The marathon has been a race I have looked over for the last 3 years as "insignificant" or "boring". In a lot of ways, I still see it as such. Most marathons are on roads, they are almost always crowded, they don't offer the scenery that most ultramarathons do, and they offer little in the way of changing terrain. But in these last few months I have really started to appreciate just what it takes to run one of these races to the extent of your ability.
Ultramarathons have been a safe haven for me mostly because I can avoid completely losing my breath (Leadville excluded) and also can be quite lax with my regulation of pace.... I can always count on catching the next surge of energy. I mean, if you have all day to run, there are going to be highs and lows no matter what you do. The marathon, however, is an elusive monster since it involves toeing the line of complete anaerobic meltdown for what I hope to be two hours and twenty-five minutes.
Three weeks ago I had one last test to see if I could manage this pace with a 30 kilometer progression. For those of you who have never done a progression (I hadn't until 3 weeks ago), the name implies the gradual nature of increasing effort and lowering pace throughout the run. During this run we chose a paved bike trail that travels 15k out, and 15k back.
We began with the pace at around 7 to 7:30 miles, then "progressed" each mile until we reached the 15k mark at just below 6 minute/mile pace. At this point we took a gel and began to hammer the pace until we reached my goal of 5:30. Shockingly, I felt great. We were cruising along for the next 4 miles at this pace and I decided to pick it up a bit. 5:23, 5:21, 5:18... I felt like a machine. Then the last 2 miles came about. 5:14, I felt like I was going to die. I had side stitches, my stride was breaking down, I couldn't breathe correctly, I was in the throws of anaerobic shock. My training partner Dan, a superb marathon runner, kept trying to tell me to breathe easier, focus on my stride, all the of the usual things one might try to say to deflect attention away from the pain. And in some ways it worked, but that last mile was excruciating. We crossed the last mile marker in 5:11. I dry heaved my way back to the car. The pace for the last 15k was 5:23. I couldn't help but smile as I drifted in and out of sleep.
And so this workout, combined with about 3 months of consistent yet redundant training has led me to the starting line of the Miami Marathon. Needless to say, this isn't my ultimate goal for the season. In reality it's a tester to see what I can run for the Mad City 100k in April. But I have a feeling if this race goes well, there won't be much stopping me from a good race in Madison.
One thing is certain. After this weekend, I'll be running a lot more unknown trails and consequently writing more....