Tuesday, October 20, 2009

the better marathon

Not the “perfect” marathon, I am hoping to run a better marathon. I am running the Marine Corps Marathon on Sunday. It will be my fifth marathon, or my fourth (depending on how you count, since I didn’t finish my second marathon).

I have never finished strong. I think it comes down to a simple problem: I start too fast. I have indeed finished three of the four marathons I have run. But, in two of those, I was reduced to frequent walking breaks for the last 6-8 miles.

In the past, I have been concerned about speed, though my time goals have been realistic while also being challenging. I can finish a 10K in 48 minutes, a half marathon in 1:45. That should mean I can finish a marathon in 3:45 or even less. I did that, once, for my first marathon, my best marathon. New York City. I was 28 years old. I had been running for a mere 1 ½ years. (I am no high school track or cross and field runner. In high school I was smoking and taking soccer juggling to fulfill my physical education requirement. My dad ran, but I had no interest.)

During that first marathon, I did slow down a bit for the last four miles, but I didn’t have to walk (I tried, but when I walked, I felt I would never start running again – so I kept plodding and finished in 3:43).

For my second marathon, I had a time goal – to qualify for Boston. Don’t know why. I don’t really care about running Boston – but it was a goal. Problem was I did not do any speedwork. So, while I covered the proper distances, I started too fast and my legs literally seized up around mile 19. A terrible disappointment. Maybe I could have walked it out, but the time goal loomed so large in my mind, and I knew I would never make it.

After that, I didn’t care about Boston. But I still cared about speed. I trained with a group for the 2002 National Marathon in Washington DC. (The one that went bankrupt the next year, canceling the 2nd annual race. It has been revived under new management with a new course.) I was convinced by my training and the coaches that I was capable of a 3:50 finish. So that’s the pace group I ran with. But the pacer had us going too fast, running 8:20s for the first five miles. I can do that, easy, for five miles, but that is not my marathon pace. I knew I was in trouble by mile 16. I had dropped off the pace group with two friends who were also suffering a little – but less than I was. I took walk breaks and wanted to stop by mile 19 (again – I know, the wall). But my training friend pushed me, talked me into continuing. Eventually, she ran ahead. I finished in 4:15.

I ran no marathons for six years, during which I had two kids and kept running and racing 10Ks, 10 milers and half marathons. In 2008, with my two kids aged 4 and 1, I looked to the Philadelphia Marathon. I was talking running with a new friend in my town, a friend I made because I saw her running in the early AM as I do and we both had 4-year-old sons who became good friends in school. I mentioned Philly, and she said, “Sign up; I’ll do it, too.” That little push did it.

Again, I thought 3:50. I am now dedicated to doing speedwork on a regular basis. My race times for other distances hold steady and strong. But, once again, I started too fast (trying to catch up to the 3:50 pace group, with their bouncing balloons). I knew I was in trouble by mile 10. That’s bad. I walked at each water station, then every mile. At mile 23, the 4-hour pace group balloons bobbed past, and I pulled myself together and suffered for the last 3.2. I finished in 3:59.

So, how to fix the blow outs? I think I just need to have some self-control and trust in the beginning – and avoid pace groups. My time goal is now 4:00. That I can probably do “comfortably.” And maybe I’ll even surprise myself and finish strong.

I want to run a better marathon. Five days to go.


Darcy Franklin said...

My last two posts might interest you. They are about my Twin Cities Marathon experience and refer to what you wrote about....starting out too fast.

Read it and hopefully it will remind you to start slower than you think you should!


Good luck!!!!

Baby Raine Drops said...

I'm running Marine Corps too!! www.mile-posts.blogspot.com :) Starting slow is the only way to go ;)

Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal said...

Good Luck - I hope you have a 'better marathon' :)

Mile Posts by Dorothy Beal said...

And??? Was it a better marathon?? :)

morgan said...

Yes! Probably the best yet. Though not as fast as the first (10 years ago now!), it felt as "good" as the first, if not better. And I ran today -- just 4 miles -- but it felt okay (quads just a tad tight). Will write the story soon.