The Mercedes That Took Me To Boston

Christian qualifying for Boston at the Mercedes Marathon

First, let me start off by saying that I’ve never really cared about running the Boston Marathon.

Still don’t.

Most likely, this is due to the fact that 4 years ago, I wasn’t even a runner, barely even knew the Boston Marathon existed, and quite honestly, my only attraction to it now is the fact that Kathrine Switzer went all rebel on everybody and became the first female to bust into the event.

My kinda lady…

If it a’int a hefty challenge, it’ t’aint no fun

That’s sorta my redneck mantra.

I like challenges that make me sit around and go, “oh man, dude… why did you agree to that?”

Lately, I have been one seriously focused trainee, and my race results from 5K to 50K have improved more than I could have ever dreamed they would… and people started saying, “You should try for Boston.”

I really had no idea how much that means to road runners.

“Boston.”

Boston, it seems, is like the quintessential dream race for road runners; and perhaps that’s why the qualification times are so tough. So many people seem to want to qualify for, and run, the Boston Marathon.

I don’t run many road marathons, usually only running the local Atlanta-based ones, so my fastest marathon was only 3:41; and I needed at least a 3:20 or better to officially qualify for Boston. That would be a 21:00 personal best, and a lot of time to find in 26.2 miles.

But the Wednesday before race weekend, I found myself searching for stimulation. Do I run in circles for twelve hours in Cumming, Georgia? or do I take on the super fun trail half-marathon at Sweetwater Creek?

Then, li’l ol’ Beth McCurdy tells me she’s leading the 4-hour pace group at the Mercedes Marathon in Birmingham, Alabama, and now would be a great time for me to try to qualify for Boston. I had no idea what time I needed to qualify, but she shot back a second email saying – “you need 3:20:59″

That’s all it took.

The gauntlet had been slammed to the floor, and I love me some challenge, so what the Hell – I’m down – Let’s go chase a Boston Qualifier!

Birmingham, Alabama

Just a few quick points worthy of mention if for no other reason than when I read back over this in ten years, it can spark some memory – then, I’ll get right to the race (and answer many of the post-race Facebook questions):

Ok, on to the race…

The start

I can’t stand the praying at races. I have nothing against religion, but it’s just pompous for religious people to force that stuff on peeps who aren’t. If I choose to go to a religious event with my wife, then fine, cool, I expect to be part of it – but this is a public race, with many religions (or lack thereof) in attendance, and it just feels like Christian arrogance.

They prayed, but no National Anthem? Eh? I’d rather they do the national anthem – something we ALL can get behind regardless of religious choice.

Ok, I’ll shut up ’bout all that.

Bang, the gun went off.

Through 10K (6.2 miles)

A 10-year veteran running next to me said, “take it easier here in the first 3 miles than you think you need to, because it gets hard later on.”

I didn’t listen.

But I did kinda, sorta have a plan.

I was told that I needed an average of 7:30-minute miles for the whole 26.2, so I made up my mind to try my hardest to never see 7:30s on my watch. Never. This way, I could put some time in the bank early for later miles when I started to fatigue.

This stretch took us around the BJCC (a Birmingham Coliseum), weaved us around the flats of the downtown city blocks, and along the outskirts of the University of Alabama (UAB). A little rolling but fast, and I was having a ball, and keeping it all in check.

I rolled through the first 10K of the race in 43:03, a 6:57 pace.

Maybe a little fast, but I felt in control, so I just went with it.

Through 15K (9.3 miles)

I didn’t love the early part of this stretch. It was a sort of out-n-back that felt long and boring – and since this was a two-loop course, especially so the second time around…

But later we ran through that cool 5-points area where I had eaten the night before, and there was our waitress, standing in front of Surin, cheering on the runners – That was pretty cool, but I don’t think she saw me.

This section also took us through some fancy-pants sections of Birmingham with huge southern houses, with giant verandas and Spanish moss. The second time around, I found myself wishing I was sitting on one of those big verandas sipping lemonade like a grandma remembering lost love, instead of fighting through the final miles of the race.

