There are many different ways that different people train for running half marathons and marathons. And in the time since I first started training for a marathon as part of a group back in 2010, I have explored several different approaches. For the “long run” days (usually weekend days given the realities of most people’s schedules), some people say “do them at a conversational pace,” others say “conversational pace most of the way but goal race pace for 3-5 miles,” and sometimes we just run at whatever pace we feel.
Today was the first time since Boston that I ran with one of the other two gentlemen from the Baltimore area with whom I had traveled to Boston. Since then, he has continued to run hard and run strong. So have I. On any given day for any given race that is shorter than 20 miles he will almost certainly come in more quickly than I do. In races 20 miles or longer, I have held the edge. When in an electronic exchange earlier this week he said, “Why don’t we warm up for 2 miles and then run 7:45 workout our way down to sub-7?” I said, “Okay,” in return. Then, this morning I did point out that I was not sure I could hit that kind of pace. While H had run like that many times in my years of marathon training, I had specifically not been running like that this calendar year. Working with my most frequent training partner, we had been working since November to run a “smarter” pace of 8:00 or slower per mile for our long runs. Other people had suggested this to me indicating that while a runner needs the miles, it is good to get those miles at an easy pace so that the muscles are not overworked.
When I woke up this morning—after a reasonably sound sleep after a heavy meal out with Sherry last night—I was not feeling 100%. My stomach was a little on edge—but I tried to clear it (and succeeded for the most part) before leaving the house. Also, I could only find my middle son’s water belt rather than my own but decided to borrow it. It just fit me.
I arrived at the NCR trail just a moment or two late. Met up with my friend. And we agreed to stop at the first porta potty which was only about a half mile up the tail. The trail was actually slippery near the point where we started. There had been a small dusting of snow the night before. But the sun was just near enough to the horizon at 7:05 to clearly see the trail (with all its frozen ruts) and stay safe.
Not counting the time using the porta potty, first mile was at 8:14. Nice and easy way to start. Conversation going.
While my buddy had suggested tow miles of warm up, we did the second mile at 7:45. So, we were really straight into a serious run. Although we were talking all the way at that point. Feeling good and ready to go. Hands still very cold despite two layers of thin gloves. Rest of the body just fine.
Third mile conversation continued and we picked I t up it a little more running at 7:28. Fourth mile we brought the pace down to 7:21. Fifth mile 7:18. Sixth mile 7:20. Seventh mile, despite having to make a turn around at 6.5 on our run (or the 7 mile marker on the trail) we ran 7:16.
I was feeling good. The vision today was mostly provided by my buddy—run as if we were training for a race. I know he has a howl race schedule he is looking forward to this year. I may run a half dozen races all year long. We are at a much different point. My vision is to stay healthy to get to my 2000 miles.
I was pragmatic. I really waned a friend to run with and my usual training partner was not available. And, while I was trying to be sensible about pacing on most Saturdays, I do, when all is said and done, have a strong competitive spirit. So, I ran with Rob.
Mile 8 we continued to pick it up. My hands had stopped being cold around mile 5. My head band was now very wet with sweat and I took it off and carried it the rest of the way—more pragmatism. We finished mile 8 in 7:02.
Then, all pragmatism went out the door. It was all vision. A crazy vision but a vision. And a spirituality of thinking about being one with the trail. Being one with the effort to run Boston (maybe again some day). Being as strong as we could. And representing groups we train or had trained with. We ran mile 9 in 6:49 and then decided to pick it up even more with the goal of seeing whether we could hold it for one more mile.
At that point, I saw a number of people from the old training group. One person had seen my post very early in the morning and made the observation that I was having no problem keeping up with my buddy. The interconnectedness and the feeling of “we are all in this together to reach the finish line as fast as we can and as strongly as we can” was clearly there. One person from my old training group asked if it was a tempo run. It sure must have looked like one at that point. At about 9.5 miles we decided to ease back a little and completed mile 10 in 7:04. If we had kept the hard pace we had set for the first half of the tenth mile we would have run under 6:40.
The last three miles we did more easily at around 7:40 for each mile. No slouching. Just not crazy fast. And we waited for my buddy’s watch to tell us we had hit 13 so we ran an extra 30 seconds. Not sure how my watch got so far ahead.
But the key is that we were out there despite neither one of us feeling perfect. We enjoyed each other’s company. We were good at both helping each other to strive and being reassuring when it was time to pull back. Pragmatic. Visionary. Spiritual. All there.
And where am I on my quest? Done 110.5 miles in the first 18 days of the year. Continuing west across US-30. I would have run past where US-30 and I-76 (the Pennsylvania Turnpike) cross. I would have run through Breezewood, which is a place well known to those who travel east/west from the Baltimore and Washington area to the upper Midwest as it is there a driver transfers from I-70 to the Pennsylvania turnpike to head west. This is also a point at which people sometimes come from the Altoona area down I-99, then hooking up with the turnpike, and coming to the DC/Baltimore area. Getting ready for a day of rest on Sunday or a short day. Also part of the pragmatic vision of how to lead a healthy running life with a mixture of longer and shorter runs, days on and off, and days at hard and easy paces—each of which has its own association with spirituality.