Summary: I took my first shot ever at a sub four hour marathon and ended up with a PR of 4:08:55 at the Back on my Feet 42K Relay and Marathon on September 21. I learned a ton about what effort will be required if I am to ever get sub 4 and had an enjoyable race on a perfect autumn day.
NOTE: This is the first in the series of three blog posts on 8 amazing days of running. Here's the report of the second marathon and the half marathon.
As Dwight Eisenhower famously said during WWII, "Plans are nothing. Planning is everything." This became evident as I got into the meat of this year's marathoning schedule, which I outlined a few weeks ago.
My first marathon of the fall was to be on Saturday, September 28. But, about 10 days before that, we got the wonderful news that our youngest son, just back in the USA after a 9 month Army tour in Afghanistan, would be arriving at the Indy airport at 10:15am on Saturday, September 28!! First things first, we'll be in Indy to welcome him home, as I didn't want to be on a marathon course as he landed!
I was fine with that; in fact that's why I had three marathons scheduled, knowing something could come up. But then, a pleasant surprise. A friend casually mentioned to me a loop marathon in Indy on Sunday, September 21. I checked it out, and decided, on the Thursday before, to enter. When I started running marathons in 2006, I marveled when I heard of people deciding to run a marathon on just a few days notice. How can you do that?? Well, I guess you can and I did!
The weather looked favorable, so I decided to make this race my first shot at a sub four hour marathon. I already had the plan in place, had done the training and it was only a week sooner than the race I had intended to try to go sub 4. So, the plan fell in place quickly. Plans are nothing. Planning is everything.
The 9am start in downtown Indy made logistics easy for me. I "slept in" till 5:30am, enjoying a hot bowl of oatmeal at home while reading the sad news on the Sunday sports page of my Boilermaker football team being pummeled by Wisconsin the day before.
The 60 minute drive was easy, though parking was difficult. It turned out, in addition to our marathon, there was a large charity 5K plus a sprint triathlon going on in the same area at the same time, with all three courses bumping up against each other. Good thing the Colts were out of town. It was a beautiful day, sunny, no wind and temps in the 50s. One of the sponsors was the famous Mexican bread conglomerate with it's mascot, Osito Blanco. How often do you get to run with a white bear in a chef's hat? And they even gave me a single digit bib!!!!
The race was a 12 lap marathon (2.18 miles per lap) in a large park area in downtown Indianapolis. Most of the participants in the race were 2, 3 and 4 person relay teams but they also had a solo runner division. I stashed my water and bananas just past the start/finish line, we lined up and off we went, pretty much on time.
I executed the plan I described earlier; running the first 2 miles, then shifting to a 5/1 run/walk, seeking to run 8:30/mile pace when I did run. I planned to drink 10oz of water with Nuun every two laps and grab a banana to eat every other time past the start/finish line. The first 8 of the 12 laps went well and quickly. The weather was perfect, I felt good and it was a matter of knocking out the miles. At the halfway point, after 6 laps, I was at 1:57:14 and, since I went to Purdue, I know that is underneath a 4 hour full marathon pace.
On the 9th lap, about mile 18 or so, I started to feel the race...not unexpected to feel it at 18. I managed to keep my per mile pace at the required 9:04 level but it clearly took more work. I had to really concentrate to keep the legs turning over properly. At the end of lap 9, I was still on a 4 hour pace. Lap 10 was more of the same and I finished it 23 seconds under a sub 4 pace.
The 11th lap was tough, though. Around mile 22, it just got tougher and tougher to keep the legs turning over at the necessary rate, despite my best efforts. I had no pain but the energy was slipping away. I gave away nearly 3 minutes to the sub 4 pace on this penultimate lap.
As I headed out for the final lap, the legs just got heavier. I did the physical assessment and the mental math (see the Purdue reference above), and it was clear I was not going to make up those lost 3 minutes on the final trip around. It was also clear to me that if I merely kept moving reasonably, staying vertical, I would had a marathon PR in the bag. So, I conceded the obvious and decided to enjoy the last trip around. I wanted to express my appreciation to the several volunteers who had cheered me all day. I also wanted to be present to absorb the last 2+ miles.
I came around to the start/finish line, had nice encouragement from the many relay runners who were astounded someone would do this solo and hit the finish line just under 4:09. A PR in hand on a beautiful day in the autumn in the Midwest. It also turned out I was second in the solo division, so won a nice prize, a free night at the new high rise Marriott Hotel in downtown Indianapolis. Sweet.
The marathon is a wonderful yet exacting taskmaster...it teaches you much and gives no quarter. On reflection, I realized I hurt my chances for a sub 4 by going out too quickly. Even though this was my 41st marathon, I still get amped up on race day, especially when the weather is perfect and the atmosphere encouraging. Gotta remember that, dude.
I also wonder about my run/walk ratio and plan. Pushing to a 8:30 run pace may be a bit much. I am truly thinking about idling back to a pace of 9:00/mile even, walking briefly through water stops and trying to make a go of the sub four that way. The next serious shot will be on November 2, again in downtown Indy, at the Monumental Marathon. I will ponder this a good bit between now and then.
In the meantime, I have a 4:08 in hand. This means I ran a marathon faster at age 59 than I did at age 27, my prior PR of 4:16. That makes me smile and makes me grateful for the gift of health over many years.
Thanks for your support. Persevere.