Running is a solitary endeavor post collegiately. It doesn’t typically lend itself to a very long shelf life. I am not a professional runner nor will I ever be. I’ve never been the fastest person on my team. I’ve never qualified for a national championship. I’ve never won a race that “mattered”. Running will never be my source of income.
With each passing mile, the voice that was once muted becomes louder. There are no teammates to lean on. No season to look forward to. Priorities change. Running is no longer an acceptable excuse to avoid your responsibilities. Countless hours of training for a seemingly arbitrary number that only makes sense to you. Those winter months trying to regain the feeling in your hands after an easy hour. Those early summer mornings where it’s somehow still over 70 degrees before 6AM. Why do we do this?
There’s no money to be made. Heck you may not even make it to the line in one shape. Your investment in this endeavor is a net loss financially. You’re literally paying money to run now. And for what?
I’ve given a lot of thought about my relationship with running, specifically my choice to dedicate myself to training at a high level again post-college. I, like many others, had a toxic relationship with this sport for much of my career. I’d obsess over let it completely engulf my sense of being and self-worth. Without it I was a wreck. When it wasn’t going well I was a horror to be around. Time away and a shift in priorities have provided me a fresh perspective that has made me a happier person. Running and my mental health are no longer intertwined like they once were. I have a bad run or workout? That’s all it is. It doesn’t ruin my day like it once did. Every day that I’m able to continue to do this is worth it in itself. It’s a hobby. Well I guess hobby would be an understatement if my end goal is to qualify for the trials… But I guess I mean that running is no longer something that has complete control over my life. I dedicate more time to it than more things, outside of my career of course, but it’s under my own terms.
Two weeks ago I raced again for the first time in over a year in a distance that I have not run a personal best in almost 9 years. It was more of time trail than anything. 5 of us on an empty dimly lit indoor track on a random Saturday morning. Everything in the lead up to it was not ideal to say the least. I had an awful night of sleep and awoke with a slight headache. On our drive to the track my buddy has a tire blow out on the highway. By dumb luck I somehow made it to the track. I was completely dehydrated with my only source of water left in my buddy’s car on the side of the road. I stood in the middle of the track nervous and a bit overwhelmed. I was flustered and unprepared.
Then something just clicked, Why are you letting this bother you? This is supposed to be fun, remember?
So I shrugged it off. At this point in a year without major events, there are not many opportunities to race. Why was I going to let myself ruin it because a couple things didn’t go my way. Whether it was a success of not, I was just going to go out there and just enjoy running fast and if things went right, PR.. That’s it, nothing else.
And so it went. I ran without panic. For those 15 minutes, my only concern was the next quarter mile. And the next. And the next. And as I started to labor I found comfort in the realization that I still had that competitive fire, but it manifested itself differently. Instead of ever passing second making me anxious; it brought an almost fun challenge. I was falling off a bit but if I just continued running at my current pace I would just sneak under. The question was just by how much.
This is not how I imagined this would happen when I ran my PR in 2012. For one, that it would take this long, and that it would happen in such an anti-climactic fashion. No crowd. Just a friend with a stopwatch and a couple of us hitting the track hard for no reason other than we had an open track to do it. And in some ways I’m glad it happened that way. As the years went by I’d be lying if I worried that I’d never run any faster. That particular personal best represented a different me, a different point in my life, and I am relieved to finally close that chapter on my own terms.
Running at this point isn’t very flashy anymore. We create small victories for ourselves now. Little highlights that remind us why this is all worth it. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s not exactly the time I wanted, but 11 seconds faster than my personal best is more than enough to make me happy.
This August will mark 15 years in this crazy endeavor. I remind myself each day that regardless of the result, as long as I continue to have a good relationship with running, it’s worth it to me. And for now I still do.
In order to succeed in this sport you must have the ability to adapt. While we all wish we could just toss our shoes on and instantly run our goal paces on a daily basis, that’s not reality. Nothing about this sport is consistent. You can have the best run of your life one day and struggle the next. It’s the cruelty of the sport.
We adapt by attempting to make everything feel almost second nature. We repeat seemingly endless miles, intervals and drills to prepare ourselves for anything that may happen in a race. In college we would segment courses and utilize race simulation workouts to ensure that on race day we were ready for anything that was thrown at us. The repetition provides you with the confidence necessary to chase that next goal, to push you when things get tough. In a perfect world this would lead to success.
