Grandma's Boy

Another marathon postmortem...

I blew up at Grandma’s marathon, falling short of the goal set for the training cycle and dashing my hopes of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This writeup reviews my training, an account of the race and how it all went wrong.

Will during early stages of racing Grandmas marathon
Early miles big smiles! Photo credit: C. Cohick


I’ve been running somewhat seriously the last 5 years across a spectrum of distances .During this time, I’ve been working towards a sub-3 hour marathon and subsequently qualifying for the Boston Marathon. This period has been a patchwork of consistency, often succumbing to a series of injuries that limit my volume and intensity but generally staying fairly fit.

Will during early stages of racing Grandmas marathon
Bib modified in memoriam of the late Kathryn Williamson

Notably, three previous marathon attempts:


The last seven months I’ve been working with a coach to help me plan, execute and adjust my training plan.

It included a long, steady ramp-up over six months. Peaking at two 69 mile weeks. Usually running six days per week, once per-day. Major workouts scheduled roughly every other week offset with 60-90s hill repeats on lower-intensity weeks.

The volume was less than my personal mileage peak and what my coach and I had planned for this cycle but I was simply limited by my body’s capability. Two notable low-volume weeks due to work travel and injury respectively.

Graph displaying jagged upwards trend in weekly training volume over several months for Grandma's marathon

Notable Sessions

Several notable sessions:

Despite the strong efforts above, there were some that I could not complete or bailed on because of fatigue or injury prevention. This would turn out to be a canary in the coal mine.


Training was anything but smooth, incurring several setbacks within the cycle. Frequent training adjustments were necessary in the form of rest, physical therapy and/or pain management. These are not meant to be excuses but acknowledgements of the challenges that I faced.

B12 Deficiency – Persistent brain fog and fatigue for six weeks. Perceived effort over that period was elevated, making workouts and recovery more challenging but not impossible. The mental effects were worse, with depression-like symptoms of hopelessness and irritability. Attributed by a veggie-heavy diet that lacked animal products. Treated by B12 supplements and diet modifications. Two months of treatment and I feel like a completely different person.

Achilles Tendonitis – Chronic achilles pain for the last several years. Treatment through ongoing PT and strength work but still sometimes flares up. The most notable flare up was 4 weeks out from race day, requiring me to delete a couple key workouts and manage symptoms.

Chronic calf strains – Plagued with constant calf strains for the first couple months of the training cycle. Worked with a physical therapist to determine the cause was poor glute activation, likely due to my sedentary occupation. Prescribed strength and activation exercises resulted in better form and reduced calf strain. Resulted in some skipped runs including some key workouts.

Ankle impingement – Swelling in the ankle that irritated ankle tendons. Caused by recent changes in running form according to my doctor. Pain management for two months, three days off running precautionary.

Herniated Disc – Back pain and neural tension. MRI confirmed minor disc herniation. Worked with PT to strengthen and activate core. Primarily pain management for a few weeks.

I’m well aware that marathon training is meant to be grueling; riding the razor's edge is just part of the challenge. But this training cycle had me operating at uncomfortable levels. I was constantly doubting if I’d make it to the start line, or worse, that I wasn’t physically capable of marathon training in general.

But despite that, I successfully walked the tightrope.

Will during early stages of racing Grandmas marathon
Two Harbors, MN - Spookiest town I've ever been to. Photo credit: PRTC



Using workouts as predictors, my goal for this cycle was 2:55 but given the various training setbacks and workout failures, this seemed like a stretch. I set a more realistic primary goal of 2:57 (6:45 min/mi avg) with a secondary goal of < 2:59:59. PR’ing was likely but not a consideration, I had told myself I’d rather go sub-3 or blow-up trying.

To execute, I’d planned to start-out conservatively with the 3:00:00 pace group, assuming it would go out at 6:52 min/mi. Settle-in to the pack and then progressively increase the pace thereafter. Coming through the halfway point at 1:29:00 with a conservative start would set me up to negative split the back-end.

