By Phil Sneller
I’ve been chasing a sub-2:30 marathon now for 3 years and after my most recent attempt, it still eludes me.
Two weeks ago I ran the Grand Rapids Marathon and finished in a miserable 2:41. I was injured going in and was 90% certain I wasn’t even going to run it two days before the race. I probably shouldn’t have bothered, looking back, but I had flown up there and all, so I gave it a go.
I’d say my training was “ok” leading up to the race. This was my first summer in TX and I found running the usual 100mpw in 100 degrees to be rather difficult. I found skipping runs, cutting workouts short, and sweating, very easy. I think I got in the 90’s twice and there were a few 40 and 50 mile weeks in there too. It was inconsistent, but I did have some good workouts that had me excited for the race and was feeling pretty positive about getting the 2:30 monkey off my back. However, it was not meant to be.
11 days out from the race I decided to do my medium long run of 13 miles on the treadmill. Having not run at all on a treadmill the entire buildup, it was probably not the smartest idea, but my baseball playoff fever clouded my judgment. By the end of the run, and the baseball game, my patella tendon was inflamed and pretty damn sore. I wouldn’t run another step until two days before the marathon.
I started cross training on the elliptical and went and saw a Dr down at Rogue who pretty much told me it was a bad idea to run on it. He said I could probably jog the marathon but should really scale back my expectations. When I told him I was trying to run it on the quicker side, he asked, “like 6:15’s?”
I said, “more like 5:40’s”, and he just started shaking his head no.
I continued cross training and then two days out I tested the knee with an easy 4 miles. There was discomfort, but no pain, so I said, “Eff it” and decided to give it a try at least. Any pain and I would drop out. There ended up being a lot of pain, but not in my knee.
The morning before race day I woke up with horrible cramps in my calves. They actually woke me up. Huge knots had formed and seized up in both of them and it was pretty painful. I stretched, I massaged, I used a heating pad, I used entirely too much Bengay. None of it helped. The knots weren’t going anywhere. It was pretty frustrating, to say the least. Getting injuries running is part of the game, but getting injured in my sleep is a new one. The luck…
Race morning I was not feeling very confident about finishing and told my family who were there not to be too surprised if I don’t.
From mile one I hurt. Hurting with 6 miles to go is one thing, but hurting with 26.2 miles to go is just not good. I could tell right away this was going to be a very unpleasant experience. By 10k my calves were already screaming for me to stop. I continued on. I stopped to stretch them at 9 miles, which didn’t help, and continued on. I went through the half in 1:17-something feeling pain in pretty much every inch of my legs. Running with the calf pain was messing up my form and I was trying to land on different parts of my foot in attempt to alleviate it somehow. I just ended up with wrecked quads. I shut it down and started jogging as soon as I crossed the half mat. Jogging only brought the pain down from about a 9, to a 7, but walking hurt too, so I continued on.
Some of my family were out on the course and I was just waiting to see them to drop out. I didn’t know where they were though, so I had to keep going or I was going to be walking a very long way. I was running 6:30 – 7:00 pace, praying to see them soon. At 18 I finally saw my brother, but I had started feeling shitty about dropping out and hated the thought of quitting. The turnaround was right up ahead, so I decided I’d hit that, see how I felt coming back, and if things just kept getting worse, I’d drop when I got back to him. With the way it was going, I figured I wouldn’t even be able to run at that point. When I came back around, he was gone.
It looked like I was going to have to finish this thing. I stopped a few times to stretch my calves and walk. I could barely run, but I kept going. I ended up crossing the line 4th, , and I’m glad I didn’t actually drop out as I’ve only dropped out of one race ever(where I became physically unable to run), but the time, I’d like to forget.
So, the quest continues as my PR stands at 2:30:26 from Chicago in ‘09.
After I ran 2:34 at the Austin marathon back in Feb., I labeled my pursuit of a sub 2:30, “chasing mediocrity”. It’s a sarcastic description I use for the endeavor. My dad said encouragingly when I had got down on myself, “How many people can run a 2:30 marathon?” Well, quite a few. But I do realize it’s a pretty good time, it just doesn’t get you much. I started running in ‘05 and had much higher aspirations than that when my progression went from 2:59 in ‘06 to 2:31 in ‘08. I thought I’d be running 2:20 by now, so I’m not thrilled with my performances over the last two years and have definitely lost some of the fire I once had over that time.
My dad then said what is now my favorite quote and plays in my head often: “start chasing mediocrity, and you might find mediocrity chasing you”.
I’m afraid that’s what has happened, and now it’s time to really get back to work. It’s time to throw the “mediocrity” shit out the window. It’s time to refocus, rededicate, and chase something great. I’m part of a great team with Rogue. I have some great support and some great people to train with. I don’t just want to break 2:30, I want to obliterate it. Let’s do this.