I came into my spring marathon this year with easily the best training I’d ever done with a full year of really good training targeting this race. And then I got sick and ultimately failed in my attempt to qualify for Boston. Such is the life of a marathoner. It takes an incredible amount of training to get to the point where you want to be and then you are at someone else’s mercy.
In the past, this would’ve been massively disappointed. But as I’ve run more races, I’ve started to understand that you can’t just expect to toe a starting line and expect to PR every time out there just because you’ve been working hard. It just doesn’t happen that way.
My training for the Twin Cities Marathon has been solid, but I wouldn’t say it’s the best training cycle I’ve ever had. Summer is a somewhat hard time for me to train for a marathon. We are out at our family lake cabin every weekend which takes me away from the treadmill (aka – the “running with kids” machine). In the past, I’d be able to get up at 5 or 6 and rock out a few miles. My daughter would wake up and I’d take a 5-10 minute break to get her some breakfast and get a Disney movie to watch for a little bit while I finish my run. I’d open up the door and be able to watch her while I finish the last 15-60 minutes of my run. Plus my wife would be able to sleep in a bit. It was a win-win situation all around. But May thru September, we aren’t usually at home which makes that a little tougher. I was almost always good for 60 miles per week, but it wasn’t quite as organized or planned as I’d like. Believe it or not, nobody has made me any life-altering offers to allow me to train to run slower-than-sub-elite times while paying me current salary plus benefits. So, as it stands, waking up at 4:30 AM on a Wednesday to fit in workouts or long runs that get cancelled or cut shut due to being a dad is going to be the new “normal.”
Mile 1 – 6:49 – For some strange reason, my Strava race report shows me running a 6:10 first mile. I’m a flawed runner, but I’m not quite that stupid! Felt very comfortable even though the crowd was obviously pretty thick.
Mile 2 – 6:47 – The goal is just to sit between 6:45-6:52 for as long as possible and then hope the hills at mile 21-23 don’t completely destroy me. Trying to feel as efficient and economical as possible in this early part of the race. This was kind of a sneaky hilly mile.
Mile 3 – 6:48 – Got to see my family cheering for the first time. They get so into the Twin Cities Marathon every year! It *almost* makes up for the fact that the course is so hilly at the end of the race. I told them to go at the intersection of Douglas and Knox which is where former Viking Hall of Fame (and also former MN Supreme Court judge) Alan Page comes out every year and plays his tuba.
Mile 4 – 6:41 – We enter Lake of the Isles this mile which is one of the first of four races we run past. The leaves aren’t the normal yellows and oranges but the course is still beautiful. More importantly, I’m running right in the range of where I want to be (this is a slightly net downhill mile) and I’m feeling very fine.
Mile 5 – 6:51 – The crowd support during this mile is phenomenal around Lake Calhoun. I’m not paying attention to my heart rate, but it turns out that I was just cruising around between 168-172 bpm this entire race which is right around 90% of my HRM (189 is the highest I’ve witnessed while training).
Mile 6 – 6:54 – Another well supported mile along Lake Calhoun. I’m still feeling very strong. I’m running with a guy named Aaron who I run into at the local community center. This is his second marathon. I’m just excited to have someone of similar ability to run with. I ran the Dick Beardsley Half Marathon three weeks ago with him (until he took off with two miles left).
Mile 7 – 6:48 – At this point, the pack is starting to thin out a little bit. I got to see my family again on this mile which is always a slight boost. My cousin Alyssa was out there which just reminds me how long I’ve been chasing this Boston Qualifier. In 2005, I was running my third straight Twin Cities Marathon. My twin cousins Adam and Alyssa came with my family wearing shirts that said “Go Brent.” At the time, they were 6 years old. They’re now 16. And I’ve got a daughter who’s 5 years old who now is wearing the “GO” shirt. In 2005, I really thought I had a decent shot at qualifying for Boston. I ran a fast half marathon in May. I had a tough full at Grandma’s Marathon in the heat in June. Then, the day before the Twin Cities Marathon, I was in Duluth coaching our cross country team at the Swain Invitational. All three coaches were planning on running the marathon the next day. The head coach – Jeff Morris – spend all day racing around the course, not hydrating one bit, and eating crap food like hot dogs. The other two coaches – myself and his wife Kay – were a little more conservative running around the course, we were very conscious about hydrating, and eating carbs. Unfortunately, I ate a sandwich that I later found out was originally from our cross country camp in July and then frozen. After the meet, we went to Subway. I wasn’t feeling good and went to the bathroom. And I threw up for about the next 90 minutes. Finally, I felt good enough to crawl into the backseat of the car. About a half hour into the trip, Kay started feeling funky. So we’re both on the side of the interstate puking our guts (and four month old sandwiches) out. Anyway, I decided that if I was feeling good enough to run the marathon, I was just going to run it instead of racing it.
