Friday, April 30, 2010

To marathon or not to marathon

As I've trained for and run my last couple of marathons, I have felt like a tortured and conflicted soul. I really don't enjoy the 20+ mile long runs all that much, and I don't really like running for 2-1/2 or 3 hrs at a time. When I am training for a marathon it seems like my life consists of run, work, eat, sleep, repeat in varying order and I always feel tired and beat up. My body hasn't really been 100% since a 10k I ran on Thanksgiving day and my 2 marathons since then have both been worse than I would have liked as my training has been somewhat limited compared to what I would have liked to have done. As I suffered through a painful last 10 miles of the Boston marathon, I had plenty of time to think about how much I hated running marathons and wondering why I put myself through the torture. I don't enjoy getting up at 4:30 to go up to Conroe to run 20+ miles on Saturdays when training for Boston.

On the other hand I'm extremely competitive and I love challenges. I don't run to stay in in shape or primarily for the social aspect. I run because I'm driven to push myself and I want to win races and set PRs and beat other people in races. I enjoy speed workouts. I like running hard and pushing myself. I know that I have the potential to run a sub 2:40 marathon if I do the right training and stay healthy. After my last two sub-par marathon times, I'm motivated to come back and PR and prove that I'm better than that. One of my friends, Sam, who I've run with over the past couple of years with the Kenyan Way has stepped up his training big time over the past 9 - 12 months and run some impressive times. For the past couple of years we had pretty similar race results and would finish close to each other in races. Sometimes I'd beat him, sometimes he'd beat me. Last fall I PR'd in a 1/2 marathon and he beat me by 40 or 50 seconds. Then we ran separate 10k's on Thanksgiving day and each PR'd and I think I had a 20 or 30 second faster time. Then my training went downhill and his flourished and he ran a 2:40 marathon and I ran 2:54. I really believe that if I could stay motivated and disciplined enough and injury free that if I put in 80 - 90 miles a week consistently for 6+ weeks leading up to a marathon I should be able to break 2:40. Of course that's a big if.

Even though I don't like the training and the pain and suffering of the marathon and I seem to continually be asking myself why I keep torturing myself, there is something that seems to keep drawing me back to wanting to run them. There's an allure and a challenge to the marathon. It's such a brutal and tough race and a true test of who is the toughest person out there. If I'm running a 5k or a 10k and have a bad day, I'm only seconds or a couple minutes at most off of my good race times. Halfway through a race I know that it's only a matter of minutes before I'm done. When you are out there in a marathon and things fall apart with 10 miles to go, it feels like an eternity. I can think of numerous great American marathoners and some of the best US and International performances. Outside of the current crop of US track athletes, I'd be hard pressed to name many great American 5k track stars beyond Bob Kennedy and Adam Goucher. I'd like to have a long streak of consecutive Houston marathons and one day be listed in the program with 20 or 25+ consecutive marathon finishes.

It seems like every marathon I've run has been painful and brutal on my legs. Even in my two good marathons I felt like I was just holding on for dear life trying not to fall apart the last few miles and praying my hamstrings had enough left in them for a strong push to the finish. Some days I wonder if I'm cut out to be a marathoner or if I should stick to just shorter races. I really like running half marathons and they don't seem to beat me up so badly. I know that my wife would love for me to take a break from marathons for a long while. She doesn't particularly enjoy me rolling out of bed at 5:30 or earlier on Saturday mornings to go running and then being wiped out the rest of the day. Some days I think that if I could just train hard for one season, break 2:40 and check that off my list I would be content to stop running marathons, but if I broke 2:40 I know that I would just want to run a 2:37 marathon and finish one averaging 5:59 pace. I probably would never be content. I have a love/hate relationship with marathons. I love running them fast and setting new PRs, but I hate training for them and all the agony and misery that the training and races inevitably seem to bring. Every time I run a marathon I tell myself that I'm just going to quit running them, but then a week or two afterwards I must have forgotten all the pain and misery and I'm inspired to run another one and do better than the last time. If I run a bad marathon, I want to come back and redeem myself and if I run a good race, I want to run the next one faster and improve upon it.

I think I can handle running 1 marathon a year. It's usually the training for the 2nd one that really burns me out. Since I started running marathons I've done two marathons about 3 months apart each year - Chicago 07, Houston 08, Houston 09, Boston 09, Houston 10, Boston 10. I always seem to be in better shape for the 2nd marathon, but I'm also pretty much burned out by then too.

So what's next? My first goal is to get healthy and improve my leg strength and flexibility. In the next week or two I'll be going to Koala to probably start some sort of physical therapy/rehab program to work on my hamstrings. I have some other big changes on the horizon too. My wife and I are expecting our first child in September and that will definitely change my life a bit, and we'll just have to see how fall marathon training goes with a baby girl interrupting my sleep every night. I don't have any plans to race anytime soon. I'd like to run some of the summer 5k's but we'll see how my recovery and hamstrings are doing. I'd rather take a month off and recover and miss the summer 5k's and be able to get back in shape for some of the fall races than start training too hard too soon and have lingering hamstring problems all summer long. The heat and humidity kick my butt and I don't usually run very fast in the May/June/July races here anywhere so it won't give me too much heartburn to miss them. It was quite depressing last summer where I seemed to get progressively slower every race I ran. I still haven't done any running since Boston, but I may go out for an easy run at the Park sometime tomorrow.


  1. Wow...what a post. The love/hate relationship with the marathon is a great description. Actually, before I go any further, CONGRATS to you and your wife on expecting a baby. That's awesome, and will only add to the life you live. It's an awesome, awesome experience.

    I appreciate the shout-out in your blog, and hope that we can get some running and training in over the next few months. You definitely need to get healthy first, so that should you make another go at the marathon, you do it being able to go full bore.

    See you on the roads man!

  2. Geoff you speak what a lot of us feel. But we also keep doing the same damn thing over and over.

    I think thats what they call insanity. :O)



  3. Geoff,

    Congratulations to you and your wife. I take it you are not available to run Hood to Coast in late August. (Ha ha)

    Speaking from experience, it is hard to train for the marathon when you have an infant. No way to sugar coat it, but your life and schedule change dramatically. Your sleep cycle gets crushed for a few months, if you are lucky. If your young one is colicky, a few months can stretch to a year. Training at high intensity with intermittent sleep is a recipe for disaster.

    While I think you could run a sub 2:40, now may not be the time. You might be better served concentrating on running a strong half-marathon. I think training for the half would keep you sharp enough to run some strong 10K's and 5K's.

    First things first, get the hamstring healed. Also, stay away from the M&M's.

  4. Thanks for the comments and kind words and advice. I'm getting back into some easy running that Sean had suggested. Hopefully I will make it out there before long and see you guys