Back in June I started a 16 week training program for the Baltimore Marathon. It was a pretty aggressive training plan that I felt I was ready for, but 12 weeks into the plan things were not going as I well as I had hoped.
After running the Philadelphia Rock and Roll Half Marathon as a training run, I knew that competing at the marathon distance like I wanted to would not be possible. I knew a month ago that if I were to run the 26.2 miles in Baltimore this weekend I would have crashed and burned.
So four weeks ago I downgraded my registration from the marathon proper to the half marathon.
I felt like I could continue my training as it was going and be ready to compete (with myself) at the half marathon distance in a respectable manner. In the days leading up to race morning I figured I would aim for a 2:10 half marathon. Two hours and ten minutes is almost twenty minutes slower than my personal best time, but I knew that at my current fitness a new personal best was not in the cards and 2:10 was a fine time to aim for.
The Baltimore Running Festival is a little quirky in that the marathon and half marathon start an hour and forty five minutes apart at different starting lines. The marathon started at 8:00 am and the half marathon started at 9:45 am.
If you are a runner then you know a 9:45 start is pretty late for most races.
And with my hotel room just a few blocks from the starting line and only two blocks from the finish line I didn’t have to wake up as early in the morning, although I was still up pretty early. Usually I have less than two hours to get ready and make sure I get a good poop in before rushing to the start and worrying about the race. This time I had more than enough time to poop and dress and watch the marathon start and chill out before the race start.
I was feeling really good before the race and that made me nervous.
I was feeling so good that I couldn’t help but think of what would be going wrong at the last minute.
But nothing went wrong. The race start was smooth and I quickly settled into a nice pace. One thing I did not know about Baltimore is that it is pretty hilly. And from the very start we were going up a long gradual incline.
This is where I started to worry.
First I thought about my wife who started a little behind me. She was already worried about the race because she hasn’t been running a lot, and I thought the hills would kill her legs and fuel her frustration.
Then I thought back to the Delaware Marathon. That too was a hilly race and the up hills and down hills battered my legs and made me slow to a crawl at the end of the race.
Not only did the Baltimore Half Marathon start with a long slow uphill, but it seemed like it was all up hill. When I would get to the top of the hill and look forward to a down hill section I was discouraged to find that the down hill only lasted for a few minutes and then it was back to a long slow up hill.
By the time I reached the ten mile mark I was ready to stop. I just wanted to walk a little bit and give my legs a break. But I knew that walking, even for just a few seconds, would be a mental break that would lead to a finish I would not have been satisfied with.
So I kept running.
I would slow down a little when my legs were heavy, or when a hill was steep, and then speed up when the down hill came. I was keeping a pretty steady pace and I knew that if I broke that pace too much then I wouldn’t be able to get it back.
The last couple miles were the worst of the race. This is where I usually let myself walk. It starts with walking through the water stations and then turns into walking more often than I should.
But not this time,
Here is a simplified strategy when running a marathon: Don’t be an idiot in the first 20 miles and don’t be a wimp in the last 6.2 miles.
Yesterday I scaled it down a bit. I had ran the first ten miles pretty smart. Not going out too hard. Keeping the pace under control. Now it was time to not be a wimp in the last three miles.
So I kept running.
And when I came to mile 11 with nothing but downhill left I knew that this was it. This was were I found out if I could mentally push through the pain. This was pain I had experienced in past races, but it was also pain that feels new every time it comes to me.
And I kept running.
I reached the corner of Pratt and Eutaw and passed my hotel. I entered Camden Yards and passed the home of the Baltimore Orioles. I pushed as hard as I could knowing that it was almost over…
And when I crossed the finish line and looked at my watch, I was pleased.
My official finish time was 2 hours 6 minutes and 33 seconds.
My fourth fastest half marathon time ever.
And when Jamie crossed the finish line, she also had a great run. We both finished our races happy and injury free. We were aching and hurting, but it was the good hurt that you can only get from pushing to the brink of your current fitness levels.
After that was pizza and a nap.