A year without a marathon

This year I haven’t run a marathon and it looks like I may not. I don’t have a race on the calendar, and I don’t have an answer when people keep asking when my next race is. It isn’t a good or bad thing. It’s just a thing.

My last race sucked. Balls. That’s the colloquial way to describe it. The most accurate, detached and objective way to describe it: I barely crossed the finish line in like six hours and forty-five minutes. Ultra runners on the same course lapped me and finished 50 miles in less time than I did 26.2. The wife worried. I suffered. I could only drag myself to the finish because at about mile 22 a saint of a woman at an aid station gave me a tube of Biofreeze, which I promptly rubbed over the length of the cinder blocks my legs had become.

I learned that I won’t do another full marathon on a trail unless the elevation change runs closer to zero. I also learned that the longer the marathon lasts, the worse the experience. In order to minimize that suck, I need to stick to roads or flat trails. Do they have marathons on rail trails?

I also learned that, while the validation of running races appeals to me, it sits on the sidelines compared to the satisfaction of actually covering the distances. I don’t require the motivation of a race.

During the 15 or so months since that race, I haven’t slacked off. I’ve covered the half marathon distance or more nine times. That’s a half marathon about every six weeks. That includes four sub-1:50 half marathons—pretty good for me, though my best sits closer to 1:42. It also includes three 18-milers, one of which I smoked (again, for me) at 2:31. The most recent was a leisurely 17-miler on Mission Bay and along the Pacific Ocean in sunny San Diego while vacationing. Heaven.

Those runs have taught me that my legs love half marathons. My body’s in good enough shape that I can cover that distance without training. Those runs also taught me that, even on flat roads, the suffering kicks in as early as mile 15. Another lesson: With the rare exception of an 18-miler at 8:24 pace, the longer I want to run, the closer I need to hew to an 8:30-9 minute pace. Every runner has a sweet spot. I think that’s mine.

At that pace, and with some training and preparation, I see no reason I can’t break a sub-4 hour marathon. I’ve come close. In my first marathon, I missed it by 70 seconds. I know my body a lot better now and my fitness has climbed since then. I will hit that threshold but I don’t think I’ll do it this year. I’m having too much fun just running.

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