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:

Who could win… a rabbit?

Jeffrey’s recap of rabbiting the Pittsburgh Marathon… and then winning.

It was quite a weekend in Pittsburgh! As I reflect back on the the unexpected result, I’ve come to the conclusion that sometimes not having a definitive race plan is beneficial. As a race ‘rabbit’ brought in to assist other athletes and fully-participate in all the weekend events, I had a very planned-out stay in the Steel City. And yet, after 18 miles of pacing on Sunday, I decided to improvise a little…

Highlights from the Event Weekend

On Friday night, I attended a reception for all the generous event sponsors at the LaMont Restaurant. It took some convincing on my part to the Restaurant staff that I was with the Marathon event, and not the Junior Prom that was also going on. After enjoying a glass of Cab and taking in the panoramic view of downtown, I was given the opportunity to address the sponsors on behalf of the elite athletes and Olympic Trials hopefuls. It’s quite humbling to speak in front of such a distinguished group– which included the Mayor (who was making his half-marathon debut), sponsors and the entire race organization. However, I was glad to convey the fact that their support goes a long ways in helping many aspiring athletes realize their dream. Later on, after watching some fireworks and having another glass of Cab, I chatted with Race Director Patrice Matamoros. I thanked her again for having me, and joked with her that maybe I would win her race on Sunday.

On Saturday I took part in the Kid’s 1-Mile Fun Run, along with fellow pacer Tom Tissell and the Steeler’s charismatic Ryan Clark . Through the Kids of Steel Program, over 500 kids from five area school districts logged up to running a total of 26.2 miles– with the final mile being run during the event weekend. I was excited to be a part of the Program’s finale, and witnessed an incredible turnout of young students, their teachers and parents all enthused to be running! I ran with the group from McClellan Elementary School, having met their dedicated PE teacher the previous evening. Despite a false start by Ryan, I was able to work up through the field of smiling and reddening young faces to finish 2nd in 6:57. I high-fived the top finisher, and had him promise me to one day run the marathon. He said he might, as he collected his medal with satisfaction, and as others zipped through the finish. I was pleased to see so many youngsters getting exposure to running as a healthy, life-long activity!


Leading up to Sunday, I had the opportunity to meet and spend some time with many talented athletes.  It was great meeting and talking to Tom, a very experienced marathoner (and multiple-time Olympic Trials Qualifier) who was pacing the Women’s ‘B’ Qualifiers. I also met a very friendly group of Ohioans the first evening at dinner. After the Fun Run on Saturday, I went for my own run on the nearby river trail with Tyler McCandless, a recent PSU Grad and 2:17 marathoner pacing the Women’s ‘A’ Qualifiers. Later on, I caught up with some of the U.S. athletes targeting the OT Qualifying Standard, including American citizen Boaz Cheboiywo. Whenever I travel to races, it’s nice to meet new athletes and also see a few familiar faces. Everyone seems to have a unique story of how they became involved with the sport (and particularly with the marathon), and I find myself learning from them. More than any other sport in the U.S., distance running is a relatively small and tight-knit community.

Race Day

My approach to Sunday was like that of any important workout or race: I made sure I was well-rested and adjusted to the time zone; I ate well and prepared most of my foods; I also maintained a high level of focus on the task at hand. I certainly felt a great amount of responsibility to the athletes I would be pacing, which had me equally as excited as anxious– while both sentiments quelled any competitive ambitions. When race morning arrived, I followed my usual routine: coffee and breakfast (including a Raw Revolution Bar) 3 hours before “go” time, active-isolation rope stretching (thanks Tyler for lending me your rope!), and some ipod-shuffling (rocked out to Girl Talk’s All Day mix).

As anticipated, we had a rainy and humid race morning. It was a very balmy 60°F when I was warming up with Lauretta, a former teammate from my UVA days who I had literally run into that morning. After some easy shaking out, I pulled on some dry CEP Compression Socks, put on my Garmin Forerunner GPS Watch and switched into a Team  MarathonGuide.com sleeveless Brooks shirt (I had forgotten to pack my singlet); I was ready to rabbit!

