Last October, I ran my first marathon in four years. It was, to put it mildly, a complete disaster. I overestimated my fitness, took off too fast like a rookie, and hit the wall hard. It wasn’t quite a personal worst, but it was close. This year, I wanted to redeem myself in my 18th state by running smart and having an enjoyable experience.

Once again, my training was decent. I consistently was running around 50 miles a week, which is pretty good, but I was sick for about a month and so did not do any big hard workouts. In fact, I hardly did any workouts at all in the training cycle. But, I got some great long runs in, and the steady diet of 50-mile-weeks buoyed my confidence.

We all went down to Great Wolf Lodge with the Bylers and Caffreys the week before the race, which in hindsight, was not our smartest idea. Anyone who has ever been to one knows what I mean. Great Wolf Lodge is an indoor waterpark and hotel, jam-packed with families from all over, bringing a glorious smorgasbord of diverse and various germs in one enclosed space. Plus, it’s just exhausting chasing after the kids, who always just want to do. One. More. Thing. To add to this less-than-ideal marathon week, the vast majority of the food they offer is fried, with hardly a fruit or vegetable (or whole grain) in sight.

To absolutely nobody’s surprise, at least half of us got sick that week. I personally was down for the count on Tuesday with some sort of stomach bug. Luckily, I recovered by Wednesday, but that still gave me pause before the race.

The Bylers then joined us in a vacation home on the beach in Ocean City for a few days before the race. This was much quieter and relaxing, and gave us a brief respite after the craziness of Great Wolf Lodge.

Before Ashlie and I knew it, Saturday morning dawned and we made our way to the start. Given the incredible failure at Atlantic City, I was determined not to go out any faster than 7:15 pace. My plan was to keep that for at least half way, then pick it up if I was feeling good. A stiff wind from the west, which we would be running into from 12-20, made me decide to wait until 20 to pick up the pace. Luckily, the mercury was not too much above freezing, so we didn’t have to worry about overheating.

I spent most of the first ten miles trying not to go too fast, and ended up jumping between a few small groups. Around ten miles in, I caught up to a half marathoner I had been running with earlier, and two other marathoners. One of them had the absolute craziest cheering section I had ever seen, with a spectator actually running alongside us, live-streaming us and our responses to his questions for a few hundred meters.

After the half marathoner turned off, we three marathoners continued together for quite a while. The stretch from 14-18 or thereabouts was straight into the wind, which strengthened my resolve to keep 7:15s until mile 20. Around this time, I unfortunately lost track of the guys I had been running with. Luckily for me, there were a few runners ahead of me, and I spent the next few miles slowly picking them off. At 20, I was still feeling good, so I gave my legs the go-ahead to start running faster. Immediately I settled into a comfortable pace just under 7:00s.

The last 10K was a complete 180 from Atlantic City. Instead of struggling just to stay moving forward, I was feeling strong and passing people. Around mile 24, I was definitely feeling tired, and started to really dig to keep pace. Finally, when I hit the 25th marker, I decided to see how much I had left, and gave it my all. Secretly, I was hoping to run around 6:30, but my legs could only muster a 6:48. Compared to Atlantic City, however, where my last mile was 9:38, I can’t complain at all! I continued my push to the finish and crossed in 3:07:25, almost 10 minutes faster than Atlantic City.

It’s funny; five years ago, I would have considered a 3:07 marathon a colossal failure. Even in 2019, I crashed and burned after a terrible training cycle in Oregon, but still managed to run a 3:02. But now that I’ve accepted that I am five years older, and not able to train like I used to, I’m very proud of this time. I was honest in my fitness and ability, stuck to my game plan despite wanting to pick up the pace several times, and was able to finish feeling strong and capable. This was a well-executed race, and very much aligned with what my training said I was capable of. So while I am nowhere near the times I used to run, I am aware of my current abilities, and learned from my mistakes to run well. And as everyone who has ever toed the line of a marathon knows, pacing one correctly is one of the trickiest things to do!

After finishing, I put some warm clothes on and waited for Ashlie. She didn’t quite run under four hours as she had hoped, but did improve on her Atlantic City time to finish in 4:01. Plus, despite the small number of runners, she managed to find a buddy to run with for much of the race.

Now to plan our next one!

Categories: Matt's Blog


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