Running on Emerald - My 20th Marathon and 2nd BQ Attempt


...as I approached the 19th mile, I knew it was all over for me. My quads were blown. With each next step the effort got harder and harder. I pressed on, but my average pace was falling, and falling fast from the 7:45 I have kept up until then. Heather, one of my running partners was behind me, she had been for the entire race, until mile 23... she passed me quickly and spun around. "Fight for it, You have to fight for it, Shane!" But what she didn't know was that I WAS fighting... with every fiber of my being, I was fighting. I wanted to stop but I didn't. I crossed the finish line at 3:32. A disappointing seven minutes over my Boston Qualifying time requirement of 3:25. The bittersweet aspect to the day was that my time was a nine minute PR over my last marathon. Indeed a great accomplishment in its own right... but no BQ on that day.

Those were the final moments of the Erie Marathon in Erie, PA. on September 11th, 2015. My eighteenth marathon and 1st attempt at qualifying for Boston.

I knew what I did wrong!

I also new what I did right. So again, the training commenced. We started on December 1st, 2015. At this point no marathon had been chosen but we knew we wanted something somewhat flat and fast.

Our training plan consisted 6 workouts per week. This would be the second time I would train under this particular program. It's what I did "right" and why I would do it again. This time, turning the intensity knob up just a tad. I needed to make sure that a 7:45 Pace would feel "easy" come race day.

The workouts are specific and purposeful by design! The coach who designed it takes into account a variety of aspects of your run, past marathon time and future marathon goals and other details. We would run two specific, hard workouts per week with a long run on Saturdays, two easy runs and a recovery run. Hitting your paces on specific workouts are crucial, and not over running them is the self discipline that can get you to the start line or break you and keep you from it. Injury is always looming if you're not careful. "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should" my running partner would always tell me. She's right!

So we ultimately decided to run the Emerald Island Marathon on April 9th, 2016. A low key marathon on the coast of NC that also includes a half marathon and a 5k that day.

We rolled into town the day before. Trained. Ready.

A little nervous though as the forecast had wind for the next day. Up to 20 mile an hour. While it would be windy in the morning, we may beat the heavy stuff as it was not expected until later that morning.

Emily, Heather and Myself arrived at the start line around 6 AM for the 6:15 start time. The temperature was 48 degrees but felt like 37 from the winds. In nothing but shorts and a tee shirt... I was freezing. But I knew once we got going I would warm up and be fine.

The gun went off precisely at 6:15 and we were off. My thoughts were to "live" in the mile. Don't worry about the next one and don't look back on the last. Just live in each mile and settle into my pace. Don't go out to fast and not let myself slowly get faster. Reign myself in if need be. And there was plenty of that. I assure you. In that mile, that one mile I must stay within my pace parameters. That pace was 7:40 - 7:45 per mile. No faster, no slower.  Heather and I were running side by side and that was good. We knew this could potentially be a "lonely" race as there were only 177 people running it and there did not seem to be any crowd support what-so-ever. By mile 4, the field had already thinned and we were by ourselves.. there was one runner way up ahead, but that was it.

At mile 5, we were holding true to our pace and if the watch ever crept down below a 7:40, I slowed a bit. Little disciplines like this for me were crucial to the big picture. 3:23 or better. Don't over run any mile just because I feel good. And honestly, I felt great! I was indeed holding back. The effort did indeed feel "easy". All the hard work, discipline and "showing up" was paying off. At least up until now... "It's still early" Heather would say. And right she was. Anything can happen. The race doesn't start until mile 18. That's when we find out what's really left in the tank. Am I full or running on fumes... the latter is what happened in Erie, so I was keeping my cool until then to access how I felt.