The marathoners and half-marathoners lined up together on Liberty Avenue under a large yellow banner. I found Boaz and made sure we were in close proximity. Once sent off at 7:00, we were quickly swallowed up by the half-marathoners taking off. I watched MarathonGuide.com teammate Nicholas Kurgat push to the front with his neon Spira shoes visible in his long back-kick. He was shadowed closely by a former Hansons-Brooks teammate Ryan Sheehan and a few NYC-based, WSX runners; I knew he would have his work cut out for him. My focus immediately shifted back into setting our mild cadence: 5:18’s. A few female elites had pulled ahead.


Due to the rain and cloud coverage, my Garmin was not receiving the best GPS signal. I had to rely more on the clocks each mile for feedback. I recall being a little slow at 5K (just over 16:30), but Boaz, Nik Schweikert and a few half-marathoners bolstered our group. I felt very relaxed leading the group, as if it were another Sunday long run on Lake Mary Road… albeit with some company!

I tried my best to keep the pace as metronome-like as possible. The undulating roads over bridges kept me awake; I remained steady up the inclines and held back going downhill. I encouraged Boaz to tuck behind me on the bridges to avoid cross-winds. I had an eventful course tour with my friend, Eric, the day before so I knew the general tangents of the race course. I made sure our fluid stations weren’t as uneventful, as I cautiously grabbed my bottles of Vita Coco that I had prepped the previous day.

The half-marathon leaders were well out of sight, after we crested the West End Bridge and followed a long stretch on Carson Street. There was a visible contingent ahead, which I suspected were the marathon leaders. Still, I maintained our pace and mentioned to Boaz that we were right on schedule.

After crossing the Birmingham Bridge (around 11 miles), we faced the largest climb on the course. I tried not to impose the pace too much up the hill, given that it would even out later on– and I had 7 more miles to make sure of it.

I reached half-way around 1:09:20, which I felt would give Boaz a nice buffer to achieve a sub 2:19:00. I noticed shortly after that he fell back at a fluid station. I was not sure whether he missed a bottle or was under any physical duress, but I hovered off the pace a little to help him get back on. With credentials of 1:01:35 for half-marathon, 27:46 for 10,000m and 13:19 for 5,000m, Boaz proved to be among the most legitimate athletes in contention for an OT Qualifier and winning the race. I was quite humbled to be rabbiting him in only my third time entered in a marathon!

Unfortunately, the elastic between us was stretching and the next few miles proved that Boaz was faltering. My Garmin was semi-accurately reading  5:18 per mile, so I kept the same rhythm  to ensure I was fulfilling my rabbiting responsibilities. I pulled by Genna Tufa, who had fallen off the leaders somewhere after Mellon Park. I estimated we were over 30 seconds behind the race leaders, which had me curious about what was happening up front. The curiosity continued to build on Frankstown Avenue as a pack of 6 leaders grew closer. I crossed 18 miles well within range of the group. No longer the rabbit, I thought, why not go for the win?

The race began for me between 19 and 20 miles, when I joined the tête de la course. I was the lone American among a small group of East Africans: Isaac Birir (Kenya), David Rutoh (Kenya), Tariku Bokain (Ethiopia), Teklu Deneke Tefera (Ethiopia) and Jynocel  Basweti (Kenya). As soon as the leaders identified my presence, I surged right by them into the lead. By injecting a harder pace (4:40), I wanted to see who could respond right away. A minute later I stepped off the gas and looked around: one runner was already off the back of the group and I saw some concerned faces. This was my sign; it was time to finish them off!


For the next 3 miles, I controlled the front of the race and mimicked a fartlek workout I had done a few weeks prior. I pushed at the front for varying intervals lasting 1 to 5 minutes and then recovered with a moderate pace– which was dictated by the surviving runners. Teklu, a new Flagstaff resident, responded to my surges a few times but fell back on our descent down Liberty Avenue. A MarathonGuide.com athlete, Chapel Hill-based Isaac Birir, had also quietly peeled off by 23 miles. In the next mile, I could only hear the labored breathing of David and my squishing Brooks Green Silence.

