Most people reading this have probably heard the metaphor comparing something to a marathon as opposed to a sprint: your education is a marathon, not a sprint; your career is a marathon, not a sprint; investing is a marathon, not a sprint. At first, the meaning seems obvious. A marathon is 42,195m (26.2 miles) and sprints are 400m or less. You don’t have to be good at math to see that the marathon is more than 100 times longer. The marquis sprinting distance is 100m and is used to crown the “world’s fastest” man and woman. Both cover the distance in less than 11 seconds. Both marathon world records are over 2 hours. The Disney Marathon requires you maintain a pace of 16 minutes per mile which will get you to the finish line in a few seconds less than 7 hours. A marathon is much longer than a sprint. I get it. Or I thought I did until I finished my first marathon.
When I started training for my first 5k, I did a “couch to 5k” program. I ran several days a week running longer and longer intervals until I could run 30 minutes wihout stopping (the approximate time it takes to finish a 5k). To be ready to train for a marathon, I needed to be able to run 8-10 miles wihot stoppimg. About 6 months after that first 5k race, I ran a 15k and started training for my first marathon. My training plan lasted 16 weeks running 4 days a week and peaked at 40 weekly miles and a long run of 20 miles. The long runs took 3-4 hours (or longer). Then I ran for 4 hours and 27 minutes and had over 4,000 people finish ahead of me and many more behind me.
Between my first and second marathon, I ran four 5ks, two 15ks, and three half marathons over more than 2.5 years. I lost 15-20 pounds off of my already slight frame. My goal was to finish faster and run the full distance without stopping (I walked through the water stops during my first marathon). I added a 5th day of running to a 18 week training plan and peaked at 50 miles a week with a long run of 20 miles. This was on top of years of gradually improving fitness.
So if it isn’t obvious yet, a bigger difference between a sprint and a marathon, bigger than the difference in distance, is the difference in preparation required. Most people can run 100m. Most of those who can’t are able to walk 100m. However, most major marathons include hundreds of people who enter and prepare only to fail to finish. This still isn’t the biggest difference.
I don’t know when it specifically occurred to me. Maybe I was on a run and saw someone pushing their belongings in a shopping cart. Maybe I had stopped at my local drug store to buy a Gatorade from someone working a second job. Eventually it occurred to me that not everyone can train for a marathon. You need time, support, health, and at least a little disposable income. If any one of these things is missing, you are going to have a hard time. Start adding them up and it quickly becomes impossible. Running a marathon requires privilege.
When I trained for my first 5k, I wore workout clothes I already owned and wore shoes I bought because they were a bargain, but I did most of my running on a treadmill in a gym. By the time I ran my second marathon, I had gone through more pairs of shoes than I could count and most set me back more than $100. I had enough of my favorite running shorts and sweat wicking shirts to run 5 days a week without having to do laundry in between. I usually had 2 pairs of shoes so one could be nice and dry while the sweat and occasional rain evaporated from the others. I had a wife and extended family to help watch the kids. I had a job that gave me the flexibility to have time to run. I had the required privilege.
So when someone tells you something is a marathon and not a sprint, not only does it take time but it probably also takes preparation. And if it takes both, you must have the privilege to even have the opportunity to undertake something that requires time and preparation. So when someone uses this metaphor, be thankful for the marathons your life gives you the opportunity to run.
The latest foray into the commercialization of running is the Michelob ULTRA 13.1 Marathon Series (http://www.131marathon.com/). I like beer. I even like Michelob. I like running. I accept that for-profit race series exist. So why should this be offensive? Quite simply, 13.1 miles is not a “marathon”. It is a half marathon. A marathon is 26.2 miles. I understand other races are named by their distances. No one is confused or offended by someone saying 5k or 10k, but also no one familiar with running would call those races a “5k marathon” or “10k marathon”. I also understand that a half Ironman is also called a 70.3 Ironman. The difference there is that “Ironman” is a trademark held by the World Triathlon Corporation. Other races can’t call themselves a half ironman or full ironman so they often use the distance (70.3 or 140.6) and just like we use Kleenex as a generic term, people sometimes use the term “70.3 ironman” to describe a half Ironman distance race. However, in my experience the preference seems to be “70.3” or “half ironman”.
I tried to find an explanation for this naming convention. Wikipedia doesn’t know what a 13.1 marathon is and the first several pages of a google search all point to the Michelob race. At first I thought it was comical to see “how far is a 13.1 marathon” but then I realized I had already asked and answered that question by visiting the site above for the Michelob series.
Not surprisingly, it is 13.1 miles.
I can only assume that the goal is to make this race more approachable. Not everyone knows how far a marathon is. Most people have never run one. They know it’s a long race. They might know you get medals and other “swag” when you complete one. They might even know you aren’t required to run the whole time. Calling a race a “13.1 marathon” might make running and racing appealing to more people which I am all for. It still makes my skin crawl.
