Webster’s defines persevere as: to persist in a state, enterprise, or undertaking in spite of counterinfluences, opposition, or discouragement.
I will use it in a sentence: You do not run over the 14th Street Bridge so much as you persevere over the 14th Street Bridge.
It was that kind of a day…
My goal coming into this race was to qualify for Boston with a 3:30:59 – about a 7:59/mile pace. This was my first race at this distance, but I have a solid base of 10Ks, 10 milers, and a half marathon (NYC 2010) beneath me. Having just missed qualifying for the New York City Marathon with a half marathon time of 1:31:08 (needing 1:30:00), Boston Qualifier, or BQ, was attainable. An “NYCMQ,” however, was a ridiculously fast (for me) 3:10. No “grace” time of :59 like for Boston. The thought of missing out by 68 seconds for a marathon distance qualifying attempt was too much. If I ever do qualify for NYCM before I’m 50, I’ll have to do it over 13.1 miles for mental health reasons alone.
Training and Logistics
The other thing – and I can’t stress this enough – is that I came to the marathon race ready with almost 450 miles logged since August 1. I also was coming off my first season of triathlon, and had just completed the Nation’s Triathlon in September which included a 10K run for the Olympic distance event.
I followed a training plan that I had used for other races. The Hal Higdon page provides a pretty basic template. Most training plans provide a basic punchlist that includes building base mileage, speedwork (track intervals), maybe some hills, cross training, and long runs. I followed the plan closely, even to the point of doing treadmill workouts, which I hate. That just underscores the CabinMan’s dedication. Kind of sad.
The other on-line tool (again: free) that I used was the McMillan Running Calculator (warning: turn your volume DOWN before clicking this link; it has an obnoxious video clip that loops continuously when the page is open – thankfully, you can mute it, but you have been warned). By inputting a goal time, or previous race result, you can get target speed zones for your track workouts. This takes away the guesswork on the question of “how fast should I be running?”
The other facet to my training was that I trained as often as possible with a group. My “core” group is the Marriott Lunchbaggers – more rabble than group. In this group you will get a cross section of every kind of runner you do and don’t want to become: the over-achiever, the under-achiever, the bait-and-switcher. I fit right in. The critical part of the group dynamic is that their idea of a “rest” weeks might call for 15-20 miles. With triathletes and ultra-marathoners to contend with, picking up a marathon-level training pace is “run of the mill.”
I also did track workout with a DC tri group, the Renegade Striders. This group is more into tweaking your VO2 Max and pushing cruise intervals and ladder workouts. Throw in some core and plyometrics, and it rounds out the bike commuting and swim workouts that comprises my cross training.
I found my spot in the starting corral by the 3:30 pace group. After a slow mile 1 (8:14!) I ditched the group and caught the 3:20 pacers through Mile 6 (Palisades).
The first section of the race course has the most varied terrain. Arlington features long sweeping hills going up Lee Highway from Rosslyn and then down Spout Run to Key Bridge. These hills, which appear more challenging on paper, actuallydistribute more of the work around your leg muscles as you ascend and descend. This is not appreciated at first, but as the course flattened after hitting Georgetown in Mile 8, the quads began to take on the brunt of the work all the way to the finish.
I ran ahead of the 3:20 pacers and felt pretty good heading onto Hains Point and back to the Mall. But they finally ran me down at Mile 20, the start of the accursed 14th St. Bridge, when my 7:30-ish splits became 8:00 slogfests as I entered Crystal City.
Crystal City is more accurately described as a “concrete wind tunnel” than an actual “city.” The buildings are arranged in a fashion to direct maximum wind velocity into your face from whichever direction you happen to be facing; it was unreal. My feet hurt and my quads ached as I leaned into the wind. The runners were spread thinly over the course at this point, so drafting opportunities were scarce.
As I reached Mile 24, John Whitridge – a running buddy from Marriott – came up on my left as we entered the Pentagon parking. He said he was pacing with his brother, Tim, who did not slow down for pleasantries; in fact, he ran ahead like he was late for the early bird buffet special at his local Stuckey’s. Well, John had enough in reserve to leave me in his wake by the time we got through the parking lot and off he went.
The crowd began to build as I approached the finish: people were yelling encouragement for a guy named Scott, so I mentally changed my name to “Scott” for the last mile. For parts of the course I was also “Delaware” and “Jack’s Dad.” Any port in a storm, I say.
I managed to keep things respectable, but just had enough left to sort of “kick” at the finish. The Iwo Jima hill was steeper – but mercifully shorter -than expected. Knowing I could stop running at the top of that hill was a major selling point after 26 miles.
I always wondered how it would feel to run a marathon. I was happy to make it to the end, but I couldn’t decide if it represented running, or just plain perseverence? I know I persevered faster than “Dan Balkey,” but as Scott Hall noted: 5+ hours is A LOT of persevering. But did I actually “run?” And if so, how come the winner finished an hour ahead of me? As much as I was buoyed by the congratulations, in the back of my mind I didn’t know if this measured me as a runner, or someone who merely went out his way to climb over an uncomfortable obstacle that might have been avoided entirely had I politely declined the offer?
But I took on the challenge and – as fate would have it – I succeeded in prolonging my misery another day (or year) by qualifying for Boston. So that is my reward: an utterly avoidable date with destiny. I have only myself to blame, but sharing this with people who have thrown themselves under a busload of pain and second guessing in order to make it to the starting line somehow makes it tolerable, and in our circle – sort of cool. We are the few, the proud, the Marriott Lunchbaggers. God help us.
Mile 1 – 10: 8:14 / 7:55 / 7:31 / 7:26 / 7:34 / 7:28 / 7:52 / 7:13 / 7:21 / 7:24
Mile 11-20: 7:32 / 7:29 / 7:42 / 7:20 / 7:41 / 7:29 / 7:30 / 7:38 / 7:47 / 7:33
Mile 21-26.2: 8:02 / 8:03 / 8:04 / 8:13 / 8:00 / 8:21 / 1:52
Marathon Man 20X