All the simulations in the world can’t control for every variable. Years of racing have taught me that. We’ve all had days where we’ve felt everything was set up to go right; workouts have been going incredible and a goal seemed like an afterthought. Then it happens; things begin to fall apart and you’re forced to make a quick decision, adapt or be left behind. Sometimes you’re lucky and catch that crucial moment of decision, other times you’re caught and left wondering, what the hell happened?
The 2020 Boston Marathon has been my motivation to train for almost the past 12 months. It convinced me to chase the marathon but also broke me. As I stood at mile 22 panting, drinking as much water as I could, I thought to myself, I’ll be back there. Since I crossed that line, that has all I had been thinking about. When runs were rough I was reminded of that moment. When I was sidelined before Columbus I kept Boston in my mind for motivation to stay healthy.
Over the past 3 months I had been working hard to stack up the miles and stay healthy for Boston. I was running some of the strongest workouts of my life and was quickly approaching the end of my buildup; the first time I would have completed one without an extended break due to injury. Pace work was coming across nicely. I was recovering well and I felt like I was ready to redeem myself. As April 20th came closer I was more and more confident. I was ready for whatever Boston could throw at me.
I wasn’t ready for it to be cancelled.
All the training in the world doesn’t prepare you for that. How do you motivate yourself to run the next day when the race you’ve been training for is no longer happening?
The only blessing that a running career full of injuries provides is the understanding that often those goal races won’t happen. I believe that you should level out those peaks and valleys from running as often as you can so that you’re not shaken by anything that could happen. There needs to be something more. A new goal ready to fire as soon as anything happens, good or bad. Whether it’s in training or in the middle of a race, you have to be able to create something for yourself to keep you going. Motivation is much easier to maintain when you’ve become accustomed to having to constantly create your own why.
While many others have completely shut it down following their race cancellations I’ve continued to keep training as though Boston was still scheduled. Instead of training for a peak race coach and I decided to use this as a chance to simulate a full buildup to see what works and if we need to make any adjustments for the next one. A Spring Marathon is not happening but that doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to work so that we’re prepared for whatever the next one throws at us. As the goals change, we create new ones, and celebrate what we’ve accomplished along the way.
Boston may not be happening but today I finished my first full buildup and I’m in the best shape I’ve ever been. I’m celebrating that and I strongly encourage you to celebrate your own accomplishments in this time. Yes we may not be racing but we just came off weeks or months of training in some tough conditions. Celebrate your commitment. Maybe you ran your longest run during this block, heck maybe you’ve decided to start back up again after a long hiatus, celebrate that! Use that as a stepping stone to your next running endeavor.
We can either let this break us or we can use this to make us stronger. All of our races are cancelled, yes, but we’re all in this together. No matter what level we are at, we’re all in the same boat right now. Use this time to go back to your why or even just to create your why. Look long term at what you want to get out of this for yourself so that when you finish your next race you’re not wondering what’s next or feeling that post race comedown that many of us feel after a big accomplishment. Take advantage of the online community of runners and talk to each other. Eventually we’ll be all back on the start line. Until then, let’s adapt and move forward.
Prologue: My original plan was to have two separate posts for this. I was going to do a pre-marathon post reflecting on my build-up and then a recap. Below is an excerpt of what I wrote on the plane to Boston on Friday morning:
If you were to tell me a year ago I would be running my first Boston Marathon I’d probably laugh at you. The thought of running a marathon or even two for that matter was outrageous. I never considered myself a marathoner nor did I have any desire to join that group. Yet here I am, on a flight to Boston looking to PR in a distance that is still uncharted territory. With three days until Boston it’s as good time as ever to reflect on this build up.