I’m a very typical runner in many ways. I started in 2009 and did a “couch to 5k” program pounding away on a gym treadmill wearing cotton gym shorts and heavily discounted Nike trainers that were too small. My wife and I ran our first 5k in a relatively small race but we got to wear bibs with numbers on them and had our time recorded electronically and had people we didn’t know cheering us on even though we were nowhere near the front of the pack. I finished that race barely in the front half but I was hooked.
As for my commitment to running, I might be a little more aggressive than some. After that first 5k, we moved straight on to training for a full marathon and threw in a 15k for good measure. After my first marathon in January 2011, I focused on 5ks and half marathons for a while. By the time I ran my second full marathon in 2013 I had moved from the middle of the pack in that first 5k to the 89th percentile in the Marine Corps Marathon. Why am I sharing all of this information? Am I just bragging? Maybe I am bragging a little, but that is because I have earned it. I’m not bragging about finishing ahead of about 89.4% of people who ran with me in DC. I am bragging that I ran that race 45 min and 22 sec faster than my previous race at that distance. I am bragging that I dropped my average pace per mile from 10:12 to 8:28.
You see, most of us who do go out and run every week and race often aren’t racing against each other any more than someone who just does one race to cross it off of their bucket list. We are racing against ourselves. The marathon is the “premier” distance for people who want to improve their running. It is the gold standard yardstick for measuring endurance running performance. That’s still not why I find the term “13.1 marathon” offensive. The real crux of my contempt is this: the body starts to “break down” after covering 20 miles. I’m not going to try explain the physiology, but I will tell you this: even now at my lowest level of fitness and training in years, I could still run 13.1 miles without stopping. It will be slow, but I could finish. I could not run 26.2. The marathon is special. So let’s not water it down by trying to turn it into Kleenex.
The 2013 Marine Corps Marathon was my 40th birthday gift/celebration. I turned 40 in September so about a year ago I started looking for a marathon to run around my birthday. Some folks from my local running group were planning on running MCM so it seemed like a good fit – a trip for my wife and me to DC, a chance to visit friends in Baltimore, and a chance to run in one of the premier marathons in the country. Knowing it would sell out fast, I started hitting the web site 1 minute before registration started and after about 45 minutes battling the web site I was registered. Training went as well as it could. I only missed 4 runs in 18 weeks. I did three 20-milers and each one got easier. The taper went great and I was doing all my short runs easily at my goal race pace of 8:10.
This was my first “destination race” so that added some additional excitement. My wife and I flew into Baltimore on Friday and spent some time with friends. I did a 2-mile shake-out run Saturday morning. Since all of my training was in flat Orlando, this was my only really hilly run of all of my training – something that I would later regret. The rest of Saturday was pretty hectic. My wife and her friend were staying in Bethesda the night before the race so we had to check into that hotel. Then we went into DC to check into the hotel I was staying in. We finally got some lunch around 3:00 PM and then headed to the expo to get my bib.
Packet pickup and the expo were both a nightmare. It took about 40 minutes to get through the line to get my number and the B-tag checking system wasn’t working (I heard later that there was a power outage). The wait to get into the expo wasn’t quite as bad but I didn’t have a bag so I got to go in a shorter line. People with bags and purses had a longer wait. Once I got in the expo, they ran out of bags for the bag check about 10 people ahead of me. They said you would just have to find a clear bag if you needed to check something. At first I was panicked because I didn’t realize that the bag check sticker was on the back of my bib (Disney puts them in the bag). Then a guy in front of me looked in a trash can and found a couple of bags so I ended up getting one after all, but not before getting stressed out about my plans for what I was going to take with me to the start area and what I would do with it.
We had dinner at “Founding Farmers” – a really great restaurant in DC – and then headed to another restaurant to meet my running group friends. This was a bit of a long walk (something my wife thinks impacted my performance but I’m not too sure). By the time I got there, only two of them were left (7 of us ran). This was the first of several near misses with my group but it was good to chat with the two of them for a while at the restaurant and then while we walked to the metro back to our hotels.
The night before the race, as usual, I got almost no sleep. It seemed like I could hear cabs honking out on the streets until about 2:00 AM. At 4:30, some guys were out in the hall singing Ricky Martin’s “Cup of Life”. Since I was going to get up at 5:30 anyway, I decided to get up and then had that song stuck in my head all morning. I had a Clif Bar, a dump, got dressed, took a selfie in my race getup, and headed to the metro. The weather was pretty cold (40s) so I had on a long sleeved shirt over the shirt I planned on running in. I put my number on my leg because A) I wanted to be able to get rid of my long sleeved shirt if I needed to and B) I’m used to wearing it there now. I tried putting it on my shirt but it just didn’t feel natural. I also got myself some cheap football gloves and planned on tossing those too.
