I am humbled to be in this incredible community. The encouragement and support from the 605 is like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I witness this great community support runners of all different abilities and at every level of the sport every weekend. On Saturday it was my turn to bask in the greatness that is the love of the 605 Running Community. At the start of the race I met my friend Barry who used to live around here, but has since moved on to Duluth (he finished 7th – what a beast!), at the finish Mary Anderson of Anderson Race Management gave me a high five at the finish line and made sure to check on me even while she was working to time the race. Over the years the 605 Community has grown far and wide, but the themes remain the same. Love, support and encouragement for all runners. This was proven to me time-and-time again at the Whistle Stop Marathon in Ashland, Wisconsin.
So where have I been running wise. I tell everyone I chat with on this subject the same thing. First, Chelsea and I had Violet and then we had a pandemic. Simply put the last two years have been pretty heavy at times and my personal running journey has changed a lot. By changed I mean running races has not been possible or even a priority for a good chunk of the past two years. I jumped into some random stuff here-and-there, but didn’t pursue anything with the conviction I once did. Like most folks this wasn’t a planned hiatus, in fact that is what led me to the Whistle Stop in the first place.
My good friend Chris told me about this amazing fall race in the north woods of Wisconsin just off of Lake Superior. He described it as 24 miles of running through a forest, on a crushed gravel trail, slightly downhill with a finish in a cool town with a bunch of murals. It was an easy sell. Just take my money. The plan was for this to be my glorious return to the marathon as a new Dad. Smash my previous PR and possibly qualify for Boston.
Then COVID hit and the world changed. For sanity sake I’ll focus on the how the world changed for race directors, timers, non-profits and runners. I like many others at the beginning first thought that we were looking at a two week disruption and then things would go back to normal. Soon the National Basketball Association was postponing their season and things began to get very real. COVID wasn’t going away and that meant for race directors, timers, non-profits and runners our sport was being ripped out from under us. Virtual races quickly became a thing, world majors were canceled and for some of us running just sort of stopped.
Not for me though. I had a plan. Train and run the Deadwood Half Marathon as a spring board to Whistle Stop Marathon. June half marathon followed by an October full. It was brilliant. I brought on Coach Jacqui to help get me right and we started the work. Surely a June race in Western South Dakota and a fall race in Northern Wisconsin was a safe bet to happen. So I trained and carried on with business as usual. Unfortunately, you all know this story well. Those races were not immune to delays and cancelations. Once this happened it didn’t take much to send me to some dark places. Between the day-to-day struggles that COVID brought on in business and in life all I wanted was for running to be the one thing that stayed constant. It didn’t and I really struggled through the remainder of 2020 and into 2021.
Family and work were all that really mattered during that time. Yes, I work in the running industry; but I couldn’t train or run the way I was capable of because we were sorting through a once and a generation disruption that simply required all of my time and talent. Thankfully we survived. I cried the day all of my parents were able to get their first vaccine. The stress and the fear that I could get them sick by simply opening up my business and operating it in the ways that made us successful to begin with was completely soul crushing. Finally, after months of volatility things were starting to look pretty good and that marathon that I signed up for over a year ago was still on the schedule.
The fog began to lift for me in June. The completion of my vaccines, a family trip to Yellowstone and the Tetons and a trip to the Black Hills 100 with the task of crewing and pacing one of my best friends was just the kick in the pants that I needed to really start running again. I was nowhere near the runner that I was before my daughter was born, but I felt like a runner again and that felt really freaking good.
My race day goals started out pretty simple. Finish a marathon, don’t die and have fun. If only I were capable of keeping things that simple. Once I started to put in some consistent weeks of running and really started to dial in my training plan that competitive little devil on left shoulder started to jump up-and-down and scream at me. It started with a 14 mile long run with some very talented running friends that I negative split. It felt oh so good to run hard and to have gas left in the tank. Shortly after came a 16 mile run with very similar results.
What. Was. Happening?!?!
In addition to my cornerstone long runs going very well and almost feeling easy I began to do some workouts too. During these brutal week day sessions I pushed myself right up to the edge of my abilities and I continued to find success. While I didn’t always feel like I had gas left in the tank, I did feel my body starting to adapt and change.
Next up was my normal training cycle humble run around the bike loop. Some great friends met up with me on the Saturday before the Sioux Falls Marathon. If you might recall it was hot and humid that day. My planned run around the loop ended at 14 miles with me waiving the white flag. It was rough, but the conditions were rough and I still knocked out 14 at a decent clip. A few weeks later once again with a running friend I put on 18 more hot and humid miles at Lake Herman and while they weren’t all easy that devil on my shoulder continued to creep up and scream in my ear,
“GO FOR IT!”
So with one long run remaining my simple goals began to change. The little devil kept reminding me,
“It has to cool off by October in Wisconsin.”
“The course is downhill.”
“You are running on pavement and the softer surface will help keep you fresh”
So I told myself and that little competitive devil.
“Let’s see how the last long run goes.”
Boom! Redemption on the bike loop. My fastest trip around the bike loop ever. 17 miles of steady work followed by two very happy cool down miles.
“Okay you little devil. Let’s chat.”
I’ve been in better running shape going into a marathon. No matter what my training was telling me, I knew this to be a fact just looking at my body heading into this race. As I’ve gotten older I’ve become a smarter runner. Especially in the cornerstone long run. This cycle proved that time-and-time again. I know I’m not near my peak physical condition yet, but I also know how to run long significantly better than I ever did before. So I still wanted to keep the goal measured. My weekday workouts indicated a 3:20 marathon. I knew for a fact that that wasn’t going to happen at Whistle Stop. This was a good training cycle, but I’m not in that position yet. So what should the goal be? My marathon PR was 3:44 and change. That seems very doable and honestly when I ran that time in Fargo the goal was 3:30 and I've never let that go. So the little competitive devil knows what he wants.
A goal: 3:30
B goal: 3:34
C goal: Sub 3:44
D goal: Finish and don’t die
Race day came and went. It was a D goal day. The experience though was an A+. It was a beautiful race and in retrospect that is a sensational thing to be able to say. I had a wonderful trip with one of my best friends. We spotted amazing wildlife, enjoyed spectacular fall color, walked on the shore of one of our Great Lakes and shared many wonderful conversations. Simply put don’t listen to devils. There will be more marathons in my future and I sure hope that I can post a better time than I did this past weekend, but if I don’t you can trust in the knowledge that I’ve enjoyed the heck out of every second of the experience (as long as I finish and don’t die).
Greg Koch is the Co-Owner and General Manager of 605 Running Company and Co-Produces the Sioux Falls Skedaddle Half Marathon. He serves on the Board of Directors for Downtown Sioux Falls, the 605 Race Crew and the Sioux Falls Area Running Club. When Greg isn’t with his family or working he enjoys being outside biking, kayaking, golfing or comping.
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