The morning of my 5th race for my “12 in ‘12” project arrived with….well…absolutely no fanfare whatsoever. It was refreshing not to have to really travel for this race as I have all year long. I got changed, packed my bag for the day, and headed out the apartment door before 4am in order to catch mass transit to Penn Station, where a FREE New Jersey Transit train to the starting line awaited for a prompt 5am departure. It’s direct destination: Monmouth Park racetrack in southern New Jersey.
The weather appeared to be absolutely perfect for a marathon, although the high temperature for the day would cross the 80 degree barrier. The train ride was relaxing and it allowed me to collect my thoughts for the day. I find that locating some time to close my eyes and visualize a successful run on Marathon Morning really works wonders to both relax my pre-race jitters and to set me forth upon the course with some much-needed confidence.
As the train gently rocked back and forth like a fishing boat docked in a comfortable slip, I went through my mental preparation for the race. I closed my eyes and tried to picture the flat course, the quiet streets, and a steady pace. I took deep breaths as the course displayed itself in front of me within my mind. The mile markers flew by me, one after another as if they were lined up with only 100’s of feet between them instead of a firm mile. For some reason, I felt at ease with this race. As I opened my eyes, I felt truly calm. The positive visualization really worked this time around. Now all I needed was my theme music for the race – today’s selection was Ode to Joy. I played the piece in its entirety several times on my iPhone so the notes became engrained in my head. This way, when I needed something to drive away the negative thoughts that were bound to flood my dense cranium (thanks to the heartless work of “The Tool”), the work of Beethoven would drown his tiny squeaky voice out.
As I strode from the train to the starting area, I ran into one of my Team for Kids coaches, Coach Vinny. First some effective positive visualization, add to it a heaping dose of Beethoven, and top it off with a coach who I consider to be one of the most positive-thinking guys I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to. This was shaping up to be an excellent day. Coach Vinny and I chatted about running in general, this race, our upcoming goals – simple subjects to pass the time and maintain the positive aura that was really taking hold of the morning. Before we knew it, it was time to toe the line and get moving. Coach Vinny is an accomplished marathoner who has run 26.2 in less than 3 ½ hours…and he’s constantly getting faster. In short: a good running role model to have. While he headed the to “A” corral – the corral for the competitive runners – I headed to Corral D – the one which housed all those who would not be threatening the current world marathon record of [2:03:02] this Sunday morning. We shook hands, wished each other good luck, and headed to our respective corners to start our slugfest against the asphalt.
Once the gun went off, that positive air that I spent the morning cultivating carried me through the half way point of the race. I spent the first half of the marathon enjoying the sights of southern New Jersey, chatting with fellow runners who waddled along at the same pace as I was. As the mile markers continued to pay by, 7…8…9…my confidence grew. For the first time this year, I controlled my excitement and did not go out too fast early on in the race. I hit the half way point of the race at the 2 hour 20 minute mark. Right on schedule. All I needed to do was stay steady, and a personal best could well be mine.
My first mistake was made as I passed the half way point of the race: I began doing Mental Math. And “The Tool” is an “A” student when it comes to the course of Mental Math.
Every runner is different. Some live or die by their Garmin, Nike +, or Timex GPS watch. I think of this type of runner as a Watch Warrior. They constantly monitor their pace throughout the race by continuously glancing at their current pace per mile, their overall pace per mile, and their elapsed time. The clock is the motivating factor for this type of runner. They know what pace they need to maintain in order to exceed their goals. For these runners, keeping their pace at or below a certain set time per mile is like a person treading water in the middle of the Atlantic; keep your arms and legs moving at a certain rate and you keep your head above water. Slow down…and drown. The constant calculations between the statistics oozing out of the runner’s watch whilst running a marathon and comparing it to his/her goal time for the race is what I mean by Mental Math. It takes a tenacious runner to be a master mental mathematician.
Other runners can simply feel their pace per mile. No satellite assistance required. Simply double knot your shoe laces and take off down the road. Mental Math was never their major. They never even took the class as an elective. I refer to these runners as Gazelles. They simply react to the moment. They feel like they need to pick up their pace – so they do. The clock doesn’t dictate their actions. There appears to be a simple freedom that comes with being able to run like a Gazelle. Don’t think – just run and let the clock take care of itself.
Watch Warriors. Gazelles. All that matters is that the runner breaks the tape. Finish.
As I hit the half way point of the race, I found myself attending Mental Math 101…and my professor was none other than The Tool. The second half of this race just became vastly more complex.
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