I got there plenty early. I had time to pee and sit in the hospitality tent for a while and wait for some of my running group friends. By the time they were heading my way, it was about 7:15 so I needed to check my bag and get ready for the 7:55 start. I was too anxious to wait for them any longer so that was my second near miss with my friends. I checked my bag and hit the port-o-let line one more time. While I was waiting in line I set my watch for the marathon distance and my goal time of 3:35. I had never used this particular setting before so I thought it might come in handy. Bad idea. It just gave me extra screens to scroll through when I checked my time throughout the race.
Unfortunately that toilet stop put me way too close to start time. I headed to the starting line and tried to find the 3:30-ish corral. I got as far to the front as I could, but the start was the second thing problem I had with this race. They had corrals on both sides of a divided highway. I stood on the left side and after the Howitzer went off to start the race I watched the 3:45 pacer go running by on the other side while we stood still. The crowd at the beginning was ridiculous. I completely missed a water stop because water was in the back and by the time I was able to get over I was past the last person passing out water. Also, I must have been in the “long” lane because at the first mile marker, my Garmin already said 1.18 miles. You placed yourself at the start so you had some very “optimistic” people toward the front. I felt like I was passing people for about 18 miles. By the time I stopped passing people I felt more like it was because I had slowed down and not because I found people at my pace. I really enjoyed the race overall but the crowds and uneven pacing were a bit annoying.
So now for the fun part – the race. In spite of the MASSIVE crowds and a major uphill climb at the beginning I managed to keep my pace under 9:00 for the first 2 miles. That first climb was pretty impressive – 244 feet according to Garmin in about 2 miles. It didn’t seem too bad at the time and from what I had heard about the course it was all downhill from there. I tossed my gloves at about 2 miles and then the climb turned into my favorite terrain – downhill. I love charging down hills. I was still in heavy traffic but managed to cut loose a bit and made up some serious time. Around 4 miles in I ditched the long sleeved shirt. My favorite part of the race was Georgetown (between the 4 and 5 mile marks). Beautiful town to run through and my watch hit the 5 mile lap just at the top of the last downhill – a massive plunge down Wisconsin to Waterfront. I when I got to the bottom my watch said 6:00 pace for that lap and I believe it – I was flying down that hill. In fact I was a little nervous that I might blow out a knee at the bottom when we had to make a sharp left turn. Somewhere around there was a group of drummers. They were playing big drums that seemed Asian even though the drummers didn’t. The sound was amazing and really gave me a boost.
Between miles 5 and 6, I caught a glimpse of some of the leaders. The road heading toward the zoo was an out-and-back section so they were heading back and at about the 9 mile mark. After hitting the 5k at 26:40 (8:34 pace) I averaged 7:48 for the next 5k hitting the 10k at 50:56 – 8:12 pace which is just what I needed for 3:35. After 6.2 miles I was right on track. Interesting side note – this section I recognized after the fact as the road to the zoo. I went there on a previous trip (I think in high school 20+ years ago). There may have been road signs to plant the memory in my subconscious but it was really only after the race when I thought back to that section that I realized that’s where I was. I hit the 15k at 1:16:39 – 8:13 pace – feeling good and on schedule.
After mile nine we hit the waterfront. I ran by the Kennedy Center where I recalled going on a tour during that high school trip. We went on the roof and a friend and I raced across it. I thought it was interesting that I sprinted on that roof and here I was running by that building 20+ years later.
Miles 10-15 were kind of a blur. I was feeling really good when I hit the half. I remember thinking that doing that again was going to be tough and that I kind of wished I was just doing a half because I could have really killed it. I had no idea what my exact pace was but did know I was at 1:46 for the half – a PB by about 5 minutes. My original goal was 3:40 so at this point I had plenty of room to spare. That was my only real pace check since my Garmin had me in the high 7s up to that point due to the long first mile. Official pace for the half was 8:09 still 3 seconds under my goal for 3:35.
Next was the mall. I remember running toward the Capitol. After scanning the crowds for my wife an her friend, I finally found them after mile 17. It was a great boost to see my wife. I had almost given up on seeing her and figured I already missed her in my running daze. I remember being surprised at how tree-lined the mall was. I think the crowds blocked a lot of the view so everything looked very different.
Circling the Capitol around mile 18 was where I first started to feel it. Up to that point I felt like I could go forever. I still felt pretty strong and just wanted to get to mile 20 figuring I could survive the last 10k. I eased off a bit and was averaging around 8:23 – about my original planned pace to hit 3:40. I felt like keeping that “easy” pace was workable and would definitely get me under 3:40 since I had a good head start.
