Its marathon and cross country season here in North America and this happens to be my favorite time of the year. This past week I was doing a long run in one of my favorite places in the world to run, Holmdel Park in Holmdel, NJ. For those that are not familiar with this park, it is home to the New Jersey State Cross Country Championships and it is deemed to be one of the toughest cross country courses in the U.S. It’s a pretty big park with grass, cinder, and dirt trails that wind in out of the woods with loads of hills to climb, the most famous being “The Bowl”. It was also my home course during my senior year of High School.
About mid way thru my run when the runners high started to kick in, I started to think about the transformation my body and mind has gone thru over the past few years as I have gone from a marathon runner to and Ironman Athlete. It’s been 3 years since I ran my first marathon in a disappointing but respectable 2:24:28. It was the Twins Marathon which was also hosting the U.S. championship. Going into the race I believed I was easily in 2:20 shape. After coming thru the half in just under 1:09, the group I was with began to split up and I found my self in 9th place with 2 other guys. After a short chat, the three of decided we all felt good and wanted to try and break 2:17. We went from running 5:20’s comfortably to 5:00-5:10 per mile. I felt incredible, even the increased pace was easy, that is until we got to mile 21, and then it was like someone turned off the switch. I began to slow and had to be sick. I still felt like I had some strength but I just needed to get sick. After stopping and taking in fluids, I carried on, not walking or jogging, I was still running but running a good minute slower than I had been. I was pleased to hang on for 11th place and finish with a descent depute but I knew I had much more in me.
There have been lots of ups and downs in my life since my first marathon, both athletically and personally but I will save that for another blog sometime. But here I am less than 2 weeks before I race Ironman Florida, which will be my 4th Ironman this year and I once again feel like a marathon runner. I am lacking a bit of speed that I had a few years ago but that could also be because I have put on a good 15 lbs of body weight since taking up Ironman racing. But I feel strong again, strong like I felt back in 2006, when every time I went out for a run, it was effortless, my body was on cruise control. This is what you are supposed to feel like when your body is in top form. All the little niggles disappear, you smash every session, you wake up everyday and don’t feel like you destroyed your body the day before, and a part of you doesn’t want to taper and race because you want to keep training like an animal because it feels so good to be in this kind of shape.
A few nights ago over dinner, family friend, who is a runner her self asked me how I do it, the Ironman that is. “Does it hurt the whole time”? “What’s the toughest part?” she asked. I tried my best to describe the feeling you have. It’s a much longer day than the marathon, you have to be patient like running a marathon but the last 10k, is just like running an open marathon. Your feet start to hurt; the pace gets tougher and tougher to hold. It all boils down to your ability to concentrate, accept the pain, and push on!
So the next day I am out doing a long brick workout, running along at 6:30 pace, and feeling great, like I could do it all day. I started to think how easy 6:30 pace should be in an Ironman, I mean I’ve run 5:30 pace for a full marathon, “No Problem” I thought, right? Wrong! Ironman FL will be my fourth attempt at trying to run sub 3 hour marathon off the bike. In my first attempt, I made it to 5k, my second I made it to 15k, and in my last attempt I made it 30k before the wheels came off. This time I am hoping to make it to 35k before it really, really starts to hurt. Who knows it could be uncomfortable as soon as I step off the bike but I am confident now that I have trained enough to be able to handle the full marathon. I am prepared to hurt, to hurt like have never hurt before and I will draw some strength from that October day when I ran my first marathon. The pain will come but I am ready to embrace it, ready to HTFU and run some guys down!
P.S. Go Yankees!!!