As I wind down Operation Jack, it’s easy to get excited and think, “I only have eight more marathons to go!” Well, except that eight more times this year, I still have to get up and run a marathon as fast as I can. I don’t care how many of them you run — they’re never easy. I stood at a marathon start line for the 54th time this year Sunday, knowing it was time to pound it as hard as I could for 26.2 miles. This time, it was the Rock ‘N Roll San Antonio Marathon.
Just in case you’ve never been here before, I’m a father of three and a marathon runner. My middle child, 7-year-old Jack, is severely autistic. I decided I wanted to make a difference in the autism world. My strength is in running multiple moderately decent marathons without much recovery, so I figured I’d try to run 61 marathons this year to raise money and awareness for a charity I’m a part of called Train 4 Autism.
Anyways, San Antonio. I have to give a little background. I had an extremely difficult September. Seven races, including two ultras — one the day after a marathon and one in 85-degree heat with 70 percent humidity six days after the previous one. One double, one triple. The five that “only” went 26.2 had an average starting elevation of 7,050 feet. So, I was pretty beat up after that.
I headed into October and ran a string of races that were fairly poor for my standards. 3:28 in St. Charles on October 3. 3:29 in Chicago on the 10th. 3:29 in Kansas City on the 16th followed by a 3:28 in Denver the next day. I was a 3:40 pace leader the subsequent weekend and after that, I decided I wanted to train harder and start getting my speed back down to where it should be.
I went 3:23 in the Marine Corps Marathon on Halloween Day. Last weekend, I went 3:19:36 in Fresno, Calif. So, for San Antonio, I wanted to continue to move in the right direction. It’s kind of tough to try to make speed gains heading into your 54th marathon of the year, but I figured I’d try. I listened to my body during the week, cut runs short when I needed to, and had a fairly decent track workout on Friday morning. Would that be enough?
We got going and I felt fine early on. Part of me wanted to lock into a conservative pace and try to hold it, but that idea lasted less than a mile. I ran by heart rate, doing everything I could to keep it dialed up. I can tell when I run by heart rate that my fitness is pretty good. I just don’t have a lot in my legs right now. Mentally, it’s a little tough right now. As excited as I am about getting through this, there’s not a lot of fun in it. I have to get out there and run. It’s work. A lot of the joy has disappeared. But I’m still competitive and even if I’m not having a ton of fun, I want to do my best. I expect nothing less.
I was turning out miles in the 7:00 – 7:10 range and it didn’t feel too fast. It just felt like a nice, solid run. I knew it wouldn’t hold, but I felt stronger than I have in a while. I expected to go through the half at around 3:10 pace, then fade somewhere midway through the second half. I just don’t have enough right now to put together 26 solid miles. Banking time isn’t the way to run a race if you’re ready for it, but for me, running hard while I can is important. That’s all I can do.
I went through the half in 1:35:36, about a 3:11 pace. I knew it wouldn’t hold and I didn’t have any good feeling about how bad I’d drop off. I think I stayed on about 3:12 pace until mile 15 or 16. I was thinking I might have a chance to run a 3:15, which would have made me pretty happy. That’s my Boston qualifying time, and I haven’t run one of those since August 29.
At mile 17.5, the drop-off I was expecting happened. I could tell that I was cooked for the day. My 7:15s and 7:20s turned into 8:00s. Nothing I could do but keep pushing along as hard as I could. As I always tell people, the faster you run, the sooner you’re done. We ran into a bit of a headwind quite a bit over the last 6 or 7 miles, so that made it a little tough.
I normally start doing math in my head at around mile 22 to figure out what my time will be depending on what I average. I didn’t do that, but I had a pretty good feeling I was looking at somewhere between 3:17 and 3:19. I finally did the math with two miles to go. There was about 3:03:50 gone at that point, so I knew that if I could average a 7:00 pace over the last two miles, I’d end up with a 3:17. 7:30s would net me a 3:18 and 8:00s would at least get me a sub-3:20.
I don’t like kicking for two miles, but I did. I felt pretty strong and I knew I was moving well. I got a charge from flying by the half marathoners on the left and I was cruising past folks who had passed me in the previous six or seven miles. When I hit one mile to go, I needed about a 7:00 mile to get that 3:17. I really, really wanted it. I don’t know why, but I just did.
I kept booking stayed as focused as I could on running fast. I was moving at about a 6:50 pace, which for me at this point in mile 26 of a marathon is pretty good. We went up a slight incline that slowed us down, then made a sharp right turn and headed for home. I could see it, and I was watching my time, and I knew I had zero time to spare.
I gave it everything I had, dropping my pace as low as 4:27. I crossed the finish line, hit my Garmin and saw 3:18:00, but you usually get one or two seconds on your chip time. All I needed was one, and that’s what I got. My official time was 3:17:59. It’s another step in the right direction. I’m not giving up on my sub-3 quest this year, even though I’m struggling right now. I’ll keep pushing and doing what I can to get a little better each week.
As for the course, I thought it was OK, nothing spectacular, but nothing terrible. We ran by the Alamo, went through some sections of town that weren’t too savory (which I always find interesting to see), we ran through a big cemetery, we hit some industrial sections and we went through what I think was the downtown section. The race went off well, the volunteers did a good job and I didn’t have any real complaints. Transportation from the parking area to and from the start/finish area went off very smoothly, which is unusual for a Rock ‘N Roll event. I’d consider it a decent race worth running.
And I guess that’s about it. 54 down, only SEVEN to go! Can you tell I’m excited?
Me, my brother Josh and his friend Lex after the race. They ran the half marathon and we all had a great time..