Blog Post: Michael Eaton 4th USA Half Marathon Championships

 

 

Former Greenwood & University of Louisville great finished 4th in the USA Half Marathon Championship in Duluth, Minnesota today.  He ran a time of 1:03:16.00 just thirty seconds behind winner, Adbi Abdirahman. 

Below is Michael's blog post about the race on Saturday.  You can follow Michael on his blog at

http://runningwithmichael.wordpress.com/

 

 

The air is filled with the sound of clanking silverware and muffled conversations.  I find myself at a table this evening at the USA 1/2 Marathon Championships awards ceremony.  My parents are there with me, the long drive for once was worth it, and shortly after this dinner is over they’ll be back on the road heading home for Bowling Green, KY.  Around the room I see faces I recognize from articles in Runner’s World, The Running Times, or Let’sRun.com.  They sit, smiling, eating, making conversation with others at their tables.  At my table sits the oldest woman entered in the elite field today,  and much to her satisfaction she did not finish last.  I congratulate her and wonder if I’ll ever be in her shoes, will my love for running keep me coming back to the sport long after my glory days are over? I eat another bite, take another swig of beer.  I feel really out of place at these kind of events, not the races themselves, but the wonderful dinners afterwards, I feel like I’m on the edge of a very elite club, with high membership standards, and well they haven’t decided whether or not they’re going to let me in just yet.  Oh course this is all in my mind, earlier today I was cracking jokes at drug testing with the Gotchers and Abdi about whether or not I was going to break my longest time in drug testing, which for those wondering is four hours, but for some reason these more formal setting make me uptight.  I receive my rewards, and head downstairs for dessert, along with more small talk and make my rounds, trying to avoid being too awkward as I move through the crowd of strangers. After a while I decide it’s time to get out of there, I’ve thanked all the right people and talked to about everybody that was probably interested in talking to me anyway.  I head back upstairs and out into the warm evening air.  The street I’ve picked is empty and quiet, giving me time to think as I head back to the hotel.

The morning was cool.  I was up at 3:30 getting ready for the day.  The shuttle heading for the starting line was leaving at 4:30 and I wanted some time to shower and wake up before I headed out.  After a quick shower, I scarfed down a vanilla crisp Powerbar and cracked open my bible. The past two days the Psalms have been a source of calm and comfort for me. I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears. -Psalm 34:4 So many times the prayers of David seems so far and disconnected from my troubles, but this morning, with doubts and fears about what to do come race time, these words helped me trust that things would work out, that my training would be enough, that so many people believed in me, and I simply relaxed and gave those fears up.  I took that peace with me as I boarded the bus and headed for the start.

We arrived some twenty minutes later and as we walked the short distance to the starting ling the sun began to peek through the clouds.  The air was thick with humidity but the temperature was still cool so it seemed the perfect weather for a race.  I set my belongings down in the elite athlete tent and walked up to the line to get a feel for how the start would look.  I started my warmup, heading down the course, taking in the first mile before turning back and heading for the tent.  A bit of stretching, on with my Swiftwick socks, on with my racing flats, off with the sweats, and I was ready to go.  A few strides got the blood bumping once again and in no time they were calling us to the line to get us all ready to go.

The course map give the impression that this course is pretty flat, but in reality it is mildly rolling for most of the race with a few short hills in the final few miles.  We all stood crammed onto the starting line so tightly that I wondered if things might get ugly after the gun, my long stride doesn’t do too well in traffic, I need some space to get the wheels turning.  But the start went off without a hitch and before I knew it we were barreling down the course at 4:40 pace with no sign of letting up.

The pack began to thin early, with a lead group of  eight to ten runners forming by the first mile, though the rest were right there with us.  I had thrown caution and my fear to the wind and decided to go with the leaders and see what happened.  I came through the first mile in 4:40 with remarkable ease and hoped that I hadn’t made a tactical error, but at that point I was committed and so I put my nose in it and pushed towards the front of the group.  A little after mile 1 Abdi had already separated from the field with Brett Gotcher making a move to catch him.  I settled into the chase pack and coasted along behind one of the few guys in the race taller than me, Jason Hartman.  The pace held and I came through the second mile in 4:43 and was still feeling very good, so I decided to move up and try to close the gap down a little bit.  Coming through 5k in 14:35 was a pit of a shock, but I had moved up into 5th and gotten a double take as I pulled up next to a runner.  Whenever some in the elite field does a double take at your race bib you know you’re having a good day because it means they have no idea who you are because you’re usually not up that far.  That gave me more confidence than I can explain and I continued on by and into 4th place.  As the next few miles clipped by a small group three of us formed up and began to pull in the front two.  At 10k my split was 29:34, which I believe may have been my 3rd fastest 10k ever, and definitely my fastest on the roads.  Coming through 10k in 3rd place and still feeling good gave me the feeling that I might just hang on and doing something special.

