Posts Tagged ‘Sub 3 hour Marathon’

In the world of marathoning this week was a pretty big week.  Boston Marathon Registration began on Monday.

The increase in runners seeking one of the most competitive and dare I say, prestigious race bibs in road racing caused the Boston Athletic Association to make changes to not only the qualifying requirements to gain entry to the race – but also to the way that the registration process itself takes place.

Back in 2009 when I came through the chute of the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 2nd with a time of 3:17:43 – I KNEW – that I was on my way to the starting line of the 2010 Boston Marathon.  All I had to do was wait for registration to open, log on to the website, fill out my information, submit my qualifying time and boom.  I was in.  After a few weeks a confirmation message was sent to me from the B.A.A. that my time was verified and I was in.

When registration for the 2011 Boston Marathon opened two years ago all hell broke loose.  People logged on at a furious rate when registration began, computers crashed, the site went down for a time, there were locusts, floods …. o.k., maybe not locusts and floods, but it was close.

Many runners who had worked so hard to run a “Boston Time” ended up being shut out during the registration process.  It had taken over a week to fill the 2010 field back in the fall of 2009.  The next year it took less than 1 day and all of the bibs were accounted for.  With the exception of the charity runners – which is an entirely different topic for an entirely different post.

The B.A.A. responded to the debacle by tightening up the qualifying standards by 5:00 minutes meaning a 40-44 year old Male Marathoner would now have to run a 3 hour and 15 minute marathon or better to qualify instead of the 3:20:00 that was required just one year before.

The other change was that the fastest runners would be allowed to log on first.  If you ran a time 15 minutes or faster than your qualifying standard you could register the first week, 10 minutes or better the second week, 5 minutes or better the next week, and then if there were still openings in the field, everyone else could register.

These changes made the process run much smoother and allowed the fastest qualifiers to make their way to Hopkinton, MA for the race last year, while those runners who ran a “BQ” or Boston Qualifying time – but only narrowly – were left on the outside looking in.  The cut off was approximately 1 minute and 30 seconds.  If you made your time by more than that amount you were good to go.  If you only beat your qualifying time by 90 seconds, you were shut out.  I expect it to be even more difficult this year with some of the runners who deferred to run last year due to the high temperatures being “grandfathered” into this year’s field, and the ever-increasing attempt by runners to improve and run faster qualifying times.

There was a time when Boston was one of the biggest goals out there for me.  I thought about it on my training runs, I trained harder for that race than any other and really wanted to turn Boston into my statement race as a marathoner.  Last year’s 87 degree race day removed a lot of the mystique about the race for me – proving that really, it is your performance and preparation that makes a race special …. not so much only the course on which it is run and the history of the event.

Having run Boston twice now, perhaps that is easier for me to say than someone who has never made their way to the starting line in Hopkinton or across the finish line on Boylston Street.  That’s fair I suppose.  But in truth, I’ve moved on past Boston and have other goals in sight.

Proof is in the pudding they say, and as registration opened on Monday for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon next April I was sitting on a qualifying time 17 minutes under my requirement.  I was golden.  A few clicks of the mouse, a credit card number and we were in.

Pass.

Boston is going to be great once again this spring.  It’s a tremendous event, a huge stage for the best marathoners in the world to compete on.  It is also an amazing event for the amateurs to literally run in their footsteps for 26.2 miles.  The same race won by legends like Alberto Salazar and Bill Rogers.  But that Monday I’ve decided I’m going to take the day off of work, let Landry play hooky from school and we’re going to go on a picnic to the park or the pool if it is warm enough here in Austin.

I’m going to think about running of course that morning.  Might even go out and post a few miles on a usual off-day for me, but we are not going to be part of the race this year in Boston, we’ll let somebody else toe the line in our place.  Hopefully a first-timer who worked as hard as we did to earn our spot.

Instead when I think of the word “Marathon” the first thing that comes to mind is Houston.

Houston this year on 1/13/13 IS my Boston Marathon.  It is my “A” race for the year that I am going to train for harder and smarter than any race that has come before it.

