2002 marks the year I consider my first running season. At 33 years old, 2002 remains my most successful season in terms of establishing personal records (PRs). In my devil may care attitude, in August I ran a 75 minute ten mile, September a 25K in two hours flat, and in October my only sub 4 hour marathon, in Baltimore in 3:36. On a post marathon high I glided into November and the Madison, NJ Giralda Farms 10K, sub 43 minutes, folllowed by the flat, fast, Basking Ridge Great Swamp Devil Run 15K in a PR 62:45.
My 2003 bulletproof run at a 3:20 marathon and Boston Qualifying at the May 2003 Pittsburgh Marathon were bedeviled on March 29th, 2003 as I lay in a Green Mountain, VT ravine with my snowmachine nose down in the snow and femur bones sticking out of my ski pants front and rear. My life was now in the balance of first responders. The 2002 Great Swamp Devil could be my last race ever.
So, in 2010 with the ING New York marathon in two weeks, the timing was finally right to return to the Great Swamp Devil Run and unleash my inner wildebeest. While I harbored no fantasies about besting my PR of 2002, I did hope to improve on my recent half marathon 7:45 pace. As a bonus, my good friends Ellen and Mike “Coondawg”, came to run as well. Ellen is also tuning up for NYC, having run a solid Newport, and Staten Island half marathons. Coondawg of R2C relay fame, had never run more than a 10K in a race. So October 24th became a special day for all of us!
Sunday October 25th is one of those Indian summer days you want to be able to stash away and parade out in mid February. The race’s sponser is the Lord Stirling Special Needs School located on the fringe of the Great Swamp of New Jersey. The “Great Swamp Devil” is a fictional beast, but legend has it, the “Devil” patrols the Great Swamp ensuring safe haven for the many water birds that migrate to and thru the area.
We drive the ten minutes from Chatham to the Lord Stirling School to register and score Halloween orange colored long sleeve Swamp Devil T-shirts. The pre-race sun is warming and as we prepare to calm Coon’s nerves, we bump into Jackie Timmerman. She is a Lifetime PT, and Spin coach as well as triathlete extroadinaire with several Eaglemans and IM Coere’d Alene’s on her resume. She had a near Kona qualifying miss at Eagleman in 2008,and since I am a three time Eagle finisher we swap race stories. We also talk of her recent relays Ragner and Reach the Beach, in NH.
Soon enough it is time to hit the “let”one final time before toeing the starting line. With fewer than 300 racers, the startline is muy tranquilo. However, as I jockey toward the front line, I recognize many of the regular speed merchants of NJ road racing, Sergio Cano, Rick Pingatore and Bill Bosmann to name a few.
At the gun, I am off with the leaders, down the one hill at a insanely unsustainable pace. For the next three minutes (1st half mile) I am jamming at the front of the pack, my heart rate and breathing elevating to the uncomfortable. Little by little my pace slows to a more sustainable effort. The fitter leaders separate themselves and by mile one I am left alone in my own Swamp hell, 25 yards ahead of the 8 minute milers, but well behind the 6:30 milers.
My breath is raspy, my legs turning over, on the edge of blowing up. I do not have a watch, but I pass mile 1 and hear a 6:35. I slow a tad more on mile 2 to regulate my breathing back within lactate threshold, but surprisingly no one is passing me. I pick it back up right to the edge of lactate. My legs are churning, my arms are pumping, and air is hard to come by. My body and brain are in sensory overload and cannot process all the feelings. My heart is working 100%, my muscles are firing, I am elated, I am miserably, I am flying, I am looking for a hole to crawl into. The pavement and scenery is flying by. This is the best I can describe running right on the edge. Nirvana is so close, but the Swamp Devil also lurks behind each tree, ready to crash me out of the race with his long webbed wings.
At the mile 3 turnaround I am in severe oxygen debt but not slowing down. I spot Cooner and shout arcane NY Giants pep talk at him. Right behind him is Ellen, and she is breezing along making it look so effortless. I pass two, and three pass me, but generally we are “paced up”. Approaching the mile 5 turnaround at the Meyersville Circle, the leaders are 40 yards apart and motor by running 5:30s. There strides gobble up the ground. I am in awe but am maxed out running slightly over 7 minute pace. Well tim it is way faster than the 7:45s at your half marathons this year at Superhero and Newport Liberty.
But the devil will make sure this effort is going to hurt. I shout out again as I spot Mike and Ellen, staying on their pace and looking solid. At mile 6 I come up on the 3rd and 4th females. I am redlined and tuck in behind for a minute to collect myself and not look like an ass passing the girls only to gget repassed in a minute or two.
At the water station I slam a gel looking for a turbo boost. Gels provide ready burnable energy, like a sparkler, but they also soak up water, leaving your body seeking hydration from other sources such as leeching from your gi track causing cramps or worse from your already water starved and hard working muscles. The Swamp Devil’s ears perk up as his glare pierces out of the foliage.
Within a minute I feel the energy boost coming. Just as in a 5K, everyone is suffering, so you only pass with authority, bluffing strength for 20 seconds even if you are maxed out. I pull out to pass the girls, and jam it for a 20 second split. My heart rate spikes to max, and the bog stirs as the devil readies himself for his prey.
After each pass I slow down a hair to a still borderline redline pace to recovery just enough to allow my heart not to explode out of my chest. My next passs is big John, fresh off a 3:19 marathon at Steamtown. Again I power by for 20 seconds, taunting the Devil again. It is a long flat straight road home. Mile 7 flies by. Then mile 8. Only 1.3 miles to go now. A system warning light illuminates. My breath is ragged, I am running on hot coals, and I still have ten minutes of hell to endure. The light starts blinking in my brain. Damn it! The left hamstring twinges, then it tightens. My elephant uses the warning light to tell my rider to slow down. What to do? Elephant or rider? The elephant logic wins. Despite my effort, my PR is out of reach, so what if I lose 45-90 seconds going in. The worst thing would be for the Devil to tear up my hamstring and prevent a NYC Marathon appearance!
I slow and come to a full stop for a quick hammy stretch on a rail fence post. The 4th and 5th place girls steam back by, and after a ten second stop I chase. But dialing it down and shuffle running to save the hammy does not permit me to gain. The sixth place girl a fit 40s tri girl come up on me. I tell her that she can catch those girls ahead. She hits the gas. I go with her and pass back one of the girls but am holding back now and cautious. Tri girl takes 10 then 20 yards on me.
I cross the nine mile sign right at 65:30. So close. Don’t blow up now! I am going to make it. 100 yards from the finish Big John motors alongside. I accelerate and stay with him for 5 seconds. He shifts to a higher gear, that I am too scared to hit right now. He moves ahead as the tape is in sight. I hear panting behind me. I don’t dare look, but dial it up a notch. I hear the breathing again and as the tape nears I speed up a little more. I hold on and cross in 67:45, 7:15 mile pace, 54th out of 278 finishers. I am on my limit, done-ski, but at a pace 30 seconds a mile faster than the half marathon a month ago. Though not tip top, a solid effort given I ran a 20 miler a week ago too. I look around but the devil has hidden himself back in the shadows.
Ellen passes Cooner at mile 7 and they finish within 30 seconds of each other at sub 8:45s. Great efforts all around! My celebration with them is cut short as Heather and the boys are waiting for me to share this glorious afternoon. Josh and Quinn decide on a 4 mile Great Swamp Hike to search for the elusive Devil Monster. I do not have the heart or the heart beats left to confide in them that I have already stared down the Devil today and emerged, soul intact. As darkness falls, we are still a half mile from the car. “Let’s go” I yell, “the Swamp Devil may get us!”