The alarm clock sounded at 4:15 a.m., waking me for the last “long run” of this marathon training cycle.

Only two weeks remain before I stand amid thousands of runners on Congress Avenue somewhere between 15th and 16th street, waiting for the starter’s gun to fire at 7:00 a.m. on February 20th. 

26.2 miles later, I will take a final stride across a rubberized mat  laying across Congress Avenue at 10th Street and for the fifth time in my life I will be a marathoner.  The question is whether or not I will be the best marathoner I have ever been.

I will be racing the 39-year-old version of myself.  The one who ran Philadelphia on an injured IT Band in only the second road race of my life.

I will be racing the 41-year-old version.  The one who ran a personal best 3:17:43 at Pittsburgh in 2009.  The best I have ever been.

I will be racing the 42-year-old Joe.  The one who ran the Boston Marathon and Pittsburgh Marathons last spring just 13 days apart running for Dom.

Sure there will be other runners on Congress Avenue with me in two weeks, but to me they are of little consequence.  There is only one runner I will be racing, and that runner is me.

Before leaving the house on Sunday morning in the wee hours, headlamp shining out in front of me, I had already run 779 and 4/10 miles over the last 18 weeks preparing for the 26.2 mile battle that will be fought on the Austin streets 14 days from now.  Some of those miles were fast, some were slow, some were easy and some were difficult.  But the one commonality between each and every mile I covered whether they were during a race, a training run, a hill repeat or just an “easy day” is that they are all mine.

They are a part of me now. 

I will be able to lean on each and every one of them to prop me up as I chase my dream of a 3 hour marathon.

Snow in Austin this week

I decided to leave my watch right on the kitchen counter in its cradle Sunday morning.  How fast I covered this last long run of my training cycle was irrelevant.  To some extent, how far I traveled was irrelevant as “the hay is in the barn” as marathoners like to say.  Whether I ran 10, 12 or 14 miles on Sunday would have very little if any impact on race day.

The only thing that could have an impact would be going too far or too hard, creating an unnecessary strain or injury with too little time left to recover.

So, I instead decided to play this one straight.  No watch, no music, just me alone with my thoughts, aspirations and dreams for Austin.

A calculated risk for sure with so many things about this particular race still bouncing around in my head.  With no distractions, I could have easily slipped into self-doubting reverie.  Allowing the demons I am trying to overcome take center stage. 

I’ve come to realize that this quest to run Austin in under 3 hours is going to be as much about what I have between my ears as it will be about the power and strength in my legs.

Austin is a hilly course, of that there is no debate.  The middle miles between 9 and 2o carry runners up the equivalent of a 35 story skyscraper, before the final 10 Kilometers allow the runners to plunge back down close to 20 stories in just over 6 miles.  I thought long and hard about what it is going to take to run 26.2 miles at an average pace of just under 6:52 minute/mile pace.

I’ve come to the conclusion that I will need to break the course into several sections and be sure to simply stay in the moment.  Not look too far ahead or count remaining miles.   Focus on running the mile at hand, and not look back or forward more than a few strides.

I will need to manage the slight downhill opening  miles to the base of the hill on South Congress wisely.  I cannot start out too fast only to pay the price later when I need that strength to climb to the top of the course two hours later.

I will need to stay smooth and steady on the 3 mile/300 foot climb straight up South Congress before turning onto Ben White Boulevard and then barreling down the same 300 feet along 1st Avenue reaching mile 9 at what I hope will be approximately 62 minutes.

I will need to trust my training and all of those hill repeats to lock in near 7:00 min./mile pace or just under for 10 miles of steady climbing.  Not worrying if runners are passing me or if I am giving away some time to the clock.  I will need to stay mentally strong here and not get over-anxious.  It is simply too early to deplete our reserves.  Patience is what I need as these next 10 miles take 69 minutes to cover.

One more mile will need to be managed wisely as my legs continue to grow heavy.  My stride will start to waver and play tricks on me, making me feel like I am slowing down, even though I am holding pace.  It is simply starting to hurt a bit.  Nothing more, nothing less.  If we reach mile 20 and glance down at our watch all we can hope for is that we are close to 2:17:30.

If I am able to get there, I will have given myself the only thing that I am asking for on race day.

A chance.

6.2 miles will remain with 42 minutes and 29 seconds to get there.

Can I run a final 10 Kilometers at 6:50 pace after covering 20 miles to that point?  Will my legs, lungs, heart and mind be able to share the remaining load of the race evenly – each one picking up the slack when another begins to give in.

My friend Steve told me that if I can get to that point all I need to do is “prepare for the most difficult 10K of my life”.

I thought about those words a lot on my run on Sunday morning, and I kept coming back to the same thing.

Run the first 20 miles with your head.

Run the last 10 Kilometers with your heart.

I ran somewhere around 14 miles on Sunday, I’m not really sure to be honest with you how far I went.

I ran it in somewhere around an hour and 45 minutes.  The exact time I will never know.

There is one thing I do know however with great certainty.

All I am really asking for in two weeks is a chance.  If we get to that point in the race we still may very well come up short.  There is no shame in that as long as I do my best. 

But I most certainly wouldn’t bet against me. 

If you are lining Congress Avenue around 10:oo a.m. in two weeks and I am on pace with just a mile to go, keep a close eye out.  You are going to see a runner giving everything that they have to give come thundering down the final stretch testing the limits of their abilities and quite frankly far past whatever “talent” they may or may not have.

Just a chance, that’s all I’m asking for. 

Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.

  1. Matt says:

    Joe, I have never met you in person, but have gotten to know you through your blog and DM. I believe that you will have the heart to run the hardest 10k of your life. I believe that you will break 3:00. You have the heart, you have the desire and you have worked too hard to not get there!

  2. Jodi Higgins says:

    As usual you have such a way with words! Fantastic post! I will be lining Congress Ave cheering my heart out for you when I see you coming towards that finish line to achieve your sub 3:00:00 marathon. You have trained long and hard and you are one heck of an athlete Joe! You will just be confirming it when the first number on the race clock is a 2 when you cross over the mat!! Can’t wait to meet you in two weeks! As I have told you a million times, you are the greatest friend I have never met!!

  3. Drew says:

    You may be racing against previous versions of yourself, but I, for one, am looking forward to seeing how you manage against the clock. Following you here and on DM all these months has been a lot of fun and I can’t wait to see Joe v5!

  4. David H. says:

    I hope your taper goes well. Looking forward to seeing what transpires race day.

  5. Ernesto says:

    I can’t wait to hear how you do in Austin, Joe! You’ve put in the work, and the hay’s in the barn! Believe, man!

  6. It’s just you racing your thoughts out there Joe. You got this, just go into the race with the confidence that you trained every mile with the best intent. No doubts, just glory. It’s all mental from here on out and you proved that with this naked run.

    Although a naked run in the snow….BRRR! (Sorry, couldn’t help myself!)

  7. James Coyle says:

    Followed your latest training cycle with interest Joe. Good luck buddy – have every confidence you will reach your goal. Good luck man

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