Taking Back Patriots’ Day

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As I reflect on my race and entire experience at the 118th Boston Marathon, I not only take satisfaction in my personal result, but what we as American distance runners and as a running community at large were able to achieve on Marathon Monday. In every sense, we played our roles in taking back Patriots’ Day with resilience and panache.

My Journey

My road to Boston began at the end of 2013 in the same manner as the iconic race course: a rapid, pummeling descent along a byzantine roadway with only a vague idea of a finish line. In November my morale had taken a plummet from August’s high point– the Moscow World Championship— after a debacle of a performance at the ING New York City Marathon. Hoping for a breakthrough in my home state, I soldiered on through headwinds to a momentum-changing defeat. Still, I knew well enough from past experiences how to handle my profession’s undulations and keep myself level on course.

When the opportunity to run Boston was presented, it enabled me to refocus with a new carrot to chase. I was thankful to have an offer to run and felt that it was the right race selection at this juncture in my career: I need to play in the Majors. Whereas another athlete in my position might look for a venue to race the clock, I felt going mano-a-mano in another championship-style marathon was the better choice and would give me a chance to make more of an impact in the race. Given how athletes are forced to make decisions “on the fly” without pacemakers, I also think there’s a steeper learning curve in such competitions. I should also mention briefly that I felt running Boston a year after the 2013 tragedies would be a great way to be a part of the Boston Strong movement in a display of solidarity for the community and our sport. Without hesitation, I committed myself to April’s penultimate Monday race.

Eggleston pacing at Houston Marathon

Pacing 2:06 in Houston

And so I set off. My five-month buildup to Boston featured some competitive checkpoints along the way– akin to the towns that are strung together on the Marathon’s race course necklace. My first destination was Houston, where I had hoped to compete in the U.S. Half-Marathon Championship. Unfortunately, I became very sick from the flu in the first week of January. After 8 days of bed rest I withdrew from competing in Houston, but decided I would try to pace a portion of the marathon as practice. Along with 2 other Ethiopian pacemakers, I assisted Bazu Worku with a course record attempt and successful title repeat, leading the group through halfway in 1:03:15. I was happy with how controlled and low-key my run was. Even though it was a volunteer assignment, I was grateful for the opportunity to get some experience running at the front of a marathon and at a quality pace.

2014 NYC Half Marathon

At the NYC Half

My next stop came a few weeks later in Japan, at the Kagawa Marugame International Half-Marathon. In a deep field of corporate runners, I spent the entire 21.1km jockeying for position and came away with a 1:03:00 PB. I was pleased with how quickly I had regained my health and fitness and took this momentum back stateside to continue my Boston preparations.

My other two outings served as escapes from the Colorado winter’s tumult. I ran a 1:04 half-marathon in Tampa and another 1:03 at the NYC Half. Both performances were solid enough for me, but marathon training remained my top priority and proved to be my biggest opponent while out there competing. After racing in New York, I traveled up to Boston to do a course reconnaissance. Over three days, I ran the entire course with the assistance of the John Hancock Athlete Recruiter. “It’s Boston, so expect anything!” I was told. I brought those words and my newfound knowledge of the course back with me to Boulder to strategize during my final month of training.

When it was finally time to depart for the race weekend, I was relieved. I had trained very well, remained healthy and felt poised for a good performance. As the 24th seed, I had nowhere to go but up!

#WeRanTogether

Hopkinton was a far different atmosphere than when I had embarked from town on St. Patrick’s Day for my first course preview run. The overwhelmingly large crowds of onlookers were only a preface to the boost I would receive from an estimated 1 million spectators along the route. The start was exactly how I had envisioned it: we were sent off with a huge release of energy as gravity pulled us from the starting line and sent us hurtling recklessly down Route 135. Tuck and roll. 

Eggleston Boston Marathon Start

Taking off from Hopkinton

There weren’t any surprises in the largely downhill first 4 miles. I stuck to my pre-race plan and tucked in with the lead group through some very tame low 4:50 miles (just over 3:00/km). My orange adidas Adios Boost flats helped cushion the landing shock. Our pack was close to 30 athletes strong as we passed the 5km en masse around 15:10 and rolled by the Ashland Clock Tower. I bided my time towards the back and remained a face in the crowd, notably among race favorites Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Chebet of Kenya. Meanwhile, our entire U.S. London Olympic Team– Ryan HallMeb Keflezighi (also a teammate for the New York Athletic Club) and Abdi Abdirahman— helped sustain an honest pace at the front. As known frontrunners, this seemed status quo to me.

Our large group remained entirely in tact through Framingham as we approached the Train Depot at 10km in 30:30, only splicing momentarily to retrieve our personal bottles off of the special fluids tables. There were some minor traffic jams, although I had no problem grabbing my bottle of Lemon-Lime PowerBar Perform sports drink.