The road here has been both some of the best and worst experiences of my running career. I spent the majority of this training block grinding through aches and pains in an obsession to reach 100 miles healthy. That 7 week block of training was the most consistent I’ve ever been with my running and showed me just what I can do when I put my mind to it. Chasing those miles brought me back to enjoying running for the first time since my last season at Tiffin. I was 3 days out before my Achilles let me know it was time to take a break. I spent the next month aggressively rehabbing in an attempt to hopefully make it to the line pain free. At some points during that time I was terrified that I may have damaged it to the point where I’d have to spend significant time off, no Boston, no running. The last month has been a roller coaster of emotions, from wondering if I was going to be able to even finish to now creating a race plan for a big PR with at least some confidence to go after my original goal: 2:29.59. Somehow with 3 weeks out, through consistent rehab and the help from the staff at Fit For Life I’ve been able to turn things around. I’m healthy and it’s such a relief to be able to type that out. The weather may not be looking great at this point but I’m still going to fight. I just have to remember, I came here to race, not to just finish.
I had a very different Boston weekend than most. Instead of touring the city and exploring the various marathon weekend festivities, I, in typical Cris fashion, took a 7 hour excursion through Vermont and Maine visiting indulging in seafood and bucket list breweries. This meant that I ended up not running on both Friday and Saturday, the first due to the road trip and the second because I ended up sleeping in after a wild night out in Portland. Not really the most responsible thing to do before a big race but I’ve found that these trips take the nerves off of me. I’m already fit, the last thing I need is to be nervous. I was already nervous for Boston, mostly due to the last 7 weeks of almost no down mileage and rehab to get to the line healthy. The last thing I needed was to have my whole weekend be me thinking about it. The beer trip served as a much needed vacation before it was time to get to business.
I also had the opportunity to meet an awesome fellow from Mexico, Sigfrido. Through my Boston posts on Instagram we ended up following each other. He shot me a message the week leading up asking me what my plans were for packet pickup and that he was looking for some help navigating through the city as it was his first time at Boston. By some chance we were in the same hotel and I let him know I’d be happy to take him along with us to get our packets together and get to the race. I’ve had so many people help me out in my travels throughout the country; I felt like this was a great way to finally pay it forward. Plus, any time I get to practice my Spanish is always a plus!
I started my Sunday with a short shakeout from the hotel. Despite getting to bed early, I felt incredibly groggy and tight. My last mile was 6:40 and it didn’t feel all that great. I kept thinking to myself, I want to run almost a minute faster than this tomorrow? I brushed it off, I’ve had rough shakeouts before and on the bright side my Achilles was completely healed. The last couple weeks of rehab and easy running had proved to be just what I needed to get to Boston healthy.
While physically it was not a great day, mentally Sunday was a cathartic experience. I toured the city with my family and Sig, picking up our packets and checking out the finish area. The energy surrounding the finish area made me excited to be there. This was a much bigger deal than I thought it to be. Everywhere I looked I saw people in Boston jackets. The city was filled with runners from across the world all here to toe the line and try and conquer Boston. The atmosphere was so positive and welcoming, we all made it here one way or another, and it was as though we all were in this together. Sunday made me proud of the work I did to get here despite the setbacks. I made it here and there was nothing I could do to make me any better. One foot in front of the other for 26.2 and if I was meant to run fast I would. At this point I had done everything I could do given the circumstances. I went from almost reaching 100 miles a week to spending the last 7 weeks averaging less than 30 miles per week.
I had no race plan besides just focusing on effort. My buddy Zach had called me Friday night with tips on how to tackle Boston: Hold back for 10 miles and not get too excited with the downhill. Once the route levels out, move, maintain up Newton, then crush the finish. He warned me multiple times, go out too fast and the last half will break you. The excitement of the crowds will make you want to go, be patient. He had negative split this before and run low 2:20s. It was possible to run fast here if you didn’t do anything stupid.
Monday I awoke still not feeling great. I had trouble sleeping and wasn’t feeling my bouncy self. In all honesty, this was probably the worst I’ve felt before a big race. It was a complete 180 from Erie where I felt I was ready to kill. I tried turning on my I-Pod Shuffle to get me focused. Dead. Looks like I wasn’t going to need that during my race. My intention was to have it ready for the second half, put the headphones on and block out the pain and focus. I was a bit thrown off; this was really how my day was going to go.
