Those that know me know that I’m no fan of the marathon. Sure, watching it in the Olympics is fun from the comfort of my sofa, and yeah, I enjoy being a part of the Illinois Marathon when we reach the half split and I say, “See ya, suckers!”

So it came as a surprise to many, myself included, when I decided to run another marathon, a race I’ve generally sworn off. Over the past couple of months, I’ve chronicled that journey here from “Don’t ever let me do this again” to “How about I try to BQ.”

I wish I had straight up, sub-3:10 Boston Qualifying (BQ) news for you, but I don’t. I didn’t make it. I failed.

I missed my goal of three hours. I missed the back up plan 3:05. Heck, I even missed 3:10, the time someone my age needs to BQ. I came in at 3:12:54.

Am I disappointed? Yes and no. No one likes to fail at something. No one likes to set goals and miss all of them except one.

The one goal I had that I’m ecstatic about is that I PRed. I might not have BQed, but I achieved a new personal record. It’s huge. It dropped by a ridiculous 45:35, and I averaged 7:22 per mile over the 26.2-mile course.


Jeff’s carbing up the day before the race included this heart attack waiting to happen. A mac n’cheese sandwich.

The Race

So what happened? How did it go? It was awesome!

I left the hotel at 7:25 for the 7:55 start. I thought everything would be fine and dandy, except for one wrinkle. I had to use the porta potty. Even though I’d gone about a hundred times in the hotel room that morning, there’s something about seeing all those people lined up that makes you gotta go. Maybe if I’d looked the other way I would’ve been fine.

Well, the lines were ginormous, probably 35 people deep. If one person takes one minute, and there’s four porta potties per line, my basic math skills told me that I was cutting it close. I didn’t get out of there until three minutes to race start. That’s not how I had this all planned!

When the gun went off, I took the first two miles conservatively, or at least I thought they were. I ran the first in 7:10 and the second in 7:03. I said to myself several times during those first two miles to slow down, keep the pace relaxed. Save my energy for the end of the race. That’s what all the training tells you to do.

The next several miles I picked up the pace. Miles 3 through 6, I came in a consistent 6:56 per mile, exactly. Mile 7 was 6:58; mile 8 was 6:53; and mile 9 was 6:58 again. But the further along I went, the clearer it became that I just wasn’t hitting the goal pace I needed: 6:52. I knew I was close, but when you’re talking seconds, seconds count. I wasn’t bringing the average pace down to what it needed to be for a 3:00 marathon.

I’ve noticed that when I’m having a good race, I get in a zone mentally. Where I’m looking is one indicator of how things are going. For example, if I’m looking down at the guy’s calves in front of me, I’m having a bad race. If my eyes are up, focused on some point in the distance, I’m in the zone. Sunday was a zone kind of day. I was looking down the road, so even though I knew the first goal time was creeping away from me, I still felt good about the race.

Miles 10–12 were more of the same, they ticked off in 7:04, 7:08, and 7:14 respectively, slowly inching the average up, not down.

At mile 13, I knew that the 3:00 was long gone, but I still ran a 6:50. It was the first sub-6:52 pace of the race. It was also on a downhill, and my speed was short lived. In my sights then was my second goal, a 3:05 marathon, or a 7:03 pace. I was under that at around 7:00 average, but that was certainly ticking upward.

From mile 14–18, along the course out-and-back, I looked for a friend whom I knew would be behind me. When I didn’t see him, I worried that something might have happened. He’d been struggling with a knee issue, and I just wanted him to be okay. My average pace continued to slow, though: 7:01, :02, :03.

Mile 19 came in at 7:30.

At mile 20, I saw my friend on the side of the road cheering me on. He’d dropped out at mile 10. He just didn’t want to do more damage to his knee. Seeing a friend out on the course was a welcome sight, him cheering me on, but it surprised me. I know he’d wanted this marathon as much as I did.

Him being there inspired me, at least for that mile anyway, and I sped up.

Still, at mile 21 I’d held my average pace at 7:03 for as long as I could. In reality, my actual pace was nowhere near that. For miles 20, 21, and 22, I was running 7:18, 7:28, and 7:53.

At mile 24, my left hamstring cramped up, and I needed to stop. It felt like minutes passed, but I know it was fewer than 30 seconds. I stretched, and I thought for sure that doing that would make it worse. That it would seize up and I’d have to walk the remaining two miles. I feared walking more than anything else. Thankfully, though, the pain settled and I could start running again.

I also compared the clock time to my pace at mile 24, and I knew with certainty that I’d missed the 3:10 mark, too. No matter, I thought, I was going to kick some serious butt by way of a PR.

I crossed the line in 3:12:54 with a PR of 45:35. Not a bad piece of work.

For those interested, here’s a breakdown of my per mile paces:

Mile 1 – 7:10                    Mile 14 – 7:06

Mile 2 – 7:03                    Mile 15 – 7:02                   

Mile 3 – 6:56                    Mile 16 – 7:10

Mile 4 – 6:56                    Mile 17 – 7:19

Mile 5 – 6:56                    Mile 18 – 7:20 

Mile 6 – 6:56                    Mile 19 – 7:30

Mile 7 – 6:58                    Mile 20 – 7:18

Mile 8 – 6:53                    Mile 21 – 7:28

Mile 9 – 6:58                    Mile 22 – 7:53

Mile 10 – 7:04                  Mile 23 – 8:03

Mile 11 – 7:08                  Mile 24 – 8:26

Mile 12 – 7:14                  Mile 25 – 9:09

Mile 13 – 6:50                  Mile 26 – 8:55

                                          Mile 26.2 – 3:12:54

 

I was so pleased I finished. I didn’t BQ, but I PRed! Victory was sweet!

I’ve had tremendous support in my training from my friends and my wife. And everyone was really excited that I was “posting” to Facebook during the race. I’d found HootSuite.com, a social networking tool to schedule funny posts as though I was texting while running. As one friend put it, “you even put typos in your posts to make it seem real.” The plan worked.

Everyone cheering me on my Facebook wall truly made me realize what this accomplishment meant to me. It was fantastic!

But a chance meeting at the airport the next day threw me for a loop.

To be continued…