I headed into Sunday’s Tucson Marathon thinking I had a shot at running faster than my current personal best of 3:00:05. I’ve been chasing that elusive sub-3 (faster than three hours) for three years now. After 26.2 miles on Sunday, I’m still chasing. The course reinforced two things I kind of knew going into the race. Marathons are hard. And I’m out of gas.
Just in case you’ve never been here before, I’m a father of three and a marathon runner. I’m attempting to run 61 marathons in 2010 to raise money and awareness for a charity I’m a part of called Train 4 Autism because my middle child, 7-year-old Jack, is severely autistic. I named this endeavor Operation Jack and Tucson was marathon No. 59 of the year.
This is the course where I ran my best time back in 2007 and I went in optimistic I could challenge the time. There were plenty of reasons to doubt that I could. Like, it was my 59th marathon of the year and I ran a pair of slow marathons last weekend (3:26, 3:32). But I’m a strong downhill runner and Tucson is a downhill course. It’s still tough, because it’s painful to pound down hills, but it’s one that’s geared towards my strengths as a runner.
Right now, I don’t have any speed, but I feel fairly strong. My gameplan was to stay focused early, hit my miles, don’t go too hard (by heart rate) and do everything I can to fight through pain in the second half of the race. Lately, when I’ve been falling apart, I’ve been in too much pain to fight past 160 bpm on my heart rate monitor when I should be running at 170. At 170, I have the speed I need. It’s just incredibly painful for me to keep it there.
So, I expected this one to hurt. But I viewed it as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Realistically, this is my last chance at it this year. It would be an incredible way to put a cherry on top of these 61 marathons I’m running. And a sub-3 next year, something I have no worries about getting, just wouldn’t be the same. So this was my race. I thought it was going to be my day. I’ll never get this chance again. I was ready to dig as deep as I could.
All of my superstition was lined up. By random chance, I booked a room at the same motel I stayed at when I set my personal best. I also flew into Tucson in 2007 and this year, unlike the other three times I ran the race and drove. I even ate at the same restaurant the night before. I was ready!
So, we started and I got rolling. It’s exciting going through the start line and wondering, “Is this my day?” I ran my PR in my ninth lifetime marathon. Sunday was my 87th. Someday that day is going to come. I felt good early, fast on the downhills, a little slow on the uphills. I didn’t get excited or concerned about anything, because a marathon is a long, long ways to run. There are some rolling hills and once I came out of there, I was flying. Everything was going according the way I thought it would early.
At about mile 10, we turned onto a section called Bioshpere Road. It’s a boring, hilly out-and back with a net gain of roughly 250 over two miles before we turned around. I knew this section was critical to my day. If I came out of it well, I figured I’d have a fighting chance heading back down the hill after we turned back out. On the way out, the hills took a lot out of me. I didn’t go attack them too hard, but I could tell they set me back. There’s a fine line between going too slow and not being able to turn it back on and going too hard too early and emptying the tank. I think I ran them fairly well, but for me, right now, running a sub-3 marathon is just too much.
I was well hydrated heading into the race, but I was starting to feel thirsty. The sun sun was starting to come out, too. The four previous times I’ve run this one, the temperature at the start was about 39 and at the finish it was about 62. This time it was about 10 degrees warmer across the board.
I hit the half in 1:33 flat and knew I wasn’t going sub-3. I can’t hit 1:27 in the second half of a marathon. About 10 seconds later, though, I told myself not to count myself out. I told anybody who would listen that I was going to do everything I could to find my highest gear. I was in it, and I was determined to find out what it would bring.
I kept rolling and the downhill miles I was running earlier in 6:20-6:40 were taking about 7:05 or so. 6:50 is about what I need for sub-3, and I needed to make up time, so at mile 14, when I saw that 7-minute mile, I knew it wasn’t happening. I felt good, though. My legs were turning well, I felt strong, and I thought I had a good chance and something between a 3:03 and 3:05.
At mile 17, though, I totally bonked. It was miserable. I went from running 7s to running 8:50s out of nowhere. I kept my heart rate high and got nothing out of myself. I was running downhill, but I felt like I was running uphill. I was in pain physically, and internally, I didn’t feel tremendously well.
I knew the death march was on and I watched my average time gradually creep up. I didn’t know when I was going to snap back into it. The 3:10 started slipping away. Then the 3:15 pace group passed me. I thought I was going to go 3:17 or so again. I’ve run a bunch of those this year and I ran that in Tucson last year.
I tried to shuffle but that didn’t work. I couldn’t get my body to respond. It hated me and it was protesting. I started visualizing the finish, wondering if I’d be able to stand when I was done. It was starting to seem really nice to just collapse and lay down when I crossed through, because I was about as beat-down physically as I’ve been. I didn’t want to do that, though, because my dad was there at the finish and he probably would have freaked seeing me go med-tent.
Anyways, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t kick late at all. I had to fight to hang on to sub-3:20, and couldn’t even get my pace quicker than 8:00. I crossed the line in 3:19:38. It was a brutal, brutal experience.
Looking back a few hours after the finish, here’s my quick analysis. I went all-in, went for something that was beyond my reach, and paid the price. It wasn’t necessarily going out too fast, like running at 10K pace. But I really beat myself up bad early and I don’t have enough in me to put in 26 solid miles nowadays. I clearly ran out of gas and had to deal with it.
Going back, would I run it any differently? No way. This was sub-3 or die trying, one last time during Operation Jack. I wanted something like this. I wanted the feeling of knowing I killed it and that’s what I got. When you do what I’m doing, you want the feeling of knowing you went all in, even if you failed, and that’s what I’m did. So, I’m totally content with this one.
After the race, I got my phone and texted my wife Tiffany, like I always do, to let her know I was OK.
“Done and safe, MISERABLE day. 3:19”
She texted me right back.
“It’s okay babe. God wanted u to save the sub 3 for when I’m out there with u. 🙂 love u and am o proud of u.”
Ahhh, chicks. There supposed to be the ones who cry. But she made me teary-eyed with that.
So there you have it. 59 down, 2 to go. I’m really almost there!
At the finish.