TITLE: An Encore Performance
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: September 13, 2009 2:06 PM
Marathon coaches commonly recommend that runners
training for a marathon run a half marathon four to
six weeks prior to their big race. A half marathon
offers a way to test both speed and endurance, under
conditions that resemble the day of the marathon.
If nothing else, a half is a good speed workout on
a weekend without an insanely long long run.
While training for my previous marathons, the timing
had never seemed quite right for me to run a half
marathon. We only have one half in area during the
month of September, and those were weeks when I was
trying to work in a final 20-miler.
This year, I decided to run a half as a test: Do I
still think I can be ready to run a marathon in six
weeks? In past years, this was never a question, but
when I drew up my training plan a mere eight weeks
ago, I had real doubts that my body would allow me to
work up to the speed and I mileage I needed for a
marathon. The Park to Park Half Marathon, which has
quickly become the top distance race in the Cedar
Valley, was timed perfectly for me, six weeks before
my race. I designed a training schedule that ramped
my long-run mileage up very slowly, and I needed a
break the weekend of Park to Park between 18- and
20-milers. So I penciled the race in to the plan.
My intention for this was typical: run ten miles at
marathon goal pace and then, if my body felt good,
speed up and "race" the last 5K. My dream goal pace
this year is 8:30, which is quite a bit slower than
my gaol the last few years of training. 8:30 feels
good these days. As the race started, I kept telling
myself to stay steady, not to speed up just because
I thought I could. My catch phrase became, "Don't
breathe hard until the 10 mile mark." While that's
a tough request, I did manage to run comfortably over
the opening miles of the course.
My run followed the script perfectly. I reached the
10-mile mark in 84 minutes. My body felt good enough
to speed up. Mile 11: 7:54, including a drink stop.
Mile 12: 7:50. Still good. Mile 13: 7:30.
As we neared the 13-mile mark, I was just trailing
a group of five or six people and decided in my
good spirits to sprint full-out and try to pass them.
I took the first n-1 of them easily, but the
last was a younger guy who heard me coming and sped
up. Did I have another gear? Yes, but so did he.
We each surged a couple of times in that last tenth
of a mile, but he was too good for me and stayed
ahead. I ended up running that sprint in 36 seconds.
Later, I saw on the results board that my rival
those last few seconds won the under-19 age group.
I am not too surprised that a young guy still had
more gas in his tank -- and anaerobic capacity --
My course time: 1:47:47. (My chip time was a few
seconds more, because there no timing mat at the
starting line). I finished 15th in age group and
95th overall out of 550 half-marathoners.
This day felt like a rerun of
best case scenario:
a good time, better time than I might have hoped.
My body and mind felt good after the race. That is
the good kind of repeat I am happy to see.
I ran this race without a partner to talk me through
the time, as I did in Indianapolis. That is good,
too, because I'll be running solo at
my marathon next month,
which will also be much smaller than any other marathon
I've run. I'll need to discipline my own mind in Mason
City. I did have one pleasant conversation during the
half, around the 7- or 8-mile marker. A former student
caught up to me, said 'hello', and told me that he was
running his first half marathon. We talked about pace
and endurance, and he admitted that he was thinking
about dropping out after 9 miles. I encouraged him,
and he dropped back.
Later, I was happy to hear his name called out on the
intercom as he crossed the finish line. The look of
satisfaction on his face, having endured something he
feared he could not, was worth as much as my own good
feeling. Now that I have run several long races and
many more 5Ks, it is easy to view the ups and the
downs with a jaded eye. But accomplishing a goal as
challenging as this is never ho-hum. Seeing Joe
finish reminded me that.
This was a perfect tune-up for me, and now I have some
reason to think that I can run a marathon six weeks
from now at a reasonable pace. I have a couple of
more long runs to do -- a 20-miler, then a second 20
or a 22-miler among them -- along with some speed
But today, I do what God did on the seventh day: rest.
I ache all over.