Marathon Redemption

This past Sunday I completed my second full marathon. It was the culmination of over two years of training, numerous heartbreaks and, being hell-bent to redeem myself after an initial failed attempt. To some, this might seem like a normal race recap, but for me it’s so much more than that. Below is an account of an emotional two-year span.

Will and some lady racing down gravel trail in York PA Marathon
No, I don't know this woman. Photo credit: Shelly Stallsmith, York Daily Record.


My first marathon was an abject disaster. I came in undertrained, over-tapered, inadequately fueled, and began way too fast. If there was a rookie mistake in marathon training, I made it. And although it served as a learning experience with many actionable takeaways, it was pretty humiliating. I had wanted redemption ever since I crossed the finish.

My first chance of redemption would come about six month later when I registered for the 2019 Philadelphia Marathon. I meticulously followed Hanson’s Marathon Method, an 18-week plan for intermediates. On my 14th week, one of the final high-mileage weeks before my taper, I felt a burning sensation in my heel: Achilles tendonitis. I cut all activity and aggressively rehabbed, but recovery is in the magnitude of months. I was gutted. Bowing out of the race was the least of my concerns, I’d have to start my training from scratch.

In April 2020, after a six month recovery, I began slowly ramping up my volume again. I was mostly taking it pretty easy, just trying to stay sane in the pandemic summer. Eventually I decided to attempt a marathon time trial, three laps around the Schuylkill loop on the day of the would-be 2020 Philadelphia Marathon. I followed the Pfitzinger 18/70 Plan, a program which spans 18 weeks and peaks at 70 miles per week. During this period, I ran a 1:29:21 half marathon time trial, a four minute personal best. My training was going extremely well and I was in the best shape I’d ever been. Tragically, during the end of my last major long run, I felt a pull in my ankle: posterior tibial tendonitis. After months of rigorous training, I would again need to bow out of my race and effectively lose all my gained fitness. This second blow was particularly devastating, the injury and timing was so similar to the year prior that I felt that I was somehow cursed in a never ending injury cycle.

Bar graph showing miles per month over last two years, peaking in the Fall
Monthly training mileage over last two years. Injuries occurring in October 2019 and November 2020 followed by extended recoveries.

Better equipped with proper tendonitis rehab techniques, I was able to aggressively rehab and return to completely pain-free running by mid-February. I knew that if I wanted to take one last stab at the marathon, I’d need to do it before it got too hot, otherwise I’d need to wait until the fall. However, I also needed as much time as possible to train and regain some fitness. I finally settled on Saturday, May 16, about fifteenish weeks away.


Prior to my injury, I had followed Pftizinger’s 18-week Plan that maxes out at 70 miles per week. It follows a weekly routine of one long run, one speed workout, one “medium” long run interwoven with easy mileage and Mondays off. The plan is difficult but manageable, the toughest being those that incorporated race-paced chunks during the weekly long run. For instance, a 17 mile long run would have 13 of those at marathon pace, and that’s after an already grueling training week.

I also liked it because while the plan was prescriptive, it followed a predictable framework that allows easy modifications on the fly, providing some flexibility. This is the main reason that I selected it for my next attempt, coming off the heels of an injury and out of running shape, I would need to reduce the mileage and intensity until my body could sufficiently handle it. Turns out that this flexibility came in handy for two unplanned down weeks with a major illness and significant snowfall, 8 and 15 weeks out respectively.


Line chart showing weekly training mileage leading up to marathon as compared to first marathon
Weekly training mileage leading up to race. Faded line shows first marathon training mileage.

Strength Training

I also introduced twice-weekly strength sessions. They were mostly a continuation of my injury rehab. Given my susceptibility to injuries and little strength work in the past, this was a no-brainer.

Adding these strength sessions were an absolute game changer. Not only was I avoiding all of the regular pains and niggles that I normally got while training, my entire body felt so much better day-to-day. Previously in periods of heavy training, my calves became so tight and tender that walking was difficult, let alone the crippling fatigue. No longer, I actually felt great! In hindsight, I’m a dummy for waiting so long to incorporate this into my training.

