Monday, December 5, 2011

Nothing to Lose, and Everything to Gain... California International Marathon

Boom! It has all paid off... 2:17:19 for 6th place at the California International Marathon was something I can't even fathom!!! I knew I had it in me, but I just had to do it on the right day, with the right circumstances, and those circumstances can barely be transcribed, but I'm going to try...

This epic weekend starts off on a now winterish Friday with a cold front moving in on Albuquerque. I knew this, because I planed on teaching all day and would leave for Sacramento at 5:30pm to arrive there at around 8:45pm. In the classroom at S.Y. Jackson Elementary, the day is going as planned. Students are learning, and I'm learning how to become a better teacher from them... Once the day is over, I leave for home to an already packed bag and head for Sacramento. The flight was extremely delayed, and I assumed I was going to miss my connecting flight out of LAX. But, that didn't happen as the wonderful people at Southwest held that flight and I made it out of LAX and into Sacramento at 8:45pm.

Kris had an entirely different ordeal, as he left Abq in the early afternoon, flew into Oakland, rented a car and would drive to Sacramento. This, astonishing as it is, would save him time, and it did, as he arrived at the airport to pick me up. We zipped out of there in the spunky compact sized rental car as Kris handles it as a formula 1 racing car. We're weaving in and out of semi-trucks to get to downtown Sacramento so that we can grab something to eat. But, once we park the car in downtown, we had the unfortunate, and fortunate experience of meeting what I will call a "troubled" women. She had so much disparity about her, and the very detailed and long story she expressed only lead Kris and I to help her in what little way we could. Not to get into the detail of what we did, but to express the amount of emotion that came from this experience was very eye-opening. Here I am, fortunate enough to travel across the country to chase a dream of qualifying for the Olympic Trials, and this destitute of a women is here asking for help in more ways than one. The outlook I had on what I was there to do seemed to matter little to the struggle this women and her family would be experiencing. I decided to keep this thought as the weekend progressed... So, after a quick dinner, we headed to our hotel on the outskirts of Sacramento, checked in, and relaxed for the rest of the evening.

So, the next morning we went on a run and the theme of destitution arose once more. Kris and I ran along the American River Trail and ran by what is called "Tent City", due to the hundreds of homeless people living in tents along the river. One guy looked pretty cold and mentioned something about gloves. I didn't understand him, but Kris did, and decided to give him his favorite pair of gloves. That was an emotional detachment, that looked like it hurt. Well, the rest of the day was pretty mellow. We headed out to get bottles and drop them off, got our race numbers, had a nice lunch, picked up Solomon (another Dukes Track Club member and Kenyan) and went to dinner. Solomon and I went with my parents to Old Spaghetti Factory, and Kris went with his family somewhere else. After this, the real action starts...

Solomon and I got home and just relaxed and went to bed around 9:30. This is when Kris barges into the room with a panic stricken voice, stating that "We have a situation!". I thought that at this point, Maria was going into labor (his wife was due on the 12th of December and would most-likely be early), but Kris made it clear that there was a bat on the staircase. A freakin bat that wouldn't fly was laying on the staircase and Kris wanted to rehabilitate it back to health... I told him, "who cares, it's a freakin bat!". Solomon just laid there trying to sleep peacefully, and I knew this whole weekend was too good to be true with all the chaos going on in our room. Here's a little background history: Kris cannot relax before a big marathon! The past three marathon's I've been to with Kris have been an emotional roller-coster. The guy, simply can't chill out! It's the combination of tapering for a marathon, and Kris Houghton genetics. So why shouldn't he relax before CIM?!?! Well, he's frantically running around the room on his iphone trying to google: what to do if you find a bat, and I'm surprised it didn't tell him to pull his head out of his A$$ and leave the damn thing alone! They have rabies!!!! So, after an hour of running back and forth from the room to the staircase to his iphone, he finally made a bat bed, put the damn thing in it, and placed it in a cabinet in the hotel room until this bat lady showed up to take it to a conservation place or something... Just as long as everyone was in bed, and "trying" to rest for the morning ordeal, I would be a little more at ease.

Then, at around 2:50am Kris' phone rang, and Maria was on the other end explaining that her water broke and she'd be going into labor. Now, this was for real! Kris was able to get a flight out of Oakland at 7am and would be back in Albuquerque by 10am. He organized this in a matter of minutes, and told me sorry he wouldn't be able to race. He also told me to qualify for him, since he wouldn't even have the opportunity to... Those emotional words stayed in my heart as the morning went on.