But I kept pace and finished up 15K in 1:04:23 (6:56 pace).

Through 25K (15.5 miles)

At this point in the race I was feeling surprisingly good.

The course weaved back through the downtown area, and as we got closer to end of the loop the half-marathoners were corralled-off to one side of a line of cones, and marathoners the other. This is when I realized… a) I had gotten sucked into a lot of half-marathoners’ paces, and b) There were a heck’uva lot more half-marathoners than marathoners.

And once we ran past where all the half-marathoners were finishing, I felt very alone.

I was jealous that they were finished, and I here I was headed back out to do it all over again.

2.3 miles later, I finished up 25K in 1:46:09 (6:51 pace) – still running strong.

Through 30K (18.6 miles)

Since this was the second time around and I now knew the course, these three miles felt pretty good.

Finished 30K in 1:46:09 (6:51 pace) and that’s cool an’ all, but I started to wonder when my struggles would begin because this was just feeling too easy…

You know what comes next.

Through 42.2K (26.2 miles)

At mile 19, I started to get those familiar stomach cramps. F#@*! gels do it every time, and as I approached mile 20, I was so desperate with impending “ass”plosion, I was considering dropping my drawers in plain daylight and sitting on top of an outside trash can at a convenience store.

Luckily, I saw porta-johns at the top of the hill at mile 20, so I made a bee-line straight for ‘em.

1:24 later (yes, I timed my drop session), I emerged a much happier, lighter runner, but now super stressed out over losing so much time.

I really tried to make it up through the five points section, but it was a lot of climbing.

We hit the fancy pants section, and I ran the downhills hard …or so I thought, but when I’d look at my watch, it would tell me different. GRRRRRR.

“Don’t blow this dude!”

By mile 23 I really got hit hard.

I was trying too hard to make up that potty break, stressing myself out, NOT staying in the moment (sorry Anton, I tried), and doing some really bad “race math” thus convincing myself that I was going to be waaaay too close for comfort on this qualification chase – if at all.

Note to self: DO NOT STRESS OUT. It affects everything. Your mind, your body, your pace …everything. Just chill. I see now that being “in the moment” is more than just enjoying the sh*t around you. It’s also about collecting yourself. Staying calm. Staying within yourself and believing in your training and abilities. Once doubt sets in, you now have TWO fights to contend with. Think about it.

I was borderline delirious when I hit the famous beer stop.

I drank one small cup, moved to the next person and drank a cup of water, then moved to the last dude and tried to drink another cup of beer.

I was told later by Bill Taylor (local Bamer) that my eyes looked funny. “Dude, I was about to fall out, yo. Seriously.”

The Finish

When I got to mile 25 and saw the clock reading 3:03:54, I knew I had done it. I could walk from here and still make it before 3:20:59, and I almost did, but I just couldn’t let myself punk out like that, so I ran.

Actually, kinda hard.

Until I heard, “CCCCCCCCCCC MONEYYYYYYYYY!!!!!”

My boy Vic’tah, who had a great half-marathon race, was waiting for me at mile 26, shooting pics and throwing out that mad positive vibe that I needed to look cool running through the finisher chute.

I ran under that banner at 3:12-something, throwing peace signs up at the clock hoping the photographers captured my exciting Boston qualification moment.

And that was that.

I did it. I qualified for the Boston Marathon.

So, now I guess I gotta go run it in 2012 since it’s seemingly such a big part of road racing lore – and of course, y’all will get to hear alllllll about it.

What did you learn?

Even though some say my pacing was a bit off, having fallen apart at the end, I don’t fully agree. For me, this was excellent pacing. I always go out too fast, and my splits show that I definitely paid attention. May not have been perfect, but I did pay attention. I don’t know a damn thing about road marathon strategy. I just run. But I do think that this race showed me what holding back a little can do for you later on.

I also learned that my core needs continued attention. It’s getting better, but somewhere after 20 miles or so, my form falls-apart and my gait suffers and then everything sorta exponentially gets wacky.

I also learned that I really do like the road. I like to run fast. It’s definitely the side of the sport that I am most drawn to – I like to chase people. I like to spot the guy or girl ahead and make it my goal to chase them down. Then the next. Then the next. Then the next.

