Musings on 3:59

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Meghann left me an awesome comment the other day. I teared up a bit reading it, but I cry at the drop of a hat, so that’s no surprise.

Two years ago, I stayed with her, her sister and Bobbi before the Chicago Marathon.


Bobbi had run the Boston Marathon, with a BQ time of 3:24 and Meghann had run 3 marathons, with a PR of 4:12. I wasn’t really sure how fast I could run Chicago, but all of their times sounded SO FAST to me. I’d never be able to run that fast.

I soaked up as much marathon knowledge from them as I could in the days before the race. Hopefully staying with these fast girls would rub off on me.

I finished that marathon in 4:59, and I was so happy with my time. It was a good 40-something minutes slower than the other girls’ times, but it was my first marathon. The former fat kid had just finished her first marathon.

In the year between that and the New York City Marathon, I trained and ran my heart out. I ran 5 more halfs that year and set a PR of 1:55:28.

I wanted so badly to break 4:30 at the New York City Marathon, and I did, running it in 4:19:56.

That’s a 40-minute PR. I knew I couldn’t do that between my second and third marathons, but I hoped I could take off just half as much time, and finish in 3:59.

I knew it was likely a stretch. I knew sub-4 was no joke, but I knew I needed an ambitious goal to aim for.

I read Dorothy’s post about figuring out a realistic goal time for a marathon. Based on my half PR, McMillan said I could do 4:03. In her post, Dorothy said “Often when deciding what goal you should have for a marathon it’s tempting to pick a number out of thin air.”

I’ll admit it. I totally picked 3:59 out of thin air. It was an aggressive goal, but I wanted an aggressive goal to push me. My body responds fairly well to marathon training, and so I wanted to reach for this. I so badly wanted to join that sub-4 club. For the bragging rights, sure, but because it would represent so much improvement over my first marathon. Because it would represent not only deciding to go for a healthier lifestyle, but putting my all into something and watching the payoff.

I remembered reading Sarah’s post about not making sub-4. And then her amazing PR a few months later.

And watching Jocelyn come within three minutes of sub-4. Homegirl has gotten fast, and her just missing sub-4 honestly really freaked me out about my own ability to do the same. I’m not as fast as her. Who was I kidding? I couldn’t do this.

Last year I felt like my training was 100% spot-on, but last year I was also unemployed and had just a bit more time to train. This year, I have been really busy (maybe too busy?) and my training wasn’t where it was last year. Although I truly was satisfied with the amount of training I put in, I wasn’t sure it was enough for sub-4.

I’d read comments on posts on my own blog and others’ blogs about just missing sub-4 and knew how audacious a goal was, but I wasn’t prepared to back away from it. I was going to go into Sunday’s race in touch with reality but still reaching for the goal.

I started with Ericka, who’d said in a comment on my blog she was aiming for 3:50. Why the hell was I starting with her? Who was I kidding?

Before the race, I thought about how I’d feel if I missed it. I knew I’d be disappointed, but this marathon thing is still so new to me, that I knew unless I busted out a bunch of seven-minute miles at the beginning or ate a piece of pizza mid-race or something else equally dumb, I’d be proud of myself. I knew it might take a few tries.

Sure enough, I finished in 4:04:37. And I am happy with my timetruly, I’m incredibly happy with it. I ran hard for it and pushed through the discomfort for it.


But I have some unfinished business. I tasted that sub-4 (or maybe just my ponytail whipping my mouth? It’s pretty aggressive), and I’m not satisfied yet. I still want it.

After I finished the race, and even the day after, I thought it was too painful. I didn’t want to try again. I was plenty happy with my 4:04.

But since when do I give up that easily? Never. Edited-to-add-because-I-thought-of-this-after-I-hit-publish: I didn’t hit sub-2 for a half on my first try…or my second…or my third, but when I got it that fourth time I tried, it was so, so sweet.

Laura and I talked the other night, she offered to pace me to sub-4, and I am seriously considering taking her up on it before the end of this year. I always thought multiple marathons in a year, or even in a “training season” was nuts, but I’m starting to contemplate giving it another try since I’ve already put so much training in. Let’s just say I haven’t ruled it out.

I gots questions for ya:

Have you ever done back-to-back(ish) marathons? And tried to PR at both of them? How much time in between?

Any good marathons on the East Coast between Thanksgiving and Christmas I should know about? (I have plans the other weekends between now and Thanksgiving. And I have a race in mind with Laura but would love to hear what you know of.)

