I've never run a good marathon. My first two were completed disasters. At the 1999 California International Marathon I made the classic rookie mistake of overestimating my abilities, running the first 14 miles at 2:43 pace when I was probably in 2:50 shape and then imploding. After tearing off my race number and leaving the course in a state of extreme self-disgust to make a pay phone call to my support crew (my brothers), I eventually resumed running (because my road crew did not answer) and crossed the finish line in 3:23.
My second marathon did not go much better. I ran the first half a little slower than I had in my maiden marathon and consequently bonked a little later, at around 18 miles, but still managed only a 3:11 when I was probably again in 2:50 shape. If bad pacing was the main cause of my first marathon collapse, failure to take in enough carbohydrate was probably the main cause of this second marathon collapse.
My best marathon to date was the 2001 Rock n' Roll San Diego Marathon, where I ran 2:46:42. But even in this race I came somewhat unravelled in the final few miles. I probably lost a full minute in the last mile.
Injuries kept me out of marathons for the next several years, but when I lined up for the 2007 California International Marathon I was nearly in the best shape of my life and fully capable of running sub-2:40--or so I thought. I wound up running a very disappointing 2:47:45. A fierce headwind and lack of preparation for the course's rolling hills accounted for perhaps half the gap between my expectations and reality, but only half. What accounted for the other half? Indeed, what accounted for the unexplained half of my unravelling in every marathon I had ever raced?
I have flirted with the hypothesis that the marathon just isn't my distance. Perhaps, for whatever reason, my body just wasn't designed to go that far at an aggressive pace. But I've run a couple of good half marathons, and I believe that anybody who can run a good half marathon ought to be able to run a good marathon.
I know that I have fueled myself properly in my last few marathons, so I can eliminate nutrition errors from the list of possible explanations. Which leaves only one possibility: I'm just not training right. Some vital ingredient is missing from my recipe for marathon preparation. Specifically, I need to modify my past training patterns in one or more specific ays that enable me to hold speed in those painful last miles. But how?
There are a few ideas I'm currently playing with. One is to do some overdistance runs
as much as 50Kto make the marathon distance seem shorter. Perhaps my body needs a surplus of raw endurance that it's never had. Another idea is to make my hardest marathon-pace run harder than it has been in the past--perhaps 16 miles instead of 13 or 14. A third idea is to incorporate into my peak training a workout that's just a little shorter than a marathon and just a little slower than my goal marathon pace: maybe 24 miles at 6:20 pace (supposing my goal pace is 6:00). A lot of elite marathon runners do this type of workout, but I never have.
Aside from trying new types of peak workouts, I might also try a couple of other things. In the past I have really marginalized speed training in the peak phase of my marathon training. Next time I might maintain more balance in my training straight through the taper. Already I've started to experiment with doubles (two runs a day). Perhaps that alone could take me over the marathon wall. Finally, in past marathon ramp-ups I may have overeached a bit too much at times by trying to pack too many miles into my "easy" days. Next time I might maintain a bigger gap between my hard runs and my easy runs so that I don't wear myself down.
The marathon is a riddle, but that's half the fun of it. I'm excited to test some of these ideas and see what sorts of results they produce.