Reports From The Front III: The Finnish National Marathon Championships – A Recap

“I run…so that I have the opportunity to challenge myself everyday (..and I’m addicted!)!” L.S.R.

There are those who are, in the best sense, stereotypes unto themselves. Their very name conjures up specific images and feelings for those who have been exposed to their energy and graciousness day after day, whether on a long training run, or simply hanging out at one of our (many) watering holes.  One of these individuals, near and dear to so many of us is Jyrki Ruohomäki.  Jyrki’s amazing 4th place finish at his national marathon is a testament to his talent and incredible work ethic.  While we all wish he was still here in New York with us, it’s good to know that there is a powerful runner out there in the diaspora carrying on the good name of the Dashing Whippets while competing at road-racing’s highest level.  Enjoy Jyrki’s recap of his astounding race, and for all of us back here in the States, we hope to get you back to us soon (notice no “Flying Finn” references; that would be tacky…)… 🙂

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Sometimes, in order to recap a race that you just ran, you have to start from far back.  In my case that would be Philadelphia November 18. 2011.

9.36.45 a.m. There, in front the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I had just finished a perfect marathon and ended a perfect season.  As I walked back to my hotel, I was becoming convinced that I had just run my last competitive marathon.  I was sure I could never repeat or surpass the training leading up to Philly, the training that had at points almost killed me.  I still think so.

Decisions to retire are meant to be broken.  Within a short time, I had registered for the Berlin Marathon 2012, along with quite a few Whippet friends.  However, life intervened, and instead of Berlin, in late September I found myself in North Carolina, pulling a trailer. Still, signing up for Berlin and even starting the training with Greg Pezolano had caused my mind set to change.  Now, I wanted to do another competitive marathon, but I also wanted it to be different from the previous 19.  So, in November last year, somewhere in the American Midwest, I decided to enter my first National Marathon Championships race.

The Finnish National Marathon Championships are held every year in concurrence with some of the largest marathons in the country.  The 2013 race was to be held in my hometown Jyväskylä, as a part of the local Finlandia Marathon.  The course is three loops around a lake by the city center and is one of the fastest and most scenic in Finland.
The thing about the Nationals is that you never know who shows up, some choose to go for faster times in the late fall road racing circuit in Europe, but as the race is important for the runners and the clubs, the field is usually competitive.  This year, out of the 22 registered runners in the men’s field, my PR seeded me as fourteenth, but on the start line we noticed that a couple of the faster runners, including the race favorite, were absent.  I thought I had a chance to make it to the top ten.

At 12:30 p.m., the race started and, after a couple of miles, the manuscript unfolded.  The original number two favorite, now the sole winning candidate, took off (and eventually won).  There were five runners in the chasing group, battling for the medals, and then 8-10 runners in the second, my group, competing for the valuable club points that were given to first eight.  The day was warm for the season (65° F), and we in the second group decided to start conservatively and wait for the runners ahead to hit the wall at some point.

We started almost too conservatively.  We reached the half in 1:18:45 and as the national A-standard of 2:38 was the minimum any of us wanted to get, we started to pick up the pace.  The next 10k was my fastest of the race. Soon we caught up with two runners dropped from the number one group and the pace increase split our own group in half. Suddenly my club mate and I were being shouted “fifth and sixth!” as we passed the crowds.  Our “gang of four” was now battling for the places 5-8.

Just before mile 20 my club mate made a move and pulled away, hailing me to follow. “Too soon” I thought and did not obey.  I had no energy.  When we reached the sole hill of the course (run twice during the course of the race) at mile 20, he rejoined our group.

In a National race you get certain perks.  One is that you get to mix your own sports drink beforehand and the organizers, or your supporters from your club, hand them over at the aid stations.  In addition, we had our support guy on a bicycle feeding us information about what was happening ahead.  My race plan was to have my last bottle of sports drink at the aid station at mile 21.  There were two stations after that, but I planned to just run through them and not risk drinking so late in the race.  When our group reached the station at mile 21, our bicycle guy informed us that the number four runner was fading fast, but was still two minutes ahead of us.  The drink had rejuvenated me and I decided to give my best to catch him.  When we ran past the harbor where my girlfriend Terhi was cheering for us, I started hammering.  I instantly pulled away from the group and started gaining on number four, fast.  A couple of miles later the bike guy told me that he was only 45 seconds ahead.  Soon, I saw him.

But I knew the guy too.  I knew that his marathon PR is 2:23 and he has a track history with a 30 minute 10k.  Today, the heat and starting too fast had just gotten the best of him, but if he had any energy left he could still bury me in the sprint.  I needed to be decisive.  I caught him less than half a mile from the finish, right when we entered a slight incline.  I started sprinting already few steps behind him, to give him no time to react, flew past and gave it all I got.  I crossed the finish line ten seconds before him.

All the hard work had paid off.  I had designed my training from early February towards this single race and to see everything falling into its place was overwhelming.  I received dozens of congratulations from friends all over the world and later in the week was even interviewed by a local paper.  I was also very happy for my fellow Jyväskylä runner and friend who took the title. It was long due for him.

I don’t have any delusions of grandeur.  I know that everything came together for me in this race.  Having run hundreds of times on the course, I knew it like my own pockets: living 20 minutes from the start, I didn’t have to waste any energy for the logistics, and representing a local club, I got the best support with fluids and information.  By doing many, many runs in the sweltering NYC last summer, I was able to cope best with the temperature.

I didn’t follow my watch during the last miles, but at the finish I had a glance. I had missed my PR by 13 seconds. I couldn’t of cared less.

J.R.

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This post is the opinion of the author and does not necessarily represent the opinion of the Dashing Whippets Running Team, its board, or its captains.

 

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