Racing and goal setting go hand-in-hand. I’ve raced many times over the last decade, but this was the first year I truly thought about the goals I wanted to achieve. Sure, I’ve had time goals in mind in the past, but never truly thought about the why behind them. Identifying the why is still a work in progress, but running and training with Team Run Xpress has helped me prioritize it.
The scene: Standing near the maroon corral about 12 minutes before the start of the 2018 Philadelphia Marathon. I’m in line for a last-minute stop at the Port-o-Potty with another guy from the corral. He points to the sign over the john that says “Elites Only”—but no one’s looking so we use it anyway. “Closest we’ll ever get to the elites?” I joke. “You know it,” he replies.
I’ve seen and heard that kind of self-effacing humor from runners a lot. Nonchalant about our goals on the surface. Secretly churning underneath with thoughts about splits and gels and pace. Like a duck calm on top of the water and frantically paddling below. The guy in line wanted to break 3 hours, and I knew that was a big deal for him.
I myself had three goals in mind: 1) Qualify for Boston by running under 3:20, 2) set a PR, 3) indoctrinate my 8-year old son into the running scene.
We had arrived the day before and stayed at a hotel near the starting line. The neighborhood was teeming with runners. You’d catch snippets of conversations about gear and nutrition, weather and race-day plans. My son started catching a bit of the fever… goal three was in progress.
Tip: If you have the opportunity, stay in a hotel the night before. Your stress level will be much lower the morning of the race.
I jogged to the starting line after a brief elevator conversation with a runner from the U.K. wearing his wife’s pink sweater. It was a throw-away, but one he probably didn’t need since the weather was a perfect 40 degrees at 7 a.m.
After a little warmup and the before-mentioned bathroom break, I was in the corral for the pre-race pomp and circumstance. National Anthem, the announcer’s pep talk, a speech from a guy who ran the race 25 times, good luck wishes from Meb Keflezighi and Des Linden. And then we were off!
I planned to break the race into sets of five miles. I consciously asked myself, “What do you want to get out of the next five?” I’d reward myself with a gel at the end of each set and reassess.
- Goal for Miles 1-5: Settle in, stay relaxed, spot my friend who’d be cheering at 5th and South – accomplished.
- Goal for Miles 5-10: Stay relaxed, spot my wife and son at mile six, and then run the hills well in Fairmount – accomplished.
My son snapped a great picture of me mid-stride around 17th and Chestnut. We then compared this to a video of him running at school. He’s hooked.
A note about running the hills in Fairmount Park. They aren’t huge by any stretch, but running up them too hard can sap your energy for the rest of the race. It’s a lesson I learned last year. Just a few weeks before the race I was running with my coach Brock in Valley Forge Park. We crested a little hill and he mentioned we hit something like 310 watts on the climb—well above my threshold pace. So I kept that in mind during this stretch of the race. Climbed conservatively and bombed the downhills. It was fun to pass people here.
As a result, I was feeling fresh going into the next set of five.
- Goal for Miles 10-15: Stay relaxed and find a group running around 7:30/mile to run with – accomplished. These miles felt much easier than the same stretch last year.
- Goal for Miles 15-20: See the rest of Team Run Xpress on the sidelines cheering me on at mile 18. This was a huge motivator for me (goal accomplished). Feel good coming out of Manayunk (goal sort of accomplished).
I started feeling some chinks in the armor around mile 20. Nothing too serious, but my left calf felt tight and I had a stabbing pain in the center of it. I relaxed and it subsided. Manayunk is a tough stretch for me—I’ll just say it, I hate that part of the marathon. The road is narrow, the wall of screaming fans irritates me, and it’s claustrophobia-inducing.
- Goal for Miles 20-26.2: Hang on and feed off the crowd, keep my pace around 7:30-7:45 (primary time goal not accomplished, secondary goal kicked in).
The wheels came off around mile 22. I was holding a 7:23 pace until that point. My finish time was 7:45 pace. So, yes, I lost a lot of ground in those final miles. It was pretty miserable. My quad cramped, I had to walk and massage it out. I would have loved to qualify for Boston, but it wasn’t in the cards that day. What was in the cards was potentially more valuable. I was forced to really examine the why of the run.
I reached my other goal of setting a personal record for the marathon. And I also reached what started off as a third-tier goal but in hindsight may have been the most important. My family and my team were proud of me, and my son was really excited about running and taking pictures of runners. We talked about it on the way home and he saw that I was still happy even though I didn’t reach the original time goal I had in mind.
Running is about time, for sure. But what’s even more important is how it fits into your life. At this point, shaping a future generation—my son—is my priority. And running is one of the tools that helps me do it.