I started another surge (4:40 pace according to my Garmin) with less than 2 miles to go. David dropped back dramatically at a water station. I knew this was the KO punch! I maintained the acceleration to put as much distance on him as possible. A cyclist informed me I had put around 70 yards on him, as I crossed the final bridge over the Allegheny River. I enjoyed the final straight away to the finish, offering a few high-fives and trying to process what I hadn’t planned on doing that morning: winning! Despite the hard surges, I crossed the tape feeling very comfortable– I was pretty surprised with the time given the pace of my first 18 miles!

My post-race replenishment involved a cool-down, some interviews and an afternoon outing to Abay Ethiopian Restaurant. With Eric, his sister Kristie (who ran a 3:27 first marathon!) and her boyfriend Turadg, we gorged on several vegan dishes including: Inguday Wat (spiced mushrooms and brown lentils), Mesir Wat (red lentils), Tikil Gomen (cabbage and carrots) and Ye’ Abesha Gomen (kale, peppers, ginger and garlic). It was the perfect post-race, nutrient-dense meal. I can see why Ethiopia produces so many strong athletes, given their diet!


On to the next one…

So for now I continue to run nice and easy. The recovery has been quick thanks to a few hearty vegan meals and some ART treatment with Dr. Kymberlee Wilkens. I’m both charged with the weekend’s results and with the exciting news released about our strong USA World Championship Marathon squad for Daegu. I’ve definitely learned some more about marathoning this weekend (particularly how to race), and I am anxious for my next 26.2 mile essay, now having a victory under my belt.

So thanks again to all my family, friends and sponsors for their continued support. I’m happy to share this weekend’s success, and I look forward to making more progress in the next race… one that I am actually scheduled to compete in! –JDE

Race video, courtesy of Eric Boyce (more coverage here):

Bloomsday

Jeffrey’s concise re-cap of the 2011 Bloomsday Run in Spokane, WA.

The Bloomsday Run in Spokane, WA was my third straight weekend racing on the roads and my first stop on the ultra-competitive Professional Road Racing Organization (PRRO) Circuit. While the race can boast to have one of the deepest professional fields in the World each year, the Bloomsday 12K–now in its 35th running– has also evolved into one of the largest timed road races in the country with over 50,000 participants.  Given Bloomsday’s level of competition, history and prolific status in the national running community, it’s easy to recognize that an event of this magnitude cannot be missed.

Aside from the challenges of competing against top international and American athletes, the undulating profile of this 7.46 mile course presents an increased level of difficulty. The flat start and early downhill ramp in the second mile sends overzealous competitors rushing headlong down Riverside Avenue. The series of sobering climbs that follow on Government Way quickly introduce the headstrong to preliminary fatigue. After the 4th mile, the grave reality of Doomsday Hill becomes imminent. Recognized as one of the most daunting climbs in road racing, Doomsday Hill is nearly three-quarters of a mile of a leg-numbing 6.5% climb. After 145 vertical feet, there is still 2 1/2 miles of race remaining. The elevation map closely resembles  an EKG:

This was my third consecutive year racing in Spokane, and I used my veteran instincts to remain conservative for the first few miles. The brisk morning called for gloves and my CEP Compression Socks to keep me running smooth. I stalked the lead pack as we descended towards Latah Creek, favoring gravity over my glycogen stores. I ran even with a few fellow Yanks, Mbarak Hussein and the aforementioned Christian Hesch. During the rolling climbs that followed, I pulled away from this group and comfortably used the inclines to push forward. By 3 miles the lead pack was becoming fragmented.