There most likely will  not be an Air Force flyover at the start, ESPN Cameras shooting me cross the starting line, screaming coeds lining the course at mile 16 and no famous turn from Hereford Street onto Boylston and perhaps the loudest, most intense 1/4 mile in road racing carrying me to the finish line.  Houston won’t have any of that.

But what it will have hopefully is the sight of a 45-year old amateur marathoner thundering down the course and into the final mile.

The clock will still be ticking under 2:52:00 at that point and hopefully with a glance to my wrist I will know exactly the amount of time I have remaining to cover the final 1 mile, 385 yards.

Legs pumping, soreness creeping in from all sorts of places, feet trying to defy gravity for just a few more minutes – hang on just a little bit longer to reach that finish line with a time of 2:59:XX.

At the end of the day if the race goes the way I am preparing for it to go, it won’t make a bit of difference if it happens in Houston, TX, Boston, MA or anywhere in between.

We will be a “Sub-3 hour guy” at that point, and nobody will ever be able to say anything different.

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Last week I boarded a flight home late in the afternoon from Iowa.  It was a regional jet taking 26 of us or so into Dallas Fort Worth where I would connect to Austin and arrive home just before Midnight.

I had a long day, was facing a longer one to follow and was looking forward to a couple of hours with my phone off, no distractions and some time to rest and read a few chapters in my book.

As I settled into my seat two young athletes sat down behind me.  Just behind them were their two coaches who sat across the aisle from me and one row back.  I said a quick hello and thought about not talking running with them.  But I couldn’t resist.

I said to one of the coaches, “Looks like we’ve got a couple of fast runners on board this flight”.

The coach replied, “We sure do, we’re heading to a meet.  This one right here is a middle distance guy, the other is a hurdler”.

“Good for you both” I said, “I’m just an old marathoner.  I’m not too fast, but I can run pretty far.”

The second coach spoke up and said, “If you want to talk about marathoning, this is your guy right here” as he pointed to the first coach.  “He was really something else when he was a young man.”

My curiosity was of course about off the charts – I couldn’t resist the temptation.  I had to know.

I looked over at the coach and said, “Well, I’m new to the sport as I just started running back in 2006, but I’ve got 8 marathons under my belt, including a couple of Bostons.  I’m not done yet, still trying to break 3 hours.”

The coach looked over at me and said, “what are you 40 or 41?  You’ve got plenty of time to keep getting faster.”

“I’m 44 actually, will be turning 45 this summer.  I’ve got young legs though since I got such a late start.  Maybe only 12,000 miles on them to date.”

The coach said, “well, I’ve run 46 marathons and have about 80,000 miles on my legs.  I don’t run marathons anymore, but there was a time when I ran a whole lot of them.  My PR is 2:19.  I finished 5th in the New York City marathon in the mid 70’s, 12th in Boston a year later.  I made it to two Olympic Trials and qualified for a third, but of course with the boycott in 1980 I didn’t get the chance to run there.”

I was flying with royalty.

The next two hours went by in the blink of an eye.  We talked about training, running and racing.  What it was like to run with Bill Rogers, Dick Beardsley and Frank Shorter.  How the sport of running has changed, and what it was like as an amateur back in the 1970’s not racing for prize money but for the love of the sport.

I soaked up every bit of advice and running philosophy I could and talked about my summer plans to prepare for my first Ironman 70.3 and of course chasing 3 hours in Houston in January.

Out of respect for his privacy, I will not share the name of the coach, where he works today or where he lives.  What I will say is that after spending half a decade of my life trying to improve, mature and progress as a runner – I learned more about the sport in those two hours than I did during the previous 5 years.

With the arrival of summer we are at a crossroads in our training and racing.  We have the formula to prepare.  We have the base mileage and health to the point where we can push our training a bit further, perhaps to that 75-80 mile a week level when the focus shifts from Iron Man to Houston in October and we have the fight and the will to go after the final chapter in our quest for marathoning excellence.

At least the level of excellence as we define it.  Sub 3 hours.

But to talk to a truly remarkable athlete and an even more amazing man was truly a gift this week.  A week that was full of challenges personally and professionally. 

After great runs on Wednesday and Thursday Landry had fallen ill.  My plans for a swim Friday morning and a long bike ride on Friday afternoon were scrapped as I stayed home with our little one and helped her over her bug.

