Let’s face it, at 45, I’m no spring chicken. More like a summer chicken. And without a single standalone marathon in six years, I was concerned that the 2019 Lausanne Marathon could get me to realize that my last go at the distance, a 2:53:50 at the 2013 Houston Marathon, might be my all-time high.
New job, new country, new goals
I spent most of my efforts since 2012 focusing on long-distance triathlons. Under François’s expert coaching, this has resulted in steady improvements, culminating with a 9:09:17 at Ironman Texas in 2018. But last year, I accepted a job at IMD, and Leslie and I moved from Texas to Switzerland. With the new job and the new country, training 15h a week was out of the question, at least for a time. So, I switch my focus from aiming at podiums to just staying fit.
Concretely, that meant a couple of events in the spring—20 km of Lausanne (1:24:03), the Tour du Léman—and the Lausanne Marathon in October.
The buildup to the race was scot-free. François designed the year for general conditioning—a mix of bike and running for the most—to help me keep some fitness when training isn’t a priority. We only ramped up the mileage starting in mid August.
Running has been fun, as I’ve travelled a bit, so I go a chance to run in Aix, the Luberon, New York, Florence, and, for the most part, on the shores of the Léman. All told, I had a solid block, which peaked at just over 110km per week , and various runs in the 32-to-38-km range.
So I knew I had enough volume. But not having run a standalone marathon for so long, it was difficult to evaluate how much I could push on race day. My Garmin had all sorts of predictions only slightly shy of world records (it seemed) and a recent 10km that I could only barely manage to bring under 40 minutes had me doubt that there wasn’t much I should expect.
On the nutrition side, I started experimenting with SiS. This being Switzerland, any import costs an arm and a leg, but I’ve heard really good reviews. Long story short, the buying experience was, ahem, not ideal and they sponsor that cycling team that glows more in the dark than the others. But their products turned out to be good. In fact, I really like their products, as they’re much nicer on my stomach that the competition’s, so I’m glad I gave them a shot.
The organization asks you to predict your arrival time when you sign up so they can corral you accordingly. My predicted 2h55 got me in the first corral. The fastest pace group was 3h, so I aimed at being right around them, but couldn’t squeeze ahead before the start.
After the gun, it took a little bit of doing to go around that 3h group, but that was not too much of a problem. There was then the usual shuffle as everyone fell in position. A few dudes who didn’t look particularly looked fast overcame me, which reinforced my doubts about how much to push. The first few kilometers were fast—in the 3m40s, one even in the 3m30s, so I decided against pushing more and settled wherever I was in the pack, even though the pressure to keep up with groups around was high. I estimated some 20 or 30 people ahead, including a handful of women. I found a group of five or six and we worked together. I tried to stay shielded from the wind for most of the time and did my share of “pulling” every now and then.
Food-wise, I had packed two double-espresso gels in a flask, which is the maximum daily quantity recommended by SiS. That plus the espresso I had at the house one hour before the start should have been enough caffein, I thought. I also had a couple extra SiS gels, but that was the mother of rookie mistakes, as I ran out of gels in the first third of the race. I picked up a couple more at aid stations, but those didn’t feel nearly as good as the SiS ones.
All told, going out was fast—on Sunday, I PRed my 10 miles (3m53 / km pace average) and my 1/2 marathon (3m56) all on the way to Vevey. I knew it would be hard to keep that pace, and I didn’t expect to, as I figured I could settle for a 4:03min/km in the last 20km and still finish with a 4min/km average. But that didn’t work out. I blew up.
I’m usually okay with estimating what it takes to pace evenly, so I’m not sure what happened. Maybe I’m no longer okay at estimating pace (don’t think so). Or maybe I just started too quickly, letting myself being driven by the flow around and didn’t fuel properly (much more likely). At any rate, my last 10km were very slow, predominantly in the 4m20s and 4m 30s. By then, I was doing tremendous mental calculations to see if I could make it before the 2h53 mark.
And, in the end, it was good enough, as I got there in 2h52m42s. That bought me 4th in the age group (over 306 finishers; 1.3%), and 19th overall (out 998 men starting; 1.9%). There was just one guy older than me who arrived before me. 2h52 was also a personal best. In short, it was enough to go away thinking that it’s nice to still get faster as I go older. Not too bad, for a summer chicken. I’ll take it.
Major, major thanks to Leslie, for handling all this nonsense (and for the cool pictures and the coolest race-day video ever (below)!). Thanks also to François (firstname.lastname@example.org) for enabling all this nonsense! And thanks to the IMD colleagues and, in particular, Arturo, for celebrating these little victories.