I often wish I had a talent. Something unique that I could do. A talent that people wanted to see and would request by stating, "Justin, do that thing you do." The problem is I do not have a "thing" to do. All of the things that I would consider strengths are hard to show off to friends and family. For example mental mathematics. I can compute math very quickly in my head, but unless someone wants me to balance their check book it really is not a talent I am asked to preform. Some people have told me that operating a chainsaw efficiently is a talent of mine. A few friends have asked me to cut up a tree that has fallen in their yard, but if I took my chainsaws to a family gathering I would be laughed at. Running is probably the talent I am most known for. Unless you go watch me race this is something you probably will never see. Sure you could request I run in place for you, but that would be awkward for both of us.
On Sunday, October 16th, I ventured out to run the Grand Rapids Marathon. This marathon is fairly local to my house. A short 2 hour drive. Due to this convenience I was able to take along some athletes I coach at Goshen College. Erin, Jordan, Billy, and Alita were excited to reverse roles with me. Now they were the encouragers and I was the athlete. My cousin Carrie Gillette was also going to be at the race. She stated she would see me at the finish line and I better win. If only it was that easy!
There was some pre-race pressure placed on me due to the extra eyes watching my performance. This pressure got drastically increased when race director, Don Kern, stated on the microphone prior to the start, "Justin Gillette is in the field today, he is a speedy young man." He might as well painted a large bulls eye on my back. Even with all the extra excitement I needed to stick to my goal of running a 2:28 marathon. You see Grand Rapids represented my 6th marathon in 7 weeks. Last weekend I ran a 2:25:44 at Steamtown so a 2:28 at Grand Rapids seemed like a hard goal to chase.
The race started with full and half marathon runners together. The courses were the same until just past mile 8. The lead half marathoner started like a rocket, while I started like an Elephant Rock. By mile 3 his pace leveled off and I was able to catch up to him. I tucked in behind him, just to enjoy a free ride for the next 5 miles. While I drafted off him a golf cart was drafting off me. This golf cart was the WJRW 1340 AM radio station that was doing live broadcast during the marathon. The broadcast was not only being aired on the station, but also broadcasted at the finish line for spectators to hear. It was neat to hear the reporter state that the battle for the lead was between the lead half marathon and lead marathon runner. We were not battling, but working together. I guess this is just a matter of prospective.
Soon after mile 8 the half marathon runner parted ways with me. For here on it would just be me and the radio guys. Near mile 9 they pulled up next to me to ask a few questions. These were, "What is your personal best?" and "What time are you shooting for?" I replied in between breaths, "2:25 is my best, 2:28 is my goal, and I want to focus." I did not mutter another word until the half way point when I seen my friends. The four athletes all had different roles during the race. Erin had my extra gels, Alita used the camera, Billy had the energy, and Jordan provided the feedback about where my competition was. Like clock work everyone did their part. Billy was jumping around pumping me up, Erin passed off a gel perfectly, Alita snapped some good photos, and Jordan...well he told me I only had a 1 minute lead the last time he saw me, which was mile 7.
I had no time to settle. I could not be comfortable. Comfort was sitting on my couch, this was a marathon. I pressed onward. The course does 2 minor out and back sections between miles 16 and 21. At the first turn around my next competitor was roughly 2 minutes down, by the mile 21 turn around my lead had grown. Barring a total collapse I should be able to win the race, but the goal was also to run a 2:28.
I felt pretty good until the last few miles. I would not say I hit a wall, but rather I slowed a little bit. My pace went to 5:50's. This is probably due to Grand Rapids being my 6th marathon in 7 weeks, but that is an excuse. Newspapers do not print excuses.
When I reach mile 25 I thought of Jordan. I had roughly 7 minutes of running left. Saturday at the Manchester XC Invitational he boldly took the lead when he had 8 minutes of running left. I yelled at him, "8 Minutes!! 8 Minutes!! Push hard and you got it." Well he was not there to yell those same words to me, but I am sure he would have. Yeah he won his race and I was going to win mine! The last half mile of the marathon course was packed full of people. Spectators were packed thicker than Donald Trumps wallet. The course, which was on a 2 lane road, was down to a six foot path as fans were all over the place.
I crossed the finish line in 2:27:46, just under my goal. After the race I chatted some with my friends but was quickly rushed off for media interviews. These included a television station, a running magazine, a newspaper, and a radio station, but not particularly in that order. The radio interview stands out the most. It was the same station what had reporters riding along side me during the course. The interview lasted roughly 10 minutes. During which I mentioned my friends supporting me. I was also asked, "At what point did the goal of breaking the course record seem out of reach?" "As soon as they shot off the gun," was my response. I then informed them of my goal of 2:28 for the race. "How did you come up with such a goal?" I was asked. "God told me that is what my body was capable of today."
God did not warn me for what was to come next. A few minutes after doing the interview I received a phone call from my dad. He never calls me after a race, it had to be bad news, and frankly it was. My Aunt Anna had passed away that morning. She was my closest Aunt and used to travel with Granny and I to races, Venetian festival was her favorite one. The news of Anna passing away hit me hard. It is rough to go from an emotional high of winning a marathon to the low of hearing news like that. I sat down on a curb to cry some and reflect on the moment. A few race volunteers noticed my position. They came over to offer help, only to find out I was not hurting physically but ached emotionally. They still did their best to relieve the pain. That is what the Grand Rapids Marathon is known for, quality people putting on a great event. The volunteers mourning with me wanted to be there as did everyone else. It solidified to me that this is a marathon worth doing again.
It was hard to be happy about winning a marathon when hearing about Aunt Anna passing away. Anna had what I want, talents. She was great at taking photos, painting, drawing, and leather craft was probably her best talent. Nearly every male in the family has a leather wallet she made, mine has a wolf on it. The ladies have purses. As one race volunteer stated, "Anna would be proud of you." She would be, and undoubtedly she is in heaven and got to see the race. I would have just preferred to tell her in person that I won. Anna you will be missed.