by Jeff Sadler
It was a cool August evening in Ocean City. We had just finished dinner, and I made my way downstairs to get ready for bed. The windows were open, and the stars now seemed near enough to reach out and touch in all of their twinkling brilliance. A gentle breeze made its way across the room, dropping the temperature and bringing with it a scent of memories from past trips to the beach as a kid.
Bob, my employer from a newly-minted job opportunity, had invited me up to the Jersey Shore for the week prior to the US 20k Championships. This was both for work-related purposes and also as a short reprieve before I hopped on a train bound for New Haven, CT. I had come to know Bob as a friend through his son, with whom I ran and roomed at Baylor. Over the past several months, I’ve been grateful for his example of 1) how priorities should be shaped and 2) how to balance God’s many gifts and entrusted responsibilities. Rest had been no exception to his example, and I’m reminded that it is an action of humility, as if to say, “My energy and capabilities are limited, but You, O Lord, still sustain and restore me time and again.”
The only Baylor flag in Ocean City.
My trip to the NE for the 20k Champs was definitely the more urgent item at hand, but the more important race would be the US Marathon Championships in a month. Thus, I had sent a brief email to an elite athlete recruiter for the host Twin Cities Marathon and received a reply informing me they would respond if they opened up the field, given my time was just above the qualifying standard. It was now Thursday, a week later, and restlessness was building.
I couldn’t help but have frustration from the past few years. Was this worth continuing? Amidst all of my chasing of the wind during recent months, I had come to the brink of calling it a career. My patience and motivation were waning as I thought back over the last 5 marathons that I had attempted to train for and compete in…injury, injury, injury, injury, cancelled due to weather. Was this going to be a disappointing sixth missed opportunity? Was I overlooking some clue here? Should I move on and focus solely on my post-running career? I decided to take a walk and left my phone on the bed. I couldn’t bother refreshing the email any more hoping for that blue dot and corresponding ding.
I stepped into the night and crossed the street barefoot to reach the sand. Most of the tourists and residents had long since made their way home, so the only conversation came from the waves. The moon was full tonight and provided subtle light and gravitational pull on creation below. I walked a bit down the coast, the occasional evening jogger and solitary seagull gliding by, trying to enjoy the evening and shift my perspective. We had flown down this same coast earlier in the day on a friend’s private plane. It was amazing the new insight that flight brought as to the ample activity transpiring around us…a boardwalk with thousands of people that had gone unnoticed, a Ferris wheel, and miles of marshland sprawling off into the horizon. Kind of like this moment and many times before where I’m so focused on the now and the me, that I forget to take into account where I’ve been, where I’m going, who’s involved, and the unseen pieces being orchestrated into place.
Bay-side shot of the Jersey Shore, looking out into the Atlantic.
I turned around and ambled towards the house still pondering. Stepping across the threshold, I found a lone email in my inbox:
We are opening our field and will be able to provide you a comp entry into the US Men’s Championship field on Oct 5th in the Twin Cities. I have attached a registration link along with directions. Please do this as soon as possible.
Let me know if you have other questions.”
Hmmm…yeah, I’d say that’s a prime example. Praise God!
One month later – US Marathon Champs…
What is that sound?!!…oh yeah, my alarm. Reaching over, I slid my finger across the screen…5:00AM. I laid there a second, gathering my thoughts, before slowly making my way to the bathroom. Singlet and bib, shorts, and flats with timing chip lay off to the side – the white Rogue AC lettering contrasting nicely against the cool blue Adidas apparel in the ambient light. I had organized everything the night before, knowing that I wouldn’t want any unnecessary responsibility this morning.
One of the cooler kits I’ve worn – race-day blue!
I stuck my head underneath the sink, threw on some clothes, and made my way up to the hospitality suite. Many of the athletes were already bustling about…some stumbling around, others teeming with excitement like they had been awake for hours. Coffee, bagels, bananas, granola, yogurt, peanut butter, toast, oatmeal, and more were spread across multiple tables – every possible request on the morning of a marathon accommodated. I saw Dave and gave a quick, “Good morning” and “Thank you!” Not only had he accepted my entry into the field (email above), but yesterday, he had made it possible for me to have access to an elite aid station setup. Typically for this race, only the top 20 seeded athletes are allowed their own fluids throughout the race, and my bib read “41.” So, clearly this would have meant utilizing the cups of water and Gatorade handed out by volunteers if not for his suggestion to see if one of those top athletes had withdrawn.
The bottles that went Rogue.
