After the completion of each race, Northeast Team Beef members are asked to submit a race report describing how the event went for them. Chris Free, one of our members from Virginia Beach, VA, shared a particularly exciting race report following the Strider Marathon on November 21, 2020. At this race, he achieved a marathon personal record by 6 minutes and 41 seconds, with a finishing time of 2 hours, 44 minutes and 3 seconds. He also had a podium finish! It is too good not to share! Enjoy!
It. Is. Finished. It was not easy; it was very hard. I started preparing two days in advance of the race with hydration, a lean beef burger, and potatoes. The next day my biggest meal was beef lasagna with garlic bread and a side salad.
It was a 7:30 a.m., wave start due to COVID. We were limited to 25 people per wave. Everyone was temperature checked and all were asked to sign waivers. Most people abided by the mask rule until the race started. The horn sounded. Starting the race, I was in 5th place, and I would have been ok finishing there, knowing that my #5 bib predicted my likely finish spot. After about mile 2, I was able to pass #4.
Because it was an out-and-back course, it was easy to have a pretty good idea how far ahead or behind I was of competitors. At the half-way point, I was roughly 13 seconds (1 second/mile) behind my goal and half a mile behind the next marathoner - half a mile out from 3rd place.
From there, I would not know what was happening ahead of me until mile 19. At that point, I stumbled upon the 3rd place marathoner bent over holding his knees. As he saw me approach, he asked if he could finish out the race with me. Verbally, I said yes, but in my head, I saw an opportunity which rarely presents itself, the chance to podium in a marathon.
I ran with him for a couple hundred yards to get a feel for how he was doing, did a small surge to see how he would respond. He was breathing pretty hard for having 7 miles to go. At the starting line he shared an interest in logging a 2:45 time and I knew that he went out with a good friend, who was trying to break 2:35. That pace difference is pretty dramatic in the marathon, he blew up, so I felt good about my chances at 3rd. At the final turn I added a hard surge and put 10-15 seconds between us and did not see him again.
At that point, the next closest person behind me was the first-place female, about 3 minutes behind. My mind started to race, and I began to cry, which is not uncommon for me in the marathon when I see my goals close to being achieved. There is just something about knowing you set out many years ago with a goal, worked 6 days a week towards, had so many people invest in you, sacrificed sleep, time with friends and family—it all floods in and overwhelms.
Starting around mile 20, I had some significant GI issues that brought sharp pain across my whole torso for the remaining miles. Prior to that, the whole effort felt well within where it should have been. I began to doubt my ability to withstand the pain, with over 6 miles left. My pain began to vocalize unless there were people around. Headed the opposite direction were two very accomplished master’s runners, Chuck & Jon. Chuck yelled out, “keep your head down.” That told me my form was breaking down and I needed to get that in-check fast. It was not much, but it was enough for me to shift my focus from the pain towards my form and breathing—thanks, Chuck.
I thought back to training runs with my Coach, Rob Hunter, as he told me to control my breathing. That shift in focus did not make the pain go away, but it helped me think about something else. With roughly 3.5 miles to go I saw a familiar stride ahead of me, but I could not be sure.
After another half a mile I was able to gain some ground. It was my training partner, and I began to cry, again. I have run hundreds of miles with him, and he is a great friend. Seeing him, I knew that his dream for the day would not be realized. He heard me coming from behind, turned, and urged me to come join him. For the last 2.5 miles I was in a very familiar place, running behind my friend as he became the rabbit I would chase.
As I crossed the finish line, my dream was realized—to get an Olympic Trials Qualifying time (even if it was a women’s OTQ time, ha!) It was not the way I planned for this goal to be achieved. Prior to this marathon, I have had 3 marathons cancelled (almost 4). In the end, I’m exceedingly grateful to finish under 2:45 and get 3rd place overall.
Shout out to the Northeast Team Beef, thank you for keeping me fueled to continually break PRs. Lastly, I’m grateful to God for the gift of running. I recognize that I’ve been given a gift that not everyone has the ability to share. Thank you, everyone, for your tremendous encouragement.
Well done, Chris! We are so proud of your accomplishments and it is a privilege to be a part of your fitness journey.