The Long and Short of a Marathon Running Life

Stages in the life of a Marathon Runner, by Dale Peterson 

Sunday August 23rd I finished the Santa Rosa Marathon and thus notched my eighteenth marathon. Full disclosure – I have done fourteen marathons, two 50Ks and two twenty-milers. This comes to 468.8 miles or 2.8 miles less than eighteen marathons. So, to the purists out there, I have done eighteen races of twenty miles or more.  I promise to run an easy 5K a week after my last marathon to make up the difference.

At any rate, it is a lot of running and by the time I notch number twenty I will have covered roughly the distance between Santa Rosa and L.A. which is not even 20% of the distance spent training for these races.

Inspired by a large contingent of Empire Runners who ran the 100th Boston in 1996, I ran my first marathon in 1997 at age 40 in Sacramento at the California International Marathon (C.I.M.) in a pouring rainstorm. I ran 4:22:19 and I was definitely in the “all I want to do is finish stage”  (part I).

I would not run the next one, again at C.I.M. until 2000, but by then I had the idea that I wanted to finish under 4 hours. I easily broke that barrier in 3:47:27. I shaved six minutes off of that time the following year at Humboldt Redwoods. By now I was deep into the “how fast can I go?” stage. I peeled off three consecutive 3:38 and change marathons over the next three years with a 50K interlude at Way Too Cool in 2005.

But it was after the 2004 Chicago Marathon where I realized that I was probably not going to break 3:30 and qualify for Boston before age 50. At that time I made the decision to try to get a bit faster and a bit older and shoot for the then-qualifying standard of sub-3:35 as a 50-year-old. This was the beginning of the short but sweet Boston qualifying stage.

With a lot of hard work, the support of the large contingent of Empire Runners shooting for Boston that year, plus a little luck, I was able to run what turned out to be my marathon PR in Portland 2006 in 3:33:06.  I had no idea at the time that I would never come close to this kind of time again.

Having qualified I had no idea that I was about to enter a new phase of marathon running – the dreaded post-qualifier slump. I suffered through an epic at Grandma’s in 2007. I was on 3:30 pace at the half only to have a series of horrible cramps starting at mile 15 and finishing in 4:29:15. Dumbest thing I ever did.  Believe me when I tell you to avoid the medical tent like the Tower of London.

My Boston was also a semi-disaster as I had to do a lot of walking the last few miles and finished in 4:05:19. New York the next year likewise saw me on the far side of four hours. I was now in the “somehow I gotta break 4 hours again” stage. This was not to happen again until the 2011 C.I.M. when I squeaked under in 3:56:55.

Last year half way through the St George Marathon when I realized I had no chance of breaking four hours, I stopped taking mile splits and entered the current stage of “who cares how long it takes” also known as the “all I want to do is finish stage” (part II).

Around 2000 or perhaps 2001 I got the idea that it would be cool to do twenty “marathons” between age 40 and 60. Today I need to do two more to accomplish this goal.  Of course I also have to survive through two more birthdays.

I’d still like to break four hours again, but more than anything I hope to be entering the blissful “I’m just happy to be here and to still be running” stage.

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