Finally... it's 4:30am and my parents take Solomon and I to the host hotel so that we can get bused to the start. I get separated from Solomon and end up in the back of a random school bus sitting next to a nice girl who happens to work for Brooks and is attempting to qualify for the trials as well. The 45 minute bus ride goes by very quickly as we talk about running and Brooks as a company. Once we arrive at the start, the temperature seems colder and all the "elite" runners huddle in the Elite Tents. The thought of claustrophobia sets in, as a few dozen runners are packed into these tents. I leave immediately after I get my socks and shoes on for a short warm up. This lovely girl comes along, but I never see her after I sneak off into the brush to water the bushes from over hydration. I frantically get back to the tent and attempt to strip down so that I can get to the starting line. I notice how cold it is, and leave my gloves on, and I almost kept my watch on, but decided at the last minute that I would run back to my bag and ditch it. I'm thinking, I'm just going to race off of feeling and not worry about splits. So, with the luck of my entire 5th grade class and their signatures on my racing flats, I feel ready to go.

I am finally on the starting area and I still don't see Solomon or anyone else that I recognized. I thought there'd be a slew of guys that I knew, like: Paul Wellman, Nate Pennington, Mario Macias, Ryan Bak, Mario Mendoza... but I didn't see any of them at the start, only at the tent area. There was just too many people in this race, and I knew at that moment it was going to be a gagglefest of runners trying to hit the Olympic Trials Standard. A lot of dreams where going to get crushed, and a couple were going to come true. Well, the National anthem was sung and a quick count down was started right before the barrage of runners took to the streets! And the mayhem began!

In the first mile I could finally see everyone settle into a rhythm. There was two distinct packs forming and I was cruising behind the guys in the chase pack (2nd pack). The lead group of about 15 runners had Ryan Bak leading the group and Mario Macias in the mix of African runners. In this first mile with a slight downhill I decided to keep my composure and stick behind this chase pack of bobbling idiots. We come by the first mile and I hear an array of GPS/Watches clicking and beeping off all around me. One runner (who happens to be a Hansons runner) is directly to my left and is signaling to me as a police officer directing traffic, that he wants to move across my line of running to be next to his "teammate". He couldn't wait in this wonderfully long marathon race that he anxiously jumps across my path to get next to his teammate. I'm thinking that there's too much anxiety going on around these idiots and I have to get out of here. "5:14... perfect!" is called out by one runner. Another asks what pace they want to run, and a conversation of "Well, 5:18 pace, just what everyone here wants to run..." is going on right in front of me. Again, I can't stand this and immediately move to the right and leave the group of digglefucks, never to see a single one of these runners again until I finish. But, I didn't know that at the time...

I see the original leader Ryan Bak relinquish the lead and ease up behind the lead group. I figure I could catch him so that I wouldn't be alone, and neither would he. We could work together in-a-sense. So it takes me a little less than a mile and I run up beside him. At this point I feel like the old school marathoners from the 70's, especially since Ryan's wearing the nostalgic Oregon Track Club singlet, and I've got the Dukes Track Club singlet on, and we are about to have an unnecessary conversation.

He looks over with a questioning tone and says "Jesse?".
I acknowledge quickly with a "Hey Ryan.".
And now a quick question of, "What are you looking to run?" is asked.
And I reply, sounding like a tool, "Something FAST...!".
He nods his head, and I continue my with another quirky response of, "Lets do this!".

We are now stride for stride, watching the lead pack gain ground on us, over, and down, and up hills. With each mile marker being past, I can hear Ryan's Garmin beeping. I never bother to ask him what pace we are on, but it was a curious thought. At each designated elite aid station, we grab our bottles and take in the desired fuel. Miles start to come up quickly and the lead group is still putting ground on us, but only at the cost of a few African runners fading off for us to overcome. The crowds are cheering us on and the pace feels great. The lead pack is now shedding guys from their pace and the winner of this marathon is being determined right in front of us.

Ryan and I turn a bend and head up a slight hill that leads us to the half way spilt and a clock ticking away. I see 1:07:10 as we approach, and we ran pass the mat in 1:07:16. This meant nothing to me. I felt pretty good and under control at this point, and that split could have said anything. I guess at halfway, the time doesn't matter, and the effort is all that matters. It was a complete arbitrary number. I just knew I had to keep the same effort for the next half of the race. Well, after coming up on mile 14, I started to feel really good. The leaders where coming back to us, and I had these thoughts of grander... maybe I could pick all these guys off and win this thing... this performance could change my life! Well... I started pressing harder and harder at this point. A few Africans fell off and I started feeling better! Ryan must have kept his cool, because he was now a few meters behind me. I tried to keep pressing, then at around mile 18, I couldn't push the pace anymore. I was overcome by Ryan and couldn't respond to the continued pace I had started. I started to fade a little, but not much...