I was able to make a 30 mile ride on Saturday morning before that bug reared its head a second time in our household.  I got it full-bore and could not keep any food down.  Couldn’t think of eating and could barely drink enough to stay hydrated.  Three days and 4 1/2 pounds lighter, I am now starting my way back.

What was planned as a 111 mile week fell far short at only 73.  Those miles were great quality – just not the quantity that we had hoped for.

But on this Memorial Day, the first day of summer we are feeling more like ourselves.

Confident, assured and powerful.  We have some work to do with nutrition right now to get those calories back in us – but Tuesday morning we start anew.  After Landry is dropped off at school with Momma Bear away in Germany this week, we will start to hit it hard again.  Pushing the limits of our training to prepare for our first summer races in Holland, TX on June 18th followed by the Lake Pflugerville Triathlon the following morning on Father’s Day.

Summer is here and the time is right for dancin’ in the streets.

A few weeks ago in Boston I was preparing for my “last” marathon.  I spent the previous 24 weeks working harder than I ever have before training for the dastardly 26.2 mile test.  I was fit, focused and ready to lay down something special on April 16th.  Hoping to break through the 3 hour mark, but more than that, hoping to run one last marathon and run a “best ever” race.

As the forecast for race day started to soar from the 50 degree temperatures that are “normal” for that time of year in New England to a ridiculous 87 degrees for race day, my hopes for Boston were dashed.

I put on a positive face.  Enjoyed the day with fellow runners and friends who had made the trip to Boston and made sure that Dawn, Landry and I had some fun over marathon weekend.  Tuesday after the race I took a walk through Boston over to the North End by myself.

I had a great Italian lunch, chatted with some locals, stopped by Maria’s Pastry shop for some pistachio green leaf Italian cookies and took in a beautiful Boston day.  I went to see the Red Sox play at Fenway that night.  I caught a foul ball at the game.

One Wednesday morning I flew back to Austin and put the116th Boston Marathon behind me.  It was time to turn the page and move on to a season of Triathlons and our first attempt at Iron Man 70.3 this fall.

In the weeks since Boston as I have started training again, running in the morning, cycling in the afternoon or doubling up with an early run and a late swim my body feels like it is hardening even more.

My legs are strong, my shoulders and back are broadening.  I can literally feel myself growing stronger.

All the while as I am running alone at 5:00 a.m. there is a little voice inside of me saying the same thing over and over and over.

“Marathon”.

“Marathon”.

“Marathon”.

The race just won’t let me go.

I’m not sure if it is the fact that I like thousands of other runners were robbed of their “race day” in Boston this year.  Or if I truly believe that I am running out of time to make a legitimate attempt at running a sub 3 hour marathon.  Perhaps it is a little bit of both.

But I just can’t seem to set the marathon completely aside and focus my training and racing on other goals.  Not yet at least.

For me the marathon is no longer about finishing the race.

If I can finish two marathons in 13 days for Dom and subsequently finish a marathon in 87 degree weather – I know I can cover the distance.

Now the marathon has become more than just an endurance test – it is a matter of will.

The will that the distance exerts on the runner – punishing them mile after mile until the body can no longer function as it had hours and miles earlier.

The will that the mind exerts on the body, asking for more, more, more until that final mile marker is reached and there is just 1.2 miles left to go to the finish.  It is at that point that the race reveals its true beauty.

How much do you really have left?

How much are you willing to endure?

How badly do you really want this?

The answer for me is that I want one more chance.  I want to train, prepare and show up to one more starting line – the only thing I hope for is that I get a neutral day.  Cool temperatures, a fair course and a chance to finally do my thing.  Race to the limits of my abilities and training.  Be the best that I have ever been.

There are no guarantees in life.  Even fewer in road racing.  Weather, injury, illness can and will happen far more frequently than any of us would like.  I have started and finished 8 marathons in the last 5 years and have had good weather in two of them.

Statistically speaking, that is not a very good batting average.  But that little voice is still calling out:

“Marathon”.

“Marathon”.

“Marathon”.

So with Dawn’s blessing, we are going to give this one more shot.