Mile 8 – 6:46 – My mindset is great at this point. I always try to run a marathon with the mantra that the first 10 miles should be ridiculously easy. It doesn’t quite feel ridiculously easy, but on a scale of 1 to 10, it feels about like I’m working at about a 3 or so. Around this part of the Fargo marathon earlier this year, I was already feeling a little bit “off.”
Mile 9 – 6:44 – A “net” downhill mile that actually has the third or fourth biggest hill on the course. Not a monster like the one that is coming up at mile 21, but enough to make me notice. The legs have to work to go up the hill, but I try my best to really fly down the hills.
Mile 10 – 6:46 – I’m really taking in all of the fan support. After the race, my wife was asking me how much of this race you can see people cheering. I thought back and I literally don’t think there is a single mile that you can’t see any people cheering. It really helps you going through these “transition” miles. I kind of zone the crowd out at the end of the race, but I’m feeding off of them between miles 10-20.
Mile 11 – 6:52 – Saw my family one more time this mile. It’s so fun to see my daughter just light up when she sees me. I told my family it’s much easier for me to see them than it is for them to see me. Running wise, I’m feeling good, but I’m a little bit questioning whether or not I quite have sub-3 given I know what the last few miles have in store for me.
Mile 12 – 6:59 – I pop my third Gu for this mile. I used to use all fruity flavors like Strawberry and Raspberry. I don’t like taste or texture of any gels or gu I’ve taken in 13 years of running, so I decided to do something different this year – Russian Roulette gel flavors. I grabbed 6 gels (one every ~4 miles) of different flavors – Salted Caramel, Caramel Machiatto, Tri-Berry, Jet Blackberry, Mandarin Orange, and… Maple Bacon! I couldn’t think of anything that sounded more disgusting than having something that tasted like maple syrup or bacon during a marathon. So, of course, I came up with the idea of Russian Roulette gel packets. The theory behind this is you put your gel packets in you pockets (or in my case, my Flip Belt). When it comes time to eat a gel packet, you open it up and eat it without looking at the flavor. The only way this is any fun, of course, is if this has a disgusting flavor that you don’t want to get. Obviously, you want to get this one out of the way early in the race. But three packets in, I’ve had a salted caramel, caramel machiatto, and one of the fruit flavors.
Mile 13 – 6:49 – The last of our lakes that we go by is Nokomis. I go through the half at 1:28:57 which is EXACTLY what I was hoping for (goal was 1:29 for the first half). I’m feeling okay. Not great, but definitely still feeling positive. I know I’m going to give back a little time for the two mile hill at 21, but I’m thinking if I can maintain relatively well until the hell and then close the last 2 or 3 miles well, I’ve still got a shot at sub-3. At the very least, I’m feeling really confident about my chances to qualify for Boston which I think I realistically need to run at least a 3:07 which gives me a 3 minute cushion under my age-group qualifying time (3:10).
Mile 14 – 6:59 – This mile pretty much reflect exactly what is going on. It’s still a solid mile, but it’s slowed slightly and it feels like more work than the earlier miles.
Mile 15 – 6:45 – I think Aaron and I both saw the 6:59 split on the last mile and decided we’ve got to try to pick things up. The good news is that this is the point in my last marathon that I had my first major “uh oh” moment. I had a pretty major twinge that would later turn into full fledge “I can literally see my calf muscle cramping.” I’ve had some pretty major problem with cramping in the past and I’ve had some struggles in heat. A lot of things lead me to believe that I may be an excessively salty sweater. As a precaution, I tried Skratch Labs Hyper Hydration the night before and the morning of my race. I’ve used regular Skratch Labs before as a “replacement” for Gatorade and I absolutely love it. The Hyper Hydration product is essentially the same but with a BOATLOAD more salt. I know there is a ton of debate about what causes cramping and whether or not salt helps. I don’t even care. I just know I used it for this marathon and I didn’t have ANY cramping problems. So I am 100% going to continue using that product again for marathons and really key races and/or long runs.
Mile 16 – 6:53 – We are finally entering the running “running along the river” portion of the race. Again, I feel good about the mile split, but I know that I’m fighting for this a little more than I would want to be ideally.
