After completing 2 Ironman training cycles over the year I wouldn't call my experience training for Houston "hard." I would like to think of it as "smart!" I ran roughly every other day, which included a tempo run, interval workout and a long run. All the markers were there, and I was pretty sure I could break 4....
I started off a little fast, 8:50ish for the first several miles. There was a lot of weaving in and out as many runners in the half were running too fast, then too slow, etc. I finally settled in and the knees began to ache at about mile 8. I stopped for 5-10 seconds to put my velcro brace on, but immediately took it off as it seemingly made it worse.
By mile 10 my overall average pace had dropped to right around 8:55 or so - right on target. I did, however notice that my garmin would register the mile markers well before the mile markers actually came. This was a result of my early race zig zagging mostly. It was about a 20 second margin at that point.
I cruised through the halfway point well, focused on keeping my pace and nutrition/salt and made it to the upper teens without issue. While I had slowed to around a 9:05 pace or so I was still plugging away. Even as I started to feel serious pain (in the knees, and over all) into 19 and 20 I was still able to sustain this pace.
At mile 21, however my body started to crack. I could not push myself beneath a 9:20 pace. And the mile markers were now well off from my garmin - perhaps a minute! I went into crisis management mode and focused on keeping my feet moving and trying to push as much as I could without cracking (or cramping!) further. The goal was still possible, but 1 walk break or severe cramp and it'd be over.
I kept this attitude through 22, 23 and even 24. Those were the hardest 4 miles I've experienced...ever. The pain was immense, but I brought my thoughts back to my father - where I was running was so significant. And the sights were familiar - I remembered running through these same spots six years ago in my first marathon journey.
At mile 24 some jackass shouted to us all "great job everybody - you're just over 4 hour pace!" OK, not a jackass, but this is not what I wanted to hear! I knew he was going off gun time, not chip time, and I was pretty sure I had about 6 minutes off the gun, but I wasn't sure. (!) But I couldn't go any harder - my body had set a ceiling on my pace and I just couldn't get it to move faster!
I vowed at mile 25 I would dig as deep as I possibly could and race it hard in. For all I knew I was right on the line of being a few seconds over or under as I couldn't trust my garmin. I wasn't even sure if the clock was right on the garmin, since I had a time discrepancy with it in a previous race! So all I could do is dig deep inside myself and try to pull out something special. This was Houston afterall. I've wanted this for a VERY long time.
I did mile 25 in 8:31 - by far my fastest mile of the day, picking up a minute on my slowest, mile 24. As I rounded the final corner I waved to my cheering mom and saw the finish line 300 meters away. I covered the last bit at 8:17 pace - sprinting for every last second.
As I crossed the line I had the most underwhelming finish of my career, I had no energy to even raise my arms - I held up my little sign that I had in my pocket the whole day. It's been on my dresser since June - and I've seen it every day. I wasn't 100% sure I did it until my mom texted me my official finish time a few minutes later. 3:58:35. I did do it. By the skin of my teeth. This was not an easy one. I've always known the 4 hour mark is on the fringe of what my body is physically capable of. And I've always felt I've underachieved at the marathon distance. Now I've proven it to myself. I am a sub-4 hour marathoner!
Despite an "average" race day I was able to muscle something special. This one was all heart and now I can "retire" from the marathon distance a happy man. Yes, I said it. Marathon - there's just one race left to conquer in June - in Africa of all places, and #10. (12 if you count Ironman.) But then we're done. Finished. I like halfs and even 10ks, but you my friend are too long and hard on my body. You see I want to be running as late in life as possible and I fear that if I stay with you and your brutal training I won't be able to.
Thank you, Houston. You've given me a lot in the last 6 years.