Before passing Lake Cochituate the group’s pace had gradually decelerated, which had a dangerous accordion effect. There were several near trips from all of the jostling as our pack tightened up. Simultaneously as this happened, Meb and Mammoth Lakes Track Club member Josphat Boit began to sneak away from our apprehensive and disorganized peloton. I was content to remain with the field and use the 5:00 miles as recovery. However, nobody seemed willing to respond to Meb and “JB” so their lead began to grow…

Eggleston_Jeffrey-Boston14

Staying relaxed

Our chase pack warily came through 15km in 45:57, about 10 seconds behind the leading American duo. Ryan remained dawdling at the front and was joined by our compatriot Nick Arciniaga. The disorganization of our group continued as we approached the fluid station and 2:05 man Tilahun Regassa seemingly tangled with last year’s runner-up, Micah Kogo, and went down hard in front of me. I jumped over the tumbled Ethiopian and zig-zagged to grab my bottle. What an occupational hazard! Our group reestablished with ease due to the relaxed pace, as we followed a slight rise into Natick Center. I observed how quickly and significantly the gap was growing ahead. Still, all the favorites were content to watch each other (and not Meb or JB). Personally, I did not feel threatened by the early break. If defending champion Lelisa Desisa didn’t care about the gap, then why should I? Having watched several years’ worth of Marathon race footage, I knew historically that 10 miles in was not a good time to be noticed in the race.

From my vantage point, the next 5km became more of a cat-and-mouse hunt. Unfortunately, I cannot confirm that there was any strategic American teamwork employed to enhance Meb’s growing margin. There certainly wasn’t any plan for this that I was made aware of. I do recall Ryan verbally communicating something to either Nick or fellow Boulderite Jason Hartmann, but I had assumed he was encouraging one of them to assist him with jumpstarting the group. At this time I noted alarmingly on my wristwatch that our 17th kilometer was covered in over 3:30! I’m not sure who was responsible for the slowdown. At the back of the group, there was some audible chatter among the Ethiopians. I couldn’t know if they were discussing the slow pace or Regassa’s fall. Gebre Gebremariam disappeared shortly after that.

Finally, a strong move was made before the 20km mark– neither from an American nor an African. Surprisingly, the charge came from Vitaliy Shafar, a 2:11 marathoner from Ukraine. He had caught up to our chase pack and his injection of pace did considerable damage. KimettoKogo, DesisaRegassa and Markos Geneti were among the first responders. I was caught off guard by the acceleration and forced to claw my way back, encouraging Ryan as I passed him to come with me. At that point, any attempt to communicate was useless as we had entered the tunnel of screaming coeds at Wellesley College. I crossed 20km in 1:01:45, with some ground to close on the strung out chase pack ahead. In my estimation, Meb and JB had at least a 200m cushion on their pursuers.

I entered Wellesley Center having lost more ground to the chase pack. Using his downhill prowess, Nick had caught up and led me by virtual tow rope on the downgrading slope. We passed through half-marathon in an unremarkable 1:05:05. I couldn’t help feeling some disappointment in myself for having let the pace slow down. About 10 seconds ahead, Geneti’s green and red Ethiopian national team uniform was visible at the front of the streamlined chase group. Still a lot of race left.

It was extremely helpful to key off of Nick. We worked together to pull back some time on the select group of 10 or so. It appeared that the unheralded Shafar had again attempted to pull away. The pack didn’t seem to bite his hook, so they remained in striking distance for us. By 25km (1:17:04), our return to the pack was imminent.

I did my best to stay with Nick as we made our descent into Lower Newton Falls. It reminded me of our time training together while a part of the Hansons Team in 2008. I remembered how exceptionally effortless he made downhill running seem during his training block for Boston that year (he would go on to finish 10th). Later on in 2012, fresh off my 2:12 in Chicago, I assisted him with some rolling 4 mile repeats on Lake Mary Road in Flagstaff and found myself trailing anytime the road dipped. We had trained and raced against each other enough through the years to know one another’s strengths. I respected his “go for it” attitude. On this day, our strengths complemented each other and so we worked as colleagues. At the 16 mile mark, we had caught back up to the group.

Boston Marathon Chase Pack

At Lower Newton Falls in the chase pack (yellow vest)

I knew the race would get interesting with the road rising through Newton over the next 8km. It forced me to settle into my own rhythm during the climbs. I had passed by Regassa and a laboring Desisa before crossing over the I-95, and could make out the faint orange adidas vests of Lusapho April and Chebet stretching the group in pursuit of Shafar— perhaps also in their own hasty personal bids for victory. My plan was to keep it steady on the first two Newton Hills, and start a push at the crest of Heartbreak Hill. I held my ground on the group from the Newton Fire Station to the top of the first hill. The road leveled out and I recouped for the next mile, passing 30km in 1:32:49. A PowerGel taped to my 30km bottle had a rejuvenating effect.

The second hill came as anticipated in 2 parts. I moved by the faltering Moroccan, Adil Annani and set my sights on the others who just disappeared around a bend on Commonwealth Avenue. I still felt in control and confident that I could run strong up Heartbreak. Crowds 3 or 4 deep formed yet another scream tunnel on the 600m, 4.5% rise. It was a spectacle that might resemble a haute catagorie climb in the Tour de France. People shouted for me while I solemnly concentrated on the road ahead. As a diversion, I read runners’ names and phrases of encouragement that were chalked all along on the tarmac.

I pushed hard down the backside of Heartbreak and through Boston College, hoping I could make up several places on the mostly downhill run into the city. I crossed 35km in 1:48:48. Unbeknownst to me, Chebet was now in full-flight entering Brookline and eating away at Meb’s lead. The downhill coming into Cleveland Circle was particularly debilitating to my overexerted quadriceps. As I passed by April, I remembered how well I had conditioned my legs for downhill running in Boulder with Ali’s help, as she would drive me from the finish of my 3km repeats back to the start above.

