I finally did it. Something I had set a goal on over a decade ago. I broke 3 hours in the marathon. It’s the magic number in marathons for the average runner. There are so many things that have to happen to run below that number that very few do it. For serious college runners, it’s not that big of a deal, for everyone else it is. Twenty-six miles is a tough distance. It’s long and pounding. The training to merely be able to make the distance is tough but I truly feel anyone can run a marathon if you train and have the goal of just finishing. It becomes a different game when you try and bring down the time. That requires a sacrifice of time and a whole lot of effort. It’s the kind of goal that takes a blessing from your family.
I first started running when I saw P. Diddy Runs the City tv show on MTV. It was a show about P. Diddy trying to beat Oprah Winfrey’s time in the marathon. 5 hrs 30 minutes. A time which almost anyone who trains for 4-5 months should beat. The show was pretty much a show about someone that partied while trying doing half-assed training. I figured if he could party and do it, I could do it. He did beat it but not by much. I trained for 5 months at about 30 miles a week and ran my first marathon at Grandma’s at 3:40. I was 38 years old and a decent time for a first-time runner and first marathon.
Once I did it I heard everyone talking about qualifying for Boston. To run at Boston you had to beat a time that was determined by your age. It got easier as you got older. My time at 38 was 3:15. A giant leap for me and one I knew I couldn’t do. So I prepped to go for the easier time when I turned 40. Three hours twenty minutes. The extra 5 minutes seemed like a lifetime. I really don’t remember the details but it took me adding 10 more miles a week, some speed work, and I finally did it. 4 years of training every day but I did it. A lot of people did it because Boston made the time harder a few years later and moved it down to 3:15. What seemed impossible wasn’t out of the question now. Boston gave me a new goal. That five minutes turned out to be a hard 5 minutes. It doesn’t sound like a lot until you try and run 5 minutes fast. It took a year or two but I finally ran 3:14 at a race and qualified again.
Once I did that I figured I could never get to the next level. 3 hours. It was just too fast. So I switched to doing Ironmans to have a goal of just finishing instead of trying to keep going faster. I was burnt out. After a few Ironmans I decided that 17 hours a week of running, biking, and swimming was just too much so I came back to just running with 3 hours on the mind.
I’m getting older every year so trying to run faster while getting older doesn’t correlate. I hit the training hard. 3:11, 3:07, 3:05 but the 3:05 race went perfect and it was with the new “cheater” shoes Nike had just come up with. But as my time went down my age keeps going up 48,49,50. The list of 50 years plus people that have run sub 3 is short. There have been a lot of sub-three but they always ran that in their youth. “Yeah, I’ve run sub 3” “How old were you?” “32”. Still a great accomplishment but I can’t go back in time.
I didn’t have many things to do to my training that could help me run faster. I had done them all. From diet to high mileage, to special types of runs. The only thing left was to hire a professional. So I hired a coach I met while working in Kenya. I told him my goals and assured him that I would put in the effort and dedication and do what he says. I told him I have been preparing for this for 13 years and I was patient. I had the base to put it the miles and wasn’t afraid of pushing it as long as I got to pick my rest days when I thought I needed them. He agreed and was just as excited as me about trying to get an old guy to 3 hrs.
So I put in the work. Averaging 60 miles a week late spring and all summer. 70-80 miles on the big weeks. The big change he gave me is adding a lot of miles at race pace during my long run. It started with a few minutes up to the final test of 18 miles at 6:45 pace during a 24-mile run. It’s what was needed to show my body what it feels like and that I could hold the pace necessary. I had never done that before. I did that for shorter runs but never for long runs. I figured it would beat up my body too much. It did but that’s what I needed. Your body protects itself. It makes the legs tired and the mind weak to prevent you from hurting itself. You have to teach it that everything will be OK and to let you go.
My last helpful move was to sign up for a fast marathon course. The Tunnel Marathon is slightly downhill for 26 miles. It sounds like cheating but there’s a catch. It’s on a trail. No road or asphalt. Rocky and gravely, can be muddy, and your quads take a pounding. So it can be very fast and most people have one of their best marathons there, but it takes away a lot of the shoe advantage and a turned ankle is a common hazard. The other amazing and unusual part of the race is the first 2.5 miles is through a completely dark Train Tunnel. The pitch of the path is like an upside-down V so you have to run at the peak with a headlight. No real way to measure pace or distance and you have only a headlight to run by. It’s beautiful and difficult at the same time. We came out of the tunnel and checked our expected time and I was already 20 seconds behind pace because I couldn’t measure pace in there. My training took over and I was in the lead pack. I always trailed because I like to chase. I felt sick to my stomach the whole time because I was either nervous or my body was moving faster than it had for that long. Either way, I didn’t feel good at all until the last 5 miles heading home. By then my quads were killing me and my calf was giving me signs of seizing up. But I talked to myself mentally about what I needed to do. Keep moving forward. Take each few minutes at a time. If I kept moving forward I could do it. I had built up enough extra time that even if I slowed down a bit I’d be OK. By the time I got to 2 miles I knew I could crawl home and almost break it. Once I got to the last mile my mind and body released me and I started sprinting. It hurt. It hurt bad, but a life goal was about to be met and I was going to crush it. 2:58:17 was the final number. Like all runners that finish, I think I could have done better but I am still amazed with the time. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would really do it.
I thought I would cry when I did it but I didn’t. I almost felt like this is where I should be running. Instead of celebrating an achievement I almost felt like I had done it several times before. Maybe because I had run so many miles during training at that pace. I called my wife, my daughter, Michael Cyger, and my Coach. My 4 biggest supporters that weren’t there. All the rest were there running or waiting for me at the finish line. An amazing experience shared with friends and family. At age 51 I still get to experience sport achievement and fun with friends. That is wealth, that is happiness. That is what life’s all about. A 13 year journey for one 3 hour run. A sub 3 hour run.
Quote of the Day: We are all in the same storm. But we are not all in the same boats. – Dr. Bonnie Henry
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