This year saw my best and worst running. The best came when I least expected. The worst struck when I thought I had marathons figured out.
In May, I stood at the start of the Flying Pig Marathon disheartened.
For the last three years I promised myself that this would be the year. This would be the year I finished the course in under 4 hours.
In 2013 I got the closest with a time of 4 hours and 9 minutes. In that race still did what I always do. I just did it further into the run. I pooped out toward the end and found myself run-walking from mile 22 to 26.
This year maybe it was because it was the day before my 38th birthday and I was feeling old or perhaps the course had kicked my ass enough each year before, but I had no goal, no hope. I left my Garmin in my car that morning. I started out with my head down, standing well behind the 4-hour pace runner at Paul Brown Stadium as the sun rose.
At some point I recognized a couple of guys I met at Tuesday night hill repeats and speed workouts. This was their first race. They were new and nervous and full of optimism about the run ahead.
You happy fools, I wanted to say, but I didn’t. I was quiet, a bit encouraging and ultimately decided to stick with them as long as I could.
I ran every long run alone, minus one in 2014, so I thought it would be nice to have people to talk to until my legs gave out.
My legs did not give out.
By mile 18, a now familiar spot in the course, I felt better than OK. I was on the heels of the 4 hour pace runner. At mile 20 I felt comfortable enough to slip past him and his pink balloons on a stick. It wasn’t a fast fly by, just an easy motion at a comfortable pace I knew I could maintain.
When I got to mile 24 my legs were starting to hurt, but I hadn’t started to walk-run yet. That’s when I saw a familiar face. I asked him to run me up over the last hill on the course. He obliged, enough though he had run the same mile 30 times already that day.
He said I looked strong. I felt strong. I finished with a time of 3 hours and 58 minutes exactly. My splits were negative.
From now on, I’ve got this, I thought as I washed down a cheeseburger and some frites with a beer at this little Belgium restaurant a couple of hours later.
But I didn’t.
For the fall I decided to run the Columbus Marathon, again. The course kicked my ass two years earlier.
Looking back on this fall, my training days were minimal. My long runs were these miserable mid-afternoon things in the summer sun.
I did try to bump up to a slightly faster pace group for speed work and hills on Tuesdays. At the same time I was gaining weight.
I can safely say I was burned out going into my eighth training season.
There had been no deviation from how I trained in the first season when I stood at this fall’s start.
Race day weather was perfect in Columbus. Low 40s to start, sunny, and temperatures hitting somewhere in the mid 50s by the end.
I actually thought I could keep up with a guy wanting to run a 3 hour 45 minutes marathon. This time I even had my Garmin. I watched as we started extremely slow and began picking up real steam on our pace.
By mile 18 the guy I was with pulled ahead. Another guy, one of the newer runners I outpaced at the Pig, came up behind me and passed me. Then the wheels fell off, sooner than I anticipated. I ended up performing a 6 mile walk-run of shame to an overall time of 4 hours 19 minutes.
Don’t let anyone tell you it doesn’t hurt when you are milling around with a group of celebratory runners after a race where they all set personal bests by breaking 4 hours. It sucked, yet I managed a smile and bought a round of beers when we all met for lunch before heading home.
Lesson learned. A dose of humility.
Looking ahead, I can’t decide if I’m better off on my own or with a group training. I’m definitely sticking with a pace group at my next marathon. And yes, there will be a next. I’m a fool like that.
I bought the diet book and pulled out the calorie counter app the week after the race. In about 4 weeks I’ve lost about 7 pounds.
I’m also maintaining a base, running about 20 miles a week. I’ve fallen into the habit of doing the “bridges run” twice a week along the riverfront of Cincinnati.
Here is the map for anyone interested. It’s just over 7 miles if done right.
I’m swimming a mile on Mondays and Thursdays. I should get back into a spin class and some core strength training as well.
I even bought an e-book after talking to a runner who beat the pants off her best marathon time by 20 minutes in Columbus.
She’s swearing by ‘Hansons Marathon Method: A Renegade Path to Your Fastest Marathon.’ I’m about half way through the book. There are some things there I know and others I didn’t.
The program is definitely different, calling for a peak long run of about 16, with more overall weekly mileage, and discipline. Lots of discipline for easy, strength, speed and tempo runs to properly grow muscle and endurance.
Truthfully, I don’t know if I will get through the rest of the books. A lot of it is pseudo science and the authors sound like they are talking out of their butts a bit. But I will probably print out the schedule with mileage and adhere to it the best I can.
And then have something to blame if I go down in a complete blaze of glory in May.
In all serious, it’s time to shake things up and maybe get back to a bit of that no expectations, focusing on the miles ahead mindset that I was in when ran my fastest race in spring.
And who knows what that will lead to.
Here’s looking at you 2015.