I started out 2019 with a really great race that capped an excellent training cycle. This all came together to give me a goal I have been after with marathons for a long time!
Race Report – The Best Marathon of My Life
TL:DR: After 12 years and almost 60 marathons and ultra marathons, I finally hit a long-time goal of running a sub 3 hour and 30 minute marathon. To make it even better, I did it at the same marathon that was my first marathon 12 years ago and I beat that time by 1 hour and 5 minutes!
From the Beginning – How I Started with Marathons
I ran my first marathon in early January, 2007. Growing up as an asthmatic, I was never really able to run much since I would start wheezing after just a few hundred feet. I was active and enjoyed sports but endurance events were not for me. Not only that, but I have never really had the build of a runner. 🙂
However, I had a friend that one day ran 50K (31 miles) and I was just in awe that a human being I knew had covered that much ground with his feet! It really pushed me to try and see if I could start running. I started running in the fall of 2006 with the goal of running a marathon. My running friend and I happened to be having a trip to Israel in January of 2007 that would coincide with the Tiberias Marathon so I decided to run that with him!
My goal was to just finish that first marathon, though, in reality, I really wanted a sub-4 hour race. 🙂 The problem was that my training program would not really sustain that goal since I was running 4 days a week with a weekly mileage high of like 38 miles.
I went out that morning with it in mind to try and get as close to my friend as possible on the turnaround at the halfway point. I did the first half in 2 hours and kind of fell apart in the last 13.1 miles. I finished the race in 4 hours and 34 minutes. I was a marathoner, but I really did not run it very smart!
The Goal for 12 Years and Always Missing
Fast forward 12 years. I have since run almost 60 marathons and ultra marathons with my longest run being 80 miles and several 50 milers and 50K races under my belt. I have run 6 marathon-distance runs on 6 continents in under 5 days and had put in multiple 100+ mile weeks in preparation for that. But, the one thing I really wanted was to get under 3 hours and 30 minutes. For me, that was my big goal I needed to hit.
I followed various marathon plans and attempted that several times but the closest I ever got was 3:35 at St. George Marathon (thanks to the awesome net elevation loss). I worked with a coach and had an awesome training cycle on track for a sub-3:20 but the stomach flu hit me around mile 17 and I started throwing up a lot and finished around 3:50 instead.
My problem always was that I ended up around the 20-ish mile mark with heavy legs that made me slow down to a run-walk strategy. Mentally, I had always been pushing a bit too hard or holding a pace for a bit too long early in the race and that ended up costing me later (note to new marathoners – never try to “bank” your time with faster paces earlier in the marathon!).
Tiberias Marathon – The Training
This past race, I had the best training cycle yet (a fantastic marathon plan from Hanson’s Running – the same people that I had a coach with before). I started an 11 week cycle shortly after my 1:38 half marathon in October.
Everything about the training cycle went great! I only missed like 4 runs out of the 6-7 runs per week and averaged 55 miles per week over the course of the program for over 500 miles in training. My speed workouts and tempo workouts were actually going better than called for and I was trying really hard to slow down for rest days (which I know is key!).
The Tiberias Marathon Race and Plan
Race day came! I was actually going back to the Tiberias Marathon which had been my very first one. I knew that the weather could be an issue that would cause problems (since the wind there has a strange habit of always being in your face – in spite of the fact that it is an out-and-back course!).
My plan was to start the first half and keep my miles in the 7:50-8:00 minute per mile range to see how it was going. To hit a 3:30, I would need to have a 8:00 minute per mile average so I knew this would be a good approach. All of my training runs were centered on the 7:44-7:52 range so I knew this plan was sound.
Things started very well! The pace felt easy and comfortable (though I had to take a quick bathroom stop at mile 5) and I was keeping hydrated. The wind was just enough to keep me cool and everything felt great.
The miles were just ticking off with my pace around 7:52. I could tell early on that this would be the pace I needed to maintain and not to try and push it below that much if I wanted to keep running the whole race.
I hit the half-marathon point and turnaround in 1:43, on pace for a 3:26 marathon. I had a bit of a mental challenge there as it was getting a bit harder and I was getting nervous about holding the pace for the next 13 miles.
