When I first started running marathons I spent most of my training time worrying about the physical aspects of the race. How would I run 26.2 miles when I never ran further than 20 in training? How could I run 50 miles in a week? Would I be able to keep it together for up to 4 hours of racing?
Fast forward 6 years and I am still figuring things out when it comes to the marathon. Oh what I would give to have my 39-year-old legs back knowing what I know now about training and racing.
That is the hard part about getting older. With age comes wisdom, but we are often too old at that point to do much with it. When I toe the starting line in Houston this January we will be 45 years, 5 months and 13 days old. A far cry from Philadelphia in November, 2006 when as a 39-year-old we went head to head with the marathon for the first time. The reality is for us to meet our goal in the marathon we are running against two clocks. The one on the course and the one manned by Father Time. I really don’t have too many more opportunities ahead of me to chase this one down.
After all this time and more than 12,000 miles run on roads and trails I have come to realize that I have acquired all of the physical ability and talent necessary to run a sub 3 hour marathon. I have put in the work establishing my aerobic base, now instead of starting at a 50-mile training week wondering how we will ever run that much over 7 days I plot out 75 mile weeks. Those 20 mile training runs are now nothing more than “running long” on Sundays. I now top out at 22-23 miles at the peak of my marathon preparation.
Racing for up to 4 hours? No problem, try a half-ironman on for size and racing for 5 hours, 6 minutes and 57 seconds.
There is of course work to do between now and January 13th. That is the whole point when training for and especially “peaking” for an “A” race. But when I look at our training plan below there is not a single workout or a single week that “scares” me. We have been there before and know exactly what it is going to take to make it through to the taper. This is perhaps the first time I have looked ahead to a marathon training schedule with nothing but respect for the amount of work we are going to have to put in, but not a bit of fear or reservation.
There is something different this time. I knew it as soon as I made it through the finisher’s chute in Kerrville.
The race is where I am going to be tested, not in my preparation.
The physical aspect of the race is going to be a challenge, this is something that after even one marathon you know quite well, let alone nine. You are aware just how much it is going to hurt. When it is going to start, how it will continue to get worse and worse as you push yourself on tired legs and depleted energy stores to hang on for just one more mile, one more hill, one more turn, one more straightaway until the pain gets to the point where even slowing down isn’t going to help.
Fast or slow, it hurts just the same at that point. Time to dig in and push to the finish.
Oddly, for the first time ever, I am looking forward to that moment in Houston.
In previous marathons I have wanted to push that moment off as far into the future and as long into the race as possible. This time, I am going to welcome it and as God is my witness, we are going to defeat it.
I was rolling that thought around in my mind running along the Town Lake Trail last Wednesday when I passed a woman running with her Terrier. Tiny, tiny dog who was running with a stick that was easily 4X the length of his body. He was running, running, running with his tiny legs churning as fast as they could go with his stick hanging at least 10 inches out of each side of his mouth. Not a care in the world, not wondering if he could make it all they way home, he just ran on fearlessly.
Ignorance is bliss I thought as I smiled and ran past him.
That’s when it occurred to me that we are finally in the perfect place when it comes to the marathon. From this point forward it is going to be about sharpening our mental game and our approach to “racing the race” more than any of the physical tests we need to put our body through to prepare.
When the lights come on down in Houston there will indeed be a lot of runners who make like a cockroach and hide from the moment, but we are not going to be one of them.
When the lights come on we are going to stride across the mat, hopefully shoot a knowing look at our marathoner friend Dave who has generously agreed to pace us and we are going to channel our inner-ant and simply go to work.
Who has the right to tell us that the stick we want to carry to the finish is too big for us? Screw ‘em I say. Let’s race.