The last few miles were not all that exciting. We crossed the bridge back to VA and so it was just running on the highway. There was a girl matching my 8:20-ish pace around mile 21. I hung on her shoulder as long as I could but that is when I started to get some tightness in my legs. I managed to run through the first cramp and it seemed to go away. Mile 22 was 8:32 on my Garmin and mile 23 was 8:44. The hills were mostly just overpasses and the bridge at that point but they were starting to take their toll. I adjusted my goal to just finish without having to stop running – I hadn’t broken stride even once to that point. That’s when my legs were really getting angry. At about 24.7 on my watch I was making a left turn coming down an exit ramp when my leg completely cramped up. I had no choice but to stop and stretch. I never really recovered. From that point on I was doing the “marathon shuffle”. Miles 24 and 25 were 9:42 and 10:11 on my Garmin.
Now the hills were real. They weren’t overpasses – they were actual hills. I managed to crank it back up to 9:52 for mile 26. Thanks to my watch setting snafu, my watch stopped at 26.2 which was unfortunately before I made it to the official 26 mile marker. I had been dropping quite a few “F bombs” those last few miles so when I got to 26 and couldn’t see the finish, one was preceded with a “what the”. Then I turned left and saw the most ridiculous part of the course. They had advertised a “flatter finish”. I would hate to know what the old finish was like. This last hill was so steep almost everyone I saw was walking and it seemed like you could put your hands down in front of you to help climb up. It was probably just a few hundred feet, maybe less, but it was brutal. I refused to stop running – something I only did once for that charlie horse – and made it to the top and the last right turn to the finish line.
I’m glad I had sunglasses on because I was holding back tears a few times. Coming up to the finish was the first, then getting my medal from the Marines, then thinking about seeing my wife. I had to climb more ridiculous hills after getting my medal and goodie bag so I stopped for a breather at the top of the hill. I found my wife through a fence and she passed me the phone to call my 5 year-old. She asked if I won (I knew she would). I told her I did “for me” and that I got another medal.
For me this race was a lot of victories. I had been training towards 3:35 on my Garmin. That meant an 8:12 pace on my watch. I had 10 miles in a row under 8:00, 4 more under 8:12, and another 5 under the 8:25 pace I needed for my secondary goal of 3:40. My time for 26.2 on my watch was 3:39:14. My official pace through 30k was 8:08 – fastest cumulative pace of the race after doing 8:34 for the first 5k. I ran a 7:57 pace between the 10k and 15k. I was at 8:11 through 35k and 8:22 through 40k. That means I was under my stretch goal for 35k and dropped under my goal in the last 2 miles.
During my training, when I stopped running on my long runs, it was because I was “too tired” to keep running. This time the cramps in my leg were a new experience for me (not something I would want to happen again) and I felt like I gave everything I had – my body shut down and I did what I could with what I had left.
Now it’s time to give my wife a much needed break from my training over the past 18 weeks. I may race a few more times this year to ride the wave of my race fitness, but no more hardcore training plans for me.
I don’t think anyone can go into a marathon knowing for sure how you are going to do. You can know whether or not you are prepared, if you are healthy, how fast you are able to run. There is no guarantee that will translate to performance on the day. I think the best you can hope for is to finish without saying “if only”. I’m not saying if only I didn’t skip training, if only I went faster/slower in the start/finish, if only the weather was better. I know I did my best and I know what that means today. I have no doubt I can run a marathon in 3:35, but I also am ecstatic that my PR is now 3:42:13.
So you’ve paid your registration fee, trained for months, booked flights and hotel rooms, and now you are ready for your big race. Race day is approaching. What are all of those things you need to remember to avoid major running catastrophe and the little annoyances that could have been avoided? I figured I would share my list in hopes it might help out some others. Post your additions in the comments.
1. Pack everything important in your carry-on bag.
My dad travelled frequently for business and my parents still travel frequently for pleasure. This is a lesson that is a habit for them and has rubbed off on me. For my race travels, that means my shoes, Garmin, and Garmin charger. Anything else I can buy. That doesn’t mean I won’t put my full race outfit and other supplies in my carry-on, but if space becomes an issue I could leave them out.
2. Download your Garmin data then delete your history.I found out the hard way that your lap history can fill up in the middle of a race. Navigating seldom-used watch settings isn’t something you want do be doing while you are running for a PR.
3. Don’t pack gels in your carry-on.
Even though you might get through security, you could have to throw them out or worse miss your flight while they investigate the contents of your bag.
4. Document your running routine as a packing list.
Do you use glide or band-aids, eat homemade pre- or during-run snacks, listen to music? Write it all down before your last few long runs then make sure to pack everything you need. If it’s too late for that, walk through your routine as if you are going for a run and put all the things you pick up in a grocery bag or something similar so you can make sure it all makes it to your luggage.
