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On race day, amazing things can happen.

Posted by Ty Velde  April 19, 2009 08:42 AM

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Less than 24 hours!!! The anticipation is killing me.

If someone were to ask me right now, 'How do you feel?', I’d have to simply respond that I’m just plain anxious! By this point, I’ve picked up my number, been through the expo, put in an ungodly amount of time getting ready for Race Day, and am in the final moments of what I like to call my “idle” phase in which I stop running in the days leading up to race day. Therefore, I just want to get to the starting line in Hopkinton and start running this race.

Ask anyone who’s run a marathon previously (or even if you’re a first time competitor), the days leading up to race day are filled with emotion. These feelings can range from fear to excitement depending on who you are and the journey you’ve taken to get to this point. Feeling emotional is completely understandable. Just take a moment to think about all that you’ve done to just simply get to this point. It’s been an incredible journey!

The thing about running a marathon is that it’s not something that you can do overnight. The actual race is one thing, but the journey you embark on to get there is another. We all have our own reasons for why we are here and taking on this challenge. As a result of all that we have endured, in these final days, the race itself becomes an event that just seems to loom larger than life itself.

While race day is the pinnacle of the marathon experience, it’s also a day unlike any other. No matter how hard you’ve trained or what you’ve endured to get to Boston, nothing can compare to what you’ll actually experience and how you will feel the moment the gun goes off. While training ensures that we’re all ready for this moment, what happens and how you feel once you are out on the course is a completely different and unique experience.

In the end, if someone were to ask me, why do you keep running marathons and putting yourself through all of this, sure I have a variety of answers and reasons, but it really boils down to the feeling and emotions associated with the race day experience. It’s why I keep coming back and ultimately can explain why I’ve been bitten by the marathon bug.

It all goes back to my very first marathon, Chicago 2000.

I had been an avid runner up to this point, running 6-7 miles daily to keep in shape, but had never run longer distances. However in the summer of 2000 I made my first visit to Chicago in over two years (I grew up there) to see some old friends and had a really good time. As a result, I vowed that I would make an effort to return to Chicago more often so as to ensure I did not lose touch with my roots as well as some of my oldest and dearest friends. Therefore, in order to ensure I stayed true to this vow, I decided that the following October I would run the Chicago Marathon.

Having never run a marathon before, I was a little unsure of how to approach training, and instead of buying a book or joining a team I just decided to construct my own training program. On top of this, I decided that I would not actually register for the race until I knew that it was something I was definitively committed to doing, in that I had hit certain training and distance goals. Fortunately, I stuck to my guns and in early September I signed up and was now fully committed to running my first marathon. (On a side note, this just goes to show how popular marathons have become, seeing that in 2000, you could still register less than a month before the actual race).

Before I knew it, I was in Chicago and I was sitting at dinner with my father having my “last supper” on the eve of race day. I remember him asking me if I felt I was ready, which I certainly felt I was. I also remember him asking me what I had hoped for in terms of a time. I said that I was not really sure, but a few of my friends who had run marathons previously had done so in around four hours, so I thought that if I could match that, I would certainly be happy. He then asked me about the Boston Marathon, and I remember telling him that it would be great to run it one day, but it was a race you had to qualify for and I felt that there was no way I would be able to do that.

Sure I had trained and felt that I had a good shot in completing the race in about four hours, but qualifying for Boston…no way. To be honest, getting a Boston qualifying time was not why I was running the race. I had made a commitment to return back home and I honestly just wanted to prove to myself that I could run a marathon. Being able to run Boston would be great, but I really did not give it much thought as I did not really have plans to run any more marathons beyond this one and the time needed to qualify for Boston just seemed way out of reach.

All of this was based on the fact that that this was my first marathon, and the only experience I was drawing on was training and a few 5K races I’d run in previous years. The one thing I did not count on or understand was the power and energy that comes with race day.

Sunday, October 22nd -- Race Day.

As I got to the start, I decided that I would be a bit ambitious and run with the 7-minute mile pace group. Could I really keep-up this kind of pace throughout the race? To be honest, I was not 100% sure, but based on how I was feeling at the moment it seemed like the right choice. As I looked around at all my fellow runners who were most likely feeling something similar, while it’s hard to explain, I just felt a real sense of energy…and the race had not even begun. Surrounded by all of these fellow athletes just got my adrenaline pumping.

Then the gun went off!

Since I’d positioned myself towards the front of the start, I was able to hit my stride pretty quickly, and I remember hitting my first mile in under 7 minutes…way too fast I thought. Therefore, I decided to try and slow down a bit, but something about the energy of my fellow runners and the people lining the streets just kept me going. As much as I tried to hold myself back, I found myself just pushing harder and feeling great.

Soon at mile 10, I remember someone calling out what approximate place you were in and I remember hearing as I passed by…1,000. Upon hearing this I was in a slight state of disbelief…I was in approximately 1,000th place in a race with over 27,000 runners, in my first marathon. However, I was just feeding off the energy.

I then remember hitting the halfway point in around 1:28:00, and suddenly it hit me, that I was running at a pace that was way, way beyond anything I could have ever imagined. But, I still had 13.1 miles to go and a lot can happen between the halfway point and the finish line. However, it was suddenly at this point that I realized that maybe qualifying for Boston could be a reality, and suddenly I had a new goal in mind.

With thoughts of Boston suddenly filling my mind, I somehow found the strength and will to keep-up my pace. Again, the Race Day energy was all consuming and the thoughts of potentially running Boston began to overtake any feelings of pain and discomfort that come with the final miles of running a marathon. By mile 26, my pace was such that I even briefly flirted with the idea that maybe I’d break three hours, but that was not to be.

As I crossed the finish line, I did so in 3:01:27 and much to my disbelief I found out that I had indeed qualified for Boston!

This to date stands as my second best time on record, but in my annals of marathon running my most important time. The reason being is that it demonstrated to me how powerful the actual Race Day experience really is and how it can bring out the best both physically and mentally within any of us. Race day had brought out something within me that was completely unexpected. Sure it was there, but I guess I did not know how to unleash it. Race day brought it out and as a result it made me realize that things that I did not think were possible were actually achievable.

While it’s been almost 9 years and 15 marathons since that October day (tomorrow will be by 16th marathon, 8th Boston), I have to attribute much of why I continue to run marathons to this particular day and experience. While every race is different, and surely Race day in Boston is unlike any other, it was a true testament to the power of the entire marathon experience, especially race day.

In the end, Race day is where you transform from trainee to marathoner, and in the process of this metamorphosis you undoubtedly learn a lot about yourself and ultimately why running a marathon is really so much more than just a 26.2 mile race.

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Look for updates, news, analysis and commentary from the following.
  • Steve Silva, Boston.com senior producer, two-time Boston Marathon sub-four hour runner.
  • Ty Velde is a 16-time Boston qualifier who's completed 12 consecutive Boston Marathons and 25 marathons overall. Ty is now training for his 13th Boston run and will provide training tips for those who train solo and outside, no matter what temperature it is.
  • Rich 'Shifter' Horgan is a 19-time Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team member who runs in honor of his father, who died of colon cancer. He will provide updates on local running events with a focus on the charitable organizations that provide Boston Marathon entries for their organization's fund raising purposes

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