We are smack in the heart of marathon season. Since October, and for the next few weeks, marathons will be contested in big cities and small towns across the planet.
You have chosen to compete in a fall marathon and you are prepared. You look back at your training log and you've done it all.
You have turned in several quality 20-mile training runs. You've suffered through the tempo runs and lung-searing speed sessions. The fast half marathon you ran back in September boosted your confidence.
For the final week or so, you've tapered. You are anxious, ready to dance around at the starting line like a thoroughbred in the stall at the Kentucky Derby.
This is your marathon.
A personal best lies 26.2 miles ahead, at the finish line.
Nothing can go wrong.
Well...aside from some annoying chafing or a blister the size of a half dollar, two things can blow up your race like a drone strike.
One you must control.
The other you can't.
For 10, 12, or 16 weeks, you have trained at a highly intense level. Maybe you've raced a few 5Ks.
On race day you're anxious. You are inspired by the large field and the enthusiastic spectators, who call your name as you pass. Suddenly, you glance at the mile marker, a large banner, fluttering in the wind. You peer at the digital clock and you are pleasantly surprised that you're 30-seconds faster than your goal time.
You are doomed!
Chances are, that euphoria is going to last through the first 5 miles or so. If you're real lucky, it will last until the half marathon mark, where you may be as much as two minutes ahead of your projected marathon time.
By the time you reach 20, 21, or 22 miles, a large baby grand piano will have landed on your back, a frying pan will have smashed your face, and your legs will feel like they are filled with lead.
Forget about the "wall," you have committed the worst mistake a marathon runner can make: you have let the genie out of the bottle. There's no way you can ever get it back.
More than any other footrace, a marathon requires superior mental discipline as well as extraordinary patience. Sure you're going to feel great for the first 5K. And don't go telling people you were on "record" pace at the half marathon point, because you are running a MARATHON.
Let's say you want to average an 8:00 per mile pace for your marathon. Make sure that your first mile is run at an 8:10-8:15 clip. Ease your way into the race, and instead of hitting the 5-mile point in 40:00, get there in 40:50.
Miles 5-10 should be the fastest miles of the race. You're now warmed up and ready to go and you should feel fresh. Hit those 5 miles at a 7:45 to 7:50 pace. Maintain from 10-20, and leave a slight cushion for the final 10K. Unless you're an elite runner, chances are your pace will slow for the final 6.2. By being careful to not let the genie out of the bottle, your chances of hitting the wall are diminished.
So what is the second, uncontrollable factor?
The weather, of course.
All you can do is watch the forecast and pray. Heat and wind are the twin enemies of marathon runners. There's not a whole lot one can do against either weather condition. At the 2012 Boston Marathon, where temperatures were in the 80s at the start, I enjoyed the crowd, ran slowly, and regrouped for a faster marathon effort five weeks later.
Weather extremes can occur anywhere at any time of the year. Your only defense is to select your race and pray for ideal weather conditions.
Good luck to all of you who are running marathons in the next few weeks, and remember to keep it in the bottle and pray.