Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Breaking the elusive 3-hour barrier

Like many runners, my marathon goals have evolved quite a bit over the years. When I first decided to attempt the big, bad marathon – the 2004 Columbus Marathon – the goal was simple: to finish. But then after joining my then-local running club, the Wabash River Runner’s Club in Lafayette, Indiana, and adopting a semi-serious training regiment that got me to 50+ miles per week with a long run of 16-22 miles each Sunday, my goal changed from finishing Columbus to qualifying for Boston. Ultimately, I finished that first Columbus in 3:22, 11 minutes off a BQ time. But still, I am proud of that first time out of the marathoning gate.

The goal for my second marathon, the 2005 Cleveland Marathon, was to qualify for Boston with a sub-3:10 time. Honestly, I didn’t think I could maintain the necessary pace to do so, but I did. I remember the flood of emotion I experienced as I crossed the line at Cleveland. I’m a tough guy, but I’m not afraid to admit I cried when I qualified for Boston the first time. When you achieve an important personal goal, emotion often manifests itself.

For my next few marathons, the goal remained qualifying for Boston, which I managed to do on all counts except for the 2006 and 2007 Boston Marathons. I failed to BQ in both. Rest assured, though--I intend to BQ when I return to Beantown in 2009 to avenge the ass-kicking that course has given me both times I did it.

The 2007 Columbus Marathon was my first serious attempt at achieving a goal only a few years ago I thought wasn't even possible for me – breaking the elusive 3-hour barrier. For the elite runner, this barrier is an after-thought. For non-elites like I am, this barrier is a mighty achievement and one to be added to the obituary. I have long-suspected that once I break 3 hours, I will be able to do so as long as I maintain consistency in my training. That means regular speed-work at the track!

Back to the 2007 Columbus Marathon, my biggest failure as a runner. I didn’t break 3 hours for a number of reasons. First and foremost, I wasn’t smart in allowing myself to recover from the Burning River 100. I made the stupid decision of running the Erie Marathon in early September as a trainer—a day after running the Potato Stomp 9-miler in 57 minutes. Even though I was on the track prior to Columbus, my repeat times were pretty bad because my legs were still shot from the 100 miler and doing stupid stuff like running Erie. The result of my poor judgment post-Burning River: I finished the 2007 Columbus Marathon with a disappointing 3:05, a BQ and PR but certainly not a time you’d expect from a guy who was logging 80-100-mile weeks.

Having just run a 1:22 at the Cleveland Spring Classic Half Marathon and adopted a speed-work regiment, I now sense that my shot at sub-3 is better than ever before. There’s a formula that goes like this: half-marathon time times 2 plus 10 minutes equals your marathon time. For me, that formula has proven true. In March of 2005, I ran a half marathon in 1:29, only to BQ at the Cleveland Marathon two months later with a 3:08 (1:29x2=2:58+10 minutes=3:08). Today, that formula has me running the 2008 Cleveland Marathon in 2:54 (1:22x2=2:44+10 minutes=2:54). My attendance at this year’s Cleveland remains highly questionable due to personal circumstances.

Cleveland could involve a lot of drama. If I’m there, my own drama will be the pursuit of sub-3. But I have many friends, including Jeff U., who may also be at Cleveland in search of sub-3 unless he breaks that barrier in Boston, and Marc A., who will likely go sub-2:50 at Cleveland, who will be living their own dramas. Hopefully Jeff, Tim H., and I will be paced by Tim C., who could roll out of bed tomorrow and run a sub-3. Tim will keep us focused and motivated. Marc A. will be ahead of us.

If I’m unable to run Cleveland, I will look to the Columbus Marathon in the fall to break 3 hours. But in light of the facts that Cleveland is in my own backyard and is where I first qualified for Boston and have enjoyed decent success both times I’ve run it, breaking 3 there would certainly be special. I know it will not be easy, regardless of how hard I train, how many 1600s and tempos I run, and how focused I am.

Ultimately, mental toughness will be just as important as my physical conditioning and preparation. When mile 23 rolls around and I’m hurting badly with about 2:35-2:37 on the clock, I will have to dig deep to achieve my goal. When I round the corner to the finish and every second counts, I’ll have to dig even deeper. Hopefully, I’ll have friends with me and we’ll all be drawing strength from each other. It would be great if all of us could cross the line together, celebrating a truly special moment for ourselves and those who have supported and encouraged us along the way, which of course includes our families and the members of the Southeast Running Club.


  1. It is truly amazing your first marathon was so strong.

    More and more I find how important it really is to reflect on what could have been contributing factors to not meeting my goals such as you and your 07 experience. Best of luck with your 3 hour barrier and great job at the spring classic!

  2. Or you can come to NY with me and we can break 3 hours together.