March 06, 2019 - First marathon in the books and, for better or for worse, it did not go nearly as planned.
One thing every distance runner has on their mind is if they want to take on one of the most illustrious races our sport has to offer, the marathon. The other subjects that come along with this thought is how, when, and where they want to go about it.
Late summer 2018 came and went, thus meaning my tri season came to a close with the ITU Age Group World Champs being my final race of the season. My roommate and I were on a weekend jog and, with the recent new marathon world record set by Eluid Kipchoge fresh in our minds, began talking about what it would be like to run at that pace for that long and marathon training in general. Eventually the topic of the Boston Marathon came up along with the qualifying standards for that. We both knew that for 2019, the qualifying mark for our age group (18-34) was right around 3 hours flat, i.e. about 6'50" per mile to secure yourself a spot. Both of us were on the XCTF team at Eastern Michigan, so we both have had some crazy long runs under our belt and what we felt was a thorough understanding on what it would take to run that fast for that long; eventually determining that if we wanted to we could do this without any deep training. It wouldn't be easy, and it would hurt, but we could go out and do it given proper rest the previous day.
After this run, we made a "bet" that we could run a Boston qualifying time without any "proper" marathon training and began searching for a race that fit our schedules. Now, what I mean by "without proper marathon training" is no workouts. We could boost our weekly mileage so we could survive a 26.2 mile run but nothing quicker than a brisk run in terms of training. Strictly casual. After a couple days of joking about the idea and looking for races, I found the Stony Creek Marathon; a small race set up in a state park just outside of Detroit. The date worked out for my schedule and the race wasn't insanely competitive based off prior year results so I signed myself up.
The date was set, now all I had to do was train. Training was relatively easy, since all I had to do was add a couple two-a-days and an extra long run here and there throughout the week to ensure survival. A week out from race day, I drove to one of my favorite training locations to get in a good long run at marathon race pace to get a good feel for how screwed I was going to be come next week. The run was an 18 mile loop with a few rolling hills here and there throughout another state recreation area, so it was unintentionally a good prep for the race (when in reality I was tired of my local routes and wanted some new scenery). I've never been the best at pacing, so the run began in classic fashion with me getting a little too excited and going a bit fast too early. Shortly after mile 2, I struggled to keep even a sub 7'00" per mile pace and doubts crept into my mind. "Wow. I feel like I'm running with bricks tied to my leg. Maybe you should just turn around and save it for another day? If I feel like this now, how am I going to last another 20 miles when my pace should be 10 seconds faster at the slowest? Am I ready for this?" Soon after struggling through 6 slow miles, I made the decision to finish the run regardless of how fast or slow it ended up being. I knew I needed the mental resolve when it came down to race day and this would be good prep for that. It was also about this time that I found my stride and started to cruise arond 6'53" pace. Each mile just kept getting better and better; with consecutive reps quicker than the previous. This acceleration and switch in how I physically felt really ecouraged me to complete the run with a 6'46" average. My legs were worn, I knew this race was going to hurt, but I was ready. All that I had to do now was relax the training in preparation for race day.
Before I knew it, race day was upon me. The night before I was sure to get my carbs in to top off my glycogen stores and get a good nights rest so I wouldn't be exhausted on the drive to the race site, and more importantly during the race. Now, I'm the type of runner that can't eat heavily before runs or else I will crap up or have to use the restroom mid run, especially for long runs. With this in mind, I brewed myself 3 cups of Folgers (not sponsored but open to the idea wink wink) and hit the road without eating breakfast. I had a big dinner so this usually carries me through to the next day. Jamming out to my prerace hype music the whole ride and dressed in my USA Triathlon gear, I was confident and ready to roll.
Getting to the race site, I see everyone is also getting ready to race but I notice they look a lot different than I do. Keep in mind, this race was taking place early November in Michigan, so it was cold. Everyone there was bundled up from head to toe and my race kit was a singlet, arm sleeves, gloves, tights, and a headband (pictured). Needless to say, I got a lot of looks. With any race, there was lots of talk amongst the athletes about who is going to run what so they know who to stay with and who to avoid. I found one guy who wanted to go sub 2:50:00 and my competitive nature immediately kept my eyes on him. Gun goes off and my first mile is a 6'33", much much faster than the plan of 6'50". "Was this a mistake? I should slow down", I thought to myself but kept on chugging along. One mile became 2, 2 miles became 8, and I was still moving fast (sub 6'30"). It was just the sub 2:50:00 guy and I we were rolling. Him, an experienced marathoner, would slow down to grab drinks at the aid stations positioned throughout the course, but me, used to track and XC races, saw this as an opportunity to make up ground on him thus avoiding the aid stations like the plague. We reached the 13.1 miles and the small crowd cheering us on peaked my adrenaline so I made my move, dropping a 6'07" and continued this pace because I felt good and there was no stopping me now. Come miles 16-19, I noticed I felt a little shaky and really started feeling the affects of my efforts. But, being a collegiate level runner, I was used to being uncomfortable and knew I had to push through. I just thought this was normal racing pain. Still excited about my lead and daydreaming about my final race time, I cranked out 2 sub 6'00" miles in a row before reaching mile 21. Mile 21: the wall. Instantly, not eating breakfast, 3 cups of coffee, and avoiding the aid stations caught up with me all at once. The pain was so immense that it felt like someone hit me with a truck. My pace fell from 5'51" to 7'59" and I only felt worse as the race went on. Many many thoughts of calling it quits were lingering in my head, especially after getting passed by my competition, but I had to finish. I wanted to make my friends proud and prove to myself that I could do it. Miles 22-24 were a death march but I stopped at every aid station I could to get the life giving gatoraid cups they handed out. Soon after rehydrating, I rallied and regained my composure to finish the race with a time of 2:47:45. Well below the goal of sub 3.
I gladly took as many post race bagels as I could hold down upon crossing the finish line and was ready for the ride home to tell my friends all about the journey of a race this was. Many, many rookie mistakes were made, but I was very happy to see my limits were a lot further than I would have guessed. Now, unfortunately, this wasn't a certified Boston qualifier, so I can't race Boston yet. But with one race under my belt, I'm very eager to give another one a proper go and get an official qualification for Boston in 2020.
Next planned marathon is the Glass City Marathon in Toledo, OH. A realitively flat course that qualifies a good number of runners to Boston and brings a competitive field.