A little over three years ago, I decided to try and run a 5k. I discovered a love for the sport and quickly pushed myself to new challenges. Eighteen weeks later, I crossed the finish line at my first full marathon.
Last weekend, I did it again, for the tenth time. I was a great race. Houston is well known and well respected. The weather was perfect. The course was beautiful. The organization, the expo, the crowd support, the energy were all great. There were 25000 registered runners between the half and the full (both events are run simultaneously) and an estimated 250000 spectators.
So, why did I feel like I was just going thru the motions?
The event seemed like a chore. The expo was great, but I mostly wandered around with little interest. I met Meb, and got a photo and a couple of autographs. But, otherwise, I had seen it all before. I went thru my race morning routine out of habit. I showed up early, surrounded by a lot of other excited runners. I was mostly just waiting until it was time to start. I allowed myself to be herded towards the starting line. I had no butterflies in my stomach waiting for the gun to fire. I just stood there until it was time to go. When that time arrived, I started to move with the rest.
Although the course was beautiful, it barely registered on my radar. I paid more attention to the mile markers and the aid stations. I diligently guzzled gatorade at each station and moved on to the next. My iPod randomly ran thru my playlist. I chated with a few runners, posed for a few photos, but mostly just kept track of how many miles I had left. At around mile 15 or 16, I started to struggle (as I always do). Running became more painful, and my pace slowed. As I typically do, I just sort of stumbled the last 10 miles or so. The finish line came and went. I got the water, banana, medal, shirt, photo, food, and made my way back to the hotel.
It had all become dreadfully predictable and routine.
My first few marathons, I had butterflies. I didn’t know if I could finish. It was the challenge of a lifetime. Then, I felt the same way about a half-Ironman triathlon. Then, a full Ironman took that place for about 2 years. Half IM’s became routine, and they started to blend together. I have deliberately made the choice to never do another full since I want that experience to remain unique and special.
I no longer feel that way about marathons.
I also don’t enjoy the training anymore. I still enjoy running. But multiple 20+ mile training runs are things that I dread instead of enjoying now. I question why I do them. It isn’t for fitness. I will gain the same health benefits from shorter runs (like a two hour long run instead of 3-4 hour runs). Maybe if I were seeing improvement, it would be different. Maybe the lack of improvement is what is turning me off the sport. My first ever marathon is still my second fastest finish time (even though I had gotten off the couch a mere 18 weeks earlier). My best finish time was only 52 seconds faster…running a pancake flat course with cool tempuratures and a 15 mph tailwind the whole race.
On paper, I should be improving. My half marathon time is 1:44. My 10k time is 47:40. My 5k time is 22:49. All of these place me in the top 10% of runners, and point to a marathon finish time of about 3:40-3:50. This would put me in shooting range of Boston Qualifying. Instead, I am languishing at about 4:30-4:35. This is squarely in the middle of the pack. There is nothing wrong with this, but I am hitting this finish time race after race. It doesn’t matter how good or bad the weather is on race day, it doesn’t matter if the course is hilly or flat. It doesn’t matter if I feel “well trained” or not. There is little fluctuation. I hit the wall at mile 15 and its a sufferfest the rest of the way.
My shorter distance races have all improved dramatically in the past year. I improved my 5k by fourty seconds. My 10 k improved by 4:30. My half-marathon improved by over 10 minutes. I have placed between the top 5%-10% of finishers at all of those distances. At the Houston 5k (which was run the day before the Houston Marathon), I easily finished in the to 20% when I deliberately ran slowly so that I would not be too tired the next day. I wonder what I could accomplish is I focused on these shorter races instead of viewing them as “train-thru” events? Training would be more enjoyable. My weekly “long run” would be more manageable. I could better balence my fitness and home life. There are a lot of shorter distance races in town. It would eliminate a lot of expense and time traveling to other cities. I would get most of the health benefits and could better incorporate running into a long term lifestyle. Currently, I am dealing with posterior tibial tendinosis and plantar fasciitis. There would be less joint stress with shorter distance running.
These are thoughts that are crossing my mind post-marathon. Sure, I have had a long season. Maybe it’s just the physical and emotional fatigue talking. But maybe I am just better suited at the shorter to middle distances. Hard to know for sure right now. But, it is something to consider.
Part of me still likes the marathon. It is a bigger event. The swag, the bling, the bragging rights. It’s just something you don’t see at the shorter and smaller races. For now, my 2015 running season is locked in. I am doing my first ultra-marathon (and my last…allowing to retain its “special” status) along with four other marathons. Maybe I will see a breakthrough during these races. Maybe it will just cement my current impressions. I am already avoiding full-Ironman and half-Ironman events. I may do a 70.3 in 2016 if the interest bubbles up and a good event presents itself (rumors of a St. Louis 70.3 continues). Doing one every few years might be the right frequency to allow the anticipation to build. The same might be true of full marathons. I think that having an occasional travel destination main event on the schedule may help keep the interest alive as I focus more on shorter local races. The question becomes how often I put them on the schedule. I had already considered running only two marathons in 2016. Maybe I should consider even fewer. Perhaps one a year, or one every other year would be sufficient. Maybe, that would allow these events to remain special and be worth the time, expense (and physical suffering)…