I learned this from Sean O, I think.

My training

I’ve been asked a lot lately about my training. I’m going to be very frank here as I see it, and most likely will piss off some people with perceived preaching, but it is what it is – these are my thoughts, observations and advice as I’ve torn through some serious training over the last four months.

Weight

I’ve said before, I’ll say it again. Losing the weight is the single most important thing that I attribute to getting faster. And running faster longer. That’s it man – if nothing else, drop pounds. Easier said, then done, I know – but it’s a key to improvement bar-none. Personally, I’m stuck at a plateau now, so I’ve had to go the extra mile and start logging my food.

I’m open to whatever it takes to meet my goals.

Eating and Social Habits

I don’t drink. I don’t smoke. (nothing, anymore)

I try very hard to follow a paleo eating style as my staple because I know it works. It’s not a “diet,” its a way of life.

I know real food works.

My body performs well on foods that are, or were, recently alive and nutrient-rich. My body does not like things that are designed to have a shelf life of 16 months and live in cardboard boxes. That’s not food to energize the body, that’s merely sustainability.

I am not running junk miles

I love RayK. He’s a friend and a mentor and just about everything he says should be taken as gospel …except his belief that there is no such thing as junk miles.

He has natural talent. I have none.

Aimless running created aimless results for me.

For me, running with a goal, every single time, produces feedback necessary for the next workout.

When I went back to square one, I ran 3 miles as hard as I felt comfortable. Then I analyzed and asked myself, “is that the speed I want to run, or do I believe I can be faster?” …And always, for me anyway, the answer becomes “you can run faster.” So the next time, I ran that three miles faster. Then the next time, faster. Then, ran the faster pace for 4 miles, then 5, then 6.

In other words, I have little interest in a trot in the woods, or down the road, just chit-chatting.

This does not mean I’m not social during runs, but man I’m training! I have goals to achieve. I’m trying to get better. That takes focus and dedication and attention. I’ll chit-chat when I’m 75.

I’ve embraced the treadmill. Treadmill doesn’t lie. Treadmill doesn’t cheat. Treadmill doesn’t stop at traffic lights, or wait for cars, or stall at intersections. The treadmill is your friend. Yes, like you, I used to think the treadmill was boring, too – until I realized it wasn’t the treadmill that was boring, it was me. Set one pace and just run stupid-numb, and yea, that’s boring as crap; but when you get serious about intervals, and hammering so hard that your legs feel wobbly and you’re scared to death that you might just get thrown through the wall behind ya, it might become a little more fun.

At least, far from boring.

Track too. The track is the quintessential testing ground. Perfect distances every time. Hit the track and run hard. People squawk about ultras being mentally tough, and yes they are, but round and round a track at a blistering pace, for time, is equally as traumatizing, but you get the added benefit of speed work. Woo Hoo!

Left or right? Be for real, yo.

Check yourself.

There are no magic shoes, no magic supplements nor magic diets.

Just hard work.

Period.

If you are not getting the training results you want, you know why… you do. Be real wid yo’self. You might ask around about this-n-that, or why this-n-that is not working for you, or blah blah blah ….but you know. You know deep down what you are doing (or not doing), and until you really make that commitment to make life changes, nothing will change.

It’s that simple.

Again, I know this all sounds cocky, but introspective truth regarding your training is the only way to grow. I’m convinced.

None of this crap matters if you are fine with where you are in the sport. Getting better is not a goal of everyone’s and that’s ok, too. Participation is plenty for much of the sport’s athletes and that’s A-ok.

Just be real with yourself, what you really want, and then once you really know what that is, either be comfortable with it, or in the case of wanting to get better, GO F%^%$! GET IT!

Lastly, surround yourself around the “CAN” people, not the “can’t” people.

Sometimes, when you aren’t feeling especially confident in yourself, the “CAN” people will be that catalyst that gets you to the next level.

