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December 23rd, 2020

Marathon Project Recap

by Brendan Martin, PT, DPT, FAFS

Photo by Justin Britton

The Marathon Project in Arizona was an outstanding experience. In a year without races, the meet organizers stepped up and provided 50 men and 50 women with a safe and favorable opportunity to chase down new personal best times in the marathon.  I entered the race feeling confident in my ability to not only set a PB, but hopefully break through to 2:14 (previous PB of 2:15:30 from June 2015.)  The socially distanced race structure gave it a low key atmosphere, helping to keep me as relaxed as one can hope to be prior to an all-out 26.2 that they’ve been focused on for 10 weeks! 

Things went off without a hitch, and a bunch of other competitors and I found ourselves efficiently moving through each 5km split at right on 5:10 pace. We had a bit of variance from mile to mile, but overall, we were moving efficiently.  Goal pace for many of us was more like 5:07/mile, but we knew better than to force things too soon in a marathon. “Let it come to you” is a big racing mantra of mine, at least for the first 2/3rds.

We came through halfway in 67:45, spot on my personal best pace, and actually the fastest I have ever run the first half of a marathon (small win #1.)

As we approached 30km/~20 miles, things started to tighten up a bit, with a few miles in the 5:06-5:08 range. Finally at 20 miles, it was off to the races! Myself and a few others all simultaneously went “full send.” The official split-tracker has me at 15:41 from 30 to 35km, 5:01 pace per mile.  While I could feel this was a bit too hot, the competitor in me didn’t want to let people get away during the final quarter of a race.  Additionally, I didn’t come to this race hoping to match my personal best, and wanted to see if I could make something special happen.  Unfortunately, at 35km, it was already time to pay the price. 

**Runner scientist-nerd side bar: Generally, 5:01 is a bit slower than my lactate threshold pace, but I think after 19 miles at 5:10 pace, efficiency is down and lactate threshold pace is going to be slower. Thus, I crossed that magical line and was now going lactic.

I felt my trunk beginning to cramp on both sides, and my legs were unresponsive. I had a hard time getting my breathing back under control, but I did my best to stay relaxed. I was able to hold it together throughout the period of doubt where I actually considered stopping (I was tired enough to have no idea that I was still on pace for a personal best. Central fatigue is a very real thing in marathoning, especially as our brains utilize exclusively carbohydrates for energy.) As I chugged to the finish with my pain face, I was pleasantly surprised to see 2:15 on the board.  As my legs buckled 1 or 2 times, I decided I was just focused on making it to the finish line.

I have mixed feelings about my performance. On the one hand, I know this is the fittest I’ve ever been for a marathon (win #2,) so I am a bit disappointed that I didn’t achieve the elusive monster breakthrough. On the other, this time/performance essentially matches my all-time best marathon from 5.5 years ago (win #3.)  I decided that if I’m feeling a bit unsatisfied with 2:15, I’m in a great position entering 2021. Thankful to be walking away from the training block and race healthy (win #4.)  Feeling grateful for my health, and the privilege to train and race during a tough year for everyone, especially after starting off 2020 with a significant period of time off from running due to a stress fracture. 

As I write this recap 3 days later, I’m feeling pleasantly surprised at how well my legs seem to be recovering. (At least as much as I’m able to tell while quarantining in a 300sq foot apartment until I get my second negative covid test in a couple more days.) I’ll credit good strength and conditioning work, the flat course, and my first healthy marathon in thick-soled supershoes for the quick recovery.

Thank you so much for reading and following. I feel immensely grateful to so many people for an opportunity like this, as well as all the support I get to continue chasing my athletic goals.

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