January 13, 2013 – Houston Texas.

1-13-13

Not the luckiest of numbers if you believe in that kind of thing – but nonetheless we are going to play the odds that on a January Day in the great state of TX we are going to get cool weather.  Race time is 7:00 a.m., again right in our wheelhouse.  The course is laid out in a figure 8, so that any wind on the course should help in one direction as much as it hurts in another.

The terrain is flat.  The course is said to be fast – although it has a lot of concrete, we’ll have to train for that variable and toughen up those legs coming off our IM 70.3 training.

We will have 11 weeks to prepare for Houston after our Half-Ironman. 

254 days away.  We’re going back one more time.

I’ve started to view marathon training as a bank account or better yet, an investment portfolio.

With an eye toward the future you make your daily and weekly deposits.  Sometimes those deposits are large, other times they are small.  There are times when making that deposit feels great, sometimes they hurt just a bit. 

You do it because you know that down the line there is going to be a payoff.  When you need it most those deposits are going to have built upon one another and “matured”.  When you go to make that withdrawal, you will be amazed at just how much all those individual contributions have grown.

Sunday was our final large, tough deposit.

With three weeks left until the gun fires on the Verrazzano Bridge signaling the start of the 2011 New York City Marathon I went out and ran every single hill I could find for 22 miles.

I searched them out like I was looking for punishment because in a way, I was.

Sunday's Elevation Profile

After last weekend’s half-marathon in Denver I dove right back into the peak week of our training plan, 8.3 miles on Tuesday, 12 miles of hills on Wednesday, 10X Hill Repeats on Thursday for another 10.2 miles a 12-mile hilly run on Saturday and then with less than 24 hours rest our final 22-mile long run of the training plan.

With an extra tenth of a mile here, two-tenths of a mile there we totaled 65.09 miles for the week, climbing 1,956 feet of hills, burning up 7,024 calories running for 8 hours, 11 minutes and 3 seconds.  All 5-day run week records.

But Sunday’s workout was special, just like all of the final long-runs of marathon training cycles past.  I take this one particular run very seriously, make sure that I eat well the night before, take my energy gels every 5-miles just like I plan to do on race day and drink water on every even mile, Gatorade at mile 5, 11, 15, 19 and 21.  On Marathon day we’ll take one last 100 Calorie dose of our Clif Shot Bloks at mile 24 and drink as needed through to the finish.

The last thing I want to do on race day is experiment with new socks, new shoes or a new hydration and nutrition plan.  Nothing new on race day is possibly the best “marathon rule” that there is.  Sunday’s run was essentially a dress rehearsal.  The only differences were my heavy training shoes on my feet and my own water supply strapped into my hydrabelt.  Everything else was exactly as it will be in three weeks in New York.

As I ticked off the miles on Sunday I reflected on the last 17 weeks.  All of those runs that took place in the hottest conditions I can remember here in Austin.  Socks squishing in my running shoes by mile 8 or 9, I would continue to fight on, knowing that while those training runs were not a whole lot of fun, they were making me stronger.

I thought about Dawn and how lucky I am that she gets me.  She understands what this race means to me as I now have just two chances left at New York City and Boston this April to slay the dragon which is a sub-3 hour marathon.

After these next two races I am going to redefine what running is for me, find new goals to chase, but ones that allow me to have more time to spend with my family and not be out on Sunday morning at 4:45 a.m. looking for every single hill along a 22-mile run.  There will be other dreams to chase after Boston – they will just be different dreams, with a little smiley faced daughter who has taken up making pig noises as her latest past-time ….

But I digress.

When I passed the house and switched out my water bottles on Sunday at mile 16 I had two choices to make.  I could run the 6-mile loop that would take me downhill over mile 20 and drop me back onto the trail with 2 flat miles to go or I could circle back around and take on the hill up and over the dam and around the lake.  It would add more climbing to my run, but I would be able to lap the lake one more time where all of this seemed to begin a couple of years ago when I decided to run those two marathons back to back for Dom.