5. Lay out all your gear the night before.
If you are running close to home, his might not be such a big deal. However finding everything in a cluttered suitcase and unfamiliar setting if a hotel room can be tough especially before sunrise after a restless night. If you use pouches or bags, fill them up the night before. Put the gels in your pockets if that is where you keep them. If you are like me, you will still triple-check everything (and still forget something) but still better to stack the odds in your favor.
6. Don’t forget your Garmin when you leave for the starting line.
I did that heading out to a half marathon. Luckily I had plenty of time to make the 20-minute round trip back to my hotel room, but that was stress I didn’t need. Sure I could have just used the on-course clocks but doing math while running is harder than you would think.
7. Don’t forget about the expo.
Most big races have them and they can be a great place to pick up gear and swag. More importantly, they can be a grocery store for gels and other last-minute needs (things I forgot to out on this list or forgot in spite of putting them in this list). So don’t stress too much since you can find almost anything you might need.
8. Don’t get new race gear at the expo.
Don’t try compression sleeves for 26.2 miles if you’ve never used them. Don’t try some new chewy calorie source when you trained with gels. And for God’s sake don’t get a new pair of shoes unless you lost or forgot yours and found a pair of shoes you’ve run in before.
9. Bring disposable clothes.
Most big races donate discarded clothes to charity so if you anticipate cold weather, bring an old sweatshirt, hat, gloves, whatever you think you might need. Keep in mind that your body heat will warm you up so you may want to discard these things at the start or right after. If you wear extra clothes, make sure your bib is on your bottom layer or on a removable number belt if you have experience with such things (but refer to #8 before you strap on something new).
10. Check in to your flight.
Typically you can check in 24 hours in advance. Get your electronic boarding pass or print it so you are ready to go.
So that is my personal encarnation of my running OCD. Hope it is helpful for you!
Running a marathon is a bourgeois thing to do. Let’s face it – people working two jobs to keep a roof over their head and food on the table aren’t thinking they need to spend hours every week running to nowhere to get some sense of accomplishment. They are apparently likely to drive by and yell, “run Forrest!” as one random gentleman did just this very morning. I recently had the misfortune of running by a young man who was so offended that someone was running for exercise (or whatever it was I was doing) that he felt obliged to yell at me as long as I was in earshot. I get it. Running is a pretty ridiculous thing to do. It has, like most ridiculous things tend to do, placed me at a strange sort of nexus of the universe.
You see, the marathon I have been training for – the Marine Corps Marathon – winds through Washington DC and specifically through many areas impacted by the current government shutdown. The race organizers have been monitoring the shutdown and have now announced that a final decision will be made by October 19 and that decision could be to cancel the race. Of course my immediate reaction was to pout. Then I regrouped and tried to figure out how to run a different marathon if MCM is cancelled. Then I got pissed off because that was going to be very difficult. You see, even though marathons are bourgeois and elitist, they are also very popular at least relative to their supply. MCM sold out in a matter if hours. Any marathon coming up in the next few weeks will have sold out long ago. So I pouted some more, realized I was being an elitist turd, and got over it.
So how does any of this put me at the nexus of the universe? Well, as we have seen so far, the plight of the people does not seem to impact political decisions but personal impact on politicians does. Sequestration continued as it was originally set in motion until it personally impacted people in the government and the “business types” who fund them. As soon as flights started being delayed or cancelled, suddenly there was plenty of money for the TSA and air traffic controllers.
This is where I have placed my misguided petty hope that I will get to run in MCM – that just one person in congress is running in or is related to and/or schtupping someone who is running in MCM. That is all it would take – just one person out of the 30,000 people currently in a panic about their marathon hopes to also have a voice in congress. I’m not saying that would be enough to end the government’s shutdown or prevent it from defaulting on its debt, but it would be enough to make sure MCM happens.
So here I sit with my best hope of running my marathon (a clearly selfish activity) is for the selfishness of at least one politician to outweigh his or her political convictions. Sadly this is probably more likely than the government shutdown ending by the 19th.
This race was a bit of an afterthought. I needed to run 10 at marathon pace this weekend so when I saw this race I figured 9.3 was close enough. I’ve done this race 2 of the last 3 years and it is one of the few long races in Orlando so it’s one I like to do.
The last two were pretty hot so I was nervous about the weather, but today was about as lovely as you could ask for in FL in September. The humidity wasn’t too bad and even as the sun came up, there was no sense of scorching heat blazing down on you. I’m sure finishing 10+ min faster helped too, but even after the race the weather seemed nice.
After a wonderful 40th birthday party last night followed by a not-so-good night’s sleep, I wasn’t sure about how I would do. I really wanted to hit my 8:11 target pace and knew that would get me close to 1:15, but if it felt too hard I was ready to back off and make this a training run.
