26.2 miles, 3:59:07, 9:08/mile. Continuous run, walk through water stops.
I finished the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on November 4 in 3:59:07. In so doing, I also qualified for the 2019 Boston Marathon. I can't believe this really happened. So much came together for one special race day. Here's the background and the day's story.
As best I can recall, this crazy idea first hit me while flying to the 2009 Portland Marathon...could I really qualify for and run the Boston Marathon? Since then, eight years now, I've pondered this, the dream of many marathoners, sometimes seriously, sometimes in resignation.
I got more serious about a BQ after running a four hour marathon for the first time ever at the 2015 edition of the Monumental Marathon. That success triggered thinking I could shave more time off 26.2 and get the BQ. I stated this goal on this blog in early 2016, hoping to BQ before September 2016 and run Boston in 2017. Didn't happen, though I got within 5 minutes of the required 3:55 twice. I tried again at Chicago 2016, which would have qualified me for Boston 2018, only to come up 8 minutes short and that on a perfect day to run on a dead flat course. I was bummed...could I ever get quick enough to BQ??
Two nights after Chicago, an idea hit me as I tried to fall asleep: When do I get old enough that I'd get the next bump in qualifying time? I got up, checked Boston's website, made a time line and eureka...Boston's qualifying time is based on one's age on the day Boston runs. On April 15, 2019, I'll be 65 and that means my qualifying time for that race would be 4:10, not 3:55. Starting in late September, 2017, the qualifying window opened...so, could I try to run another 4 hour marathon? Thus, the latest plan was hatched a year ago.
Central to that training effort was the quest to figure out how to hold speed through the entire 26.2 miles and avoid the deep pace fade in the final 6-8 miles that plagues most marathoners. Looking at a lot of my race experience, it was evident that I did best when running a very even pace, not banking speed. Logically, this would be a role a race pacer might provide. I had a hint of that benefit in the 2015 Monumental Marathon. But I needed more experience. So, I looked for opportunities to practice this pattern.
My first try for a BQ this fall was on September 23 at the Grand Lake Marathon in Ohio. They had a four-hour pacer, I fell in with him and it worked great through mile 15. But then the 95F temperatures took a toll. I bonked and so did the pacer. It didn't happen that day.
Then, three weeks before Monumental, I ran the Boilermaker Half Marathon, a big race only 10 minutes from my house. They had pace groups too, so I fell in with the 2 hour pacer to practice this pattern. It worked perfectly, as you can see me crossing the finish line here with Treena, an excellent pacer.
My time for that half marathon was 1:59:23 and I felt totally relaxed and fresh at the finish, despite it being a warm day. I felt more confident about the plan than ever and ran 17 miles the next day for my last long run before Monumental. And it was fun to finish the Boilermaker HM with several work colleagues.
Brooke, Michelle, Steven and I finished Monumental as well...first-rate engineers and scientists and good people, all.
Life goes on, of course; I had to get the Chicago Cubs through the baseball playoffs this fall. Not quite as successful as 2016 but we did our best, with our three oldest grandchildren sporting plenty of Cub stuff for a watching party vs the Dodgers. Duty calls.
Race week finally arrived and a pal sent me this cartoon...the perfect description of the lead-in to an important race.
Earlier in the week, the forecast had much rain falling on race day. But, that gradually slid off and by Friday, it was apparent we were going to have very favorable weather. That helped.
I've run this marathon 5 times before, so know the course and logistics well, which really helped. Up early and drove to Indy with long time running buddy, Jon, my son David (father of the kids above) and new running pal Sean. Jon scored a great parking place and we got to the designated warm up room in the Indy Convention Center nearly 2 hours before the gun. I met up with a team from our local running store...good to see them.
Monumental is now a big race in its tenth year, with over 19,000 runners in all distances. Squeezing this many people onto one narrow city street in front of the Indiana State Capitol Building is an adventure in shoe-horning. So, David and I headed to the starting grid around 6:40 and it was a good thing. I needed to make sure I found the 4 hour pacer and got into the same Wave with him. It worked and I settled in to await the many speeches before we started just past 8:00. The weather was nearly perfect, with the start temp of 45F, cloudy skies, and the finish temp of 50F. A bit of wind, but not bad, coming from the southeast. Only a few minutes of a very light mist, so it was terrific.
In the grid, I saw running pal Michelle (not work colleague Michelle), who also wanted to go with the 4 hour pacer. She and I have run several events together as we have about the same pace and many similar interests. It was fun to talk with her prerace and run together through the first eight miles. She ultimately pulled away from the pace group and set a PR at 3:54.
By and large, the race simply became running and staying with Tim. It contained elements I've seen many times before. I hit a low spot around mile 11, which didn't surprise me, as I often hit a low spot around 90 minutes or so into any distance race. I knew to just persevere and work through it and that took care of it. I was then fine and felt very good at the halfway mark. AND I knew this was not significant...we had a long way to go.
My real interest was to see what happened at mile 16 and beyond. This is where I often fade (as do a lot of people) and I knew all the landmarks where I had faded in this event previously. Yet, it went well; Mile 16 rolled by fine, 17 was good, 18 happened quickly (the only hill on the course and I motored up it), 19 was a long, lonely stretch and went well, mile 20 came at just over three hours on the clock. I still felt fine. Man, I say to myself, might this be the day?? This was the first time I allowed myself to gently anticipate getting the BQ. I didn't want to be disappointed again.
At a water stop just past 20, a very enthusiastic local running group was cheering us on and I had a big smile to see chalk letters on the pavement saying "Boston in 2019!!" Yeah, that's what I'm shooting for! On we went, and went through mile 21, still OK. Where was The Wall? In those rare, good marathons, I usually find the wall somewhere between 16 and 21 and if it didn't show by then, it usually didn't show. Might that be the case today?