39 comments on “Musings on 3:59

  1. Ericka @ The Sweet Life

    See, now you know why I do two at a time! 🙂 I actually kind of cover this in my next post (coming out tomorrow AM). I know you have it in you to do sub-4 — no doubt about it. You were hanging onto it almost the whole race, soooo do-able. If I were you, I’d try to find a race about 3-5 weeks from now. No less than than or the legs might be rough. I’m nervous about Philly (Nov. 18) but I’m just gonna do it! Oh…um, how bout Philly? 🙂 When I did two weeks apart, it was hell. When I did three weeks apart, it worked out great.

    Okay, loved this post, I’m done chattering. I look forward to hearing what you decide!

  2. Laura

    11/11: Fort Worth Marathon
    11/24: North Central Trail Marathon (I’ve run it)
    12/2: Las Vegas Marathon
    12/2: Palm Beach Marathon
    12/8: Kiawah Island Marathon (I’ve run it)
    12/9: Dallas White Rock Marathon
    1/13: First Light Marathon (I’ve run it)
    1/13: Houston Marathon
    1/20: Charleston Marathon
    1/20: Maui Marathon
    1/26: Yuma Marathon (I had a MAJOR PR there)
    1/27: Miami Marathon
    1/27: Galveston Mardi Gras Marathon

  3. sarahsaysrun

    The Rehoboth Beach Marathon in Rehoboth, DE is a great, small, local marathon! It’s my home-beach town and has a special place in my heart…and there’s not a hill in site! you would crush sub 4!

  4. Kristy

    Kiawah is an awesome race. Your friend is smart. Do another one in Decemebr — you’ll be shocked how great you’ll feel the second race. I’ve gone long and went for a pr for both and killed the second race. Good luck, but you don’t need it.

  5. Jess

    Ok I”m seriously, seriously considering this too and I’m eyeing the Rehoboth Beach Marathon on Dec. 9 (assuming Rehoboth is still standing after Sandy). It’s enough time out that I can recover and taper and hopefully go in feeling strong. Plus beach town = mostly flat course. I’m not completely decided yet, but it’s definitely something I’m chewing on. Let me know what you decide.

  6. Rebecca

    brooklyn marathon= hills but with local support! or kiawah island (def want to do this one someday) which is ALL flat and very scenic, but you have to travel…what kind of training would you do in between??

    1. Laura

      @Rebecca: Kiawah was really pretty but every house looked the same so it actually got kind of boring, especially on the second loop. I have a half-finished race report I can send to you/Theodora/anyone else considering it; just let me know if you want it.

  7. Jennifer

    Great post. I’m a big fan of running two in one training cycle, and this year i was signed up for MCM and Philly. My training got off to a slow start though and I decided to just focus on Philly to take some pressure off. Last year I ran NYC (my second marathon) and Philly (my third) which were two weeks part. I ran a 3:51 in NYC and then 3:45 at Philly. Even though I had missed my 3:50 goal in NYC I had such a better attitude about Philly because I knew that even if I totally bombed Philly I still was really proud of my NYC time and being able to run two marathons back to back! I felt like at NYC I was super nervous, was constantly looking at my watch and I never really relaxed and enjoyed the race. At Philly, I was totally happy to be there, enjoy the course, and whatever happened happened. My garmin even broke at about mile 16 and I was shocked to find out that I had beaten my NYC time by so much. I say go for it!!! But don’t stress about the sub 4. Just remember that you know that you have it in you, relax, and have fun. Good luck!

  8. cindylu

    I went from a 4:24 to a sub-4 on my first attempt at the goal. I thought it was a big reach for me, but didn’t find it crazy difficult probably because I had one of those awesome race experiences.

    I know few marathon experiences are like that, but it’s amazing what you can do when the stars align. Congrats on the PR.

  9. Kimra

    I know NOTHING about back-to-back marathoning, only sorta-back-to-back-halfing, which I am always in favor of. I want to say do it, but only if you really have the desire to keep training between now and then, and only if you feel good enough on your first couple of runs back that you think you could recover fast enough to train well enough to get after it again in six-ish weeks. (I’m still trying to figure out if I can race a HALF in early Dec, and my marathon was a month ago!) I remember you getting burned out by the end of the 3 halfs you ran trying to get sub-2, so if you think THAT won’t happen, go for it!

  10. Lisa (Mom to Marathon)

    I know the frustration of not meeting a goal, especially a big milestone goal. I felt that pang for a sub-2 half. But my first sub-2 was glorious. Again for my sub-4 marathon and my BQ. Although, when I miss my marathon goals, I crash and burn and miss them by a MILE (4:16 before a 3:57; 4:15 before a 3:50) It is almost like I am not meant to meet my goals the first time around!

    The only time I have done back to back marathons was after my failed BQ attempt. I was afraid to try again, so I paced a friend for her first marathon three weeks later. It was all about the fun and not about the time. It was mentally good for me.

