Amidst a crowd of 30,000 plus runners, a person can feel at the same time both alone and a part of one of the largest and most prestigious gatherings of runners on the planet. When the gun goes off, the race that is known as the Boston Marathon signals the start of 26.2 miles between you and the finish line. With the ultimate responsibility for your performance lying within you, it stands as both a joyous social gathering and an intensely personal struggle.
“Swagger” is the most accurate word to describe what it takes to run a fast Boston Marathon. You need the borderline ridiculous confidence and flat-out guts to haul down the early downhills, your legs moving uncomfortably fast, banishing thoughts of a late-race crash due to your reckless abandon early on. And you need that same confidence to attack the climbs in the Newton Hills, in spite of what you just did to yourself on the downhills, knowing that even though you might be moving forward more slowly, you’ll make up the time on the downhill backside and still have plenty left to do it again.
David Ploskonka will be the first to admit that the first few times he ran the Boston Marathon, he lacked that swagger. He was afraid. But this year, especially since he trained more specifically for this race than ever before, he came in with that much-needed “swagger,” and it showed in his performance.
The gun went off, and the crowd lurched forward, gradually breaking into a run. As David approached the first downhill, he reminded himself not to push too hard, as this is the part of the race where breakdowns are born. With thousands of runners to pass, he found himself steadily passing a lot of people on the first downhill and on all subsequent downhills during the first few miles.
As he roughly tracked his split times, he could tell that he was going fast, gradually moving up through the sea of people. Although he experienced some minor discomfort here and there, overall, he felt strong and comfortable as he reached the halfway mark in a little over 1 hour and 25 minutes.
In the second half of the race, David kept riding the downhills and passing people, and when the Newton Hills hit, he was trained for them and for Heartbreak Hill, which he attacked with gusto.
Once he made it through the Newton Hills, his biggest worries were his stomach and nutrition. His stomach had been feeling lousy since the start of the race, and he had been balancing that with his need for nutrition. This is where Energy 28™ really helped. “I couldn’t handle anything solid at his point,” David said. “As a liquid nutrition supplement, Energy 28 mixed in with water went down easy and gave me that extra boost.”
In the last few miles, David passed runners he thought he knew were faster than him, which is always a good sign. While he was still cautious about blowing up, the general sense that he was potentially going to run under 2 hours and 50 minutes began to creep in, and he pushed himself closer to his anaerobic redline.
David felt strong and fast until the last turn, when he rounded the corner and saw the seemingly never-ending path to the finish line. This conjured up all sorts of memories of his past struggles to reach the distant end of this race. His mind wandered, his thoughts drifted. Fighting off these memories, which began to overcome him and slow his pace, David forced his mind back to the present task at hand. This close to the finish, anything less than the magical 2:50 was “loser talk,” something in which he refused to engage.
With the finish line getting closer and the cheering crowds increasing, David’s last 5K split time was 19:17; he had pushed himself to his fastest 5K split of the race. The clock ticked off 2:49:33 as David crossed the line and demolished his personal record by almost 8 minutes; his previous best was 2:57:13.
To add to David’s elation, his parents made a surprise appearance at the finish line where they congratulated him as he wiped tears of joy from his eyes.
This was an especially poignant moment as David recalled, “My parents weren’t able to make it to my first marathon (Baltimore in 2004, when I ran 3:00:51, qualifying for Boston on my first try), and then they came to Boston in 2005 and 2006, when in both cases I blew up and finished well over three hours. Having them see me run the fastest marathon of my life made it extremely special by the fact that it was the marathon that I wanted to run to make them (and everybody else who supported me along the way) proud.”
“Swagger” is about having the quiet confidence to line up at the start and know that for the whole race you will remain focused, positive, and confident, attacking the course and drawing strength from your competitors’ challenge, rather than wishing it all away. And when the race is over, you know that you’ve run a clean, hard race and risen to the challenge of your competitors the whole way through.
Added to swagger, you have to have heart. David’s got an abundance of both. He’ll be back in 2012, chasing a time that’s five minutes faster, to assure his spot in the 2013 running of “Boston.”