When I started taking running seriously a little over a year ago, I initially had very modest expectations. My new years resolution last winter was to be able to run a 10k, a goal well within the grasp of most reasonably healthy people. I achieved that particular goal within a week or two of the new year and immediately set my sights on bigger, more ambitious achievements.
It was in February when I decided I was going to run a marathon. One evening after having a bit to drink I pulled out my debit card and registered for the Cannonball in Greensboro, NC.
Most of my training was centralized around being able to run the distance rather than being able to run the distance with any sort of speed. I slogged out my normal runs a couple of times a week and made it a point to do a long run every weekend. The process seemed to be working and it was in June when I hit the marathon distance for the first time during a long Saturday morning training run. Strava clocked my elapsed time at 4:20:17. Not bad for a first effort but plenty of room for improvement.
Between that first marathon effort and the Cannonball, I was able to hit a lot of milestones and gain a fair amount of knowledge and experience. I ran my first official race, ran my first 50k training run, ran my first 50k race, learned what speed work is, bought a road bike, and learned how to deal with warts on one’s feet. Also I was able to ramp up my weekly mileage to where I was averaging somewhere between 40 and 50. I also gained a few friends in the process.
The hard work paid off and I was able to run the Cannonball in 3:32:01, which was about as optimistic as I could realistically expect given my training. I was just hoping for 3:45, but one friend in particular convinced me to try and go for 3:30, which I did and I’m glad for it.
Running the Cannonball as I did highlighted some holes in my training up until that point. I bonked pretty hard at mile 22 after averaging a slightly faster than 8 minute pace, at which point I had to add in a fair bit of walking. I hadn’t done a lot of highly specific training, rather I was just getting miles in, and it showed in my results.
To be clear, I’m still super stoked that I was able to run 3:32 in Greensboro. That far exceeded my expectations. I just know that I’m capable of much more, especially given that I wasn’t able to go the entire distance without slowing to a walk. I was on pace for a 3:27 finish when I bonked so 3:27 is the new yardstick.
Ramping up the training…
A couple of weeks before Greensboro, I picked up a copy of Training Essentials for Ultrarunning by Jason Koop, a coach at CTS generally considered to be among the best in the industry. I tore through the book in about 3 days and while it was too late to make any effective changes for Greensboro, I immediately started laying out an improved training plan for the races to follow.
My next race was the Tryon Half Marathon so as soon as I was feeling solid again, I resumed training, but this time with a lot of hill repeats and high intensity 5k efforts. Later this changed to logging a lot of miles on flat gravel roads to emulate the expected race conditions as best as possible.
Within a couple of weeks I was seeing dramatic improvements. Hard 8:00 pace runs became medium effort 7:30 and 7:45 pace runs and I was finally able to drop my 5k time below 20 minutes. While a gravel road half was my next race, I adopted the mantra of “7:30 is the new 8:00” knowing that it wouldn’t be too terribly long before I tried my hand at another road marathon.
Charleston? Why not?
My friend and frequent training partner, Ryan, convinced me to take a good look at the Frosty Foot races which take place within the Tsali Recreation Area at Lake Fontana in Western NC. Tsali is especially popular for mountain biking and evidently it has some pretty solid trail running as well, as evidenced by the general popularity of the Frosty Foot races.
Frosty Foot offers three distances: 8k, 30k, and 50k. I was initially interested in the 50k option, but Ryan convinced me to run the 30k with him. I registered almost immediately. Shortly thereafter in early November, Ryan and I were texting and he brought up the potential of running the Charleston Marathon as well as he was looking for a road marathon to attempt a PR.
The only real issue either of us had was that the Charleston Marathon is a week before Frosty Foot. After some discussion, it became clear that our reservations were not firmly held. Earlier in the year I had done a solid 30k training run four days before setting a 50k PR at Steep Canyon so I said “screw it” and pulled out my debit card to register. Charleston would then become my winter “A race” as I care more about my performance in a road marathon than I do about my performance in a trail 30k for reasons I’ll explain later in another post.
Ryan ended up missing the boat for Frosty Foot. I checked the registration page and entrant list to see if anyone else I knew had signed up and all three distances were sold out. I let him know immediately and while he didn’t explicitly indicate as much, I get the feeling that he stopped caring as he’s been putting all of his effort into training for Charleston.
And here we are…
…a mere two weeks away from the Charleston Marathon. I’m easing into my taper presently with an easy hour on the treadmill later this afternoon and the last pre-race long run is on the books for tomorrow morning. I’m aiming high this time, as I did in Greensboro. I’ll be disappointed if I don’t hit a new PR as my primary goal is 3:20 and my secondary goal is 3:15. Hopefully nothing flies too far off the rails. 7:30 is the new 8:00.