How do you run a fast marathon? It’s one of the most interesting questions I can think of as a runner, training geek, and coach.

Jason_Boston Marathon

It’s also incredibly complex. With a race as long as the marathon, there are more opportunities for something to go wrong. Quite often, your finish time is more strongly influenced by outside factors than your fitness level.

Frustrating, isn’t it?

You could be in the best shape of your life but temperature, stress levels, sun exposure, pace execution, course conditions, or fueling could completely derail your race.

On April 21st I ran the 118th Boston Marathon and experienced a trifecta of conditions that prevented me from running a personal best. Today we’ll dive into my rookie mistakes and struggles – and why it was still one of the best days of my life.

A year after the 2013 bombings, the energy level in Boston was practically tangible. The city was alive with support and pride for what this year’s marathon represents to Boston, victims of last year’s tragedy, and the global running community.

Being a part of that is an experience that I’ll never forget – no matter my finish time.

It started on Saturday with a Strength Running meetup where I got to hang out with many readers for the first time. I also got to see almost all of my 1-on-1 coaching runners that were competing in the race. Everyone was excited to race, spectate, and enjoy the energy of marathon weekend.

Thank you to every SR reader who braved the T to hang out in Faneuil Hall. I had a blast talking shop and drinking (one) beer with you.

Race Day!

I woke up at 4am – an hour earlier than my alarm – presumably because I was excited and nervous to race Boston. The morning went by uneventfully while I focused on fueling and staying warm in the Athlete’s Village. Soon it was time to walk to the corral and I made sure my laces were double-knotted, gels were securely positioned in my pockets, and I had an empty Gatorade bottle (you know why…).

During the walk to the corral, I was spotted by Andrew Deak, a runner I wrote a training plan for back in November. We chatted during the walk and briefly in the corral – and then he went on to run 2:40:10! Big congrats Andrew, that’s a fantastic time on the Boston course.

After the helicopter fly-over (so cool), the race started and we were off. I only managed a modified version of the Standard Warm-up with no running before the race started, so I tried to speed up gradually during the first mile. That mile went well but soon I got too aggressive on the early downhills as you can see from my splits.

Here are the mile-by-mile splits to geek out on:

Mile 1: 6:16
Mile 2: 5:41Jason Boston
Mile 3: 5:48
5k: 18:23
Mile 4: 5:52
Mile 5: 6:04 (29:42)
Mile 6: 5:54
10k: 36:56
Mile 7: 6:03
Mile 8: 6:05
Mile 9: 5:56
15k: 55:40
Mile 10: 6:10 (59:52)
Mile 11: 6:05
Mile 12: 6:06
20k: 1:15:25
Mile 13: 6:37
Half-marathon: 1:19:22
Mile 14: 5:54
Mile 15: 6:07 (1:30:44)
25k: 1:33:56
Mile 16: 5:55
Mile 17: 7:33
Mile 18: 6:23
30k: 1:54:42
Mile 19: 6:19
Mile 20: 6:54 (2:03:51)
Mile 21: 6:47
35k: 2:15:54
Mile 22: 6:54
Mile 23: 6:53
Mile 24: 6:31
40k: 2:36:40
Mile 25: 6:39 (2:37:37)
Mile 26: 6:32
Final .2: 1:18
Finish: 2:48:27

Unfortunately, you can spot some clear rookie mistakes in my splits. I underestimated the difficulty of the course, particularly the toll of running too fast on the early hills. Early speed on the downhills during the first six miles introduced significant muscle damage that caused a lot of problems later in the race.

The rolling course left me struggling, even though my average pace through mile 10 was what I wanted. I never fell into a rhythm or felt comfortable. By mile 12, my legs felt like they should have at mile 20!

Then, my real problems started. The heat was starting to get to me and was likely the cause of some GI distress because I simply wasn’t used to training in the heat this early in Spring. The stomach problems persisted and I needed a quick Porta Potty stop during mile 13.

Thankfully it didn’t take too much time and I was back on pace for the next few miles. During that time my goal was to run about 6:00 pace or a little over for the rest of the race – it would still result in a big personal best.

But at mile 17 the stomach problems were back and I needed a longer bathroom stop. When I started running again, my IT band almost immediately started to hurt on the outside of my left knee. It felt fine on the uphills, but soon the big downhills were causing sharp twinges that I couldn’t ignore.