Despite a feeling of overexertion, I continued to pull back the runners floating ahead of me. From Coolidge Corner to Kenmore Square, I reeled in the Claudio Berardelli-trained darkhorse, Paul Lonyangata, and an athlete in a hot pink uniform that I did not immediately recognize as JB. All the while, Nick was doing what he does best: barreling over the small rises and drops to make up ground (at 40km, he was only 3 seconds behind). With 1km to go, we dipped under Mass Ave and I lost a few steps. I did everything I could to hang on.

The slight rise on the final turn from Hereford to Boylston might as well have been a canyon wall. With less than 600m to go I passed the Trader Joe’s that I had frequented in so many trips to the city, and more importantly where I had resolved to start my finishing kick. I was neither gaining nor losing ground on Nick, but made the effort to keep my legs turning over. I watched the clock counting up and kicked all the way through the finish line to ensure a sub 2:12 clocking. As we were escorted to the recovery area, my time and place were confirmed: 8th in 2:11:57Not bad for a Boston rookie.

Arciniaga and Eggleston at Boston Marathon Finish

Nick and I on Boylston St

We learned shortly after from Sara Hall that Meb had held on for the win in a personal best 2:08:37. I was both shocked and inspired. He ran his own race and it paid off.

As I walk (or maybe hobble) away from Boston, I’m pleased for my highest finish in a Major, and even the small PB. Maybe someday a big personal best time will happen for me. As Meb so aptly demonstrates, I could potentially have another 10 years of improvement in the sport with the right long-term approach. For now, I will continue to hone in on my racing skills and get consistent training in from year to year. Sky’s the limit.

Thank you

The only way I know how to conclude this post is to express my gratitude to everyone who has faithfully supported me during my Boston prep this year. I feel quite fortunate with the support network that I have now–it is stronger than ever. Thank you in particular to John Hancock and the B.A.A. for taking a chance on inviting me, the slowest elite athlete in the field, to the Marathon. A special thanks to Marcus and Heather for their incredible routine therapies that kept me healthy during the most demanding training of my career. Of course, I am grateful for the constant love and encouragement from Ali, my family and longtime friends. Last but not least, thanks to the supportive and resilient community of Boston, for welcoming me and 36,000 others back to your city for your race– it is you who makes this marathon so special. I cannot wait to return for another Patriots’ Day! –JDE

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Reflections from Moscow

A few days and many time zones removed from the World Championship Marathon, I continue to re-calibrate and reflect on my experience in Moscow. My Circadian rhythm has been quick to adjust back to Mountain Standard Time, while my body and mind are slower to recuperate from Saturday afternoon’s strenuous effort. I know the residual soreness, which is the constant reminder of the very raw 2 hours and 14 minutes of running that I went through, will dissipate in the following days. The only souvenir I take and keep with me from Russia is the lesson learned from running a tactically smart race to achieve the best personal result possible. For me, that is the greatest reward, and something worth reflecting on.

SETTING EXPECTATIONS

It would be an understatement to say that I anticipated a challenging marathon leading up to and training for Moscow. Two years ago, I was humbled in the worst way in my first World Championships Marathon in Daegu; I was overwhelmed by the level of competition and wilted in the humid South Korean summer climate. It was not an experience easy to forget (although I lack recollections of finishing), and left me disappointed but very motivated. After receiving selection to my second WC Team in June, I resolved to redeem myself in Moscow. I knew it would require great preparation specific to conditions I might face in the Championship and also approaching the race with less naïveté than before.

Typical to a Championship, the course was nothing of spectacular difficulty; it consisted of an out-and-back start and finish in the Luzhniki Stadium, with 3 criterium-style 10K loops on a flat winding stretch of road parallel to the Moskva River. The biggest deterrent would be the lack of shade, along with the 3:30PM start time— thanks largely to Japanese wishing to watch our sufferfest over happy hour sake bombs.

The week before my race, I watched from my Boulder apartment as Valeria Straneo led an afternoon death march in 82 degrees (and warmer with the sun reflecting off the tarmac) that halted 23 of the 69 starters, with better finishers running 8-10 minutes off their bests. I watched some very tough athletes go down fighting, while a few tenacious Americans (Deena Kastor, Dot McMahan and Jeannette Faber) were able to keep moving up through the field. I watched a real race of attrition. It reinforced the fact that I would have to be conservative in my race, unless I wished to be carried off unconscious by medical personnel again.

Also in the week leading up to the race, the start list for the Men’s Marathon was released. I felt it was important to review and make some analysis of the field, so that I could establish some realistic goals and expectations. Looking through the list of 70 athletes, I noted that 36 athletes possessed a personal best faster than mine (2:12:03). While not a surprise, it helped me understand that as the 37th fastest entrant, it would be very tough to crack the top 15-20, which I had set my sights on. On paper, this field appeared as strong– if not stronger– than any other World Championship or Olympic Marathon: Ethiopia boasted five 2:04 athletes, Kenya had a full team with PB’s of 2:06 or faster, Japan entered five fresh 2:08 performers, with a slew of 2:07-2:09 internationals and also the reigning Olympic Champion Stephen Kiprotich. As the leader of our American trio with a 2:12, it felt a little like taking knives into a gun fight.

Upon arrival in Moscow 4 days before the race, I was able to relax with my teammates and run lightly. Our team staff was extremely supportive in getting us prepared: U.S. Team Coach Troy Engle helped manage our raceday logistics and with preparing our special fluids, while Dr. Randy Wilbur gave us some notes from the women’s race and strategies to help cope with the warm conditions (including setting us up with pre-cooling ice vests). In the days leading up to the race I felt fit and confident that if I ran smart, I could move my way up in a similar fashion to our American women.

