SO YOU RAN A SUB-3:00 MARATHON. NOW WHAT?

06.26.2018

 

Walter and Matt Murdoch exit ‘the tunnel’ Light at the End of The Tunnel Marathon

This is a continuation of my posts about Walter Downey, a definitely ‘seasoned’ athlete and thus of extreme interest on this blog. Well, to the blogger anyway. Oh, and for the record, this title represents a question I have never had to ask myself! It is also about how we approach what comes after a major achievement or breakthrough. Walter is the ‘hero’ of this tale, but it is intended to be taken more generally by all readers in context of their own pursuits and performances and what they hold important.

To briefly recap, Walter made a decision almost two years ago to make some big changes and set some big goals. To achieve his goals, he did a number of things but two of the biggies were losing some weight (a significant amount) and training much more seriously. The results began with doing well in age group placements in race distances across the board and then with a string of PBs at pretty well all distances he ran. Of late, it has become an expectation that he will score a podium place, if not win his age group. He has also continued to tweak those PBs. The original story is HERE.

Recently (earlier this month), Walter scored what I would consider a ‘double unicorn’.

What in the name of all that is running, is a ‘double unicorn’????

I’m so glad you asked.

And then they were done. Walter, Matt and Ray Barrett.

For many people, especially those who would be considered ‘seasoned’, running a marathon under three hours at age 57 is rather unicorn-like (that is, extremely rare)! To be specific, Walter went 2:58:58. Obviously, that is sub-3:00. And, most of us hitting age numbers like 57 are really happy to get raw times that AGE GRADE to 2:58. Let me just put that in context. At 57 the WMA age grading calculator says if you want a graded time of 2:58:58, you must run a raw time of 3:33:10, which is a time not to be scoffed at, but it does create some context.

Although it is probably less rare, the illusive ‘negative split’ is also unicorn-like in its rarity. Walter’s splits for his sub-3:00 performance were 1:32 and 1:26 (ish). The times are unofficial and taken from his gps, but with that much of a spread, there is no doubt that he did the negative split that we all aspire to achieve. I once ran a half marathon within less than 10 seconds of being a negative split. I still consider it one of my best managed races and very satisfying with respect to personal performance.

Walter continues to do very well in his races, still taking podium after podium, often in first place in his age category. For what it’s worth, and before I leave the specific topic of his last marathon, I would point out that it age grades to an adjusted time of 2:30 and a % Performance of 83.25%.

With all of this settled and duly reported, the question of the title: “Now what?” is of greatest interest. You never want to get to that feeling of “Is that all there is to a circus?

I sat down with Walter to explore what comes next in terms of goals and aspirations, short and longer term.

The first thing we had to establish is, there is still a lot of specific ‘work’ to do before the 2018 running season is over. I’m not even going to try to list all the races, but I know he is intending to run the BC Half Marathon Championship (at Victoria) and finish up with the New York City Marathon the first weekend of November.

We also quickly established that Walter considers he has been racing and training ‘smart’. A big goal for the future is to continue exactly that way. Purely as an observer, when Walter began ramping up to his present level of performance, losing weight, running harder and faster, knocking off PB’s, I was a bit worried that he was going so hard at it that an injury was surely in his future. The concern came partly from what he was specifically doing (running every race that caught his attention, running them hard and doing big training volume), AND from the generality of what happens to all runners who push the volume and intensity too high for too long. I am pleased to say, and as Walter reports, he is now building recovery into his plans, even when he races (some are all out, some strategic).

Souvenirs from a few notable and relatively recent marathons, including 3 of the Marathon Majors.

Let’s face it, if you are competitive nothing is better than a race to make you run with some intensity and focus. That said, some races are preparation for other more important races and they don’t all have to be run at PB pace. A perfect example was that Walter ran the BMO Vancouver Marathon in May with a time far removed from his present PB performances. It was intentional. “THE race” on which he was focused was the one where he did his Sub-3:00, the Light at the End of the Tunnel Marathon. Vancouver was May 6 and the Tunnel Marathon was June 10. Vancouver was completed in a time of 3:23:37 and The Tunnel was 2:58:58. That is how it is supposed to work when you race and train smart.

This is just one example. There are others. And, while Walter has tasted the sweetness of victory (age group and outright), he is also choosing events wisely, ‘picking his fights’ so to speak. Most of the time he is top three but seldom outside the  Top 5 in his age category.

Still, it seems there isn’t a race he isn’t ready to run. I wondered if there might be an ultra in his future, especially after he is done with the PBs in the standard distances we all know and love. Apparently NOT. So, maybe there are some events he isn’t interested in doing. And, while I know he likes training runs on certain trails, he isn’t interested in classic trail races either, ultra or otherwise. So, I suppose you could say his future goals involve no ultras or trail racing.

One thing we determined more or less immediately, is that he has no intention of going out in a blaze of glory and stopping cold turkey once his running goals are met (assumed to be PB performances, he feels he could achieve).

I must admit to pondering, based on Walter’s example, how many of us ‘retire’ too soon from pushing the envelope. To be clear on that, there is absolutely no need to ‘push’, but for the highly competitive, well………………

Just to remind you, I have reported previously how he has been setting new PBs; actual, unqualified PBs, even though he has been running for something approaching 20 years, running relatively well over those years and is now in his mid-50s. A few years back, on the advice of a runner older than me, I started paying more attention to 5-year PRs. I re-examined all my five year performances and still keep annual as well as 5 year age group ‘bests’ or PRs. I have also reported that doing something a bit like what Walter has done (back when I was plus or minus 65), produced some very good results although FAR from all-time PBs. Maybe after Walter reaches his personal level of peak performance, he too will consider such record keeping, but for now he is still setting new, totally UNqualified personal marks!

