A race to remember on 9/11

I’m still walking on air – albeit slowly.

I have a blister on one of my toes, a sore IT band – and a
great feeling inside that only running can provide.

From the tail wind at the start to the ice bath at the end,
Sunday’s inaugural Bozeman Marathon turned out to be what will become an
unforgettable experience.

And not just because I finished first; that was part of it.
But from the second my alarm went off at 5:10 a.m. yesterday, the good times

When we gathered downtown at Bozeman Running Company to
catch the bus to the starting line, it was pitch dark. But as we made our way
westward, a huge peach-colored moon was just setting over the horizon. By the
time we reached our destination in Gallatin Gateway, the sky had brightened a
bit, and people noticed that the tall grass and tree branches were swaying. It
wasn’t like that in Bozeman.

When we got outside, it was cold. But I was buoyed by the
fact that the wind would be behind us once we started.

With 15 minutes to go before the gun, I called my parents in
Massachusetts. It was the 10th anniversary of the attacks on 9/11. I
had to check in before the race to say hi and recall that horrible day.

Just before the race, BRC owner Casey Jermyn led a moment of
silence and the 4-person relay team of Montana State University ROTC members
stood among us. I’m so glad they were there. They NEEDED to be there.

They also had a long pole with an American Flag at the end,
which they carried – one by one – to the finish in downtown Bozeman.

When the gun was fired, we were off. And I was alone from
the first steps. I had trained hard and was looking to run under a 6:45 for the
whole race, but I never expected to be by myself from the get-go.

After two miles, the conversations behind me dissipated. It
was just me and the quiet roads of the pristine Gallatin Valley. The Bridgers
were in the distance to the east and there were foothills nearby. I heard cows
moo and roosters cock-a-doodle do. And there was always a river nearby.

At Mile 3, I thought I was listening to the sound of rushing
water when Kal Tucker, whom I covered when he played for the Bozeman Bucks a
few years ago, came upon me. We ran together for a minutes, swapped marathon
stories and talked about how beautiful the scenery was.

Then Kal said, “I guess I’ll let you take it from here.”

I was on my own again.

The wind pushed me to a somewhat surprising 6:30 pace
through five miles. I didn’t feel like I went out too hard, so I just ran with
it. My ultimate goal was 2:55 and I was feeling GOOD, but I knew there was a
long way to go.

So I continued to admire the view.

I ran past a ranch that was for sale with a sign that read “20
acres, stunning views.” Darn right.

To keep my mind occupied, I started counting how many rivers
I crossed over, thinking that when I got to five, that would be about it.

I ran past Post Office Pizza in Gateway. I’d never been to that
restaurant, I’ve only seen the sign advertising it while whizzing down Highway
191 on the way to Yellowstone.

Eventually, the course took us under 191. At the other end,
there were stairs. I never expected to have to run up a flight during a marathon,
but just before that first step, the course turned left, and I ran on the other
side of 191 for a bit.

Soon, there was a turn on Gooch Hill Road. It never dawned
on me until running on it that the road indeed included a hill. Not a steep
one, but a gradual one. And that slowed me down a bit. I still got to Mile 9 in
less than an hour, but the 6:30 pace was a thing of the past.

Six. There goes another stream underneath me.

There were twists and turns along the course, but I never
felt lost. There were always arrows to signal the correct direction. That’s
always a good sign of course management, so kudos to RD Tyler Wilkinson and

When we ran east, the sun was right there, blinding me and
growing hotter with each hour. I continued to slow once we reached Cottonwood
Road because there was another incline. And just before the halfway point, the
biggest hill slowed me even more. But it wasn’t that long and the other side
provided a nice downhill stretch; time to make up some time, I thought.

As I crossed 13.1 miles, I was disappointed to be at 1:29. Because
of my training and the quick start I got courtesy of the tail wind, I was
hoping to be at 1:27.

But the downhill section kept going until we hit 19th
Ave. And now there were runners (from the half marathon) to pass. It was nice
to have company on the road. I tried to yell encouragement to those I passed – especially
the walkers – but eventually fell silent because just about everyone had ear
buds in. I figured I’d either scare the crap out of them or they wouldn’t hear
me. Plus, I was getting tired and didn’t feel like saying anything.

Occasionally, I heard people say, “there goes the first
marathoner,” or “did we just get passed,” as I chugged along.

The magic number for me when it comes to breaking the 3-hour
mark is 2:17 at 20 miles. If I get there in that time, I’ve got a good shot at
it. On Sunday, I was at 2:14. My goal, as I said, was 2:55. I was on it.

But I was beginning to get cramps here and there (in my
foot, which never happens, and my calf;
usually it’s my hamstrings that go first – go figure). And I was just
plain tired.

At Mile 23, I nonchalantly said to myself, “I guess I’m
going to win it.” But I was too beat to feel psyched up by the thought; I just
wanted 2:55.

My legs, however, had other ideas. I tried to surge every
once in a while, but I was barely doing 7-minute miles. And by the time I got
to the final stretch and mile along the Linear Trail, I knew my goal was out.

I did continue tallying river crossings. Final count: 14.

I finished the race in 2:58, which ties my personal best,
but wasn’t the slighted bit disappointed. It was cool to be the first finisher
and hear the cheers as I crossed the line. My wife and daughter quickly came
over to greet me. My daughter, Nina (5) kept saying, “Daddy you won!” and gave
my some stickers from the tiny purse she had brought.

Soon, friends and fellow runners Mark Slater, Matt Edwards
and Rob Maher came over to shake my hand and offer congrats. The local
newspaper reporter (OK, he works with me at the Chronicle) came over to interview
me. That was a new one. No one interviews the guy who finishes second, which I’ve
done several times. I was even announced as the marathon winner while I entered
the track at MSU for the final few yards of the Lewis and Clark Marathon a
couple of years ago, only to hear the announcer soon say, “ah, check that,”
since Darryl Nourse had somehow managed to slip in unnoticed as the winner a
few minutes before.

On Sunday, I slipped into an ice bath at Bogert Park,
something I had also never done after a marathon. But I knew they were going to
be there and promised myself earlier in the week that I was going to get in one
since it helps with recovery.

When I put my feet in they immediately went numb. Then I
slowly lowered my butt in – just like Bugs Bunny when he was making carrot

Oooooh, ooooh, ahhhhh.

I stayed in for about 15 minutes, then shivered for another
45 once I got out. I have to say, now that it’s the next day, the bath helped.
I’m not that sore, but we’ll see what happens tomorrow.

I realized pretty quick that any of the guys who placed in
the top three for the half marathon (Lyle Weese, Graydon Curry, Josh Ricardi)
could have easily run the full and finished in 2:40. But they didn’t. The field
finally went in my favor. Finally, I wasn’t the bridesmaid anymore.

I do get to enjoy having the course record for a year,
though. And, like a friend told me this morning, I’ll always be the winner of
the inaugural Bozeman Marathon.

A couple hours after the race, my mother called to see how
it had gone.

“Good. I won it,” was my reply. I think I stunned her because
she almost started to cry because she was so happy and proud. She couldn’t wait
to tell my father.

Soon, I was off for a nap, with the salty sweat stains still
lining my face. Sleep never felt so good.

In all, it was a day to remember. And, for a change, I have
a good memory to go along with a day that is usually recalled with sadness.


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September 2011
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