Road to the Ultimate Peach

After 34 years of running, the email message that changed my life arrived in my inbox on November 29, 2023:

“You’ve completed the Triple Peach Race Series and we know you’ve got what it takes to complete the Ulitmate(sp) Peach.” – The Atlanta Track Club.

A week prior I had in-fact completed the Triple Peach, an annual series of 3 races. The first race is the Atlanta Peachtree 10K on July 4th, followed by the Atlanta PNC 10-Mile race in October, and it ends with the Atlanta Half Marathon race on Thanksgiving Day. Since 2014, I’ve used the Triple Peach Race Series as motivation to stay in shape. The email went on to explain that the Ultimate Peach is awarded for completing the Publix Marathon in February.

I don’t consider myself a long distance runner. I ran the 400Meter when I was in track back in High School and had no desire to do anything longer. When I stopped racing after High School I limited my races to 10K as the max distance and was quite happy there. Until 2006. Something about approaching 30 years old pushed me to try something new and I decided a half-marathon would be that new thing. The result was 29-year-old-Bryan running a 2:19:31 finish in 2006. I must have hated the race, or the event, or my results, or maybe all of the above as it would be another 4 years before I ran another half-marathon.

At first, the idea of running one half-marathon at the end of each year was just something I started doing. I did not put much thought into it. I learned quickly that the half-marathon distance was the hardest run of the year for me. I’m not a long distance runner. I don’t enjoy the half-marathon distance even on the years I train for it. What kept me going each year is that the Atlanta Half-Marathon race falls on my birthday. With each trip around the sun I want to make myself proud. I want to prove to myself that my body is not done yet. It is also the last race of the year that I participate in and so I’ve always approached it from the perspective of me “going-out-with-a-bang.” Though at my running pace the “bang” is more like a “soft whimper.” Most years I’ll have run multiple 5K and 10K races and by November I’m just exhausted with both the idea of running and the physical toll it has taken. From Thanksgiving until around February or March I’m a couch potato. And then I look at my weight on a scale to see how many pounds I’ve packed on and it is off to Big Peach Running company for some new running shoes.

Reflecting backward in time to May 2010 (age 33) I do not know why I decided to try running a half-marathon again. I participated in the Inside-Out Sports Classic Half Marathon completing the race in 2:04:11, a 15 minute improvement from my previous attempt 4 years prior. A few months later I tried the Atlanta Half Marathon and finished in 2:07:03. Whatever changed in me in 2010 pushed me to do better and in 2011 (age 34) I ran my fastest Atlanta Half-marathon with a time of 1:53:24! I celebrated by taking a 2-year break from running half-marathons.

Atlanta-Half Marathon 2011 Personal Record 1:53:24

In 2014 (age 37) I got back on the half-marathon horse and for the next 5 years did the Triple Peach Race series each year.

Atlanta Half-Marathon 2014 – Getting back on the horse

The 5-year streak came to an end with 2018’s Atlanta Half-marathon finish of 2:42:15. I was 41 years old. My pace was 89 minutes SLOWER than my PR. I hung up my running shoes at that point and almost did not come back.

Atlanta Half-Marathon 2018 – 89 minutes slower

In 2019 I ran 3 races maxing out at the 10K distance. In 2020 during the pandemic I virtually participated in 2 events. For 2021 I participated in zero running events. In November of 2021 my wife and I purchased a Peloton Treadmill. I had always wanted a Treadmill and I’ll just go ahead and blame Peloton instructors Matt Wilpers and Becs Gentry for everything that has happened in the years since.

The Peloton Treadmill in our home gym

Getting back into shape was not a New Year’s resolution for 2022, it’s just what happened to me after dropping that much cash on a treadmill that also requires a monthly subscription. Having a goal has always been a motivating factor for me to improve, but throw in a monthly subscription fee where every month I see a bill and have to answer the question “what am I getting out of this expense?” and it was a magic transformative moment for me. The Peloton instructors motivated me in ways I had not felt in years. Matt Wilpers, Becs Gentry are Susie Chan are amazing and I blame them entirely for pushing me back onto the half-marathon race horse for 2023 with a new goal in mind. It had been five years since I ran a half-marathon so I decided for 2023 I wasn’t going to just cross the finish line at the Atlanta Half-Marathon, I was going to PR. Who cares if I’m 12-years older than when I PR’d. I got this. Right!!!?????