I walked back to the elevator, shoeless and with bagel and steaming cup of coffee in hand, turning my attention to the race. I had a few minutes to read and relax before gathering my stuff and heading down to catch the bus to the start line. The exhaust visible in the crisp air indicated to every onlooker that it was a chilly morning…good news!
Scotty was already on board, and I made my way back to an open seat next to him. We exchanged a few words before I put in some headphones and started thinking about what my coach, Steve Sisson, and I had talked about…conservative early, first 5 miles at 5:50 pace…then, no faster than 5:40 until the hill at mile 20…run the hill, time will most likely be 15-30 sec slower…then launch down the hill…resulting in a PR. The bus lurched forward as nerves stirred a bit and lyrics streamed truths into my head and heart.
After arriving and resting for half an hour in a hotel lobby across the square, Dave led the procession of athletes to the baggage drop area, adjacent to the starting line. I wondered what the average spectator or runner thought as we passed by…if they knew the thoughts that each of us carried. Did they see us as unapproachable with Adidas plastered over everything, or did they realize that I would relish having a genuine conversation with them? Scotty, Allison, and I had done a 10-minute warm-up and were now incorporating drills, stretching, and strides. A few minutes later, the national anthem, a last-minute bathroom break, and then game time!
The horn rung loud and true – piercing the morning chill with swift reassurance as runners poured across the line. I couldn’t help but smile as I settled in, confidently letting the first group go, and preparing myself for the effort to come. This race was the culmination and continuation of a great amount of growth that had stemmed from this latest stretch of the story.
A reassuring nod of encouragement came from Steve at mile 4 – very conservative as planned. Scott’s dad, mom, and wife were at mile 7…thumbs up – feeling good and starting to get into a rhythm. I grabbed a quick swig of water and PowerBar gel at mile 8. Dad and mom cheered on at mile 11…big smile…well, at least on the inside – starting to roll now. Guys are coming back, as I begin to reap the benefit of patiently waiting my turn. My aunt and two cousins wave and take pictures at mile 14…sub-5:30 pace now. Rhythm, rhythm, rhythm, Jeff. Lyrics from this morning, “It’s Your breath in our lungs, so we pour out our praise,” flood my mind. Deep breath, calm…focus.
Last gel at mile 17 as I pass a few runners…spectator yells out, “22, 23…Sadler (written on my bib), you’re #24! Catch those guys.” What…? My seed is 41. Don’t be overwhelmed, keep your cadence. Forget the seed times, they’re meaningless. Mile 20 came just before the hill – 5:16…oops, a little fast. Legs are fatiguing a bit, but I’ve come too far. Come on, Jeff, lift your head and keep picking guys off. Steve at mile 21… “This is it. You have to focus.” The pace is dropping off, but I recalled what Steve had said… “The pace will slow on the hill.” Don’t let go yet. More lyrics fill my mind: “I will climb this mountain with my hands wide open.” Another wave of determination takes hold.
Mile 14 – Photo cred to my cousin, Nicholas, and his brother, Christopher.
We finally crest the hill and I see St. Paul’s Cathedral – majestic and reverent with the sun beginning to peek around the historic dome rising above. There it is; the finish line…one quarter of a mile left straight downhill. My calves are shot; lights are starting to flicker…just…hold…on. The masses line both the left and right sides of the finishing stretch. The chute takes up the entire street, and I am nearly all alone…giving it a surreal atmosphere and magnifying the aura of a US Championship as confirmed by the banner in front of me now. This…this is the completion of so much more than just a race, more than just answering the question, “How did I get here?;” but a checkpoint to remind myself of Who this is all for and the purpose of this striving.
My body was spent in those last steps, as I struggled to stay on my feet. 2:25:58, :59, 2:26:00, :01. 2:26:01 for 26.2 miles, over a 3-minute PR. Deep breath. Volunteers rush to hold me up and walk me to the recovery tent. No matter how feeble I was in that moment, I had run with perseverance and finished with a full heart. I could rest, be still, and know that God is good. This is a race worth running.
by Scotty Mac
On Sunday [August 3rd] I got married, kissed my wife, did a dance, went to a cottage on the coast, consummated the damned thing, and got on an airplane (sans the Mrs.) to fly from Portland to Seattle to Los Angeles, and finally to Mammoth Lakes, California, all before Wednesday.
You see it all started a few months prior when I finished the Boston Marathon. Disappointed – I was in discourse with my coach, Steve Sisson – we pondered the future. What was I capable of? What was my training missing? What would we do different?
We established two main objectives upon which to focus before I competed in my next marathon: one, run more mileage, and two, train at altitude.
