A few years ago a seasoned marathoner and training partner of mine said these words to me: “Plan the run, run the plan.” We were discussing marathons and how so many people (including me) go out too hard and blow up. Phil’s philosophy was simple: if you have a reachable plan, and you follow that plan, you will run well.
Easier said than done. In every marathon, the adrenaline and people around me would get to me, I’d go out too hard for the first 5 miles and pay for it in the last 5. After discussing the Boston Marathon course at length with my coach, and reading this article, particularly the discussion on conserving energy during the initial downhill miles, I created my race plan as follows:
Miles 0 – 10: 8:30s
Miles 11 – 21: 8:20s
Miles 21 – 26.2: 8:00 or better
This would get me close to my goal of 3:40 without blowing up or reinjuring my calf. I realized I’d have to put up with a lot of people passing me in the first 10 miles, but was confident I’d be passing them back in the last 5.
And that’s exactly what happened. I started out conservatively for the first 10 miles: 8:36, 8:27, 8:27, 8:28, 8:33, 8:32, 8:28, 8:48 (pit stop), 8:20, 8:29
My mantra was “run the plan.” I didn’t think about much else those first few miles. Well, actually, I thought plenty about how I needed to pee but didn’t want to stop to wait for a porta potty. I finally found an open one at mile 8. It cost me a few seconds but was worth it.
“Run the plan” became even more important when I had to pick up the pace at mile 11, which was right around the time my hip flexors started to complain. “Kinda early to be hurting,” I thought, but I didn’t let it get to me, and I didn’t allow myself to think about running 16 miles in pain. I just focused on the plan. Pain in a marathon is inevitable. You have to prepare for it. Granted, I didn’t expect to be dealing with it this early on, but the game plan didn’t change because of it. In a way, it may have been good that the pain started early because I could stop wondering when it would start to hurt. I did not slow down. I focused on the fact that people were tracking me. I didn’t want to let my coach down, and, most of all, I didn’t want to let myself down. I had a little phrase – “DNF” – which stood for Do Not Fail.
Miles 11 – 21: 8:19, 8:21, 8:18, 8:18, 8:23, 8:19, 8:31 (start of the hills), 8:27, 8:19, 8:31, 8:49 (heartbreak hill)
There are three hills from miles 17 – 21, although it felt like there were twelve. But the crowds were with me on every one of them. My friends and family tracking me were with me. And thousands of other runners were with me. Early on in the hills one of my sister’s friends from college, Laura, found me. We both knew the other was running, and she knew what I’d be wearing, but it was still incredible that she found me! We exchanged a few words. I distinctly remember her asking me how I felt and I answered, “Great, really good.” Yes, that was a total lie. But I felt that actually voicing my pain would make it worse. Instead, I buried it deep down inside me as Laura and I passed back and forth on the hills. I found myself looking for her, which was a good distraction.
Finally, the hills were over and it was just the downhill stretch to the finish. I felt confident that I could pick up the pace, and I did. Mile 22 was an 8:07. What I hadn’t factored in was the difficulty I’d have in getting around people while maintaining this pace. A lot of people were walking. A lot of people were slowing. And I was trying to speed up. Just getting around all the bodies was hard. And of course I wanted to keep running the tangents, which I’d been working on the whole way.
Miles 22 – 26.2: 8:07, 8:16, 8:26, 8:13, 8:11, 7:30
I was really thirsty, too, so I wanted to get water at every mile. But the Gatorade always came first, so I’d have to skirt along near the tables and dart in when it switched to water, so as not to miss it. I think I shoved a few people out of the way to get to the water…
So the last 5 miles didn’t exactly go according to plan, but not for lack of trying. I believe that I left 100% out there on that course in Boston. I negative split, going through 13.1 in 1:52:20 and finishing in 3:44.
Finally, I ran the plan. Thanks, Phil.
If you would like to help the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, please donate to The One Fund, set up by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Tom Menino.