My wife is an unwavering “can” person. She loves to say, “someday you’ll be on the cover of a magazine,” And I laugh and say “whatever”, but she always believes in me and that makes me chase those beliefs. My friends L.Hill, Amy, Weezy, are three examples of CAN-people who stand out as friends who give me mad, unwavering support and make me feel like I can do anything. People like that are gold in your life.

It never ends ya’ll.

Let’s keep pushing the envelope of our perceived limitations and see where it takes us.

If nothing else, it sho’ is exciting as Hell!!!

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Comments

Hey! I live in Douglasville, GA and I am running my first half this weekend at the Silver Comet. I have also been training with the ATC’ Half Marathon program and the DC Rogue Runners. I really want to run a full and I dont want to run the ING in Altanta just yet. What do you think of the Mercedes Marathon for a first timer? I am not looking to make records, just enjoy myself. I saw it was an out and back and wasnt sure how fun that would be. Also is there good energy?

Ok.. incredible report.. I got chills reading it. I ran a PR in the same race. Birmingham was smokin fast that day!!

Great title of this blog. Very Clever. The Mercedes that got me to Boston.

My favorite was.. “I could walk from here and still make it before 3:20:59″
Way to go!
Gotta Run,
Mike

[...] like Mountain Mist 50K and Mercedes Marathon, where I feel I peaked and gave it every single thing I [...]

Congratulations on qualifying for the Boston! I am also working on losing weight and the whole speed work thing. Thanks for an interesting post.

Christian – Congrats on your BQ! You are spot on about Boston being the holy grail for many road runners. I don’t know if I’ll ever get there, but I love running on the road or trail all the same!

I’m training for my first 100K trail run later this year and happened to stubmle across your blog. Keep up the great work!

Cheers from Austin, TX.

Dude, you are sick, in some kinda good way. You have always been an extremest and after 20 years of wondering what ever happened to you, I was not surprised to find you doing this crazy stuff. I am glad you found your groove and you are one of those people that has a unique talent of having no tolerance for limits. Awesome post, and congrats on qualifying for the Boston!

Dude! You are an inspiration! Awesome time. Great lessons shared in your report. You sir, ARE talented. And I’m proud of you for working hard and allowing your talent to shine through. They say hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard. Your race shows how unbeatable a hard-working, talented runner can be. It also shows that a hard-working talented runner can kick a$$ even when he makes a detour to drop some kids off at the pool. ;) Kudos on a job well done!

Hey! My Southern brutha from anutha mutha, you’re awesome! Big time congrats on pushing your own personal envelope once again. My stoke-tank was filling up as I read this. I feel you man, on many levels within this post. (I reluctantly started to keep a food journal myself, plateau’s suck, and i don’t believe in excuses, gotta do what ya gotta do.)
Keep kickin butt and keepin it real in the ATL.
-scout

Great review and very happy to hear you BQed.

Still cracking up at your 1:24 shit. You might want to work on getting that down. ;)

Seriously though, you started running 4 years ago? Ah-mazing.

I’d like to drop a few lbs for the sake of running faster, and I’m trying… after those Valentine’s Day cupcakes settle.

Be well,
Carolyn

Congratulations !!!!! YO YO YO You are the Man. I have no doubt you will make it on the cover of a magazine. What i like about your writing and running is the honesty and truth you write what you feel with little censorship and feel while you run.
Keep Up,
Be Great,
Sat Nam,
Love,
Christopher

Great read and congratulations on qualifying for Boston. Cheers!

You had me until you said this was sounding cocky. Nothing could be further from the truth – it’s like you said, this IS the truth. No magic pills, no shortcuts.

We all have different goals and if your goal is to do something BIG, then go gotta go after it big.

Grats on the qualifier, but mega-grats on finding your inspiration and sticking with the plan.