Another thing I did differently was practice fueling during almost every long run. At least one but up to three Maurten gels. This wasn't just to get my GI system accustomed, but to get used to carrying and consuming the gels at race pace.

The Race

I was originally going to do a time trial around the Schuylkill loop, but with the world opening up, I looked around for races. Lo and behold, one of the only real marathons occurring that weekend was the York PA Marathon! How convenient! After a short stint on the waitlist, I was in.

The course was an out and back on the Heritage Rail Trail, a flat gravel path that extends many miles beyond Maryland state lines.

The race wasn’t very large, around 700 participants split equally between the half and full distances, but the organizers still managed crowd sizes by instituting rolling heats every ten minutes from 6-8:30am. In order to manage the effects of the temperature, I opted for the 6am heat. This turned out to be a critical decision, the weather being nearly ideal until later in the morning.

Map outlining York PA Marathon course
York PA Marathon course map.


With so much heartbreak due to injury the last two years, the primary goal was simple: make it to the start in one piece. Secondly, I wanted to apply the lessons learned from my first marathon and execute on my race plan. Finally, I had a rough time goal in mind.

Race Plan


Recalling my first marathon where I died halfway through because I went out too fast, I knew that I needed to be smarter about pacing. I needed to stay conservative the first half, ramp up the pace to make up time, and then empty the tank the final few miles. 3:15:00 translates into a 7:26 min/mile pace, so I aimed roughly for 7:30-7:35 in the first half and then 7:20 on the way back.


I planned to consume Maurten gels at miles 6, 11, 15 and 20. A mix of caffeinated and non-caffeinated, with the option to take a fifth one with a few miles left. I would carry three from the outset in a fanny pack and rely on Christy to hand me the remaining two later in the race.

I would only Intake fluids only as needed, roughly alternating Gatorade and water. I wanted to be cautious against over-hydrating and cramping.



Woke up at the hotel around 4:15am, got my pre-race coffee, chugged my nalgene and a couple of mini bagels. Race area was surprisingly barren, the start area wasn’t even fully set-up until a few minutes before the start. Did a quick jog to warm up and used the bathroom one last time. My 6:00am heat started while I was in the porta potty, I walked out and everyone was already off into the distance, what the hell? No problem though, I crossed that start a couple minutes late.

Will Vedder moments after crossing the start line of the 2021 York PA Marathon
Fresh out the porta john, two minutes late for my heat. Photo credit: York Storyman.

Miles 1-6

Breathing was relaxed, heart rate was in-check, and I was feeling remarkably strong overall. But I didn’t want to lull myself into thinking I could speed up. I needed to stick to the plan and keep it conservative. Even with my late start, it didn’t take long for me to reach the main pack. At mile two I caught up to Mike from Doylestown. Mike and I chatted for a bit and discovered that we had the same 3h15m goal, so we decided to work together and keep our paces honest. We agreed that we would increase the intensity somewhere after the halfway point. First Maurten at 5.5.

Miles 7-14

This stretch was a bit of a blur. The scenery was quite serene but I was too focused to truly enjoy it. The effort was easy and relaxed, but I was falling behind. Mike and I crossed the halfway point on pace for 3h18m, requiring us to run a three minute negative split in the back half, quite the tall task. He wanted to kick it up around the halfway point but I insisted that we wait a few more miles or so. If we could make it to 16 and still feel strong, I thought we’d be in excellent shape.

Miles 15-21

Still feeling pretty strong up to this point, but the difficulty is starting to seep in. My quad was becoming strained and some serious waves of GI discomfort were washing over me every fifteen minutes. At mile 15 I reach back into my fanny pack to get my third Maurten and I fumble it. Awesome. I decide to run back to get it, I stumble while reaching down, almost falling. I sprint to catch up to Mike, my heart rate spiking briefly.

Will Vedder sprinting to the finish line of the York PA Marathon
Finger guns around mile 16. Mike from Doylestown on my tail.

