I am thankful to be a runner. If 2020 has taught me anything, it is that having the ability to lace up and head out the door each day is a privilege. This year, with the anxiety, uncertainty, and disruption that the pandemic has brought into our lives, I have leaned heavily on my daily runs – and the training routine built around them – for both physical and mental support. I have never had a greater appreciation for that sense of control, clicking off mile after mile, as I move through Central Park in New York City, where most of my preparation for Harrisburg took place. As many readers already know, to be a marathoner is to embrace volume, consistency, steadiness, and balance. This has proven especially true over the past year.
My build-up for Harrisburg was unusual; having already raced a marathon in September, I had to forgo my typical 12-week training block and instead focus on quickly readying for a second. This is not something I recommend for most runners, however, after reading reviews from participants and volunteers, I was excited for the opportunity to race Harrisburg. My “truncated” preparation focused first on recovery, and then on highly specific runs targeting goal marathon pace (MP). My favorite workout consisted of 10-12 miles at endurance pace, or long run pace, followed by 3×3 miles at MP with a half-mile recovery between reps. Workouts like this take time, years even, to build up to; however, being able to run at MP after 2+ hours of time on feet greatly mitigates “hitting the wall” on race day. Another important workout was lactate alternation runs, also known as “Canova Ks.” These consist of five to eight miles oscillating every half mile between paces just above and below MP (e.g. MP + 10 seconds / MP – 10 seconds). If the first workout teaches the body to become familiar with MP after lots of miles, the second is to experience running hard, continuous segments at paces faster than MP, so that MP ultimately feels “easier.”
Living in New York City, it can be difficult to find stretches of unhindered road, so I have learned to explore all the boroughs and utilize parks and streets far away from the bustle of Times Square. My overall mileage remained quite high – about 120 miles per week – however, I avoided shorter interval workouts (e.g. 400 m/800 m repeats) to help prevent injury from faster cadences.
As November 8th approached, I made sure to review the course, noting not only the location of water stations, but also the hairpin turns, stretches of gravel, and the north-end “out and back.” The Harrisburg Marathon is mostly flat, however, it certainly had its share of quirks and challenges! I would be remiss not to thank Race Director Tom Gifford and his team for circulating a PDF of the route. After doing a full review, I decided to shift my goal finish time from ~2:18 to ~2:21.
By the time I toed the line on City Island, I was ready to execute my best race. The early morning organization was excellent, and we were fortuned with great weather. Carrying six gels around my waist and making sure to sip water at nearly every station, I was able to maintain my target pace through most of the course, falling off a bit in the final 10 miles; it’s always difficult to avoid a second-half positive split! Nevertheless, I was very satisfied with finishing in 2:22:04, lowering my PR from September by nearly a minute. I have learned over the years that all PRs – be it 10 minutes or 10 seconds – are moments to appreciate and celebrate!
Running is my passion. Out on the road, I am the best version of myself. And while I don’t run solely to race, I continue to set ambitious goals. Notably, I have my sights set on qualifying for the US Olympic Trials for 2024. I don’t know what the time standard will be – it was <2:19 for the 2020 trials – yet I am committed to doing what I can to achieve the standard. The Harrisburg Marathon has been an important milestone in this effort, as well as great fun. I remain deeply appreciative of everyone who makes this race possible, and I’d be keen to return next year!
–Jeremy Arthur, First Overall Finisher @ 2020 Harrisburg Marathon