I couldn't have done it myself. This was my best marathon yet, and I owe big thanks to some people who helped me get there.
First - Mark Yost. Mark put together a thorough training plan for me, and patiently answered my questions - even the dumb ones. I wish I could have followed the plan a little more closely - I might have done even better.
Second - my wife. Anna is a much better runner than I am, her marathon PR is about 23 minutes faster than mine (3:23:30 vs. 3:46:18), and it was done on a harder course (Baltimore vs. B&A Trail). She could easily have left me behind, ran another great race, and I probably would have been slower. Instead, she ran with me and encouraged me through those tough miles at the end. Not likely I run this sort of time without her there pushing me.
After the Marine Corps Marathon in October, which I cannot consider a success - except as a logistically difficult and expensive training run for the Philly Marathon - I knew I needed to put in more work to get the sort of results I wanted. Mark's plan included more base work than I've ever done before, and lots of specific workouts with specific purposes. I knew it would help, but... well, I was a little intimidated by it. A long run of 26 miles? Gulp.
For most of the first month, I followed the plan fairly well. Amazingly well, given my past history of not following any training plan at all. Pretty soon thereafter, though, my ability to follow a plan was put to the test. I had registered for the Phunt Run 50K the first week of January, but I was on the fence about it - it was a C race at best, and perhaps not even that. Then my wife decided it would be fun, she registered as well, and, well, I was committed. Last minute, of course, the sitter came down with the flu, and with no backup, she stayed with the kids while I went to "race". I enjoyed that, and I have some thoughts jotted down about it - maybe I'll manage a race report for that as well some day - but it did make a bit of a hole in that week's training.
Truth be told, I could go on like this, pointing out where I didn't live up to the training plan, making excuses for the sessions I didn't manage, but... I did have my best marathon, so, the positives: I love the fact that this plan made it OK to lift weights. I've missed lifting, but I always thought it was somewhere between a nice extra for people who had extra time and possibly even counter-productive. I feel stronger for it and will certainly keep it in my bag of training tools. Another useful thing I learned is to slow down my base runs. In the past, I've tended to run hard - every run. That's probably helped my speed at the high end, but I can't train for a marathon with that intensity. Slowing down the base runs meant I got more of them in, which is certainly for the better. Additionally, at least theoretically, by doing my base runs at a slower, fat-burning pace, I am training to burn fat rather than rely on glycogen for racing. Still too early to report success or failure there, I think, though I noticed I was able to do some of the longer training runs (19-20 miles) without taking any food - that is something I never would have considered in the past.
Mark has preached the gospel of the plant-based diet for long enough, and my wife and I have been slowly moving in that direction for a while. A week before the race, I took the plunge and went full-on plant-based (aka vegan, but I think vegan is a term that has too much negative emotional baggage associated with it). Mostly, I haven't minded, though I can't say that I see any benefits either. I will say that if I were to do it over again, I would not make the switch only a week before a race - I don't think my digestive tract had fully adjusted.
On race morning, my wife and I drove down to Pasadena, arriving around 7:30. That was just about the right amount of time to get the bibs pinned, gloves on, use the restroom (a real restroom rather than a port-o-pot? Wow!), say hi to a couple people I knew, and head over to the start line. I had a caffinated gel tucked into each glove, because this race only seems to provide them at miles 13, 15, 18, and 20. I thought I'd need one earlier (6, perhaps) and later (22-24 perhaps).
On the line, I was looking around for Phil, since I knew that would be the last time I'd be in the same spot as him. In the process of that, I forgot to turn my watch on, until the gun sounded. I started it when the gun sounded, but the time it needed in order to locate satellites made it a little difficult to see my splits - my timer started immediately, but the mileage did not start incrementing right away. We had in mind to run 8:30s (as close as we could) for as long as we could, and see how long we could hold it. Neither of us had quite managed the training time we had intended, so we weren't sure. The first four miles we had trouble settling into a pace - we alternated 8:30s with 8:00s, which worried me, but we decided to go with it. I took my first gel at 6, more or less as planned, and we stayed in the 8:15-8:20 range up to about mile 10. That's when some combination of the the caffinated gel and/or not having adjusted fully to a plant-based diet caught up with me, and we lost two minutes there.
We never quite regained that same easy pace after my unexpected stop - we ran in the 8:20-8:30 range for the next 10, except that mile 20 was an 8:58 mile. My wife didn't like that much, so she cracked the whip on me and dragged me to an 8:10 for 21. That might have been too early to go (for me, not for her) as I struggled with some 9:15-9:40 miles for through 25, but then finished with an 8:19 for 26 and we crossed the line together, holding hands.
My takeaways from this race:
1) I can do more than I feel I can - I just need to find the right push.
2) I really need to make sure to get in some more *long* runs in the build to the next one - what happened to me at the end was too close to hitting the wall.
The B&A is flat and fast and my mind started playing tricks on me. Seriously. Somewhere on the long out-and-back, my wife said she couldn't tell if it was downhill or flat. No way, I said, this is a long gradual uphill. I can't wait for the turnaround so I'll get a nice downhill on the way back. We argued about that for a couple miles, because she was fairly sure it was flat or even downhill, and I could tell it was an uphill. Finally at one point I looked back behind me - and the trail went uphill that way too! There was obviously some sort of optical illusion going on there, one that I still don't understand.
Next goal: sub-3:30 in my fall marathon.
Oh, and as for that plant-based thing? Sunday for lunch I had a big ol' platter of BBQ ribs. Dang but those were good. :-)