Halfway into the Baystate Half Marathon, Team Run member and Marx Running store employee Ethan Brown was in 5th place. Discouraged, he knew he was well off of the 1:11:15 goal time that he had set for himself. Furthermore, it had been a season goal of his to win the Baystate Half Marathon, which he considers his home race (he hails from Lowell and trains on the course everyday). But in 5th place, with the lead runners pulling away, that goal was slipping away, too.
Fast forward six miles: As spectators gathered around the finish line at the Tsongas Arena waiting for the lead runner, it was Brown’s bright orange jersey that was the first to round the corner from Father Morissette Blvd. Somehow, Brown had managed claw himself back into the race and pull out the victory by a margin of just a few seconds. Below is Brown’s personal account, in his own words, of how he went from having an awful day to clinching the win:
From the start of the race I just felt a little off. My stomach was upset, maybe because of nerves, and my legs couldn’t find a good rhythm. I spent the first 5 miles yo-yo’ing off of the lead pack. I desperately tried to settle in right behind the top two lead runners. But the pace was just a little too quick for me and inevitably a gap would begin to open up. The leaders would gap me by about 20 meters or so before I felt I could regroup. I’d surge back up to them, but the same thing would happen and I’d begin to fall back. I repeated this process a few times before I really “broke” and let them go at about the halfway point. To add insult to injury, I was way off the 1:11:15 goal time that I thought should have been very attainable for me. After letting the top two guys run away from me, I was passed by a couple more as we started the second loop. There’s nothing worse than the feeling of going backwards in a race. I knew I was prepared for this race, I’d put in the work and even had a home-course advantage. I settled on the fact that I must just be having an off-day.
But then everything began to change. It all started with a pact I made with myself at mile eight: “Okay, I’m in 5th place – don’t let anybody else pass you – damage control! If I can tough it out and finish top-5, at least I’ll have something to be positive about.” This thought gave me the energy to catch back up to the 4th place guy. Once I caught him, I began to feel a little better. So I passed him. He stayed with me at first, but I picked up the pace a bit more and began to pull away. Moreover, I could see that the gap to the guys up ahead had shrunk a tiny bit. All of a sudden I had some momentum. My stomach still felt awful, but at this point I knew that if I didn’t make a big move now, it was never gonna happen. So I just kept going at a pace that felt like it was a little too fast for me. Right around mile nine I caught third place and was quickly closing in on second.
I had four miles to go, and I was right back in contention. Not too long after crossing over the Rourke Bridge, I moved into second. The leader was still a good 30 seconds ahead, but I was really moving at this point. Mile 10 approached, the 30 second gap was now just 16 seconds. My heart was pounding and I was getting a fresh rush of adrenaline. I consciously said to myself, okay – I can’t keep this pace up I’ve got to back off and then make one final push in a couple miles. But my body didn’t respond to the request, I kept surging ahead. The gap was 12 seconds, then eight, then six, and then right before mile 11, I flew by the top runner and took the lead. Now I was on autopilot: I’ve run the final closing two miles of the Baystate course at least 200 times in training and knew every inch of the roads. I surged up the hill right before the University Street bridge and then cruised into the downhill, finally finding a rhythm. I could feel I had the victory, I wasn’t going to lose at this point. I used the momentum from the downhill to surge into the gentle right-hand curve on the VFW Highway. I knew it was critical to keep the pace high all the way to the Bridge St. bridge. If I could make it to there, it was less than a mile to go and the adrenaline would carry me the rest of the way. I kept pushing ahead, just focusing on maintaining my rhythm. I made it to the Bridge St. bridge. I took a peak behind me to see where second place was – I had opened up a decent gap.
After getting over the bridge I had about a half mile to go. I was hurting bad and my legs were screaming, but I was too excited to slow down. The support from the crowd helped a lot. I came out onto Father Morissette Blvd. and had just one more turn to make. I kicked it in, made the turn into the Tsongas Arena, and crossed the finish line first in 1:12:41! I had a 15-second margin of victory. My legs felt like jello, but I was all smiles afterwards. I was incredibly pleased with my last four miles – 5:19, 5:16, 5:16, and 5:19. I even got to do an interview with the race announcer and a reporter from the Lowell Sun. It’s crazy to me how the race played out. At the halfway point I would’ve put my chances of winning at 2%, but somehow things managed to go my way. I think that I learned an important lesson out there: when you’re having a bad day, set small, achievable goals. You never know where that momentum will take you. And most importantly – never give up!