Just past mile 21, this race got serious. That Sneaky Wall, the scourge of Marathoners, had been laughing at me, hiding in the weeds, wanting to catch me unawares. My stomach churning was the first clue but, mostly, the turnover really started to flag. I had been close to the pacer, had my eyes locked on his bright orange shirt all day but for the first time I just was not hanging with him as easily as I had. I was working hard and my breathing picked up. The mental battle set in...what do I do? It hurt and I was at a low ebb.
Two things helped. First, I'm an engineer and thus a linear thinker. So, I had a pace chart in my pocket with mile splits to account for a slowing final 7 miles. Doing the math (I wasn't so discouraged I couldn't do the math...see engineer statement above), I realized I was still on track for the BQ...the pace hadn't slowed that much. On my wrist on my Garmin, I had a secondary screen I had scrolled to which told me my aggregate pace for the entire race was still at 9:06/mile. I needed 9:08 to go sub 4 and and had a lot of miles now at that pace and better. Plus, even if I came in at 4:07, I'd still likely get into Boston. Armed with that data and experience of running a lot of marathons, logic followed, saying to myself "Joe, dude, you have never been this close to a BQ performance. You will never get a better day on which to run. You have only 5 miles to go. Work through this." I got my head around the situation, even if my legs had not yet received the memo.
At the same time, Tim the Pacer dialed back his pace just a tick. This was the first time I pulled even with him all day...I had lagged behind earlier, as I didn't want to run in the crowd surrounding him. No crowd now. He commented we were "a bit quick" and he backed off just a bit. By this time, we pulled through the mile 23 post and I seemed to have worked through the low point. I felt better and had weathered the Mocking Voice of the Wall.
5K to go and at this point I felt OK even though fatigue was setting in. We made the right turn off of Fall Creek and onto Meridian Street, heading straight back downtown, which is a psychologically positive point on the course. Knowing where I was, I began allocating what energy remained to get me to, but not beyond, the finish line at this same pace. I hung next to Tim, told him I didn't want to talk in order to preserve oxygen and he was fine with that. We just ran. Our pace stayed steady and even picked up a bit, as we took only 8:52 between mile 24 and 25.
Originally, in my dream scenario for this race, I was going to bid a fond farewell to the pacer at the mile 25 marker and "hammer" the final 1.2 miles. In reality, with all my numbers, I realized a) all I needed was a sub 4 and b) I had no "extra gear" to go into anyway. I was just hanging on. So I stayed with Tim, feeling comfortable, through all but the final turn.
With a quarter mile to go, I saw a coworker who has functioned as a coach to me the last three years...Mike ran cross country at U of Toledo and ran Boston himself a year ago. He's both encouraged me and offered "tough love" when needed on my BQ training and strategy. He had been tracking me after he finished his 3:25 marathon and came out to find me. He knew I was in striking distance of a BQ. Mike's shout, high five and encouragement at that point was what I needed. I pulled ahead of Tim and powered with what I had left to the finish line. Man, that last 0.2 took forever, but it was awesome to go down the final 50m, knowing I had a sub 4 marathon in the bag. Jon snapped several photos as I wrapped it up.
I crossed the finish line, and I was done. I mean DONE. Stick a fork in the guy. Finished. I allocated that effort exactly. And there was nothing left in the tank. Zero. I collected myself enough to get this photo with Tim and express my deepest appreciation to him.
And, in my happy exhaustion, I kept looking at my watch, checking if it was really true. I did the math, even then...a buffer of nearly 11 minutes under my BQ time requirement of 4:10...that meant I'd almost assuredly get in. Amazing.
I then gimped to lean on a metal barrier at the edge of the finish corral and tried to collect myself. Mike got there shortly, gave me a big hug and we basked in the moment. And, as a true friend and coach, he watched as I silently smiled and said "Boston" several times. It was special. I called my wife and what a joy that was. She had followed along the final 5 miles on line via Garmin Connect. She was so excited and supportive. That was huge and she was the one person I wanted to hear more than anyone.
I gradually came back to the land of the living, got my medal and shuffled more than walked...it took me a solid 15-20 minutes just to get my act together to get out of the finish area. I was that toast. But then I bounced back, saw Jon, who had run the HM and was as happy about my BQ as I was. (note to baseball fans...zoom in on my bib here and you'll see "GO CUBS GO"... did I mention I'm a fan of the Northsiders??)
Ingesting chocolate milk, Gatorade and a cold piece of cheese pizza all helped accelerate the recovery. I saw my son David, who unfortunately had to drop out of the marathon at the halfway mark with a bum knee. Too bad for him but he was excited for me.
I saw the guys from our local running store in the food tent too...we had a wonderful time of celebrating. Scott, to my right in this photo, has run Boston twice and he'll be a huge help to me as I plan logistics 18 months from now.
Got my drop bag, changed into some dry clothes and a warm jacket and we headed home. What a morning.
Later, I downloaded my pace chart for the full race.
The general evenness of the pace is pleasing to me. The short spikes in pace are the water stops along the way, the only walking I did all day. Tim the pacer did a terrific job and delivered on the promise of a four hour marathon.
I was also pleased with the final race stats. I was 1953 of 4667 overall finishers. Is this placement a mere coincidence with the fact I was born in 1953 and my particular age was central to the nature of my finish? Hmmmmm. Inquiring minds will want to know. I placed 34th of 104 men age 60-64 and 1,340th of all 2,635 men who finished. I'm very pleased with these results.
Nine years of effort all came together for this race. I still can't quite comprehend I qualified for Boston. This is a pivot point in my running and I'm thrilled to now look to the next goals and plans.
I feel blessed to be able to run and humbled and grateful to be in this place.
And very grateful God has given me the grace to persevere.
Thanks for listening.