The choice wasn’t difficult.  It wasn’t really a choice even.  I just powered up the hill out of the neighborhood and made the left turn into Water’s Edge like I had hundreds and hundreds of times.  I powered up and over the dam, lapped the lake and ran my two fastest miles of the morning over miles 21 and 22 back to the house at 7:25 and 7:17 pace.

I took stock at the start of mile 22 and asked myself if I had 4 more miles in me if I needed them.  Without a doubt I thought, I’ve got 4 more in me.

Whatever it takes.

I powered up the last hill and hit the driveway at 22.22 miles.

It was a perfect punctuation to this training cycle.  Next weekend I’ll play it by ear a bit.  If I feel rested I might run another 20-miler just to cap things off.  If I’m still nicked up, I may cut it short to 16-18 miles and start tapering things up a bit.

But three weeks from now in New York City in what will be the largest footrace I have ever taken part in – I know exactly what I need to do.  Simply put:

Whatever it takes.

 

 

The events of the last couple of days since coming through the chute at the IBM Uptown Classic can be summed up for me in just one word.

Whew.

After a summer of training through what was the hottest summer in recorded history in Austin – I honestly had no gauge as to where I was from a “race ready” standpoint.

I raced my first triathlon, ran several 5K races, two 10K’s as part of the Austin Triathlon Relay and the Austin Marathon Relay but each race was held in close to if not above 90 degree temperatures.

I soldiered on the best I could, left it all out there each and every race, but the lowest I could go at the 5K distance was a 19:00 minute flat race the day after my mother was diagnosed with Brain Cancer.

At the 10K distance, I barely snuck under 39:00 minutes on a loop course at the Austin Triathlon relay.  I was training hard and racing hard, but there were no positive signs in the way of race times.  My brain kept telling me that it was the heat. “You’re fine”, I kept saying to myself, but I would be less than honest if I didn’t admit that I was nervous.

Perhaps my best shot at a 3 hour marathon was on February 20th last year in Austin and I had blown it.  The heat, humidity and wind conspired against me that day – and with it went my one and only shot at 2:59:59.  The loftiest and to be honest final running goal that I have out there.

But in 37 minutes and 30 seconds on Sunday all of those doubts were erased.

I beat my time in what I considered to be my most untouchable of PR’s by :36 seconds.

In a 6.2 mile race we are talking about a lifetime, more than :05 seconds/mile.

So now we move on to Denver and the Rock n’ Roll Half-Marathon on Sunday morning.  A race that two days ago I was thinking would tell the story of what my capabilities were heading into the New York City Marathon in a little less than 5 weeks, just a month after Denver.

Now?  It’s just going to be a 13.1 mile tempo workout with 5 or 6,000 of my closest friends.

It’s been awhile since I raced for the fun of it.  Now 13.1 miles at altitude somewhere around 6:35 min./mile pace might not sound like your idea of fun.  But for me it really is.

There is no pressure on me whatsoever to “go low” on Sunday.  I’m going to repeat what I did last week following up my 8.3 mile recovery run on Monday with a 16-mile long run early Tuesday morning.  Another 8-10 miles out in Denver on Wednesday to acclimate to the elevation and then a 2-mile shakeout after a couple of days off on Saturday morning.

Sunday morning at 7:00 a.m. local time I’ll shed my sweats in the sub 40 degree temperatures, punch my watch and race.

1:26, 1:27, 1:28, 1:29 – it really doesn’t make any difference.  I’m going to settle into a comfortably “uncomfortable” pace and let the miles tick by.  If the altitude is bothering me, I’ll dial it back a notch and play it smart.  If I feel good through 8 miles, I’ll wind the watch a bit and start ticking over a little bit faster.

At the hill at the 11.5 mile mark the course elevation tilts in the favor of the runners and leads to a downhill finish.  I’d like that mile to be one of my fastest.  We’ll thunder to the finish, hit the timing mat and punch stop on my watch.

That is the first time I am going to look at it on the course.

I’m going to retrieve my bag, put on some warm clothes and find my family.  I’m going to hug and kiss my wife, do the same to little Landry and put my medal around her neck.

Goals for Sunday?  Only three.

Run hard and honest.

Exit the race healthy.

Have fun.

Sounds like a pretty darn good Sunday.

