As I left the women who put sunscreen on me I stopped off to pee in the port-a-potty. This would be the final time I would have to pee. I had peed once during the swim and 3 – 4 times on the bike, mostly during the first loop. I finally crossed the timing mat and hit the split button on my watch. Unlike Lake Placid I was going to keep track on my mile splits and see how fast or slow I would be running.
Right away people were shouting encouragement to me by name. At Lake Placid I wore the number with my last name and not as many people cheered for me by name. This time I wore my first name and people were more likely to cheer for me. Funny how that works.
Heading down State Street for my first loop I was surprised by how many people were lined up along the street. It was awesome to have so many people watching you run down the street. The entire street was covered with chalk from people writing support for their friends or family. I made the first zig zag towards Dayton street and suddenly Hodska was running next to me. He wanted to check in on me and see how things were going. He said I was a hard man to catch up to. Baker couldn’t keep up with me so Hodska sprinted ahead. He said I looked solid and smooth. It’s nice to hear some input from someone looking at your objectively. Hodska is a top notch athlete and knows what he is talking about. It was good to see him again and hear what he had to say.
I continued down the street and saw my parents sitting by the side of the road. I caught them off guard and my mom rushed to get her camera out and get a picture. I hit the first mile at 7:56. I wanted to be at 8 or slower but I felt good. I felt like I was going slow enough to go the distance.
I started keeping track of my miles and taking water or Gatorade at each aid station. My nutrition plan on the run was to put down a PowerGel every three miles or 30 minutes. The early part of the run course winds around all over the place. The arrows on the road and the volunteers were great in sending you the right way.
Mile two was right before the course went into the University of Wisconsin football stadium. A short ramp into the stadium sent us around the perimeter of the football stadium. Unfortunately we needed to run back up that ramp. It wasn’t too bad the first time. Personally the loop in the stadium was blasé. I’m not a football fan so I could have done without the loop. As I was heading out of the stadium, Aussie Rob was heading into the stadium. This was his first IM and you looked really good. I was pleasantly surprised to see him so close to me.
The day was starting to get hot so I was grabbing sponges at the aid stations to put in my jersey or squeeze over my head. I grabbed two cups at each aid station so I could take in as much fluid as possible. Between miles 4 and 5 the course goes on a nice multi-purpose path. This stretch offered some shade from the sun. To this point I had seen several of the pros heading in the opposite direction. I saw Amanda Lovato for the first time on the path and cheered her on. She’s the most recognizable pro to me and I read her blog so she gets my support each time.
Approaching mile 5 I finally started to see the family support. Before turning towards the mile 5 aid station I heard my sister-in-law Becky yelling for me. I had a hard time realizing it was her because she had a camera to her face while yelling for me. The guy running next to me commented on the cheering. I replied, “She has to yell for me, that’s my sister-in-law.” A little bit further I saw Aimee and she was cheering loudly for me as well. I turned to the same guy and said, “and that’s my wife.”
Right before the aid station Becky had written GO ERIC in huge letters with chalk on the sidewalk. I mean you couldn’t miss it. You can even see it in the highlight DVD. My in-laws were volunteering at this aid station. I managed to grab some water from my father-in-law but I don’t think he realized it until I was past him. All of a sudden I heard my mother-in-law screaming for me from behind. Those little boosts are so important during such a long race.
After the aid station is Observatory Road where the majority of hill climbing is. There are three uphills back to back on this road. I managed to run each hill during the first loop. Thinking back I should have power walked the hills instead. The final downhill leads to a quick run through campus to a different section of State Street. I saw my mom and dad at this point. Again she was fumbling to get the camera out in time to take a picture. Lucky for her the course goes down State Street then back to where they were sitting. She would be ready when I came back.
On this section of State Street there were a lot of spectators cheering people on. After the turn-around on State Street I saw Aussie Rob again, still the same distance behind me. I made my way back to the streets in campus and saw my parents again. We talked as I went by and my mom took a small video clip.
The course went back along Lake Mendota on a nice dirt path covered by trees. This was a very nice area to enjoy the shade. During mile 8 there was an aid station decorated with a Disney theme and the Ford Inspiration Zone. I like the Inspiration Zone because this is where all of the signs people have made are up for display. It was hard to read them but still felt good have them there. The female DJ at the zone was cheering people on and playing some good music. As I passed through I did a little dance to the music and got a shout out from the DJ.
Trudging along I continued to drink water and Gatorade. I was grabbing sponges and squeezing them over my head. I kept moving forward so that I could get this first half of the run done with. As I headed back to State Street I rounded a corner and heard some people yelling for me. I tried to look back and see who they were but I couldn’t get a good look. Maybe they would be there on the way back. It was good to have someone cheering for me.
The turn around for the marathon has got to be the worst one out there. The course runs past the special needs bags, make a left hand turn and you are now on the final stretch heading towards the finish. You see the finish arch. You see the crowds waiting and cheering. They may cheer for you thinking you are finishing. But alas, you stay left and run around the cones that take you back out onto the course. It’s such a terrible teaser.
