It is hard to imagine the changes which I have made since the last Richmond Marathon. Beginning almost immediately after the race (the following Monday night, in fact), I was determined to improve my time. I ran 5 miles that night, pushing to keep at a 10 min/mile pace. Not fast.. at least not as fast I would become, but a push for someone coming off a 5:24. I had caught the marathon fever, and a desire to lose the elements which were keeping me above a 5 hour finish.
20 lbs. came off between November 13 and January 1. Despite all the holiday temptations and my impending birthday celebration, I avoided and conquered and ran, and ran, and ran. And then, although I had only dreamed of it in passing, I signed up for the National Marathon in D.C. Suddenly I had a goal. Not just a vague "Next Year!", but a looming 6 weeks in the future goal. I had been increasing my mileage, thinking about doing a half marathon. But no!! Time to go for the gusto.
Prepared.. confident.. and weak. The hamstring injury, which I suffered on an 18-mile training run for the 2010 Richmond Marathon, and which almost kept me from running the race, had been allowed to lapse into relative painlessness. Occasional soreness in the belly of the hammie.. a bit of favoritism during the runs... and unwillingness to push on the hills.. all part of being a smart runner.. Right? Instead, the compensation was making me just a bit weaker... I had become faster. Running 9 minute miles easily... Occasionally a sub-9. But one day on the treadmill, back spasm. I seized.. I almost fell flat on my face. And just a month to go before National. Add to that the other stresses of life at the time, and it was all unfair!!! But no!! I'm in charge.. I've got a goal.. I've been doing my training.. I couldn't be more ready.. And so I saw a chiropractor, a triathlete.. an Ironman.. He knew what my motivation was.. I could run, he promised.. But I needed to do some more work.
National was a success, but also a disappointment. I had my minimum goal - to finish. My real goal - to finish in under 5 hours. And my secret dream goal - to finish in 4:30. I knew the dream goal was possible. I could run 9's. That wasn't hard. And 4:30 would let me run 10's. But I still had work to do. Cold.. not confident with the hamstring.. the fear of the back becoming wonky again.. and that mental wall which I hit 16 miles in.. in every race to date.
I got my sub-5 that day. 4:48.51. Not the 4:30 I was hoping for. From Mile 13, as all the half-marathoners went to party at the finish line, I was routed behind RFK Stadium. A leper.. one of THOSE people.. who can't quit when it's time. The only witnesses to my half-marathon finish were a timer, a water stop volunteer, and someone handing out Gu. From there, my race slowly fell apart. Back out along the same path I had already trod for the first half. Back behind the Capitol, onto Pennsylvania Avenue. And then my mental and physical wall. I get tired at 16 miles. And that's where the end begins. Too much walking from Mile 16 on. Cold and lonely, until a nice little pick-me-up for the last 6 miles as my beautiful wife ran beside me, encouraging me to continue despite spasming, cramping quads and calves. When I ran, I ran fast. But I couldn't run long.. 100-200 yards at 9:30's, and then slow walking. Even as I passed a gangster funeral in Anacostia and trampled up and down the rolling hills leading to the bridge over the freeway. The last half mile leading up a hill to the finish line. The clock said 5:05. Fortunately, the chip time was better. But I knew I had come nowhere near my dream goal.
But I knew that a new marathon.. MY marathon was coming up again. This time that 4:30 would be mine.