The Old PR
In 2015 I ran my 2nd marathon. It was the A1A marathon. I was very nervous because my first full was in a time of 4:08 and I didn't know how this one would go. The weather was in my favor with it being 45 degrees. Because of that, I felt too good and went out way too fast. By mile 16 I was forced to take walk breaks almost every 3 to 4 minutes because my legs were dead and I was cramping from pushing myself too hard. Despite the slower ending, I managed a PR of 3:44:21. No matter how I trained after that, the 3 marathons I attempted after A1A were never even close with times of 4:01, 4:18 and 3:56. Little did I know something unexpected was going to come eventually; even after basically giving up on that goal.
Chasing A 20 Minute 5K PR
As I gave up on breaking my marathon time and realizing I was pretty fast in 5K's, I decided to aim for breaking 20 minutes. I was racing like a mad man in December of 2017, trying so hard to get a PR, but also knowing if I could break 20 minutes, it would guarantee that goal as well. After multiple attempts, the weekend before Christmas, I ran a PR of 20:06 and knew that some faster races were coming up and I'd have a great chance. Then the dreaded day came. I was ready for our local 5K where I felt great and almost assured I'd break 20 minutes but a couple of days before the race I tweaked my back. How could this happen? I hadn't had back spasms in over 4 years. Running had cured them. It started to heal over the following days and I was confident that I could still race but the night before the race they came back and this time they were even worse. I was so disappointed that what I felt was my best chance had now been ruined over something I couldn't control. I decided to stay positive and believe that this happened for a reason; and that reason was about to reveal itself.
In mid January I decided to challenge myself and find a 50 miler to attempt. In 2017 I ran my first ultra marathon, running 33 miles in just under the 6 hour cutoff. As always I wanted to see if I could do more so I found a race in March and signed up. Knowing that training for something like this would also build up more strength and endurance to push myself in the 20 minute 5K attempts, I was encouraged. I was averaging 20 to 25 miles a week before signing up for this race. Since then, I've been averaging 40 to 50 a week. It was tough at first but when I finally incorporated foam rolling daily and a small protein, turmeric and milk drink every night, I noticed my body responding well to the higher training demand. After being forced to basically take a week off because of the back spasms, I had the opportunity to gain back some mileage by running the A1A marathon. Since I needed a long run, I figured I would pace myself and use this as a training run for the 50 miler, and not run it like a true race. The weather was going to be a lot warmer than when I ran it in 2015 so I knew that would help me stop myself from trying to PR again. I also wanted to take it easy to make sure I wouldn't re-injure my back.
I crossed the start line and let my body run by feel for the first 2 to 3 miles. I noticed I was running a little over 8 minute miles and it was worrying me for the long run because that was putting me at a pace to actually PR but in the moment I felt great and figured I'd slow down soon enough. I knew I wasn't pushing myself like 2015 but I was still nervous and awaiting that dreadful wall where it was going to become a suffer fest. As always I would distract myself from the boredom I tend to experience in long runs by doing the timing calculations in my head of how this could end depending on different scenarios. One by one the miles were falling and I was still feeling good.
By the time I got to the 16 mile mark where it all fell apart in 2015, I realized I was still feeling very consistent and strong. I knew I was still on pace for a PR somehow but was trying not to let that take me out of my zone and force something stupid. No matter who passed me or who I passed, I kept telling myself to stick to the pace because it was perfect. Not too fast and not too slow. By mile 23 I knew that if I could just keep the pace going and even slowed down just a little that I could actually freaking PR. My race plan was working perfectly as far as pacing, hydrating, and dumping water on me every chance I got to keep my body temperature down.
At mile 25 I finally lost my consistent plan because the aid station was moved further and my thighs locked up and cramped. I got nervous thinking I was going to have to walk the last 1.25 miles. I started walking gingerly hoping the cramps would ease and thankfully they did after a few seconds. I got back into my rhythm and made it to the final aid station which woke my body back up. As I approached the 26 mile marker reality sunk in and I got emotional. As I entered the finishing chute I saw a lot of my friends and when I yelled "I'm gonna PR!" they lost their minds and started yelling and cheering me on like I was in the Superbowl and running for the game winning touchdown! It pushed me to the final sprint where I finished in 3:37:22. 1 second under a 7 minute PR! I couldn't believe what I had just accomplished on a day I wasn't even trying to do it. I remembered people telling me that a lot of times when you go into a race just to run it and have fun you end up doing amazing and this was my experience of that being true. I know the training for the 50 miler in March played a huge role in this. But I also know that me getting hurt the weekend before played a bigger role because had that not happened, even if I did break 20, I would have continued training as normal and not even attempted this race. My body also wouldn't have been as rested as it was. I know people hate the saying "things happen for a reason" but I've always believed it and this is a reason why.
So as I remember reading an article written by one of my friends Spencer about challenging yourself in races once in a while; I want to repeat that message and encourage you to push yourself to attempt new and better things. Whether it's a faster time in a race, a longer distance than you've ever done, a higher weight on your gym workout, or whatever else physically you can test your body at, do it. It's fine to be content and happy where you are but I think if we look at our physical capabilities and every once in a while decide to see if we can do something better, we will amaze ourselves and discover something new within our minds. I struggle mentally with doubt a lot and even did during this race but the result reminded me that I am stronger than I allow myself to believe and that sometimes I hold myself back from accomplishing greater things. I hope we all challenge ourselves to at least try. I end with one of my favorite quotes. "I'd rather fail trying than to not try at all".