OK, back to ‘what now?’.

Walter has completed four of the six Marathon Majors (New York, Chicago, Boston (X3) and Berlin). Remaining are London and Tokyo. I doubt I would surprise you by stating there is a plot afoot to complete these two ‘missing’ marathons. The lottery is not particularly reliable, so it seems money may be the answer. By that I mean using a travel package or a charity bib to attain the needed entry. We chatted about the fact that we have both (along with a few dozen of our closest friends) submitted our names to the ‘ballot’ for London. The odds are a bit better than Lotto-649, but only slightly it seems. Obviously, this is one answer to the title question: complete the Big Six.

Another specific race based goal is a better half marathon time. According to Walter, his Half PB is not proportional to other personal records for marathon and 10K. He feels his times for both those distances are much better than his half time. He is working on it and strategically eyeing the races in his future. As I began writing, the very next one was to be the Scotiabank Vancouver Half Marathon on June 24, 2018. Two things can mitigate against it being the race where Walter corrects this perceived ‘imbalance’. The Scotia Half (as it is known locally) purports, or at least appears to be a fast and easy course, but it has three difficult components, two of which (hills) come at awkward points in the race. Weather is the third factor and although it was warming up by the time he finished, was probably a minor factor this time. As it turned out, the Scotia Half yielded up yet another new PB to Walter’s relentless and persistent pursuit of excellence. His time was 1:2834, good for 4th place in his M55-59 age group.

I imagine he takes comfort (not much though) in the fact he was just 16 seconds out of 3rd and that truth be told it was the ‘graduation’ of Coach Carey Nelson into the age group that pushed him into 4th. Carey was first with a 1:23:58. What’s a body going to do?? At least it was a good friend who pushed Walter off the podium. I will have to consult to determine whether or not the new PB corrected the so-called imbalance at half marathon, but my first reading of it, suggests that while a PB is a PB, this particular one is still not quite what Walter would want. Never mind, there are two more half marathons in his immediate future with potential to deliver even better times (Victoria Half and the Iron Horse Half Marathon). The quest continues!

Finishing up at Blueshore Financial Longest Day 5K – a fixture in both race series.

Coming off his 2017 performances, Walter set his cap for doing well in two race series that happen in BC. One is the Lower Mainland Road Race Series and the other is the BC Super Series (for readers not presently running, this was the Timex Series). Some races are common, but as the name suggests, the Lower Mainland series is limited to events in the Lower Mainland area, in and around Vancouver. Without getting into the weeds on series scoring (they are different) Walter is well positioned in both. In both cases you must complete a minimum number of events, but you only score your best results, discarding poorer results after you surpass the official minimum number of races. He has been working hard to achieve his best possible outcome and while there are several races remaining in both series, it is becoming increasingly difficult for anyone in his age group to catch up (there are only three races remaining in each series). He has already completed the minimum for both series and has a significant gap on those coming behind. Just in case the wording of this description might be misconstrued to imply he will be sitting back on what is ‘in the bank’. He won’t. Anyone who thinks they have an outside chance of catching him is going to have to work for it.

Another related matter is the challenge of doing well at the BC Athletics Championship races at standard distances: 5K (2nd), 8K (1st), 10K (2nd), Half Marathon and Marathon (2nd). Only the Half Marathon Championship remains for 2018 (Goodlife Victoria Half Marathon in October). Walter has competed in all of the events so far and, as noted, has achieved age group first or second placements in all. Interestingly, there is no particular single rival. He has placed either first or second, but the others who were just ahead or just behind consist of four different runners. I guess that makes Walter a ‘man for all seasons’ where it comes to race distance and excellence. It will be interesting to see how much he can tweak his performance before getting to the BC Half Marathon Championship in Victoria in October.

A few momentos from Walter’s more recent races.

I always try to make these posts at least a little bit generic and instructive to a wider audience. In reporting the specifics, I hope to inspire the more general thoughts and aspirations among readers. In this instance, Walter Downey is doing what turns Walter Downey’s personal crank. It is admirable and to be celebrated, but just because he wants to and can, there is no reason it should be someone else’s dream. We all have, or should have, our own.

At an impromptu post-race brunch after the recent Scotiabank races (there was a 5K, too), Coach Carey asked me how many of the Big Six I had run. ONE. New York. That’s it. I guess that if I got silly lucky later this year when ballot results are announced, I could move that up to TWO by doing London next year. That still leaves four, one of which I would have to sacrifice a point of principle to do – Boston. You CAN do it with a charity bib, but I long ago decided that because it is what it is, and I am what I am, the only way to do Boston would be to Qualify. That seems a ‘bridge too far’ for this Ancient Marathoner.

Other than working hard enough to win or at least place at most of my races, most of Walter’s personal goals are off the charts for me. No problem. I have my own past glories and future plans. Same like everybody else! The point then, is that this article is intended to inspire you to THINK about what you might do (if  you haven’t already).

Pre-Race with Walter Downey – BMO Vancouver Marathon 2018

I do have to admit that I was anticipating a few more zen-like ideas from Walter. That was possibly naïve of me. His current performance level is way too high and a ‘work in progress’ to be seriously looking at hanging up the racing flats and contemplating long easy runs in pastoral settings. Good Lord, I’m 73, kind of broken and slow and I’m still not thinking that way! A common friend of Walter’s and mine, is Rod Waterlow. In about a month, he will turn 81. HE isn’t thinking about pastoral run-walks either. I don’t know why I thought Walter would go there at this point, so there is a lesson for me and for you.

I did pose the question “Now What?” And, I did get some worthy answers. I suppose we should just leave it at that. In the meantime, I shall pursue some of my own goals that have been inspired by watching Walter, studying and writing about the adventure he is on at this point in time.

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