About this time a gentleman on a bike from the media came back to our group and asks me for my name, which I thought was kind of silly being that it was on my race bib, but I got it out on an exhale and he took back off up to the lead car.  Later I learned that the people announcing the race couldn’t see my bib from that far up and needed to know who was leading the chase pack so they could announce it for the spectators.  A few minutes after that another runner came up next to me.  After hearing my exchange with the guy on the bike he asked if I had written the blog.  I assumed he was talking about the one I had posted on Flotrack.org the day before so I said yes.  His next question surprised me a little, “Are you a Christian?” I simply relied yes, I didn’t have the energy at that moment to carry on much of a conversation, but next he said , “cool, let’s go caught Brett.” And the next thing I knew I felt I could do it, so together we pushed the pace down a little and the three of us began to reel in the leaders ever so slowly.

Shortly after 10k though our little group dropped to just two of us.  Ian Burrell, who I believe I saw at the Olympic Trials Marathon, was with me.  He had kicked my butt there, as most of these runners I was now running with had done, but for now I was hanging on, though it seemed every mile there was a surge or a pass made by one of us as we chipped away at the leaders.  By mile 8 we were within striking distance of the leaders and I was hanging on for dear life as the quick early pace began to take its toll.  Ian made a surge and close the gap, I couldn’t go with, but as we came through 10 miles in 47:56 I knew we were going to have a fast one, the only question at the back of my mind was if someone else behind us was going to have an even faster one.  I had no idea how close the next runner was, all race I had just kept my gaze up ahead, hoping to catch that orange Adidas singlet up ahead of us.

Over the last four miles I watched as the front three took shots at each other, each one moving up and coming back, no one really making a killer move, so no one really breaking the others.  I kept trying to will myself to close the gap, but little by little it began to grow and I began to turn my mental energy to a different task…keeping my train on the tracks.  By mile 11 my body wanted no more, but I knew I was in 4th and if somehow I could just hang on for two more miles I might just hold it.  By this point I had slowed into a mid 4:50′s per mile and in spite my fatigue  knew somehow I could hold it just a little longer.  As I crossed over the last little hill and over the 12 mile mark I took a quick glance over my shoulder for the first time in the race.  I could see no one, but I didn’t want to give it away in the last mile, so just in case my struggling senses had missed someone as I looked back I continued to force myself to hold pace.  As I came around the dock area I knew I was close and so I began to let myself for the first time really take in the fact that I was about to get 4th place.  I came past my hotel and onto the final stretch, giving one final surge into the finish.  The last few steps I couldn’t help but smile, no fist pump, no shout for joy, but on the inside fireworks were going off.  Coming across the line there was such a mix of emotions.  Gratitude to God for the peace that morning, thanks to my coach Ron Mann for all the advice, joy that my parents were there to see it, and well the giddy excitement of knowing the no name kid from Kentucky had just finished 4th against some of the best runners in the country.

I slowed to a stop after the line and within seconds was in a daze.  A USADA official came up to me immediately.  He didn’t get two words out before I stumbled sideways two feet before regaining my balance and staggering back his way.  I wanted water, a towel, maybe a place to sit down, he wanted me to read! Read tiny size 10 font off a drug testing sheet and sign and print my name on a line after running 13.1 miles all out.  After a few minutes my sense returned to me and I became again my more coherent, agreeable self and tried my best to sign the paper without completely soaking it with my sweaty hands.

My father came running up, maybe more excited at the moment than I was.  It turned out the whole race that the email/text updates for my chip time had been off and so at 5k they thought I was in last place coming through at 18 minutes.  I hugged him and then told him to wait with mom because the drug testers were going to get antsy if I messed around too long.  I shuffled around a small parking lot for five minutes in what was supposed to resemble a cool-down and then I was off to get tested.  Two and half hours later I was free and headed back to my hotel.  Heading back to the hotel I watched other finishers coming in from Grandma’s Marathon.  The struggling faces and looks of pain reminded me of my endeavors just a few hours before.  I couldn’t help but wonder how those endeavors might pay off. To these people I was just another runner, another face in the crowd, still just that no name kid from Kentucky. All the hours of training, the timing of each workout, the lonely long runs, the hours at work just to feed this dream that doesn’t pay much on most days. All that stuff adds up, it added up today to a 4th place finish and another low 1:03 half marathon.  Will it add up to something more I can’t say, but tonight as I write this I still feel like the no name kid from Kentucky, but maybe that’s the way it ought to be, after all it seems to be working for me, and I’ve always had a soft spot for the underdogs.

 

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