Monday, March 22, 2010

Sunday, March 21: It's Not How You Start-It's How You Finish

Sunday, March 21, was a tough day for me, to say the least. I thought I was ready to tackle this race especially after having such a frustrating run at Marine Corps in the fall..

Boy, was I WRONG.

The gun went off, and I stormed to the front with 3-4 other guys and felt terrific. Honestly, I really believed I was ready to win this damn race. I went through the first mile in 5:41. But at mile 8, I began to slip. I fell back to 6th place. Still, though, I felt OK. I felt relatively comfortable through the half(1:17:20)...not what I wanted to go through at(I was aiming for 1:14-1:15ish)...but still, I said to myself,'re not as fit as you thought you were...that's OK...shoot for 2:34-2:35 now, and run a solid second half.

At mile 16, I began to fall apart. I no longer had the same turnover, and was slowing up to a moderate pace. A few runners passed me. I was now 8th at this point. Still, I kept movin. I went through 20 miles in 2:03:00, obviously slowing considerably. I was jogging at this point. More runners passed. I was done. I did not have the strength to race the marathon today. I realized it with hurt. At Mile 21, I started to walk..

I walked and thought. I thought about a lot of things, my life, my goals, my future...what path I am on. I thought about why am I still doing this? Why am I walking? Why not drop out? Am I really cut out for this distance? Maybe I'm not as strong as I think I am...What's the point?

But then, another thought occured to was that I love running. And, if I love running, I am going to still finish this race/run and treat it as any other day. Nothing more..

I ended up walking for 4 miles(mile 21-25). People were still kindly cheering for me, saying I was doing great, to keep going. I smiled at them, but behind the smile, deep thoughts were churning. I was really dissapointed. Why, why, why, did I ask myself, do I enter in these marathons and not do well? Why can't I know when I am not ready? Because I am clearly not prepared for this today!!

I ran the last 1.2 miles, actually passing a lot of people who passed me early on, and finished in 3:27:30.

I gave this a lot of thought afterwards, and still am. But all in all, I have come up with the conclusion that I need prioritize the marathon better. Because, the truth is, it's not like I'm injured, or ill, or anything like that. I am 100% healthy, and I have taught myself how to stay injury free by listening to my body after years of frustrating injuries earlier in my career. For the past 3 years I have been injury-free and training well-running PRs of 10K-13.1. But there is another piece to this that I am learning now. It is to prioritize. If I really want to run a great marathon, and by that I mean a 2:25 or better... I am going to have to prioritize it as the number one race and not throw any races in front of it. I have been making this mistake. The Colonial Half Marathon took too much out of me to race the 26.2 well. 26.2 is an entirely different distance than 13.1-an entirely different race. Now, don't get me wrong, I do not regret running the Colonial Half...I think I was meant to run that race and it was a terrific race/confidence lifter for me. I PRed, and have no regrets. At the same time, I needed to choose between the 2...or just run Colonial as a training run...which I clearly didn't..I PRed on a hilly course. I think I chose Colonial over Shamrock...but I still wanted to do Shamrock. I did not understand at the time that I wouldn't be able to do both..

Maybe I should have chosen Shamrock over Colonial? But if so, and if I ran a fast marathon...I have a feeling I wouldn't have wanted to race for another 2 months. A 2:30 marathon takes so much more out of you than a 1:12 half marathon...even though the performances are roughly equivalent.

So again, prioritizing comes here. I think, even though I believe I have a great marathon in my legs, that this Spring the main focus for me is 10M/13.1M racing. I think I am actually in really really good 10M/13.1M shape right now.

I took Monday off, and will run tomorrow. I actually don't feel that bad. So, I'll take it slow this week, but also regroup and get ready for a few more races I have set in April.

So, back to prioritizing. I have changed my schedule of races a bit. I scratched San Diego. I am still doing Cherry Blossom and Dismal Swamp Half as I think I have a very fast 10M/13.1M in my legs still. I will also do Pike's Peak as my last race in April. I will then take all of May off and do a small handful of short races(5K, 8K) over the summer(June-July). But after that, I will prioritize Chicago. I will not race at all in August or September, and will not do any races leading up to Chicago. Chicago will be the main focus and I will put all of my energy/strength into that race. I will raise the mileage to where it needs to be as well.

Chicago is the race where I have a chance to run the race of my life.

It's not how you start, it's how you finish.


  1. Man, I've been there. I took a week off after a soul-crushing bonk between miles 18-20 in a marathon last Fall. I'm through with marathons for a while, but when I try another, all of my focus will be on long runs AT PACE.

    I think you can get away with gaps and mistakes for halfs, 10 milers, 10ks, but to race a fast marathon to your full potential, your training and race tactics have to be perfect. 20+ milers at or very near pace, long tempo runs, lots of mileage, and LOTS of patience and faith during the race.

    I've been following along for a few months (found a link on a running site somewhere). I hope you do really well at Chicago. Maybe it will give me the faith to try again.

  2. Keep the faith man. I recommend you read two books before Chicago, Tony Benson's "Run With The Best" and Pete Pfitzinger's "Advanced Marathoning." They really break down the components of marathon preparation. I think faith and understanding in your training program can work wonders. Still - as you know - the marathon is an unpredictable beast and just being a little "off" can ruin an otherwise promising season.

    I would really look at Benson's discussion of equivalent performances for runners who trained at different mileage volumes. Without being too blunt, hopefully, Benson's research suggests that a runner with your 10k pr needs to achieve training volumes of 90-120 miles a week to run a sub 2:30 marathon. Obviously there are always exceptions to the rule. That being said, I encourage you read these books and also talk to Dickson, he has invaluable insight into marathon preparation.

    I think your analysis is dead on however, you nailed that half marathon, probably at the expense of your marathon. You should be proud of that race and be excited for next season, I have no doubt that you will push your PR's way lower.

  3. Sloane,
    I'm sorry you had a tough race. Actually, marathon training hardly needs to be perfect, and running a half leading up to a marathon is generally wise. There are two things to consider, though: Marathoners of our talent level are not going to run sub 2:30 without running really solid volume. The most important thing is running economy; high mileage is what you helps you get it. The second thing is that you have to allow yourself to fully recover from a marathon. Even if you feel OK in the days or weeks after, marathoners trying to run fast twice a year need to take the month after the race very easy to ensure full recovery. Ryan Hall has spoken a lot about this: If you cut your recovery short you will plateau early in your next cycle rather than reach your full peak. You need to start from scratch, and you won't be able to do that unless you go through a full recovery phase prior to your next training cycle. Let me know if you want to chat about this. You can run sub 2:30 or at least run a huge PR at Chicago, but you need to go about this the right way. I'm at 301-974-5122. I'd also be happy to share with you my log from 2006 Chicago, when I snuck under 2:30.

  4. This is a fantastic little essay about bouncing back, just posted by Dathan Ritzenhein: the next opportunity.