Photo Credit: RYAN MERCER, Burlington Free Press
Marathon Trifecta Completed: 3 marathons in 6 weeks
It’s been 5+ years since the return after a near decade long hiatus from the weekend warrior/athlete I once was. I was never much involved in the weekly running or cycling racing scene but still managed to keep myself in good shape. A frequent at local bike rides I could hold my own against the B+/A- level guys. Those were the good old days - few responsibilities and ample free time.
My first marathon was back in Sept 2005. It was a successful marathon debut by all accounts: a 10th place 2:53:45 at the Clarence DeMar in Keene, NH. The primary goal was to qualify for Boston which I did with time to spare. Boston was just as rewarding experience as I hoped it would be – a 2:43:45. It wasn’t totally unexpected after a couple good early season results but it was still a breakthrough race for me.
Little did I know then, how good a time that 2:43 was for a marathon rookie, for it took 5 more attempts over 3 years with nearly another 10,000 training miles before I would best that mark. Much has changed since then. Now that I’m in my forties I find no longer can I drop three or four hard runs a week to get into top shape. I have to more careful on the how often’s and how much’s in my marathon preparation. In the past my recovery from hard days seemed almost instant. I ran easy days not because I needed to, but because I knew it was the smart thing to do. Now those hard workouts sometimes stay in my legs a day or two after. The easy days between workouts are less an option and more of a mandate.
Conversely the consistent training and accumulation of mileage each week, month and year has meant my overall strength and what I can take has steadily increased, as has my ability to quickly resume training after a hard training cycle, big race or marathon. I’ve done this Boston-Holyoke double a couple times with success, but this is the first time trying to run three marathons in the span of six weeks. The necessary taper and recovery over the past two months means I’ve haven’t done any taxing speed work for quite a while. While I was my endurance was right on, I wasn’t feeling as confident about my speed and aerobic capacity.
Still I felt as ready to run a good marathon the weeks after Holyoke and leading into Vermont as I have since that great 2:36 at Boston in 2009. I was feeling pretty darn optimistic about going sub 2:40. Maybe, just maybe, a sub 2:38. Perhaps even better.
I emailed the race director soon after the Boston Marathon to see if I could get in the Vermont City Marathon (VCM) at the last moment if it was sold out. While I didn't have that sweet 2:36 time from last year's Boston to put atop this year's resume. Zeke Zucker, a trail and ultra-man himself, appreciated my Boston - Holyoke marathon double and thought my times were solid enough to warrant a master invite number. I’m a top local distance runner at best, so the thought of being considered - in any context - a runner worthy of invite status gave me goose bumps and it got harder and harder to keep my emotions in check as the race grew closer.
I told myself if I was going to make the travel all the way up to Lake Champlain on Memorial Day weekend, I wasn't going to play it safe - not necessarily a reckless pace in the first half, but a pace fast enough to give myself a chance to be in the hunt for a top three spot in the masters age group.
It's early in the morning on race day. I head over to the host hotel to meet up with Zeke and the other runners for a shuttle over to a sport facility situatued nearby the start area. We will hang for the better part of an hour; plenty of time to stretch and chill. But I was having trouble staying calm and relaxed. Perhaps it was the heightened anxiety and high expectations I placed on myself as an invited runner. All the pre race rituals were of no help. I couldn't find that frame of mind I wanted to be in. Eventually we head over to the start area. Some more stretches, easy jogging and strides; nervously awaiting the moment of truth. Finally, we're just minutes away. As we roll out to the start line U2's 'When the Streets Have No Name' is cranking out the 'PA' speakers. It was really cool and my adrenaline starts to kick in. It's go time soon.
The gun goes off. I tell myself 'be smart', 'Don't let your emotions get the best of you and go out too fast like a rookie'. I listen. A select few runners I feel within my ability all seem to be flying compared to my somewhat deliberate, pedestrian pace. What's wrong with me? How can all these guys being going that much faster than me? I'm not sure of my exact pace only a few minutes into the race. One thing I know for sure is I won't be holding this pace for 26 more miles. Three plus minutes into the race and already I have to let them go. Have I grossly miscalculated my fitness? Have I done something terribly wrong? Try to be confident and trust my fitness. Be patient.