Punch here for power – The Maine Marathon 1.0


I saw the sign as I approached the intersection of East Kidder Street and Payson Park. A little boy was holding it up proudly, laughing and hopping every time someone touched it. As I got closer, I saw the sign said, “Punch here for power.” There was a star in the middle of the sign, surrounding by what could best be described as an explosion.

As I approached the sign, I clenched my fist and prepared to give it a tap.

“This better work, kid,” I thought as I punched the sign lightly and watched out of the corner of my eye as he jumped up and down again, laughing and smiling.

At that moment I didn’t share his enthusiasm, and while that sign and the boy holding it made me smile, punching that sign did not give me power. A few miles earlier, I was hit with a blast of kryptonite better known as the Martin’s Point Bridge, and I was struggling, hard.

Eventually though, I did feel a bit like that little boy who got so much joy from random strangers in sweaty clothes and pain on their faces punching his sign. After crossing the finish line, hugging everyone in sight, ringing the shit out of the PR bell, changing into dry clothes, having a quick snack and cracking open a beer (you’re darn right I drank a beer at the finish line, it was glorious and the way every marathon should end) I sat on the grass in the outfield of Pedro Field and smiled. I don’t know if I actually smiled, I was hurting pretty bad, but on the inside, I was smiling.

Sunday morning I ran my third marathon, toeing the line for the Maine Marathon. This is the race I’ve been preparing all summer. Actually, I’ve been preparing for it for two years, I just didn’t get to run last year because my hamstring had other ideas. Sunday, was the payoff for all those miles, all those days of early wakeup calls, all those times getting out of my chair at work to randomly stretch, all those pushups and planks (well, there probably should have been more of those) and all those visits for treatment on my balky hamstrings.

14520570_10209984174739111_1949765849303544342_nThe payoff was pretty good. I set an almost 6 minute PR with an official time of 3 hours, 50 minutes, 12 seconds. It could have been better. I was aiming for a 3:47 and had a really hard time both mentally and physically in the last 3.5 miles. But to focus on the negative would stupid on a day when so many things went my way.

Checking the weather forecast in the days leading up to the race, I had a good feeling about Sunday. And the forecast turned out to be pretty much spot on, which worked in my favor, big time. Temps in the 50s, overcast, a little bit of rain. Training in the heat and humidity all summer wreaked havoc on my confidence. I knew I was struggling through so many of my long runs because it was so damn hot, but it honestly scared me that I was struggling so much. Sunday’s weather took all that worry away. The heat was not going to be a factor and it wasn’t going to rain hard enough for that to be an issue either.

In reality, my biggest concern leading into the race was my nerves. I spent most of Saturday by myself and spent the entire day — my 4-mile jog, my hours on the couch watching Luke Cage, trying unsuccessfully to get some sleep — thinking about the marathon. Anxiety is also an issue for me, in all aspects of my life. It almost ruined me before the Chicago Marathon, when I was reduced to a ball in the corner trying not to puke my guts out.

Sunday morning I got out of bed (notice I didn’t say woke up, I didn’t sleep at all Saturday night) feeling OK. Nervous, but OK. My buddy Seth meet me before the race and offered to take care of my warmups and whatever else I needed pre-race, so that was one less thing to worry about. Then I meet up with my friends Katie, Jen and Dave, who were volunteering at the start/finish area, and the conversation took my mind off what was about to happen, even though that was almost all we talked about.

And thankfully, my nerves were never really an issue. I was nervous, for sure, but never so nervous that I felt the need to rush to the nearest trash can to puke. Actually, the only times I was truly nervous Sunday morning were climbing that huge hill on the way back by Tuttle Road (you talk about hurting, holy fudge) and as I started to die on the Martin’s Point Bridge, thinking how the hell am I going to finish this thing.

With those obstacles taken out of play, all I had to do Sunday was race. Race smart. The plan was to start out conservative, running between 8:50 and 9 minute miles for a while, see how it felt, then try to get aggressive later in the race. Seth ran the first 5K with me, keeping a conversational pace as we hopped on the Back Cove Trail trying to run the best possible tangent, then crossed Washington Ave. and made our way to the Martin’s Point Bridge. Those early miles were a little quicker then my goal of 8:50-9:00 (8:49, 8:42, 8:39) but I didn’t think they were so quick that I was getting myself into trouble.

