Race Against Time

Race Against Time

Posted by · on March 06, 2014 · in Reflection, Running, STRIVE-Racing · with Comments Off on Race Against Time

Before we get to the good stuff, I want to take a second to say a quick “sorry” and “thank you.” First, I’d like to apologize for my relative absence from this blog over the last month. As you might understand if you make it through the following few pages, it’s been a bit of a crazy month. I am going to “back-log” all of my training logs so that you can still get a full picture of my build-up, warts and all. And I hope to get back into my routine of weekly posts at this point.

Second, I need to say thank you to a lot of people who made this event possible. I feel like my 67 minutes of work was nothing compared to the hours of preparation that went in. So without further ado: Thank you so much to everyone at Marathon Sports for hosting us, particularly Dan, Colin, and Dan; Karyn Miller-Medzon for her incredible help in making this a possibility (and coming up with the idea!); Rob, Nic, and Maureen from STRIVE for their support and inspiration; my amazing coach and mentor Jon Waldron for keeping me sane and getting me fit; Mariana for being bubbly and optimistic even at my most negative moments over the last month; Dr. Tim from Quito Chiropractic for fixing me; all of the friends and family (and strangers!) who came out to watch and support in Boston; all of my friends in Quito who were watching from abroad; and, of course, my amazing parents, Tim and Valerie, without whose support and encouragement I wouldn’t be anywhere. Thank you all.

Finally, a reminder that this was first and foremost a fundraising event (and hugely successful!) If you haven’t yet, please consider supporting STRIVE’s projects and if you have already given, THANK YOU. Click HERE to donate.

Sabado, 1 Marzo, 2014 – 6:30am: I wake up before my alarm – part of the joy of having today’s festivities scheduled for 10am. I’m up and feeling pretty well rested; a cup of coffee and light breakfast has me feeling even more human.

I sip another cup o’ joe on the way into downtown Boston as I try to distract myself from what’s about to happen. I make small-talk with my mother and father; the conversation ranging from the Lego Movie to the incredible shrinking of flash drives to the frigid Boston weather. We avoid the elephant.

We get to Marathon Sports where my mother and I hop out of the car as my father heads off to look for a parking space. The frigid air slaps me across face – a face which has become comfortably fond of the equatorial sun and Quito’s eternal spring. The store is dark but Dan – one of the MS folks who helped planning today’s fun – is there to let us in.

Our crew starts arriving shortly after. My partner at STRIVE, Rob, and his wife; our dear friend and organizer Karyn; Karyn’s kids and husband; my girlfriend Mariana; more MS folks. Soon the place is crawling with people and – despite my control-freak desire to have my hand in everything that’s going on – I leave the hubbub for my warm-up.

Ty with coach Jon Waldron before the run. (Photo by Karyn Miller-Medzon)

Twenty steps out the door, I see a skinny man running towards me and immediately recognize the profile and gate of my coach, Jon Waldron. He turns around and we continue running up Boylston St., his company distracting me a bit from the loss of feeling in my fingers and the butterflies in my tummy. We run a quick 4km or so and loop around back to the store – finishing on the historic Hereford St. turn onto Boylston. “Fast forward 7 weeks…” says Jon. But I’m not ready to think that far ahead yet.

We get back to the store and it seems even more crowded and chaotic then before. I disappear into the bowels of the store to use the bathroom and get away from the circus above for a few more minutes. I surface and smile for a few pictures before I get ready for the start of the race.

A race is an interesting word to describe today’s event. In this race, I’m the only competitor running (at least, the only one running right now) and I’ll be running on a treadmill. My only competition is the clock. Specifically, a time on that clock. Even more specifically, the time of 1 hour, 7 minutes, and 29 seconds – the time it took Scottish professional runner and Olympian Andrew Lemoncello to cover the 13.1 mile half marathon distance when he set the treadmill world record in 2013.

As I finish my strides and look around, I can’t help but feel the pressure that I’ve put on myself. In any other race, there would be dozens (if not thousands) of other runners amongst whom I could hide. I’ve always thought I perform best when nobody’s looking, when no one is expecting anything from me. But now, everyone is here just to support me, many with the assumption that they’re going to see me set a world record without too much trouble.

Getting ready to race the clock.

