A friend told me that breaking the 3-hour marathon mark can be underwhelming. It’s just a number, he said and once you get there, it’s possible to feel empty.
Bullshit! Yesterday, at 41 years of age, I ran a 2.57.04 marathon in Southern California and it felt like an achievement of a lifetime. Because it is. It’s something that will stay part of my identity for the rest of my life. I’m a quiet guy; I don’t even clap or cheer for my kids at their sporting events. But yesterday, crossing the finish line of the Long Beach marathon, I let out an ugly, primeval scream. “Run it, bike it, own it”, the marathon logo said. I don’t know what or who exactly I “owned” but that action, with its various connotations, was close to heart.
Let me note that I’m not a novice runner. I ran a 3.54 marathon in New York City in 2010. Was 30 then. Traveled from Russia with a friend. It was a fun retreat for our families and if you were a young professional working in the finance industry running a marathon at some point seemed a must.
There were months and years when I was out of shape, but throughout my adult life, I found ways to go for runs, wherever I studied or lived. It could have been a couple of minor runs on some weeks, then nothing, then running again, or a random longish run of 8 miles or more.
But 26.2 miles at 6.50 min/mile pace? No way. I didn’t even think in terms of pace. Two years ago I timed myself running fast 4 laps on a track. I barely got 7 min. Running faster than that for 26 miles seemed so out of reach.
My journey to “real” running started in the spring of 2020, a couple of months into the pandemic. There was a very specific event that got me going. I challenged my son to a one-mile race and choked. I wrote about it here.
The first critical step towards radically improving my running shape was losing weight (one weight loss tip is here). Between May and October of 2020, I lost about 25 pounds. It’s hard to tell what led to what. I started running intervals and restricted my calories. I lost weight and that led to more and faster running. I lost even more weight.
So, take away #1.
To run a real fast marathon, lose weight.