RACEDAY

The race conditions proved to be 9 degrees better for us than the women on Saturday afternoon— which is quite a significant difference in marathoning. When we were herded from the final call room to the track in Luzhniki Stadium, it was 73 degrees and sunny. The blue track radiated heat as I lined up at the 100M startline with my U.S. teammates, Carlos Trujillo and Daniel Tapia. We had used 2 pre-cooling vests in our warm-up, although I had already broken into a good sweat under the direct UV rays. I used sunglasses and a white cap to minimize exposure– and also to disguise the discomfort I was about to go through.

We were among a very diverse field. The Kenyans all donned gold chains, proclaiming hip-hop superstardom in the marathoning world, while the Japanese wore very peculiar Sahara expedition-style sun caps.  When we were sent off, I tucked in for our first tour inside the stadium. I felt very composed in the first kilometers heading out to the closed road circuit that we would run on the Moskva River. The race field was bunched up heading into the first (smaller) loop and I tried to keep out of trouble by hanging back and running the yellow-painted course tangents. I remember a barrel-chested Tadese Tola powering by on his way to the front. Since running the Paris Marathon earlier this year, I knew how he and his Ethiopian teammates liked to muscle their way through to the front.

Jeffrey Eggleston_Moscow (Christian Petersen_Getty Images Europe)There was some chaos at the first few fluid stations given how crowded we were. It required some haphazard maneuvering to get to our U.S. Team table, which was alphabetically located near the end of the station arrangement. With my teammates in tow, we were all successful in getting our personal refreshments from Randy and Troy. Even after feeling amply hydrated from my concoction of Lemon-Lime PowerBar Perform sports drink, I made sure to hold on to the cold drink and take a few extra “insurance” sips. I also used a cool wet sponge to wipe down my head, neck and arms.

After making a hairpin turn, and now starting the first of three circuits, I crossed the 10km mat in 31:50. I was about 30 seconds off the front, where Tola was now stretching his legs and a long train of competitors followed in hot pursuit. Being about one minute slower than I would usually try to split for 10km, I felt almost too easy with the conservative pace. I estimated about two-thirds of the field was ahead of me, but I really wanted to proceed with caution for the next two laps. Time was not going to be my focus for the day and there was still more than 30km to run.

I was in good company. Carlos and Daniel were running comfortably along side me as we went through a misting station around 12km. Our trio moved past former NYC Marathon Champion Hendrick Ramaala of South Africa and a tall and gangly Hiroyuki Horibata of Japan. Fellow Canuck Rob Watson was moving forward with us, and seemed like he was also biding his time to move up. After covering another 5km in a moderate 15:50, I reached 15km in 47:40. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was 1 minute behind the lead and in 40th place.

Knowing how far back I was, I definitely felt anxious. Over the next 10km I started moving up. It wasn’t a dramatic move; I felt more like a magnet being pulled to the athletes ahead of me down the road. I picked up my bottle after 18km with ease thanks to Dr. Randi Smith and Bill Ito at the second U.S. Team table. I drank the entire contents of my bottle and again took advantage of the sponge station. After the turnaround, I had 2 laps to go and crossed 20km in 1:03:22. The half-marathon was reached shortly thereafter in 1:06:52. The splits mean nothing to me. I felt comfortable, alert and focused on getting through the next loop without any additional exertion. I continued to follow the course tangent line as I headed back through the mist station.

I bridged a gap to a Spanish athlete, 2:12 man Javier Guerra, and Sibusiso Nzima of South Africa. While Nzima was clearly laboring, the Spaniard seemed content with my asserting a new pace.  At this point it was nice to have some company, and so I settled in rather than trying to push ahead. We remained in this arrangement until 28km, where we split off to get our fluids. Going by Randi and Bill, I swiped for my fluid bottle and failed to grip it firm enough. It slipped through my hands and I was unable to recover the fumble. Rather than stopping to go back for it, I continued on and grabbed a Powerade bottle 10 meters later at the final table. Crisis averted.

JEFF EGGLESTON. MOSCOW 2013. Marathon

Entering the final lap, with 30km reached in 1:35:03, the Spaniard and I had pulled clear of Nzima. Thanks to the hairpin turn, we could see the casualties coming back to us. Among them was the grimacing Yuki Kawauchi. I knew this was going to be the decisive loop and so I didn’t hold back when we caught up to Yuki. Approaching the 33km fluid station, Javier and I had outdistanced Japan’s proclaimed “Citizen Runner.” I took a full bottle of my sports drink and a PowerBar Double Latte flavored PowerGel that I had taped to the bottle. It was a lot to ingest while moving at 3:07/km pace, and I had to be careful not to choke!

I led Guerra around our final u-turn in front of Red Square. It was my first and only glimpse of the colorful Saint Basil’s Cathedral. We crossed 35km in 1:51:20, and I was beginning to feel the heat. Somehow, the directional change helped me regain my composure. As we ran along the Moskva, I tried to press the pace as we went by Kazuhiro Maeda and Masakazu Fujiwara of Japan. I also passed my friend from Flagstaff, Jordan Chipangama representing Zambia, who had run courageously up front for 30km. As I passed back by Troy and Randy, they relayed the news: “Top 15 is possible!”

