Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Sub-3 hours in Boston

  1. firm or obstinate continuance in a course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.

In 2003 I read somewhere that only 1% of runners could run a sub 3 hour marathon. I immediately decided that I wanted to be part of that select group of runners. I had already put together a 1:25:50 half marathon, and figured that my addition to the ranks of sub-3 hour runners was a forgone conclusion - all I would have to do is sign up for my first marathon and run it. I signed up for for the Twin Cities Marathon that fall and began my training. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to stay healthy, and was injured and unable to run when race day came around. I watched from the sidelines on a crisp, sunny October day as my friends Kyle and Ryan ran the race.  It would be 6 years before I tried again.

In 2009 I lined up at the start lines of the IMT Des Moines Marathon. It was an October morning not unlike that of Twin Cities 6 years earlier, only a little colder. I stood on the start line feeling nervous, but ready. I ran on pace to break 3 hours all the way to the proverbial wall at mile 21, and then it all fell apart. I managed to hold it together well enough to cross the finish line in 3:09:45 (Qualifying me for Boston, before they tightened the standards). It was days before I would walk normally again.

I would run 5 more marathons in the next 6 years, ranging in time from 3:01:54 to 3:16:31. The faster times were heartbreaking, because I was getting so close to my goal. A P.R. of nearly 8 minutes can only be a disappointment when you are a mere 1:55 from your goal. The slower times were disappointing because I was not as fit as I should have been, usually from being injured at some point in the training leading up to the race. The frustration of those slower attempts came from the fact that I had essentially wasted another chance to reach my goal. 

On April 20th, I lined up at the start line of the Boston Marathon, my first major marathon. I had been training with Lee Troop since January, and I felt incredibly ready. I had done everything right to avoid injury, and Lee's training had me running like I've never run before. The training was different than anything I had ever done, and there were no days off in my schedule. The only days off I had between the beginning of the year and the race were a few days when I was sick. I was so confident in my training that the only moment of nervousness I had was about half an hour the evening before the race. I felt so ready that, when talking on the phone to Lee two days before the race, he asked how the weather was looking and I told him it was going to be cold and rainy, with a headwind. He asked what I thought about that (I assume to pump me up if I had any worries), and I said, "I guess I'll be getting wet." I think that mindset played a huge roll in how race day went. 

There were 5,000 people who had qualified with a time faster than my 3:03, so the race was a bit slow for the first six miles. That played exactly into my plan, as I knew my job was to hold back until the hills began at mile 16. It also helped with the conditions, since it did turn out to be a cold, rainy, windy day. Having people all around helped block the wind, and made it feel warmer. Although I felt great and wanted to go faster, I stayed on pace, and went through the first half in 1:29:40. At mile 16 the hills began. My plan was to go only as fast as I needed to up to that point, grind out the hills from miles 16 through 21 on pace, and then give it whatever I had for the last 5 miles. 

I had been running with a group of 3 guys and a girl for most of the race. I heard them say early on that they were shooting for sub-3 and Lee told me to find a group to run with, so I wouldn't waste mental energy checking my watch in the early miles. As we began the hills, one of the guys dropped off pretty quickly. After a few more miles, I noticed the pace was lagging whenever the hills would really kick up, and I made the decision to leave the group. I was able to run strong through the hills, not feeling particularly taxed at any point. With the hills behind me, and more downhill than uphill left in the race, I picked up the pace a little to get back a few of the seconds I lost from slowing a bit on the uphill miles. 

The field had thinned, and the cold and wind was much more of a factor at this point. Add that to the fact that it had been raining on and off the entire race, and it wasn't exactly perfect running weather. I was on pace through mile 23, but I had been here before, only to have my race fall apart in the last two miles (leaving me with my 3:01:54). With two miles to go, I wanted to pick up the pace and steal a few more seconds back, but as I tried to go even faster, it felt like my legs were beginning to cramp up. They had been through 24 miles of uphill and downhill running, and it was cold out. I decided to just maintain my pace, knowing I was going to go sub-3 hours if I could just hold it together.

I ran 6:49 pace for mile 25, and 6:43 pace for mile 26. I looked at my watch as I turned the corner onto Boylston street and, with the fuzzy brain of someone who is at the end of a marathon, I was suddenly worried I wasn't going to make it. I could see the finish line, and it was slightly downhill, but I was having a hard time judging the distance, and the seconds just kept adding up. I picked up the pace, running 6:09 pace for the final .2 miles and crossing the line in 2:59:16.

After 12 years of trying, I expected to be overwhelmed with emotion. But, because I felt so confident and Lee's training had prepared me so well that I never felt like I was working hard at any point in the race, my first thought crossing the line was that I could go faster. Given better weather, I could go faster. In a race where I'm not worried about falling apart the last few miles and missing my goal, I could go faster. I'm not saying it would be a huge difference, but on a perfect day, I think I could have run closer to 2:57 or 2:58. Sub-3 hours has been my one goal for so long, and I'm just barely satisfied. All I can think is, "What's next?"

I have no real desire to run a faster marathon. It's not a big deal to me whether my P.R. is 2:59 or 2:56. The next big mark would probably have to be 2:55 or 2:50, but that's a lot of work for a few minutes that, in the grand scheme of things, don't really matter. So I guess it's on to bigger (literally) and better things. I'd love to get that big belt buckle by running under 25 hours at the Leadville 100, and the silver medals for breaking 7:30 at the Comrades Marathon are pretty cool. So, it's back to training. My last post might have been when I did my first Ironman in 2010, and you probably won't hear from me again until I run Leadville.


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