Until recently, I had serious doubts about whether I could qualify for next year’s Boston Marathon. I was making progress with my physical therapy, but it was slow. Likewise, I was making progress on getting back in shape, but the emphasis was on being able to finish a marathon. I couldn’t even run one mile at the pace I would need to run a 3:40 marathon.
I could feel good about the progress I was making, but I was running out of time. Registration for Boston will open in September, and it will probably fill during the first two weeks. That means I have to have a qualifying time by the middle of September. Actually, I need to run a few minutes faster to actually get into the race. Boston registration is usually over-subscribed, and priority goes to the runners with the best qualifying times.
I was encouraged by my time in the Prague Marathon. It was 15 minutes faster than my time in Boston three weeks earlier. Of course, two points are not enough to establish a trend. I had three more weeks until the Med City Marathon. If I could shave off another 15 minutes, that would be a good sign.
Between those two races, I had some encouraging training runs. In treadmill workouts, I managed to run a mile and then two miles at my old marathon pace. There’s a big difference between two miles and a marathon, but these were steps in the right direction. I also started feeling more power on my outdoor runs. I could finally accelerate going up a hill. I could even push hard on every hill in a 10 mile run. Overall, my pace was pretty slow, but I could feel the difference. I felt like I was really running, instead of shuffling along slowly with an awkward gait. I could tell I was utilizing more muscle groups, which has been the whole point of my PT.
My recent progress in PT has also been encouraging. I can finally do exercises I couldn’t do a month ago. At first, I couldn’t do any exercise that involved standing on one leg. Eventually, I could do single leg deadlifts and single leg quarter squats, but I had still trouble maintaining my posture. After doing side planks to strengthen my obliques, I’m finally seeing improvement in my posture.
The last time I saw my therapist, he commented that he was pleased with my recent improvement. He also said there was still a lot I could do to build strength in my core muscles. I expect PT will be an important part of my overall training for at least a few more months.
Lately, I’ve been taking things one race at a time. Because so many muscles were still weak, I wasn’t sure how much my legs could handle. Ideally, I wanted to run marathons every two to three weeks, but I wanted to see how I felt after one race before scheduling the next one. I penciled in a few races that I could schedule on short notice. They had to be close enough to home that I could drive. They also had to be races that don’t fill too far in advance.
For late summer races, however, I had to make a choice. In late August and early September, there are two Minnesota races I’ve never done. Unfortunately, they’re both trail races, so they weren’t suitable as qualifying races. Likewise, there are some interesting international races during that timeframe, but if I tried to qualify for Boston on another continent, I’d have to contend with jet lag. I’ve done it successfully before, but this year I can’t afford to handicap myself.
I’ve seen enough progress recently to believe I have a realistic chance of qualifying for Boston. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I know I’ll get there. It’s just a question of whether I can get there in time. Accordingly, I picked out two races with fast courses where I can attempt to qualify. The first is the Super Tunnel Marathon in late August. This race is run on the same course as the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon, which I ran two years ago. The course has a gentle downhill grade almost all the way. If it’s not too hot, I can make a serious attempt there.
The second race is the Big Cottonwood Marathon in September. This race is sharply downhill. It’s similar to the Rockies Marathon, which I’ve run twice. I know from experience that this type of elevation profile can be blazing fast if you’re prepared, but it can also be punishing if you’re not.
I discussed these races with my physical therapist. He wasn’t concerned that it would be too hard on my legs. He liked the idea of using Super Tunnel to help prepare myself for Big Cottonwood.
I don’t like the idea of using a downhill race to qualify. I used to be able to qualify for Boston on any course that wasn’t unusually difficult. Ideally, I’d like to be able to qualify on a loop course. This is a compromise. This year I’ll try to qualify on a downhill course. Then I’ll keep working to get into better shape so I can qualify on a loop course next year.
My result at the Med City Marathon was a big confidence builder. My goal was to improve my time by 15 minutes. Instead, I improved by 34 minutes! In the last six weeks, I’ve taken 49 minutes off my marathon time. To get into Boston, I’ll probably need a time of 3:37 or better. That gives me 15 weeks to take another 43 minutes off my marathon time.
While I’ve made good progress so far, continued improvement will get more difficult. Besides my PT, I’ll need to improve my training. Lately, I’ve only been running 20-30 miles per week. I need to ramp that up. I need to do some real speed work, not just running a few miles at race pace. Finally, it wouldn’t hurt to lose some weight. I’ve gained about 10 pounds in the last year. That’s probably costing me 15-20 minutes in a marathon. I could really use those 15-20 minutes.
I know I can do it, put I have to put it all together.