Ten marathons: short and (mostly) sweet

This is the heart of marathon season, no question. Just about every runner I know has just wrapped up a fall marathon or is about to run one.

Since I’m not running any marathons this year, I have to satisfy myself by hearing stories from my friends, and thinking back to my own marathons.

And just for the hell of it, I’m going to recap my 10 marathons. Why not? A good marathon will make you feel warm all over for years. A terrible one will haunt you forever. Don’t believe me? Read on.

1) Chicago Marathon, October 2002. My first and most thrilling. Could I even run that far? I had no idea, since my longest training run had been 23 miles. I was filled with hope and fear. I ran the race very conservatively, waking through water stops and enjoying the sights. Not until 22 miles did I pick up the pace and start passing people. Like many other rookie marathoners, I finished with a lump in my throat. At age 43, I finally was a marathoner, after years of dreaming about it. Finish time: 4:28:10.

2) Columbus Marathon, October, 2003. Now that I knew I could handle the distance, it was time to train harder. I began doing hill work, interval training and tempo runs with Denny, my running partner. We put in serious miles. Our goal was to run Columbus together and finish in 3:45. The race went well, although the last miles were challenging. We hit our goal time, which qualified Denny for the Boston Marathon. (My BQ time was lower, 3:30.) I went home tired and very happy. Finish time: 3:45:58.

3) Columbus Marathon, October, 2004. Could I push myself even harder? I stepped up the training, throwing in a longish midweek run of 10-13 miles, on top of everything else. Denny and I trained again together, but he took the fall off from marathoning, having run the Boston Marathon in April. On race day, I was ready. knowing I had trained smart and hard. I ran strong for the whole distance, never hitting a wall or feeling raw. Finish time: 3:40:08.

4) Cleveland Marathon, May, 2005. My first spring marathon. Why wait a whole year to try another? I picked my hometown race with a goal of 3:30 BQ. But it was not meant to be. I was unfamiliar with the course and started out too fast. I was bummed when the 3:30 pace group passed me at mile 16. I was twice as bummed when the 3:40 pace passed me just before the home stretch. Finish time: 3:42:25.

5) Sunburst Marathon (South Bend, Ind.), June 2006. I had hoped to run a Fall 2005 marathon, but my life turned upside down when I took a new job in Indianapolis. With a difficult move, a new job, and three months of weekend trips back to Ohio, I had no time for training. So it would be 13 months between the Cleveland Marathon and my next one, Sunburst. I trained hard, but in the final two weeks, running in the rain, I caught a nasty cold. On race morning, I woke up with a fever and a cough. Did I stay in bed? No. Should I? Yes. I ran out of gas at mile 12 and trudged through the final 14 miles. Finish time: 4:32:30.

6) Cleveland Marathon, May 2007. For whatever reason, I trained half-heartedly. I did very little speedwork or hillwork. I was 15 pounds overweight. My modest goal was to break four hours. I ran the race with Kayleah, an Indy running buddy. She finished in 3:49 and qualified for Boston. I finished 12 minutes later, filled with regrets and self-loathing. I had committed the worst sin: I didn’t respect the distance, and half-assed the training. Finish time: 4:02:32.

7) Akron Marathon, September 2007. Upset with my lousy spring training, I vowed to get serious. I pushed hard, pulling out the “Run with Denny Handbook” (see No. 2 and 3, above). I was the beast of hills, tracks and trails. I lost weight and put in serious miles. I planned to use Akron as my last training run in preparation for the goal marathon in Columbus a month later. I ran Akron without watch or worry, with no goals but to get the miles done. I ran with Kevin, an old friend from Cleveland. We finished within a minute of each other and celebrated the end of training with a beer. Finish time: 3:49:34.

8) Columbus Marathon, October 2007. Flushed with a great training season, Kevin and I got ready for the race of our lives. We met in Columbus, had a blast at the expo and the pre-race dinner. We killed a few hours Saturday night watching the baseball playoffs in our hotel room. On Sunday morning, we lined up with our game faces on. I was locked into my goal: 3:30 BQ or bust. The first half went perfectly, as I crossed the 13.1 mark right on pace, 1:45. Then the sun came out, my legs strangely turned to cement and the hills in miles 17-22 sapped  whatever energy I had left. I slowed to a crawl, running mile 23 in 14 minutes. I trudged to the finish line 45 minutes slower than my goal, as beaten and discouraged as I have ever felt. Finish time: 4:15:05.

9) Tecumseh Trail Marathon (Yellowwood State Forest, Ind.), December 2008. It took months to recover my motivation after Columbus. By then, I was incredibly busy with work, church and home projects. The spring and summer went by. By September, it dawned on me that this might be my first year without a marathon. That shook me out of my funk. I quickly found an end-of-year marathon. And it looked fun: on a trail, just two hours from my house. I trained as well as I could for three months. On race day, I decided to just enjoy the experience. It was awesome. The scenery blew my mind. But the snow, ice and hills were tough and never seemed to end. I got to the finish line without breaking any bones. That was a success in my book. Finish time: 5:57:09.

(Note: I didn’t run a marathon in 2009. Instead, I ran my first ultra, the Buckeye Trail 50K in July. For the short report, click here. For the long report, click here.)

 10) Cleveland Marathon, May 2010. OK, it was time to get back down to business. I vowed to push myself for another good performance. I chose Cleveland, which was held on my 51st birthday. My goal: break four hours, which I hadn’t done in nearly three years. I threw myself into training and showed up at the starting line in good shape. I ran hard and avoided my usual mistakes (starting out too fast, not eating/drinking enough). By mile 25, I knew I would beat my goal, if I just kept my pace. And I did. I had my best marathon in five years, and felt over the moon. Finish time: 3:48:07.

So what’s next? Stay tuned! As soon as I recover from ITBS and rebuild my base, I just might see if I have another marathon in me.


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