I promised myself that I wouldn’t run another road marathon unless I took it seriously and put in some proper road training. Last year’s Colorado Marathon blow-up was a lesson I was hell-bent on not re-learning.
Running the Houston Marathon was all Ryan’s idea. Seeing as how my parents live down that way and Ryan would surely need some extra help eating all the tacos, I figured I might as well join the fun. Fast forward to January 17th and I found myself all alone at the starting line – Ryan having decided to focus his energy on the taco marathon.
I caught a quick glimpse of Sage warming up in the pro-field as I scooted my way towards the front of the corral A. I knew that I was well enough trained to run a PR — by how much remained to be seen but I had been focusing on a 7-7:10 min/mile marathon pace and I was willing to take a gamble and aim for a sub-3:10 race. I’d be happy with anything sub-3:15 but a sub-3:10 would be really awesome. I like somewhat vague and wide targets and, to be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure what I would be capable of. If there’s anything that Ryan has taught me, it’s how to be more comfortable being more reckless. Reckless but not delusional. My training was certainly more explicit that the last time around (which isn’t saying much) but it wasn’t near enough to shoot for a lofty sub-3 hour attempt (despite all my friends heckling me to go for it). I probably did 6 or 7 focused workouts before and after the most ideal road marathon training run of all, the Boulder Badass (!). My first 2 by 3 mile workout in October averaged a 7:15 pace on rolling hills and felt suicidal. I recovered for a couple of weeks after the BBA100 in November and then started ramping the road miles back up in December. My final 3 by 3 mile workout in early January at a 6:45 average felt tough but controlled. Just as I finally felt like I was dialing in some speed and making progress it was time to taper for the race. I’m always one to prefer showing up under-trained and over-rested than the opposite. I like to walk up to the starting line feeling anxious that I haven’t run enough rather than dreading the effort on my toasted legs. I’m sure there’s a happy medium in there somewhere but in the 10 years that I’ve been running road marathons I haven’t found it yet.
This is where the gaps in my training came out to haunt me. I knew I hadn’t put in the work to carry this pace beyond 20 miles. Sure, I’ve run a bazillion marathon-distance runs in my day but, with the exception of the NYC Marathon with Amelia in November, I hadn’t done a flat road run longer than 15 in a very long time. No amount of mountain running can prepare you for the final 10K of flat pavement. My watch clocked the total elevation gain of the Houston marathon at 226 feet! My 5 mile “flat” neighborhood run easily has as much! By mile 20, my legs simply did not have the resilience to hold the pace for any longer. Classic marathon blow-up.
The intensity and effort I poured into these final miles just vanished. I grunted. I cursed. I dug deeper. My heart felt strong but my legs faded. What had begun as a comfortable pace was now excruciating and impossible. Where I had once not even paid attention to the mile markers, I was now desperately scanning the road ahead of me for a banner ahead. Mile 24 has never felt so long! I lost 7 minutes in the last 6 miles. Ouch.
I just barely managed to hold it together long enough to squeeze in a 3:10:42. I was wrecked! My legs felt like jelly. Immediately, the post-marathon penguin waddle took over as I navigated my way through the finish area to bag check, tshirt pick up and finally, to the meet up area where my parents and Ryan were patiently waiting for me.
I had done it — reckless but not delusional had paid off! The final miles weren’t pretty but I had pulled off a massive PR and snagged a 3:10. And in a classic case of runner amnesia, I can’t wait to run another one! I now know that a 3 hour marathon is possible. It will take more work but I know what I need to do to get there. But before I give it another go, it’s time to shift my focus back to the mountains and trails. 7 months ’til UTMB!
I can’t thank CarboPro, Simple Hydration & Feetures! Socks enough for being a fool-proof part of my training and race. I know my nutrition was easy and spot on and I never once had to worry about the condition of my feet.
A special thank you to my parents for dashing all over town to cheer for me in 4 different spots along the way. Thanks to Ryan for jumping in and harassing me along the way. And thanks to all of Houston for putting on a really fantastic event.
Most of all, I’m thankful that I finished the damn thing fast enough to make sure we made our Sunday brunch reservation at Hugo’s — the most delicious Mexican restaurant outside of Mexico!