From 40km (2:07:20, 8th fastest split in the field from 35km to 40km) heading back to the stadium, I went for broke to hold my position. If I counted correctly, I was in 14th place! I followed the tangents around the turns and was trying desperately to put a gap between the guys behind me before getting back into the stadium. While trying to fend them off, I also found myself reeling in the dancing skeleton of Eritrea’s Samuel Tsegay. There was no response as I went by him and into the stadium for the final 300m.

sprintIt was the first marathon of my career that I finished in a stadium, and I used the crowd’s energy combined with my fear of losing a position to dig in. My Brooks T7’s (en route to the brand’s highest finish in the Championships) felt excellent on the mondo track surface as I propelled myself through the final 100m, straining every bit of the way. Despite some foot cramping and a twinge in my calf from the effort, I was able to hold off my pursuers by 6 seconds. I was exhausted and stumbled around as my body cramped up. My finish was shortly after confirmed: 13th in 2:14:23.

WHAT’S NEXT?

This was a great performance for me and I reaped the benefits of running a smart race.  Despite the rather pedestrian time, I’m proud of the fact that I stayed back and was able to attack and move up in the latter stages of the race. Part of being a good marathoner is knowing how to race smart, and I executed that pretty well in Moscow.

After some downtime, the next clear goal for me will be the ING New York City Marathon on November 3rd. I’m excited to return to my home state and race the greatest fall marathon in the U.S.. It will be a great opportunity to test myself against the best Americans and the best in the world. I am also excited to make my NYC debut representing the New York Athletic Club.

Beyond New York, hopefully my performance will help open some doors to new opportunities. Having achieved my 2016 Olympic Trials ‘A’ Qualifier this past weekend, I can’t help but think of the possibility of contending for a spot on the Olympic Team for Rio. I’ll continue to take it one race at a time, one year at a time… but certainly with a longterm focus.

In closing, I’d like to express my gratitude to my family, friends and sponsors, for their support as I trained full-time up in Boulder all summer. I’m so incredibly fortunate to have you all in my corner, and happy to share this success with you. If there’s one lesson, it’s keep faith and dream big! –JDE

Return to Blogging // Return to Pittsburgh

Catching up

It’s been a very long time since I’ve sat down to write a blog update. I can partially attribute this to the fact that I was extremely disappointed with my final performances of 2011– both at the World Championships in Daegu and the Pan-Am Games in Guadalajara. Matters were made worse after sustaining a nagging knee injury in December, which removed me completely from the context of running in January’s Olympic Marathon Trials. It was simply a matter of convenience to not write about how poorly things were going, and to disappear from the clichéd running blog scene.

It took an equal amount of time for my knee to heal as my personal attitude towards running. My focus was never compromised, as I spent a few hours each day cross-training on the elliptical machine, but I also fought hard against becoming resentful for the mistakes I had made that led me to injury: I had to move on. In January, I returned early from my leave of absence from the Public Library– not dejected from my inability to run in the Olympic Trials, but eager to maintain a level of personal productivity while getting back into training. Of course in the time my knee healed, I was already mapping out my training program for a spring marathon.

Road to the City of Bridges

The idea of returning to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Pittsburgh Marathon first occurred to me after winning last year’s race, but the option more formally presented itself this past January. I remember making the enthusiastic commitment to return on my fifth consecutive day of running pain-free. I knew I would have some work to do for the 4 months leading up to the race, but having the opportunity to defend my title was extremely motivating.

I worked some low-key racing opportunities into my program for Pittsburgh. My first race back was less than 2 weeks into training, and it was a real “rust-buster.” With my residual fitness, I struggled through a 29:55 10km in Texas! Still, it was an encouraging starting point for me as I began my fundamental work. At the beginning of March, I entered The Woodlands Marathon (ironically only miles from where the January Trials were held) for the purpose of doing a progressive long run. Anticipating a controlled 2:17-2:18 effort, and setting off at 2:20 pace, I was surprised my progression led me to arrive at the finish in 2:15:42— with a last 10km weaving through runners on the 2-loop course in 30:48! It was great to share the podium in The Woodlands with MarathonGuide.com teammate and friend, Camille Herron, and know that my fitness was rapidly improving. Although my body was in a perpetual state of fatigue from conditioning, I was still able to run 45:29 for 3rd position the following week at the Mountain to Fountain 15K in Phoenix, and solo through whirlwinds to victory at the Canyonlands Half-Marathon the week after on St. Paddy’s Day.

I’ll admit that I had a few more races than originally planned in my marathon build-up, but I approached each race as if it were a quality workout, rather than a decisive competition. With this mentality, I never felt too exhausted mentally or physically.

#CooperRiverCurse

My prelude to running Pittsburgh would not be complete without including the ridiculous incident of malchance that was repeated in Charleston, South Carolina.

At the 2011 running of the Cooper River Bridge Run, I had dislocated my right shoulder just 5 minutes before the start of the race– simply by twisting my body to maneuver around another athlete. The result was an ambulance ride to the East Cooper River Medical Center, and an uncomfortable evening traveling back to Arizona. I also managed to get a traffic ticket that night while attempting to drive stick-shift (out of my sling) from Phoenix to Flagstaff.

Having planned to return to Cooper River this year, I joked about how I would prevent any mishaps before the race. I’m not superstitious by any means, but I found myself cautiously assessing risks throughout the race weekend. Janet Cherobon-Bawcom and I even postponed a pre-race arm-wrestling match just to be safe.