Mile 17 – 6:55 – The last few miles, I’ve been keying off an older guy in a yellow shirt. He was wearing a “Masters” bib on his back that helped inform everyone behind him that you were getting beat by someone in his 50s. When the going gets tough, though, I like to find “old guys” (for a lack of a better term) because a lot of them are just like metronomes just hitting the same pace mile after mile. I made it my goal to keep him in sight as long as possible.
Mile 18 – 7:04 – Starting to feel it. I’m doubting I’ve got any more sub 7 minute miles in me at this point which means the sub-3 probably isn’t going to happen. I’m doing math in my head, though, and I like where I’m at. At the end of 18 miles, my cumulative time is 2:03:16. I’ve got 8 miles to go plus that pesky 0.2. I give myself a 1:45 for the 0.2 and I figure 7:30/mile for the remainder of the race gets me in right at 3:05 which is well under the 3:07:30 that would be enough to qualify from Boston (based on this year’s time). Of course, I don’t want to spend 18 months worrying about what the qualifying time cutoff is, so I want to get below 3:10 by as much as possible.
Mile 19 – 7:09 – I’m slowing down, but I’m viewing it as a mile that’s under 7:30 thus theortically “adding” to my “qualify for Boston” cushion. My friend Aaron is feeling good and he said he’s picking it up. I know I don’t have another gear right now. I wish him luck and he slowly takes off in front of me. I finally got the Maple Bacon flavored Gu in my gel packet Russian Roulette. Verdict: not good, but not awful.
Mile 20 – 7:09 – The good news… I can still see the guy in the yellow shirt ahead of me. I go through the “wall” in this mile. Still feeling okay. Not great, but I’ve definitely been worse. I didn’t run this race last year because my daughter Lille was due to be born within a few weeks of the marathon. I ran it two years ago and also 2003-2005. In my first ever marathon in 2003, I walked most of these miles. In 2004, I had my best race of my marathon career (3:26) and I still managed to slow about a minute/mile on these upcoming hills. In 2013, I had to start to walk on the next mile to help deal with cramps. It’s funny because reading my 2013 race report, I was so confident in my fitness because I had 1,700 miles for the year coming into this race. This year, I was coming into the race with 2,500 miles and I felt like I wasn’t 100% confident that I was as fit as I needed to be for this race. Funny how your mind works sometime, isn’t it?
Mile 21 – 7:28 – Having run the marathon 4 times before this one, though, I knew the story of my race was going to play out in the next two miles. For those of you who haven’t run the Twin Cities course before, let me give you a description of the cruel finish to this race. The first 21 miles are flat with some reasonable tolerable rolling hills. Just a shade after mile 21, you get the steepest hill on the course followed by two miles of steady incline. If this was in the first half of the race, it would barely be noticeable. In fact, just before mile 2, there is a hill with almost the same profile for about a half mile as this. I didn’t know there was a hill there until the fourth time I raced the course. The unfortunate part about this hill is the part of the race it resides on.
Mile 22 – 7:51 – Holy (insert the most unpleasant word you can think of here)… this is really tough. I can’t believe I kept this mile under 8 as it feels like I’m not even moving. I’m doing the best I can, but these hills feel like blows from Wladimir Klitschko.
Mile 23 – 7:53 – Pop my last gel. At this point, I’m full on staring into the ground with my headphones blaring completely ignoring the crowd cheers of “you’re almost there.” It feels like these hills are sucking out every ounce of energy out of my now-depleted body. I spot the mile 23 marker maybe a little over 200 yards away and I’m convinced that I’m going to do whatever it takes to get to this mile under 8 minutes. I start to push to get to the mile marker and am blown away when this mile autobeeps under 8 minutes.
Mile 24 – 7:38 – Made a huge tactical mistake that had nothing to do with my race or my race plan. I saw my family on this mile. At this point, I’m done with the hills and I know the math. I know that even 8:30/mi pace would likely be enough to hit my BQ. I see my family and I shout out “We’re going to Boston!” Unfortunately (and completely unbeknownst to me), I completely whiffed in my “attempt” to give my 5-year old daughter Quinn a high five. Whoops! Apparently, this led to quite a bit of consoling from my family after I went by. Sorry Quinn!
Mile 25 – 7:59 – I feel like garbage. I (apparently) ran by a bunch of people that were cheering for me and had no idea. The angry music is blaring and I’m just focused on getting to that finish line.
Mile 26 – 7:56 – I’m just waiting for “the turn.” I know when I hit the turn, it’s all downhill to the finish. Short of a crazy debilitating cramp or my defibrillator deciding to start firing off, I know that I’m going to Boston. At this point, I just want to make sure I have as much cushion as possible.