Seth turned back after 5K and I just tried to keep a comfortable pace. I checked my watch from time to time and saw I was consistently running around 8:35-8:40 pace, sometimes quicker, sometimes slower, and just decided to stick to what felt good for a while, without getting ahead of myself and going too hard.

Turning onto Rte. 88, I kept a pretty even pace and was feeling all right about myself. Around mile 6, when we hit the first relay handoff, I started to get a little claustrophobic and a little nervous because it was so crowded with relay teams and spectators and half marathoners who had already hit the turnaround point. I had a little surge of adrenaline and may have run a little bit faster than I should have (8:30 6th mile, 8:25 7th mile) but I wanted to get out of that crowd, then seeing some familiar faces crushing the half I got excited.

I tried to reign things in and the hill at mile 7 just before the half turnaround helped a bit, but then mile 9 was 8:37. Whatever, just keep going. I was actually a bit nervous about what was going to happen after the half marathon turnaround because I knew the crowd of runners would get smaller and there was a chance I’d be running by myself. Thankfully, the crowd didn’t thin out as much as I expected and there were many more spectator friendly spots than I expected, including at mile 10 when I was surprised to see almost my entire family screaming their heads off. I definitely got a surge from that and the downhill in mile 11 helped me run an 8:23 mile.

Running down that hill I did get a little nervous because I knew we were going to have to come back up it. It didn’t help that some dude ran by me and said, “We go down it, we have to come back up it.” Yeah, no shit, it’s going to suck, let’s not dwell on it, jerk.

The miles ticked by for a little while after that. I saw my family again a mile from the halfway point, slapped a few high fives with them, then focused on getting to that halfway check point. I tried to take advantage of the downhill on Prince’s Point Road, but not go crazy, and cruised around that silly little lollipop turn on Old Town Landing.

I hit the half in 1:53:36, which was pretty much where I wanted to be. Maybe a little bit quick for the conservative start I hoped for, but it put me perfectly on pace for my “A” goal of 3:47. An 8:39 pace for 13.1, something I wasn’t able to come close to in training. That was a little shot of confidence and it shows in my splits as I ran 8:35, 8:40 and 8:34 immediately after the half.

Then I hit that hill by Tuttle Road and I thought the shit was hitting the fan. As I looked up the hill, I told myself to be conservative, don’t push and don’t waste a ton of energy. There was still a lot of race left.

Running that hill was awful. I put my head down and just tried to get to the top without walking. A relay runner passed me just as a random lone spectator was cheering us on and I was crushed. I fought and fought not to walk on that hill, but all I wanted to do was stop.

Finally, at the top of that hill, I breathed a huge sigh of relief. I may have sworn, too, but I was so damn happy to have that over with. I’m grateful I made it a point this summer to run up Munjoy Hill and Cutter Street at least a couple times a week. As long as that hill felt, mile 17 wasn’t as slow as I thought. 9:01. It was my slowest mile of the race up to that point, but not so far off pace that it would ruin my race.

Then, I rebounded with an 8:29 mile. Not sure where that came from, maybe there was a downhill, I don’t remember.

And I was doing OK as the miles kept ticking down. Yes, my legs were starting to hurt. My left calf/achilles hurt, and my bothersome right hammy was talking to me a little bit, but I was doing all right. Mile 19 was an 8:30. Mile 20, when we turned back onto Rte. 1 was an 8:25. Maybe not my smartest move, but I felt all right.

14444973_10207811057059146_4666626933992254093_oI stayed where I wanted to, pace-wise, through miles 21 and 22. Yes, I slowed a little bit, but 8:50 and 8:49 at this point wasn’t terrible. Mile 23 was a little painful and a little slow. I walked through a water stop and clocked a 9-minute mile.

OK, dude, this hurts, but you have to keep going.

Then, I hit the Martin’s Point Bridge and I fell apart. I’m not sure what it was about that bridge that ruined me. It’s a slight incline, but not really. I just totally lost it at this point. My legs didn’t want to turnover and even as I passed runners, I just couldn’t get myself to go.

