Hindsight is 20/20 right? Well had anyone told me 5 years ago that I would be running races and leading a healthy lifestyle I would think nothing of it. It really is who I am to my core, “MarathonJake”. However, if you told me that I would be crossing the finish line with my brother Justin, I would have called Shananagins!
Alas, I was wrong and for that I am thankful. This story is in my Autoblography is a testament to how people can change and for the better.
Over the last couple of years my brother has found a new calling, physical Wellbeing and fitness. It began when my brother first gave up smoking after roughly 10 years. He traded in his lighter for a fresh pair of running shoes and gave the pavement hell. If you know him well then you know he doesn’t do things half-assed; often quite the opposite and tends to be extreme.
This got the better of him and a sore set of legs turned into an injury. So he dialed it back and one day asked if he could borrow my road bike. I had only used it for preparing for and competing in triathlons. I thought for two seconds and quickly offered her up (thinking that the race season was over and he could put her to better use for the time being). He did just that and soon my almost brand new Specialized Allez was broken on and a new love was formed. I digress.
After rehabbing his leg his adoption for fit living continued to take over his life. He learned more about health and nutrition and began doing even more independent research into running shoes and form. He quickly began his love for barefoot style footwear, not that I ever followed suit, but hey, it works for him.
Perhaps the culmination of my brother’s transformation should be credited to his sense of civic duty. To shine additional light on this I must mention my brother had also begun another passion for becoming a First Responder. A very challenging and noble way to give back to you community. Soon these aspirations grew and all of a sudden he was in EMT school and learning how to save lives. Good on him!
As you can tell by all of Justin’s changes and investments towards self-improvement, this was his new normal. We had briefly discussed doing a run race sometime in the future, but you know how that can easily be put on the back-burner, especially with our busy lives.
However, and much to my surprise, Justin gave me the best gift ever this last Christmas in the form of two entry fees paid for the 7@7 trail race near Mankato, MN. I think I was probably just as excited for the race as I was about the opportunity to spend more time hanging out with him. Our friendship had come along way and this gesture showed me just how far.
So for the next several months we stayed in touch and logged our miles in perpetration for race day. As time drew closer, the logistics were decided upon and with a week remaining my anticipation was mounting. Our better halves decided that they wanted to join us and that was awesome. Nothing makes you feel more like a man when your lady is there to see you accomplish a great feet and cheer you on as you cross the finish line!
So the Friday before the race, Nellie and I took a road trip down to Winona, MN to spend the evening with them before we raced (the next morning). Graciously they offered to prepare dinner for us and when we got there we were able to pitch in. We ate and chatted for a while before calling it an early night. Out like a light until game time tomorrow!
We woke up before the early bird had a chance to catch the worm. A quick granola bar and cup of hot coffee and we were on our way to the event. The drive went quick and gave us both some good one on one time chatting with our ladies. Upon arrival we were able to check-in and get our race bibs like usual. Nell helped pin my bib on and to take a few pre-race snapshots.
Leading up to this moment, I had been giving Justin some guff about being able to keep up. Truth be told, he was probably better prepared on the cardio front to handle 1) the distance and 2) the amount of drastic elevation change that were strewn throughout the race course. He had been good about averaging a 10K distance during his training while I am more apt to training at a 5K distance so I can have adequate cardio but also keep my suit of armor.
Anyway, my smack talk was quickly put to rest as it was now race time. This was a less populated race with approximately 120 participants; but to put it in perspective, this group of athletes are not your run of the mill “Color Run” or “Rave Run” type of runners, instead this was a solid group of athletes ready for an intense trail run. My brother and I lined up towards the front of the pack. It was decided that we would listen to music throughout the race and I proactively readied an up tempo song. Together we made a pact to run this race with one another and that we did.
With a stern and confident look we fist bumped and hit our play buttons as the starting flag was dropped. Off we went down a nice and easy straight away for about half a mile. Nice and easy but with a brisk pace, soon thereafter we took a turn into the trails and instantly we were hit with some steep elevation changes. This was to be Justin’s strong suit as his training and lighter too half allowed him to make quick work of the hills. Without our pact to stick together, he probably would have dusted me here, but for my sake he dialed it back a bit. The miles seemed to fly by quickly and I was usually pretty good about staying on my brother’s heels.
I recall there being only a few leveled-off sections to offer relief from the barrage of peaks and valleys. I took advantage of these and regained my steam to continue powering through the course. I do recall running through a creek (too large to jump across), so after a quick glance we splashed through and enjoyed coming out the other side.
By this time I felt that the worst must be in the rear view, but I was wrong again. Soon we would encounter the mother of steep hills. Justin’s pride and determination had him continue to run up it at a much reduced pace. Experience from my many other crazy races like CampTITAN, Warrior Dash, Rugged Maniac, ect… has taught me that the value add from running up the hill as opposed to briskly walking up is not significant. Often I notice that by the time you hit the apex that you’re so winded that working back into your run takes a lot longer. So while he may have beat me to the top, I soon caught up and felt solid. Then I capitalized on my ability to effectively open up and run downhill, which can be tough to do in a controlled fashion.
After surviving the colossal hills we knew that the end must be fairly close, maybe a mile left. Around this time Justin started getting a stitch in his side, which can really slow you down and be painful. Often you can get them from drinking too much before the race start or by not being hydrated enough. He was able to power through it without much impact on his pace.
With the finish line and crowd of supporters insight my bro looks over and says something to the effect of “let’s give it hell” and in a flash we were spending our last in a full-out sprint. On our tip toes and blazing we crossed the finish line victorious! We were sooner welcomed by Nellie and Liz. They were surprised by how quickly we had finished the race. I wanted a completion time of sub 1 hour and we successfully achieved that mark.
Soon after we had got our wind back and grabbed some fresh fruit to start the recovery process and getting our energy stores back. Next we went and swapped out our clothes for the road trip home. We went back for the awards ceremony shortly thereafter. According to the overall finisher, Justin and I respectively tied for 15th overall. It just so happened that I got 2nd place for my age bracket (which only had about 7 competitors) and received a metal. Justin unfortunately did not medal as he had a bracket with many more racers, I felt bad because he deserved it more than me an if anything, I probably slowed him down a bit overall. But, with a good attitude he vowed to return to take the bluffs on yet again at the 7@7 race!
The trip ended with a few more pictures to capture our victory and log this one in the record books. With hugs and mutual respect we parted ways. Till next time my brother and friend! “Hats off to you”, I say to the positive changes he had made in his life!