I started training for this race in the fall of 2019. I had signed up to run the full marathon in April of 2020. A global pandemic caused a slight change to those plans! I was in great shape in the months leading up to the race that was planned for April 25th. My workout times were faster and my heart rate was lower. I was poised to run a fast race. Then on March 25th, for the first time in it's 19 years (47 years for the half marathon), the race was cancelled. The half was rescheduled for August 2020, the full was not going to be run at all in 2020 - the only option would be virtual at some point later in the year - which I was not interested in doing.
So I stopped my training. All that fitness was wasted as there were no other races anywhere else to run either. While I continued to run a few times a week, they weren't focused runs and with no races on my calendar, my diet started to slack as well.
Then in December came the announcement that you could defer your race registration to the 2021 race. Since I knew that I wanted to do the race live, and didn't want to lose my entry fee, I signed up for the April 2021 race. I was still not feeling motivated, but hoped that once I get back into my training, my mental state would improve!
I decided to kick off my training with a long run at the end of 2020. I wanted to see where things stood both physically and mentally. It wasn't pretty. I had a lot of work to do in a short amount of time. I still wasn't excited about the race. So I decided a good way to ensure that I put in the work and was ready come race day was to challenge myself publicly. On January 2nd, I posted the following to social media:
It worked. Any time I didn't want to push that last run interval, or any time I wanted to eat that dessert, I thought of this post. I thought of that feeling I would have when I crossed the finish line with a new Personal Record (PR) and how good that would make me feel. That feeling of accomplishment and satisfaction far outweighs any temporary feeling of pleasure I get from eating a piece of cake or indulging in some Jet's pizza! When my body wanted to call it quits at 6 hill repeats when the training plan called for 8, I thought about crossing that finish line on April 24th and did those last two reps.
Even in a pandemic, not much has changed from a stand point of free time I have to train. Making time to train for a marathon is not easy with a full time (50+ hours a week) job, a wife, four kids, a dog (that I'm training), and countless responsibilities around the house. I knew that I had to follow the Balanced Approach plan that I developed while training for four Ironman triathlons.
At the beginning of January, I got the training plan out and got to work. I pulled just the running workouts out of the 36 week plan and counted back. I had 20 weeks until race day. Every workout was going to be important, there was no room for wasted days when the plan was cut 16 weeks short.
Each week consisted of three runs. Usually one with hill repeats, one with sprints and one that was either all aerobic or a progression run. When it was all said and done, I went back and looked at the 20 weeks of training. My average week consisted of just 18.75 miles and only 2 hours and 39 minutes of running! Compare this to most marathon training plans that require you to run 5-6 times a week with weekly mileage in the 45-50 mile range!! Seriously, who has time to run for 7 or 8 hours every week?!?!
If you are interested in learning more about the training plan I followed, you can find it here: The Balanced Approach to Marathon Training
The workouts and my fitness improved, and in the weeks leading up to the race, so did my confidence in my ability to get that PR. My previous best for a stand-alone marathon was 3:40:31. That was what I needed to beat. Even just one second faster would be enough!
The actual race was unlike any other that I had done. While still navigating a pandemic, the race organizers did the best they could to create a safe environment for everyone. That meant staggered start times and no (very, very few) spectators. It also meant a new course that was basically on walking/running paths instead of roads. The aid stations were a mix of water bottles and giant water coolers for runners to self-fill their own bottles. Runners would be required to carry their own nutrition. This was no problem for me, as I always have my own food anyway. For this race, I decided to try something new. In my search for real food that is both portable and easy to digest while running, I decided to try out baby food. That's right, I was going to fuel my 26.2 miles with the stuff that you feel to your one year old. I spent some time in the baby isle at the store reading ingredient labels and thinking about how easy it would be to carry 4 or 5 of these pouches. I grabbed a few different kinds to test on some runs. I ultimately landed on the Biodynamic brand made by White Leaf Provisions. I tucked four of them into my fuel belt and ate one at miles 5, 10, 15 and 20...and it worked great. Being fat adapted meant that the 160 total calories (40 calories per pouch) is all that I needed to get me through.
Beating my goal time equated to a pace of 8:24 minutes per mile. I knew that I wanted a little to spare, so I set my sights on holding a pace of 8:20 or less. I knew not to go out too fast, so I was checking my pace every few minutes to make sure I wasn't getting much under 8:10's. I'm happy with my pacing and I honestly feel like holding a steady pace is a huge key to running a successful marathon. It wasn't until mile 22 that my pace started to fall off. As expected, those last 4 miles are brutal.
Good thing the course was pretty lonely, there were several times that I was talking to myself out-loud. Trying to keep my legs moving and willing myself to hold as close to my 8:20 pace as possible. My Garmin was telling me that I was 0.15 miles long the whole day. The mile markers on the course always came 0.15 to 0.17 miles after my watch beeped for the mile split. I think I ran the extra distance early in the race at the turn around at Eva Badman Park. There was no sign, cone, or even paint or arrows on the ground to indicate where to turn around and I'm sure I went too far. So my actual distance for this race turned out to be 26.37 miles! Not that I needed that extra 0.17!!
There's not much better than that feeling you get when you try to do math with a little over a mile to go and after assessing how you feel and how fast you need to run, you realize that you are going to meet your goal. I knew that despite the race course being long, I would still set a marathon PR! My official time was 3:38:49.
The finish line was very anticlimactic. No PA system. No one announcing your name as you sprint toward the line. No finish line shoot full of cheering spectators. No music playing. - Just a small flag that says "Finish" and a timing strip on the ground. I cross the line, stopped my watch, and stumbled up to the rack of medals. No one was there to put it over my head like I just won gold in the Olympics. I took one off the rack and put it around my own neck. I looked around. There were only a few other race finishers standing around. Everyone looked a little lost. So I just started walking back to my car.
While inside I was busting with joy, I'm sure to anyone that saw me, they probably thought I was disappointed. It was weird. I worked so hard, made so many sacrifices to accomplish my goal and then there was no one there to celebrate it with. The good news is that 20 minutes later, I was in my living room surrounded by people that were proud of me and were more than happy to celebrate with me!
Putting races on the calendar and setting goals for them has always been a driving force behind training hard and keeping myself healthy through diet and lifestyle. With no races in 2020, it was hard to stay on track. Despite the persona I put out, I struggle to make good choices sometimes when it comes to food and doing things to improve my mental state. With several races on the calendar for 2021, I'm hoping that I can make this a year where I can get things back in alignment. A marathon PR is a good start!
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Wishing you optimal health and peak performance,