With two weeks left until the Berlin Marathon, everyone wants to know if I’m ready. The problem is, I won’t really know until something like a few miles into the race on September 16. It certainly hasn’t been an easy training schedule with twin toddlers taking up more and more time, and there have been more than a few poor runs, but I think I’m pretty ready.
As I lay on my back in the grass of Chicago’s Millennium Park after 26.2 miles last fall, I distinctly remember saying I was done running marathons. After two years of training for it, the first which ended in deferring my entry for a year due to a pulled IT band, I was ready for a break. “Never again”, I said.
In the winter, I entered a lottery at work for the London Marathon, figuring if I got guaranteed entry, it’d be worth the effort. When I didn’t get in, I figured I was already mentally prepared to run another marathon, so I might as well enter Berlin, figuring it was unlikely I’d get in. Of course I did, and had to form a game plan. I wouldn’t be repeating the result of Chicago where I finished just over 4 hours (by under two minutes).
After a spring of running half marathons, I figured I was pretty well set to start the marathon ramp up. While my last half was fairly slow, I attributed it to weather and not enough long runs. I figured I had plenty of time all summer to train further and harder.
Our summer vacation crept up earlier this year than in most recent ones, so I planned a few short runs across the various cities we’d be staying in across Portugal. I found some great routes along the beaches and through the cities. I missed my opportunity to get into running there though by skipping runs the first two days and never got to the rest of the runs. Apparently traveling with two toddlers takes far more energy than I expected. It might have had something to do with pushing them up and down cobblestoned hills throughout the country too.
Throughout the summer, I got serious. I think I did better with week day runs this year than any in the past. Running throughout Newark in the morning helped me beat traffic by getting in earlier and allowed me to explore new parts of the city. I discovered a new waterfront trail from my office and even found a path that continued beyond my normal route, allowing me to get some eight mile runs in. One day I even saved a turtle.
Some of the more memorable runs were a fantastic 18-miler through Saddle Brook Park in NJ where I got to watch some of the most intricate remote controlled boats I’ve ever seen slowly circle a pond while I also slowly circled it. I also ran from NJ to NYC via the George Washington bridge a few times, once meeting up with a friend for a few humid miles in Central Park. Another time I met another friend for a few miles in Hoboken, ending with a few delicious beers on a pier there.
Unfortunately, the good runs were slightly overshadowed by some bad ones, especially with poor timing. Within the last four weeks of training, I had two of my worst runs of the summer. With high heat and even worse humidity, it was a terrible summer for long runs. My first 20-miler through NYC had to be aborted after 16.5 miles when I had to stop to cool down and couldn’t get going again. While I was able to trudge slowly back down Park Avenue to find the boys and my wife, I was very disappointed in the result of the run. I figured I still had time to make up for it with the next long run.
Unfortunately, the following week I started to get sick. With toddlers, I know I have only a few days before I’ll start feeling an illness when they bring one home from school. Unfortunately this one came with aches and fever, so I ended up taking an entire week off from running to attempt to get over it faster. It didn’t help much.
With my final long run, I attempted a run at home, going further into the next town than I’d ever tried. I started with a nice loop around a nearby lake I’d never explored, which turned out to have a lot more hills than I expected. At mile 13, I did a short trail segment under the overpass which ended at a fence I swear I’d never seen before that was locked. Luckily I found a section nearby I could hop over, though it sapped a little of my energy. I purposefully stretched the run far from my house to add motivation to make it back, but this backfired when my legs died at the furthest point from home. I had to slowly walk back, over 5 miles. The good news: including walking I ran / walked over 26 miles. The bad: my walking pace was just under 20:00 a mile because I was so dead.
So with all of that, am I really ready for Berlin? Maybe. I’m hoping that the combination of an incredibly flat course, far better (cooler and less humid) weather, and the excitement of running in a new locale will be a massive help. I really want to cut off those extra two minutes and finally get under four hours for my fifth marathon. Right now, I have no clue what to expect.