Getting ready to race the clock. (Photo by Karyn Miller-Medzon)

The truth is, on January 23rd, I too was extremely confident in my ability to achieve this record. I had just finished my first big block of marathon training – averaging over 150 miles per week for almost a month, culminating in a 28 mile long run at 6’00 pace at altitude. My girlfriend had come to visit me, the weather was great, and I’d recovered well. I was ready to tackle another big block. Everything was great.

Then, on January 24th, I crossed the street in front of my apartment – a fairly busy road which divides a row of office buildings and apartments from the park where I do most of my training. Despite waiting for the green “walk” signal (as always), I was hit by a taxi which had (probably inadvertently – I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt) run his own red light. The front right fender clipped me in the upper thigh and spun me around, knocking me to the pavement. Several concerned and friendly Ecuadorians came to my assistance, including police. The taxi didn’t stop.

Immediately, I wiggled my toes and fingers, thankful to see everything still seemed to work. I got up and limped back inside. I did not run that day.

I quickly got in touch with my coach whose reaction was much less concerned with my training schedule and more so with the fact that I could still breathe and walk and speak. He reassured me that if I listened to my body and didn’t rush my recovery, I’d be fine.

I tried to believe him but what I thought would be a weekend on the bike turned into a week, then 10 days. I was jogging some and getting in a good 2-4 hours per day of cross training, but mostly I was waking up with excruciating back and hip pain from the accident with the same question that every injured runner ponders day in and day out – will I ever feel normal again? I finally went to see a chiropractor – which had helped in a previous back injury I’d had – who helped realign my back, hip, and SI joint which had been thrown out during the accident.

It wasn’t until early February that I was able to run what would have been a modest workout a month earlier. At the time, though, this 5-mile tempo run was a huge step. I had exactly three weeks until I was scheduled to attempt the treadmill half marathon world record.

I called Jon that night who assured me that three weeks is a long time. Plenty of time. You’ll be amazed at how different you feel in three weeks.

It was a long time. I had some great days where fast running felt fine and I still had some days where I couldn’t get out of bed without a hitch in my gait. With the days clicking by, I was already racing the clock.

Fast forward to March 1st, at 10am. I stand on the treadmill while Jon acts as our emcee and issues a two-command start: runner set…. GO!

The early miles tick by

The early miles tick by. (Photo by Karyn Miller-Medzon)

As the belt quickly accelerates to a pace of about 5’10 per mile, I try not to think about the past 6 weeks – the frustration of not knowing if I’d be ready, still not knowing. As with any race, I just try to take my mind somewhere happy – races won, PRs set, kittens snuggled.

With any well-paced half, the first few miles pass quickly and comfortably. I accelerate from 5’10 to about 5’05 in the first five miles, passing the mark in 25’37 – just under world record pace. Somewhere around this point, I started to feel tired. The carefree early miles had passed through the focused middle miles all too early and I found myself feeling like I had already entered the “do or die” final miles. I hadn’t even reached the halfway point.

As the seconds tick by with an alarming amount of them between me and stopping, I come to a realization. It’s not about whether I can do it or not. That remains to be seen. It’s that even if I can do it, this is going to suck. Really, really badly. This will not be one of those races where I float effortlessly through a euphoric transcendence of the Task. This is going to hurt. It will not be beautiful. And it’s going to suck.

The going gets tougher

The going gets tougher. (Photo by Karyn Miller-Medzon)

The weird thing about running on a treadmill is that the machine is setting the pace. YOU run ITS pace. Unlike a regular race, where your body will naturally slow down when you get tired, the machine doesn’t slow down unless you actively tell it to. And so I don’t tell it to. I leave the pace at about 5’05/mile and it gets less and less manageable. By the halfway point (6.55 miles in 33’30 – 1’07’00 predicted finish time, 29 seconds under WR pace), I am telling myself to hang on for just one more mile. I’m creating a buffer. I’m under WR pace. If I can just make it a few more miles, I can take an easy mile, recover a bit, and then kick it in.

And that’s what I do. I reach 8 miles in 40’52, 18 seconds under WR pace, having run 5’05 pace for the last 5 miles. And through the differential calculus being done in my subconscious, my body decides that this is as far as I can make it without slowing down if I want to finish. So, I slow down. I run the 9th mile in the slowest of the day, 5’22, bringing me to 9 miles in 46’14, now only 5 seconds ahead of WR pace.

I accelerate again after this and run a 5’07, passing 10 miles in 51’22. With 5km to go, I have to run 16’06 to break the record.

