Race Report - The Monumental Marathon and a BQ (again) with Mark Etherington

Before I get into my race report I wanted to give you a brief history leading up to these races.  

Coach Sam and I got together shortly after my IM 70.3 this past April. We were discussing our game plan for the upcoming season. I went into this meeting having a pretty good idea on what I wanted to do but I also knew the strain and stress triathlon training puts on your family and the ones you love. When I started with Evolve I had shared several of my endurance related goals to Sam. I know we all have set similar goals and while some of them seem attainable, some of them seem to be out of our reach. I had one goal in particular that I had all but written off. I ran my first marathon over 10 years ago and posted a time that I was really proud of. Over the next couple of years I improved my time to the point where I started to wonder if I could qualify to run the Boston Marathon. Boston is one of those races that is on a lot of people's bucket lists and I really wanted to be able to run it. In 2008 I was able to run a 3:22 which at the time was only 7 minutes off the qualifying standard. This put the wheels in motion and it was time to get serious. I raced Chicago in 2009 and posted a disappointing 3:39. (All of these races were prior to being a coached athlete of Evolve.) In 2010 I put my focus on Utah Valley marathon and had St. George as a backup plan. Utah Valley went pretty good and I posted a time really close to my PR which gave me some confidence as I began training for St. George. The weather did not cooperate in St. George and I remember the temperature being around 85 when I finished. Needless to say my nutrition was terrible and I went out way too fast for the conditions. I made it through about 16 miles before I started walking. I ran two more marathons before the end of that year failing both times. I gave up running marathons for a few years and decided I should try again in 2012. This led me to the Illinois marathon in Champaign. Once again I came up short. Completely frustrated I put this goal on the shelf and moved on. This finally brings us back to my meeting with Sam earlier this year. I had several goals in my head for 2016 and none of them included qualifying for Boston until Sam opened up the discussion. Suddenly it made sense. The training would still be time consuming but it would be a fraction of the time it takes to juggle three disciplines. I have always wanted to run this race and I was in a place where I thought I could do it. The qualifications were a lot different than when I first started this journey so we decided to aim for 5 minutes under the qualifying time to ensure I got into the race.

About two months ago I toed the line at the Fox Valley Marathon and try to qualify for Boston. This was the last race before the 2017 registration closes. My race plan was to start the run in my endurance HR zone (while keeping the 3:10 pace group on my sights) for the first 10 miles and then move into my tempo HR  for the next 10 miles. As always, the last 10K I was to give it everything I had. I was pretty nervous going into the race because I had failed so many times. I was really afraid of taking it out too fast so we decided to be really conservative on the front end but we also had to be in a position to qualify. Without getting into too much detail on this race, I ended up having a solid race but it was far from what I was expecting. My HR climbed sky high at about mile 14 and never came down. Needless to say I did not have the final 10K I was hoping for but I held it together long enough to be under the qualifying time. I was 2:28 under the BQ time which was ironically the exact time it took to qualify in 2016. This was a little stressful but it was out of my hands at this point. It took almost 3 weeks before I found out that I made it into the 2017 Boston Marathon. The cut off was 2:09 under the standard time and I was so thankful I didn’t pack it in the last two miles. My wife  Jodi was there to really yell and scream when I needed some help at the end. I was really excited about the outcome of this race; however I knew that I was capable of running faster. Within a few days of the race I dropped the idea of running the Monumental Marathon to Sam. I don’t know how she really felt about it but she put a training plan together and we got to work.

The Fox Valley race was 9/18/16 and the Monumental was 11/5/16 so we had about 7 weeks to recover and to train. Training had its ups and downs like you experience during any program. Eventually, I got a point where my legs felt pretty good. My race plan was simple, stay with the 3:10 pace group for 6 miles. If I felt good, I should drop my pace for the next 14 miles. If not, stay with the 3:10 pace group until mile 20. As always, beast mode for the last 10K. I started the race with the mentality of staying relaxed and running easy out of the gate. The first mile was my slowest mile of the entire race. I stayed with the 3:10 pace group for the next 7 miles. It was not easy. I had moments of doubt and I was wondering if I was even going to be able to hang with them. My HR was good but the pace was far from easy. I just tried to relax and run my race. We got through mile 6 and I was still with the pace group. This was my first gut check. I decided I wasn’t ready to leave the pace group. To be honest I didn’t think I was going to be able to drop my pace at all. I continued through mile 7 and then mile 8. I would love to say that I got a second wind and left these guys because I felt great. The truth is the pace group was driving me crazy!! Every water station slowed to a crawl and it was so crowded during the race I was getting claustrophobic. I typically run by myself and that is where I am comfortable so I decided to break free. From here my entire race changed. My HR climbed but it was completely manageable. I got into a groove and I was extremely relaxed. I remember high fiving every kid and/or spectator along the course that was offering up some encouragement. I was cheering on runners as I passed them and I was just living in the moment. I did another gut check at mile 20 and decided it was time to kick it into beast mode. At about mile 22 I saw an aid station with a medical tent. I remembered this tent all too well from years earlier. This race is home to the only race I have ever quit and this was the exact spot I threw in the towel. It was extremely gratifying to pass this tent and it gave me a little extra boost to finish strong. I had a couple of rough patches coming down the home stretch but this was the strongest I have ever finished a marathon. I haven’t completely examined the date but I think the last 10K was my fastest 10K of the entire race. To say the least, I was thrilled when I crossed the finish line. I could not believe what I just accomplished. I remembered thinking back to what Daniela Ryf said after winning Kona. She basically thanked the crowd for their support and said she didn’t feel any pain out there. How could you run a 2:56 marathon after biking 112 miles and not feel pain? Now, I didn’t swim 2.4 miles and then bike 112 miles prior to my marathon but her statement made sense to me during this race. This was one of those rare circumstances where it came relatively easy and I was running so relaxed that I felt no pain. After having a couple of days to reflect on my race I wanted to analyze what made this race different from other races. What did I learn from this race and how can I take these learnings and apply to my future races? I came up with a ton of things but I want to just focus on the top four.