I realized that out of the top 30 finishers at Boston, I was probably running the least amount of weekly mileage. I would later come to realize I was running even less than originally believed.
At altitude, sure, the physiological benefits would be good; however, for me it would be more about immersing myself in my training; totally shutting out the world and focusing mentally and physically on the task at hand.
I would go to the mountains and run, eat, sleep, run, eat, sleep etc. This would be my day-to-day for an extended period of time.
Steve said, “You need to be at altitude for at least four weeks, and then come down to sea level at least 4 weeks before your race.” A grand total of 8 weeks before my marathon, which of course, as Murphy would have it, meant leaving for altitude immediately after my wedding…
Luckily, I have who some suggest to be the coolest wife in the world. You see many women, for whatever reason, would not approve of their significant other departing after their wedding day to train in a remote mountain village for a mere footrace. My lady, though not excited, did understand, and was willing to make the sacrifice.
We compromised on 3 weeks at altitude, and I would leave 3 days after our wedding. 3 weeks is just about enough to receive minimal physiological benefits of altitude. Again, I was more concerned with focus and solidarity than the actual physical gain.
I had a superb time in Mammoth! It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been, and I have never seen so many trails in my life!!! Honestly hard to beat when it comes to training grounds. Picture perfect trails covered with pine needles, weaving through evergreen forests and running under clear cobalt skies. The air, although lacking oxygen, was clear, cool, and crisp.
The members of the Mammoth Track Club are not just talented athletes, but truly amazing people. I felt welcome from the second I landed to the moment I took off, and I made what I hope will be lifelong friends. I feel that as runners it is easy to bond with each other. When we run, we all go through a similar experience, emotionally and physically. As runners, we understand each other; we understand the sacrifice, the suffering and the reward. Whether you run a marathon in 2 hours or 6 hours, we are all the same, we are all runners.
Most of my time not running was spent in my apartment sleeping and eating. When your body is working that hard, all it wants is nutrition and rest. I tried to give it as much of that as possible. I would lay there in my bed, day and night, eyes closed, dreaming of victory as my heart fought against the thin air, ever so leisurely dropping into a state of repose.
That’s not to say I didn’t get out to see the village once or twice. I needed to get out every now and again in order to maintain what little sanity resides in my mind. Plus, I like booze… I can explicitly recall a brewery, a dance party at a Hawaiian themed bar, and three naked hippies in a hot spring… but that’s a story for another blog.
Before migrating to the mountains I had raised my mileage to average of 115 miles a week. This is something I should have done a long time ago. My aerobic strength is at an all time high!
What does a week of 120 miles look like? Well since you asked, here is (verbatim) a week from my training log complete with commentary on each day. This is what I send to Steve every week so he is up to date on my mileage and how I am feeling:
Sunday 7/6: 19.5 miles in 2:03
Felt okay. My back was sore to start. It loosened up. I felt heavy legged, not smooth at all.
Monday 7/7: AM- 12 miles PM- 6 miles
Ran slower in the morning. Kinda tired. Ran fast in the evening so I could get home for Dinner! Felt better in the evening! Worked in the shop all day. Tired.
Tuesday 7/8: AM- 9 miles PM- 8 miles
Felt pretty good today. Ran a little too fast this afternoon. But my back felt great.
Wednesday 7/9: 12 miles with 6 miles of fartlek alternating 30/60/90 secs.
Thursday 7/10: AM- 12 mile trail run PM- 6 miles easy
Felt light on my feet and much smoother than I have recently. Even picked it up a few times. Nice to feel good with all this mileage. Also very happy with my mileage…Bout Time Huh Steve???
Friday 7/11: AM- 15 miles easy
Ran easy with Jo for a few miles and then finished easy with myself.
Saturday 7/12: AM- 14 miles PM- 6.5 miles
Felt okay, not my smoothest run, but not too shabby! Afternoon started sluggish and finished strong. Feeling confident about my next season of racing.
Week 11 total- 120 miles
I feel that the mental and physical edge I gained training at altitude, along with the increase in mileage I have run over the past 4 months will help me get much closer to my goals in the marathon. I am truly excited, albeit nervous for the next year and a half of my career.
I have taken a much more professional approach to my training this season and can’t wait to reap the rewards for my hard work.
On a serious note about my wife, our wedding was the most beautiful thing I have ever been a part of, and I had a blast every second of every day we were in Oregon for our nuptials. I am so happy Casey Jo agreed to marry me, and I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with her.
In a nutshell, I am the happiest man alive, and on my way to becoming one hell of a runner. Stay tuned for more rambling.