Perhaps I let my guard down too early. After finishing the race (I finished 9th in a tactically slow run) I left the crowded downtown square for a cool-down. Two minutes into the cool-down I collided with a small boy, who was running across the street. I fell hard on my hip and shoulder, which audibly dislocated when I landed on it. I couldn’t believe it: same race, same freak injury!! What sh*t luck! I again returned to the hospital, to have my shoulder reset. That evening, I made the pain medicine-induced drowsy drive from Phoenix back to Flagstaff (I took my arm out of the sling and drove carefully).

For the next 6 days, I was unable to run. My shoulder remained extremely sore, but quickly regained its normal range of motion. My hip, however, was very badly bruised from the fall. All week, I remained uncertain if it would even be possible to run in Pittsburgh…

I knew a few days off wouldn’t spoil my fitness, but hoped for a quick recovery. Luckily, treatments with Dr. Kym Wilkens, epsom salt baths and electro-stim therapies had me back 100% the following week.

Marathon Weekend

After completing 3 weeks of intensive specific marathon training, I left Flagstaff’s miniature Pulliam Airport feeling primed to defend my title in Pittsburgh. When Ali and I arrived in Pittsburgh, we were greeted with much warmer temperatures than the previous year. As the forecast started to take shape, I began to make some arrangements to prepare for the heat.

I felt like my return to Pittsburgh was a homecoming; the race organization was incredibly hospitable, and all weekend I felt as if I were member of one of the home sports teams. I also had some of my good friends driving from Rochester to watch the race, which added to my excitement and motivation for running well. Although, I knew it would be a difficult task to win again, I wanted to defend my title for them!

I knew the competition would be much better than 2011. Given how well I had felt in training, I had also hoped for a stronger field. At Friday’s press conference, I was given an entry list that confirmed my presumptions. Although I was given the honorary bib #1, my personal best time (2:13:12) seeded me close to 10th in the elite field. The fastest seed was 28-year old Zembaba Yigeze of Ethiopia with a best of 2:08:27 (he had finished 14 seconds ahead of me at Cooper River). Returning from last year, was another very capable Ethiopian, Tariku Bokan (2:12:23 best from Dubai). Amidst a group of Kenyans and Ethiopians with bests between 2:11 and 2:13, I was also surprised to see a good friend, James Kirwa of Kenya, entered with his 2:12:54 course record from Des Moines. Kirwa might not be widely known, but has had some strong performances. When I met him at Grandma’s Marathon last year, I was impressed with his relaxed personality and good sense of humor; if Usain Bolt were to become a marathoner, he might resemble James.

In my pre-race interviews, I maintained it would be a difficult feat to repeat as champion, although I felt fit enough to be competitive with anyone I lined up against; I wanted to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. I also believed that even with the warmer conditions, the winning time would be significantly faster than my 2011 time (2:16:40).

Kids of Steel

On Cinco de Mayo– the day before the race– I watched my friend Ashley run her first 5K and then had the privilege of again volunteering with the Kids of Steel Program. This year, over 30 schools and 2,000 kids participated in the 18 week program to run 26.2 miles! Together, all these kids logged around 39,000 miles, which is astonishing! It was a lot of fun to cheer them on in their final mile at the Toyota of Pittsburgh Kids Marathon. After an hour, my hand was numb from all the high-fives! I also had the honor of being joined by Olympic Silver Medalist and NYC Marathon Champion Meb Keflezighi, who had been previously invited to take part in the race weekend events. Again, it was fun to see so many young people enjoying the sport!

 

Race of Steel

I went through my normal pre-race morning routine, waking up 3 hours before the 7:30AM start time to have breakfast quietly in my room. I had some cereal from Trader Joe’s, coffee and a chocolate PowerBar. Once the coffee kicks in, race mornings become electric! Around 5:45AM, I met my friend Eric in the hotel lobby. In a small cooler, he brought me the frozen Hyperwear Pre-Cooling Vest that I had overnight-shipped to the hotel the previous morning (I was not taking any chances with the warm weather forecasted). Before heading to the staging area, I greeted James Kirwa, who was all smiles.

After a brief 10 minute warm-up, I switched into dry clothes, my CEP Compression socks, laced up my Brooks Green Silence flats and put on the cooling vest to bring my core temperature down. Although the temperature would only reach around 70F during my run, I recognized the pre-cooling would reduce the demand on my body to cool itself down in the early stages of the race; and I wanted to conserve as much energy as possible!

The start was a blur. Between strides there were countless handshakes and high-fives with race officials, a good-luck hug from the race director Patrice Matamoros, and the singing of the National Anthem. At 7:29, I pulled down my PivLock V2 sunglasses anticipating the gun. Once we were sent off, I felt relieved.

Within the first miles, a long echelon of elite half-marathoners had outdistanced our large group of marathoners. Running along side the other favorites–James, Tariku, Tabor Nebsi, Feyisa Tusse and some Ethiopians wearing red WSX club uniforms– I surmised our pack was at the front of the marathon. MarathonGuide.com teammate Kipyegon Kirui took over the early pacing duties, which were not that difficult (it was clear no athletes were looking to chase the event record of 2:10:24) I was content to stay in the group and observe.

It was truly an uneventful first 10 miles, and I felt guilty for having sat back so much. My only concerns were staying hydrated and keeping myself as relaxed as possible. Kipyegon,Tariku and James had all made appearances at the front of the pack, but no one made any decisive moves. While running on East Carson Street, I saw a stray Ethiopian runner floating back to us. He joined our group, looking very labored, and Tariku spoke to him in Amharic. At this point I also noticed he was wearing a green marathon bib number. It didn’t take me long to realize that this Ethiopian was a casualty from another group of marathoners up the road! I panicked to realize we had wasted 10 miles running very slow while there were others working ahead of us. Before we crossed the Birmingham Bridge, I mentioned to James the problem. We moved to the front of our group, and began our teamwork.