  11. Katie

    Ahhh I totally get it. Last year I ran the Air Force Marathon and was DYING for my sub-4. My training was perfect and I was on pace to do it during the race until the very end. Guess what my time was- 4:00:04. Yes, really. 4 freaking seconds!!!!!! I was devastated, and also so motivated to finally get it this time around! I know you can do it too! Go for it!

  12. Shauna@Pleasure, not Punishment

    I really love this post. Interesting how just missing a goal helps us realize that it *is* attainable and how much we want it. Inspiring stuff. It makes me want to use the clapping, muscle, cheesy grin, and fanfare emojis.

    I can’t WAIT to read the sub-4 recap. 😀

  13. Jess

    I’m a total marathoner newbie and all BUT I believe in you and without any experience whatsoever in back-to-backs, I totally think it’s worth going for. If you feel as good as you sa you feel and are as mentally ‘there’ as you want and need to be? What more can you ask for really? You’re already fully trained and ready, why wait?? I SO see you crushing 3:59!!!

  14. Naomi

    I’ve been thinking really seriously about starting running – you are a big inspiration! I want to make some big lifestyle changes. Thanks for your blog!

  15. Sara

    REHOBOTH on December 8th! My uncle has a condo down there, so I went down to spectate it and support a friend who was running the half last year. I’m going to run this year’s half (it will be my second) and I’m really excited about it. The course is flat, the town is awesome (especially the locals!), the finish line is SO close to Dogfish Head, it’s ridiculous…and going out the night after the race in Rehoboth is SO MUCH fun! (Last year, we went to a Christmas Drag Cabaret show at Blue Moon.)

  16. Mollyberries

    A few yrs ago I ran a 4:10, knew I had more in me and 3 wks later ran a 3:37. In 2011 I ran Boston in 3:29 and 13 days later ran the Flying Pig in 3:31. So yes, back to back marathons are possible!! Lots of great options, rumor has it Rehoboth is a solid choice!!!

  17. Celia

    I have done back to back marathons with varying results. I have PRed in the second, done exactly the same and done worse. I think it all depends how hard you pushed yourself in the first one. If you still had a lot to give or something went wrong then you can bounce back. However, if you raced to your fullest potential it will be hard to recover to race a good race. Just my non-expert 2 cents…

    1. Theodora Post author

      @Celia: No, you make a good point, as usual. I did push myself pretty damn hard which is why I’m still contemplating and haven’t just jumped to sign up.

  18. Charlie (The Runner Beans)

    Great attitude! I really want to run a sub 4.45 marathon (i know not fast but taking it a bit at a time!) but for this year my goal is to run a 2hr half, I am putting all of my energy, training and race weekends into it. 2014 is my next marathon year!

  19. Marc

    1 and done. Shut down, run some shorter races in the spring and build for one next year! It’s really hard to peak twice for such a demanding race.

  20. Dori

    Yes, you can so do this! I know you’re trained now but I think you should rest for a little and maybe train for a Spring marathon. And then you can still do another Fall if you want too.

  21. Ashley

    Some things to considering:

    When you’re running your first marathon your goal really should be to do your best and try to finish. Whenever I hear about first timers with little athletic experience (it’s a bit different if you used to be a pro ball player) aiming for certain times I just shake my head and tell them to be proud of whatever time they achieve. Finishing a marathon is a HUGE achievement.

    Also, why don’t you just pace yourself to a sub 4:00? There are lots of iphone apps there that’ll help with your pacing and if you’re training to a time then you should know roughly how fast your running your miles. I think it would take some of the thrill out of it using somebody else to pace you – but it’s up to you!

    Goodluck and hopefully you’ll break 4 soon!

  22. Victoria

    They have the Jacksonville Bank Marathon on December 8th (I think)… warmer weather down this way! Would love to have a FF meet up. I was supposed to run that one, but still out with my injury. But I can be down to cheer 🙂 You will conquer whichever race you do!

  23. Emily Semmelman

    The reason I love reading your blog and why I find it so inspirational is that you say you’re not a natural runner, but yet I’ve seen you work so incredibly hard to crush the goals you set for yourself. Seeing how many times it took you to get a sub 2:00 half and how far you’ve come over the years makes me believe it’s possible for me to get there one day as well, and I never thought I’d say that. I have 100% confidence that you’ll get that sub 4:00 – and you’ll have earned the hell out of it. Seeing lots of comments about Rehoboth… makes me think this might be your race. Just keep doing what you love!

  24. Mary

    You have such a good perspective. I try to think the same way when I get down on myself after coming in last place at CrossFit or something. I ask myself what fat me (me 50 pounds ago) would have thought of what I just accomplished. Helps me remember how far I’ve come. Oh, and FWIW, 4:04 is an INCREDIBLY IMPRESSIVE time, both to skinny me and fat me. 🙂


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