01
Apr
16

Marathon No. 2: Can’t beat Keene

Marathon No. 2 came after a summer of training. Fall is the best time for a marathon. You’ve got all summer to train in shorts and a T-shirt, and hopefully you get cool weather for your race.

After my legs finally recovered from their “dead” state, I targeted the Clarence DeMar Marathon in Keene, N.H. My goal was to break 3 hours. And it just happened that I ran the 25th anniversary of the event in 2002.

The DeMar Marathon is in late September and the morning of the race was the coldest morning to date that season. It was 32 degrees when I boarded the 7 a.m. bus in the dark for the start.

One aspect that always stays with me about this event was when I boarded the bus, a gentleman was there to greet me, shake my hand and offer “good luck.”

Nice touch.

When we arrived at the start in the small town of Gilsum, we were dropped off at a church. There didn’t seem to be much else there. Just the building, many porta-potties and cases of Gatorade.

The cold weather forced me to jog a bit before the gun. Otherwise, I’d be shivering.

The first few miles were gradually downhill along a river. It was quite peaceful.

That peace was interrupted by a farm tractor that just pulled onto the road we were on.

A group of us ran behind the tractor for a mile or so. We had no other choice. It was one of those machines with the huge wheels, and went about the speed of a Zamboni: 8 miles per hour. Which is about the pace we were on. We couldn’t shake this beast until it turned on a nearby road.

Only in a small-town marathon.

Around Mile 8, I caught up with a large group of runners who were carrying on a casual conversation. It seemed as though they all knew each other. But they were just passing the time before the miles got tough.

As I joined them, one asked what time I was shooting for.

Three hours, I replied.

Join the club, he said.

Much obliged.

It wasn’t long before the group broke up, but it wasn’t the last time I encountered some of them.

At one point, the course crossed Rte. 101, a main thoroughfare in that part of New Hampshire. Police were there to stop traffic as we came by. We didn’t miss a beat.

The course has changed twice since then and I’m assuming that crossing has been cut out. I still can’t believe they stopped all that traffic for us.

At 13 miles, I was under 3-hour pace, but not by much. I remember seeing the 13.1 mark spray painted on the road, and quickly scanned my watch. It read 1:29:47. That meant I could slow only about 30 seconds on the second half if I wanted to be under that magical time.

I had my doubts.

Mile 17 had the only significant hill. It was about a half mile long, but once crested, you came right back down. No time lost there.

Soon after, I ran across a small covered bridge – another nice touch.

Near the 20-mile mark, I began running with one of the guys who was in that original “three-hour club” group. He told me his name (Andy) and told me I had three hours “in the bag.”

We traded surges for a while. He ran ahead, then I caught him. I ran ahead, he caught me. It kept us focused on moving forward, rather that thinking about how our bodies were feeling.

Andy eventually pulled away, but I was grateful to have someone out there to help “pull” me along.

Near Mile 24, we had looped back to Rte. 101. This time there were no police. We had to get onto the other side on our own. Sunday morning traffic was busy, but we had little choice: just pick an opening, and go for it.

When I reached the other side, the Mile 25 marker greeted me. My watch read 2:52. I was cutting it close.

At this point, the course looped around on its way to the finish at Keene State College. During the final mile, a runner passed me. I said “nice job,” but he didn’t reply. I later found out why he wasn’t in such a social mood.

As I approached the KSC entrance and rounded the corner into the campus, there was still a “2” on the clock. Finally, I could celebrate. I crossed the finish line in 2:59:33.

As I sought out Andy to congratulate him in the chute, I walked past the runner who had passed me earlier. About 2 seconds later, I heard him puke. He had given his all – and his breakfast.

As I recovered on the still-cool morning, I met up with another of the “club” runners. His name was Gerry and he said he had to make “an unplanned pit stop” and just missed the three-hour plateau. The weather was perfect, but Mother Nature kept him from meeting his goal. His time was 3:00:41. What a difference dropping trow can make.

Later that night, I realized that my half-marathon splits were just one second off. I couldn’t have planned it any better.

The race was a great experience, despite the cold shower afterward. (At least showers were available). Maybe 300 took part that day, and this race would have exploded if not for the fact that the race happens just after registration for Boston is closed.

It also gave me a ton of confidence – and naivety to boot – leading up to my next marathon: Boston.

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