The Sweltering Summer Six-Hour is an odd race. It’s a timed ultra-marathon, in which runners are allowed 6 hours to run as far as they can. Those that run the furthest in that time, win. These are the same basic rules as the Around the Lake Marathon, that I know all too well. Instead of the lake’s 8 laps, at this race there is a .355 mile dirt track, so you run around in pretty brief circles, 74 times. The event also has a marathon option, which I ran this year. My friend Morgan was the one who told me of the race a few months ago.
I tried previously this year to qualify for the Boston Marathon but didn’t make it. This was my last chance before the marathon registration to get it done.
Before the race, I calculated that it would take me 2 minutes and 29 seconds to go around the track once, at the pace I needed to maintain in order to qualify. (.355 mile track * 7:00/mile = 3:03:31 marathon, 1 minute and 29 seconds under the qualifying time of 3:05:00). And there it is, the Plan. This is the reason things went well. With this, I had effectively qualified before I even started running. The plan and mindset was to run as slow as I possibly could, while still running a qualifying time. 3:03:31 was as close to the qualifying time as I wanted to come. I knew that if I executed this plan, I would qualify.
Morgan ran with me; we set out together, talking casually. When we started, there was this really eerie but cool fog over the field and track. I chose to think of it as calming and steady. The 7:00 pace was not difficult for us, especially in the early going. I told Morgan of my strategy, and convinced him to run with me at the strategy pace. At about mile 5 he reminded me that this was his first marathon. We ran the first lap at 2:35, too slow. We ran the second lap at 2:29, perfect. The third, 2:29, perfect. The fourth, 2:33, too slow. We did this over and over and over again, approaching 74 laps. The best part of the short course was having the ability to check in on our pace so often. Every 2 minutes and 29 second we knew if we were on target or not.
Morgan ran a great race; he tore his quad five weeks prior, but he stayed with me all the way through 25 miles. He pushed me, and I pushed him to keep going.
Renata and our friend Brian helped us along the entire way as well, handing us the liquid and solid fuels we needed, and giving invaluable moral support.
At 25, Morgan pulled up to protect his quad. I considered stopping, but made the decision to keep going after what I was so close to now! Brian came to run with him along the inside edge of the track, and Brian lead him to the very finish, urged along by me, Renata and Morgan’s own parents. Morgan delivered; he made it in just over 3:04. A Boston qualifier!
Meanwhile, I had a job to finish. I was just two laps away but approaching 3 hours. Just once there was that terrible thought that I had mis-calulated and I would somehow come in just over 3:05. But I reminded myself to trust myself, and the numbers, as they do not lie. Plus, “This is what you want, dammit, so go get it!” I ran the 73rd lap at an increased steady clip. Then, on the final lap, I gunned it!
I finished with a 3:03:21, just 10 seconds away (and under) my goal time. I ran the last of the 74 laps at my current top speed, as a victory lap. The pace range window was very tight, probably 10 seconds above and below the 2:29, the whole race. Having this control was the ultimate vindication for the time and effort I have put in and the mistakes I’ve made over the last two years.
This was the smartest race I’ve ever run. Far and away the best performance I’ve had at any race. I had a plan that was appropriate for my current fitness; separately but equally importantly, I executed that plan, and I did not get greedy half way through the race, and try to “bank time.”
And so now I believe that I’ve learned just a single lesson in running: to start slower than I’ll finish, to pace each mile with a purpose, and to trust myself doing it. I’ll probably have to learn and re-learn this lesson again, but it’s there now.
It took me 5 marathons to qualify for Boston, but the way in which I did so was invaluable. For sure there is plenty to do and learn, but I can FEEL the experience I’ve gain from each race.
|One lap is .355 mile|