Christian….good job finding out about real running and what it’s all about.
I’m sure you remember our discussion about a year ago when I sent you some book recommendations and Bob Hodge’s (Hodgie-San) website and the Summer of Malmo!
I believe in hard work pays off…you’re living my life when I was 20-30 years younger! My hard work paid off in 1981(before you were born) with a 2:48 marathon, a 16:30 5K and 4:55 mile on the track…all in the same time period! I ran Boston 13 times as a qualified runner when you needed a sub 2:50! Hard work works! Good for you for finding that out!
Good luck and keep it up!
Steve (who’s going to be 60 in the fall and still works hard)

Terrific Effort; great race report as always

Dude, you need to hit the trails. OR maybe do some long distances again and see how all of this plays out for you. Maybe another hundred in the near future? I know some people are going to be uncomfortable with you at Keys….

Awesome! Was great to see you before the race, so sorry I missed you at the finish, I was having a little melt-down of my own; got out waaaaay too fast through 16 and really was “challenged” the last 10 miles. This was almost 180 degrees different than my normal “try to negative split” race strategy that usually works for me. No regrets though, it was fun to change things up, but boy am I suffering now! Much better, and satisfying to finish strong! You’ll have a great time at Boston next year I’m sure; K and I went in ’07 and had fun. Enjoy, you earned it!

Congrats on the BQ! I’ve read every one of your race reports and it’s been cool to watch you grow as a runner and athlete. Lot’s of inspiration!

Ironic, was just listening to a Muse song- Map of the Problematique. I won’t ever stop, I just need to set a goal close enough in the future so that I’m not trying to BQ as a grandpa, if you know what i mean. But hey thanks for the encouragement, always good to know someone cares. Sorry for stealing your comments Christian. Stay fierce.

SS, don’t ever stop trying. Never, ever, ever, ever. You never know what the future brings if you want it bad enough.

Outstanding job. Combine Boston with Big Sur a week or so later for a fun double.

Left or right- not much of a choice when the course is laid out in front of your face like prison bars & theres no disputing it. :-/ ;-) u should be so proud, u gave it your all. I think in my races I’ll always be missing a piece somehow…. But I’ll never stop trying! Congrats.:)

Amazing report! I’m reading this over my breakfast scrambled eggs with espresso and can’t wait to go out running later today and use some of those insights and energy from you…

Keep it coming!

Greetz from Ibiza, Spain

Congrats, Christian. You always inspire me to be better. Thanks for motivating me to head to the garage (treadmill) tonight.

Hey, You could still run the marathon in RI the Saturday before Boston. You made that Qualifying time.
Dave

Great job. It seems running marathon is piece of cake for you. I agree with your opinion of the boredom on treadmills. Do intervals to kill boredom.

Hell yeah! Congrats on qualifying and doing the work it took to get there. You are looking light and fit dude and clearly it is a result of your good training and nutrition choices. Yeah for paleo!! I am very proud of you!

Not cocky at all, you’re just keeping it real, and I appreciate that big time. There’s so much crap out there about training plans, equipment, nutrition, etc., but I think you got it nailed, in that it just takes hard work to get where you want to be – nothing more, nothing less.I hope to get to talk to you at Strolling Jim in May. Keep up the great results and great writing.

Tim

Again as i said on the list – congrats. What FUN to go so
fast !

Best write up yet! Congrats on the finish and BQ’ing hardcore this race! Look forward to seeing ya at White River buddy!

I cannot fathom a sub-7:30 pace for 26.2 miles and this is what makes this race report so fun to read. You are correct in saying that the only real way to get to that point is by bringing the weight down. Weight loss has made a big difference in the game for both of us this year and here’s looking forward to a slim summer.
My favorite aspect of this newfound ultrarunning lifestyle is being surrounded by “can” people. I grew up listening to punk rock and staying out of the middle of the road, so it’s an adjustment to step into a way of life where I’m encouraged to leave my cynicism at the door. I like making that adjustment, though.
Congrats on earning that Golden Wonka Ticket to Boston, Christian. I can’t think of anybody that deserves it more.

Congrats Christian on the BQ! It does take some serious training to make it to the Boston starting line. Nice read too, you do have a way with words. Also, it’s not easy going from ultras to fast marathons. Maybe I’ll join you in 2012. I was contemplating picking up the speedwork again after my spring and summer ultras. I think I only have to run a 3:35 because I’m getting freaking old(47). Congrats again!

AJ (from the ultra list)

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