Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. For the Houston marathon this January I took an honest look back at our race in New York City to come up with our battle plan for our next marathon.
I analyzed my New York race, looked at my splits, where I was at the half-marathon mark 1:29:45 and what I needed to do to close things out sub 3:00:00. I really like where I was through mile 18 of the race, at that point the climb up the Queensborough Bridge and the rolling hills on 5th avenue and into Central Park just proved to be too challenging for us to hold pace. As sub 3 hours slipped away at mile 22 we simply “relaxed” a bit and ran smooth to the finish.
The variables that I wanted to tilt in our favor for our next attempt at breaking 3 hours were:
1. Weather. I wanted a winter marathon at sea level. Lots of “air in the air” and the chance for low temps. and low humidity.
2. Early Start. As much as I love the fanfare and “big event” feel of Boston or the NYC Marathons it makes it tough on the athletes. Your schedule is disrupted, you race later in the morning, you need to eat more prior to the race, expend energy getting to the starting line etc., etc., etc. I wanted a 7:00 a.m. or 7:30 a.m. start, a short walk to the starting line from my hotel and no plane rides prior to the race.
3. Flat/Neutral Course. I was looking for a course that kept climbing, and especially late climbing, to a minimum. To this point I have trained for and ran hilly marathon after hilly marathon. I am considered a strong hill runner in Austin and it has proven to be benificial for me fighting it out for Age Group awards locally. However, in the Marathon we are not racing for Age Group Awards, at least not at large races. We are racing against the clock and running hilly, challenging courses like Pittsburgh, Austin, Boston, New York has not played to our advantage. For our next shot at 3 hours, I wanted to run a flat, fast course.
4. Pace Support. The last piece of the puzzle for me was relying on a runner I trusted to set the pace for me. I wanted to literally leave my watch on the desk at the hotel and run this next marathon completely by feel. No obsessing over splits, each mile, what does it mean if I’m :10 fast or :10 slow? It puts a lot of stress and pressure on each mile, instead of allowing me to just relax and run free and easy for the first 16-18 miles of the race, then dig in and run the final 8-10 miles truly as a “race”. Dig in, fight tooth and nail every mile to the finish. Look at the clock and whatever it says when we cross the line we know it was all we had to offer. 2:59:XX, better or worse, I am willing to own it.
My plan for this last piece was to run Houston alongside my friend Brendon Cahoon from Austin. Side by side, shoulder to shoulder, mile after mile 1 through 25. I was going to shut down all of the sensors around me and just tuck in next to Brendon and run my race. I would only glance at the course clocks at each mile marker in Houston and have a rough idea as to where we were with respect to our overall pace. When we started mile 26 it would be every man for himself to the finish.
Virtually assured of being out-kicked by Brendon to the finish, I would still be in line to run the mile of my life until the final 385 yards approached. Those last 2/10 of a mile run themselves in the marathon, no matter how much suffering you have done to that point. I was going to count on the rush of the crowd, the approaching finish line and finishing chute to spur me on to close things out sub 6:52 pace if not faster.
With all of these variables tilted in our favor – Houston seems to be the perfect spot for us to have our breakthrough marathon in our 9th attempt at the distance and run a new personal best.
Sadly, Brendon is not going to be able to race with me on 1-13-13. He is still struggling with Plantar Fasciitis and will not be able to resume training in time for race day.
We will be alone once again in Houston.
It is amazing that in a race with more than 14,000 competitors you can be lonely – but that is exactly how it will be for us in January.
Only 254 runners finished the 2012 Houston Marathon with a time of 2:59:59 or better.
140 of those runners finished sub 2:55:00 meaning that they would be almost 3/4 of a mile ahead of the runners finishing just under 3 hours.
That turns the marathon into a race of 100-125 people for us after mile 20 of the race. Smaller than a local 5K race. It is at that time when the distance starts to take its’ toll on your body and you are starting to have trouble staying mentally strong that having someone by your side can make all the difference in the world. It becomes a mental game as much as a physical one at that point, which is what makes the marathon such a special distance to race.
Perhaps we will find a runner on the course to run alongside and help push us through those closing miles. Perhaps not. But right now it looks as like we are going to be on our own down in Houston.
It’s not the way we drew up the plan early this summer, but it is what it is. As I ticked off our “first” run of the Houston training cycle on Monday I ran alone on the Town Lake Trail. passing runners, walkers, joggers and quite a few dogs out for their morning walk. We pushed pace on Monday and ran hard to the finish of our 8-miler.
6:59, 6:44, 6:47, 6:45, 6:39, 6:35, 6:38, 6:36.
Pretty solid start to the cycle. 80 runs remain and just over 834 miles to the finish line. We are going to run the vast majority of them by ourselves. At this point, I wouldn’t want it any other way.
On to Houston.