In 2011 I was closing out what to me was my best year as an Ultrarunner although I received more headlines and press in 2009 when Ultrarunner Magazine voted me 4th in their Ultra Runner of the Year Voting. Rachel and I found a puppy sitter for Manny after a fun Christmas Eve at her boss’ house in Scottsdale. We slept in, took a family jog and drove the five hours to Manhattan Beach to celebrate our first Christmas without snow. I won the Operation Jack Marathon on December 26th, 2011 in a still standing course record time.
I returned in 2012 taking the pace out with my lead biker at sub six minute miles before I blew up and lost bad. As much as I wanted a repeat of my 2011 race performance I woke up on December 26th with a fever, sore throat, inflamed ankle, and painful lower back. If it was race day for anything else besides the Operation Jack Marathon or a Team USA appearance at a World Championship I would have just gone back to bed. I knew as I drank my coffee and ate Jake Rome’s banana that I wasn’t going to break my own course record and would struggle just to finish.
An attorney from Iowa in Vibram Five Fingers took out the pace fast but it felt easy to me as the 2013 Operation Jack Half Marathon Champion ran with us. At the first turn, a little over four miles in, I felt lightheaded so I took some water and calories. I kept the two guys ahead of me in view and took it down a notch so I could cheer on the other oncoming runners. The course is designed so that you are almost always running against other athletes. I knew it was going to heat up and I normally would red line from the start given a hot forecast but I made a conscious decision to try to enjoy the view of the mountains and Pacific Ocean.
I held second place for the marathon through the half when a young kid surprised me and kept running! I was sure he was a half marathon runner but to his credit he ran a very smart race holding back at the start to finish strong. I ran the second half with him in view but just had no killer instinct in me to push hard for a second place finish as I knew by the 18 mile mark I wasn’t catching the Iowa attorney.
I struggled with the heat as it pushed eighty degrees Fahrenheit. Running into the sun and the final turn I noticed the guy in fourth was closing on me. He caught me with two tenths of a mile to go and I was able to surge a bit to hold him off a little but I just didn’t care that much given the physical pain I was in with my back and ankle causing an altered stride. Jerry Garcia passed me for the final podium spot with one tenth of a mile to go and won our age division. He also ran a smart race.
As I mature as a runner I am coming to grips a bit with loss. 2013 has been a year filled with loss in my life so it was fitting after two fourth place off the podium finishes as a member of Team USA at World Championships I finish fourth at Operation Jack Marathon. The pain hurts a lot worst when I lose. After I finished I collapsed. I have never collapsed after a race in such agony but I feel physical ailments are connected to mental stress. Losing my dad and closing out the divorce with Rachel in 2013 were landmarks in my life I am processing through healthy outlets like running.
I am super excited for the close of 2013 as I will be helping set up for Aravaipa Running’s Across the Years in Phoenix, before a trip up to Flagstaff to get some fresh mountain air. I am even more pumped up to end 2013 and begin 2014 on one of my favorite beaches in America with one of my favorite people as I run a trail 5K at Lovers Key State Park on the Gulf Coast in Florida.
Thank you to all who support my running goals and Happy New Year! If my back and ankle heal quick enough I will likely toe the line again at the USATF 100K Trail Championships in Bandera, Texas on January 11th where in 2011 I won the Silver behind my Vitargo Teammate Dave Mackey.
For any of you that wish to donate to Operation Jack, a matching pledge of $5 USD will be added to your donation at this link by a gracious anonymous supporter. My fundraising page will be open through the end of the year if you are in the holiday spirit. Autism is a spectrum disease that impacts the lives of many families. What Sam is doing through his running to raise funds for awareness and research is an absolutely inspiring project named after his son Jack who is afflicted with Autism. Sam ran 61 marathons in 2010 with his last that year being the first Operation Jack Marathon. Here is an awesome short video clip recapping his 2010 project.