Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Basho's 26 miles: The Koan of the Marathon (10/16/16)

At Mile 12 with Chris and Jake

Event: Baystate Marathon
Location: Lowell, MA
Goal Time: 3:00:00
Actual Time: 3:05:30

Basho said to the assembled monks: "If you have a staff, I will give you one; If you have no staff, I will take it away from you.
~Koan 43, The Gateless Gate

At around mile 24 and a half, Jake - who was leading the second half of the 7/min mile pace group - passed me with the one guy left.  It was exactly as I suspected.  In fact at mile 13, I told Jake: "I'll see you after I blow up."


There had been little majesty in this training season or in the few days going into the race.  I guess the grandeur of the marathon has either worn off or I was merely less interested in this specific one. Even as I walked up to the start line I didn't have the same fear/excitement.

But, I hoped it would be like Basho's paradox.  I needed fear/excitement so it was given to me externally.  Instead the majesty of the marathon would have to be created by me - not by circumstances.

It helps you when you wade across a river, when the bridge is broken down; it accompanies you when you return to the village on a moonless night. But if you call it a staff, you will go to Hell swifter than an arrow.
~ Commentary of Koan 43, The Gateless Gate

But, I still had my plan.  I was going to try to run the first half at 7 min/mi and then the second half at 6:45/mi.  When I got there Eric Ahern and Chris Antunes were at the start as the 3:05 pace group leaders for the first half.  Chris was going to run 7 min/ miles.  So, like Hannibal Smith ...


The first half, I just sat on Chris and the 7 min/ mile group.  For a few few miles (5-7) where I slowed letting the group go at pace uphill and then I would rejoin them on the downhill; other than that I stayed right with the group.  I still felt great as we came up on the Rourke Bridge near the halfway point. Brendan Caffrey was there to cheer which gave me a pick up.  Then I caught sight of Jon Cusick, Brendan Kearney and Greg Soutiea.

As we got onto the bridge, Jake jumped in with us, since he was leading the second half of the pace group.  When we got to the half way point I looked back at Jake:

"I'll see you after I blow up."
"You dropping the pace"
"Good Luck!"

At Mile 18

"The deep and the shallow everywhere
Are all within my grasp.
It holds up the sky and the earth;
In every place it spreads the True Doctrine."
~ Verse of Koan 43, The Gateless Gate

Miles 14-19, I increased the effort and dropped the pace.  The months of running 6:45 pace once a week or so started to come into play.  I felt tired but stuck to the pace as best I could.  It was great that right after the second crossing of the Tyngsboro Bridge at mile 18, Deb, Jason and Peter were there to cheer and kept me in the zone for one more mile on pace.

But, by 20, this pace was gone.  It was time to race without being able to race...to have a staff without having a staff.

From 20 miles on, I would look at my watch and figure out, “What would my finish time be if I ran 8 minute miles the rest of the way?” 

Miles 21 and 22 were still close to 7 minutes but I was definitely flagging. The third appearance of Brendan Caffrey cheering on the sideline was awesome.  I could barely comprehend the words, but the meaning was good enough to jump start me again (even though I'm pretty sure I told him: "There's too much hockey left"?).

Miles 23 and 24 were pretty much a blur.  I kept the “What would my finish time be if I ran 8 minute miles the rest of the way?” bit going.  I found that it took me a bit to multiple minutes left by 8 and then add 2.  Then I would add that number to the time at the mile.  By the time I had done that math, I had covered 400m.  It was like how Toby described Michael on the Office: "Michael's like a movie on a plane, you know it's not great but it's somethin' to watch. And when it's over, you're like, how much time is left on this flight, now what?"

As Jake came by me, I said; "Told you, you'd come by."  The guy who was the last of the pace group tried to get me to go with them.  But I didn't have it.

The deep and the shallow were everywhere.  I couldn't run any faster but I knew that if I just kept this effort, I would still have a monster personal record.  

As I ran over the construction-ridden and lonely VFW Highway, I just put my head down and tried to stay near this woman who was running slightly faster than me.  Somewhere in there I got cheers from Julie.

I got back into downtown Lowell and saw the Spinners stadium where my first marathon had finished; then I had an zoned out exchange with Frank Georges. (I was on the verge of vomiting.)  I had no sprint left in me and it felt like I had run the last mile at 9 minutes (It wasn't until hours later I figured out that I had still broke 8 in that last desperate "wade across the river when the bridge is broken down."

With one last turn, the finish line appears 100 yards ahead.  I saw the clock at 3:05 and cruised in for a 6 and a half minute PR.


Despite my need to vomit and lie down, I was so happy to see Urvi immediately upon finishing, who had had a course PR in Half. 

As I said on facebook right afterwards: "It takes a village to make a great race."  And throughout the day I had been able to share many of those who helped bring me here, including Nichole, Erin, Mark, Brendan, Robby, Urvi, Deb and everyone else who I can't remember right now.