Editor’s Note: Here is a little guest post from my favorite sub 3-hour marathoner! Also, my fiance, totally not biased or anything 😉
Two years ago, I ran my first marathon in hopes of qualifying for Boston. At that time, I had no thoughts of ever trying to run a sub-3-hour marathon. To me, that was sort of a “life running goal” that I would maybe try to accomplish after having more running experience. This past May, I tried to run a sub-3 in Cleveland. I was on pace for about 18 miles, but then faded quickly and finished in 3:04:41. At that point, I decided that I would work very hard this summer to try to run a sub-3 in the fall. There are a few flat marathons in the fall that are fairly close to home (Columbus and Presque Isle came to mind). On the other hand, I absolutely love the Akron Marathon; I cannot explain why this race is so dear to me, but it just is. Unfortunately, it is not flat at all; it is definitely not a PR course, let alone a course to try to run a sub-3. However, I could not resist the notion of running Akron again. So, I decided that I would run Akron this year in hopes of running a PR (sub 3:04:23) and then go for sub-3 at the Inland Trail Marathon in November (a pancake flat course on a bike trail).
As the summer started to wrap up, I ran a few races that started to make me believe more in myself. I ran a 5K PR and a half-marathon PR in August and early September, respectively. At that point, I started to feel differently about Akron. Could I run a sub-3 there? They had supposedly crafted a slightly flatter course (more on that later). I started to believe that maybe, just maybe, Akron was the race for sub-3.
Fast forward to race day. I am at the start line more excited than I’ve ever been for a race (I had been absolutely jacked all week). By the way, any race that begins with fireworks going off is awesome; well done, Akron. As I went through the early miles, I have to be honest in saying that I did not feel confident that today was going to be the day for sub-3. The first half of the course is faster than the second half, but unfortunately, you cannot run it aggressively. Otherwise, you will pay for it in nasty second half.
Around mile 6, I just started feeling like maybe sub-3 pace was going to be too much with rolling hills I had already ran through and a few big hills coming later on in the second half. However, I continued to press on; I decided that I absolutely had to go for it. I was pumped to see my buddy Christian around mile 9; seeing your friends while racing is always so helpful. The miles continued to tick by as we approached downtown, knowing that our ascent to the Towpath would soon be approaching. Around mile 10, I saw my buddy John Fay (yes, it is rare that we ever call him solely by his first name), which pumped me up a bit. I also knew that I would be seeing Jess soon, so that was an exciting thought. After passing by her and yelling a quick “Love you!”, I pressed on. Just before mile 12, we shot down a super steep downhill before our turn into the Towpath. Another runner and I said that we felt like we were looking down from the Magnum at Cedar Point (an exaggeration, of course). This would be ideal in a speed race, but it is not a welcome sight in a marathon. The downhills really trash your quads for the rest of the race, making the future hills potentially very painful.
As we got down into the Towpath, I sort of just decided to zone out a bit. There is not a lot of crowd support down there, so personal reflection can be a key. At this point, I was well on pace for sub-3, but had the worst yet to come. The surface of the Towpath felt good on my body, and I was able to knock off some solid mile splits down there. Then came mile 18 and a turn up Sand Run Road for a nasty, nasty hill. I heard a few runners say afterward that they found this hill to be worse than Heartbreak Hill in Boston. All I will say is that it’s very close. This hill was a new addition to the course, and I had no idea what I was in for. Let me just say that it was an unwelcome addition and I contend that the new Akron Marathon course is every bit as challenging (if not more challenging) than the previous course. After getting to the top of this hill, I immediately started to doubt myself. My quads and hamstrings had taken a beating from rolling hills all morning, and this hill may have been the finishing blow. However, this mile split only ended up being about a 7:10, which was above what I had been running all day (as I had stayed between 6:40 and 6:50). Fortunately, this split really did not set me back much time-wise. That thought was a confidence builder…but could I hold on from there?
When I first started back on flat surface after the hill, my hamstrings felt very sore and I was unsure of what my next mile split would be. Somehow, I was able to pick up right where I left off prior to the Sand Run Road. My current mile pace went right back to about 6:50 and I was rolling again. At this point, I had some negative thoughts; I thought, if the rest of this course was flat, then I would definitely run a sub-3. Unfortunately, Heart Rate Hill around mile 21-22 was yet to come. I was afraid that this would perhaps seal my fate (can you tell I can be a bit of a pessimist?). When I got to mile 20, an official said that I was on pace for a 2:58 marathon. Now I knew that if I could hold on, the goal was within reach. While 2 minutes seems like a lot of room for error at that point, it is definitely not; if your legs are spent at mile 20, then you are done. Sometime between mile 20 and 21, I saw my Sunday morning running partner Brent and his kids. This was a huge boost. I hope they enjoyed the way that I stuffed my face with a peanut butter Gu in front of them (in preparation for Heart Rate Hill). I then saw a Twitter buddy, Susan, who reminded me that Jess was only about 5 miles away to greet me at the finish line. What an awesome thought!
When I got to Heart Rate Hill, I remember thinking, “Wow, this isn’t nearly as bad as I remember”. I am very confident that I felt this way because I had already gone up the Sand Run Hill, which was much worse. After Heart Rate Hill, we went through Stan Hywet, which has many awesome sights and crowd support. I was finally becoming a believer; sub-3 was within my grasp.
The last few miles began to tick by. I saw another buddy, Matty O, around mile 24. He yelled at me like a drill sergeant (“Come on! Suck it up!), and I loved it. I remembered that mile 25 can be kind of fast, and next thing I knew, I ripped off a 6:29 mile there. It was at that point that the emotions started to become overwhelming. I knew that barring a catastrophe, sub-3 was seriously going to happen. As I began to approach Canal Park, I was in absolute disbelief. I was going to do it!!! I remember thinking, “How am I going to screw this up? Am I going to fall? Pass out?” Fortunately, none of that happened. As I entered into the stadium, a huge smile showed up on my face. I saw 2:57 and some change on the clock and knew that my dreams had come true. As I began to sprint out the last hundred meters I saw my friends Steve and Beth, both of whom knew that I was hoping to break the 3-hour mark. I crossed the finish line with an official time of 2:57:47. Not only did I run a sub-3 marathon, but I ran a 6-minute and 36-second PR.I was elated. An insane summer of battling heat through long runs and speed workouts had paid off. All the hard work, pain (sometimes), and sacrifices were absolutely worth it.
After crossing the finish line, I got a little emotional and had to put my shirt up to my face. I then told myself to not be a pansy and I pressed on. It was then that I saw my running buddy Frank’s dad, who is always supporting Frank and I at races. He just looked at me, pointed, and said “Yes!!!”. I was so pumped up. Only one more thing was needed: I needed to see Jess and nothing was going to stop me. I grabbed my food, got a quick picture taken, and walked up from the field to the stands. There was Jess, teary-eyed and excited. It was one of those moments that I will never ever forget.
So what’s next for me? I will do some speed races in October, November, and December. I do not plan to run the full marathon at Inland Trail anymore, but will likely run the half. I plan to do the Athens Marathon (Athens, Ohio that is!) in April and the Cleveland Marathon in May. I am hopeful to run sub-3 times at those races as well, but I will worry about that later. My main focus will be to get my lovely fiancée 100% healthy so that she can qualify for Boston again. I will use my 2:57:47 to register for the 2014 Boston Marathon, and I am confident that Jess will have a Boston Qualifying time of her own to register with. I have to say that I am very excited for us to run the Boston Marathon together as “The McCartney’s”