I got a great parking space not too far from the start but still outside the route so I wouldn’t get stuck after. I warmed up by running to Lake Eola and watched the sunrise over the lake as I finished my 0.7 to make an even 10 for the day. Between the cooler weather, nerves, and somewhat fresh legs things seemed to be going well and I locked in my pace at 8:10 without too much effort. I watched the start of the 5k and then was one of the first people at the starting line and found a good spot near the 8:00 pace marker.
The start was pretty good. Even though they had us come forward to the starting line to fill in the space, there wasn’t a log jam and I was able to lock in my pace.
The first few miles were uneventful. We did a quick lap around a block downtown before heading up Orange to Kaley. Kaley was right into the sun and then around 2.75 I think someone puked and another guy almost tripped over a cone. I checked my pace at the mile markers and was staying around 8:05. I was feeling really good finishing mile 3 and started to work on my strategy: keep it easy and on schedule through the halfway point and maybe pick it up after that. For the first 4-5 miles I was racing the clock but after that I was racing people.
My pace didn’t really pick up much in miles 6-7 but I was still going strong while some others were withering. It was a great feeling to be passing people this year after bonking big time last year and feeling like everyone passed me. In spite of moving up in the pack, mile 6 was the slowest as I got ready for the last 5k.
The last few miles I pushed a bit. I felt like I was at about a 7:55 pace but I guess after 6 miles 8:00 feels like 7:55 (and yes I can tell the difference).
I knew with 1.5 left I was home free. I knew I could push harder but for some reason I chickened out. Maybe because the few people who passed me were still in reach, I just kept cruising to the last half mile. Then I started picking up the pace. With about 600m left I passed Ray from my running group and gave him an awkward high-five-fist-bump and tried to get him to come with me on my kick as I ran by. When I got past mile 9 and to the last 400m I knew I had one hell of a kick in me. As I turned the corner to the home stretch I took off. There was a “young guy” I caught up with and said something like “Come on! Let’s get ’em!” He tried to hang with me (and failed) as we weaved through the finishers. I finished in typical fashion – pumping my fists and woohooing. I crossed the line, whooped and hollered some more, grabbed my medal (probably a bit aggressively) and before I knew it had caught my breath. I found my kick partner and we fist-bumped. He looked rough. One of the volunteers asked if he was ok. According to Garmin I hit a 4:35 max pace on my kick. I believe it. I was hauling much ass.
After the race, I ran into Ray again and 2 ladies from my group and one of the guys who hasn’t run with us for a while (he kicked my ass).
Statistically, this was a great race for me. Finished in 1:15:03, 24 of 103 in my new age group, 133 of 707 men, and 186 of 1761 overall. Beat my previous PR by over 12 minutes.
As yesterday’s tragedy is reviewed in excruciating detail, I wanted to try to give my non-running friends some perspective. Yes, the Boston Marathon is run on “Patriots Day”. Yes, yesterday was “Tax Day”. Yes, the marathon was a worldwide event with lots of spectators. For people who have no concept of what it is like to run a marathon, they must all seem the same. I’m sure you realize Boston is important the same way you know the Masters, Wimbledon, and the Daytona 500 are important. But the Boston Marathon is different.
On March 27 I registered for the Marine Corps Marathon. It will be my second marathon. The first was the 2011 Disney Marathon. I had only been running a few years and I knew nothing about the sport. I just knew I could run that race as long as I paid my money and registered before it was full.
Every year, more and more people are running marathons. The Marine Corps Marathon filled up in less than 3 hours last year. That’s how I remember the exact date when I registered – the only day you can register. I sat at my computer at 11:59 watching the second hand and poised to click refresh on my web browser. I battled an overloaded web site for an hour and fifteen minutes before I finally got in. That still doesn’t come close to what it takes to get to run Boston. It doesn’t even scratch the surface.
You see, running is a very inclusive sport. To run in most races, you usually just have to pay your money and sign up in time. For most marathons, you have about 6 hours to finish (14 minute per mile pace which is really a brisk walk).
Boston is different. It is THE marathon. Unlike other Marathons, there is a “qualifying standard”. That means to even have a chance to enter, you must complete a qualifying marathon under the required time within 18 months of the race. If you are a woman and over the age of 80, that means 5 hours and 25 minutes. I am in the second fastest group – men 35-39. My Boston qualifying time (BQ time) is 3:10. That is a 7:14 per mile pace. To put that in perspective, 1,675 men in the 34-39 age range started the 2013 Disney marathon – a certified BQ course. 26 finished under the official BQ limit of 3:10:59. Stephane Boehm of Nice, France finished 27th – ahead of 1,648 men his age, 153rd of 20,734 total finishers and failed to qualify for Boston by 50 seconds (less than 2 seconds per mile). My fastest 5k (3.1 mile) race to date was 22:37 or a 7:16 pace. If I could run that pace for 26.2 miles (which I cannot) I would have finished just behind Stephane and still would not have qualified for Boston.