  1. Relax. Seems easy doesn’t it. The day before my race Coach Sam sent me the weekly article and I read it while I was winding down in the hotel room - this one was on how the fastest runners in the world are the most relaxed. If you have not already read it, I strongly recommend that you read this article. There were so many things that just clicked after reading that article. In all of my previous races the closest I have come to negative splitting a marathon was fading 40 seconds on the back half of the marathon. Typically, I was dealing with at least a 3 to 4 minute fade (some were even worse!). Once I finished the article I was completely committed to taking the first 6 miles easy. I wasn’t going to be worried about the overall pace and whether I could make up the time on the back end. I was determined to follow our race plan to a “T”. I have no doubt that this set me up for an awesome second half of my marathon. Why? Because I was so relaxed and I could feel it.

  2. Mental toughness. Sam has been continually hammering this into my head over the past two years and this is a huge reason I was able to PR this race. I remembered the first part of the race because I didn’t feel great. In fact, I was struggling to hold the slower end of my pace. I was supposed to break away from the pace group at 6 miles but I couldn’t do it. Over the past few months of training my legs were trashed and I struggled on almost every run. I had one training run that was 2.5 hours where I was to run 1:45 in Z1 and the last 45 mins was to be in Z2. The run started out really sluggish and I was struggling to even run in Z1. At this point I was questioning if I would even be able to finish the run. About an hour into the run something changed. I don’t know what it was but all of a sudden my legs were under me and my pace was getting faster. Once I hit the 1:45 mark I picked up the pace to get into Z2 and to my surprise my pace had dropped another 20 seconds per mile. I gave a detailed log to Sam after this run (my wife tells me I write a novel after every workout) and I remember what she told me because this comment came out of her mouth after several of my previous runs. “If you can just relax the day will be yours.” Some of her other comments gave me the confidence to keep pushing. More than once she told me that your legs don’t have to feel good to run fast. I had proven that in more than one workout, so I had the confidence to push even when I didn’t feel fantastic. I know without a doubt all of these things allowed me to run that kind of race.

  3. Nutrition – Over the past two years Sam and I have been dialing in my nutrition. As most of you know this can take time as our bodies react differently to the nutrition we intake. Before I started with Evolve I wouldn’t eat anything before my runs and I would only eat every hour. I never drank a sports drink during my runs and typically would only carry water if my run was longer than an hour. I didn’t buy into the nutrition thing right away but I am huge believer today. It has helped my training and racing in ways I didn’t really expect. The cooler weather helped on race day but I know the nutrition we put in place worked like a charm because I never hit the proverbial wall.

  4. Mental approach and attitude before the race. Typically, I am a complete wreck before I race. I get so anxious, nervous, excited and scared at the same time. I won’t say that I didn’t have these feelings prior to my race but they were a lot more subdued than previous races. So, what was the difference? Did I just not care about this race? Obviously I cared about this race, but the main difference in my opinion was that I accepted our race plan. I went away from focusing on the outcome of the race and tried to focus on the things I could control. This started with my attitude. Sometimes we get so driven by the data and pace on our Garmin we forget about just racing and having fun. I have been working really hard to let go of the data and I decided to let go of it again for this race. It didn’t matter to me if my pace was slower if I knew the effort was there. One of the things Sam said to me the day before the race is “Just have fun!!” and I was determined to enjoy it. This would have been difficult if I was so focused on a certain pace.

All in all this was the best endurance race I have put together. It was almost meant to be but I know the above factors played a huge role in this run. I am so thankful for Sam and everything she has been teaching me. I believe that I would never have accomplished this goal without the help and support from Sam and Evolve.