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Learn : Marathon Story  

Note from Editor: Stephen is an author and a runner. Check out his web site to learn more about him and his book, Breaking Stride.

Running Background:

I consider myself an advanced runner and I primarily run for competition. I decided to run a marathon because I was in great shape following a bad first marathon at Grandma's in Duluth where I was gunning for a 2:45.

Training:

I didn't follow a specific training plan. I trained for 4 months and my mileage ranged from 40-65 miles per week. Generally I kept the running to five days a week with several multiple run days. My basic weekly pattern was one long run 16-22 miles, one mid-length tempo run 10-14 miles, one interval workout, plus slow and easy filler runs. Looking back at my training, I probably tapered too soon (three weeks out).

Race Day:

The 2004 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon wasn't quite what I expected. It was four months following a miserable run at Grandma's Marathon in June. At that one I'd bonked at mile 12 and spent the rest of the race getting passed by old ladies and people with severe orthopedic conditions on my way to 3:40. Not a good time with a goal of 2:45 coming in.

The summer training had been fantastic. My roommate Shawn and I had revved up the training to as high as 65 miles a week and I was coming off some strong summer road races, including a 38:30 performance on a tough Bix 7 mile course. Milwaukee was a flat, fast course, and I was confident that I'd have no trouble claiming my 2:45 prize.

Other than a 25 MPH headwind, the weather was perfect at the start of the race. Low 40's with an expected high around 65. Right at the front of the 2,500 runner field, I experienced no trouble getting out at the start. A couple of sub 2:30 guys raced out to a big lead in a hurry, but by mile one I was sitting comfortably at 6:15 with a pack of about ten guys.

The next several miles was one of the most beautiful running experiences of my life. For the next 17 miles this group of 10-12 guys took turns taking the brunt of the wind as we clipped off miles at about 6:35.

All of my career, one which included all-state honors in high school, and running at the varsity level for a division I school, I've always loathed competition. I'm still not sure what it was, but the days leading up to a race were always a trial as I tried to calm my nerves that just wouldn't stop crying. I competed well, but it almost wasn't worth it to go through the mental anguish that preceded every race. That's why this marathon felt so different. We weren't out there to beat each other during those 17 miles. Nobody tried to throw in surges or hang at the back to take advantage of the wind. This group of 12 strangers bonded together in the spirit of the sport all with the goal of not only doing well themselves, but helping the other guys.

One by one we started to fall off the pack around mile 16. My turn came around the 19 mile mark. Suddenly memories of how I'd felt at Grandma's returned as my legs turned to stone. My goal of 2:45 rapidly fizzled away, but I set my new sight on my backup goal of three hours.

By mile 24 I'd even given up on that goal and set my sights on 3:10 for Boston. I would have been ticked, but the agony of the experience forced me to keep just one thing on my mind. One foot in front of the other at a time.

Then I hit mile 25. I looked down at my watch. It was hovering around 2:51 and change. A revelation occurred. Three hours was attainable. My 8:30 pace suddenly dropped to more like a 7:05.

Rare is the race that you pass a considerable number of people that recently passed you. Especially near the finish. But with my new inspiration I picked of nine or ten people in a mile's time.

The strain on my body as I raced toward the finish was typical. Anybody who's run the marathon has no need for me to describe it. But what hurt even more was when I turned down the final stretch and saw the clock at 2:59:45.

There was no possible way to close that gap in 15 seconds. Nobody was in front of me. I was the first person in the race that would finish not to break three hours. The clock read 3:00:13 as I crossed the line.

My training partner had passed me at 23 on his way to 2:57. I vividly recall his first words, "I'm sorry Steve. I'm so sorry." No problem I thought. We'll just put it all into the next one.

Well six weeks before Boston I developed Achilles tendonitis. Now, 15 months later, compensation while trying to run through that injury has left my left foot a complete mess with my peroneal tendons degenerating. It's quite likely I'll forever live not being able to cut that last 1/2 second per mile. Makes me wish that 25 MPH headwind had been coming from behind.

At the time of the race I would have said I didn't meet my goal, but that day I gutted through a run without walking a step and almost came back when I thought I was done. I hope to do the same with my injury. If it's at all possible, I'm going to get that 2:59.

Recovery:

I didn't have any recovery problems except I probably started training too soon following the race. I was back into light training within two weeks, but the week after that is what killed me.

Running Gear Recommendations:

New Balance Running Shoes
I race in New Balance light weight trainers.
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Tips/Words of Encouragement:

To someone thinking about running a marathon I would say when it all goes to hell in the marathon just remember, "Keep putting one foot in front of the other." And don't go out too fast!

Plans to Run Another:

I've started intense physical therapy with the help of a sport's med physician in the hopes of doing more marathons. We have an aggressive plan to deal with my problem tendons and my goal is to get in enough mileage to run in the 2007 Lakefront Marathon. It may be a bit more cross training oriented, but if I can even hit 30 miles per week on average and cross train heavily, I don't think my goal is out of reach. For my next marathon, I'm planning to use a shorter taper, concentrate on slower long runs, make sure I don't run through injury, take a longer post-race recovery period, incorporate more tempo runs, do less intervals, and do more cross training.

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