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Marathon Turns Into a Sprint to the Finish

(This story was published in 2006).

By: Jake Bartholomy

Every marathon I run has been a question mark: What kind of shape am I in? How fast should I go out? How fast are my competitors? How much should I eat and drink?

This marathon was an even bigger unknown for me. After my last marathon at Gay Games VI in Sydney, I switched my focus toward triathlons. I began swimming and cycling and cut back my running to about three days per week. At that time I didn’t think about which events I would do at the next games scheduled to be in Montreal, but did want to run the marathon again, after having such a good time in Sydney.

When the “split” (Gay Games vs. OutGames) occurred we were all suddenly faced with two games, with just one week in between. I heard that most of the Frontrunner clubs in the United States and Europe decided to go to Montreal, so I wanted to go where my team was going, and where I felt the best competition would be. However, I had an amazing time in Sydney and was inspired by the Gay Games and the tremendous participation and support that surrounded the Games and wanted to continue to be a part of that and to run the marathon again. I also vowed to do more events -- it was difficult in Sydney to watch track and field all week and not compete until the last day. I realized it is more about participating and that some sacrifice in performance was worth the chance to compete in more events, help my team, and meet more people from around the world.

It would be difficult but I decided to spend a few days at the Gay Games and run the marathon, and then spend the whole week in Montreal and run the 1,5000 meters on the track, the 4-by-400 if my team could use me, and the Olympic distance triathlon. This proved to be difficult to prepare for when the focus of my year has been on half-Ironman triathlons with a season that started in March and will conclude with the world championships in November. I knew it would not be ideal to schedule a marathon on July 22, and then two short track events and a triathlon within the next 12 days. People around me think I’m crazy, but I reminded them the point is to participate, compete to your best ability, and continue the spirit of these two major events for our community, worldwide.

Needless to say, having not trained for a marathon in four years, Chicago was a tremendous question mark for me. I had no idea what kind of pace I could hold, nor what kind of time it would take to win. I expected the guy from Washington, D.C., who was in second place most of the race in Sydney (before passing out from heat exhaustion), would be back and focused on running well. As we toed the line at 6 a.m., I looked around and did not see him. I relaxed a little and took the lead when the gun went off. One person, Jonathan Rossing, fell in behind me and ran stride for stride down the bike trail.

The course was changed a few days before the race (much like Sydney). They made it 6.5 miles out and back on the bike trail -- meaning a 180-degree turn every 3.25 miles. We did this “loop” four times. I believe the change was made so that water stations would be more frequent and first aid would be closer to all points of the race. It was a little repetitive, and at times, dangerous, as the course was open to the public including walkers, joggers, in-line skates, and bicycles. One time we even had to move off the trail onto the dirt for a car (park employee, I hope). On the “out” section of the course we had a tail wind, and, thus, a strong head wind as we returned toward the finish each time.

After leading the first loop, and Jonathan staying in close contact, I began to realize I may have a race on my hands and that leading the whole way, especially into the headwind, would give him a definite advantage. Mid-way into the second (about Mile 9) lap, Jonathan took the lead and I tucked in behind to try to relax for a bit. He was running very smoothly, gliding along, with a very even pace. We were clicking off 6:20 miles like a metronome. On the third lap (Miles 13-16), he was still leading and I began to fatigue.

My mind started wandering and I realized how strong he was and that defeat was a strong possibility. These are not good thoughts to let creep in after running 17 miles and I still have nine to go. The gap between us started to open to one meter, then two, and I thought I was done for, but just then we approached the turn-around at Mile 17 (halfway of lap 3), which meant we would then be heading back into the wind. I pushed hard to catch him before the turn. This critical for two reasons: Not let him see the gap that was happening and, to be able to tuck in behind him heading into the wind to save precious energy. This worked and the wind slowed him enough that I could keep up the rest of the lap. As we began our last loop (Miles 20-26) he seemed to be showing his first signs of fatigue. (Finally!)

I began to have hope the race was not lost and that anything was possible if I could survive to the last turnaround where I could draft again one last time into the headwind and get near the finish still in contact with him. This plan unfolded well (meaning I didn’t fall off the pace on the last loop) and we were stride for stride as the final miles clicked by.

I decided to wait to sprint until I could see the final stretch where we left the bike trail and ran onto the grass field to the finish. When I saw the orange cones signaling the turn onto the field, I got on my toes and started to kick hard. This lasted about two strides when my calves began to seize and cramp with a strong statement letting me know I could go no faster than about six-minute-per-mile pace. I backed off the pace hoping the cramps were a false alarm and could try another attack. At that time Jonathan began his kick and pulled up next to me and I tried again to match his speed, but, again, my calves cramped, and said “no!” I could do nothing as Jonathon pulled away strongly to the finish and won by seven seconds.

It was a fantastic duel. We ran 26.1 miles and nearly three hours stride for stride and the race came down to a kick. That is rare in marathons. I think it was fun for the fans to have the course set up where they could see us eight times and watch the build up to a great run. It was just unfortunate that the course was open for public recreation.

Although I came up short, I was happy with the race and my time. I had no idea what to expect off triathlon training, and running 2:48 was a nice surprise. I believe its Jonathan’s best time, but not certain. I do know he has much faster marathons in his future as he gets stronger and more miles and experience under his belt. He is very strong and ran a well-paced race, which is critical in the marathon. Mistakes over that distance are exponential.

After the awards ceremony, I got lunch and a quick nap before going to the closing ceremonies. It was my first time at Wrigley Field which was exciting, plus they put on an amazingly fun and inspirational show. I’m really fortunate I was able to get to the Games, if only for few days.

I look forward to Cologne and am relieved the next Gay Games and Out Games will be more than a year apart.

Well, time to go stretch and find my track spikes, wet suit, and passport. Bon jour Montreal!

Jake Bartholomy, 33, lives in Seattle. He won the gold medal in the Sydney Gay Games marathon.