When I started running, I was motivated by personal records (PRs). Running was the first athletic activity that I was even remotely good at. I liked having an objective method for measuring my progress. If I ran the same distance twice, my stopwatch told me which time was faster.
I tried to set a new PR every time I ran. I treated each training run like it was a race. I could that at first, but only because I had so much room for improvement.
Eventually, I discovered 5K and 10K races. These were opportunities to test myself (and try to set a new PR). I saw no point in doing a race if I wasn’t in good enough shape to make a serious attempt at a PR. If I was just going to run, I could do that at home.
I viewed marathons differently. At first, just finishing one was a challenge. I wanted to run faster if I could, but even if I couldn’t, I felt a sense of satisfaction. It didn’t have to be a PR. Even after running hundreds of marathons, I still felt like it was a distance that always challenged me. I could never take it for granted.
In 1992, the year I turned 31, I set new PRs for 5K, 8K, 10K, 7 miles, half marathon, 25K, and marathon. The following year, I let myself get out of shape. I also gained weight. By the time I lost the weight and got serious about my training, I was several years older. I still ran marathons, but I stopped doing shorter distances. I knew my days of setting PRs were behind me.
In 1998, I ran my first ultra. As I tackled new distances, I once again had opportunities to set PRs. Eventually, though, I realized I was also past my peak for those distances.
The last time I set a running PR was in 2014, when I set a PR for the unusual distance of 89.3 kilometers. That was at the Comrades Marathon in South Africa.
I have hundreds of friends who run, and I’m connected with many of them on Facebook. When I see that one of my friends set a new PR, I’m happy for them, but it’s getting harder and harder for me to relate to that feeling. It’s been 25 years since my marathon PR. It’s been just as long for shorter distances.
That all changed this summer. After my back surgery in June, I had to give up running for at least 12 weeks. I started walking so I could still get exercise. Then I started race-walking, so I could do marathons and finish within the time limits. At first, race-walking marathons was an act of desperation. Given a choice between walking a race and not doing it at all, I chose to walk.
The first time I walked a marathon, I finished in 5:47. That was automatically a PR. By my next one, I had improved to 5:21. That was another new PR, although I was more thrilled to have finished within the time limit. In the next one, I narrowly missed a new marathon PR for race-walking, but my half marathon split was a PR.
When I could, I started running occasionally, but most of my training is still walking. I want to eventually return to running marathons, but I don’t want to risk injury by doing too much too soon.
I finished the Moose Mountain Marathon by doing a combination of running and walking. It was my slowest marathon ever, but I finished. Four weeks ago, I returned to race-walking for the Ely Marathon. Why didn’t I run it? I had two reasons. First, I felt like I was overdue for a quality long race-walking workout. My longest walk since the Solidarity Marathon in August was only 10.2 miles. Having worked so hard to improve my race-walking, I wanted to keep that going. Second, I learned the Ely Marathon had a hilly course. I’m not ready to run hills. Running downhill transfers too much impact to my back.
I surprised myself by setting another new race-walking PR in that race. I finished a hilly course in 5:17 under less than ideal weather conditions. That made me wonder how much faster I could walk the Amsterdam Marathon, which has a fairly flat course. I went into that race gunning for another new PR. I never considered running it. I wanted a PR, and I could only do that by race-walking. The result was a 14 minute improvement.
It’s been 25 years since I last set a PR for running a marathon. Since then, I’ve run 283 marathons without setting a PR. I’ve only walked five marathons, but I set PRs in four of them. Even in the race where I didn’t set a new marathon PR, I set a half marathon PR. I’m not yet ready to run a marathon without doing a substantial amount of walking. Why run/walk a marathon and finish with a really slow time, when I can race-walk it and set a PR?
I love the thrill of setting a PR. I’ve done some race-walking before this year, but only for shorter distances. I’m new to race-walking marathons. That means I once again have lots of room for improvement. In any given race, I have to ask myself, “Can I set a PR in this one?” I feel like I did when I was in my 20s.
I hope to eventually return to running marathons, but in the short-term, I’m more than happy to walk them. I was planning to run the FANS 24 Hour Race next June. Now I’m planning to walk it. It’s one of the few races in the United States where a walker can earn a Centurion badge for walking 100 miles in 24 hours. That’s a challenging goal, but I still have almost eight months to train, and I’m off to a good start. In the meantime, I’ll use marathons as part of my training. I’ll also pursue new PRs.