Executive Summary: California International Marathon, 3:09:57 (chip time), keeping my sub-3:10 streak alive for a little longer. At 56, I’ll take that!
Or on Strava (a few seconds longer because I didn’t stop my watch right away): https://www.strava.com/activities/1996895719
First off, I should say that the only reason I ran this thing is because my running team needed to field a full male 50s team in order to get points in the Pacific USATF series, and CIM is an important, double-points race. At this point in the season, it’s challenging to find uninjured 50s guys who are also capable of putting out a decent time.
I wasn’t sure I met that last criterion, given that my running mileage since the beginning of June averaged 11 mpw. There were a couple of weeks – one in July and one in August – that slightly exceeded 30 miles, but other than that, my training consisted of swimming and cycling. A lot of cycling, so at least I was fit. It was a real question, though, what kind of pace my legs would be able to sustain on race day.
Conditions were almost perfect for fast times – temps in the 40s at the start, warming up to the 50s by the end, and no wind to speak of. I seeded myself just in front of the 3:00 pace group, and it took them past the 10K mark to catch up to and pass me. The 3:05 group caught up to me just before the half, which I passed in 1:33:04. At that point I had been gradually slowing from my opening 6:58 pace to around 7:10-7:15 pace, which seemed mostly sustainable.
That is, until beyond mile 20, when it crept up to 7:38 for a few miles, then started coming down again, thanks to a combination of a well-timed energy gel and the beginning of “smelling the barn.” I was doing all sorts of mental race math at that point and realizing that I was probably looking at a 3:11 or 3:12 finish. Not bad, but I have never had a finish time of 3:10 or slower, other than my very first marathon way back in 1982, and one time where I paced my brother-in-law in his very first marathon. I don’t count that one, since I wasn’t going for my best possible time. (Of course there are marathon runs in the 19 Ironmans I’ve done, but I also don’t count them – an Ironman run is more like an ultra.)
Anyway, I started rationalizing a bit. “Still a good time for an old guy, for someone who didn’t really train for this, the team will still be happy, etc.” Then something in me just said “No. Not today!” So I picked it up. Subtly at first. 7:38 in mile 24 became 7:30 in mile 25, and at that point I realized I could dip under 3:10 IF I MOVED MY ASS.
I’m not sure where it came from, but I focused on running like I would run a mile repeat on the track. JUST ONE MILE REPEAT. I thought about my form. I went to my arms to quicken my stride. I repeated “quick, light, smooth, relaxed.” I hit mile 26 with a 7:01 and had 1:40 left to do the final .2 in. I was coming down into the final chute with not too much left, and I could see 3:09:4x on my watch. “Sprint, FFS,” I told myself. And just like that, it was over. I was pretty sure I had gotten it, but I stopped my watch a little late, so wasn’t 100% sure.
It turns out that I beat 3:10 by 3 seconds and ran the final .2 at 6:31 pace. I’m quite pleased that I had enough left in the tank to do that.
Oddly, even though it’s 2:07 slower than I ran two years ago, by age-graded standards it’s my best marathon performance ever. I’m not sure I really buy into those tables – they may just be a way to make old guys feel good about themselves. 😉
Post-race analysis: I’m not sure why this race worked out as well as it did. No marathon training program would tell you I had any business running this thing on the kind of mileage I had put in in training. My lead-up was crewing for Rob Gray at Ultraman the weekend before, which included short sprints to hand off bottles on Days 1 and 2, and then about 16 miles of pacing in the heat at around 9:00 pace on Day 3. That’s way too close to the race to get much physiological benefit, so I can only conclude that keeping up one’s intensity on the bike can maintain one’s running ability to a great extent. Especially if one has a lot of marathon experience and paces realistically.
Anyway, that’s my story. Apparently, the Stupidest Distance Known to Man hasn’t done me in just yet.