A few weeks ago I ran a couple of marathons one weekend with some friends. Some of them had signed up for these races months ago, while others were forced to seek last-minute replacements for the NYC Marathon that was canceled due to Hurricane Sandy. The two marathons were the Richmond Marathon in Virginia and the Harrisburg Marathon in Pennsylvania on the same weekend.
I had just arrived from a two-week trip in Egypt, and I wasn’t completely sure how my legs would do in back-to-back marathons. On Saturday in Richmond I agreed to pace my friend (also named Steve W) to a 3:15. On Sunday, the idea was to do another fun pace job with two friends who were looking to cruise to around a 3:45. I didn’t want to do any faster for either races and I was happy with these goals.
Come Saturday morning I woke up feeling like a million dollars. Since I wasn’t racing Richmond, I wasn’t nervous the night before and I slept perfectly. There were no nerves, there were no butterflies in the stomach — it was all so controlled. Steve W, on the other hand, was just a ball of nerves. The poor guy!
Getting to the race start was easy once we had parked, and within a minute of getting into the corral we spotted the 3:15 pace group. A minute later we heard the sound of the gun going off and we settled into a very nice groove around a 7:30 pace. This was my first time pacing someone and I didn’t want to fuck it up. I’m normally an excellent pacer when I run solo, but in a race for someone else I had my doubts and wanted to make sure not to push him too fast.
We both looked at each other when the 3:15 pace group shot out far ahead of us. I checked my Garmin and we were right on our target pace of 7:26 per mile. I told Steve to let them go and focus on his own pace. After two miles the 3:15 pace group had sped up and were even farther ahead than after the first mile. I glanced at my Garmin and we were averaging a 7:28. We were within 1.5 seconds per mile of our target pace, while the official pacers seemed to be all over the place. We decided to ignore them and run our own race.
At the halfway mark we hit the mat in 1:37:11 — only 19 seconds faster than a 3:15 goal pace. I took this as a good sign, as Steve still seemed to be feeling good and not afraid to chit chat a little bit.
That changed at mile 17. With a slight uphill overpass, I saw Steve fall back in pace a bit. This was to be expected. But then he couldn’t resume the pace once it flattened out. Mile 18 came in and we slowed, clocking our first mile above 8:00. Steve started making whiney-grunty noises, and that’s when I knew the rest of the race was going to be a dog fight. Steve had to stop to stretch his calf muscle around mile 20 and I started thinking, “Shit. This had better not become a pattern.” I chucked a 3:15 finish out the window, and focused on getting Steve across the line without hitting the wall too badly.
Two miles later I catch him trying to walk and I ask him, “Do you need to walk? Or do you just want to walk?” He understood what I was asking and he resumed running. But within a mile he’s already trying to bargain with me as his legs were convincing his mind to give up.
“Can I just walk between the next two cones?” he said, referring to the cones marking the street path we were running.
“NO! This is going to hurt for the next 5 miles, so get used to it!”
Get used to it he did. There weren’t many words coming from him the rest of the course, but there were plenty of unpleasant sounds. We were glad to hit mile 25 knowing that the final mile — and especially the final quarter mile — was downhill. We didn’t expect the final push to be so crazily downhill, but it helped Steve hold a 6:45 pace for the final .2 of the race. We crossed the line together and hit a 3:22:54.
I was impressed by what Steve had accomplished. He didn’t whine in the last 10Ks when he really really wanted to quit and walk. He pushed himself as hard as he could and managed never to creep into the 9-minute mile range even when he had to stretch his calf or bargain with me to walk. Seeing that determination in someone else was pretty neat; I was glad I was along for the ride.
Now all I had to do was run another marathon the next day.
After finishing Richmond I started texting my friends who were doing Harrisburg on Sunday. I wanted to see who was doing what pace. Mikey B and Dave L said they were going to run it for fun, so I decided to join them.
When Sunday morning came around I found them easily enough — not hard to do in a race that normally only has a few hundred people. Mikey had been battling piriformis issues, and just wanted to finish this race in anything that began with a “3.” He said we should start off at 8:00 pace (est finish 3:30) and see how things went. Perfect.
I was a bit nervous for how my legs would feel after mile 18, but I had already agreed to run and was committed. When talking with Mikey and Dave in the start corral, out of nowhere we heard a big “BANG” and the crowd started to move. The race started and we were completely caught off guard!
We clipped off 8:00 miles perfectly, and hit the halfway mark almost exactly at 1:45. But just like the day before, someones’ wheels started to come off. Mikey’s piriformis started to rear its head and I knew that unlike a mental wall, this one was very physical and would only get worse. Immediately I chucked the 3:30 out the window and started to focus on just moving forward without leaving him behind too far. He had to walk the crazy uphills between miles 18 and 20, and pretty much began a walk-run Jeff Galloway affair the last 10K as well.
It wasn’t pretty, but we crossed the finish together in 3:47. Immediately he knew he’d be taking time off, not running the Lookout Mountain 50 Miler in December, and resting for the foreseeable future. I for one was just glad to be done with my second marathon in as many days, and was in desperate need of some food. After a cup of soup, a sandwich, and two cokes I felt normal again could focus on the thinking about the weekend.
I loved it.
I couldn’t believe how easy the second marathon on Sunday felt. My legs felt tired at the start, but they could keep plodding away at 8:00 pace without any problem. I only slowed down to help out a friend, and I think I probably could have spit out another 3:22 if I wanted. I learned that my legs could handle the stress, and that so much of the performance was mental.
I took this as a good sign and learning tool for the Lookout 50 miler next month. I’m gunning for a good time and perhaps a Top 10 finish, but it won’t be easy. I’m going to try and chip off 45 minutes from last year’s time, which is a lot. I will also be running this one alone, as my running mate Mike S will not be joining in on the fun. Lookout will be a mental battle as well as a physical one, but after Richmond and Harrisburg I’m feeling more physically and mentally fit than ever.