I remember way back in high school when I would get up in the mornings before a big test – I’d be a little nervous, wondering if I had studied what I had needed to, wondering if I’d remember anything…
…that’s how I felt two Sundays ago when I woke up before the Quincy Half Marathon. Several weeks ago I made the transition from the Pfitz Marathon Training Program to the FIRST Marathon Training Program. I’ve been fairly determined to make sure that I followed the new program as closely as I could. The very concept of running less to run faster struck me as counter-intuitive, but I needed to do something to get me out of what had turned into an 8 month funk.
3 days a week – that is all I was allowed to run; complimented by 2 days of cross-training – it seemed insufficient, but I was determined to give the program a chance. Really, what choice did I have? What I had been doing before was no longer working.
On Super Bowl Sunday I ran the Super Sunday 5-Miler in Boston and finished with a 34:56. My goal had been to comfortably cruise to a sub-35 minute finish, but in fact, I struggled to make it, pretty much leaving everything I had on the course. That 34:56 translated into a 3:25:30 marathon according to McMillan’s Running Calculator. A couple of weeks later I started the FIRST program. Quincy was going to be my first real test of how much progress I was truly making.
Upon arriving, I looked for my buddy JB. You may recall JB as one of the foursome I ran with at Vermont or the buddy who ran the Super Sunday 5 with me. Our plan was to run about 7:15 miles throughout, with the hopes of scoring about a 1:35:00 for the race. It would be a 2 minute PR for him, and would be an incremental improvement on my cardio-health from Super Sunday. Although a 1:35 half-marathon only translates to a 3:20 marathon (5 minutes long of my goal), I figured that it would be a step in the right direction, especially for only 3 weeks on the program.
We made our way to the starting area and stood silently for the National Anthem – and then it was time to go, literally! Not more than a second after the anthem was done, the starting horn blared.
We were off.
Fortunately for JB and I, we hadn’t moved too far to the front. We were forced to start a little slowly. After a quarter mile of jockeying for position, we turned up the pace and hit the first mile marker right on target at 7:15.
Without really realizing it, we slowly began to pick up the pace. It was still a bit crowded, but the two of us maneuvered our way through. Mile 2 arrived in a quick 7:07…maybe I was a little too enthusiastic?
We slowed it down just a touch for the next three miles, averaging about a 7:10 pace. Somewhere around mile 5 we saw the leader coming the other way…he must have had a good 30 seconds on the guy behind him. At this point, JB and I hit our first hill. My philosophy on hills has been to attack them, lean into them and don’t let them slow you down too much. For this first hill, that plan worked perfectly. I leaned in, JB followed and we passed over a dozen runners before cresting and allowing gravity to feed our recovery.
Once we flattened out, we hit the 6-mile marker (7:06) and we were able to see the rest of the field heading for the hill. At this point, my legs started to feel a little heavy. JB asked me how I was doing. I feel like I’m fading, I said, but only 6 miles in, I knew that it had to be more mental than physical. We continued to press the pace a little. I knew we had some time in the bank to hit 1:35, but I also kept reminding myself that this race was a test of how I was progressing. If I let up too early or left too much out on the course, there would really be no way for me to know just where I was with respect to where I want to be for Sugarloaf. I needed to know if the FIRST program was increasing my cardio-fitness or if I was stagnating.
We covered the next three mile at 7:06 pace. With just over 4 miles left to go, I started doing math in my head. I realized that I could slow down significantly and still hit my goal – but what would that tell me? I knew I had to keep pressing.
Unfortunately, that pressing came just as we hit a final group of hills – despite continuing to pass runners on a regular basis, we slowed into the 7:20’s.
With 2.1 miles to go, JB started to pull away. He looked back at me as if to say, come on dude! but the hills had taken their toll on me. I shouted at him to just go. He was well within range of not just beating his PR, but shattering it. I pressed as hard as I could – I was determined to come in under 1:35 no matter what. Mile 12 went by in a surprising 7:15.
1.1 miles to go. It was leave it all on the course time. I knew I was less than 7:30 away from the finish. I also knew that I could suffer for that long too. My legs felt heavy and my breathing was labored, but with each tick of the clock, I knew I was that much closer to being done.
As I made my way back into downtown Quincy, I could see JB in the distance. With about 800 meters to go, he was looking great and I had run out of real estate to catch him. I focused on finishing strong. Coming out of the final turn, I realized it was literally downhill to the finish and let it all hang out. Gravity pulled me along at a pace I hadn’t run all race.
With less than 100 yards to go, Racemenu Chief Alain stepped out of the crowd with words of encouragement and a high five. I could see JB waiting at the finish.
I barreled through the finish, and without slowing down grabbed a bottle water being held out…I couldn’t brake…staring at a table that was closing in fast, I panicked slightly. Fortunately a random runner stepped in to grab me and slow me down. It was enough for me to get my footing and stop.
I looked at the clock.
I wasn’t convinced that I had run that fast. I hugged JB, asking him his time.
1:31:59 – a nearly 7 minute PR for him. When the official times went up, mine was a 1:32:31. I had missed a PR by a mere 8 seconds. In most situations, I would have been mildly disappointed in missing a PR, but considering that just 4 weeks beforehand I wouldn’t have even considered the possibility of PR-ing, and that I had come into the day with an expectation of finishing in the 1:35 range, I was thrilled.
The FIRST program was working. My legs and lungs were getting stronger.
The very next day, I officially signed up for Sugarloaf. To be honest, I had been putting off registering because I was full of doubt as to whether I could even potentially run a sub-3:15 in May. Quincy convinced me that I was on the right track. My 1:32:31 translates into a 3:15:07 marathon. Just a touch on the wrong side of the clock, but a vast improvement from where I was on SuperBowl Sunday.
This Sunday I will face my next test of fitness when I was a local 5K. The goal is to hit 19:54 – which translates into a 3:14 marathon. If I hit 20:00, that still translates into a 3:15.
I still may ultimately fail at Sugarloaf come May, but I finally truly believe that I have a 3:15 or better in these legs – and that is a wonderful feeling.