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June 15, 2009

Breaking down barriers


Five months ago I was a broken man. Well, at least I was a man with a broken elbow.

On January 18th, I broke my elbow on my last hard training run before starting a taper to prepare for the Tallahassee Marathon. The month before, I had run a solid Jacksonville Marathon, but the warm weather prevented me from doing as well as I wanted. I took a week off and then started the long runs again to carry my fitness to the Tallahassee race on February 1. I was feeling really good and knew the weather for that race was always conducive to a fast time. But instead of racing, I was sidelined with a bum wing.

Actually, my doctor told me I could run the race but if I fell again it would mean surgery. I did as I was told and took it easy for 4 weeks, gingerly running to maintain my fitness and trying not to fall down. Four weeks later, although I still wasn't in the "clear", I led a pace group in the Breast Cancer Marathon. Helping others achieve their goals was rewarding, but at the same time I was demoralized knowing that I had built up a terrific base and hadn't quite capitalized on it.

Two weeks later, on March 1st, I sent Paul McRae this message:

Hey Paul --

More than anything, I would love to break 20 and get a pie at the Run for the Pies! My PR is 20:53. Can we knock off a minute in 3 months?


His response?

For sure let me work on it and I'll get back to you. Just send me roughly what a typical week is like for you so I have something to go on!

Over the next 12 weeks, I trained as hard or harder than I have trained for marathons and half-ironmans. Long runs of 15 miles, hot track work-outs with long fast intervals, tempo runs and rides, and bike-run bricks. Plus there was the 0500 tempo run in the May monsoon through ankle deep water in San Marco with Paul and Jason where I ran a 3-mile stretch as fast as I have ever run in normal conditions.

Breaking my elbow and not being able to train certainly helped me sharpen my focus and intensified my drive to aim for a goal that has eluded me for some time. My last 5k PR was a 20:53 in January 2003 at Matanzas in St. Augustine. That race features a fast course and that day was perfect for racing, in the mid-50s. I was still pessimistic that I could drop a minute off of that time in a hot, humid race.

The first test actually came in late April. I ran the Fleming Island Rotary in 20:19. A little over 6 weeks into the program and 34 seconds shaved off of my PR. Coach Paul was helping me break through some mental barriers as well as physical barriers. I accused him of Jedi mind tricks because I was running splits on the track that I would have never imagined.

Then 4 weeks later, on a hot, humid morning, 4 days after the monsoon run, I ran another 20:19 in the Memorial Day run. Running that race so well after tough training gave me confidence that I would be able to break 20 after some rest, but the lingering doubts still clouded my mind.

The Run for the Pies started out catastrophically for me. I lined up for the race in the third row and was nervous but ready, engaging in the usual pre-race banter with the folks around me. Then the cannon went off and the mad rush was on. No more than three steps into the race, some yahoo muscles his way through the crowd and hits my arm so hard he knocked my Garmin off of the wrist strap. I have the quick release strap for transition in triathlons between the bike and the run. I have never had the unit knocked off the strap before, and now it is under hundreds of feet getting kicked around and bouncing like a pinball. Unbelievably, I was able to locate it and reach down and grab it 50 feet from where it was dislodged. I was pushed and shoved as I went down to get it, and atthis point in a complete panic. The fall had caused it to turn off, and instead of turning it on, or even re-attaching it, I ran with it in my right hand. It's a good thing I didn't see my heart rate at that point.

So, up the incline of Hogan Street and a left onto Duval. Just under a half mile into the race, Paul McRae starting running with me. He didn't ask me any questions, just gave me instructions and let meknow I was on pace. After the turn on to Duval, there is a downhill stretch. At the end of the stretch there is a left turn and you reach the first mile marker. Six minutes? Holy cow!

Paul told me to stay with him, but I knew I wasn't going to maintain that pace. He told me we made up some time going down Duval and needed to bank some for climbing it on the way back. We ran down Adams Street and I starte dto develop a terrible stitch in my right side. I was working hard and had no idea how fast I was going. I had a feeling I was slowing down. After a quick 180 degree turn we started doubling back on the course and hit the 2 mile mark. 12:36. My pace had dropped like a rock, but I was still 16 seconds ahead of where I needed to be. The last mile Paul yelled "Come on Marshall" about a bajillion times, and every time it reminded me of how far I had come and I was able to do this. Back up the incline on Duval, Paul implored me to catch him. I surged up the hill and pulled in behind him. From that point on, it would be flat and downhill.

On Hogan Street, Paul told me to pick it up, "Now or never!" I heard some friends yell my name and I knew I was 2 minutes from the goal. Heck, I can do anything for 2 minutes.

I hit the 3 mile mark in 19:11. The third mile was much like the second, a 6:35. I had 48 seconds to run a tenth. Quick math told me that was an 8:00/mile. I knew I had the goal, but I wanted to come in well under. I saw Karen and the girls and my parents just before the finish. I was giving everything i had. The final split was 38 seconds for a 19:49.

So, from a broken elbow three months ago to breaking a 3 year old PR. What a great journey!

I appreciate my family for putting up with the crazy training. Early mornings and a few late nights (including leaving for a 12-mile run on Easter Sunday evening at 8:30 after Easter egg hunts, lunch with the entire family, and an afternoon at Disney on Ice). I appreciate my terrific friends for their words of encouragement, and sometimes for politely asking about my sanity.

Finally, late Saturday night, Karen asked me what's next.

I replied: "sub-19".

UPDATE: If you are interested in breaking down some barriers of your own, I would recommend you contact Paul McRae about your goals. His rates are reasonable and he is a terrific coach. If you want to train with a group, Coach Paul has partnered with the Jacksonville Running Company to offer a training program for folks of all ages and abilities.


Way to go!!!! Congrats, you worked hard and it paid off. Now rest, just a little.

Wow. How exciting. I felt like I was there with you the whole way. Great race. Great job. Great prize!

Congratulations man! Very inspiring to say the least. If your legs ever get tired of running, and both wings are functioning, come [paddling] and surfing in Atlantic Beach. My wife does private lessons. Surfboards are provided, and she teaches all ages. Again, congrats!

Like I told you on Twitter - congrats! You could tell you were taking this seriously from all the info you were providing in your tweets and it looks like it paid off. I was never a good runner and the only time I did run decently was while in OCS and I had Marine DIs pushing me."Sub-19"...awesome.

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