Over the course of an 18 or 20 week marathon training cycle, the training and preparation for race day can be very much like the miles of the marathon itself.
A series of runs and workouts that when added together, represent more than simply the sum of their parts. Running 1 mile is not a terribly remarkable thing. Racing one, only slightly more so. But stringing 26.2 of them together and they of course represent something much, much more significant.
A Marathon training cycle is in many ways very similar. It is a period of time where no single run is all that remarkable. There are runs where you feel invincible, others where your weaknesses are exposed and some where you feel like you are hanging on by the slightest of threads.
You simply move on to the next one, always looking forward, never looking back and keep our eye on the prize. Meet the challenge immediately in front of you and eventually you will reach the end-game. Whether that be the starting line in the case of your training cycle or the finish line in the case of the race itself.
But every once in a while during the course of your training you stumble upon a run where despite the odds being stacked against you – you are able to push through the pain and fatigue to take things to another level.
It is on those days that the runner becomes a marathoner.
Not by crossing a finish line painted somewhere along a city street, but by taking the lonely strides, covering the difficult miles when nobody is watching. Tapping into a resolve that will be much-needed on race day, but grossly overlooked on an early Thursday morning 1,500 miles from home, more than 50 days before Marathon Monday.
This week I ran those miles in Palo Alto, CA at a place the locals refer to simply as “The Dish”.
After a tough half-marathon on Sunday I was going to have to adjust my training schedule to accommodate a trip out to the West Coast.
Ideally I would have taken a rest day on Monday, ran a double on Tuesday (8.3 miles in the morning, 8.3 miles in the afternoon), run easy on Wednesday and then taken on our hill repeat workout on Thursday.
This was not going to be possible with obligations and cross-country flights.
Instead to get it all in, we ran 8.3 miles on Monday just 20 hours after crossing the finish line of the race, followed by our Thursday hill repeat session moved up two days to Tuesday morning and a 12-mile run prior to making our flight to California.
By the time I woke up on Thursday my weekly mileage had reached 30.5 and we were back out running down El Camino Real in Palo Alto onto Stanford Avenue then turning toward the foothills and heading a little over a mile to “The Dish”.
The Dish is an area just off campus where two incredibly large, almost cartoon large satellite dishes sit on the top of an outcropping of foothills pointed at whatever brilliant scientists point such things at.
The 3.5 mile meandering trail system takes walkers, hikers and brave runners along a course with more than 750 feet of climbing and descent along the route.
Keeping in mind that the entire “climbing” elevation of the Boston Marathon is a little over 600 feet spread over 26.2 miles, 750 feet is A LOT of climbing in just 3.5 miles.
I of course decided to run it twice.
1,500 feet of climbs and descents in just 7 miles. With a 3 mile run to The Dish and another 3 miles back to the hotel, we had a nice little 13 mile workout on our hands.
My experience is that when you hear about how hard an area to run is, it is usually not nearly as bad as its reputation. For some reason as runners we like to wear our battle scars proudly, making sure everyone knows just how challenging a race course or a trail system is.
When you see it for yourself however, it rarely lives up to the hype.
I was wrong about this one.
After I reached the trail head and started climbing, I knew I was in for a fight. Up, up, up went the first rise, then a nice rolling downhill to the right led to another long climb. A falling section, followed by another climb, and another, and another. For the better part of 1.5 miles I went up higher and higher until I reached the first Dish.
Off to the right it was an amazing sight, the absolutely monstrous satellite was pointed almost perfectly vertical on my trip with the sun coming up out to the East. The route took me further up and after a steep downhill chase section, I made the final climb up to the highest point on the trail just past the second Dish.
Off to my left I could look down onto Stanford University. On a clear morning with no marine layer I could see the city of San Francisco off in the distance and the San Francisco Bay on the horizon ahead.
It was pretty breathtaking to be honest. So much so as I thundered back down the decline toward the trail head, I decided to go around for a second tour of the Dish.
When will I get this opportunity again I thought.
I completed my second loop, thundered downhill to Stanford Avenue and ran at marathon race effort back to the hotel.
Miles splits on Thursday were: 7:21, 7:19, 7:36, 7:29, 8:05, 7:26, 7:11, 8:09, 7:33, 6:54, 6:51, 6:58, 6:53.
As I slowed to a walk on High Street in downtown Palo Alto I pulled my gloves from the waistband of my shorts, clicked off my iPod and stretched against a traffic light.
I was now 43.5 miles into a 76.5 mile week. Another record mileage total will fall on Sunday when we wrap up our first 22-miler of this training cycle.
We continue to march along the trail that will deposit us on the starting line of arguably the most storied marathon in the world.
I doubt anyone we passed out in California took notice of the slightly built runner powering up and down the Dish on Thursday. No matter. I was there, taking another step toward Hopkinton, MA on April 16th where we are going to go out and run the race of our life.
When we reach the Newton Hills we are going to gather ourselves and crush each of them one at a time. When we reach Heartbreak Hill just before the Boston College Campus we are going to run fearlessly, knowing that on a cool morning back in February we crushed hills that were twice as long and twice as steep.
After we ran them the first time, we went back around and ran them again just for good measure. Just because they were there.
Heartbreak Hill? Bring it on. The marathoner you tripped up back in 2010 may have the same name, but he is nowhere near the same man. I know that you have taken down many a confident marathoner over the last 115 years, of that there is no debate.
But I’m not sure you know just yet how badly I want this one. What I am willing to sacrifice to get there. How much pain I am ready to endure. You are unaware of the limits I am willing to go to in order to once and for all cross your finish line and know that I have beaten you.
I however do know the answers to those very questions.
If I were you I would be worried about the slightly built little runner from Austin, TX.
Very, very worried.