More from Denver later this week, so stay tuned!  Can’t believe that I just packed gloves in my race bag!

I have not run since wrapping up my final leg of the Ragnar del Sol team 200-mile relay race on Saturday morning at 7:09 a.m.

As I was pushing hard over what would be my final 3.58 miles my left knee was barking louder and louder at me.  What started as a slight nagging tenderness over my first leg of the race on Friday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. heading uphill out of Wickenburg, had now become more than that.

A sometimes sharp “bite” that I knew would need a little rest and time off when the race was over.

7:15, 7:01, 6:26, 6:06 were my final splits of the race.

Upon returning to Austin I’ve just been taking it easy, complete rest, no running, no strength training just a little time off to rest physically – but also to rest mentally.

I had been fixated on training and racing since September.

Starting with the IBM Uptown Classic – chasing a sub 40:oo minute 10K time for placement at next month’s Cooper River Bridge Run.

The following day Austin Marathon Training began which would include the Run for the Water 10-Miler, the Decker Challenge Half Marathon, the 3M Half Marathon.  I even threw in a couple of 5K Races on Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day “just because”.

February 2oth meant the Austin Marathon and then 5 days later Ragnar del Sol – another 19 miles of racing through the Arizona mountains on the heels of my best –ever marathon.

It has been a real treat this week to kick back a bit and take it easy.  My first real time off in I don’t know how long.  I’m hoping that this knee inflammation goes away and this coming Tuesday I can resume preparations for the Cap10K here in Austin at the end of the month, then sharpen the sword even more for the Cooper River Bridge Run a week later in Charleston, SC.

There is one thing hanging out there however that is weighing on my mind a bit.

I wonder what kind of marathon I was truly capable of if the weather had not conspired against me at Austin.

High Winds, high temperatures and high humidity appears to have taken a bite out of the competitors by approximately 9-11 minutes on race day.

If that is the case, that puts us in the 3:04-3:06 range at Austin.  About where I thought I would run when being completely honest with myself as I took my first swing at a 3 hour marathon.

I read earlier this week about the “Warrior Mentality”

The piece I read spoke about warriors being survivors.  They are tireless, incapable of quitting.  Warriors are permitted to doubt, but not stop.  They always find a way.

All things that I think most of us would associate with the word Warrior.

But there was a small passage that really hit home for me.  It was tucked away almost as an afterthought.  It said that being a warrior means pursuing a goal that scares the hell out of you.

As I read those words I could only think of two words.

Three Hours.

I had thought about waiting until November for the NYC Marathon – to step into the ring once again and trade punches with lady marathon.  After another summer of speed work and training, perhaps I would be ready.

But the warrior inside of me is telling me that is simply an avoidance mechanism.  Just push that off into the future and worry about it then.

I realized this week that simply isn’t good enough.  It’s not good enough for me, and certainly would not be good enough if I was having this conversation with Dom.  I have a pretty good idea that he’d be telling me to go for it now.  Why wait?  You never know what the future holds.  Get back out there and take your shot.

There is a small marathon in the Pocono mountains of Pennsylvania in May.  Last year it only attracted 675 runners.  It is run on a very beautiful and fast course. 

Early on race morning at the Stroudsburg High School, runners are going to pile on to a group of school busses and be transported to the starting line 26.2 miles away.  The runners will check their gear bags and stretch their legs.  They will stand in line for the porta-potties, have their last sips of water and warm up.

They will gather on a small town street and listen to a rendition of the star spangled banner.

One runner with initials on his shoes will crouch down out of sight from all of the runners and remember his friend.

He will stand tall, wipe a tear from his eye and at the horn he is going to run the race of his life.  Nobody there will know his name, there will be no one along the course cheering for him or shouting encouragement.

About three hours later that runner will cross the finish line back in Stroudsburg, PA.  A five digit time will flash overhead and it will be over. 

The first number will either be a 2 or a 3.  The other numbers won’t matter.

That runner will walk to his rental car and call his wife.  She will tell him that she is proud of him and loves him no matter what.

He will then head to the airport for a flight back to Austin.

Whether it is a 2 or a 3 on the clock May 15th, it will be the best that I can do. 

No regrets.

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.