Saturday, January 19, 2013

Breaking Barriers and Defying Father Time

I really didn't expect to PR going into the Road2Hope Marathon on November 4, 2012. Sure, I felt pretty strong. Yes, I knew it would be a fast course. However, I had just run my second-fastest marathon ever less than a month before, in Vermont, so I was more than prepared to simply finish R2H in a reasonable time, collect a medal, and go celebrate.


So what was the secret? What caused me to pull this rabbit out of a hat? How the hell did I knock a full five minutes off my previous best time that had happened three years before? Simple: here is the recipe.

First, lots and lots of training miles in which I concentrated on speed and pace. You can't train slow and expect to run a marathon fast. You also can't ignore your pace, because if you start to lag the miles pile up behind you and the pace you would have to ramp up to in the last few miles simply won't happen. It's like saving money for retirement; you can't make it all up in the last few years, you have to be on a specific plan. I knew that if I was to finish anywhere close to 4 hours, I had to maintain a pace that didn't get slower than 5:40 per kilometre. I also knew, and this might just be me, that I had to keep a pace of closer to 5:20 for as long as humanly possible to make up for short walks at water stations and for the fact that the last few miles almost inevitably slow to something closer to 6:00.

Second: gels. I packed three, took the first one at kilometre three. Second gel around kilometre 15, third was for kilometre 30 or so. But there were gels somewhere before that, which I had gambled on happening, so I got one extra in. Those gels are critical. If you run out of energy, which is highly probable, you are going nowhere fast. Also, I always take the energy drink at water stations, and only add water in the last few miles if it's a brutally hot day. The average marathon has more than enough water stations for my needs, so I've never carried a belt full of little bottles or anything. In fact, I often have to take a piss break around kilometre 25, so that shows there's lots of liquids going in. My favourite marathons have shots of beer near the end.

So anyway, I started out fast in this race. Small crowd of runners, not a very big pack, which helps immensely. Temperature was cool. Lots of downhill, which presents its own challenges to the leg muscles but generally helps with speed.

I chatted with Frank, a fellow Cambridgean, for a few miles before he slowed a bit. Around kilometre 30 I started to walk for a few feet but this little Asian girl who had been following me yelled at me to get back at it, so who am I to disobey orders? Similar thing around kilometre 38 when I was totally out of fuel and started walking: a different girl ordered me to get back into gear. I ran alongside her for a couple of kilometres until she pulled ahead for the last few hundred metres. By that time there were crowds urging you on since it's so close to the finish, and I heard my name being bellowed by a buddy (Mike, a dude who finished almost an hour ahead of me). I was completely ready to fall over by the time I hit the finish, but I had managed a time of 4:07. Tantalizingly close to breaking the 4 hour barrier, which would have been a cool way to finish the last marathon of my 40's (I turn the clock over to 50 in February 2013).

So the question is this: can I break the four hour barrier in my '50's? I seriously would not have thought it possible even a short time ago. Now, however, I know that I can do it, barring unforeseen health issues. It is likely going to happen. I have never felt more confident in my physical abilities, which is a bit strange since I also see and feel the ravages of time. The mantra I live by now is this: Slow down as slowly as possible.