What I learned running 3 marathons in 5 weeks

Most people I know think I’m a special kind of crazy when it comes to running. To most runners, I’m well, fairly normal. But when I signed up to run Erie, Akron, and Columbus over 5 weeks, most people questioned my sanity.

If you’re new here, I signed up for Erie and Akron as training runs for Columbus. I needed to run 20-22 miles those weekends anyway, so I devised a scheme to walk portions of each so I’d get my mileage in and limit the risk of injury.

But a funny thing happened on the way to Columbus. I actually learned something.

And no, it isn’t not to ever do that again!

IMG_0252Lessons from Erie

The plan for Erie was to walk the first 3 miles and the last 3 miles and run the middle 20. For most people, walking the first anything is rough considering that human nature is to go out hard early in a race. The gun goes off, and everyone around you takes off at what seems like full speed. For me, knowing Columbus was the goal, it wasn’t too heard to let the field slowly drift into the distance.

After 3 miles of walking roughly 15 minute pace, I started off in a training pace. The half marathon started 30 minutes after the full, so I was surrounded by runners soon after I started running.

Ultimately, I ran the next 21 miles, before walking the final 2. Running 21 went smoothly as I was surrounded by races, had water stops every mile or so, and many spectators as certain spots. MUCH easier than running 20 in my town alone.

My previous two marathons were filled with more walking than I’d like to remember. Vegas because I was undertrained, and Pittsburgh because it was a scorcher. What I learned from Erie was how hard walking is after running a long distance.

When things go wrong in a marathon, or it hurts too much, it’s VERY tempting to walk for a stretch. Problem is, it really isn’t. I don’t know why it is, but walking the final two miles in Erie proved to me that it is. My legs seized up. I got pains in new areas. And I doubt I maintained a 20 minute pace after easily walking 13-15 pace the first 3 miles.

This knowledge really came in handy 4 weeks later in Columbus.

Carter_6971Lessons from Akron

Two weeks after Erie, I hit the line for the Akron Marathon. Remembering how rough walking was in Erie, I altered my plan. Originally I was going to do 2-22-2 but flipped it to walk the first 4, and run the final 22.

This made a big difference. It certainly wasn’t easy to walk that long and have the entire field pass me. But it worked.

At mile 4, I started running. In Akron, I made 1 mistake, but learned a valuable lesson.

They’re essentially the same thing.

Erie and Akron were both to be training runs. The same pace you run any other day. But there’s something about wearing a race bib, having perfect weather, and doing the splits in your head that tell you a PR is on the table….

About halfway through, I realized maintaining my pace would lead to a PR over my time in Pittsburgh. This was irresistible to me. I wasn’t pushing it, but a 9:45 pace wasn’t in the plan. But after getting through 20 miles with no issues, I put my head down and plowed through.

I felt it by mile 23, but decided to push on. Who know what Columbus would hold, and a PR is a PR dammit.

What I learned in Akron was that if everything comes together, and I choose an appropriate pace, I can run an entire marathon. 3 previous attempts, and Akron too, included more walking than I wanted. But running 22 miles at pace, including 3-4 final miles in pain (not injury just muscle fatigue) did wonders for my confidence.

I took that pace into Columbus and ran every damn mile.

In hindsight, racing Akron wasn’t smart. It was a mistake, but it didn’t bite me. Just wasn’t smart.

Columbus Marathon High StreetLessons from Columbus

I’ve documented the Columbus race about as well as any race to date.

But suffice it to say, the lessons learned in the previous 4 marathons came together to result in my best marathon to date. Who knows if my time would have been faster or slower without the 3 in 5 stunt. But what I do know is this:

I hit the start line confident that if I ran my race, I’d shave tons of time off my previous races. And as important of all, when times got tough, and walking would have been an easy break, I plowed through and ran straight from the start to finish.

At this point, I”m not sure if I’d ever do it again. But that doesn’t mean I wish I hadn’t done it at all. Someday I do think I would run 2 back to back, with the same theory as Akron and Columbus. I ran 18 in a race before Pittsburgh and it gave me similar confidence.

What about you?

What’s the craziest race stunt you ever pulled but came out with valuable lessons learned?

  • Michael Sally

    My slowest marathon in many years (a month prior to an ultra, and my last long run, with a 15+miler the day before the marathon) led to my longest run (70.5 miles) in 3 years in 2012…stunt, no, it was the investment of running a lot, even at a slow pace that conditioned my body to run long. I hope you can run an ultra soon – you are ready!

  • Pittsburgh Runner

    Nice post! I still can’t believe you were so disciplined with walking the beginning miles of those marathons, bravo.

    My craziest was running 2 marathons in 14 days. I learned that even though I PR’ed by 5:53 at the second, you shouldn’t “race” so close together, it cost me a really HUGE PR, as my legs were cramping and I kept stopping and stretching.