Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier My Story

Breaking the 3-Hour Barrier, Part 6

Let’s back up to three (ish) months before my goal race last year, the NYC Marathon. I was thinking about my 2018 race plans and and schedules and what I want to accomplish even a decade down the road and decided to enter BOTH the Carlsbad Marathon and Surf City Marathon BECAUSE they were three weeks apart. These races were for data mining purposes – to see what my body could do racing marathons so close together and feel out what recovery was like. I had hoped to PR and break three hours at New York, so Carlsbad and Surf City were not meant to be part of a personal best pyramid. However, I didn’t break three hours at New York, and then I became injured two weeks before Carlsbad, so…

The marathon will never be what you think, even if you’ve done it a dozen times, or executed the perfect race strategy, or had the best training cycle. It remains unpredictable. I like to register for races far in advance, not just for the price break, but mainly because I want to watch the already-paid-for obligation come at me. Ready or not, give what you’ve got, and possibly more. That’s part of the competition. You don’t get to choose your perfect day to run your best race.

It had been six years since I’d had a real running injury and I was scared. I had these two marathons back to back with a slew of shorter races immediately after and I didn’t know how I was going to make them all happen. It hurt to walk, to stand. I took the entire week off running before Carlsbad, knowing that it wouldn’t hurt my fitness much, but coming to terms with the possibility that I might not be able to finish. Towards the end of the week, I was able to walk mostly pain free, but it was still pretty stiff. On race morning I was hesitant, but still wanted to go for it. I don’t regret that decision. For the first few miles the pain was there, but very mild. Around mile 6, it started to get worse and then at mile 9, the other foot/leg started compensating. Suddenly there were two figures talking to me, one on each shoulder. On the right, was my Midwest, stubborn grit mindset screaming “NO! You do NOT quit! Embrace the pain, and finish what you started! OHIO GROWN!” On the left, was my California hippie intuitive spirit saying, “Heeeeyy…you need chill. Let your body heal, ya know? Make the exit, you’ll be fine. You don’t wanna miss out on what’s to come. But whatever man, you do you.”¬†

I considered my options, and decided to drop out, a little ways after mile 11. It was my first DNF. I wasn’t willing to let this injury progress, and rob me of future miles and races. It was hard, and I still felt awful about it, but I knew I had made the right choice. I took the following week off running and started my recovery strategies.

Alright, three weeks later I’m heading back to San Diego to attempt the Surf City Marathon. I had been able to start running, and without pain, but in the five weeks leading up to this race I had run ten times totaling a mere 80 miles. I was NOT ready. But my foot felt pretty good, and I worked up enough confidence to convince myself to at least test it out. Running a marathon following an injury is a really stupid idea, I get that, but as long as my foot would stay okay, I could still get some of that data I wanted. It would just be a different kind – the kind you get when you run a race you haven’t trained for.

My strategy to was run like it was my first marathon. I predicted I would maintain a comfortable pace until mile 20, and then fall apart on tired, heavy, unconditioned legs. If my foot remained pain-free, nutrition and hydration were good, and the weather stayed fine, my time goal was a sub 3:20. I couldn’t race, I knew that, so to help keep my focus on just running and having fun, I put tape over my Garmin and didn’t wear my usual race outfit. My prediction was spot on. My 5k split was a 7:02 pace, 10k at 7:04, halfway at 7:05, and 20 at 7:05, and then I blew up. My fueling and hydration felt good, and it wasn’t a particular muscle group that was bothering me, it was just everything. Everything hurt. I knew it was because my muscles weren’t prepped for the distance, and that was okay. My foot felt COMPLETELY fine and I was so happy with that. But again, shortly after mile 20 two figures popped up on each shoulder. One said, “Duuuuude…why are you so tense? Relax, you’re not racing. Your foot is fine, thanks to me by the way, so just take a break already. Walk a little. You’ll finish, that’s all you wanted, right?” The other said, “DON’T! You are SO close! You do NOT need to walk, you’re not hurting anything you KEEP RUNNING! Break and build! This is you breaking! You need to break yourself today! You don’t quit you don’t stop until you’re done! GO!”

This time, I knew to let the inner grit and determination embedded in my bones surface and push me through. I slowed the pace my a lot, but I kept running. I crossed the finish line and I swear it felt like I lost my marathon virginity for the second time. It was amazing. At first, I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that being in as much pain as I was just a few weeks prior, I finished a marathon without any! It was my proudest marathon. I was proud of myself for dropping out of Carlsbad, for not getting too discouraged about recovery, and for not stopping to walk at the end.

Of course I got my data and insight for training, but like I said at the beginning of this post, the marathon is not what you think. I learned that my mind¬†really needed a break from competing. I love to race, and compete, and try to teach my legs to run fast, but just like physical recovery is part of the training program, mental recovery needs to be in there, too. It doesn’t have to be nearly as often, but it needs to exist. I felt mentally refreshed after this “fun run” and found the rejuvenated eagerness train and race hard that I didn’t even know I lost.

Final Stats


42nd of 1472 overall

8th of 597 female

2nd of 75 in age group