I continued to bridge the gap from myself to other athletes. Robert Letting of Kenya quickly floated backwards. For a short period, I worked with Justin Young on a flat stretch near Spokane Falls Community College to catch up to Mike Reneau (a friend and former teammate from Michigan) and Joe Gray. We crossed the T.J. Meenach Bridge as an American trio, primed for Doomsday Hill. I recalled my practice runs up Snow Bowl Road and in Jerome as I climbed, and keyed off of Joe’s Mountain Running prowess. I crested Pettit Drive feeling strong, hitting the watch at 5 miles (a 4:48 split).

I moved into the 5th U.S. spot near Broadway. Joe was tenaciously following as we passed a Team USA Minnesotan wearing a neon Brooks ID Elite Singlet. I put my head down and kept grinding in an effort to distance myself from both of them. It’s the best part about racing– when competitive instincts override the body’s level of fatigue and discomfort. Regardless of my finishing time or place, I chose to make it hurt. A sharp right-hand turn after the Courthouse signified a 220-yard downhill finishing straight onto the Monroe Street Bridge. A three-way sprint finish ensued with Samuel Kosgei of Uganda and Ireland’s Andrew Ledwith. I was unable to pull the two in, but put a significant time margin on my compatriots to secure my American position in 36:16. It was a strong improvement my past years’ performances at Bloomsday, although I still feel that I have a ways to go in mastering this tough course. After changing out of my racing gear, I sipped some Vita Coco and threw on my Garmin Forerunner 305 for an extended cool-down on the Sentential Trail.

I always have a great Bloomsday experience thanks largely to the efforts of a World Class race organization. Hats off to benevolent Race Director Don Kardong and the indefatigable Jon Neill for coordinating the Elite field. With an extremely hospitable support crew, I always look forward to my annual May trip to the Lilac City.  –JDE

CEP Compression Running Socks

Read about Jeffrey’s positive experience wearing CEP Compression Running Socks.

In the past year, CEP Compression Running Socks have been an invaluable product and training resource for me. I have been impressed with the effects of wearing compression socks, and have routinely used them for improving performance during training and for aiding in recovery. In longer training runs and marathon workouts, wearing the CEP O2 and Progressive Compression Running Socks has been extremely helpful with reducing lower leg fatigue while optimizing energy return. As a result, I feel able to run stronger and maintain my stride integrity during the later stages of workouts. After the completion of demanding training sessions, I have used these socks to improve blood flow and circulation in my legs and expedite the recovery process. Since using CEP Compression Socks, I have experienced far less residual soreness after workouts, which enables me to do more quality running without risking injury. Overall, the medically-tuned compression level of the socks is excellent and they are very breathable and well-ventilated– more so than any other sports compression sock I have tried out, including the OxySox and SIGVARIS Recovery Socks. I would highly recommend CEP Compression Running Socks to both endurance athletes and any active individual looking to continue their activities while staying healthy.

Read more about CEP Medical Compression technology here. You can also shop for their socks, including the O2 and Progressive Running Socks, here.

Twin Cities Marathon

Here’s my unabridged recap of finishing 2nd at the 2010 US Men’s Marathon Championship at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon.

I could see my breath during my routine shakeout run before 5AM on race morning. It was calm and brisk out as I jogged in darkness through downtown St. Paul, but I knew in a few hours that the sun’s presence would raise the temperature to 40°F and create the perfect Fall marathon racing conditions.

I ate breakfast quietly back in my hotel room, having a generous bowl of Hemp Plus Granola with Silk. The previous evening, I had eaten copious amounts of pasta, bread sticks and salad at the athlete dinner. Aside from the 4 bottles of Cytomax Natural Citrus I had waiting for me on the marathon course, these meals were my sole fuel sources for the race. After a few cups of coffee (using my new French press travel mug that Ali got me), I felt equally nourished and alert. At 6:00AM, it was time for me to depart for the race. I kissed Ali goodbye, packed my bag and braved myself for the morning that I had anticipated for so many months.

