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My best race ever is a long time coming. One year ago, I had a neck fusion surgery. Prior to that surgery, I was unable to run for 5 months. Post-surgery, I could not run for 6 months. For nearly one year, I couldn't participate in a foundational piece of my life. It was a big slap in the face. Enjoy what have because you never know when it could be taken away.
On October 8th, 2022, I ran my first post neck fusion mile after our event, the Lumberjack and Jill 15k. It was an 11-minute mile with a 45 second break halfway through with my good friend Norman. Over the next few months, I ran a few miles sporadically and lifted occasionally at Push Personal Fitness. In December, I committed to strength training twice per week at Push. I also consistently received massage therapy from Christine Wolf of Restore U Solutions who has been an extreme help in my continued recovery. In February and March, I began running a few more miles; but they were hard. I remember running when it was fun and easy. These were not those miles.
Let's set up the race: May 6th, 2023 was the Door County Half Marathon. It is my favorite half marathon. There are many great half marathons, but I have a special affinity for this event. I have been involved in it from the very beginning. First as a participant, and then as a sponsor of this well designed and well supported event.
As race day approached, I started doing a few fartleks and 5 mile runs with my beautiful wife Susan McDowell. Our Run Away to the Bay (the best spring relay in the valley) event was on April 15th. At that event, I managed to run 8 miles in a row and then another 2 later to get 10 miles in for the day. This was a vast improvement from my prior training. Unfortunately, shortly after that, the weather turned nasty and I did not get out to run too often until race day.
The week of the race I actually focused on what is generally recommended to do. I drank more water and less wine. I prioritized sleep. The morning of the race, I had my typical pre-race meal: an English muffin and sausage -enjoyed with two close friends; Norm and Colin. Colin and I had worked at the race expo the night before and were on our legs for 8 hours, and we were feeling it.
We then set up for the morning expo at the race in Peninsula State Park. The weather was perfect. It was 57 degrees, cloudy, overcast, and even a little bit of rain to cool you off. My friend Benn Zubke, who I have had the pleasure to work with for 13 years but have also known for 2l also made the trip up from Madison to run in the event.
At 10:00AM; Benn, Norm, and I started out between the 1:55 and 2:00 hour pace groups. Many of the pacers in these groups I have known for years and have ran many miles with. They are all experienced and fun people. As we got started, I felt amazing. Sometimes, you just know that it is your day. We talked and caught up on each other's lives and reminisced about past events and experiences together. Then we get a catcall call behind us... this absurd woman was calling out my calves and just wanted me for my legs. Well, hello to my wife, Susan, who has now enter the fray at 3 miles (I had lost her and her friend Becky before the start of the race). Before we knew it, we got to The Hill. 4.5 miles into the Door County Half Marathon is a brutal hill. I had planned to walk up portions in order to not speed my heart rate up and build up lactic acid. I walked with Norm and Benn at my side still keeping me unfocused on the race pace and focused on the fun. We then took 2 miles to catch up with Sue and Becky who had taken a lead. Usually, mile 8 has my favorite sound (bag pipes!) Yep!
However, I almost though in the towel when the sound was absent. Then, in the distance, I heard my ancestors calling me to pick-up the pace. Yes, that is right, bag pipes filled the air! From mile 7 to 11.5, we all ran in formation and continued our race through the beautiful scenery - enjoying our companionship. The tough hill at 11.5 lead us to the turn towards the end. As our competitiveness started flow, we gradually increased the speed and soon we were all pushing towards the finish line. At the end I sprinted just enough to tie Norm, but to his and Benn's credit, I never would have been close to finishing when I did without them pulling me along and keeping me going through the whole race. I had run a 1:54:50 with some of my closest friends in the industry I call home.
Sue did an amazing job and finished just seconds behind us, persevering through her injury that has been a consistent pain in her rear end (literally).
Experiences are why we do the events we choose. Was this my fastest race? No. I am lucky. I have had many amazing experiences racing high school college, and many more throughout my post collegiate career. However, this one may go down as the most fun, enjoyable, emotional and triumphant event experiences I have ever had.