I was forced to stop four times and do leg swings to loosen the area but it didn’t help much. Slowing down on the downhills and running more conservatively was the only thing that lessened the pain.

So by mile 20, I was resigned to run a relatively comfortable pace. A PR was out of the question so I walked most of the remaining water stops (I think dehydration was a minor contributor to my stomach distress) to satisfy my water cravings.

I was still in good spirits, thriving off the unreal crowd support and giving a few waves to get the spectators cheering even louder. It was a lot of fun :)

The Silver Lining of the Boston Marathon

No warm-up, starting too fast, stomach problems, slight dehydration, warm weather, IT band pain… I had a helluva day.

It seems like when something can go wrong, all the things go wrong! But there’s a silver lining to my Boston Marathon, a lesson that I saw only after a few days of clarity.

Even though I ran about ten minutes slower than my goal, I was a mere 4:55 slower than my PR despite all of those problems. I walked or stopped TEN times, losing at least 3-4 minutes from that alone. And the course itself is significantly slower than the Philadelphia Marathon where I ran my 2:39:32 PR.

With all that adversity and the number of challenges I faced last Monday, a 2:45 ain’t too bad. I truly believe I’m in shape to run 2:35 – 2:37 on a faster course if I had a race like Philly.

And there’s the lesson: a fast marathon needs more than fitness. It requires ideal conditions, smart execution, and a course more forgiving than Boston. I failed in my execution and other factors were out of my control but I’m still happy with my performance – and more importantly, incredibly grateful for the experience of running the 2014 Boston Marathon.

What Now?

If you ran Boston this year, enjoy your break from running. Take a week or two off and enjoy the extra time you now have. Start thinking about your next goals, but don’t rush into the training just yet. Be patient. Marathon recovery takes longer than you think.

As for me, I’m not sure what’s next on my bucket list. An ultra? A go at the Warrior Dash world championship? Another marathon?

Anything is possible.

And that’s precisely why we keep doing what we love to do: because anything is possible.

{ 18 comments }

Dear Boston Marathon Runners:

by Jason Fitzgerald

In less than a week, you’ll join over 36,000 other runners from around the globe to run the world’s greatest marathon.

But next Monday will be different. Last year the running community was devastated by a senseless tragedy that took three lives, injured over 260 more, and forever changed all of us.

Despite all that, here we are – preparing to race from Hopkinton to Boston once again. Like I proudly exclaimed one year ago, We Are Runners, And We Will Run.

It’s just a few days until – for many of us – we run the most important race of our lives. Some of us have waited years for this opportunity. Others have hoped, dreamed, planned, and worked for this day for as long as they can remember.

When you’re in your corral waiting for that gun to go off, you have a decision to make. You can go out too fast, give up on the Newton Hills, and maybe muster a weak smile at the Wellesley girls in the scream tunnel.

Or… you can race smart and draw energy from the record one million fans on the sidelines who – for just a few hours – will cheer like you’re sprinting down the homestretch in the Olympics.

Mile after mile, execute your plan. Be patient. Be flawless. Be tenacious. Be perfect. Be relentless.

You know, the more marathons I run, the more I realize that the marathon is just like life. Most of it isn’t too challenging. But the hard stretches will test your character like nothing you’ve ever known before.

You’ll wonder if you’re cut out for this. You’ll debate slowing down or walking. When it starts to hurt – and it will – you’ll doubt your ability to get it done.

Don’t.

Don’t settle. Don’t expect less than your best. Be a perfect version of yourself on Marathon Monday.

You have before you an opportunity that most runners will never have.

I’ll say that again: most runners only dream of running Boston. You are running Boston – and your greatest accomplishments come from your biggest opportunities.

My high school coach use to ask us late in a race, “You have a decision to make. What are you going to do?” It forced us to make a conscious decision to settle for another hum-drum performance or give it our all.

If you read Strength Running, you’re a runner who doesn’t settle. Strength Runners accept challenges – even when they seem insurmountable. You fight for every second, every meter, every mile. In any race, it’s the runner who’s willing to run to the edge who succeeds.

Because you know when you cross that blue finish line on Boylston Street all the sweat, tears, and even blood will be worth it. Every sacrifice you’ve made over the last six months – the pre-dawn runs, the missed parties, and countless miles – will make the difference between just another marathon and the best race of your life.