At 10.7 miles, the half-marathoners were re-routed back towards downtown Pittsburgh, while the marathoners continued on with a leading press truck. The split made it apparent we had miscalculated our race position, as a pack of about 10 more athletes had a 20-30 second advantage on us! They weren’t half-marathoners! Luckily James and I had increased the pace enough to reel this group back in by the 12 mile mark. He offered me a high-five: “No problem!” For the first time in the race, I had spotted Zembabahow could I have lost track of the 2:08 guy?! But then another thing concerned me after our groups merged: the was no lead vehicle in sight!

I immediately asked Benjamin Meto in the group what position we were. His answer was not clear, but Zembaba gestured that there was 1 more athlete ahead. One more? Where?! As if I wasn’t already enough disturbed by this revelation, a race official called out to us that we were 2 minutes behind as we crossed the half-marathon mat in 1:08:30! To give any of the other 15 elite athletes a 2 minute head-start is unthinkable! Again, I turned to James at the front of the group and simply said “we have to go!”

I have never pushed so hard in the middle of a marathon, but I wasn’t ready to settle for a 2nd or 3rd place finish. I knew I had made a grave error in sitting back early on, but now I had to commit to pulling back the leader, even if it meant my complete demise. James and I ran side by side, with Tariku shadowing us. No one else was able to follow. We went from running a loping 5:09 mile to a leg-churning 4:41— it was suicidal! It was a shock to my system, but I did my best to override my sensory data. Meanwhile James seemed unfazed with the increased tempo, even finding time to grab an extra water cup for me.

What was going on up the road? The Nixon Kiplagat show! Unbeknownst to us, the unheralded Kenyan  had run through the Oakland neighborhoods giving spectators a thumbs-up, and clearly exhibiting confidence in his growing margin. In the miles that followed, his grin became a grimace, and he still had 10 miles to go…

After 19 miles, and only a few periodic glimpses of what might have been a lead vehicle, it was still unclear whether or not we had made any ground on Nixon. I was barely able to stay with James and Tariku, being almost two strides off of them and feeling the summer-like temperature. During this mile, I took a bottle at the fluid station that with a PowerBar Energy Gel for some added carbs and electrolytes. It was rejuvenating, and I was back on the bus approaching the 21st mile.

We descended Liberty Avenue, now with the press vehicle and Nixon clearly in sight (and visibly slowing). James had gained a slight advantage, while Tariku was tucked behind me. I learned from last year that the downhill was long enough to have severe consequences on tired legs, so I had to use this stretch to make up as much ground as possible on the two ahead. My quads seemed alright with the additional landing shock and I could hear Tariku laboring. I tried to keep running with a high cadence while following the tangents on the road. It still wasn’t enough to bring James back much. As the road leveled out, my friend Steve (who had driven down from Rochester) was on the course encouraging me to keep gaining on them.

At 25 miles, James had passed Nixon. I estimated they were about 15-20 seconds away from me, meaning I would really have to work hard in the final mile to advance into any other position. I knew I had to push through– there wasn’t any other option. I thought of my workouts that brought me back to fitness, my friends that came to see me run, my family back home, and the city that had welcomed me back to their marathon. I had to keep running hard for them!

I moved into 2nd place and barreled down the entire finishing straight on the Boulevard of the Allies, even after James had broken the tape. I finished 17 seconds later, a narrow margin in marathon racing. I was exhausted in a way my unremarkable time of 2:14:26 wouldn’t indicate.  Still, James was the first to congratulate me with a hug. With some teamwork and a little luck on our side, we successfully caught the leader to go 1-2. Both Runners of Steel, taking in our accomplishment.

Post-race activities included a return to Abay Ethiopian Cuisine for a huge lunch, followed by some ice cream at Oh Yeah(!).  I was with great company and the food was fantastic (I think everyone liked Ethiopian food… Chelsea? Ashley?).

Well, it’s time to wrap this blog up… special thanks to Patrice, Kelsey and the entire Pittsburgh Marathon organization for welcoming me back to your incredible race this year– your marathon is second to none, and I hope I can return next year!  Thanks also to my family and friends who made this weekend special by coming to Pittsburgh, or encouraging me as I prepared these past months. Last but not least, thanks to my sponsors for keeping faith in me! –JDE

Race footage, courtesy of Eric Boyce:

나는 더운 날씨가 좋아요: A Daegu Travelogue

Greetings from Daegu! After a busy summer of readying myself for this opportunity to represent the USA, I am only a few days away from the Marathon– I’m ready and very excited to compete! I have been in South Korea now for 8 days, and feel well-adjusted to the time change and climate. As I get ready for Sunday, here’s an abridged version of my experience in Daegu and a preview of what’s to come.


Life in Daegu

Since my arrival on August 25th, I have been staying in the Athlete Village complex. The enclosed campus consists of 9 high-rise apartment buildings, practice facilities (including a track and throwing areas), a shopping plaza and central dining hall. The Village conveniently backs up to the Geumhogang River, and we have been using the paved bike trail for our training runs. The new living quarters have been relatively comfortable, thanks in part to the air conditioning units. I am sharing an apartment-style suite with with the other U.S. marathoners– Nick Arciniaga, Mike Morgan, Sergio Reyes and Mike Sayenko— along with Americans Bernard Lagat (5,000M) and Trevor Barron (20K Racewalk). For the past week and a half, we have all gotten into our race week routines, mainly resting more with lighter training and workouts.

