersey landscape; instead, he took in the unmoving look of concern that was etched on my face. Would I feel this good before a marathon again in 2012? And, if so – would I be able to avert the rookie mistakes as well as the obscure issues in order to earn a personal best time? The sad look on my face said it all: I was beginning to lose faith. The Tool took a deep breath of the stale air and a huge grin appeared across his face. He could sense an opening – and he was going to make the most of it.