The key to enjoying a marathon: pacing, not racing

  • This was printed in November of 2014 in The Madera Tribune, a newspaper in Madera, California. This was the 77th installment of my weekly column, Mind Over Miles.

I love to compete, but at the Two Cities Marathon in Fresno on Sunday, I got to throw

competition out the window to focus on one thing: getting my friends across the finish

line. And for the first time, I actually got to enjoy a marathon.

I signed up for the race on a whim partly because I needed to do one last long run before

the San Joaquin River Trail 50 Mile race on Nov. 15 and, I admit, partly because I liked

the new medal design.

I knew I had to take it slow at Two Cities to save my legs for the 50-miler, but I also

knew that if I entered a race, I was going to do just that — race. So I asked my Facebook

friends if anyone wanted me to “pace” them for the marathon.

As destiny would have it, the two people who wanted help were both first-time

marathoners from Madera who run about the same pace and wanted to finish in 4 hours

and 30 minutes. (They have even more in common: they’re both 44 years old and

graduated with the Madera High class of 1988.)

Andrea Quintero and Juan Blanco (you may have seen his inspiring weight loss story on

the front page of Friday’s edition of The Madera Tribune) lined up with me Sunday

morning on Friant Road in front of Woodward Park to embark on their first 26.2-mile

race.

As with all races, I felt a bit nervous, but this time it was for a different reason. I wasn’t

worried about my competition, I just didn’t want to let Andrea or Juan down.

For the first 10 miles we were very comfortable at a 9 minute and 30 second per mile

average pace. We talked some, laughed a bit, cheered for others. We ate energy gels, salt

capsules and saladitos (salted dried plums).

Around Mile 10 we slowed to a 9:40 per mile pace and the bouts of talk and laughter

became fewer and farther between. At Mile 16, things were very quiet. By then we had

run from the park to Old Town Clovis and back and turned right onto Friant, heading

toward Friant Dam.

When things got really quiet (too quiet) just before Mile 17, I looked back to see Juan

walking. I told Andrea, who was still looking strong, to go ahead. I was so proud to find

out afterward that she maintained her pace and finished well before her goal, with a time

of 4:16:10. Such an amazing accomplishment!

Juan also did a fantastic job despite the many setbacks that can come with a marathon. He

was (un)lucky enough to experience all of the gnarly things that can happen to you when

you run that far — chafing, blisters, tendon pain, muscle cramps, dizziness. Through

prayer and pure valor, Juan pushed through all of that pain and willed himself across the

finish line in 4 hours, 44 minutes and 36 seconds.

No one ever forgets their first marathon — I can guarantee that Andrea and Juan won’t.

As for me, I’ll never forget my fourth.

This time around I got to thank volunteers. I stopped to hug, high-five and talk to friends.

I posed for the race photographers. I sang and danced as we passed by DJs and live

bands. I cheered for everyone I knew and even some that I didn’t know. I stopped to give

some salt capsules to a person who was cramping at Mile 22. I even used the portable

toilets conveniently spaced throughout the race. (In previous races I’ve relied on the

“hold it and pray” method.)

In short, I had a blast!

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