By now I know that if I want to hit 3h15m, I really need to pick up the pace. I kick it up to around 7:15-7:20 and feel as though I can hold onto that. I see Christy at mile 16, she hands me my final Maurten and I convince her to join me. She stuck with me for two miles and it was exactly the boost I needed. By now, I have separated from Mike and once Christy dropped I was mostly alone. I took my fourth Maurten gel at mile 20, hoping it could help me hold on.

Miles 22-25

By now I’m laboring. Things are starting to become really difficult. I’ve paid the price for my increased pace and need to slow to about a 7:30 min/mi.

I’m not sure if I needed it, but I had my fifth and final gel at mile 22. Even with the increase in GI distress, I wanted to hedge against myself running out of energy. A little bit of self doubt was beginning to creep in. I knew I’d finish, but it was unknown if I’d continue to negative split. At this point I was just putting one foot in front of the other and holding onto the backs of some of the half marathoners.

Miles 25-26.2

When the 25th mile marker came up, I knew I had it in the bag. I only had a little bit left in the tank but I surged to <7:00 min/mi pace. Everything was hurting but I had to do this, I had come way too far to let up. I jet by my Aunt and Uncle who are cheering me on. And suddenly I see the finish. I can hear Christy going nuts in the distance. Drawing upon my last few weeks of speed training, I threw myself into an all-out sprint, wrapping up the final quarter mile at my 1000m repeat pace.

Will Vedder sprinting to the finish line of the York County Marathon

Over the line for a 3:15:01 finish.

I fold over, catch my breath and take the moment in. Tried to eat a wrap but my body said, “nah”. Chatted with Mike for a bit, he hit a three minute PR!

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 26.2 Final
7:35 7:31 7:24 7:26 7:33 7:33 7:30 7:25 7:29 7:27 7:18 7:39 7:25 7:23 7:26 7:28 7:23 7:18 7:20 7:27 7:27 7:31 7:29 7:31 7:30 7:01 1:31 3:15:01
Will Vedder folded over after the conclusion of 2021 York County Marathon


Despite being off my goal by a literal second, all around, I was very happy with my performance. 3:15:01 isn’t blistering fast by any means, and I know I’m capable of much faster, but considering my relatively condensed training cycle and various setbacks, I’m proud of the result. A 37 minute personal best!

I hit my other goals of staying healthy and executing well. And above all else, I was thrilled that I didn’t make any of the same mistakes that plagued my inaugural race.

What Went Right

Trust the Process

One big lesson learned is to trust my training and the taper. There were some workouts where I had to break up the effort into chunks or just couldn’t complete. Despite nailing some other indicative workouts, I had a nagging fear that I was coming in undertrained. But in reality, during these intense workouts, my body was deeply fatigued and tapering was just what I needed to get to 100%.

Will Vedder with Mike from Doylestown after the 2021 York PA Marathon
Mike from Doylestown. He hit a 3 minute PR!

Potential Improvements

Despite being pleased with my execution on the day, I still see much room for improvement. The main improvement is being more consistent with the high mileage over the coming months. I believe the biggest thing holding me back is the inconsistency over the course of the year. Granted, a big part of that is due to injuries, so staying healthy through strength training will help with that. But I think another important factor here is mindset and dedication. In past years I’ve taken summers off because of the heat, or otherwise just generally dialed down my running volume outside training blocks.

Speaking of strength training, I still think there is a lot of room for improvement here. I only focus on lower-body work, completely neglecting upper body and core. Furthermore, I’m limited by my lack of equipment, often resorting to household objects to add resistance.

Finally, I need to figure out a better way of carrying my gels for long runs and races. The cheap Amazon fanny pack that I have is a huge hunk of crap and was the source of grief during the race. Not sure exactly how I’ll solve this, but I figure there’s got to be some better product on the market.

Looking Ahead

Since the effort, I’ve been able to breathe a sigh of relief. It’s been like a rock in my shoe for the last two years that I’ve finally gotten out. I’ll allow myself to take it easy for the next couple weeks and hopefully resume some type of training in the early summer. I have some long-standing PRs in the 5k and 10k that I’d like to topple. I’m already registered for the Philadelphia Marathon in November and I’m really excited to put in a full, beefy block of training for that. I’m expecting another PR. And who knows? Maybe I’ll even go for sub three.