At the athlete staging area, I went through my active-isolation rope stretching routine while listening to my ipod (beats from my “Marathizzle” hip-hop playlist ).  Around 30 minutes before the race, I joined former teammate and Flagstaff roommate Mike Reneau for an easy warm-up run, afterwards doing some surges at marathon pace to wake the legs up. With 15 minutes until race time, I switched into all my racing gear: my MarathonGuide.com singlet, my lightweight Smith Optics racing sunglasses,  CEP Compression socks and a newly-minted pair of Brooks Green Silence. The cooler morning temperature also called for gloves and arm-warmers to help keep me running warm and fluid.

The start  was uneventful for me. Once we received the anticlimactic send-off, I tucked in to a large group and observed as a few other athletes made their ambitions known by maneuvering to the front. Just as well, I thought, the real race won’t begin until about 30K.

Just as I had for the Rock’n’Roll Marathon in Phoenix, I came down from altitude less than 2 days prior to the race. Again, I knew that it would take the early miles to adjust to running at sea level, and that I should ease into my marathon effort naturally and establish a comfortable breathing pattern. The first few miles clicked off slowly, but I ignored my watch and followed my breathing while my muscles were also warming up for the race ahead. Passing 5K in 16:11, I was in a second chase group with many of the favorites, and could still make out the tête de la course down the road. We were winding our way by the Lake of the Isles, the first of four lakes we would encounter in the first half of the race. I knew I was in good position and out of trouble. Any energy I could conserve now would work to my advantage later on.

During the next few miles, we lost sight of the early leaders and we were still well behind the chase group, which I felt contained a few dangerous athletes (Reneau in particular). Cabada took the initiative to start organizing an effort to bring back the chase, and we traded miles to share the work. Simon Sawe and Mbarak Hussein were also very helpful in contributing to the effort. After grabbing my Cytomax bottle at mile 5, I took my turn up front. I usually refrain from talking during a race, but I felt that our communicating was vital in preventing a huge tactical error. I told Hussein that by 10K we should be in range of the group ahead.

Sure enough, we joined Reneau’s chase group between 10K and 7 miles. It didn’t require a major increase in effort to catch the group (we were 32:11 at 10K), and I suspected they had possibly slowed down. Even so, I realized that we needed to continue our gradual momentum forward and not allow the leaders too much more distance. Up the road and over 40 seconds ahead were Dave Jankowski, Seth Pilkington and Luke Watson– three athletes I felt were very capable contenders and needed to be taken seriously.

It was as if I were back in July, watching a long stage of the Tour de France. Was the break away going to survive today? Given the personnel of marathon veterans in my group (Reneau, Hussein, Sawe, Cabada and Reyes), I felt it would be very difficult for any athlete to run away from our group and live to tell about it. As it turned out, we continued our organized effort past Lake Harriet and on the rolling Minnehaha Parkway. I hardly took notice of the colorful canopy of trees that had caught my attention the previous day on the course tour. I was focused on the task at hand.

The half-marathon point was reached in 1:07:21. We had caught Watson and Seth while rounding Lake Nokomis with a few miles around 5:00 and were approaching a sharp turn back onto the Parkway. Staying in the front end of my group, I was unaware of any athletes falling back. As we made the turn, I saw a few others were laboring to keep up, including Simon “Skips” Sawe. At mile 14, we split 4:55, even with the slight incline running back on the Parkway. The pace did not feel any more difficult, but I resolved to keep patient for at least a few more miles. I took another Cytomax bottle at mile 15 to keep hydrated. Jankowski was still over 30 seconds ahead, although he no longer had anyone helping him.

It’s hard to recall who controlled the pace during the next 3 miles.  I ran side by side with Reyes, then Cabada and before I knew it our trio had pulled away from Hussein, Reneau, Sawe and Tyler Sygl (who we had been up front with Jankowski earlier). Dave’s orange jersey had become increasingly visible so we knew we were going to make the catch soon. I took over at 17 and was anxious to test out the legs. I didn’t realize until later that we split 4:47. I was still feeling fresh, and it appeared Reyes and Cabada were too.

