Sunday, November 22, 2009

From low expectations, great satisfaction

As I've written before, Marathon Fever is highly contagious. In 2004, two colleagues dragged me to the start of the NYC Marathon. Since then, I've run 5 more marathons, and have recruited a dozen first-timers. Days after my Boston Marathon last April, my very good friend Liz Perlman opened the door: "hey Mark - I've been thinking alot about your marathon shove. Your love of it is really contagious..." Soon I had persuaded her to register for the Philadelphia Marathon, by promising to run it with her. I had decided that I wanted to run only one more serious marathon for time, and then run several each year in a casual mode, with first-timers or people just having fun. So I started to look for an early marathon for my final serious run, to be followed by a casual stroll with Liz in Philly. While I ran 4 half marathons over the summer, my training was not very consistent. In September, a spate of minor injuries that I was too busy to properly address were followed by a nasty virus. In early October, 7 weeks before the race, I ran 5 miles of a half marathon with Liz before telling her to go ahead. I struggled mightily to breathe, and ran finished in 2:34, 46 minutes off my best. The next day, I was in a doctor's office contemplating a diagnosis of pneumonia and a chest x-ray pocked like a shooting range target. My "serious race" was out the window, and even a casual run Philly seemed highly unlikely. Fortunately, I was able to use an elliptical and stationery bike despite my condition, and soon both the pneumonia and x-ray cleared up. But things at findingDulcinea are more exciting than ever; we attended several national educator conferences down south and are pursuing some enormous opportunities, and I struggled to find time for the training I desperately needed, and didn't do a single run over 12 miles, and only about 5 runs of 6-12 miles. The few runs I did get in were ugly, since I didn't find time to stretch adequately beforehand. But two episodes told me I might be able to compete; one was the night before I went to the doctor for a definitive reading of the x-ray; I was so anxious to convince myself I was OK that I put myself through a vicious routine of calisthenics and fast miles, and held up very well. A week later, I ran 7.5 hard miles nearly as fast as I could a year ago, when I set a PR in Philly. Not wanting to leave my new convert in the lurch, I decided I may accompany her for 15 miles and then walk the rest of the way. I set an internal goal of 4:38, the average of my best & worst times so far, but would have been thrilled to break 5:00. A friend told me that when you are undertrained, hydration & nutrition become ever more important. Because I had fallen down on that front in Boston, I spent the past two days eating and drinking lots of good stuff and lining up the perfect breakfast for today. The race weather was utterly perfect. It was very crowded early on, and we ran the first three miles in 10:45, 10:30 and 10:15. I felt great, but worried that this would be as fast as we run. The next 5k was done in close to the same time. Then we picked up steam, running a 9:20 mile. Recalling that running miles 6-9 too fast in Boston came back to haunt me, I reined us in, and we soon were back to steady 10:00s. When we hit 10 miles, I realized I was in less distress than I had ever been at that point in the race, but the 3rd lesson I learned in Boston was not to celebrate too early, since there I very quickly went from thinking I'd break my 4-hour goal by 10 minutes to thinking I wouldn't finish. But our steady pace and stress-free feeling continued till Mile 19, when I was far beyond the distance of any training run and began to worry about running in a quality way for another 70 minutes. I focused only on the next half mile, and took that approach all the way in, never looking ahead more than 800 meters. Around 22 miles, I realized Liz was gaining strength, so I became determined not to hold her back any more than necessary. I realized that at our current pace, we'd just miss 4:30, and focused on that target, a half mile at a time. We finished in 4:28:48, and were utterly thrilled. I realized that the last 10k, which I thought I would largely walk, I had run faster than I ever had before, and our splits of 2:12 / 2:16 were the closest I had come to running even halfs. The realization that I can run decent marathons without adequate training was a big surprise. But fortunately I am focused on the realization that breaking 4:00, which I nearly did in Boston but which seemed remote as I struggled this fall, is very much within my reach if I have a healthy few months, and I plan to go after it hard early next year.

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