The night before we had given Emily our UCAN packets. She would mix them up and give them to her Dad to meet us at mile 9.5 or so for our re dose. We were nervous about this because getting the UCAN was super important. We hadn't met Emily's Dad so we didn't know if he'd see us, know who we were, etc. We did plan on where he would be so that was the important point. As we approached the proposed meeting spot we started shouting "UCAN, UCAN" and sure enough, a man on the side of the road (Emily's Dad) nodded started running with us as he reached in his bag and pulled out two bottles of the coldest UCAN I have ever consumed. The bottle was like holding ice. This was a good thing and realized that this product tasted it's best at near freezing temperatures!! We drank it down at mile ten without missing a beat and were back to "Living in the mile", happy that we made our connection with our UCAN MAN!! I told him later what a crucial part of our marathon he played. I don't think he appreciated how important he was to us... But we did!!

So far the wind hadn't been a big deal. We were running through neighborhoods with lots of twists and turns and we seemed to be having a lot of protection from it. At mile 13 we were holding strong and caught up with that runner we had been seeing up ahead for most of the race. Turned out to be a fellow OBX'er! He said we would be getting a head wind at the 18 mile turn-around... the last 8 miles back to the finish line. We were afraid of this.

Mile 15, 16 and 17 were beautiful! Heather and I still running at a 7:44 pace average overall. Then... the turn-around... and with the that.. came the wind we've been dreading for the last 18 miles.

But we had to deal with it. Right after the turn-around there was a sharp incline and a left hand turn that would have us running into the wind for the next seven and three-quarter miles. Another mile or so and it was time to access how I felt. Right now, feeling good.

The wind was harsh! I had to turn my hat backwards so it didn't blow off. There were some gusts where I had to put my head down and and just charge ahead. If I do tend to run faster than normal goal pace or training pace it's because of two things; hills and head wind. As I ran through mile 20 I had already picked up the pace a bit and began to create a gap between me and Heather. She was okay at that point, knowing I needed a to guarantee my BQ (if it was going to happen), She did not have to run as fast I did. I took a gel at mile 21 and slowed a bit drinking some electrolyte to wash it down. I don't do gels very often, so I only took a little more than half the packet. I was worried it may affect my stomach and I didn't need that happening so late in the race. I've come to far now, having already passed the possibility of hitting the wall.. Or so I had hoped.

At mile 22 it was time to bring it. Dig deep and make it happen. This is what I had dreamed about and it was looking like a reality. I was on pace to qualify but at this point I had run a consistent race and felt like I had juice in the tank for a strong finish. We start out thinking we can have a race like this but things happen and that prospect can quickly fade away. It did in Erie and it did in so many other marathons for me.

But not this time.

The wind would not determine my fate of this race and it was time to take no prisoners! I ran through ,mile 22 at a 7:27 Pace and continued though mile 23 at 7:21 Pace. I thought I had this BQ.. but how close would I be to the 3:25. I really needed that 2 Minute buffer to be guaranteed and entry into the Boston Race. I continued to negative split with 7:19 on Mile 24 and a 7:17 at Mile 25. I was feeling great! Ready to be done... but feeling great! Now I knew, I had this. I was thinking maybe I could get a sub 3:20. That would be incredible!

That last mile I ran in at a 7:18 and the last tenth at a 6:35.

I crossed the finish line at 3:20:41 and had qualified for Boston with 4 Minutes and 19 Seconds to spare!

It was a great day for sure!!

Heather qualified by leaps and bounds coming in at 3:27, needing a 3:45 and Emily, running only her second marathon qualified coming in at 3:31, needing a 3:35! Both Emily and Heather received first place age group Awards and I received a second place age group award!

In the end, the hard training, the discipline and the "showing up" each and every day paid off. I never thought that I could run a 3:20 Marathon. Most of my marathons always shook out in the 3:40's... until I did something different. Trained different. Thought different. It's easy to say we "can't do something or achieve something that we that we think is so great it's beyond our reach. But we CAN do it. Thinking positively about it, working for it, and going after it with a "make it happen" attitude. These are the game changers!! But it's not always easy to get there. It takes the hard work!

The best part of the marathon was after when my daughter, Shyanne showed up with her friend to see me finish. The drove an hour and a half to be there and we all went out to lunch to celebrate all the victory's of the morning!! We had so much fun!!

"It always seems impossible until it's done" - Nelson Mandella








Shane Miles
Avid Runner
Chief Running Officer
Roanoke Island Running Company




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