Inside a 2:16 Marathon: Part 1
I want to first put it out there that this post is not to inflate my own sense of pride, but to rather shed light for those that may not have insight into the “sub-elite” world. A look behind the curtain, if you will. I try to be as humble as possible because I am fully aware of my positioning in the world of marathoning. However, at the urging of my coach, I want to share with you a vignette of my training and execution of a 2:16 marathon. I would love to go into depth but I’m afraid that could turn into a semi-biography. It is my belief that a single performance is not the product of the preceding training cycle, but all of those in the past.
I crossed the line of the 2018 Chicago Marathon and immediately felt my lower back and gluteal muscles cease so Intensely that I felt as if I were going to be pulled over backwards. I hobbled to the elite tent to gather my things, still in a haze as to what the heck had just happened to me. I had gone through halfway in 69:07 and was in my way to getting my first berth to the Olympic Marathon Trials. Disaster struck weeks before when I was in a car crash that left my poor Ford Fiesta totaled thanks to a car ignoring the traffic signal. I had to bike all over town for the days leading to the marathon and in the process I had strained my Medial Glute on the right side. At mile 18 of Chicago, that muscle finally gave up. I could no long drive my leg and subsequently fell off pace drastically. My only job for the last 3 miles was to not walk. I achieved that but when I crossed the line I had overwhelmingly disappointed. I had run 2:22, a far cry from the 2:18 I went in shooting for. My personal best was stuck at 2:19:51, painfully close to the 2:19:00 Olympic Trials standard.
I had trained through the Tulsa summer heat. I had been invited to join the selective Elite Field of the Chicago Marathon and prior to the accident my fitness had made me believe that I belonged on the line. But there I was standing in the elite tent frustrated, angry. I could barely walk. I had to ride a golf cart back to the hotel, I could not make it more than 50ft at a time without stopping to gather myself. Through the fog of pain and disappointment I formulated my plan. I had 15 weeks to heal, rest, and train my guts out for the Houston Marathon in January.
I struggled to move pain-free for 2 weeks after the race. When you are working on a 15 week timeline, 2 seems like way too much time to miss real training. I was stuck alternating days of an hour and days of 30 minutes. I got to the end of October before I ran my first light workout, mainly because I was going stir crazy. I did ten 400s with a 200 jog averaging 77’s. I was not feeling confident that I could right the ship in time for any specific training before Houston. I emailed the race director and told them that I didn’t think my health would permit competing at a high enough level, and I thanked them for the trying to squeeze me in the first place.
That of course was an overreaction to an early workout. I know rationally that it takes at least a month to feel normal again after a marathon. Two days after that interval session I ran the Tulsa Run; a historic 15k road race. I worked for a local running store that offered to cover my entry. I was licking my wounds from Chicago still, I told them I didn’t think I’d run well, but I’d try my best to break 50:00 on the hilly course. I took the line that morning and I could swear someone had wished away the hip pain for me; since my prayers were seemingly going unanswered. I brought home 5th place against some quality competition with a time of 48:08 . I tempered my enthusiasm but was starting to think that I might have jumped the gun in turning down the Houston option.
It will seem foolish to most people, and maybe I got lucky in avoiding injury but following Chicago I ran weeks of: 40, 60, 85, 105, 130. I threw myself into the mileage game. Around Thanksgiving I realized I could make this work, I ran my first 140-mile week amid the holiday. I was still skeptical as to where I would be in late January but I got myself re-entered into the Houston Marathon. I was running massive mileage, but my workouts weren’t suffering. All through out the summer I had focused making marathon pace as familiar as possible. I would check my watch constantly, match the feeling to the pace I told myself. Now, it was December, and I stopped giving a rat’s ass about marathon pace. I was out there to run the prescribed workouts the best I could on the day. I still remember the day that told me, “you can do this.”
I texted my coach, “I’m not sure about today, I’m trashed, man.” The workout was 4-mile Tempo at MP, then 5’ rest, 4xmile with 2min rest, finally, 4-mile tempo. “You’ll be fine. If you need to slow down the tempo piece that’s fine. Just get the work,” he told me. I parked my car at the North end of the Riverside bike trail in Tulsa and set out for an easy 3 mile warm up. My feet were dragging and I could only think about how slow would be acceptable. I was back at my car changing into my workout flats when I reminded myself, it’s not about the pace, run the “best” you can and you’ll be alright. I rolled the first mile in 5:12. A little fast. But it wasn’t getting harder, it was actually getting easier. I ran 20:40 for the 4 miles and proceeded to the intervals. I was a touch over 5:00, which seemed appropriate for what had constituted “fast” running for the last year. I couldn’t remember the last sub-4:50 I had run outside of a race. I then ran 4:46 and 4:42 for the next two and was feeling better and better as the workout went on. I ignored the fact I had another tempo piece and went for it on the final mile running 4:37. Rode the momentum of a good workout to a 20:10 4 mile tempo at the end, 4:54 for the last mile. I continued with the high mileage for all of December. I took only one down week the week of my wedding and made most of the holiday break from coaching. The final week of the year I ran 142.3 miles.
We were nearing race day after the new year and I professed to my coach that I was ready to back off. This was a common sentiment when the cycle is supposed to wind down. However, I had told him many many times that my strength is my ability to handle high-volume training. I was not someone who thrived under a typical taper. I needed to maintain triple digits as long as I could and just adjust the type of workouts. I followed orders and after the 142 mile week, 3 weeks from race day I ran 130 miles. I reluctantly followed it up with 111. Race week was coming up so training began to trend towards doing whatever I needed to feel good. Including the race, I ran 93 miles in my final week of training. The stage is now set for what I’m hoping to be the result I had been hoping for. More to come in part 2!