I don’t know if Stephane Boehm had any intention of entering the 2014 Boston Marathon but I guarantee that countless others who failed to finish the Disney and many other races around the world within the BQ standard were devastated. To complete a marathon takes months of training. Most training plans last 16-18 weeks and assume you can run 10 miles or so before you even start. To qualify for Boston can take YEARS of running 40-50 miles a week including running 20 miles or more at least once before each race. You will wear out countless pairs of shoes, run through minor injuries, and rehab major ones. You will be chased by dogs, taunted by teenagers in passing cars, get rained on, trip and fall over a crack in the sidewalk, spend a fortune on Gatorade and gel (semi-liquid sugar packets), convince your closest family members and friends that you are a lunatic, and strain your relationship with your significant other. And you still might not get in. You see starting in 2013 it wasn’t enough to just meet the BQ standard and then be one of the first to sign up. The faster you ran the better your chance of getting a spot.
THAT is what is particularly disturbing to runners about the bombing in Boston. This was not just a sporting event. The spectators killed and injured were not just fans. They were also family members and friends. They were the people who supported the runners through what is probably the toughest amateur qualification process in the world. Many people dream of running a marathon, but many of those who have dream of running Boston. They put post-its with their BQ time on their mirror and memorize their mile split times and get a “BQ” tattoo when they qualify. It is a lifelong pursuit. THAT is what was attacked for runners – the living embodiment of a dream.
So I will apologize collectively for us if we seem to be taking this very personally. We are a bit “off” to begin with, you know. However, hopefully you have a little bit better view into our crazy world and how it is now particularly crazy, sad, and broken.
After reading “That Pre Thing” in the latest “Runner’s World”, I had the inevitable response – I wanted to race. I wanted to push myself to see what my guts could get me that my training couldn’t. With no races on my schedule, I did the next best thing – I watched other people race on YouTube. I started with the David Rudisha 800m world record in London. I wasn’t watching Rudisha. I was watching Nick Symmonds. After reading the RW article, I wanted to see him overachieve and PR. I wasn’t a fan during the Olympics. The word “douche” was more likely than “idol” to come to mind. After reading the article, though, I have a lot of respect for him and what he is trying to do for competitive running in the US.
So after watching Symmonds come from last to finish fifth against the best in the world, I switched to my favorite race of the Olympics – Mo Farah’s win in the 10,000. After watching the last three laps as pure motivation and entertainment, I found another version with the full race and watched about the last 6-7 laps. That’s where I noticed something. I might not have noticed, but while I was browsing YouTube I found a video that talked about how slow the Olympic 10,000 was and specifically Galen Rupp’s silver medal time. The guy in the video was talking about how the strategy is different when you are racing to win and not necessarily trying to set a world record. So when I was watching more of the 10,000, I found myself watching Rupp and what he was doing. After a few laps it was very obvious – he wasn’t racing to win, he was racing to medal. From the time I started watching he was in fourth place – not third, not fifth. He was running as slow as he could without losing a shot at the bronze. Behind him, Mo Farah was racing to win. He was running his own race. With the field bunched up, he could pick his pace and his spot. Clearly he felt he could out kick the field. As Farah started his kick for the last 400m, I think he knew the race was his to lose. It was a 400m race he was going to run from the front. Rupp stayed in fourth. Don’t get me wrong, the lead pack was accelerating and so was Rupp. He was still in the shoulder of the third place runner, but he didn’t make a move until the last 200m. His tactics obviously paid off, he passed the would-be bronze and silver medalists as the field spread out across the finish.
So why do I think this was a perfect race for Rupp? I am sure he wanted to win as much as anyone and he didn’t win. Maybe he thought he could catch Farah in the last 200, but I doubt it. What his tactics said to me is, “Don’t come this far and not go home with a medal!” It was possibly the most disciplined race I have ever seen (granted I haven’t watched many races that closely). His challenge was also obvious – pass as many of the greatest runners in the world in the last 200m without letting any of them pass you. I’m not sure you can win a race without racing to win. I’m pretty sure you can fail to medal by trying to win. I think Rupp wanted a medal, any medal, and silver was the perfect result.
When I ran my first 5k, the winner ran it in 19:xx. I remember thinking, “I could do that!” Almost 4 years later and I realize two things: that time won’t win a lot of 5ks, and it is pretty fast for a guy my age. Now, after two excellent rounds of half marathon training with increasing pace, breaking 20:00 might be possible. “Might.”