As anticipated, it has been hot and humid here. Even by 9:00 AM, the temperature is above 80 degrees and the high humidity and direct sunlight definitely make it feel warmer. While not the most comfortable conditions for training or racing, I feel well-adapted to the climate now and after training in extra layers this summer. I’ve explored outside the Village a little with the other marathoners, but because of the heat I haven’t spent too much time sightseeing or spectating races at the Stadium (we’ve been watching the Korean broadcast from our apartment).

The biggest difficulty for me thus far has been finding food. The Village dining hall, which the LOC assured could accommodate athletes with special dietary needs or restrictions, has been a total letdown. The buffet style set-up has had very little variation between daily meals and many of the courses are unidentifiable (although I did identify french fries, lima beans and leftover mac & cheese in Mike Morgan’s “Lasagna”). Vegans and vegetarians virtually have no options, as every dish has meat or seafood. Outside of the cafeteria, I have gone out for meals and have a slightly better experience, as it has been difficult to communicate my diet. I’ve settled for eating salads, veggies and rice. Thankfully, I packed some Raw Revolution Bars, trail mix and some Trader Joe’s Almond Butter.


The Team

We have a strong core group lining up for Sunday’s Marathon. As Nick‘s blog points out, all our athletes have run between 2:11:30 and 2:14:55 in the past 11 months. This bodes well for the World Cup Team Competition. Nick and Mike M. were also housemates of mine when we were training together in Michigan. Both of them are highly-experienced marathoners. Nick Arciniaga, 28, has steadily progressed in his 5 years of marathoning, setting his personal best of 2:11:30 in Houston this past January. Mike Morgan, 31, ran his PR of 2:14:55 at Chicago last year, and competed in a very hot and humid 2007 World Championships in Osaka, Japan. Additionally, Sergio Reyes and Mike Sayenko should bolster our squad for the World Cup Competition. Sergio, 29, proved himself to be the better marathoner last fall at Twin Cities by winning the U.S. Championship in 2:14:02. Sayenko, 27, finished 10th overall and 2nd American in 2:14:38 at Chicago last year.


Competition, Course and Conditions

The field includes some very strong contenders, as the IAAF Preview discusses here. Given that it’s a championship marathon, there are more variables than predictability in how the race will play out.

The Marathon course consists of two 15K loops and one 12.195K loop around downtown Daegu, both starting and finishing at the historic Gukchae-bosang Memorial Park. After previewing the course as a team and watching the Women’s Marathon last Saturday, it seems the lack of shade presents the biggest challenge. The roads are well-surfaced and relatively flat for what I am used to running on.

The weather remains to be the key variable on Sunday. With an average high of 86 degrees and 79% humidity for this time of year, Daegu proves to offer less than ideal conditions for marathoning. With a 9:00 AM Start, the daytime temperature will rapidly increase over the 2+ hours we are out running. Similar conditions in Osaka severely slowed down the Men’s Marathon in 2007.

To help cope with the heat, aside from me having regularly trained in sweats all summer, our team will be warming up before the race in cooling vests. These lightweight ice vests will help keep our core temperature down before the race begins. During the marathon we have fluid stations accessible every 5K of the race, with additional sponge and mist stations. Keeping hydrated early on will be extremely important, and I will have 6 bottles of Vita Coco Coconut Water out on the course.

Based on the most recent weather forecast, it appears to be cooling off:


Final Thoughts

There’s no better finale to the World Championships than the Marathon. I’m ready for Sunday and all the challenges it will present. It’s definitely an honor to put on a USA uniform and be an ambassador for my country in competition, although I’m also excited for what our team has the potential of accomplishing. Go USA!

As always, thanks to my family, friends and sponsors for all their support. I’ll look forward to sharing my memorable race with you! –JDE

A Short Reflection on Grandma’s Marathon

My trip to Duluth for the 35th running of Grandma’s Marathon was an excellent learning experience. The race came a month after winning Pittsburgh, and 2 weeks after pacing 30K of the Ottawa Marathon. I was not worried about my time, race splits or trying to be top American– I was only running to win. I remained patient early on and worked into a good pace with the other top Americans, Matt Gabrielson and Tyler McCandless. By 18 miles I had pulled ahead and joined the lead group, which included several athletes I ran against in Pittsburgh (I may have heard the Swahili phrase for “Sh*t not again!”). I threw in a hard surge near a water station to break up the large group, and we went from a dozen to 6 athletes. 2:07:06 marathoner Charles Munyeki was one of the surprise casualties. Around 21 miles I fell off the front. A Flagstaff-based training partner from the previous week, Teklu Deneke Tefra, stayed in contact and narrowly missed victory in a sprint duel with Kenya’s Christopher Kipyego. After they pulled clear, I soldiered on to the finish in 2:13:12, a 57-second personal best and also currently the #3 U.S. performance for 2011. I also kept my record of negative splitting in tact, despite the pace variation once I joined the leaders.  I cannot be too disappointed with a race in which I took some risks and come out with a new personal best–but it leaves me hungry for more and I am confident I will only get better. I look forward to demonstrating that next in Daegu, no longer a rookie in the marathon.

Stay tuned for more comprehensive updates! –JDE