But my short “rest” mile wasn’t enough and I slow down again in the 11th and 12th miles, running 5’15 and 5’14, bringing me to 12 miles in 61’51.8. I am now 5 seconds behind world record pace with just over a mile to go. Jon comes up to me and tells me I need to run 5’01 for the last mile.

Coach Jon Waldron calls out the final splits as Ty kicks for home

Coach Jon Waldron calls out the final splits as Ty kicks for home. (Photo by Maureen Tokeson-Martin)

I know it’s going to be close and I know it’s going to suck really hard. In my mind, I rationalize that if it’s going to be close one way or the other and it’s going to suck really hard one way or the other, I might as well make it suck just a LITTLE more and have the result be a LOT better.

I’m running close to 5’00 pace now and holy G-d it hurts and I’m watching every hundredth of a mile tick by and counting down the seconds and trying to figure out if I’m going to be flung off the back of this machine into the wall and if this is all going to end with a cheer or a sigh. With less than a half mile to go, Jon comes up with the piece of paper with which he’s been giving me splits. This time there are no numbers, only one word. KICK!

I push the pace of the machine up and up. I’m on my toes now. My arms are working. I’m trying to do math in my head but I can’t. I just keep pushing it up. Finally I pass 13 miles and I know there’s less than 30 second to go. I can always run hard for 30 second. I’m going to do this. I’m counting down now. 30. 29. 28. Each second pushes more battery acid into my lungs, the iron maiden closing around my legs and torso.

And then it’s over. I let out a pathetic little whoop, throw my hands up, and promptly lie down on the floor. Covered in sweat, my muscles quivering, trying really hard not to vomit on the floor of this lovely shoe-store, I look up to Jon. “What was that last mile?”

It turns out it was around 4’50 to bring me in to a final time of 1’07’18 – a new World Record by 11 seconds.

It's a new WORLD RECORD!

It’s a new WORLD RECORD! (Photo by Karyn Miller-Medzon)

Back on January 23rd, I think I would have told you that the likelihood of me breaking this record was between 90 and 99%. I was on fire. If you’d ask me what that 1% was that would keep me from setting it – I’d probably chuckle and say “oh, well maybe if I got really sick… or hit by a car or something.”

I’ve often thought that the true barometer of ability is how well I can do on the days when NOT on fire. The days when you feel tired or sick or are recovering from getting side-swiped by an Ecuadorian taxi driver. To me, this performance was important because I proved to myself that I could still perform even when everything wasn’t perfect – far from perfect in fact. I can still perform when the stakes are high, when the pressures on, when everyone is watching me and only me.

Ty is comforted by his father after setting a new world record.

Ty is comforted by his father after setting a new world record. (Photo by Karyn Miller-Medzon)

As I move forward now and look to the Boston Marathon in six and a half weeks, I’ll think about how I felt in those middle miles on Saturday. I’ll think about the doubts in my fitness, the imperfection of my preparation, the idea that running another 30 or 40 minutes was absolutely impossible. And then I’ll think about the feeling of lying on that floor with my father pouring water on my head and knowing that it was over and I did it and that my mind sometimes doesn’t know what my body is capable of.

But more importantly, I’ll think about how many people it took to get me there. I’ll think about my coach and my parents and my girlfriend and my chiro and my housemates and my cousins and my friends and the homeless dude who came in and started jogging next to me and everyone at STRIVE and all the random Bostonians who wandered into Marathon Sports expecting to buy a new pair of jogging shoes and ended up giving me a little bit more than I might have had otherwise. Having all of you there gives me butterflies but it also gives me strength. I couldn’t have done it without you. I’ll see you back on Boylston Street on April 21st.


Ty happily poses with the shoes that have never lost a race and now have a world record!

Ty happily poses with the shoes that have never lost a race and now have a world record! (Photo by Tim Andrews)


PS: For all you running dorks, here are the splits, courtesy of Jon Waldron

1M   5:08.7   5:08.7
2M  10:19.7   5:11.0
3M  15:26.9   5:07.2
4M  20:32.7   5:05.8
5M  25:37.5   5:05.8
6M  30:42.8   5:05.3      (6.55 33:30)
7M  35:47.4   5:04.6
8M  40:52.6   5:05.2
9M  46:14.8   5:22.2
10M 51:22.5   5:07.7
11M 56:37.5   5:15.0
12M 61:51.8   5:14.3
13M 66:49.7   4:57.9
HM  67:17.9    0:28.2

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