Racing Against Father Time

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 How ChiRunning Helped Me Reach my Goal of a 2:59 Marathon Before My 50th Birthday

I’ve always been a runner. In my 20s and 30s, I was what I later came to learn was a “power runner”, running 3 miles a few times a week, usually as fast as I could. I had plenty of injuries back then and still have the oversized calves to show for it! In 2000, I met Danny and took a 1 hour lesson – just the basics: posture, lean and leg lift. I bought his audio tape, and listened to it over and over during my runs. It convinced me to give up on speed and make the shift to ChiRunning. I detached from caring about speed and I enjoyed running much more. I started trail running, and my 3 mile runs became 6 miles, then 10, and so on.

Like a lot of people, when I broke into double digit length runs is when I started to think that maybe I could handle a marathon. Right around that time, I also went back to Danny and ChiRunning to learn the rest of the story – everything I didn’t get from the one hour intro. I was hooked. In 2005 I became a certified ChiRunning instructor. Every time I taught a group, I was re-teaching myself, and my understanding of the form would go deeper. I got to a point where I couldn’t remember any other way to move.

My early marathons were squeezed in around my busy life – I had a full time job in silicon valley, was raising two young kids, teaching ChiRunning on weekends, and making sure to find a little time for my wife. For the next 10 years, I ran about one marathon a year on a very basic Hal Higdon type plan, and was happy to finish with a little less discomfort than the previous time. My results were typically in the 3:30-3:40 range, with one outlier year in 2009, when I hit my BQ at 3:18.
In the spring of 2013 the tragic events of the 2013 Boston Marathon got a lot of people motivated to go after a BQ and represent our running community in 2014. I had just had yet another 3:30ish marathon and went to work on getting faster. I first went back to ChiRunning basics, and gave myself a full form tuneup to make sure I could handle higher mileage. Next, I picked up the Hanson Marathon Method book, and for the first time, implemented a structured marathon training plan.

I set an optimistic goal of 3:10 for the Regina marathon in September 2013. I followed the plan faithfully, doing my high intensity speedwork with my attention on my watch splits, and all my recovery and easy runs focused on ChiRunning principles. With higher mileage, I lost some weight (from 191 to 180), which definitely helped. When the big day came, I ran 3:09:12 and qualified for Boston 2014.

That’s the day I started believing 2:59:59 could be possible. In the “maybe not” column, I was 48 ½ years old and not blessed with a typical runners body (6 feet, 180 lbs). In the “why not?” side of the ledger I had lots of determination and the solid mechanics that had come with 15 years practicing ChiRunning. I looked it up, and in the 45-49 age group at Boston, approximately 5% of runners achieve sub-3. In 50-54, it drops to 3%. For 55-59 it is 1%. Clearly if it was going to happen, now was the time. I reset my Hanson training plan for 2:59:59 and made Boston 2014 my target. Long story short, I was a little less disciplined that training cycle, and I ran 3:04:23. A new PR, but not quite to the promised land.

I had organized the rest of my 2014 around trail running – some 50Ks and my first 50 miler – so I had to set aside fast marathoning until 2015. In January of this year, I reset my training targets, this time for 2:55 and gradually lost 10 more pounds to reach a racing weight of 170, my lowest since University days nearly 30 years ago. I once again followed the Hanson plan to the letter, and again used all my trail and easy runs to work on ChiRunning form. One run it was arms, the next run breathing, then bumping my cadence up a little, etc. Danny gave me some great Boston specific drills to prepare my downhill legs, and I specifically put that in play every Saturday for the last month – fast repeats down five miles of gradual descent. As I boarded my flight Saturday morning I felt fit and ready.

I met a large group of friends in Boston for our pre-race dinner, and I have to say, there were more than a few somber faces as we mulled over the weather forecast. 20 mile per hour headwinds, gusts to 35 with rain and cold temperatures. We’d come all this way, put in months of training, only to be threatened by some nasty conditions. We ended the dinner with some positive talk about the warriors we were and how we weren’t going to let non-idea conditions win. “We’re here, we did the work, let’s do this!”

The race unfolded pretty much to plan: put a little time in the bank in the first half, give a little back in the Newton Hills, and then cruise through the last five miles on the incredible crowd and race-day adrenalin. When I made the most famous turn in the sport of marathoning – Left on Boylston – I snuck a peak at my watch and saw 2:57:00 tick by. That’s the first time I allowed myself to believe that it just might happen today. I ran the last stretch with my eyes on the crowd, and the other runners around me. The crowd at Boston, quite literally, screams non-stop. The runners all starting pumping their fists and raising their arms involuntarily like Rocky. There is no more special moment in our sport, and one of my race goals this year was to take ALL of that in. I crossed the line at 2:59:18 with joy in my heart and a lump in my throat. 

Two years ago when I set the “faster” goal, I honestly believed sub-3 was well beyond my reach. It was what my younger friends with svelte running bodies dreamt about and sometimes achieved. But by breaking it down into chunks, hitting some milestones, losing some weight, upping my mileage and always staying focused on good form, the pieces of the puzzle all came into place.

A huge thank you to Danny and ChiRunning for helping me build a foundation of injury free form and allowing me to achieve my 2:59 as an early 50th birthday present!