Michigan - A Marathon in Every State
All throughout my life, coaches and family have always told me that they think the marathon is my event.
Even as a kid, I would run workouts in gym class, and never truly get tired. I was always curious about how far I could push myself physically, and what my true capacity is in regards to my endurance. While I’ve always been curious about the idea of running a marathon, I had spent the previous nine years of my life running competitively year-round, so the timing was never ideal for the races I already had set up. In the Winter of 2013, I exhausted my college eligibility for competing. After which, I decided to take a short hiatus from running, and learn to love the sport on my own terms again. I spent the last nine years eating, sleeping and breathing the sport, to the point where it was hard to pinpoint my identity without it.
For the proceeding two and a half years, I became what I refer to as a recreational runner. I wasn’t training for a specific purpose, but falling back in love with the aesthetics of the sport without the added pressure of having something specific to be training for, though I did miss the competitive atmosphere. It wasn’t until May of 2015 when I met up with my old college roommates to catch up. Naturally, we ended up going for a short run together, for old times’ sake. After the run, my good friend Tyler pitched the idea of us all competing in the Charlevoix Marathon that was a month and a half away, as it was a Boston qualifier, and listed as one of the best “Small Town Marathons” in the nation by Running Magazine. Right away, five of my other previous roommates expressed interest in the marathon, and the shot to run a fast enough time to qualify for the legendary Boston Marathon. Even though I wasn’t near marathon shape at the time, the idea got me really excited, and made me want to spend the next month and a half being strategic and preparing for the endeavor both mentally and physically.
The qualifying time for the 2016 Boston Marathon for the following year for my age group was just over 3 hours, which broke down to right around a time of 6:59 I had to maintain per mile for 26.2 miles. Back in my prime, that would have been no issue. However, I wasn’t near the shape I once was. And even in my prime, the furthest I ever tried running was 20 miles. The remaining 6.2 miles, while not sounding like a lot relatively, remained a giant question mark.
Tyler ended up sending out a rough training schedule for the next month and a half to get us all into shape within that short time frame. I ended up following that practice routine practically religiously, slowly building back my endurance and confidence enough to be able to handle that distance. Throughout all of my runs, I kept focused on developing a sense of pace, and truly understanding what maintaining a time of 6:59 per mile truly felt like. With the race just under a month away, I was able to maintain under the 6:59 pace for at least 12 miles during a workout comfortably. However, wrapping my head around the idea that I would have to keep the momentum going for over double the distance put some doubt in my head.
The funny thing is, I still only worked up to a 20 mile long run in my short training once again, meaning the first time I’d ever attempt to run more than 20 miles at one time would be in that marathon. Regardless of my training, or lack thereof, I remained confident in my ability to keep the 6:59 pace, and told myself that I’m stronger than I think. The weekend of the race finally approached, and my entire family, including my dogs, ventured to our cabin in Wolverine, Michigan to stay before the big race.
As the morning of the race finally came, I made it known in my head to just stay relaxed, patient, and develop a rhythm. Since this was a distance I had never attempted before, I knew it would come back to haunt me if I got ahead of myself and tried maintaining a pace I couldn’t keep. I don’t want to bore anyone with the breakdown of the details while I was running, as I was trying my best to separate my mind from my body during the race, and run in a completely relaxed state. I will say, however, that the “wall” that marathon runners hit during the race is very real. My wall came in around mile 18.
The feeling of hitting the wall is a very odd one to describe. The feeling of fatigue is overwhelming, each additional step feels painful all over, and your legs almost feel like they have a painful electrical current running through them. The race became almost completely mental after that point, and though I knew my pace was slowing significantly, I maintained such a strong and steady pace in the preceding miles, that I knew I’d be okay in regards to the qualifying time.
After everything was said and done, my official time ended up being 2:47:13, which broke down to right around 6:23 average miles for the 26.2 miles. I felt like I was on cloud nine after I finished (despite experiencing the worst leg pain of my life), since that time was a sure shot of qualifying for the Boston Marathon with a decent starting position. I was thrilled with how much progress I made in that short month and a half, and was excited to compete in the legendary Boston Marathon, which until then was just a pipe dream for me. I heard news after the race that two of my other previous college roommates also qualified for Boston, including Tyler.
Running a marathon was, and still remains, the most difficult thing I’ve ever done both physically and mentally. And it sounds crazy to say, but I was hooked after my first one. There’s nothing more satisfying than accomplishing something that tests your limits in both avenues, and sometimes even goes beyond them. Seeing what I accomplished in such a short amount of time inspired me to stick with the sport consistently, and made me truly believe what everyone told me growing up about the marathon being my event.