Normal marathon runners typically do 1 or 2 marathons a year. Abnormal marathon runners, do a lot more, but generally pick 1 or 2 to be a 'goal marathon'. You can't run them all at maximum effort, so you pick one that you want to do your best at, and the rest you run for fun.
Training partner, Dennis Hanna, picked the Wisconsin Marathon to be his goal marathon this year, and I gladly offered to pace him.
Pacing is a great way to enjoy a marathon. First, you get to run it with someone you like enough to spend 26.2 miles with, and second, you are running it at a relaxed pace. You pace someone whose goal time is something you can run comfortably.
The job of a pacer is to support, encourage, distract, monitor and supervise. Of course, these things vary according to the pacee's needs. You need to know when to chatter, when to shut up, when to encourage, when to push, when to reign in.
Wisconsin has had a pretty lousy spring. The morning of May 4 was meanly cold and windy for early May. We arrived at the start, and attempted to not freeze to death while waiting for the start.
During the first few miles, music was what Dennis needed, so I ran quietly, and kept an eye on our pace. I am a numbers nut. When I run a marathon, knowing my pace is important to me. Dennis is not a numbers guy. Telling him what our pace is will be counter productive.
I know Dennis well. I know what pace we should be running. I keep checking our pace, and we are consistently ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, running too fast in the first half can often cost you double in the second half. So my job is to keep him reigned it.
I stay back just a couple paces behind him, hoping to pull him back a bit. When that doesn't work, I have to just call out - 'we should slow down a bit'.
Around mile 8, Dennis warmed up enough to shed his long sleeve shirt. The one that is under the short sleeve shirt. And he's wearing an iPod, and gloves and a hat. I assume duties as a temporary mobile gear/clothing organizer as Dennis hands me each of these items that must be pre-shed, in order to remove the long sleeve shirt. Once the shirt is removed, I tie it around my waist, and return each of the items in reverse order. The entire maneuver takes at least a half mile.
During this task, Dave Jesse catches up to us, and offers some light hearted teasing. I instructed Dave to help out by saying encouraging things into the tail end of Dennis' headphone jack which has not yet been re-plugged into the iPod. Dave came up with some great compliments on the spot, in true Dave Jesse fashion... and its best if they are not repeated here.
Dave is pacing Anne Coffman. Anne is attempting to qualify for the Boston Marathon today. Anne is also preparing to run segment 15 of the MS Run the US Relay
Dennis continues to click off miles at a steady pace. At about mile 14, I feed him a mini PayDay candy bar. Around mile 17, his ankles start to hurt, and I get out Tylenol for him. Around mile 19, its time for a Gu.
Still holding steady, but I can tell he is beginning to struggle. I have been keeping track of our pace and projected finish time. I give him some encouragement, and let him know we are 'on track'. He indicates he needs some distraction, so I start talking about absolutely anything. Dennis has pulled me through some difficult miles by talking sports, a subject where I can contribute very little, but the point is to just have something to listen to, that doesn't require any brain power. I start babbling about the cooking competition shows that I like to watch, and then somehow switched to reminiscing about bike rides on the Glacial Drumlin trail.
With just a couple miles to go, I calculate that Dennis will comfortably reach his goal. However, divulging this fact can have a counter productive effect. The last few miles of a marathon are mind-over-matter, and there is a razor fine line between information that will help, and information that will hurt. If I tell him what our projected finish time is, whether its good or bad, can actually instigate a functional meltdown. Knowing your goal is not in sight can be discouraging and cause you to lose momentum, but knowing you have plenty of cushion can oddly have the same affect.
I tell Dennis 'you are doing fine, let's just hold on for this last little bit'. My tone implies that we are on pace for his goal, but it might be a little close. At mile 26, we see webmaster Bill, and I give a thumbs up.
We make the final turn, and can see the finish line. Dennis has enough left to kick it in for the final stretch. As he crosses the finish line, he sees the clock, and this is the first time all day that he is aware of any time or numbers. He sees 3:47:something, and is TOTALLY surprised.
His official chip time (which differs a bit from gun time) was 3:46:52. Not only did he crush his goal, but set a new personal record by 7 minutes and 2 seconds.
Anne Coffman ran a 3:42:56 and qualified for her first Boston Marathon.
Waiting at the finish was Greg Daggett, Dennis' friend of 40+ years, who ran a very nice 3:41, but missed qualifying for Boston by a minute and a half.
We met up with Bill, and enjoyed a post-race beer and brat, 2 things you are required to consume annually if you want to maintain your status as a Wisconsin resident. Our post-race snack bag included cheese... from Vermont. Huh? Couldn't find any cheese here in the cheese state?
The Wisconsin marathon was well organized. I really liked the course. It was great to run it with my training partner. We also ran a bit very early with Dennis' son in law JoeWee Heinrichs and his friend Mike Kranz, who were casually running the half. We also saw Chris Ponteri, race director for Indoor Marathon
, Heatbreaker Half and a few others, out on the course. Pictures revealed many other friends were out there, including Amy Zembroski and Matt Weis.
For those keeping score, this was marathon or longer number 54 for Dennis.