Throwing the game plan out the window

Shortly after I finished the Columbus Half Marathon last Sunday, the following conversation occurred between my housemates back in London.

Ben: (Steve coming up the stairs) “Did you see the result yet?”
Steve: “Not yet.”
Ben: “You need to see.”
Steve: “I was a little worried when I saw the halfway split.”
Ben: “You don’t need to be worried about it, but you need to see it.”
Steve: “1:14? Holy shit!”
Ben: “No, look again.”
Steve: “Oh, that’s Matt maybe. 1:13?! HOLY SHIT. HOLY SHIT.”

That was pretty much my reaction, too. Going into the race, I had reasonable expectations (ie. I didn’t expect to run a personal best by over two minutes). My training over the summer and fall had gone well. I had to compromise my half marathon build a bit by racing a 10,000m in August as I needed another time to apply for Quest for Gold funding, but overall I was happy with my training block. I had my best quarter (as they say in the business world) in terms of average mileage per week leading into Columbus and I was pretty consistent in hitting my workouts. Therefore, I expected to run faster than my personal best of 1:15:28. I figured sub-1:14:30 would be a good goal, and if the weather cooperated and I had a great day, 1:14-low or just under was possible. The plan was to run around 3:32 per km (or 5:41 per mile, since that’s where the markers are in an American race) and then try to pick it up in the last four or five miles of the race.

Well, sometime you follow the plan, and other times you throw the plan out the window. This race was an example of the latter. The pre-race atmosphere was partly to blame for a fast first mile. We lined up and a guy sang the US anthem, complete with pyrotechnics when he got to the “bombs bursting in air” part. Oh man, it brought a tear to this Canadian’s eye. Then they start blasting AC/DC over the loudspeakers, which now sounds a bit cliche, but when you’re there, wow it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. I ran the first mile in 5:25. Suda pulled up beside me and we joked that we could both picture Steve telling us to settle down. So we settled down and ran a 5:45 for the next mile. By then I had pulled up beside the lead woman in the half and she settled in with our pack of Matt and I plus some other marathon guys. I kept the effort steady, so I expected to see splits around 5:40. Instead, I saw splits in the mid-5:30s. I knew that I was going out fast, but the effort felt right, so I told myself not to freak out and just hung out with the pack.

Complicating matters was a Kenyan woman who insisted on running about half a foot beside me and constantly bumping elbows with me even though we had an entire road to ourselves. She was really up in my grill, running super-close to me and then listing to one side or another in what felt like an attempt to run me off the road. At one point Matt moved to the front of our pack and she almost ran him into a parked car. It was ridiculous, just totally violating my personal space. Now, before you think I’m some pampered road racer complaining about a bit of harmless contact, let me tell you, I’ve run my share of mid-distance track races. I’ve been boxed in, bumped elbows, I know what’s what. This lady’s actions fell somewhere in that gray area between “not really against the rules” and “hey, that’s not cool,” or in the generic category known as “being a dick.” I tried various strategies like dropping behind her and moving to the other side of the road, but within about five seconds of me doing that she would be beside me, bumping elbows again. I even tried moving to the other side of another guy in our pack to use him as a buffer between me and her but nope, she just moved around him and latched on to my hip again. So I thought, “well, if she’s going to pull this crap I’m gonna run behind her and draft off of her,” which seemed to work.

In the last four miles I was getting pretty pissed off at this chick, so I wanted to beat her pretty badly. I kept trying to crank the pace up, but she wouldn’t let me go by. The result was a few pathetic surges on my part, followed by her surging back and forcing me to the side of the road again. My tangent running was probably terrible. Matt put a gap on our pack at 10 miles or so and crazy lady wouldn’t let me by to chase him. At around 11.5 miles I saw there was an uphill stretch and realized I had to go there and make it a decisive move if I wanted to win. I put in a hard surge on the hill and managed to get clear. Checking over my shoulder about ten seconds later, I saw that I had a five-meter gap and I knew I had the thing won (barring any Galebach-like collapses).

The last mile was awesome. It actually was my fastest mile of the race, a 5:23. My legs hurt and I was tired, but I somehow felt like I could have kept running forever. I now understand how elite runners have the energy to do a victory lap, a smile on their face, seemingly in no distress despite having finished a hard race a minute earlier. I felt like I could have done anything in that last mile; it was just about the greatest feeling I could get from running. I ran through the finish with a big grin on my face.