What helped me was to break down the race more by GU stops (my energy gel of choice). I had trained with them every 6-7 miles so I had planned to go every 6 miles during the race. This meant that I had to just go another 5 miles for my next GU.
From Mile 15 – 26.2
At mile 15, it started getting easier again. The legs were getting heavy and the sun was starting to get a little hot but the miles just kept ticking away at a regular pace. For me, my favorite part of a marathon is 16.3 miles. That is because that is the point when you only have single digit miles left. 🙂
I started to loose my pacing at mile 21. That was my first mile over 8 minutes (8:16). I was struggling more at mile 23 with not stopping to walk because I knew if I did that, I wouldn’t be able to run well after that. So, I just kept pushing myself forward. It really helped to be passing people at this point of the race as it gave me something to keep pushing ahead with.
Mile 24 was a 8:17, mile 25 was a 8:14. I was carefully watching my Apple Watch Series 4 at this point to see what my average pace was for the whole race. I knew I needed to make sure it was under 8 minutes per mile to hit 3:30 so I pushed even harder for mile 26. That earned me a 8:05 mile and then the last .2 mile was around the same pace. I came in at 3:29:25!
I don’t know what it is about the 3:30 mark for me that has been such a draw. Maybe it was the thought that I had to hit that first before I could really know that I could aim for a 3:15-20? At any rate, I had waited a long time to see a marathon finish time for myself that was 3:2X.XX. I didn’t clear it by much but I did clear it!
What Helped Me with My Best Marathon Yet
I did some different things in training for this race that I had not done before. I firmly believe these all contributed to finally breaking my 3:30 barrier and I am eager to put them to work with a longer schedule (will go for 18 weeks next time and increase the mileage) to try for a sub 3:20.
First thing was not carrying a water bottle. Since I started running, I have always carried a water bottle for any distance over 5 miles. I always drink a lot of water and I never want to run out. This is even more true in a marathon. Having a water bottle in the past was what helped me to skip the first several water stops that were often crowded. It also helped in marathons were the aid stations were farther apart that I would have preferred.
The reason I actually did not carry a water bottle the last few months was actually because of some tendon issues in my right forearm (the hand I used to carry it). I stopped for a while and eventually realized that I enjoyed not carrying a bottle. My routes always had a roadside stand along the way that I could grab a bottle of water at so I had no worries there.
I was a bit concerned about running the marathon without carrying a bottle but it turned out that it was a great move. In past marathons, I would stop at aid stations to fill my water bottles. This not only cost me time but also allowed my legs brief stopping points that I think contributed to earlier fatigue later in the race. For this marathon, I just would grab a bottle from a volunteer and keep on going.
The second thing that really helped me was working really hard on slowing down my pace on rest/recovery days. In the past, I have always tried to keep a brisk pace on those days and that never allowed my legs the time to recover and my workouts suffered for it. My race plan called for rest paces of between 8:50 – 10:10. It was a relief to make myself slow down for many runs in the low 9 minute per mile pace. This helped me get through the program with no injuries or legs that were fatigued more than they should be.
The third thing that really helped me this time was forcing myself to stay with my game plan for pacing instead of letting some panic and anxiety take over. In the past, I would always think “there is no way I can hold this pace for 26.2 miles so I will bank just a bit”. That was always a dumb move! My legs would get prematurely fatigued and that contributed to the walking/shuffling/running in later miles. Believe it or not, this was the first marathon where I did not walk for even 5 seconds! That was a huge boost for me and something I tried hard to avoid so I would not end up walking more than I would have needed.
In 2018, I ran 2 marathons – one in Phoenix and one in Belgrade. I had hoped that Phoenix would be my 3:30 marathon but had issues with training adequately and only had about 27 miles per week as a result. I ended up with a 4:02 in Phoenix. I didn’t have that much time between the two but I had some good training so thought that Belgrade could get me closer. Nope! Thanks to poor pacing, high heat, and poor support on the course, I finished with a 4:30 in Belgrade!
That means that I had an improvement of 1 hour between my last two marathons! Plus, I have a PR (personal record) of 6 minutes over my previous best 6 years ago. This has given me a big boost of confidence and I am really looking forward to my training for the next marathon!
Next goal – sub 3:20! Hopefully, it won’t take me 12 years to get there 🙂