Despite a large portion of miles logged by oneself, running at your peak level requires — among a plethora of inputs — finding a team to push and support you beyond limits that you, by yourself, simply cannot achieve.
For Peter Bromka, that team is a cohesive network of family, his Bowerman Track Club Elite (BTC Elite) teammates, friends, and even an exposed pack of men striving for the uniquely special title of US Olympic Trials Qualifier.
This is not a dramatic recap of Bromka’s race at the 2019 California International Marathon (CIM). There isn’t a human on the planet who can tell that story better than Peter himself, but the Coles Notes will do for now.
Peter Bromka crosses the iconic CIM finish line — ultimately — two seconds short of attaining the USA Olympic Trials qualifying B Standard in the Marathon that would have punched his ticket to Atlanta on February 29, 2020. Two seconds. Less than two beats of the average resting heart rate. At 60 MPH, that is less than 200 feet travelled. For the average runner, it is about 5.7 steps.
If this story is new to you, I highly recommend boiling a kettle for coffee or tea to get caught up on Peter’s Instagram. He has shared the story on a number of podcasts post-race including The Road to the Olympic Trials, House of Run, Full Tub with packmate Nick Roche, and most recently my friend Mario Fraioli’s The Morning Shakeout.
Peter relies on a collective team to provide the bedrock for a level base, allowing him to pile the mileage on, and to literally pick him up off the pavement.
- Bromka — First Loser
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Julia & Will
The foundation for Peter’s team is right here at home. It’s obvious and indisputable. Julia and Will are what Peter comes home to after every run, workout, and race.
The morning routine is like a well-oiled machine.
Perhaps a few notches are rounded on some gears, maybe a little too much wear on some belts, and a few spots are — in fact — short on oil, but a machine nonetheless.
Julia does a spin class in the basement while Peter makes pancakes with the little one. Spin done, Julia makes her breakfast, and eats with Will while Peter gets dressed. One minute everyone is in the kitchen eating in slippers, and the next they are out the door. It’s a damn magic show is what it is.
Parents…y’all get a standing slow clap real quick — I gotta give credit where it is due. Mornings are chaos, but everyone ends up out the door in an adequate state. Team Bromka nails another perfect repeat.
It’s hardly perfect.
But what is perfect in life with a near 5 year old?
Peter returns from family drop off laughing at the teams group mistake. The perfect “bike pickup plan” falls apart with hours of operation the culprit. Of course a bike shop isn’t open before 8AM. What’s wrong with us?
Again, hardly perfect.
Peter and I fill most moments chatting that we get together. Just a couple of runner geeks runner geeking. There is remarkably small pockets of time we get however. It’s not busy, but life as a Bromka is most certainly full.
We talk about the schedule today as Peter stretches, but he hastily shifts into go mode. The menu for this afternoon is a work session, more — always — stretching, culminating in Peter taking off on a quick easy run. We are now a couple days out from CIM. Upon returning, Peter heads to the basement to bang out a few reps of his “routine” with the kettlebell.
It is not fancy.
A yoga mat on the cold PNW concrete floor in the unfinished side of the basement. A wall of shoes port side, boxes of life to the right. Four square feet’ish of space is all Peter requires to execute his exercises. He’s pieced the routine together over the years but says it’s foundation is from a colleague he sat beside while at Nike working on the Nike Training App.
I repeat, it is not fancy.
It’s simple and it works. Today’s quick session is only half of what he normally does, but it usually takes twenty minutes, twice a week after workouts. Over the years, Peter has identified his hips and glutes — as is the case with most runners — as being the weak links. This simple routine helps keep the injuries at bay throughout the 100 mile weeks leading into a marathon.
— Peter Bromka
If the house isn’t square, you can only add so much on top before it tips over.
All of his work. His running. His running maintenance work.
It all happens during the hours that family Bromka is gone, with very little time wasted — even with my presence. His priorities are squared at the base, like his hips. Peter jokes about people asking if he runs his doubles at night, passively dismissing the notion, “but that is the only time I have with Will?”
Whether 7:00AM on campus at Nike with the BTC Elite team, or 5:19:16AM like the timestamp on one of these frames claims. Like so many runners, this is the reality of life and running. Regardless the number, 100, 60, or 30 miles a week; it isn’t easy juggling work, kids, school, adulting, or even social media. But we find space for running.
It’s what we do, because as Peter says on Thursday before CIM, “we do this because we love this. All of it.”
