Marathoning For Millennials: Road to Pittsburgh... and Valley Forge... and Philly

My name is Andre Rivera, and I am a Millennial.

Like, almost to the T.

I’m a sucker for a good IPA and I grind locally roasted coffee fresh each morning.

I love avocados and I hate Applebee’s.

I would much rather travel a lot and pay rent than own a home.

Everyone seems to have such a problem our “narcissistic” and “entitled” attitudes. Here’s the thing though:

Most of what people say about Millennials is BS and they need to get over it.

Are there some shitty millennials? For sure. But there’s just as many Boomers, Busters, and Gen-Xers that share the same level of shittiness. But I digress.

This is primarily a running blog, right?

At this point in my life I have run four marathons and intend to run two more before the end of this year along with my first triathlon, a couple half marathons, and a whole bunch of mid distance romps. Considering I would do anything to avoid running the mile test in high school, that’s a pretty big deal.

Being an avid runner in my age group typically means one of two things: in the smaller races, I’m usually one of just a few others; or, in the larger races, I tend to share the age group with collegiate or post-collegiate runners that are wayyy faster than I am, so I’m still pretty much in the minority. It just feels like there really aren’t a lot of other people my age with the same passion for running as me; at least regionally speaking.

I know that’s not entirely true because studies show that millennial participation in distance running events has actually grown. But around here, there really isn’t a whole lot of involvement in the running scene and millennials aren’t known for their follow through. So I thought maybe if I write about what it’s like as a millennial to [attempt to] live out that lifestyle of more passionate athletic pursuit, someone might find some spark here.

But make no mistake,

Running a marathon is so much friggin’ work.

26.2 miles is a long way on foot and takes the average person 4-5 hours to complete. Rain or shine. Hot or cold. Once you’ve confirmed the purchase and posted about it on your Instagram story, there’s no going back. So why do it? Truth be told, it is a damn good brag and that can be a good enough reason for certain types of people. Beyond that is the plain gratification you get from accomplishing something that probably seemed impossible at one point. The work that goes into training, and the effort and grit it takes to get through race day are all worth it after crossing the finish line and realizing, “damn, I just ran for four hours straight and I’m not dead. What else can I do?”

This past May I ran my fourth and fastest marathon in Pittsburgh. I have been working towards gaining a firm grip on the distance for the last three years, and Pittsburgh was a huge step in the right direction for me. My last three marathon efforts were kind of… half-hearted? Misguided? I’m not 100% sure what to say about it other than I just didn’t respect the distance enough.

You have to respect the distance.

My very first marathon was Philly 2016. I felt like I was ready to take it on after running two sub 2:00:00 half marathons within a month of each other. Thinking that was sufficient experience, I set my goal of a sub 4:00:00 marathon and managing to find time to properly train while maintaining my 50 hour-a-week job, a committed relationship, and an active personal life.

I managed to pull it all off that summer of ‘16. Except I really didn’t. Training went pretty well and I only missed some of my important workouts. There were speed workouts that surprised me and long runs that defeated me, but I got through the 16 week cycle and felt sort of ready to knock out my first marathon. But I missed my mark, and my goal of 3:59:59 by 25 minutes and 31 seconds. What I thought was simply two half marathons back to back was actually one half marathon that served as a semi-comfortable sightseeing tour and a subsequent half marathon that consisted of wishing I was dead and repeatedly convincing myself I could at least make it to next mid-30’s hipster dad handing out beers.

You ever cry while eating a Philly pretzel? I have. After crossing the finish line, the combination of unfamiliar physical strain and the feeling of failure was overwhelming. I couldn’t help it. I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Eventually the emotional turmoil passed and the pride of being an accomplished marathoner took over. I knew I wanted to do it again.

I immediately set my sights on a spring marathon, the Vermont City Marathon. Quick plug on VCM - it’s a great event with a crazy beautiful course. Burlington, where it takes place, is a dope little college town with a great walkable marketplace. It’s also the home of Ben & Jerry’s and that picture of Joe Biden finding two quarters.

The thing about training for a spring marathon is you have to train through most of the winter to prepare. Since I lose my mind after ten minutes on a treadmill (I need that open road I front of me), that meant my workouts were outdoors, in the cold. I hate the cold. Most days I struggled to convince myself to get out of bed to run for a few hours in miserable Jersey February weather

I blustered through a much shorter training cycle with mostly unsatisfactory workouts and way too much confidence in the idea that because I’d done this once before, a sort of muscle memory would kick in for me eventually and I’d be fine. I wasn’t fine. I was a wreck most of the time and the worst part was: I did it in a crop-top. 4:47:34 was my time. 22 minutes slower than my first attempt. I was hoping to see the sophomore success akin to Justin Timberlake’s Future Sex/Love Sounds but instead it was more like The Strokes’ Room On Fire.

Reboot, find balance, try again.

It took me a year, but I did all that and came back to Vermont feeling a lot stronger and more sure of my ability. Consistent pacing throughout and running all but one mile of the whole thing had brought me to the finish line feeling very strong and happy with a time of 4:37:47. Only about 10 minutes faster than the previous years time, but a world of difference in the way I performed and maintained a steady gait, proper form, and proper fueling. I finally felt like I was gaining an understanding of the marathon and the level of commitment it would take from me personally if I wanted to be serious about this

Summer of 2018 was the season SCR took over production of the Grand Prix, so training for a fall marathon ended up not being ideal with how busy I was. To make up for that, I set my sights on a new goal: 3 marathons in 2019. Not that crazy of an idea considering plenty of people manage to train and run in at least two a year, with more advanced runners taking on even more than that. Heck, you see guys like Brian Post or Tommy Puzey running marathons/ultras within mere weeks of each other. It takes an unreal amount of training to perform as well as they do, but i’m not looking to win anything or satisfy sponsors, so I feel relatively confident that where I am now and where I’ll be in a few months (in terms of my fitness level) will serve to prove myself capable.

Slightly underprepared and no more overconfident than usual, I took on the Pittsburgh Marathon last month and surprised myself. My dream goal was still to hit that sub 4:00:00, but considering I still lacked some discipline in my training regiment, I knew that it wasn’t 100% for this race. My main goal was to finish strong and to finish faster than any other attempt and I met both of those goals. The course was challenging (those hills!), the weather was somewhat less than ideal (May started off the same way it ended: rainy as hell), but I surprised myself with an official time of 4:09:30.

There’s something about the marathon distance you either fall in love with or quickly realize that you only want to do this once and never touch it again. The compulsion for success is real and since I grew up as a kid that wasn’t athletic in the traditional sense, this athletic pursuit definitely feeds a more basic inner-drive. Running as a whole has a brought a great deal of passion and a sense of community into my life that I think humans thrive off of to keep themselves from going back to hitting each other in the heads with rocks. I imagine I will run marathons (and eventually even greater distances) until my body literally wont let me anymore, and that’s a cool thought.

In October, the Run Vineland Crew will head up to Valley Forge for The the Freedom’s March Full and Half Marathons. If all goes according to plan this summer, that will be the race I break 4:00:00 in, but if not, I will get the chance to try again six weeks later at the Philadelphia Marathon. Subscribe here if you’d like to hear how those go as well as read input from other millennial marathoners that will be contributing to this blog series over the coming years.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading! Consider liking Second Cap on Facebook and following us on IG @runvineland. You can also follow me on IG @nowayandre for even more perspective on the “running lifestyle” (does that sound lame?) and how I go about my training.

-Dre

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andre rivera