Matt Tegenkamp has run 12:58, been an oh-so-close 4th at Worlds, and won a grip of US national titles… so naturally it’s time to take on the new challenge presented by the marathon. Between now and his debut at the distance — Chicago, October 13th — he’ll be sharing insight into that journey. This entry looks at his first major tune-up race: a defense of his US 20k title in New Haven, Connecticut.
Perfect Chicago Prep: It has a been almost 2 weeks since the New Haven USARC 20k, but I can’t stop thinking about the race because of all the positive motivators I was able to pull from the competition. The field was super competitive — no surprise — and I knew I was going to have to bring my A+ game to defend my title. What was a surprise was the weather: humidity… 100%. Dew point… 75! Sooooo happy the sun was hiding behind the clouds! So, here are my takeaways from the 20k… Fueling: At the 2012 New Haven USA 20k, I did not take a drop of fluid. This year, with the conditions, it was an absolute necessity as the feeling of “depletion” hit right around the 10k mark. The first fluid station, I grab a cup from a volunteer, which is not as easy as it looks because they are afraid of getting soaked… so they pull their arm back just as you reach for the cup. Anyway: grab the cup and go to take a swig… I forget to crimp the cup to make a funnel. Water all over my face and I actually breath a little into my nose! Oops. I’ll only make that mistake once! I have been training utilizing fluids but this was the first race setting and I could not believe how much more energy it gave me during the latter stages of the race. One thing I am happy about with the #ChiMarathon – I will get to use bottles which are so much easier to drink from!
Managing rough patches: A good friend told me you can’t run a successful marathon without learning how to manage rough patches. During the 20k my rough patch happened from Mile 3 to 6 with a side stitch. Being so early into the race, I initially panicked at the onset of the stitch but quickly refocused to manage my effort. It was a point in the race that I could fall back to mid-pack and use the energy of the other athletes to relax and try to prevent a complete catastrophe. From about Mile 4 on I was taking regular water and Gatorade which helped but did not completely solve the problem.
Just before six miles I could start to feel the energy and excitement coming from the crowd downtown which I think was the turning point for me. We crossed the 10k mark; at the time I was 15 meters back from Shadrack, and the fans’ enthusiasm helped give me a good adrenaline rush to close the gap and latch onto the leader! It was at that moment I forgot about the side stitch…
Always a competitor: I love being in the “fight,” down and dirty, going for the win. It’s what racing is all about! It was great to have such a competitive, veteran field assembled, as no one backed down from the challenges within the race. After a fast/honest first 10k, it turned into “last man standing” thanks to the weather conditions. At the half way point it was down to Shadrack, Abdi, Boit, and me; then the fartlek was on.
It was body-blow after body-blow, in the form of surges thrown down to check what the other athletes had. Once we got to Mile 9 I knew it was going to take are long, steady, hard grind all the way to the finish to drop these guys. After a move at Mile 10 by Shadrack, then a counter move by Abdi (tough as nails) at 11, I knew that if the pace slowed it was my time to throw down. Even when I finally got away with a mile to go, I still didn’t feel like it was a lock until I broke the finish tape! Applying this race to the #ChiMarathon, veteran marathoners have told me 26.2 can get really lonely at times, and that’s magnified if you have no one around to chase. One of the most important lessons of the 20k is, Fight to stick with a pack!
My goal during the Chicago Marathon: by 22 miles, get in the fight and worry about beating people you’re not “supposed” to beat!