And I panicked.

How the hell am I going to finish this race? My legs won’t go. I’m in trouble.

Crossing that bridge, it was starting to look like my “A” goal was slipping out of my hands. I officially dropped it climbing the hill right after Martin’s Point Bridge, just before making the turn onto Sherwood. I had all I could do not to stop and walk up that hill. I was miserable, everything hurt, and I wanted to be done.

I don’t remember much about the section of the race along Sherwood. I was just trying to keep myself together and keep moving forward. I needed to finish this race and I need to go fast enough to at least PR. It wasn’t going so well. Miles 24 and 25 were awful, painful slogs (9:25 and 9:26).

Just after turning onto East Kidder and shortly before seeing that little kid with the “Punch Here for Power” sign, Jamie, who is recovering from an injury and was part of a relay team, passed me with a shout of encouragement. “You have one mile left, then a one mile victory lap, then you are done.” She was right, but at the moment, I didn’t think I was going to be doing any victory lap.

And I wouldn’t call that final mile a victory lap. It was a painful, trying to fight through the cramps, death march. After walking through the final water stop for a cup of water and Gatorade, I saw Seth and asked where his car was because I wanted a ride. He wasn’t having my lame attempt at humor (hey, I had just run 24-plus miles, cut me some slack)  and spent the next mile and half or so yelling at me to stop being a wuss. I didn’t respond and just tried to keep moving. I knew he was right, I had worked way too hard all summer long to give up with a mile left, but those cramps trying to lock up my left calf and right quad were telling me otherwise.

I managed to pull it together a little bit in that last mile and run a 9:08. Way off goal pace, but my fastest miles since crossing that damn bridge. The last .2 I tried, emphasis on tried, to push to the finish line. If there is any video of that moment, I’m sure my stride is a mess and I look miserable, but I’ve never been so happy to see a finish line.

I was a little disappointed to see the clock had just ticked over 3:50 when I first saw it. The difference between 3:50:12 and 3:49:59 isn’t much and is not really important, but it would have been cool to break 3:50.

The disappointment didn’t last long as I started seeing familiar faces and realized what I had just done. My friend Greg was handing out space blankets and was probably a little surprised when, as he high fived me and wrapped one around my shoulders, I grabbed him for a hug. I was pretty excited to be done, to be done in 3:50 and to not be running anymore. My emotions got the best of me.

I spent a few minutes in the finish area, rang that PR bell after my friend/co-worker Bob (one of the race directors) congratulated me and pointed me to the bell. I caught up with my family and gladly took that beer Seth handed me. I don’t know if a beer has ever tasted so good.

14495270_10210615998335681_633508741309265755_nThat beer and the bacon cheeseburger with a huge clump of peanut butter (not to mention a few more beers and a pizza) were the reward for my effort Sunday and my effort all summer. Sunday’s race was my victory lap and my afternoon of indulgence was my clubhouse champagne celebration.

And I can’t wait to do it all again. There will be a spell of downtime to recover. Walking today hasn’t been miserable, but my legs are definitely sore and the random spasms as my muscles recover is just plain weird. But I can’t wait to get back at it and do it all over again. The training, the workouts, the stretching and rolling, the joy and misery of race day. I want to do that again.

Oh, and I want to see the smile on the kid’s face as I punch his sign for power.


7 thoughts on “Punch here for power – The Maine Marathon 1.0

  1. Jamie Theriault

    One of my favorite marathon mental tricks – break it down into 5X5 miles plus a mile victory lap..force your mind to believe that each 5 mile segment (plus your victory lap) is a brand new race and you are fresh and ready to go and your body will follow. Fantastic job out there yesterday – one of the reasons I love runners so much is that they are never satisfied, we are always hungry. I should practice what i preach on this one, but a PR is a PR, regardless of whether or not it’s the PR we wanted. Rest up!

    1. Scott Martin Post author

      I love that mental trick. I tried to remember to just run a mile at a time. I always knew I had a ton of race left, but focused on getting to the next mile marker. Glad I saw you out there a few times and thanks for the shoutouts. As you know, that stuff means a lot when you are fighting through a marathon.

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