Getting to the start line felt like a mission in itself. Rain smacked us as we made our way to the bag check and on our way out to Hopkinton. As we came closer and closer to race time, the rain seemed to not let up. It seemed like we were in for another 2018 but with warmer temps. The forecast called for the rain to clear just before race time and I crossed my fingers it would hold true. I came prepared for the rain and mud in the athlete village. I wore some old sweats over my racing kit and kept my racing shoes in a plastic bag to avoid them from getting wet or muddy. I would keep all of this on for as long as I could and once we got away from the mud pit I would ditch the old clothes and head to the start line dry and ready to go.
With about 45 minutes to go the rain finally cleared. What was left was a light breeze. We all moved our way to our corrals trying our best to get some type of semblance of a warm-up routine. It was a bit of chaos getting to the line with people trying to get some jogging in, some trying to find a way to sneak a last bathroom spot out of sight to avoid the long lines, and others just taking their time walking, looking as though the rest of us were crazy. Rookies, they probably thought.
After somehow making time for two more bathroom breaks, I finally arrived at my corral, Wave 1, Corral 1. We would let the elites go out first and two minutes later it would be our time to tackle Boston. Two minutes out, bang, the elites are now off. The next 120 seconds felt like time slowed to a standstill. We all stood there, antsy, just waiting for those seconds to click off and we can finally make our journey toward Boylston.
I can’t say I remember much about the start of this race. I just remember running, trying to force myself to slow down. The downhill was a bit of a shock to my system to start, definitely did not expect it to start like this. And oh, an uphill? I really should have done my homework a bit more, I thought to myself. My first mile was a bit slower than I wanted it to be but I didn’t let myself be too bothered by it. I’ll take a 6:07 first mile now if it meant I didn’t crash and burn in the second half. I was ahead of pace from my marathon PR already so there was worse things that could happen. As runners around me began to settle into their pace I began to get into rhythm, moving by groups rather quickly. My pace dropped pretty significantly to a 5:47 and it felt easy. I made a decision then that I would not focus too much on my pace. I would monitor my breathing and my effort and take a glance at each mile just to see where I was at. I settled in, sticking with packs and moving forward, the beep of my watch my guide as I moved forward. The crowd was incredible, people lining both sides of the streets loud as could be, cheering on strangers as they passed. It was easy to get caught up in the hype, but I remained controlled, focusing more on my position. The goal now was not to lose position, just gradually move forward. The goal was now to try and negative split.
Going through Wellesley I got a little too excited. Unlike in Erie when I was just focused on blocking out the race, I got into the crowd and started having fun with it. I would raise my hands and encourage people to cheer, give high fives to people on the sides, and look for people I knew. After seeing my family right before the Wellesley Scream Tunnel, the pace started to drop into the 5:30s. Luckily I caught it before I went too long here, while the downhill was over, we still had the hard part to go.
And this is when the wheels started to fall off.
I maintained steady through 16. I had crossed the half at 5:47 pace and was going to work on the hills and try and average 5:30’s for the miles following heartbreak. As I came down the final steep downhill at 15 I began to start feeling something off. My hamstring had started to tighten up, most likely due to the first couple miles adjusting my stride for the downhill sections. As I saw the Newton sign the race had changed and it seemed like the crowd atmosphere had too. Whereas the first 10 miles seemed to be a celebration of the accomplishment of being there, the second half of this race were more people trying to motivate runners as they tried to survive the second half. The runner’s faces of joy had become grimaces, the discomfort of the beating downhill section now starting to settle in. With the crosswind now gone, the reality of the warmer temperatures had also now begun to take their toll. The crosswind masked the heat, leading me to not hydrate as much as I should have in the early miles. Now making my climb up the Newton Hills, signs of thirst became apparent. I took small drinks through to try and satisfy that feeling and kept moving. The pace had slowed but I expected that with these hills. I would make sure to keep it under 6:00 and then as soon as I crested Heartbreak the dash for home would begin.
The hilly section of the course wasn’t all that terrible. The hills themselves were gradual and your legs definitely felt it but it wasn’t anything close to the mountains back in California. What made this tough was that my legs were already beat by the downhill. My hamstring tightness had now begun to impede my running form a bit, my muscles now shooting small sharp pains as each foot hit the ground, but I pushed forward and finally made it to heartbreak. After seeing the top of the hill for what felt like forever, I finally crested it. I had skipped GU at 20 thinking that I was close enough where I wouldn’t need it. I tried dropping the pace after cresting heartbreak but I couldn’t move. I felt stuck, tight, and lightheaded. I kept trying to fight the negative feelings and block out the pain and I got myself back under 6:00 for the next mile.