I am only with the Team Bromka for a handful of days, but the choices they make regularly add up. It’s clear Peter and Will value their time together, making it special. I’m stealth in what I do, but capturing these moments is easy. I take a pedestrian couple hundred frames outside of race weekend, and they are all special.
Peter is able to run freely, push limits, and continually jump into that deep end of the pool because at the end of every race, every workout that “sort of scares” him, every run, Julia and Will are there. Coach Rosario likes to use the term “race fearlessly”, and Team Bromka allows Peter to do just that — regardless the outcome.
The moment we show up at the airport and see another BTC Elite crest, Peter’s energy starts to elevate. It’s race weekend, and he can bury himself in run nerdery with the guys.
This is not a man worried about running a 2:19 marathon in less than 24 hours. This is a person obsessed with it, but completely immune to the anxiety of pre-race, because he is surrounded by the BTC Elite team. This is not their first rodeo, and it shows.
Roles are unspokenly divided up. Platano is putting his boot to good use and pushing the dad mobile. Patrick grabs dinner duty by the shopping basket and puts carbs in feed holes. Birney, well, Birney is video’ing the whole show, and I’m taking photos of it all.
With matching jackets and backpacks, we done almost look like something as we pour into the Sacramento streets from our rental minivan — clown car styles.
But I repeat; obsessed and strategizing? Absolutely.
Stressed at all? Not a chance.
Loving every second of it? You bet your ass.
Like everyone else in Sacramento, the night before the race involves dinner, bib pinning, and gel test fitting. For 4:19 folks, or 2:19:00 failures, it’s all the same.
As I float about the calm but excited room, I think of a quote from my story last year at CIM on the women’s 2:45 OTQ pack. Holly Clarke describes an evening alone in her hotel room before the NYC Marathon the year previous as “one of the scariest nights of her life” — before joining the Impala Racing Team. With the team surrounding here pre-race in Sacramento last year, it’s a whole different story.
Her team in Sacramento puts Holly at at ease, exclaiming in an interview afterwards that “I slept the night before!” The math adds up.
I’ve done some very cool things on my own, but that real special shit happens with a room full of passionate people all headed in the same direction. This is a positive room full of folks aimed at fast — with their feet firmly planted on the gas. This is team, and this is everything to Peter.
- Bromka — Team
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Race day is merely an extension of the weeks and months of training leading up to the large output that is a marathon. A massive pack forms, but Patrick rolls his 14 miles at pace giving Peter an anchor in the sea of 2:19 men. The young guns are out front, as predicted, and for the most part, the race goes as planned.
Until Peter turns the last corner, and the race doesn’t go as planned.
Peter’s teammates — staggered along the familiar white fence of the finish area — pick him up when the cruel reality of the situation sets in. With 2:19:01 stopped on his watch, Peter and Birney stare at each other — “no chip timing is going to save [him].”
With every passing moment. The smiles grow bigger. Julien gets the standard, Peter is thrilled. Julian is wrecked. The despair seeps into Peter’s actions for brief moments, but before we’ve even left the finishing area Peter is healing. He’s processing. He’s not content, but certainly isn’t inconsolable.
Friends and family of other runners start to trickle into the burger joint we set up shop at, and the celebrations continue. We have one stop to make, with the BTC Elite team in tow, and Paul Leak let’s Peter know he let him down. Of course you did Paul. It’s all your damn fault.
The messages pour in. Peter joking, “I don’t want to see my phone” while heading to grab gear post-race. He is now in full communications mode drawing strength from the comments beyond Sacramento. The extended Team Bromka on social media rising to the occasion. He takes moments by himself to send emotionally charged responses, returning with a smile.
Julie & Dennis — Mom & Dad
Back at the finish line Peter seeks another familiar face once the reality of not running 2:19:00 sets in. It’s his father Dennis who makes the trip down from Portland to be there.
Last fall I come out to Portland to spend a week with Peter Bromka. In-laws, life, some schedule mishaps and instead, I spend a week with Dennis Bromka. As a result, I am fully equipped to absorb the scene unfolding in front of me.
A lifetime runner, raised by a lifetime runner, stand across a white fence from each other at the finish line of the 2019 California International Marathon — both in a fog of near disbelief. An obscenely long 23 seconds pass with very little said — father comforting his son. Peter looks off into the distance before locking eyes with Magda Boulet, resulting in an emotional call to Mom bringing him once again to the pavement.
