Archive for February 13, 2011

As I pulled up at the driveway on Sunday morning and my GPS watch flashed to 8.00 Miles it was over.

My Austin Marathon Training Cycle was complete. 

93 Runs covering 823.45 miles, all building toward one day that will be over in the blink of an eye.

26.2 miles, 3~ hours will pass and sometime around 10:00 a.m. next Sunday I will be hurling myself along the closing mile of the Austin Marathon. 

Much, much worse for wear than I was at 7:00 a.m. earlier that day as the marathon exacts its physical toll on every runner – but there will be a small part of me, hidden under all of the soreness and pain that feels invincible.

Incredibly strong, able to do just about anything if I were to put my mind to it and want it bad enough.

That is the magic of the marathon. 

Like most marathoners I get asked with great frequency the simplest of all questions, “Why?”

“Why do you do it?”

“Why do you push yourself so hard?”

“Why put yourself through that?”

The answer while complex on some levels, does have a very straightforward answer if I really search for it.

The marathon is a test.

It is the one thing in my life where I can put in hour upon hour of preparation, push myself to do absolutely everything in my power to perform well and still have no idea just what will transpire over those 26.2 miles.

To race well next weekend it will take more than just “throwing my shoes out there” and running the marathon.

I will need to be able to control all of the energy and expectation that has been building for 20 weeks and force myself to not come charging across the timing mat at 16th and Congress and go barreling onto the course like a maniac.

I will need to manage those opening two downhill miles, holding back fresh legs that want to push hard early.  Saving that power and strength for the latter stages of the race when my reserves are spent and the physical challenge of the marathon becomes mental.

I will need to stare up at the 147 foot climb at the start of mile 3 and simply relax.  I will need to stay calm, tall and smooth letting my 12 weeks of grueling hill repeats take me to the top of the course at mile 5.

As we make the turn back down towards the city at Ben White and S. 1st Street three lightening fast downhill miles will lay ahead of the runners.

I will need to be smart here and not try to gain back the minutes I lost climbing to the top of South Congress.  There are 21 miles left of racing at this point.  Just taking back :10 seconds/mile will place 3 ½ minutes back into my bank account.  There will be plenty of time to push later.  Be patient.

As we make the turn onto Cesar Chavez, I will be able to cruise a bit and enjoy the last flat section of the course.  As soon as we cross underneath the MOPAC expressway we will start to climb again.  

For 10 miles.

This will be where a 3-hour marathon becomes a reality on Sunday or a dream for another day.  Can I cover these 10 miles in 71 minutes?  If I can without blowing up, we have a great shot at coming through the chute with 2:5X:XX still on the clock.

I will try to focus only on the mile that I am running.  Not looking ahead or behind.  That is the trick during the marathon.  The thought of running 16 more miles or the fact that you have already run 10 is pure folly.

The fact is you are only running the mile you are on.  Run that one.  Then the next one.  Then the one after that and so on.  There is no how far I’ve traveled or how far I have to go.  Those thoughts can be the undoing of the marathoner.

Just stay in the mile.

At mile 20 it will be time for my 4th dose of Clif Bloks.  Followed by water and Gatorade from the aid station I will have only 10 Kilometers left to go.

Decision time.  For the first time in over an hour I will look at my watch and determine where we are.

2:17:30 is the magic number.

If we are still running strong at mile 20 and have 42:39 left to make our goal time of 2:59:59 it will be time to go to work.  If the clock is showing more than 2:18:00 we really don’t have much of a chance. 

2:19:00 and it’s over.

This is the point where it will be important to stay mentally strong.  The final 6.2 miles of a marathon are where the real race begins.

If you are already “defeated” at this point, those can be some of the most painful and loneliest miles you could ever run.  This is where we were at mile 20 last year at Boston.  Dreams of a sub 3:20:00 requalifying time had slipped away.  All that was left was to push to the end and do the best that we could.

The clock said 3:22:42 on Boylston Street last April.  Those final 10 Kilometers were brutal.  I knew that Boston had beaten me and still had 6.2 miles to run.

The year before my legs felt like they were floating as we gobbled up the final 10 Kilometers in the rain at Pittsburgh.  3:17:43 said the clock as we crossed the timing mat.  The best we have ever been.

What will the clock say next Sunday?  It is virtually impossible to predict.

I know that by going after such a huge goal this time I am taking a chance.

The smart move would be to lock onto a goal around 3:15:00 and not take any big risks.  Take a couple of minutes off of our PR and head back to Boston in 2012.

By chasing 3:00:00 we may very well blow-up on the course and run a time much slower than had we taken a more conservative approach.

I know this.

But there is a part of me that has to find out what I have inside of me.

I did not train so hard over so many weeks and months to play it safe.

I just have to know.  I have to know how good I am.  When I look in the mirror is there a sub 3:00 hour marathoner looking back at me? 

I may never see that runner stare back at me in my lifetime.  I know this.  But I also know that without trying, I’ll never find out.

This weekend’s training runs, the last “real” runs of this cycle told me a few things, but they are far from “predictors” for next weekend.

Saturday’s run was a “Goal Pace” run, where I set out to run 4 miles at Marathon Goal Pace – 6:52 min./mile.

Fail.

I came out too fast on legs that are starting to feel incredibly strong and fresh due to the decreased mileage over the taper period.  I could not “find it” and the more I tried to lock in to 6:52 pace, the faster I seemed to go.

Splits were:  6:46, 6:48, 6:42, 6:41.

Total time 26:59 – 6:45 pace.

A great lesson for me as now I know that the opening miles will be a challenge next weekend.  As much as I want to lock in around 6:55 and cruise I will be fighting a lot of obstacles not to go out too quickly.  My mind and body will be conspiring against me as well as the downhill start to the race.

I ran a 6:48 mile on Saturday going straight uphill to the top of the dam at Brushy Creek.  What will that mile be like running downhill with thousands of runners around me, screams of encouragement and cowbells clanging on race day?

Sunday was my final legitimate run of this training cycle.  8-miles at a relaxed pace, something around 7:15 would be just about right.

I started controlled and was able to build to a nice even cadence until the middle portion of the run.  When once again, my legs started to churn much too quickly.  I was able this time to get it back under control and close out coming in much closer to my goal.

7:27, 7:24, 7:12, 6:59, 7:09, 7:12, 7:07, 7:08.

Total time 57:42 – 7:13 pace.

Better, but still not perfect.

Training miles this week will be cut back even more dramatically, just an easy 3 miles on Tuesday, 4 miles on Wednesday and a 2-mile shake-out on Saturday morning.

That’s all she wrote.

Predictions for Sunday?

There are few guarantees at this race distance.  The forecast right now is calling for highs around 70 and a 60% chance of rain.   Whether rain is falling or not, there will certainly be a lot of humidity in the air.

Not great conditions for a fast time at an endurance race.

The one thing I do know with absolute certainty is that there is not a thing I can do about any of that, and not a thing I could have done during this training cycle to be any more prepared for this race than I am.

We are healthy.  We did the work.   Now it’s time to race. 

All that is left is to listen to Dom, go out there and “absolutely kill it”.