As I inched closer and closer to mile 22 my form broke down and I began to crash. As I passed the water stop at 22 I made a decision, I had to stop. At the last table I came to a complete stop and asked the volunteer for water. I drank as much water as I could and took my last GU. Overwhelming emotion came over me, I felt like I was quitting, but almost instantly as that thought came into my head I took my last cup of water and got back out there. I didn’t travel this far out for my race to go to crap in the last 4 miles. Mile 23 with that stop was a 6:42.
The last 4.2 miles of that race were some of the hardest running moments of my life. My feet had begun to start burning and my muscles were aching but I kept fighting to try to get my pace close to where it was before I crashed. I began to count down the time in my head, 25 minutes, 19, minutes, etc… After all that work I had put in the winter I could survive another couple minutes of discomfort. As I arrived into the craziness of the city I made one last effort to finish strong. With one mile to go I pushed hard, I could see the clock, 2:33:00. I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t lose all that much time and if there was a chance I could get under 2:35. I sprinted, I sprinted as hard as these legs could take me and I crossed the line, 2:34:46, 193rd overall and the top finisher from Ohio. My body hated me and I could barely walk but I finished my second marathon with a big PR.
With a month and a half since Boston, I’ve had a chance to really think about my performance. I’m not completely satisfied with being a 2:34 marathoner but considering what my buildup was I’m proud that I was able to run that. I really shouldn’t have been able to run like I did with those last 8 weeks of training. This race humbled me a ton and changed me as a runner. The support I received during and after the race was overwhelming. So many people reached out to me and congratulated me for the performance and it’s now become one of the most proud moments I’ve had as a runner. This journey introduced me to a new community of runners and helped me get more involved in the Columbus running community. Big shout out to Fleet Feet/Front Runner, Columbus Track Club, Hoof Hearted, Zach, and Fit for Life Physical Therapy. Without the help and support of them I wouldn’t have gotten this far. Also shout out to my mom and brother for coming out short notice to surprise me. Seriously guys, that made this trip even more memorable.
I’ve always thought of myself as a cross country and steeplechase guy but I guess it’s time for something new, it’s time to take this marathon thing seriously.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital Columbus Marathon, watch out, I’m coming for you.
If I had a dollar every time I heard this I’m sure I’d be able to afford a couple pairs of Vaporfly 4%’s.
For over 12 years that question followed me throughout the entirety of my competitive running career. I heard this from friends and family that didn’t understand running. If I was running so much a day how was I not trying to do a marathon? The concept of finishing a race being the accomplishment had never been motivation. That’s not a knock on others, just for me personally, I did this because I loved racing, I loved feeling fast.
I began to hear the topic of the marathon come up more often as I joined local running clubs in the area.The majority of the people in these clubs were training for a half or a full marathon, looking to try and top an old personal best. Every so often I’d get the question asked again and at that point I had just answered with, “I don’t want to run a marathon.”The years of hearing that question had completely turned me off of it.
To me the idea of running a marathon or even running one was not anything I was interested in. When you actually have to pay for races, you begin to think about things a little differently. With the prices of marathons being significantly higher than some dinky 5K, if there wasn’t a chance to get something out of it, either through a fast time or some prize money, there just wasn’t a reason for me to run it.
Eventually that ended up changing. With a couple craft beers in me I finally decided to sign up for one. I told myself I had 3 months to get in shape for this. I was finally healed up from a bad foot injury in the winter and now I had something to motivate me to get back in shape. I set two goals for myself in this training block, I would have one 80 mile week off singles and one 20 mile long run. I was going to try to stick around 60s for the majority of the summer and focus on quality mileage.