During the stretch on West River Road, we were accompanied by a motorbike, which I learned later was doing live video coverage of the race until their camera died. Directly in front of the race was a trolley, which served as the official press vehicle. While I was aware of both their presences, my focus was on catching Jankowski and thinking about when I would try to test my competitors again.

At 30K (1:34:44), the catch had been made and our group of 3 was pulling away from Zap Fitness’ intrepid debutant. Now it was up to us to sort out our places on the podium. I still had a step lead at mile 19, as we turned onto the bridge to cross the Missippi, but I never picked up more than a stride on either Sergio or Fernando. We reached the 20 Mile mark together in 1:41:31, still with poker faces under our sunglasses. Once the infamous hill leading to Summit Avenue began, I knew it was again time to test out both their legs and mine.

I had prepared myself for running hard uphill all summer in Flagstaff. I raced up Snow Bowl Road, climbed up Jerome, had several training runs up Mt. Elden and would wring all the effort out of my legs each Sunday in long runs coming back up Lake Mary Road’s rollers. I worked relentlessly to make my own vulnerability in climbing a strength. Having studied the Twin Cities course and profile, I was well aware of how decisive the final 10K would be; the advantage would be given to the stronger hill runner.

At 20.6 I took my final Cytomax bottle. The station came a little later than I had wanted (I prefer not to take any drink during the final 30 minutes), but a few sips ensured I would not run low on electrolytes or succumb to muscle cramping. I lead the way by a step up the hill, and could hear Cabada’s heavy breathing over my own. As we crested the climb, I felt the increased effort but knew I was not alone.

I think any athlete having a dream of winning this race wants to taste the lead entering Summit Avenue. Still leading by half a stride, I was the first to make the highly anticipated left-hand turn. The crowd presence and excitement of leading encouraged me to dig into the slight upgrade. I knew Cabada was faltering but Sergio had given little sign of discomfort. Between 22 and 23, he moved even with me and then took over the lead. I responded as quickly as I could, but a gap was beginning to form.

Having often been asked why I train alone, I explain that the critical moments in the marathon come when you are by yourself and you alone have to decide whether to push forward or settle in. I like to think that working out independently has challenged me each time to make the conscious choice to push forward. Once gapped by Reyes, I was again left to decide whether I would fight or fold.

Miles 24 and 25 were agonizing. Both my legs and arms burned, and I felt I had to consciously focus on directing each stride forward and drive my arms without overreaching. With a mile to go, the gap was around 9 or 10 seconds and I knew I could not wait. I just kept grinding… past the growing crowds and with the State Capital coming into view.

As I barreled down the hill towards the finish, I ignored the sharp pains in my quads generating from the impact of each footstrike. I was in the highest gear I could manage, not only with the ambition of trying to run down the race leader, but in an effort to make sure Cabada did not employ his superior track speed to take away the final automatic World Championship spot. Even after Sergio took the final strides up and broke the finish banner, I continued to red-line my engine and reduce his victory to 7 seconds. As I crossed the line, I hadn’t even noticed I had run a new PR.

I was spent after the race, on my hands and knees. I only knew Ali was with me when I recognized her boots. I was escorted to the medical tent and then directly to drug testing. When it came time for the awards ceremony, I was over the heartbreak of finishing runner-up by 7 seconds, and smiling about my 2:14:09 PR and World Championship berth.

Looking back on the race, I really have no regrets with how I ran. I wanted to win, and I tried everything I could in the final third of the race (my body is telling me that now as I write this 4 days later). If anything, I had to use every ounce of energy in me to make Sergio’s victory a 7-second margin. And I’m extremely proud to have established a new personal best time (running a negative split on a challenging course) and also qualify for next year’s World Championships. In my second marathon, I have clearly made some progress. And I don’t believe this will be the last time I fight for a US title.

For now, I will enjoy my downtime and continue to reflect on my racing experience. At the same time, I am already hungry and looking forward to my next chapter in the marathon.

In closing, thanks again to my faithful family, friends and sponsors. Your support has carried me this far, and the best is yet to come! –JDE