Will during early stages of racing Grandmas marathon
Met Phill, a remote colleague prior to the race. Photo credit: Phill Ramey

Miles 1-14

As planned, I went out with the massive 3:00 pace group. It was a tightly-packed amorphous blob of bodies that would hardly thin-out for the first hour. We were quite fast, clicking off a second mile of 6:41 and barely slowing for inclines. It wasn’t exactly what I had planned for, but nonetheless I was feeling comfortable with the effort and figured I could bank a little bit of time.

Mile 10 I started to become aware of some leg fatigue. It had been a while since my last marathon and had forgotten when it’s normal to get tired but I wasn’t concerned just yet.

But what was concerning was the increased heat and sun exposure. It was a clear, sunny day with nowhere to hide. Even with a slight cooling breeze off Lake Superior, you could tell that it was going to be warm. My shorts, singlet and hat were all soaked in sweat. And it was only going to get warmer over the next couple of hours. I trudged on.

I crossed the halfway point at 1:29:08, exactly what I had planned for and barely on the tail of the pack. Despite the heat and fatigue, I was optimistic about going sub-3, but it was obvious that I had little cushion.

Miles 15-18

Mile 15 came around and I was drenched in sweat, my heart rate rising and legs dangerously heavy. The reality set in that I was not running at a sustainable pace. I figured if I slowed down to a 7:00 min/mi pace, I’d still be on track for my goal. This worked for a few miles.

Miles 18-24

And then everything came undone.

I struggled to string together more than a couple minutes of running at a time. Holding anything more than a jog had me gasping for air, HR redlining and completely soaked in sweat. The mild conditions turned into discomfort as the sun beamed more intensely.

Will rounding one of the final corners of Grandma's marathon
Final stretch! Shout-out to Marathonfoto lol.

Up to this point I had been taking in liquids but decided to increase my intake as a last ditch to stop the suffering. The added liquids induced some cramping which just made me suffer more.

At this point, the crowd was really coming alive and that was good news for me because I needed all the encouragement that I could get.

Along the way I did see a few racers appearing to opt for medical DNF. That wasn’t an option for me though, I needed to finish.

Miles 24 - 26.2

Still suffering. But my fortune turns a little.

During a walk stint, some guy passed by and yelled back “c’mon baby”. It was just enough encouragement to get me going. So I hung onto his side.

That is until minutes later he started to fade himself. I returned the favor, yelling back some unintelligible encouragement, enough to get us moving again.

Over the next 2.5 miles we worked side-by-side, supporting each other through to the end. We crossed the line and embraced and exchanged names. Alec, thank you for your help.

Stop-frame gif of Grandma's marathon finish line where Will and Alec cross the line together.

Official time of 3:25:12. Falling short of the goal by nearly a half hour but immediately relieved that the training cycle was over.

Click for vertical table orientation
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 26.4 Final
6:46 6:41 6:44 6:45 6:44 6:43 6:44 6:48 6:48 6:45 6:56 6:49 6:49 6:49 6:57 7:06 8:26 8:19 8:57 8:53 10:08 10:29 10:39 9:47 8:47 8:30 3:24 3:25:12

What Went Wrong

Training Inconsistency – Not enough overall consistency in training. Lacking in total time at high volume weeks and not peaking high enough. By comparison, for my previous marathon cycle I managed a few weeks at 70+ miles with a peak of 75, a notable drop. Plus, failing several key workouts, the writing was on the wall.

Granted, I did as much as my body would allow, but I should have recognized that I didn’t have the fitness to get it done. Between the resolved ailments and surviving this training block, I am optimistic about the adaptations I developed and being able to successfully absorb higher volumes training in the future.

Heat and sun acclimation – I anticipated a June marathon to have borderline-warm conditions but I simply wasn’t prepared for it, especially the extended sun exposure. I should have recognized this early and adjusted the pace accordingly, especially in the first half.

Prior to race day, I attempted to acclimate to the heat the best I could, running for weeks in the hottest parts of the day and generally exposing myself to warm weather.

The key takeaway here is to prepare for unideal conditions when participating in a Spring marathon.