Mile 20 came up pretty quick after that mess, and I just kept cool and looked forward to my last aid station at mile 21.5. I may have been slowing down, but I had no idea by how much. Mile 21.5 came and I saw my bottle, but failed to grab it tight, so it slipped out of my hands. I could hear the aid station crew regurgitate what just happen by saying, "oh, he dropped his bottle.". Yes, I dropped a bottle of precious fuel, oh no, the world is going to end... not exactly! I just kept going, and kept my cool, grabbing whatever was offered at the water stations. Things would be fine. The next couple miles were painful as I hoped I didn't just screw up this race by sprinting my brains out from mile 14-17. Oh well, time would only tell.

By the time I got to mile 23, this buster comes up on me and tells me to come with him. I attempt to move my legs, but I can't match his stride for more than 400 meters. He takes off on me, and I think to myself that if this guy just flew by me, then the whole train of guys are coming soon! It turns out that he was on the relay team, but I didn't know that at the time. Now, some guy on the street is looking at his watch and tells us we still have a shot at qualifying for the trials. I am in denial at this point, there is no way we are going to hit a sub 2:19. I also think, I might run an okay PR. About two miles or so go by, and I start to hear more foot steps. I look at the street signs and still see 30 something street, as the finish is closer to 9th or 8th street, so this only means I am going to get passed by more guys. Well, once those footsteps come next to me, a familiar voice with a Kenyan accent tells me, "hello, lets go.".
It's Solomon! Now, I have to go with him. I can't let him down. I also think, I still have a shot at a PR. His momentum and stride is very smooth, so I muster myself together to stay with him. My muscles are pumping nothing but battery acid at this point, and are as heavy as bricks. But, I still must stay with Solomon. The finish line is near, as we pass the capitol building on out left and mile marker 26 appears! 400 meters is all that's left! Solomon's speed is increasing, and the steeple chaser in him is coming out. I try to go with him and think to myself that I have plenty of pain to push out of this body to finish as strong as I can. With about 100 meters to go, a clock is on the corner of the street with the lucky digits of 2:17:00 clicking away...! My heart and lungs suddenly open up and take in that emotional feeling that I've already accomplished everything I wanted. And with this flood of emotion overcoming inside of me, I start to sprint harder than I've every felt; maybe not faster than every, but gut wrenching and teeth grinning fast! I lose control of my senses and start fist pumping and screaming inside! Arms are waving and the last reaction I have is of victory as I am looking to the heavens and just thanking God from my heart with my hands held high!





And it didn't stop there... I saw my parents, and my mom screaming her brains out with joy. My dad was practically speechless while a volunteer place a medal over me and I was trying to catch my breath. I could feel all the emotion pouring down on me that I couldn't even breathe. A slight bit of hyperventilating was occurring as I was so freakin excited. I also had a stupid grin on my face for hitting the time, but I didn't care. I went over to my mom to give her a hug as tears of joy were about to stream down my face. Needless to say, she was very happy, as well as my father. I was so glad they were there to share this with me. I love them with all my heart, and thank God I have such wonderful parents to support me throughout all those years of training and being there for me when it counted. They are my motivation, inspiration, and keep me determined to do the best I can! Like the rest of the Armijo's in my family, we always do things at the last minute and up against the clock, as this was literally the last chance to qualify for the trials!

To everyone else that has supported me through this crazy ordeal:

And baby Alma Rose Houghton was born on this same day during this race! Congratulations Kris and Maria!



Running Bums said...

Epic Jesse. Epic. This is a REALLY good read! Of course it helps that there is a super happy ending! Keep up the excellent blogging and racing!

PS-Digglefucks? I've never heard that before but I'm pretty sure I will use it :)'

Julia said...

Jesse I am so happy for you!!!!! That must be the most amazing feeling in the world after all the years of training you've put in. Many many congrats!!!!!

Paul said...

Jesse that was an awesome post. So happy for you man! That was an inspirational performance!

mfranks said...

Hey, I tracked your race at CIM. Nice job, what an awesome way to end the year. Good luck at the trials.

Mari said...

That brought tears to my eyes, you're awesome Jesse. Huge congratulations!
~love: Maria & Alma Rose