I spent 16 weeks training for the 2023 Atlanta Half-Marathon. At the age of 46 I ran the Atlanta Half-Marathon in 2:01:00. I missed my PR from 12 years prior (1:53:24) by 8 minutes.

2023 Atlanta Half Marathon – No PR

I believe that through failure, followed by reflection, you find improvement. I’ve come to accept that I failed to PR for 2 reasons. First, my training plan did not include enough hill work. By the time I paid enough attention to the race route and the elevation climbs of the race route it was too late to change my training plan to have any impact on race day. The result is that I ran a pace that was faster than I should have run on hills I was not ready for. Second, I did not consume adequate fuel during the event for me to sustain the pace I was running.

Six days after the race, November 29th, thinking I was done with running for the year, and still in the mental dumps about missing my PR the email arrives. A few minutes later a text arrived from my friend Chris asking if I’m going to attempt the Ultimate Peach. Run a marathon? A full 26.2 mile marathon!!!! A marathon!!!! Is he insane!!!!??? Of course I’m not going to run a marathon. I can barely make a half-marathon at this point. A couple of hours later I signed up to go for the Ultimate Peach and I decided I was going to run it in 4 hours.

My go-to training plan for any run is written by Hal Higdon. His website has all the details about the plans here. They start with a Monday rest day and end with long runs on either Saturday or Sunday. I had just finished the 16-weeks of Hal’s Half-Marathon Novice 1 and Novice 2 plans to be able to attempt my PR run in the Half-Marathon. It was on Day 6 of not doing any exercise, it was a Wednesday, so I had another 6 days until the first workout would start. The hard truth is that I missed my PR. I spent all 6 days debating if Hal’s program was the right choice for the marathon. For 34 years of running everyone that knows me knows how I feel about running a full marathon: no way, no how, not interested, no thank you. It was time for a different training plan and a complete mental shift about the road ahead.

Peloton has individual classes for the choose-your-own-adventure crowd, or they have groupings of classes they call Programs designed to help accomplish a goal. There’s a special grouping of classes named “Peloton Outdoor.” As the name implies, the Peloton Outdoor programs are designed to be launched from the Peloton App on your phone, and completed outside using your phone to track your stats. The Outdoor classes don’t even show up on the Peloton Tread as options. The only Marathon training program offered by Peloton is the one found in the Outdoor section of the mobile app. It’s a 3-part 18 week program named “Road to 26.2”.

The problem for me was that I don’t run outside with my cell phone, a requirement to be able to listen and follow the training program, and I have 13-weeks to prep, not 18 weeks. YOLO! Challenge accepted.

I’m writing this on February 22nd, 3 days before the Marathon. Over the course of the last 13-weeks of training I have run further than I ever thought myself capable. I’ve changed so many aspects of my running. I’ve had great running days, I’ve had miserable failures where I didn’t meet my goals, and I’ve had days where I felt like I was back in High school sprinting for the finish line at paces I haven’t run in years. I’ve had to change the type of shoes I run in, the socks I run in, the clothing I wear while I run, even the music I listen to while I run. The results have been transformative. For the first time in my life I ran 14 miles, then 16 miles, then 20 miles. Every Sunday in January meant a new milestone. I’ve learned to fuel in a sustainable way for long runs and even adjusted to running with a runners belt carrying my cell phone. I’ve re-discovered what running in 23 degree weather feels like (yeah it still sucks). I’m nervous, scared, and excited about adding 26.2 miles to that list of achievements in 3 days.

While my body has physically adapted to longer distances the hardest change has been accepting Robin Arzon’s “No Ego Amigo” when it comes to pacing. I had to let go of the 10:00 minute mile pacing goal I set at the beginning and will be running closer to 11:30. I’ll be running with a pace group to force myself to stick to the pace. This time around I trained with higher inclines and more hills. Physically I think I’m ready. Mentally I’ve got the nervous jitters that I’m working through. What has not changed is the same personal commitment that I never plan to finish first, but I will never finish last. This will also be the first time that Jack sees me cross a finish line as he and Cherish are going to be there in person to support me. Pride pushes me to do great things and I have no doubt that the thought of Jack and Cherish at the finish line will serve me well.

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