There's a number that haunts my dreams. Sometimes this number keeps me from dreaming, let alone sleeping.
It forces me onto the road when I have zero inclination to do anything that even vaguely approximates running. It forces me to run one more interval when I'm lightheaded and nauseous. It's not a number, it's a curse. This number is 2:39.
Am I being melodramatic? Maybe. but, if a single number has been rattling around in your head for 7+ years, it's a bit more than just a number. If it's not a curse, maybe obsession is another word that fits the bill.
This number has been on my mind because I have come perilously close to pulling it off on a number of occasions, but have fallen short often for reasons I haven't had any control over.
It started in 2005 when I had a spectacular race at the Chicago Marathon. I ran through the first half of the race in 1:20 and felt strong. A few miles later, GI issues forced a pitstop and I would end up finishing in 2:45. I was annoyed, but I'd be back next year to claim what was rightfully mine.
One year later, I was hobbled by plantar fasciitis and subsequent surgery to correct said plantar fasciitis. I was annoyed and a bit disheartened, but surely 2007 would be my year.
2007 would turn out to be a year of rehab, slow progress, and frustration. I could run, but I couldn't run the way I did in 2005. I was annoyed, disheartened, and a bit pissed off. 2:39 was out there beckoning to me, mocking me, and I didn't like it.
2008 arrived and while 2:39 was on my mind, it was largely in the back of mind. I simply wanted to get back to running healthy and happy on a regular basis which didn't happen very often in 2007.
As summer turned to fall, I started thinking maybe I could give the marathon another shot. Naturally, 2:39 was the first thing that came to mind.
I resumed training with 2:39 in mind. I could still do most of what I had done before, but it was harder than it had been three years prior. As I approached the conclusion of my training cycle, I realized 2:39 was too much of a stretch.
I compromised. I decided to run for 2:45 or faster. I'd do my best to notch a PR, but not the one I really wanted. It was a smart decision and it paid off, but 2:39 was still out there.
2009 was unequivocally going to be my year to post a 2:39. Brimming with confidence from the 2:43 I had managed to run in 2008, I pushed forward with my training. But, sometimes your past comes back to haunt you.
Plantar fasciitis returned and took up residence in my other foot. Acupuncture, cold laser treatment, graston technique, and a litany of other treatments failed.
Desperate to get rid of plantar fasciitis and still vainly clinging to the hope that I somehow would be able to run a 2:39 before the year ended, I explored an obscure treatment that is about as painful as it sounds (dry needling).
Lidocaine was injected into my heel to numb it. This was followed up by 'fascial perforation' with a needle that was designed to induce fascial bleeding. I was voluntarily submitting to this trauma as it was supposed to stimulate the healing process. All of this pain and suffering was driven by 2:39.
The dry needling procedure ultimately worked, but it was too late. 2009 was nearly over and while I was in the kind of shape to run a marathon, I knew my fitness level wasn't high enough to realistically attempt a 2:39.
Independent of the return of plantar fasciitis, I had my ass handed to me on pretty much every conceivable level in 2009. I knew I couldn't run a personal best or a 2:39, but there were some demons I needed to exorcise.
So, I toed the line despite that fact that I was marginally fit. I posted a 2:53 and was as happy about this as I reasonably could be. But, I was still nearly 15 minutes away from what I really wanted.
Another year had passed and I had come away empty-handed. I had exorcised some demons in 2009, but 2:39 wasn't one of them.
I was out for blood in 2010. I felt strong. I felt confident. Surely, 2:39 would be mine this time around. I was killing all of my workouts and the pace I needed to knock this one out was feeling within my grasp.
But, I was playing with fire during a compressed training cycle. My training was a volatile combination of too much, too soon, and too fucking fast. Ultimately, I was asking too much.
Two weeks before taper, my body called it quits and I was felled by a femoral stress fracture. I wasn't pissed this time around. I was just despondent.
I descended into an abyss of Netflix, red wine, and tears that lasted longer than it should have, but this latest setback was a veritable coup de grace. 2:39 had become this Sisyphean endeavor unlike anything I had ever encountered.
Maybe I simply wasn't meant to run a 2:39. How many more times did I need to try and fail? My confidence wasn't just rattled, it was obliterated.
2011 arrived and it was a year of transition for me on a variety of levels. 2:39 took a backseat as I forged ahead in bold new directions with my business and my personal life. I achieved a lot of 'personal bests' in 2011, but none of them were related to running a 2:39 marathon.
As 2012 began, I explored something completely different as I ventured into ultra-running. During the countless hours I spent by myself running the trails in the Headlands, my mind kept wandering back to 2:39.
Sure, I would be thrilled to complete a 50K and the 50 mile race I signed up for, but this wasn't the ultimate goal.
In the back of my mind was the idea that maybe somehow logging this mileage early in the year and challenging my body/mind in a different way might pay dividends later in the year and enable me to attempt 2:39 one more time.
Summer waned. I knew if I wanted to attempt a 2:39, I would need to start formally training soon. I gradually segued into training. I signed up for CIM on 12/2, but I wasn't fully committed.
I would opt out if I didn't feel like I was in optimal shape. I decided if I posted a 2:39 or faster, I would make this one my final competitive marathon.
Training progressed slowly and methodically. I failed to do a lot of the little things simply because my schedule barely had time for me to just get in the training I needed. But, the body didn't complain much.
Taper approached and with it came the realization that I might just be able to pull this off. I knocked off more than a few markedly challenging workouts with a little bit left in the tank. My final long run loomed large on the horizon...22 miles with 15 of them at my target pace.
Two years prior it was during this very workout that I incurred a stress fracture in my femur. In the days leading up to this run, I prepared for it like a race. I slept well. I ate well. I hydrated well. I got a massage. I listened to the music that helped me get in the right head space.
I showed up and simply killed the toughest long run I have ever attempted in preparation for a marathon and had something left when it was over. I got a bit choked up when I finished the run as I realized I might just be ready to run a 2:39.
I'm less than three weeks away from finding out whether or not I can finally get this number out of my head once and for all. I'm confident, but I'm not taking anything for granted.
Anything can happen. But, if I can get to the starting line healthy, I know I'm better positioned to run a 2:39 than I have ever been.
So, I run because 2:39 is not just a number. It's a mission. It's a quest. It's an obsession. It's all I want from running.