On the way back from Erie, I told Dave Emilio that I’d write a race report. I had a great race, and I knew I’d be asked about it, so I figured I’d write it all down. But then I started thinking: other than me, and the 4 people who I’ll inevitable tell all the gory details to anyway, does anybody really want to read all that minutae? Does anyone actually care about how much I liked the people at the 8th water station, or where we had dinner the night before?
Since the purpose of this site – and the club, really – is information-sharing so we can all enjoy the sport, I figured, instead, what I’ll do is jot down some things that maybe others can use in their training, and their races, to improve. It’s still a race report, but hopefully it’s also helpful.
1: the challenge
I had a rocky start to the year, with my dad’s illness and eventual passing. We all have complications in life, and we struggle to work around them. Boston happened 2 weeks after he passed away, and Ottawa 6 weeks after that. I understood at the time that I was at a huge emotional disadvantage. I also knew I had trained very hard through the winter, and I was determined not to let it go to waste. So rather than dwell on two races that went OK but not great, I challenged myself to finish off the training, like this guy:
2: the weight
I ran two decent marathons in the spring: Boston and Ottawa. Both were BQs, by a minute or so. Neither were my best-possible performance. Ottawa was my 20th marathon, and in each one, I’ve always regretted something I left out of training (strength, diet, cross-training, etc). And the one albatross, I always knew, was weight: I’ve been running at least 15 lbs above my ideal weight in each race. I‘ve always known that I was spending extra minutes on the course because of the pounds. Last year I joked that my goal was to get back to Boston and not look like a charity runner this time.
So this summer, I stopped eating crap. Ice cream and licorice and chip consumption went way down. I only had breakfast once a day. I focused on protein. I cut out late-night snacks. And I lost about 20 pounds between Boston and Erie.
3: Repetition and solitude
Like I said, I’ve run 21 marathons now. I know what’s coming. And it was my third time running Erie. It’s a 2-loop course around a park, with water on both sides, and some trees. It looks like…the Spit. So, I ran on the Spit. A lot. I did tempos there on Friday mornings. Long runs on Sundays. Easy runs halfway up and back. I got my brain ready for the monotony. On race day, nothing could throw me off. I’d practiced for this. Even when I had to go to the bathroom (AGAIN) at about 19k. This happened last year and it screwed up my whole race. This time, I settled my mind, raced on from one locked portapotty to an open one 1k down the road, and remembered how much better we always feel after a pit stop on a long run.
When I started running again, I was only 1 second off my goal pace. This is important, because in 2016, when I first tried to qualify for Boston, I got through 22k at 4:44 pace instead of the 4:43 I was after, and it mentally destroyed me. How could I speed up on the back half? This time, I knew that I’d actually been running faster before the stop, and could find that pace again. Rather than bury me, that thought lifted me up.
One thing that’s slipped since the kids started getting bigger is reading. I used to read a lot. This summer, I picked up “Endure,” and devoured it. I learned about the physiological, emotional, and purely mental aspects of exercise and competition. I put those lessons into practice when I trained. When my legs got fatigued late in a long run, I remembered that an Advil could offset the pain for a while. When I was sweating out another 30c long run, I thought about how sweat works and why I shouldn’t be worried about heat stroke. I find in marathons that a lot of failure is driven by self-doubt, which is in turn driven by the unknown: if you haven’t trained enough, you don’t know how you’ll respond, and if something goes differently that you’re not prepared for, you expect the worst. So I tried to learn everything that was going on, and practiced for as many eventualities as I could.
I also read “Let your Mind Run” by Deena Kastor. Everyone who knows me knows I’m the positive, cheerful, optimistic type, right?
Kastor’s book taught me how changing my perspective and trying to be positive could radically change the entire marathon experience. Before, fitter athletes struggling at 35k would be a signal to me that things were going to get bleak; this time, I realized they meant I was better-prepared and having a better day.
5: the training
You can’t cheat the training. You can finish the race, sure. But if you haven’t trained, the race will bite you back. But man, let me tell you: there is nothing like the feeling of knowing, as the race goes along, that you’re ready for all of it. I started the race 2 minutes late because I stopped just before the start mat to re-tie my shoes, compose myself, and get focused. And all the pacers had signs that listed pace per mile, like “8:38;” I had no idea what they meant. So I spent over 2 hours running past people. After the pit stop, I had to run past a bunch of them again.
But it didn’t throw me off; I wasn’t running against them. I was just executing the race I’d trained for. So when I caught up to the 3:15 bunny at 30k, it didn’t scare me. When I found myself inching away from him at 32K, I didn’t worry. I embraced the feeling of being strong while others faltered. My goal pace for the race was 4:38/KM; for my last 12k, I averaged 4:24. I’d run that pace during tempos at the end of a long week; I’d run it at the end of a long run; I’d run it during half-marathon in February. It didn’t scare me, because I’d trained for it.
When people asked about the weather in Boston, I said it was like this scene from The Truman Show.
But Erie made me think of a different scene from the movie. Right around 33k, when we’re all worried about the wall, I thought instead of the last scene.
“You’re afraid. That’s why you can’t leave. You can’t leave. You belong here…with me. Talk to me. Say something. Well, say something, goddamnit!”
Instead of giving in, I thought of this:
I left it all behind: the wall, the 3:15 bunny, the fatigue. I ran the last 3k under 4:20/K. I felt like I could keep running all day.
Final result: 3:10:43. A 3 ½ minute negative split (2 ½ if you subtract the potty breaks). I put about 3 minutes on the 3:15 bunny in the last 10k.
Maybe that’s as good as it gets. Maybe Erie 2018 will be the best race of my life. If it is, I’m happy, and I hope everyone gets a chance to have a goal, a cycle, and a race like this.