Not running my own race – A couple of minutes here or there probably wouldn’t have made a material difference, but getting swept up in the 3:00 pace group was a mental error. I wrongly assumed that the pace would be consistent and conservative, not erratic and on pace for a 2:52 finish through 10km.

The key lesson here is to run your own race and not behold yourself to anyone else. Secondarily is that the pace group can be fast and unpredictable.

Lack of focus – Though Grandma’s marathon was my primary race, I also put training emphasis into Philly’s Broad Street 10 miler, my favorite race of the year. The issue is that they were only separated by 7 weeks and I split my focus between them, executing specific workouts for the 10 miler at the expense of the marathon. I thought that training for both would be mutually beneficial but this was not the case and my performance suffered for both.

This doesn’t mean to put all my eggs into one basket, racing a variety of distances is fun. In fact, I regret not doing more during this training cycle. But in order to achieve optimal results, I need to be intentional about which events I prioritize.

Graph of Will's pace over time during Grandma's marathon. Consistent until a sharp decline around halfway and highly variable thereafter.
Pace over time. Uncanny similarity with first marathon.

What Went Right

Despite the disappointing result, there were several positives I can take away.

Nutrition – I executed my nutrition as planned, six gels roughly every 30 minutes. At no point do I believe that I ran out of calories nor did I have any GI distress. This is an improvement over previous marathons where GI distress occurred. Honing-in on a nutrition plan that works for me is the biggest positive.

I attribute this to fervent nutrition practice throughout training. Every long run and some workouts had me consuming at least three gels but usually four or five.This practice extended into the pre-race ritual too, all calories consumed 12-hours prior to long runs was carefully considered and noted. It made the days leading up to the race less stressful.

Injury-free – Despite all the injury setbacks that I had, I’m walking away intact and capable of training in due time. With my injury history, this is never a given so I am grateful.

I primarily attribute this to training adjustments made in concert between my coach and I. But driven largely by my own instincts that I’ve developed. Secondarily I attribute continued strength training, activation drills and maybe a bit of luck.

Resolving health ailments – Discovering and treating several health issues, some of which have been long standing for years, positions me better for successful training but also a better quality of life. Fingers crossed that I’ve resolved most for now!

Finishing – Despite the painful slog, DNF’ing was never an option. I had worked too hard to just give up at this point. I commend myself for fighting through. Especially since mentality was a constant emphasis during the training cycle.

Training confidence – Though it didn’t translate to race results, I completed some of the biggest and fastest workouts than I have ever previously. I recall several workouts my coach planned for me which I thought were out of my league but ultimately accomplished. Because of this, I don’t fear big workouts anymore.


Despite the disappointing result, I’m not disappointed in myself. I poured every morsel of my being into this training cycle, pushing myself to the limit. And even when things got hard, I fought to the finish. For that, I’m proud of myself.

However, the experience brought the sobering realization that I wasn’t as fit as I had thought. Putting in extraordinary efforts and overcoming challenges will not necessarily convert to marathon times. There are important physical adaptations that need to be attained through consistent mileage. And more importantly, the distance needs to be respected. This is a painful lesson to relearn.

Maybe the real prize was the friends made along the way. Photo credit: E. Wenger.

Adding to the disappointment, this race marks a reversal of streaks – after PR’ing twelve consecutive races, I now have a two race non-PR streak. That fact gives me pause, as if I’ve been regressing but I try not to dwell too much on this fact. The key takeaway here is that my noob gains are gone and my improvements will likely be marginal and diminishing here on out. And especially as the years pass, I need to face certain biological realities about recovery and slowing.

If I'm honest, I can't say I'm necessarily optimistic about future training cycles after this race has left a lingering uncertainty. But I really have no other choice but to trust the process.

And even if my race times don’t improve, this journey brought personal growth that I cherish even more.

Looking Ahead

I was looking forward to taking some time off and jumping into some shorter-distance cycles, maybe get some of my life back, enjoy some nights out. But my dissatisfaction has me restless, I have unfinished business to take care of.