I’m still a running newbie. I only have a handful of races under my belt. The two most notable are my two half marathons. Before the first one, I don’t think I ever ran 13.1 without stopping for a walk break. The only full I ran I walked through all the water stops. Now as I near my third half, I have broken 2:00, came close to 1:55, and now I’m targeting 1:52.
Most importantly, I feel like I’ve turned a corner. My goal when I started training last summer was to get faster but easier (if that makes sense). Up to that point I had gotten all of my pace through guts. Every mile was like a tempo run or harder. Speed work was at a blistering pace. Injuries of course followed. I got faster, but never felt like I could really hold onto that speed. After I ran the Wine and Dine in 2011, I thought I could hold onto that 9:00 pace for long runs and build from there. I was very disappointed when I found out that was the peak of my training and not a permanent change.
So what is different this time? Part experience and part attitude. The two go hand-in-hand. Experience tells me there is a difference between peaking for a race and long-term improvement. That led to an attitude this time to shoot for long-term improvement. The bottom line is, instead of sticking to my training plan to try to get to my target pace, I went after every run as an opportunity to build my pace. I wasn’t following someone else’s schedule hoping to reach my goal. I was running every run with a purpose.
So when I ran this last Wine and Dine in 1:55:40, I wasn’t at all disappointed that I missed 1:55 by 40 seconds. Quite the opposite – I crossed the finish line pumping my fists and whooping and hollering because I knew the results weren’t a peak, but a permanent change.
I still had my doubts though. When I signed up for the upcoming Disney half, I thought I would probably just hang on. I thought 1:55 was possible but probably not any significant improvement. I thought, “Maybe I’ll get some good pictures with the characters this time.” After all, most of my training would be interrupted by Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.
That wasn’t the case. The “interruptions” turned into great weather and extra time. My training philosophy continued and so did my improvement. The measuring stick I used for my last round of training (pace in speed work and tempo runs) confirmed my improvement. This all culminated in what is probably a perfect workout this morning.
My plan called for a six-mile tempo run and while my new philosophy may not be driven by the plan, the plan still works. So I set out for a two-mile warmup, three hard miles, and then one mile recovery. My goal for my warmup was race pace (8:30). I managed that for the first mile then dropped down to around 9:00 to save gas for the tempo section. The next three miles were like so many before – just the “right” pace. A pace I could hold for that distance but not much more. I managed the run while running, making sure to stay relaxed and not over exert even at a “faster” pace. I knew the last mile would be tough and had to push a bit at the end to get under 8:00, but was not completely gassed either. Another workout in the bag. Another measurement of my progress. Another positive reinforcement of my training.
So will I break 20:00 for a 5k this year? Who knows? I’d be happy with 20:40 for sure. Will I break 1:52 a week from tomorrow? Possibly. The bottom line is, I don’t care. I love running again and not just running faster. I love running with my wife and my new friends from my running groups. I love long runs by myself, speed work in miserable heat, and tempo runs on cold misty mornings.
I think about the quote from John F. Kennedy a lot when I run: “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.” I definitely run because it is hard, but I enjoy it so much when it is easy. After the 2011 Disney full, my wife got me “Run Less, Run Faster”. I have loved (mostly) using the Furman FIRST plan. I’ve loved running 3 days a week and still improving. Now maybe it’s time for me to write a book: “Run Faster, Easier.”
As I sat at the kitchen table this morning getting ready for my run, I picked up my phone and surfed the Internet. I quickly realized that I was delaying my run, not because I didn’t want it to start but because I didn’t want it to end. This was my last workout at the end of 18 weeks of training for this year’s Wine and Dine half. It was 18 grouling weeks through a typical hot and humid FL summer. I ran through injury and heat and came out stronger.
The weather was perfect. 50 degrees with a slight breeze. I walked to the front of my neighborhood, stretched, and found my favorite Indie Soup Runner podcast. I started running before I started my watch. My legs just started going before my brain kicked in.
I was cruising along at quick but comfortable pace thinking about how perfectly every was going on this last run before my race. Then SMACK! Reality hit me in the face in the form of a crack in the sidewalk. My toe hit in just the perfect spot (perfectly WRONG!). Before I knew what happened my palms were hitting the ground. I quickly spotted the grass next to me, tucked my left shoulder, and rolled onto the ground. As I fell, 18 weeks of running flashed before my eyes. I imagined a broken wrist, torn ACLU, broken leg, skinned knees, but escaped them all, finished my roll, bounced up, and resumed my run.
I had run the same stretch of pavement at least a hundred times without incident. I haven’t even almost tripped while running in over a year. I have run through stretches of near total darkness and done trail runs through rough terrain and didn’t have a significant stumble. Then my toe meets one crack and it could have been disaster.
Thank God! Disaster averted!
Great run. Easy 8:38 pace. Dialed in my race pace for Saturday. I’m going to stick with 8:45 for as long as I can and if I speed up, so be it.