A few months ago, I set a goal to run a marathon (26.2 miles or 42.2 km) in under four hours. That would require a pace of 9:09 minutes per mile (5:41 per kilometer), including rest stops. I did a lot of research and put together a training plan. I focused on my diet, nutrition, and daily lifestyle. I incorporated certain types of workouts that would benefit my faster tempo speed. For Ironman training, I hadn’t been running with a high heart rate. But in my previous failed sub-4-hour marathon attempt, my heart rate was too high for too long. So, this time I worked on improving heart rate efficiency.
In the end, I achieved the goal! I want to thank Taylor H. for his huge help during the pivotal 3/4ths of the race. He ran with me and handed me bottles when I was feeling down. Thank you!!
This attempt was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. One way to visualize it is by Relative Effort (RE). Strava calculates Relative Effort from a variety of metrics like heart rate and pace. Out of all 1,200+ activities I have recorded on Strava, this sub-4 hour marathon was my highest relative effort by a massive margin.
406 Relative Effort: The sub-4-hour marathon
330 RE: 84 mile hot, hilly ride
311 RE: Failed sub-4-hour marathon
249 RE: 107-mile hard rainy ride
245 RE: My first marathon
244 RE: Another 100-mile ride
I went through stages of grief during this race. To better understand the experience, I’ve summarized each mile of the race.
Mile 1: LET’S GO!!! I just finished listening to a David Goggins’ speech I was super emotional at the start.
Mile 2: I realize now that I forgot to pee before starting the race.
Mile 3: Selecting my music: epic Christian hits to go deep outside of myself.
Mile 4: First time I stopped for a drink of energy/electrolyte mix. Feeling solid.
Mile 5: My fastest mile by effort. Settling into a good pace.
Mile 6: My neighbors raking the leaves are looking at me funny after seeing me six times in the last hour.
Mile 7: I took a longer break here to pee and refresh with my drink mix and ginger tea. My stomach was feeling good. I took off some warm outer layer clothes, like my hat and gloves, as I warmed up.
Mile 8: One hour done. Feeling way better here than I did last time.
Mile 9: My heart rate starts to rise from my all-day pace into my tempo pace. From here onward, I’m burning more than I can replenish. That means the clock starts ticking on my energy reserves.
Mile 10: I start to get that small voice at the back of my mind telling me I’m uncomfortable.
Mile 11: The last mile that I run during which I feel “good.”
Mile 12: This is when the run starts getting difficult. I’m barely halfway and I feel like I’ve been running forever.
Mile 13: At the halfway point, I feel a boost of positivity, but this is short-lived. I’m under pace, but not by much. I bought myself a bit of wiggle room by running faster than I need to. But I’m getting tired.
Mile 14: The voice gets louder, yelling at me that I’m tired. But I get a savior: Taylor texts me that he’s on his way, and to stay strong. I shake my head in disagreement.
Mile 15: Taylor joins me for this mile. I can barely talk or breathe. I’ve still got my headphones in. We run together and blast out a solid mile time.
Mile 16: Taylor lets me run alone and instead manages my water station. Every mile I complete the loop, he hands me a bottle so I can sip and jog without stopping. I drink my mix according to the plan of one bottle per hour. I continue sipping lemon & ginger tea to help my stomach settle.
Mile 17: The wall gets bigger and my legs are heavy. I push a last effort to stay under pace, but I can’t. I fall backwards into stages of grief.
Mile 18: Grief stage 1: Denial. I have more than an hour remaining. My pace is slowing. I push harder, worrying that I’m about to hit the same wall that destroyed me last time at Mile 19.
Mile 19: Grief stage 2: Anger. I am livid at myself. This is the first mile during which I can’t run under pace. My speed starts slowing. Negativity washes over me like a deluge telling me that I won’t make it. I cry weakly.
Mile 20: Grief stage 3: Bargaining. I tear apart my old self and begin from the start. I don’t care about maintaining a pace. I care about finishing under 4 hours. I will do whatever it takes. I start doing mental math at how slow I’m going: calculating how much time I can lose on each mile and still make under four hours. Taylor has to leave so I’m on my own for aid.
Mile 21: Grief stage 4: Depression. For the last six miles, my heart rate had entered threshold pace. This is like putting the clock on my energy reserves into overdrive. I now have minutes, not hours, of energy left. I start to lose touch with reality; in a way the connection between my perception and surroundings starts to “melt.” I wonder if I can live with myself if I can’t finish. The reality of failure starts to make more sense.
Mile 22: Grief stage 5: Acceptance. I’m at my lowest. I would cry but I don’t have the energy to. I’m in a unique kind of pain. This pain is not sharp and obvious. It’s like the earth has ratcheted up the force of gravity pulling down on me. I can’t stay upright. Roots and molasses rip me downward. I know only one thing: I have to keep moving forward.
Mile 23: I build upon my acceptance. The clock on my energy has entered hyperspace as my heart-rate enters super-threshold. I am working the hardest that I’ve ever worked before. I switch my playlist back to David Goggins, looking for inspiration. But I feel distant from it.
Mile 24: I count every step, minute, and second until my torture is over. This is my slowest mile by time, but my hardest perceived effort so far. I finish my last drink bottle and throw it to the ground. Nothing else can help me now.
Mile 25: Wait, there it is. I can see the light now. The pacing math becomes easier. I see now how I can maintain this exact pace without pushing more, and still finish under four hours.
Mile 26: But it’s going to be close. I push harder again. My mind starts to reconnect back with my body and surroundings as I realize that I can do this. I count each .01 mile interval and I look down at my watch every couple of steps. I repeat to myself that I have to finish. I have to do it.
Mile 0.2: I push my pace to a sprint, which is the hardest I can run. This is the longest two minutes of my life. The only thing I’m focused on is staying upright. I stare down at my watch as the distance creaks higher.
Finished. I see the watch hit 26.22 and I’m done. I collapse onto the ground. I thank God and I am grateful to be done. I text Sahyli and text Taylor and call my brother Peter.
It’s over. A few minutes pass by and I am heaving air through my lungs.
I turn over. Struggling, I stand upright.