Last .2 – 1:37 – GPS actually had me at 0.24, but I was pretty proud that I closed the last quarter mile in 6:39 pace. I knew I was really close to an even number, so I tried to really push to get to that even figure. I didn’t quite do it, but I was pretty proud because I though 3:07 was going to be enough to get me into Boston. Barely, but I was fairly sure that I did it. Then, about two minutes after I finished. I looked down at my watch and saw the time said 3:06. HOLY CRAP! In my semi-delirious state, I’d done the math wrong and was a full minute ahead of what I thought I was! My offial finish time is 3:06:02 giving me a BQ +3:58 for 2017!
Final Thoughts – A lifetime goal is finally achieved! It was far from a perfect race, but having run 9 marathons now, I’m starting to think that a “perfect” marathon is maybe a once or twice in a lifetime occurance rather than something you can count on once or twice per season. You are depending on so incredibly many factors to go right – an uninterupted training cycle, good health, lack of work or family stressors along with 100 or more things that can go wrong. And then come race day, you are counting on the temperature, humidity, wind, and rain to all be on your side, as well.
I know that I faded and I faded somewhat hard in the last few miles. I was curious as to how bad it was, so I did a little digging in Strava. I found about 20 runners who ran within about 15 seconds/mile of my pace to compare how they ran miles 20-26. I found a few interesting things. Of those 20 runners, only one runner ran a faster split from 20-26 than their overall pace average. Another runner completely blew up running 20% slower over the past 6 miles than the rest of the race. The average runner slowed about 6.4 percent with 10 runners going slightly faster and 10 runners going slightly slower. My last 9% slower than my overall average was 14th out of 21 runners with similar times when I rank them by how much they slowed down.
All I wanted to do for a majority of those last 6 miles were stop and walk. And I didn’t. I ran 58 seconds slower over the last 6 miles than my previous marathon PR, but a little over 11 minutes faster than the last time I ran the Twin Cities Marathon. Comparing the last 6 miles of Fargo versus the last 6 miles at Twin Cities isn’t even a comparison. I could very easily argue that despite being slower than the Fargo, I actually finished a little better when comparing courses.
But unlike a lot of other marathons, I’m not going to spend a ton of time analyzing the results. I came here with a two-part goal. The first part was to run under 3. I knew that was a goal that was going to take stars aligning. The second part was to finally qualify for Boston. And I freaking did that!
It’s been a long, hard journey. In 2003, I started running to counter act the process of getting fat in college. I ran my first 5k and thought I was going to die. I ran my first 10k and thought I was going to die. I ran my first half marathon and actually thought it wasn’t that bad. And 8 months after I started running, I completed my first marathon in 4 hours, 59 minutes, and 55 seconds. It was both wonderful and unbelievably awful. But I was hooked. I was a marathon runner. The next year, I actually trained with a purpose and really dropped my times getting my half marathon time down to 1:34 and my full marathon down to 3:26. The seed was planted that if I worked really hard, eventually I could some day potentially have a shot of running 3:10:59 (aka a Boston Qualifier). I took a few years away from running. I had two children, helped coach a few state champion cross country/basketball teams, and made a movie before I decide to recommit myself to training really hard again. And I did it! I ran under 3:10:59. But unfortunately, Boston had since changed the qualification standards. But nearly 13 years after I started running as a means to not be fat, I officially ran almost 4 minutes under my Boston Qualifying standard (3:10) and, God willing, I’m going to run the 2017 Boston Marathon!
I wouldn’t be doing this right if I didn’t say a few thank yous. First off – thanks a ton to my supportive family. Long distance running, especially marathon training, is a beast of a time time commitment. My wife Sara has been very understanding and cooperative about random two and three hour runs on the weekends not to mention countless races and coaches commitments. Thank you Sara! I could never have done this without your support. My mom is always up to watch the kids for an extra half hour or hour so I can sneak a run in after work. Whenever I sign up for a marathon, nobody is more excited to come and cheer me on than my sister. I’m constantly inspired by the hard work being done by the cross country and basketball teams I help coach. Seeing you guys work hard encourages me to want to be better. My picture album on all of my social sites (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter) netted me more “likes” and “comments” of anything I’ve ever posted besides having a child. Thank you all for your kind words – I really appreciate it!
I’ve got a lot of coaching ahead of me over the next five and a half months. I’ll continue to train hard after a well-deserved short bender of eating unhealthy food and not really running much. I’m running my last half marathon of the year in a week and a half. If my legs recover well, I’ll hopefully be able to knock out a solid time. Other than that, I’m going to try to continue to wake up early and train my butt off in hopes of knocking out some more PRs next year.