And when I line up with you in Hopkinton to run the most historic foot race in the world, I know you’ll make that sacrifice with me.

Next Monday, you will run the race of your life. You’ve earned it.

When our friends and family see us finishing the Boston Marathon – making a right on Hereford and a left on Boylston – let’s make sure they forever remember the race of our lives.

So… you have a decision to make. What are you going to do?

***

Post-pep talk announcements!

The Boston Meetup: this Saturday, I’m hosting a meetup for Strength Running readers, runners, fans, critics, and people who wonder if I’m actually a real person. All are invited, even if you’re not running Boston or think running is just for weirdos who secretly love short shorts.

It will take place at Clarke’s from 4-7pm, located in Fanueil Hall at 21 Merchant’s Row. More info on the announcement post here.

The Boston Course Guide: if you’re running Boston and want a detailed, “insider’s look” into the Boston Marathon course, I contracted a more experienced runner to write a comprehensive course guide.

More info on the guide and author can be found here.

Tracking My Race: if you’d like to check on my progress during the marathon on baa.org, my bib # is 1644 and I’ll be in Wave 1, Corral 2.

I’ll see many of you this weekend and along the course. I can’t wait!

{ 5 comments }

7 Fun Ways to Spice Up Your Running and Try Something New

April 10, 2014

Tweet Stuck in a rut? Tired of running the same loop at the same pace (in the same shoes) while training for the same race? Fear not, fellow runner. I’ve got strategies up the wazoo to help you spice up your running and inject some flair into your training. See, I’ve been there myself. There have […]

Read the full article →

Happy Birthday Strength Running! I have gifts for you…

April 7, 2014

Tweet In just a few days, Strength Running will turn four years old. What started as a little running blog that nobody read has grown into one of the largest running blogs on the web. It’s crazy to think that I’ve been featured in Runner’s World multiple times and am frequently tapped to contribute my coaching advice […]

Read the full article →

The Tomahawk Medicine Ball Workout – Video Demonstration

April 2, 2014

Tweet What if you could run more - while feeling stronger and getting far fewer injuries? I think you can.  In fact, if most runners incorporated just a few small changes to their training they’d see dramatic results with not only their running, but so many other areas of life. Healthy running makes everything else seem easy, […]

Read the full article →

Want to Hang Out Soon? 3 Ways to See Me This Spring

March 28, 2014

Tweet It’s going to be a busy spring season – and I’d love you to be a part of it! There are three events coming up that you’re welcomed to attend. There will be more of these as SR grows – and I want to meet as many of you as possible. First, a little […]

Read the full article →

Skeptic to Believer: How Darin Ran a 3:57 Marathon PR at Age 52

March 25, 2014

Tweet After working with thousands of runners, I’ve come across more skeptics than I ever thought existed. Runners who insist “that will never work for me!” or “maybe that worked for her… but I’m different.” Having “special snowflake syndrome” is common. We think our problems are unique, our situations novel, and our running goals different. But […]

Read the full article →

The 50 Shades of Grey Approach to Answering Your Running Questions

March 20, 2014

Tweet I love questions that have a clear answer, like: What’s on Jason’s running playlist? Taylor Swift, obviously. How long is that marathon? 26.2 miles – c’mon Nana, all marathons are the same distance! Is running the best sport ever? No doubt. But often, there aren’t clear answers to questions about running. There are shades of […]

Read the full article →

7 Quick Lessons from my 16th Place Finish at the Rock ‘n’ Roll DC Half Marathon

March 17, 2014

Tweet Tune-up races are tough – especially before a marathon. So I’m psyched about my race at this year’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Washington, DC. With five weeks to go before the Boston Marathon, I’m deep in the midst of training: 80+ mile weeks, grueling long runs, and workouts that seem to go […]

Read the full article →

Trail Running Hacks for Beginners: Jeff Galloway on How to Get Started with Trails

March 14, 2014

Tweet My running completely transformed during my Junior year of high school. It hasn’t been the same since that year, when I transitioned a majority of my training to the trails. Yes, trail running changed my approach to running. It reinforces my belief that running by feel is more effective. Trail running makes the hard work of […]

Read the full article →