The marathon is a cruel, cruel race.

At its core, racing 26.2 miles is in and of itself “unnatural”.

Our bodies carry enough energy or “fuel” if you will to expend about 2,000 calories.

Caloric burn is simply a function of weight over distance.  It really doesn’t matter if you are walking that distance, jogging that distance or running that distance.  Once the body has depleted its glycogen stores, it is forced to burn whatever fuel is left.

That fuel is your fat stores.  A much, much, much more inefficient fuel than that of glycogen.

The goal of the endurance athlete training for a marathon is to improve the body’s efficiency at burning fuel, and push “the wall” as far off into the future as possible.

It is there for every marathoner, lurking at the 20 or 21 mile mark.  The point where those 2,000 calories have been exhausted as well as any calories that the runner has ingested during the race.  It is gut check time at that point.  The time where all of that marathon training comes to the fore.

It is that final 10 kilometers or 6.2 miles that separate the men from the boys, the women from the girls and the goal achievers from the dreamers.

18 weeks of workouts, specifically designed to allow the marathoner to peak for race day.  Some workouts are easy, some are difficult, some are tedious, some are exhilarating.  But every once in a while, those workouts are quite simply in a word, humbling.

I knew going into my marathon training cycle that Thursday morning’s hill repeat session was going to be the most difficult workout of the 97 runs and races I had on the calendar leading up to Austin.

Just 4 days after Sunday’s Decker Half Marathon, Thursday’s Hill repeats would follow Tuesday’s 10 Kilometer Tempo run at 6:55 pace/mile and Wednesday’s 10-mile run.

My legs were tired.

I was tired.

But it is these workouts, the ones when you don’t feel perfect, that show up on race day.  I have learned to enjoy the three-week taper period before the marathon as I feel as if it is a gift that I have earned.  I have worked so hard over the previous 15 weeks, that a reduction in mileage and intensity is just what my body needs to repair itself and be ready for race day.

My friend Bob from Riverhead, NY reminded me of a quote from Dean Karnazes first cross-country coach who said:

“On the days you don’t feel like giving 100%, those are the days you need to give 120%!”.

In that spirit I laced up my Brooks Ghost 3’s and headed on my 3.5-mile warm-up that would drop me at the bottom of the hill where I run my hill repeats on Thursdays.

As I made the loop and turned toward the 3/10 of a mile hill leading up to the top of Water’s Edge, I gave a quick nod to the early morning Texas sky filled with stars and thought about our boy Dom.  What he wouldn’t give to have the chance to battle it out with 10 hill repeats this morning.

As I took off at 5K race effort I didn’t even make it to the half-way point before my legs let me know that they were protesting.  Usually this does not occur until the middle of my third repeat.

As I hit the watch under the street lamp I had clocked a 1:41.  Solid.  Right on my previous pace from weeks past, but I knew I didn’t have more than 1 or 2 at that pace left in me.  Not like the 7 or 8 I can normally knock out.

After a slow recovery jog back down to the bottom of the hill, I turned, hit my watch and headed up again.

1:39

My first ever repeat on the hill under 1:40.  I took a minute to smile to myself, fully knowing that would be the highlight of my workout.  The next 5 repeats came in at:

1:43
1:43
1:41
1:43
1:45

Just three repeats to go, but each one was going to be more and more difficult.

My quads were burning, my calves were feeling tight.  From a cardiovascular standpoint we were in great shape.  Breathing was normal, endurance was fine.  If someone could just give me my legs back I thought, we would have no problem knocking out this last set.

1:48
1:48
1:47

As I climbed to the top of the neighborhood and began my 1 mile cool-down back to the house my legs felt absolutely fried.  I struggled to get them turning and locked in on a pace around 7:20 min./mile.

Humbled on Thursday

Close to :40 seconds a mile slower than my closing mile at the Decker Challenge Half-Marathon only 4 days before.

I felt as if I was running the final mile of a 5K race.  Legs heavy, hips sore, calves tight – I pushed my way back onto the turn at the bottom of Palmbrook Drive and pulled up at our driveway.

10.2 total miles, 1 hour, 18 minutes, 12 seconds.

The toughest 10.2 miles I will have to run during this training cycle.

I took a moment to stretch against the garage and then bounded inside for a Gatorade and a shower, ready to start the day with Baby Landry.

Way to go Dad!

9 miles on Saturday, 19 miles on Sunday and we will have put a 54.4 mile week in the book.  Our most mileage ever in a single week.

Today served as a great reminder that training for a marathon is hard work.  From the outside it can look like a runner is simply cruising through their training.

IBM Uptown Classic 10K – PR 38:06

Run for the Water 10-Miler – PR 1:03:47

Decker Half Marathon – PR 1:26:45

But those performances don’t just “happen” by accident.

They are forged during the workouts like this mornings, when you keep pushing knowing full well that others would give in.  They would be tempted to only do 8 repeats, or only 6.  Some would not run them at all.  Tell themselves they will do them tomorrow or on Saturday, knowing full well the workout would be skipped.

That’s o.k., because on February 20th, I’ll beat every one of them.

Thanks for the push this morning Dom.  We’re looking good right now my brother.  I wouldn’t bet against us at Austin.

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Comments
  1. Jodi Higgins says:

    Joe you have a simply amazing way with words. I love how you put your raw emotions on the line for all of us to read. I have had many a workout where I felt the way you described today. Way to get it done and learn from the experience so to speak. And by the way, there is a shout out to you on my Thumbs Up Thursday spotlight…you might just want to head on over and see who gave it to you! And as always, Landry is adorable with a capital A!

    • joerunfordom says:

      Hi Jodi! Thanks so much for the visit and for the kind words. As race day gets closer and closer, these workouts seem to get more and more personal – I’ve got some big goals for Austin, it feels good to know I’m working as hard as I can right now to get there.

      Wonderful piece over on your blog! That Brian is a great young man with a lot of talent, the sky is the limit for him if he sticks with the sport – his first real year of training has paid off huge. I think there is a Boston Qualifier in Brian at the Marathon distance if he works for it.

      Best to you Jodi! J

  2. onelittlejill says:

    Every day must be the best day ever when you get to wake up to that face every day 🙂

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