My progression of mileage went like this:
May 28: 19.3 miles (4 days of running)
June 4th: 19.1 miles (4 days of running)
June 11th: 21.5 miles (4 days of running)
June 18th: 9.1 miles (2 days of running)
June 25th: 15.4 miles (4 days of running)
July 2nd: 30.2 miles (5 days of running)
July 9th: 23.6 miles (5 days of running)
July 16th: 63.5 miles (7 days of running, 15.4 mile long run)
July 23rd: 18.3 miles (4 days of running)
July 30th: 70.7 miles (7 days of running, 18 mile long run)
August 6th: 27.3 miles (5 days of running, 14 mile long run)
August 13th: 80.1 miles (7 days of running, 20 mile long run)
August 20th: 23.8 miles (5 days of running)
August 27th: 31.5 miles (5 days of running, 10.1 mile long run)
September 3rd: 37.2 miles (4 days of running, marathon)
So much for quality mileage…
I struggled to get any sort of consistency in my mileage throughout this block. For the first couple of weeks I was very slow to start as I was hesitant coming back from injury. After a sub 16 3 mile effort later in June, that went away but I began to struggle putting together consistent back to back weeks of mileage. I was fine up until I hit those long runs and had a horrible time recovering. I almost passed out at the end of my 18 mile long run and followed that week running less total miles than I had in that one run. My 20 miles ended up being the best long of my life but I spent the next three weeks struggling to feel good. I had 11 miles in my legs the week leading into my first marathon. I took two days off before out of desperation. 20 miler or no 20 miler, I wasn’t ready for this.
I was extremely conservative with my first 10 miles due to my trouble the previous three weeks. I figured I’d stay around 6:30’s for 10 and then make a decision from there. Whether it was to move or to stay at that pace, once I made a decision I would have to commit to it. My race plan changed before we even got to 3. I was able to latch myself onto 6:20 pace without working hard. Aside from a quick pit stop at mile 8 for a tinkle, I was pretty much right on or under 6:20s. My legs wanted to move faster but I didn’t let myself go under 6:15. The time to commit would come. Mile 10 was soon approaching.
I pulled my headphones out of my back pocket and got ready. I had made my decision.. I had been chomping at the bit for a couple of miles already. The pace change was almost instantaneous. I was tapping on the gas a bit, just enough to satisfy that craving for a little of the fast stuff. I wanted to really let loose but a lot could happen in the last 16.2 and the last thing I wanted was to implode after 20.
Miles 10-13.1 were very much like my first three miles. I spent most of my time making sure I was right on 6:00. I would reevaluate over the next 10 miles what I wanted to do. If i felt good longer into the race I would push a little. From 16-20 the pace began to come down. Mile 17 came, 5:46. Mile 20, 5:50. This was going much easier than I thought it was going to be.
The next 4 miles weren’t too hard but just like that last 1/3rd of a 5k, I was starting to feel it. At mile 24 the real struggle began. The run for home reminded me of that last kilometer of a Steeplechase, trying to survive across each barrier with each subsequent one looking 10 feet tall. These last two miles felt like I was running through peanut butter. I could have sworn I had imploded here. There was absolutely no way I was running under 7 minutes per mile. Turns out I didn’t falter too much, I dropped back to 6:09 and 6:07 for my final two miles.
I crossed the finish line in 2:41:07. I ran a four minute negative split over my first half.
The moment I stopped running it was as though I had someone stabbing every inch of my legs. My muscles were spasming and it was the worst pain I’ve felt after a race. I could barely move my body, with the only movement coming from every muscle in my lower body twitching in pain. I struggled to walk over the next couple of days. In my 12 years of running I had never felt so awful after a race.
The pain eventually subsided and I attempted to return back to running after a little over a week off. About 3 miles back in I felt horrible popping in the tendons behind my knee. The marathon effects continued to make running almost impossible without a pain in the same spot. Even months later the pain from that marathon still lingers. While it’s not as bad as it was then it still continues to hamper my training.
My first marathon was relatively easy. I ran well considering the little amount of training I had going into it but the key point here is my body wasn’t ready for it. A large part of being in shape is the ability to recover. The ability to recover from a run, a workout, a race, and get back on schedule without too much of problem. Consistency is what I lacked in this training block and it led to some of the hardest months of running following the marathon. almost 3 months later and I’m finally starting to run steady without any issues. Our bodies can work through much of what we put it through. There’s a limit to these things though. Consistency in training and a reasonable progression in workload allows our bodies to be ready for how taxing a race can be. A stable training block doesn’t just allow for optimal performance, it allows for our muscles to be ready for the demands that come with it.