I felt great until about five minutes after I stopped. Then my legs got sore and tight, even my arms hurt. I went to the elite room to grab my gear, where a volunteer handed me the banner in the picture above, telling me “this is yours to keep.” Cool. The race director came up to me shortly after and informed me that I had broken the half marathon course record. I stared at him in disbelief. “You didn’t know?” I explained that I knew what the course record was (1:13:20-something), but that I never thought I would be able to run that fast, so the thought of breaking the course record had never crossed my mind.

There was still the matter of run-you-off-the-road crazy lady. I decided to take the high road and kill her with kindness (after having put 20 seconds on her in the last mile). I walked up to her, shook her hand, and said, “great race, thanks for pushing me out there. I just ran a 2-minute PR and I couldn’t have done it if I had been out there on my own.” In retrospect, this was probably a mistake, since she then started following me around and wanted to be my best friend. I managed to get away when the race director presented me with a plaque, a big-ass glass trophy, and had be pose for a photo with a big novelty cheque for my race winnings. Wow, they do things right down in Columbus.

After a long cool down (I ran the long way out to the 24-mile marker to see Matt, yelled at him a bit, then realized I had to run 2 miles back to the finish…I was running pretty slowly by the end). Then I gathered my gear and made the long trek back to the hotel. Talk about a good problem to have, I had to lug my trophy and the rest of my crap back to the hotel. It took me forever. Matt made it back shortly after I did. He had an awesome first marathon, clocking a 2:27:43. Not bad for a guy who’s never broken 15:30 in the 5k! We both got to the computer in time to watch the Canadians finish the Toronto Waterfront Marathon on the live stream. What an awesome day!

It’s days like Sunday that make me realize how much I love this sport. Breakthroughs happen when you put in a ton of work grinding out mileage and workouts and everything comes together on race day. Redemption is possible if you are patient. Matt and I both dropped out of Toronto a year ago, but we both made some changes, came back stronger, and ran great races this year in Columbus. There were great examples of this north of the border too, with Lanni and Krista coming back from disappointing races in Moscow to run under the Canadian marathon record in Toronto. And all of the sacrifices we make as runners are definitely worth it.

I can’t end this blog without saying thanks to everyone for the kind words after the race. On a day when I thought my race would be overshadowed by performances at the Toronto Waterfront Marathon (and rightly so, two women ran under the Canadian marathon record!) I still got lots of congratulations over email, facebook, and twitter. My sister posted a picture that got over 100 likes. Do I even know that many people? Thanks to Matt, who did all of the driving last weekend and was a great running buddy out on the course. Thanks to all of my teammates in London for being great training partners and friends. Thanks to my family; mom, dad, Alison and everyone else, who maybe don’t fully understand what I do or why I do it, but support me just the same. Thanks to Runners’ Choice and New Balance for their tremendous support for London Runner. And finally, a huge thanks to Steve Weiler who has been and will continue to be exactly the coach I need, capable of encouraging me or giving me a kick in the ass if that’s what I need on the day. There is no way I could have run that well without everything he has done for me for the past three years. Steve, I realize that I’m probably not the easiest person to work with, but your patience, support, and hard work over the past three years has meant the world to me.

Sorry folks, I got a little sappy at the end there, but I’ve had a lot of emotions to process over the past week. Naturally, the best solution is to announce them to the entire internet. Thanks for reading and until next time, run more miles!

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6 Responses to Throwing the game plan out the window

  1. Cooks Bridge Troll says:

    yeah, Kenyans run dirty sometimes. running’s like hockey to them.

    • Leslie Sexton says:

      Yeah, I didn’t expect it in a road race but it makes sense now. If it happens again I’ll yell at them or send a snotrocket their way.

      • Cooks Bridge Troll says:

        If I were you, I’d go with the more a subtle step-on-the-back-of-their-shoe. Nothing makes them angrier than beating them, of course:

  2. Delmonte's flow says:

    RAISE YOUR ARMS AT THE FINISH SEXTON. Great run! WOO!!!

    I SAID WOO!!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V07cXv8rYfI

  3. Way to Go Leslie…….from Ben’s Mom

  4. Jesse says:

    Just reading this now, but I chose the low road on a Kenyan who did this to me a few years back in a road race (4 miles). After a mile of this crap I sent him flying across the road with a nice shove, that was the end of it. Props on keeping cool, nice race last year! (I’m from Columbus and a friend and I were trying to figure out course records today)

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