— Dennis Bromka
As long as Peter has Patrick, he'll be fine.
On Monday night we have dinner at Mom & Dad’s. Julie and Dennis have seen their children not win more than they have won so it really isn’t a big deal, but that light fog of disbelief lingers in the air. Dennis and Peter hash out the details in the kitchen after dinner. Again, just a couple runners talking about a well executed race that still manages to somehow result in failure.
It’s clear this isn’t the first time these two have had this conversation. Maybe this one. It’s likely not the last. For the good of running, let’s hope it isn’t the last. Dennis is a sounding board for Peter, almost a guide more than anything. There is no grand speech with a profound lesson unearthed at the end. No, Dennis mostly listens. He helps Peter process thoughts by getting them out of his head — interjecting with insight when determined.
This brief counseling session proves invaluable, for son, and father alike. Both trying to understand the previous 36 hours, and to determine what lays ahead. Dennis doesn’t play every role in Peter’s life, and tonight, he simply plays the one Peter needs.
I spend time with Dennis later in the week. He senses I need an artistic spark and takes me to see a friend of his, but we mostly talk about Peter and the race. I love how invested Dennis is in Peter’s running, but equally identifies that it is Peter’s running.
Dad knows Peter will be okay, and appears to have come to grips with the situation summing things up pretty succinctly; “as long as Peter has Patrick, he’ll be fine.”
The compound interest of Team starting to add up here.
The 2019 CIM 2:19 Pack
Having saw the power of the pack last year for 2 hours and 45 minutes chasing the women of the OTQ hunt, I know the pack is going to play a role today for the men. But no one is ready for this.
For most runners, a pack this size is normal, myself included. For 2:19 marathoners, this is wild. Typically these guys are alone for an ENTIRE race. I covered Rob Watson’s 2018 BMO win in 2:23. It is a one man photo shoot for as far as the eye can see the entire last 15 KMs. Everett Hackett talks of a race in October that was “just me and five other guys.” To have this many guys around you at this pace is a first for many.
The day before the race while Peter and Tommy Puzey label their bottles, Jacob Puzey, myself, and the guys are all so caught up in conversation that we leave Peter’s expo bag with his bib in the hospitality suite.
It’s not perfect.
The group discuss what is likely to happen and how the young guys will go out hot. All three racers completely oblivious that some 130 guys are going to go over the halfway timing mat, under OTQ pace the next day. It would be absurd to suggest it.
Needless to say, the stories are coming out. Again, I apologize for the narrow scope of the men’s 2:19 pack, but it’s the folks I rolled 26.2 with. Seeing all the various perspectives of the same event — after the fact — is my favourite part of what I witness.
In an Outside Magazine article on four close OTQ qualifiers by Peter Tollefson, Zachary Vaslow tells the story of running CIM four weeks after Indianapolis as “…so crowded. It was just amazing. Incredible. We were all supporting each other. We all had the same exact goal.”
David Melly, a fellow 2:19 hopeful writes on Citius Mag about the people he turned to crossing the CIM finish line in 2:21:59, almost to the second, three minutes short of the OTQ B standard.
— David Melly / Citius Mag
I found my friends who qualified and gave them hugs. I found my friends who didn’t and gave them kisses. I called my parents and my coach, the three people I know will be proudest of me regardless of what the clock says.
It is a pattern being etched into my unconscious memory, elite and professional runners acknowledge that regardless of how a race, workout, or even an easy jog go, what matters is their family, friends, and teammates — order dictated by the athlete. Scott Fauble just this week quotes himself on the Rich Roll podcast being able to race the way he does is “because the things that are really important, the people I care about, will still be there.”
- Bromka — A Runner
- 20" x 16" fine art print on Pearl paper.
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Peter Bromka will not be defined by the narrow sliver of time that two seconds contains. He recognizes that the guys around him in that finish area, falling just short of their 2:19:00 goal, “these are my guys.” They are all 2:19 marathoners, and nothing changes that. Peter runs the fastest marathon of his life at the age of 38, and is proud of that— will always be proud of that. The effort required on a daily basis, just to get everyone out the door, is what matters. Being fortunate enough to get to test his mettle on a race course is a bonus.
An athlete that doesn’t plant the roots of their identity in results, times, or accomplishments, is more equipped to handle results that are three minutes, or two seconds short.