I stopped off at the special needs bags and grabbed some more PowerGels. I wanted to replenish my supplies but wasn’t sure if I would be using them. I thanked the volunteer and headed back out for loop two.
I made my way down State Street again and I saw Hodska and Baker again. Baker was kneeling right behind an ASI photographer with his video camera. Hodska was standing right off the street. What he said would be stored away until I needed it, “the second lap is where you make it count.” That may not be exactly what he said but it stuck with me. About a mile later I saw Simply Stu from Team EvoTri. He had two teammates in the race so I gave him a shout and we bumped fists.
Right before the Wisconsin stadium I ran across Aimee cheering me on. Mark was also there taking pictures and he snapped one of me stopping to give Aimee and quick hug. It was also around this time, mile 15, that my times started to go north of 9 minutes per mile. The length of the day was starting to take it’s toll. I was also starting to slip off my nutrition plan. I had stopped taking my PowerGels which was probably my biggest mistake of the day.
From mile 15 to 20 I remember that I was moving forward. I saw Becky and Kyle again. I saw Aimee and her friend Debbie. I saw Alan’s girlfriend Rosana on State Street. Each time I think I smiled to show my appreciation of them being there.
On Observatory Road I power walked the three hills. I decided that whatever energy I had left was best used on other sections of the course. I am happy to say that these were the only times I walked. I would take very small walks, 5 – 10 seconds, at the aid stations, but those were very fast.
On the out and back on State Street I could see that Aussie Rob was still behind me and going strong. I knew what I was going to say to him and was hoping that he could rise up to my challenge. At mile 20 Rob finally caught up to me. I simply said, “If you pass me, I better not see you again.” I don’t remember his response but he soldiered on and started to pull away.
When I looked up again to see where he was I noticed the gap between us was not increasing anymore. It was at that point where I sub-consciously started to reel him back in and at mile 21 we were shoulder to shoulder again. Wanting to be friendly Rob asked if I wanted to talk to pass the time. As response was short and to the point, “You talk…I’ll listen.” Rob got the picture and said, “Okay, I’ll shut up then.” I know he didn’t take it the wrong way and if he needed someone to talk to I was fine with that, he just wouldn’t get any response from me.
So we ran for a mile together. Mark was taking pictures and got a good one of us near mile 22. And then it hit me…….only 4 more miles to go. Several things helped me with the final four.
1) My competitive nature. My ego. Call it what you want but Aussie Rob was going to pay for passing me and letting me catch back up. I warned him that “I better not see him again.” He was going to pay for it.
2) “The second lap is where you make it count.” Hodska’s comment came to the front of my mind. This was the end of the second lap and I was going to make it count.
3) Halle Nanda. All summer Halle was with me during the end of my big weekend bricks, which usually consisted of a 4 mile run. So with only four miles to go I had Halle on my shoulder helping me put my best effort into these last miles. It was time to finish this race with my Game On.
So I went for it. I saw Mark one last time as he passed me riding his bike. He held out a shot glass and said the next one was for me. The dude is nuts. He took a shot at the top of each hour as long as there were people on the course he knew…..he finished the day with 15.
Heading back onto State Street the crowd was still cheering loudly and I heard my name called out again. This time I was able to identify the two brunettes cheering so loudly for me. It was Doug Bell’s wife and daughter. Doug is also coached by Angela and his family is energetic spectators. It was great to know who was cheering for me. Coming off State Street and passing through the aid station I saw an athlete leaning against a chain link fence. He was shoving his finger down his throat trying to make his stomach feel better. With his second try he managed to expel the fluid in his stomach, I yelled at him “get it out of there buddy.”
The final two turns toward the finish were hard to handle. The emotions that I had bottled up from a long summer of training were starting to come up to the top. I just needed to make it to the finish line and then I could let it out. As I headed down the final stretch I managed to find Aimee and everyone else along the fence. I ran to them and gave quick hugs and high fives. Each time you see me dipping my head down I am trying not to loose it before the finish line.
I also tried to take in the atmosphere of the finish. I ran to each side giving high fives. I saw a group of girls in yellow shirts and ran towards them but stumbled a little and fell into the fence. I got up and slapped hands before finally crossing the finish line.
I didn’t realize it but I walked across the finish line. The only way I know this is to watch the DVD we received with the race highlights. My walk across the finish line is the last scene of the volunteer clip.
On the other side of the finish line I was greeted by a finish line catcher and my friend crazy Debbie. She was taking the timing chips from people after they finished. It was nice to have her near by and watching over me as I stood there and cried into my finishers shirt. Once I was able to compose myself I looked up and saw Aimee along the fence. I walked over to her with my “catcher” to great everyone. I assured the volunteer that I was okay and I was left to celebrate with my fans.
I knew that Aussie Rob wasn’t far behind me and sure enough he was there when I turned around to look for him. We congratulated each other and he found his wife standing next to Aimee. A quick picture with my medal and I went to be with Aimee and my mom and dad.
Run time: 3:59:53
Finish time: 11:03:36
More to follow…….